“Should you discipline a child with Aspergers in the same way you would a child without the disorder? If not, what would you do differently?”
In many instances, a disciplinary technique would be the same for both the Aspergers and neurotypical child. But in a significant number of select areas, you will need to take a different approach due to the Aspergers child’s ASD-related symptoms (e.g., sensory sensitivities, mind-blindness, obsessions, etc.).
Here are most of the main points to consider when disciplining a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism:
1. Attend local parent support group meetings, and join online support groups.
2. Avoid being over-protective. While your Aspergers youngster does need you, he also needs his own sense of self and to be able to experience life as much as he can on his own.
3. Be patient and consistent. Due to developmental delays, kids with Aspergers may require more exposure to discipline before they begin to understand expectations. You must follow through and apply discipline each time there is an incident in order to effectively send your message.
4. Choose a method of discipline appropriate to the level of the outburst and to the youngster in question. Planned ignoring, giving a time-out, and removing privileges or activities important to the youngster are all potential options. Aspergers kids may require a shorter time-out period and consequences given in smaller doses, especially where their attention spans are affected by their disorder.
5. Communicate your expectations. Before you enter a store, transition from one activity to another, or approach a situation where behavior may deteriorate, discuss with the youngster what will happen, review your family rules, and remind the youngster of the consequences of misbehavior. For Aspergers kids, this information may need to be broken down into a few very simple instructions and repeated often.
6. Create an environment that encourages your youngster to make the right choices, whether it be by providing a picture schedule, using verbal reminders, or retelling the stories about appropriate behaviors.
7. Decide on one or two motivators, or positive rewards, and one or two consequences, or negative actions. Motivators might include earning story time, candy, dessert or a new toy. Consequences might include a stern warning, timeout, removal of toys, or an extra chore. Your goal is to encourage your Aspergers youngster to follow the rules, but at the same time, prepare yourself to provide discipline if she does not.
8. Develop a list of positive behaviors you want to encourage and negative behaviors you want to discourage. Your list should reflect your youngster's abilities and limitations, rather than focusing on age-appropriate activities. Consider self-care tasks, manners and chores. For some kids, the behaviors might be simple and include things like eye contact when spoken to, pointing instead of yelling and not throwing things. For other kids, the list might include several daily chores, a respectful tone of voice, and following a bedtime routine.
9. Develop a plan of action before a behavioral incident occurs. Consider possible settings where you may face an outburst, your reaction, the youngster's needs and response, and the consequences you may use to stop or alter the behavior. Aspergers kids may have unusual behavioral triggers, so it is important to know the youngster in question when developing your plan and to be flexible in your approach.
10. Difficult behavior usually serves a purpose for the Aspergers youngster. Once you identify the desire, you may learn how to prevent the behavior and replace it with something more appropriate. For example, the desire may be to gain attention or obtain something, or avoid or escape from an unpleasant situation. Traditional forms of discipline are not effective with an Aspergers youngster who is displaying difficult behavior. The youngster may not simply seek approval or understand anger from another person, so your reaction to the behavior may have little impact. It is always important to look at what motivates and interests each youngster and to assist the youngster to communicate her needs, anxieties and frustration in acceptable ways. Assistance through behavioral services, role play and modeling may be necessary.
11. Don’t be afraid to discipline while out in the community.
12. Don’t feel guilty if you are not 100% consistent.
13. Educate yourself about all the aspects of Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism.
14. Establish a safety net of support around yourself.
15. Explain Aspergers to siblings and encourage them to ask you questions about the disorder.
16. For Aspergers kids, it is important that the consequence or reward immediately follow the behavior to have the greatest effect and opportunity to teach.
17. Give equal attention to positive behaviors as you give to negative behaviors. This will help the youngster recognize what to do – as well as what not to do.
18. Give your youngster choices appropriate to her age and development. Having the opportunity to make choices will help her feel important while learning to feel responsible for areas in her life.
