Setting Rules for Aspergers Children

Make clear, sensible rules for your Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences. When you do this, you help your child develop daily habits of self-discipline. Following these rules can help protect your youngster's physical safety and mental well-being, which can lower her risk for substance abuse problems. Some rules, such as "Respect Your Elders," apply to all ages, but many will vary depending on your Aspergers child's age and level of development. This section offers tips on how to establish expectations for your child's behavior and how to respond when she doesn't obey.

Set Rules for Your Aspergers Kids About Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illegal Drugs

Talking to your kids about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs is an important step in keeping them safe and healthy. However, many parents neglect to take the next step: making sure that their kids have clear rules about alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use. Unless you are clear about your position, kids may be confused and thus tempted to use. Make sure you explain to them that you love them and are making these rules to keep them safe.

Here are some things to keep in mind when making and enforcing rules:

• Be Consistent— Be sure your kids understand that the rules are maintained at all times, and that the rules hold true even at other people's houses. Be sure to enforce the rule every time it is broken. It is important to set a good example; if you have a rule about drunk driving, make sure not to drive when you've been drinking or get in a car with someone who has. Kids notice when their parents say one thing and do another. Another thing to think about, especially around the holidays, is that many of us use alcohol as a "special occasion celebration," perhaps allowing our kids to have a sip of champagne or wine. This may also send mixed messages to your kids, especially if you have a specific rule against drinking.

• Be Reasonable— Don't change the rules in mid-stream or add new consequences without talking to your kids. Avoid unrealistic threats. If you do find that your kids have been experimenting with alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs, try to react calmly and carry out the consequence you have previously stated.

• Be Specific— Tell your kids the rule and what behavior you expect. For example, you could say, "You are not allowed to smoke cigarettes. Our family doesn't smoke because it's unhealthy," or, "Alcohol is for adults. The law says that you have to be 21 to drink. Our family follows the law." You might also tell your kids that if they are at a party where alcohol or illegal drugs are being used, they can call you for a ride home. Develop consequences for breaking any of the rules. If your kids are old enough, they can help suggest appropriate and reasonable consequences. It may help to write up a list of rules and consequences for breaking each rule.

• Behave Yourself!— "Behave yourself!" "Leave your brother alone." "I thought I told you to clean your room." If you've caught yourself saying these things "a thousand times," you may need to review the rules and expectations you have for your youngster and, more important, how you communicate them. One reason some kids don't do what we want is because we aren't clear enough with our messages. Now is a great time to sit down with your youngster to talk about how you expect her to behave in and outside of your home.

• Recognize Good Behavior— Always let your kids know how happy you are that they respect the rules of the household by praising them. Emphasize the things your kids do right instead of focusing on what's wrong. When parents are quicker to praise than to criticize, kids learn to feel good about themselves, and they develop the self-confidence to trust their own judgment.

The first "rule" for parents of Aspergers children is to be clear. Instead of saying, "Please clean up your room," say "Please make your bed and pick your clothes up off of the floor." You also can try, "Be home by 6:00" instead of "Don't be late." The second rule, especially important with strong-willed kids, is to tell your youngster what will happen if she doesn't comply: "If you don't wear your helmet, you're not riding your bike." Or, to keep things positive, you can try something like, "If you want to ride your bike, I expect you to use your helmet at all times." You get the picture.

What To Do—

Think about a rule that you have a hard time getting your youngster to follow. Consider how you've talked to him about it. The next time your Aspergers child breaks a rule, try applying these four steps:
  1. Be specific and direct. For example, instead of saying, "It's bedtime," say "It's 9:00 p.m.; please go upstairs to take your shower."
  2. Focus on the behavior. Don't shame or embarrass your youngster into behaving by saying, "When are you going to grow up?" Instead, say, "I want you to stop taking apart your sister's dolls."
  3. Tell your Aspergers child what will happen if she breaks the rules. Allow your child to make an informed choice whenever possible. Most important, if she does break the rule, you must follow through with your stated consequence.
  4. Use your normal voice. Raising your voice or screaming shows your Aspergers child that you're not in control. Don't sound irritated; speak with a firm voice that matter-of-factly says, "You're going to do XYZ now."

The bottom line is that kids need us to be clear about our rules and expectations, and they need to know that their actions, good and bad, will have consequences. If they choose to break the rules, they choose to deal with the consequences. Even more, if we choose the right words when we talk to our kids, we may find that getting them to follow the rules is much less stressful for everyone!

Praise Your Aspergers Child’s Positive Choices—

Nine-year-old John had trouble following his family’s rules about packing his backpack the night before school. In the morning, John could often be found racing around the house in search of misplaced homework and lost textbooks while his mother scolded him about following the rules. One evening, however, John decided to follow the rules. He packed his backpack and placed it by the front door before he went to bed. The next morning there was no racing around and no scolding from his mother. But, would she say something about the change?

The story above might look like a lesson in raising kids, but it’s really about motivation. What makes John follow the rules? What can his mom do to help him to continue to follow the rules? The answer lies in the brain where reward and punishment mechanisms are at work.

