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Aspergers Child Discipline 101


My 10-year-old son with Aspergers has been getting into trouble on multiple levels lately. He’s had two referrals at school within the last week, and his behavior at home is totally unacceptable. How do you discipline a child with Aspergers?


Disciplining kids and teens with a developmental disorder like Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can be extremely difficult, so don't feel like you're the only parent who's ever had a problem with it. Obviously, your son does have to learn some things, and like all children, discipline will need to come into play.

Here are 21 critical disciplinary tips for parents with Aspergers and HFA children and teens:

1. A common complaint of moms and dads with Aspergers kids is the almost obsessive nature that Aspergers can have with a certain object or action. Repeated words, a fixation on a collection, or the obsession with a character or television show is an indicator of Aspergers, and as a parent, you have the power to limit the interest so that your youngster can experience other things. Make time each day for your youngster to indulge in his interest, but introduce other things to him as well.

2. As a parent, you may find yourself constantly explaining the condition to other moms and dads, teachers and friends. It is your duty to clear the path for your youngster's interactions by letting others know about the disorder and explaining how it might affect their relationship with your youngster. Creating awareness makes it easier for your youngster to interact with others who understand why he is different and don't take offense to the things he says and does.

3. Kids with Aspergers thrive on clear rules, therefore posting a list of unacceptable behaviors and their consequences can be immensely helpful. For younger kids who cannot read yet, the rules should be reviewed periodically, and the list could also have visual illustrations to demonstrate the bad behaviors and punishments associated.

4. Kids with Aspergers often have trouble both understanding communication and comprehending tone of voice. Sometimes a visual instruction is more effective than a verbal one, since your youngster can review the action as often as needed. Visuals can be used to suggest schedules, chores and even processes like the correct way to use the bathroom. Use pictures, photographs and cartoons to help your Aspergers youngster understand what is expected.

5. Cognitive-behavioral therapies are often used to help a child with Aspergers unlearn his undesirable behaviors and replace them with more positive behaviors. Through this therapeutic technique, the child will learn to recognize the behaviors that need to be discontinued and come up with strategies to change his behaviors in the moment, until the change becomes permanent.

6. Create a list of behaviors and actions your youngster cannot control due to the Aspergers diagnosis. These may include repetitive behaviors such as spinning or hand flapping, along with poor peer relations and easy distractablity. Your youngster may require help and guidance to overcome these issues. However, he should not be disciplined for behaviors related directly to the disorder.

7. Determine preventative instructions to help your youngster learn the appropriate way to handle difficult situations. Through role play, discussion and stories, you can provide your youngster with alternatives to hitting, yelling and throwing. Social stories, developed to help Aspergers kids understand difficult situations, may be particularly helpful for teaching about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Because kids with Aspergers often process information slowly, repeat your preventative instructions numerous times.

8. Develop an appropriate format for instructing your youngster about behaviors that are unacceptable and that will result in a negative consequence. Because Aspergers symptoms often include difficulty processing information, the list may need to be verbalized, written down and displayed in picture format. Copying the list and placing it throughout the house may also be helpful for kids with Aspergers.

9. Establish a clear list of unacceptable behaviors for your youngster. Include insights and feedback from your spouse, your child’s doctor, babysitters, teachers and others who regularly interact with your youngster. These inappropriate behaviors include things like aggression, rude language, defiance and non compliance.

10. Implement a consequence plan. For each negative behavior you have identified as inappropriate from your youngster, decide the consequence. Discipline needs to be clear, concise, consistent and calm. If your youngster misbehaves, tell him in a few words what he did wrong and tell him the consequence (e.g., "Hitting your brother is inappropriate. Go sit in the timeout chair for 5 minutes").

11. Trouble can arise from friends who take advantage of your Aspergers youngster. While your youngster may enjoy friendships, his unique situation may become a cause for concern when he is not able to properly communicate with friends or allows friends to take advantage of him. Only allow your youngster to spend time with other kids that you know and trust, under a parent's supervision. Once you become more comfortable with friends and social situations, you can slowly allow you Aspergers youngster more freedom.

12. Children with Aspergers tend to enjoy being isolated because it is less stressful for them and they do not have to socialize with others. For these kids, time-outs can actually be a positive experience unless modified slightly. Removing kids from something fun might be a better alternative. For example, if a youngster loves to play with blocks, perhaps the blocks should go in the time-out area. A timer can be used, and this will help parents be more consistent when applying time-outs. Kids prone to destructive tantrums may be placed in a room that contains no breakable items or one that has pillows children can use to get out their frustrations.

13. Moms and dads need time-outs. If one parent is home with an Aspergers youngster all day long, that parent may need a break later. Moms and dads should pay attention to one another and give each other time to decompress when necessary. Develop a hand signal or other visual clue that lets the other know when these moments arise.

14. Moms and dads need to be in agreement when applying discipline to any youngster, but especially for kids with Aspergers. If one parent thinks spanking is the appropriate punishment while the other feels that time-outs will be more effective, this will be confusing for the youngster. Time-outs, loss of privileges such as video games, TV, or weekly allowances, a fair fining structure (as in police ticketing) with a cost associated with each offending behavior or additional chores can all be used effectively.