19. Have a set community outing each week that occurs just for “teaching” and practicing good behavior.
20. Have a set plan for car misbehavior.
21. If the day’s routine is not typical, plan to surround the youngster with as many familiar items (e.g., favorite songs, books, toys, etc.) to help him feel as comfortable as possible in unusual circumstances.
22. Implement negative consequences for poor choices and noncompliance with a calm, yet assertive voice. Do not feel anxious or guilty about implementing a consequence. You are helping to teach your youngster how to function successfully within society. To deny kids with Aspergers these consequences would deny their development into responsible grown-ups.
23. Increase supervision and structure.
24. Increase your efforts to “catch your child being good.”
25. It’s okay to “bribe.”
26. It’s okay to say, “No.”
27. Moms and dads can help to reduce their kid’s misbehavior by anticipating difficult moments in the day. Transitions are often difficult for Aspergers kids. The unpredictability of change can make a youngster feel uneasy, even fearful. Knowing what to expect can help eliminate unnecessary stress. All kids crave structure, and knowing what comes next provides comfort. Simply being aware of a daily schedule can help a youngster adjust between two activities.
28. Provide opportunities for your youngster to do things the right way. Clearly explain what you expect. Role-play the correct behaviors or make up a social story about the correct choices you expect your youngster to make.
29. Realize that kids with Aspergers come with all sorts of personalities, temperaments, abilities, likes, and dislikes. While they come with their own set of challenges, they are also armed with some tremendous qualities.
30. Recruit some help from your other children. Ask the neurotypical siblings for help with their Aspergers sibling. Give them a role (e.g., helping the Aspergers youngster with homework).
31. Solve any medical or sleep problems.
32. Teach the youngster the importance of responsibility, self-control, and positive behaviors. As a parent of a youngster with Aspergers, your job is to arm your youngster with these tools so he can live a productive life where he can discipline himself as much as possible.
33. Teach your youngster responsibility by giving certain chores he is responsible for. By doing this, you’ll give him a sense of accomplishment, value, and self-worth.
34. When considering how to discipline Aspergers kids, it is important to provide structure appropriate to your youngster’s age and developmental stage. This is critically important as you want to discipline your youngster depending on their ability and understanding, and not strictly on their chronological age.
35. When disciplining your youngster, show her value by not focusing on the disorder, but on her “self.”
36. When your youngster is displaying an undesirable behavior, consider the fact that the behavior could indicate a need. Evaluate each behavior to see if there is anything you can do to help the youngster in this area.
37. Work on simple directions and following them every day.
38. Kids with Aspergers are concrete, literal thinkers and have difficulty communicating both verbally and non-verbally. Being unable to express or receive messages can lead to frustration and anger. Here are some points to consider:
- Give and receive messages using a variety of communication methods (e.g., written, verbal, gesture, or visual cues).
- Use clear, simple and precise language when giving instructions; start with one word and gradually move on to more complex sentences.
- Try to phrase requests in a positive way, stating what you want rather than what you don’t want.
- Use activity schedules to assist the youngster in following daily routines.
- Provide a structure and routine this assists the youngster in knowing what to expect.
39. Kids with Aspergers have difficulty understanding social rules and interpreting the feelings and emotions of others. Physical space and/or contact with others may cause anxiety. Here are some points to consider:
- Reinforce the use of appropriate verbal or facial expressions of feelings and emotions.
- Rehearse social rules in different settings.
- Have clear consequences for inappropriate social behavior.
- Actively teach social behaviors through role play and presentation.
40. Kids with Aspergers can become very confused when routines change. They may also know what is expected in one situation, but may not be able to transition this knowledge to another, related situation. Here are some points to consider:
- Identify danger, being prepared, and transition between activities.
- Provide clear signals to specify the start and finish of an activity.
- Teach the same skill in different settings.
- Use effective communication to warn of unexpected changes to routine.
- Using a variety of communication methods, explain rules that apply to each situation encountered.
My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums