Motivating an Elementary School Student with Autism


My career as a teacher in an elementary school with special needs has offered me the opportunity to embrace better teaching skills that will help me motivate students toward success. I must admit that the teaching career is full of learning experiences as one interacts with the different types of students.

In this project, I will focus on an urban elementary school classroom made up of ten students with different disabilities and diverse racial backgrounds. However, I will mainly focus on Patrick, student suffering from autism. As noted earlier, the classroom is made up of 10 students where four are African-Americans, one is Caucasian, and the rest Whites. Most of students in the classroom are self-sponsored as their parents cater for expenses relating to their language therapy, social skills development, and behavioral shaping. On the other hand, Patrick is sponsored by the Catholic Church, which volunteered to support him because of his autistic condition. Patrick's educational mentor who also sums up as his class-teacher informed me that the school has put in place a special system to facilitate effective development of behavior as it relates to social skills and communication skills among all its students. I also received the information that Patrick's autistic condition has made it hard for him to strike social relations with his peers and communicate with them both in the class environment and outside. This tends to affect his overall performance in matters of completing academic tasks.

There are always two adults in the classroom at any given time

In most cases, you will find a behavior therapist in the company of the class-teacher or a language therapist in the company of the class-teacher. The program that Patrick attends is full time starting at eight o'clock in the morning up to three o'clock in the evening. This is to ensure that these students benefit effectively from the program.

Patrick has been attending the program for about two years now and receives all round therapy relating to self-awareness, self-recognition, empathy, and internal motivation. The class teacher informed me that Patrick finds it difficult to strike social relationships with most of his classmates and prefers staying alone most of the times as some of his friends engage in different sporting activities. He exhibits the same behavior at home where he prefers sitting alone in his room. On matters relating to his academic exercises, Patrick does not complete most of the work and does not consider consulting from any of his friends because of the perceived fear of communication lapses. Patrick's parents have tried to take him to medical and psychological experts to assist him improve his behavior and achieve his targets in both in the school setting and outside.

My choice of Patrick is based on the extreme condition that his suffers, and my urge to see him change his overall behavior and approach to experience in the elementary school environment. I took time to talk to Patrick in order to understand him better and ensure that I apply the best advice in motivating him toward embracing better behavior. Throughout the two days I monitored him, I discovered he prefers staying alone most of the times, and does not have a specific friend in the class.

For this project, I want to explain the way in which I will motivate Patrick to become more active in creating social interactions and control over his behavior both in the classroom environment and outside the class. I will motivate Patrick using the Emotional Intelligence Theory with the focus on self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and internal motivation.

Theoretical Analysis

Emotional Intelligence Theory

The elementary school level offers students the opportunity to understand themselves and move in the most appropriate direction in line with their targets. The Emotional Intelligence Theory plays an instrumental role in shaping the behavior of students in matters such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and internal motivation as they focus on their careers. Goleman (1996) affirmed that emotional intelligence entails cognitive aspects such as memory, problem-solving, and social developments among individuals.

Ability and Learned Helplessness

Ability is seen in terms of the student's prowess to handle different matters in the required manner. Some of the most important skills required by students at the elementary school level include skills to building social interactions, language skills, and the skills to complete assigned works appropriately. Zager, Wehmeyer, Simpson (2012) opined that a student who exhibits all these skills is perceived to have ability and is always deemed to succeed. On the other hand, students with learned helplessness are always depressed and tend to have less interest in academic matters.

In light of Patrick's situation, I had a feeling that he has learned helplessness as seen in his overall behaviors. For example, Patrick has demonstrated skills relating to creating social relations and participating in classroom matters but has not completed this successfully. More so, Patrick has not fully brought out the skills of self-awareness and empathy as required. According to Koegel, Singh, Koegel (2010), children with autism tend to have problems creating social interactions and communicating effectively with others. The school has been working effortlessly in line with the behaviorist strategy to ensure that Patrick's situation is corrected and he is capable of operating normally. Nevertheless, this has not been an easy strategy to improve Patrick's behavior and operation.


Goleman (1996) suggests important strategies for achievement in the academic career in line with the Emotional Intelligence Theory. Some of these strategies include:

  • Developing an interactive education environment for all students
  • Allowing students to have self-control in their academic matters
  • Emphasizing empathy among students
  • Developing class groups for motivation

I will focus on these strategies in my duty to help Patrick gain a sense of motivation in his academics hence achieve appropriately.



I had the pleasure to work with Patrick's mentor to design and apply various strategies to help improve Patrick's learning experience and interactions with other students. This will also help boost Patrick's participation in class activities.

With the understanding that learned helplessness can only be eliminated through motivational processes, I worked together with Patrick's mentor to create a simple table that could help Patrick gain self-awareness. We did this because of the information that Patrick was highly attracted to such tables hence he would react more effectively. We created a number of names and asked Patrick to identify himself with some of the words that we wrote on the table. He was to identify his name and the name of his parents, and we clapped each time he made the correct choice of the names. We built the interest in Patrick and he suddenly was able to write his name perfectly together with the name of his parents and the teacher. Gagnon (2001) noted that this was an important part as he was capable of gaining a sense of self-awareness.