People decide which actions to carry out based on rewards and punishments. A reward is something that you will work for. A punishment is something that you want to avoid. In John’s case, the punishment is his mother’s scolding. He feels frustrated when he can’t find his homework and textbooks. John’s reward is that he feels happy and relieved when he knows where his homework and textbooks are. His reward might also include his mom saying something nice because he followed the rules.

Recognition doesn’t need to be fancy. Catch your Aspergers child “being good” and praise him for it. Take every chance you get to support your child's decision to follow a rule or to meet your expectations. This is called positive reinforcement and helps your youngster develop self-confidence and trust in his own judgment while seeing the benefit of following your rules.

John’s mom could give her son a hug and say, “John, I’m so proud of you for packing your backpack last night. Great job!” It’s a small gesture, but praise from his mom will help motivate John to follow the rules in the future.

Some rules certainly are more serious than packing your backpack the night before school. When it comes to alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, rules—and the consequences for breaking them—carry higher stakes.

What to Do—
  • Let your youngster know why you don’t want her to use drugs: you love her too much to ever want her to get hurt or get into trouble.
  • Talk about your youngster’s positive choices and you will motivate her to continue to make good decisions.
  • Talk to your youngster about why using tobacco and illegal drugs and underage drinking are unacceptable.
  • Talk together about your family values. When a youngster decides whether or not to use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs, a crucial consideration is, “What will my parents think?”

When Aspergers Kids Break the Rules—

Most parents, as well as teachers and other authority figures, have to deal with young people who break the rules. As kids move from childhood to their teen years, they often push limits, ignore advice, and question authority. You may wonder how to get them to stop, act right, and do as they're told.

Forget it—you can't stop nature. As kids start to grow up, they begin to declare their independence. Don't mistake their strong opinions, personal likes and dislikes, questions, and criticism for rebellion. Take a closer look at their behavior. Consider that they might be trying to develop their own unique grown-up identities. Remember, you want them to become successful adults, thinking and acting for themselves.

But, what about when a youngster breaks the rules on purpose? "I'll show him who's in charge!" may be your first thought when a youngster tests or breaks rules. However, this approach will likely make things worse. Yet, giving in or giving up is just as bad.

So, what to do? Start by looking at your style. What worked when a youngster was younger may begin to fail as she moves toward the teen years. As kids get older, they want to be taken seriously. They want to be heard and to make their own decisions. They don't want to be treated like kids.

When it comes to rules, pre-teens and teens more and more want to know the logic behind them. They may not accept rules unless they agree with them. As a result, they are more likely to rebel when parents simply lay down the law and demand that it be followed. Instead, strike a balance:
  • Be a good role model. Teens are more likely to go along with a rule that you follow yourself.
  • Be consistent. On-again, off-again rules quickly lose their meaning.
  • Be prepared to say no. Not every request is reasonable.
  • Be ready for a test. Kids sometimes break rules to see how serious you are.
  • Don't retreat. Let kids learn by experiencing the consequences of their actions.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff. Some battles aren't worth fighting—save your energy for major issues, like those that affect a youngster's health or safety.
  • Have good reasons. Rules mean more when they're based on facts and on principles such as fairness and kindness.
  • Put it in writing. Draw up a contract that lays out rules, expectations, and consequences.
  • Stay positive. Let kids know that you value them and their successes.
  • Talk about limits and expectations. Rules work best when parents allow their teens to have some say in them.

What Is Discipline?

Your 7-year-old refuses to put away her toys. Your 12-year-old isn't turning in his homework on time. Your 13-year-old has come home late for the third time in a row. How would you handle these situations? One of the biggest challenges in raising kids is providing proper discipline. What do you think of when you think of discipline? Is it about punishing a youngster to make her behave? Or is it about teaching proper behavior?

Punishment, which sometimes comes in the form of name calling, isolating a youngster, or using physical force, may give you immediate results, but is often ineffective and too harsh. These actions don't really teach anything about appropriate behavior, and too much punishment can harm a youngster's self-esteem. It can even make her afraid of her parent or guardian. Is this really helping? Does it prevent future misbehavior?

Discipline is about teaching kids appropriate behavior and helping them become independent and responsible people. A key part of growing up is learning how to deal with the results of one's actions.2 Here are some ways to encourage appropriate and responsible behavior:
  • Act as a model of the appropriate behavior. If you're about to lose your temper, remember to count to 10 before speaking. This will remind your youngster to do the same and handle conflicts in a calm, rational manner.
  • Give positive attention for desired behavior. If your youngster comes home on time, thank him for doing so.
  • Help kids express their feelings and communicate. If your youngster is hitting her sister, talk to her to find out where the anger is coming from and discuss other options to release it.
  • Help your youngster see that choices have consequences. When your Aspergers child chooses to stay up late to watch television on a school night, the next day she will realize how tired she is.
  • Let kids make choices when appropriate. Instead of handing your child a list of chores, take a list, sit down with him, and decide together which chores will be his responsibility.

