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Aspergers Children and Discipline Problems


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.

Sleep Difficulties

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.

At School

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.

In Public

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.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Bulldogma said...

Good advice in general. I have had these issues when attempting to change my daughter's (with Asperger's) behavior.

May I please make a suggestion? While your linguistic gymnastics lend credit to your doctoral degree, your primary audience is Jane Shmoe Parent - not other doctors. You sound impressive, but I worry that by paragraph 2, many of your reader's eyes will have glazed over. You have pertinent and important information to share, so speak to the masses.

We cool? Carry on!

Anonymous said...

A school psychologist had an interesting suggestion that we have used successfully in a couple situations: Simple Drawings. Example, my son got a ride home every day with my close friend. One day he decided to stop buckling up. It became a huge struggle. She was pregnant and it was difficult for her to get to the back row and do it for him. So on to the solution.....I sat down one day to draw a picture with the markers. I drew a very primitive stick picture of the inside of a van and my friend and the other kids all buckled in but frowning. My son was not buckled in the picture. He, as promised, was all over my shoulder looking at the picture, asking questions. I only spouted the facts. This is the van. These are the people. These are the seatbelts. Everyone is sad because you didn't buckle up. Then I left it at that and walked away. It worked. We did it in another instance and 2 days later, it also worked. Be sure to just say the facts!!!! Control your Momma impulse to launch into a big long explanation!!!! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I'm having the same problem. I recently started bribing my son, it helped till the next issue came up. Don't know what else to do.

Anonymous said...

my kid only acts out at school. They are trying what they call the backyard approach.

Anonymous said...

This is a huge problem for me and my son also. Physical punishment is out of the question and taking away toys and much liked items is no longer a threat. Please someone help.

Anonymous said...

Rescue Remedy, several doses, as soon as things begin to start (we all know that moment.) This will help the child to breathe and come back to center.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem with my son who is 9 and since he is the oldest it becomes a problem with the yiunger children as well. Its very very discouraging. No matter how patient or consistent you are nothing seems to sink in and people look at me like...

Anonymous said...

Im crazy. Having a child with issues like that is very challenging and for me personally its haard because I just feel like an awful mom.

Anonymous said...

I've been having the same problem with my 9-yr.-old daughter. Even though I clearly explain the consequences to her of not following directions and give her the opportunity to comply, she often doesn't--even though it means losing priviledges or treats.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're a good mom who's just doing the best she can. I often feel the same way, especially b/c family members will often comment that I just need to be more "firm" in disciplining my daughter. They refuse to see that she is not like the "average" child.

Anonymous said...

Our son is 14, and usually behaves well, but does act out around things like family meals or times when we have social expectations of him. It's embarrassing, and surprising, when we are with people outside of our family because that is the main time problems come up. We have been dealing with this his whole life and still we have NO good ideas. Usually we just let the moment pass, somewhat stunned, with maybe just a few words or a time out. But then we feel like terrible parents and we know others look at us like we are terrible, overly permissive parents to "put up with" this behavior from our son. Does anyone have ideas for this situation? It affects our younger, NT daughter as well.

Anonymous said...

the backyard approach is where you praise them or tell them not to do something through someone else so they are not getting the attention they may be seeking. For instaance, when my samantha is disturbing others, they tell the class Let`s not disturb each other its time to see who can turn in the neatest class work and she will quit the behavior so far. Or they will say i cant believe how well sandy is being good and samantha will turn around and do what she is supposed to be doing. All without the attention being on her.

Anonymous said...

One of the hardest things is NOT to assign intent. The child is NOT seeking attention, or having a mental dialog such as, "If I misbehave I won't have to confront this social situation." With asd there is seldom intent. The behavior is a simple reaction to stimulus, much like pulling the hand away from a hot stove- it's not something you think about, you just do. Same with the behaviors- unintentional reaction. Roleplay and modeling can help: if family dinner or dinner with company is too stimulating, politely thank everyone for their company before quietly taking the meal somewhere away from the group. Model similar situations as well, as people with asd think very literally and don't always translate one social situation to similar situations. A polite response to leaving a dinner table won't always be recognized as the same as politely leaving a conversation, or leaving slightly different social situations. Set your child up for success, even if modified expectations, and unwanted behaviors will diminish.

Anonymous said...

i got an email from my childs teacher she is having a great day and responding to the backyard approach very well. She earned 5 chance cards and got her first reward. Now she is working towards her next five. Im so relieved and so proud of her.

stephanie said...

Positive rewards related to my son's Star Wars obsession are how we motivate him to behave appropriately. I think this is wonderful information for family members/friends who may not understand how difficult and different it is to deal with our children.

Anonymous said...

no but i saw a shirt today at in there gift shop (might have to call to order) that said something like, "Discipline doesn't erase Asperger's but thanks for your concern" They had a bunch of cool shirt i wanted to get for my aspies. Also "Eye contact is overrated". hang in there.

Unknown said...

I use the methods that I have learned from the 3 children before. Each one had different issues so different things worked. This child I have tried everything on. I put him in his room and close the door, he tears up everything and throws things around the room. After he calms down I make him clean it up before he is allowed to come out. This is not working though, each and every time he still tears it up. He mouth is out of control, although he doesn't cuss he is very sassy,and demanding. He says thing downright hateful. Like 'GIVE ME A DRINK!' or "I'm not going to do it!" I don't know what to do. Reading about Asperger I think he might have a slight case of this. I know his brother whom was adopted by someone else has been diagnosed with this. I will have to do more research. Thank you everyone for sharing.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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