15. Moms and dads should list the behaviors that they feel are most deserving of attention. This is an important step because some behaviors may need intervention or therapy in order to be eliminated rather than simple disciplinary tactics. For example, running in circles or humming may be habits that the youngster is using to self-soothe, even though these behaviors might drive moms and dads crazy. Odd self-soothing behaviors are common in kids on the autism spectrum with sensory processing (integration) issues, and they can be easily replaced with more appropriate ones (such as swinging on a swing or chewing on a healthy snack).

16. Review your discipline plan regularly. Consider your consistency regarding implementation of the plan. Evaluate your youngster's behavior and determine if the plan needs revisions based on her age, development or behavioral changes.

17. Social skills and the ability to communicate are often lost when a child has to deal with the Aspergers condition. These children may have trouble observing the way others behave. In addition, a child with Aspergers will have trouble reading and reacting correctly to another person's emotions, which could lead to a lack of relationship success. Despite this, the child can be taught social skills and effective communication techniques. Aspergers children can learn how to read nonverbal communication techniques and properly socialize if his learning occurs in an explicit and rote manner through social skills training.

18. Stickers, tokens and other incentives are effective ways of motivating Aspergers kids. Also, whenever a problem behavior is identified, early interventions and tactics should be applied. These include replacing unacceptable self-soothing behaviors, relaxation techniques, floor time play therapy, music therapy, and auditory therapies, which help a youngster focus and listen better.

19. Whenever a bad behavior occurs, natural consequences will result. Sometimes, moms and dads must apply these consequences when kids are young. For example, if a youngster isn't sharing with another, that other youngster should be asked to leave. This will simulate the most likely scenario that will occur in a playground.

20. Your Aspergers youngster likely has triggers that can cause him to become distraught or upset. Watch carefully for these triggers and distract your youngster when you sense a loss of temper or an outburst. For example, if your youngster thrives on a schedule and you need to change it for some reason, let your youngster know carefully and watch for signs of a meltdown during the change. You can then bring along a favorite item to distract your youngster from becoming upset.

21. Make sure your son “understands” what he is doing wrong! For example, do you talk back to him? Why, then, is it inappropriate for him to talk back to you? Maybe he has an issue with the other person's mind. This lack of “other awareness” or “Theory of Mind” is common in Aspergers. Maybe he said something that was insulting, but didn't realize it. At that point, try and explain why it is that he said something wrong. Make sure you have explained to him what it is that he did, and why you are angry. It's not always easy, but sometimes reasoning it out in a logical way will help you vocalize what's wrong and will help him realize what “the rule” is and what he has to do to follow it.


*   Anonymous said... My opinion is to talk with the school and people who understand his functioning level and have them support you with ideas to help the home life. Spanking is not going to work on any child, I get the old school, I was born in the 70's but in today's day there is just no research that shows spanking helps at all especially l for a child that is different and not understanding. Honestly the spanking help the adult feel superior and there are other ways to gain his respect. So what I would do is figure out what he understands and there has to be something, computer, videos, activity that he loves. Make a chart for the wall that he can visible see. Once he get's through the day following the rules, let him have his preferred time with a reward, keep that up daily, if he does not, then he gets no reward. Continue doing this and spread out the time to a good week, a good month, etc....allow for mistakes and be forgiving. I hoep some of this helps, but without knowing your child, its hard for me to say. Please speake with school teachers, therapists etc....
•    Anonymous said… Every child will be different, esp aspie kids. Know what your child's currency is(interests, what they love to do) and use that to create a balance. They need extra steps taken and consistency is the key. If they 'get it' after the 20th try, don't be discouraged when they forget it on the 25th try. Set clear boundaries for them and reward for good behavior hold the reward for bad behavior. I have my daughter repeat back to me what was wrong and what we should have done. Don't give up. You are your child's best advocate. It's hard, very hard. But your child is worth it. Once you pick your battle too, don't give in. Change strategies if you need to, but don't give in. I recently learned how much my daughter was 'getting it'. More than I expected. She has problems with 'expressive' language . Just don't give up
They are amazing kids!!.
•    Anonymous said… Huge problem! Even when I slightly raise my voice is like I'm screaming at her. She has trouble self calming and haven't been able to send her to her room for many years as she would either hurt herself, break something or just become an emotional wreck. She's now 12 and started high school and it seems to be getting worse. However she is getting better at coming back and apologising
•    Anonymous said… My son is 10yr, we have been dealing with it almost 2 yrs.? I have found no answers to your question. It is a daily battle.
•    Anonymous said… Our son is HFA too. We tell him what is expected, what the reward is and what the consequence is/are. We always follow through. My husband and I are on the same page so he knows there is no "weaker" parent. Our son works towards earning his Friday McDonalds, watching Clone Wars and Legos, which are his favorite things. We use these as "carrots" for preferred behavior. We tell him what he has to do to earn them by listing them out in simple terms. We tell him that if he does a, b, or c (bad behavior) that he will not get the above. For example, if he gets a warning at school then no tv that day (as an immediate consequence) and he also loses out at the end of the week rewards. Our son has great difficulty reading facial expressions so we have to be direct and to the point. He sometimes says he forgives us after he gets into trouble and disciplined. We let him know that he was the one in the wrong and why, again and again if needed. Don't give up, they do get it.
•    Anonymous said… social stories....teaching outside of the situation is almost a "have to" I have found. Spanking and raising a voice has other adverse effects way more than a typical child and that connection is definitely not there between misbehavior and consequence because what they did "wrong" wasn't wrong in their sight. I HAVE found with our kiddo, and everyone is different, is that he CAN learn what mom/dad thinks is right or wrong by repetition. He still might not "get it" deep down but he is still learning what is socially acceptable through my repeated reactions/expectations.
•    Anonymous said… Yet another gem! Keep them coming!! It is nice to find info. on lots of issues on THE ONE PAGE!! Thank you for your concise and valuable information!
*   Anonymous said... My son is 10 and his meltdowns are quite serious, I am a single mother and trying my hardest to deal with this aspect of his behavior.His teacher who thinks that my child is just being lazy says he is capable of more and will push him until he loses it then he will just shut down completely, sadly he doesn't seem to have one positive thing to say about my son who really does try his best but "struggles" with understanding the work.