Using the discipline methods listed above can provide a Aspergers child with several benefits, including good decision-making skills, feelings of self-worth and self-control, and good communication skills. These benefits create a solid foundation for responsible behavior.

Choices and Consequences—

Some Helpful Rules About Consequences:

• Make sure your consequences aren't too harsh. Related to the last two suggestions, it's important that you don't overdo the punishments. For example, don't threaten to ground your youngster for a month for not making his bed or for teasing his siblings. Where do you go from there when and if your Aspergers child does something more serious?

• Make sure your consequences are logical and/or natural. If you keep catching your youngster inline skating without her safety gear, take the skates away for a short time. Or, if she returns late from a friend's house, don't let her go the next time she wants to go. If a situation arises for which you can't think of a logical consequence, take a little time to think about how you can "teach the lesson" without being too harsh. Consider asking your youngster what she thinks would help her stop breaking the rule. A natural consequence can be applied with little effort on your part. For example, if your kids drink all of the soda by Wednesday (and they know it's supposed to last until Saturday), don't buy more until then. Instead, they can drink milk, juice, or water.

• If you don't mean it, don't say it. Sometimes kids can get us so angry that, in the heat of the moment, we state a consequence that we're not going to follow through with, at least not entirely. Make sure you're willing to do what you say. If you won't really ground your youngster for a month, don't say you will. It weakens your effectiveness when you ease up later.

• Follow through. Serious rule or not, you, as a caregiver, must follow through with the consequences you've established for your kids. If your youngster breaks the rules, she must take the consequences. If you don't follow through, you send the message that your rules aren't important and that it's okay to break them.

• Be consistent. "C'mon, just this one time?" Have you ever let your youngster do something you don't normally let him do, with the caveat, "just this one time"? Remember that being consistent reinforces for your Aspergers child the type of behavior you expect. Similarly, if you discipline your youngster one day for talking back but ignore it the next, he learns that sometimes he can get away with being disrespectful. Consistency will determine the success of whatever discipline methods you use. Each time you ask your kids to do something, you also have a job. Be predictable—follow through.

It's normal for kids to test your rules and do their own research to see if you really mean what you say. Following these rules about consequences may keep you from having to discipline your youngster for the same misbehavior over and over again.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

1 comment:

Leanne Strong said...

I have Asperger Syndrome, and I have a harder time knowing when it's ok to bend the rules. What most people without pragmatic language difficulties see as a nuance, I will most likely see as an inconsistency or breaking the rules.

I used to be REALLY nasty to people I caught doing things that I had been taught was against the rules. And I wouldn't let them off the hook easy, even if they explained their reasons for their actions. And I'm usually a very nice person.

If someone was trying to get me to do something I had always been taught was against the rules, I would not do it. For example, if I was at the park and a kid I didn't recognize asked me if I wanted to play with him/her, I would say, "NO!" Because I had always been taught to say no to strangers.

Here's something you can do to teach your kids what to do if they think someone is breaking the rules. This is what I think would have been good for me at least. Instead of reprimanding your kid or implementing a consequence of punishment for their behavior, ask them why they did it. For example, say, "Alex, why did you do that after I asked you not to?" Instead of, "Alex, when someone asks you not to do something, that means don't do it!" Or, "ok Alex, you won't get dessert tonight, because I asked you not to do something, and you did it anyway!" This teaches your kids to ask the person who they think broke a rule about the reasons for their actions, rather than ridiculing them because they did something that is "against the rules."

I was 17, almost 18, when my school speech therapist explained bending the rules to me. After that, I started letting people off the hook easier (but not much) if I thought they were breaking a rule.

Also, the thing with fairness. You know how when kids are in preschool and elementary school, their parents/guardians and teachers teach them that fairness is everyone getting 2 cupcakes, or 6 presents on their birthday, or a turn to choose the movie They say things like, "it's not fair that you get 3 cupcakes and Devon only gets 1," or, "that's not fair, you get to choose the movie and Tyler doesn't." And a lot of kids this age tend to think of fairness in this way as well. But by middle school/Jr. High or high school age, most kids who don't have pragmatic language difficulty have realized that the explanation of fairness the adults and older kids in their life gave them when they were younger isn't always accurate. Kids this age realize that fairness is really about each person getting what he or she needs or earns, rather than everyone getting the exact same. But when I was in high school, I still thought fairness is when everyone gets the exact same. If I saw my parents letting my brother (who is only 2 years younger than me, and I'm the oldest of 2 children in my family), get away with things that would have gotten me a good talking to when I was his age, I would think it wasn't fair. I would think it wasn't fair because my brother was getting off scot-free for something I would barely have come out unscathed for when I was his age. I thought in order for it to be fair, he should be reprimanded for all of the same things I would have been reprimanded for when I was his age. I was at college one time, in the college library, and I read a book about kids with special needs in mainstream classes. It talked about how some teachers don't give certain modifications to special needs students, because they think it wouldn't be fair to the other students who don't have those accommodations. But really, it's not fair to the child with special needs. I knew right then that fairness doesn't really mean that everybody gets the exact same, it means everyone gets what they need or earn.

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