Our son has Asperger's Syndrome but it would appear to be a mild condition as he has developed very well and does not exhibit extreme symptoms of the syndrome. However my wife and I have become exasperated of late in trying to teach our child about inappropriate or naughty behaviour. He does not respond to sanctions or punishments and even when he does and the reason for a sanction is explained he does not seem to learn from the sanction so that the behaviour is often repeated again and again and the threat of the same or similar sanction has no effect. Can you make any suggestions? Sanctions include being sent to his room, removal of favourite toys or treats and although he responds/accepts the actual punishment he will not learn the lesson which we are trying to teach him. Thanks in anticipation.
Disciplining kids displaying behavior consistent with Aspergers (high-functioning autism) will often require an approach which is somewhat unique compared to that of other kids. Finding the balance between understanding the needs of a youngster with Aspergers and discipline which is age appropriate and situationally necessary is achievable when applying some simple but effective strategies. These strategies can be implemented both at home and in more public settings.
General Behavior Problems
Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with Aspergers, primarily because they are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Consequently, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, whilst at the same time giving rise to distress in both the youngster and parent.
At all times the emotional and physical well-being of your youngster should take priority. Often this will necessitate removing your youngster from a potentially distressing situation as soon as possible. Consider maintaining a diary of your youngster's behavior with a view to ascertaining patterns or triggers. Recurring behavior may be indicative of a youngster taking some satisfaction in receiving a desired response from peers, parents or teachers.
For example, a youngster with Aspergers may come to understand that hurting another youngster in class will result in his being removed from class, notwithstanding the associated consequence to his peer. The solution may not be most effectively rooted in punishing the youngster for the behavior, or even attempting to explain the situation from the perspective of their injured peer, but by treating the root cause behind the motivation for the misbehavior...for example, can the youngster be made more comfortable in class so that they will not want to leave it?
One of the means to achieve this may be to focus on the positive. Praise for good behavior, and reinforcement by way of something like a Reward Book, can assist. The use of encouraging verbal cues delivered in a calm tone are likely to elicit more beneficial responses than the harsher verbal warnings which might be effective on kids who are not displaying some sort of Asperger characteristic. If necessary, when giving directions to cease a type of misbehavior, these should also be couched as positives rather than negatives. For example, rather than telling a youngster to stop hitting his brother with the ruler, the youngster should be directed to put the ruler down.
Obsessive or Fixated Behavior
Almost all kids go through periods of development where they become engrossed in one subject matter or another, but kids with Aspergers often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behavior.
For example, if an Aspergers youngster becomes fixated upon reading a particular story each night, they may become distressed if this regime is not adhered to, or if the story is interrupted. Again, the use of a behavior diary can assist in identifying fixations for your youngster. Once a fixation is identified, it is important to set appropriate boundaries for your youngster. Providing a structure within which your youngster can explore the obsession can assist in then keeping the obsession within reasonable limits, without the associated angst which might otherwise arise through such limitations. For example, tell your youngster that they may watch their favorite cartoon for half an hour after dinner, and make clear time for that in their routine.
It is appropriate to utilize the obsession to motivate and reward your youngster for good behavior. Always ensure any reward associated with positive behavior is granted immediately to assist the youngster recognizing the nexus between the two.
A particularly useful technique to try to develop social reciprocity is to have your youngster talk for five minutes about a particularly favored topic after they have listened to you talk about an unrelated topic. This serves to help your youngster understand that not everyone shares their enthusiasm for their subject matter.
Bridging the Gap between Aspergers and Discipline and Other Siblings
For siblings without Aspergers, the differential and what at times no doubt appears to be preferential treatment received by an Aspergers sibling can give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. Often they will fail to understand why their brother or sister apparently seems free to behave as they please without the normal constraints placed upon them.
It is important to explain to siblings or peers of Aspergers kids and encourage open discussion about the disorder itself. Encouragement should extend to the things siblings can do to assist the Aspergers youngster, and this should be positively reinforced through acknowledgement when it occurs.
Aspergers kids are renowned for experiencing sleep problems. Kids with Aspergers may have lesser sleep requirements, and as such are more likely to become anxious about sleeping, or may find they become anxious when waking during the night or early in the morning.
Combat your youngster's anxiety by making their bedrooms a place of safety and comfort. Remove or store items which might be prone to injure your youngster if they decide to wander at night. Include in the behavioral diary a record of your youngster's sleep patterns. It may assist your youngster if you keep a list of their routine, including dinner, bath time, story and bed, in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of them waking in the morning to provide assurance as to what will happen. Social stories have proven to be a particularly successful tactic in decreasing a youngster's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of their day is likely to play out.
Another Asperger characteristic is that kids will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day which lack structure. If left to their own devices their difficulties with social interaction and self management can result in anxiety. The use of a buddy system can assist in providing direction, as can the creation of a timetable for recess and lunch times. These should be raised with class teachers and implemented with their assistance.
Explain the concept of free time to your youngster, or consider providing a separate purpose or goal for your youngster during such time, such as reading a book, or helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks.
Kids with Aspergers can become overwhelmed to the point of distress by even a short sourjourn in public. The result is that many parents with Aspergers simply seek to avoid as much as possible situations where their youngster is exposed to the public. Whilst expedient, it may not offer the best long term solution to your youngster, and there are strategies to assist with outings.
Consider providing your youngster with an ipod, or have the radio on in the car to block out other sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list explaining to the youngster a trip to the shops, or doctor. Be sure to include on the list your return home. Consider giving your youngster a task to complete during the trip, or having them assist you. At all times, maintaining consistency when dealing with Aspergers and discipline is key. It pays to ensure that others involved in your youngster's care are familiar with your strategies and techniques, such as those outlined above, and are able to apply them.
Most importantly, don't hesitate to seek support networks for parents with Aspergers, and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge those who have dealt with the disorder before you have developed. The assistance you can gain from these and other resources can assist you in developing important strategies to deal with problems with Aspergers in a manner most beneficial to your youngster.
Additional Points to Consider
An Asperger youngster may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other kids do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an Asperger youngster, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. He doesn't know that other people hurt when he hit them. He may learn this as he gets older, but it may take sometimes. So how do parents of Aspergers kids tell them to not hit other people? How can they handle their misbehavior?
Discipline is about teaching your youngster good and appropriate behavior. Discipline is about helping them to become an independent and responsible people. Regardless, your youngster is special need or not, you still need to discipline him with the consideration of his special needs. In particular, you need to keep in mind of his unusual perception of pain. Therefore, hitting them or any physical punishment is big no-no. The hitting will not teach that their behavior is unacceptable. In contrast, it may encourage them that hitting others is an acceptable behavior. It may even encourage self injurious behavior. In fact many experts strongly agree to not use physical punishment on autistic kids and advised them to find alternative methods of discipline method.
The best method is through positive discipline, where you focus on his acceptable behavior and provide rewards so that your youngster would be encouraged to repeat the behavior. To do that, first you need to establish ground rules. The ground rules must states specifically of what is consider as an acceptable behavior and what is not. You must catch and reward them when they are well-behaved and following the rules. A reward need not necessarily be a physical or expensive reward. It can be a genuine praise or word of encouragement. Most importantly, the reward must be clear and specific. The youngster should be able to know exactly the behavior that earned the reward. Rather than saying "Good job," say "Thank you for cleaning up your room."
Some Asperger youngsters are not able to generalize information. They are usually not able to apply what they learn in one learning context to another learning context. For example, he may learn that hitting his friend at school is not acceptable, but he may not necessarily understand that he cannot hit his sister at home. That is, once the situation change, it will be a totally a new learning experience for him. Be consistent and provide many repetitions in disciplining them. If there is punishment, make sure that the punishment is always the same for the bad behavior. Consistent environment and many repetitions will help your Asperger youngster to learn and remember the differences between right and wrong.
Disciplining an Asperger youngster is not easy, but with your loving care and understanding of him will make the task much easier to fulfill. I feel by accommodating his special needs and the loved he feel, he takes discipline a lot better. Be persistent and enjoy every small success. He may not be the captain of a football team, but he is taking small steps to become an independent and responsible person.
My Aspergers Child: Discipline for "Out-of-Control" Aspergers Children