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Leanne Strong said...

I have Asperger Syndrome myself, so I have something to add. Maybe your kid does this because he's feeling overwhelmed or anxious, or something else, but doesn't know how to communicate it. I saw something on YouTube about how to encourage the child to take a break when he starts having a meltdown. The teacher says, "Mr. Johnson needs another box of tissues. Will you please take it to him?" They also ask the kid if he needs to use the restroom, or if he wants to go get a drink of water. Or they evacuate everyone from the classroom except the student who is behaving badly.

I also used to behave badly towards people who had done something I thought was against the rules (even if it was a teacher). A lot of people on the Autism Spectrum have a very rigid way of thinking. They often have difficulty understanding what you say vs what you actually mean. If you explain things in very simply, they may think you actually mean it that way. If your child does something after s/he has already been asked not to, say something like, "Alex, why did you do that after I asked you not to?" Rather than saying stuff like, "Alex! When someone tells you not to do something, that means don't do it," or, "Ok, Alex (punishment or consequence), because I asked you not to do something, and you did it anyway." Of course, if there's no negotiation, and the behavior is not acceptable EVER, then say things like, "Tyler, no name calling, " or, "Tyler (punishment or consequence), because you called your sibling an idiot."

I also used to be mean to people who were behaving in ways I was taught were not ok. If this is what's going on, make sure to explain to your child (at a time when s/he is calm, of course), that some kids aren't taught about good and bad behavior at home, or don't get it in the same dosage as s/he does. Let's say your kid has been taught to say please and thank you, but s/he hears another kid demanding something

Parent: I heard you called Sam a butthead at school today.

Kid: yes

Parent: name calling is never ok (explain why). If I ever hear of you doing this again there will be severe consequences (list some of you feel it's necessary).

Kid: But during lunch today, Sam went to the lunch ladies and said, "I WANT SOME MORE MEATBALLS!" And s/he should know by now to say, "can I have some more meatballs, please?"

Parent: it's upsetting to you when people say rude things like that, isn't it.

Kid: yes, it is. Because Sam should know to ask politely!

Parent: I can understand why, because you have always been taught to be polite.

Kid: yeah

Parent: but maybe Sam's parents haven't taught him/her that. Or maybe s/he just doesn't get it in the same way you do, and maybe s/he just isn't ready for that next step yet.

Kid: maybe?

Parent: maybe next time someone does it, you can take them aside and remind them nicely about asking politely.

Shu Moor said...

Thank you so much this post was really helpful. I am at my wits end with my son who "possibly" may have a ASD,ADHD and mildly ODD. No real diagnosis given,still awaiting assessments since 2013. The more I read and research I know. My son is on a part-time table and is in a corridor. The school have had enough as he is a runner and want to permanently exclude him. He's just turned 8. Since they have changed 121 from the start of yr3 he is much more difficult to deal with some much so I was actually considering boarding school. whilst I now have 2 advocates working with me I am searching much more about what I can do- consistency is definitely the key however life is not always consistent, i.e death, pregnancy, redundancy with many visits to school, GP other children etc etc I take my hat off to the children and the parents it just hard all round. This goverment is not making it easier. They don't care and it's not fair, too many cuts is having a profound effect on people generally but it seems it's the families and children who are affected the most!

Teacher and parent of ASPIE said...

This is a lot of reading and can be daunting. I have a 15 year old with Asp. The best thing for any parent and child is to get an IEP at the school. They are bound BY LAW to abide by any and all accommodations that you see fit. If they do not comply, you have the right to sue them (which seems to be the only way to get anything done these days). I have been very successful with my son by staying calm, explaining everything in great detail, explicitly teaching social skills, and being highly consistent.

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

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

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

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content