Hi! My name is Stephanie P., and I’m in my final semester at CU Denver. In 33 days, I’ll be graduating with a B.S. in Psychology. Stephanie Schiff and I collaborate on a lot of these blogs, and I also assist with some of our after-school groups. In November 2014, Stephanie interviewed me for an internship with Connect Us. My new-found connections with Connect Us led me to become a writing tutor for a child with High-Functioning Autism. Before meeting this individual (Let’s call him John), I’d never really had much interaction with anyone with Autism. For the next few blog posts, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences, as April is Autism Awareness Month.
I think one of my biggest struggles is motivating John. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what motivation is: it consists of three factors – the drive to do a task, to do it well, and to do it until it is finished. Throughout my few months of experience, I’ve learned that it’s common for people with Autism to have fixations, and they can have difficulty caring about things outside of their fixations. John’s obsession is with sports. He’s amazing at memorizing sports-related statistics, and even though he struggles a lot with reading comprehension, if we read a scene about a football play, for example, he can explain it back to me in perfect detail. Material that has to do with sports is the only thing that really.. clicks and sticks for him. Things beyond sports aren’t really given any sense of urgency or priority in John’s world, so sometimes he doesn’t complete the assignments I give him.. This lack of over-arching intrinsic motivation is often a little hard for me to understand; and as I think it would for any tutor, it drives me crazy when I sit down at the table and see that the assignment I gave two weeks ago is unfinished, or was clearly done hastily, right before I walked in the door. But it’s also taught me a few things…
First, there are just some things we can’t control. At some point we have to let go. At some point we have to resist the urge to react negatively and just… smile: if we allow our emotions to get out of control, or if we try to project those emotions onto the person who caused them, we’re hurting ourselves more than we’re benefiting the person we’re trying to reach. If I let myself get angry, the tutoring session becomes completely unproductive. I’ll be in my little world of anguish for at least an hour, and it won’t do any good, because after a few minutes, John no longer feels the disappointment I expressed.
Second… you’ll just have to read next week to find out. 🙂 I promise it ends on a note of triumph. 🙂