The next step involved the design and application of interactive class sessions with Patrick as the leader. In line with this, we wanted to see Patrick participate actively with other students in the classroom by asking questions and leading some of the most important discussions. The teacher provided a guide in the first few days of the exercises, and we allowed Patrick to become independent in the subsequent days. There was a show of improvement in each of the class discussions and we continued urging Patrick to keep on. He seemed more comfortable with time and was gaining more confidence to deliver the required tasks to other students in the class. Koegel, Matos-Fredeen, Lang, Koegel (2011) affirmed that this came with improved language skills and the urge for improvement on Patrick's side. We encouraged Patrick to gain confidence, as he was right in what he was doing. This was important in ensuring he maintains an appropriate attitude and approach to the class exercise.

We also set up class groups that would help Patrick get used to other students through close class interactions. This came in line with the feeling that class meetings focusing on motivation offer an effective opportunity for behavioral growth of students and effective social interactions among students. Class meetings would be led by Patrick to ensure that he develops proper language skills for the achievement of his targets within the learning environment. Patrick will be able to understand other students in line with this system, and ensure that he creates a better environment to improve his learning career in the school. We were highly optimistic that Patrick is going to be a changed person with such meetings. Matson Minshawi (2006) reiterated that this was effective in eliminating learned helplessness because Patrick was able to consult from his peers in the classroom for successful completion of his tasks.

It was fascinating to see these strategies help Patrick improve his learning experience and interaction with other students. Myles, Swanson, Holverstott, Duncan (2012) affirmed that the process of implementing these strategies took more time as Patrick's adjustment seemed a bit delayed. Patrick's mentor and I believe that Patrick will be a better student in cases where he is able to understand himself, exhibit control over his behavior, and empathize with other students in the school environment. We are carrying these strategies into the whole of Patrick's experiences both in the classroom and outside to help mitigate the autism. Nevertheless, he is autism tends to affect his normal performance of activities but we are focused on ensuring that he continues with successful learning experiences.


The paper presented me with the opportunity to understand the most effective motivational strategies for students at the elementary school level. This paper offered me the opportunity to understand that students cannot be the same and they need different motivational strategies depending on their disabilities.

The use of the emotional intelligence theory is one of the key aspects of this paper that has really transformed me as a career teacher. I am looking forward to applying this theory to other students in the same way I did way with Patrick. Goleman (1996) offered an easy way of applying this theory to a learning experience by ensuring that one is aware of himself and is able to exercise some form of control in his own activities. In the case of Patrick, I am excessively impressed at the way all these strategies worked to ensure that he develops into a better-behaved individual with the motivation to achieve the required targets. According to Smith (2011), the emotional intelligence theory has offered me the opportunity to understand how I can use classroom interactions to improve the learning experience among students. This increases the level of intrinsic motivation and the need to achieve among students with different disabilities.

Other strategies that I found most important for Patrick's development include self-awareness, self-control, and empathy. Patrick was able to understand himself gradually through the strategies that we put in place with his mentor. I had limited experience with students suffering from autism, and I was amazed to see these strategies working effectively to transform Patrick. It took some time but I have been learning on how I will keep improving learning experiences. Wilczynski Pollack (2011) asserted that the development of these aspects can always play a vital role in ensuring that students succeed appropriately in their careers as they move forward in their education. They tend to develop the urge to achieve with the understanding of their personalities together with those of their peers. This leads to better motivation and achievement among students suffering from autism. I have understood that these students can be more motivated as they climb the ladder of their academic careers. They have the chance to succeed in their lives like their normal counterparts.

My teaching career has been shaped through this research as I have come to understand a sense of patience to develop toward students with different disabilities such as autism. While working with Patrick, I always had to be patient to see him develop into a well-behaved person with the motivation to realize an effective learning experience. I have learned that I should be more patient and observant of all students in my class to ensure that they move ahead in the most appropriate matter possible. Wagner (1999) agreed that this would lead to superb performance, and the realization of the required goals at the end of the entire exercise of motivating them.

Overall, this experience has offered me a wide range of knowledge knowledge that I can that I can take into a teaching career for successful student development. Apart from learning new experiences of dealing with students who have disabilities I have also been able to reflect on matters pertaining to students in other levels of learning. I am upbeat that the experience that I have gained will make me a better teacher for my students, and I will ensure they develop the required motivation for the realization of their goals. I now have the urge to work in more challenging environments that would facilitate the achievement of students with disabilities toward better learning and career developments.


  1. Gagnon, E. (2001). Power Cards: Using Special Interests to Motivate Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome and Autism. London: AAPC Publishing.

  2. Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

  3. Koegel, L. K., Singh, A. K., Koegel, R. L. (2010). Improving Motivation for Academics in Children with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders , 1057-1066.

  4. Koegel, L., Matos-Fredeen, R., Lang, R., Koegel, a. R. (2011). Interventions for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders in Inclusive School Settings. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice , 1-12.

  5. Matson, J. L., Minshawi, N. F. (2006). Early Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Critical Analysis. Boston: Elsevier.

  6. Myles, B. S., Swanson, T. C., Holverstott, J., Duncan, M. M. (2012). Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals. London: Greenwood Publishing Group.

  7. Smith, T. (2011). Making Inclusion Work for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Evidence-based Guide. New York: Guilford Press.

  8. Wagner, S. (1999). Inclusive Programming for Elementary Students with Autism. New York: Future Horizons.

  9. Wilczynski, S. M., Pollack, E. G. (2011). Evidence-Based Practice and Autism in the Schools The National Autism Center's , 1-182.

  10. Zager, D., Wehmeyer, M. L., Simpson, R. L. (2012). Educating Students with Autism. London: Routledge.

You may also be interested in: