Basic Disciplinary Strategies for Children with ASD

"In what ways do you guide/discipline/treat a child with an autism spectrum disorder that would be a different approach than you would use with a non-autistic child?"

Disciplining kids displaying behavior associated with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) will often require an approach that is somewhat unique to that of "typical" kids.

Finding the balance between (a) understanding the needs of a youngster on the autism spectrum and (b) discipline that is age appropriate and situationally necessary is achievable when applying some simple but effective strategies.

The following strategies can be implemented both at home and school:

General Behavior Problems—

Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with HFA, 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, while 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 parents, teachers or peers.

For example, a youngster with HFA 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 (e.g., can the youngster be made more comfortable in class so that he will not want to leave it?).

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

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 that may be effective with "typical" kids. If necessary, when giving directions to cease a type of misbehavior, these should also be couched as positives rather than negatives (e.g., 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 on the autism spectrum often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behavior.

For example, if the youngster becomes fixated on reading a particular story each night, she 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 problems that may otherwise arise through such limitations (e.g., tell your youngster that he may watch his favorite cartoon for half an hour after dinner, and make clear time for that in his 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 connection 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 she has listened to you talk about an unrelated topic. This serves to help your youngster understand that not everyone shares her enthusiasm for her subject matter.

Sibling Issues—

For siblings without the disorder, the differential - and what at times no doubt appears to be preferential treatment given to the HFA sibling - can give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. Often, the non-autistic siblings will fail to understand why their brother or sister apparently seems free to behave as he or she pleases without the normal constraints placed on them.

It's important to explain the disorder to siblings of HFA kids and encourage open discussion about it. Encouragement should extend to the things siblings can do to assist the autistic youngster, and this should be positively reinforced through acknowledgement when it occurs.

Sleep Difficulties—

Kids on the spectrum are known to experience sleep problems. They 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 his bedroom a place of safety and comfort. Remove or store items that may be prone to injure your youngster if he decides to wander at night. Include in the behavioral diary a record of your youngster's sleep patterns. It may assist him if you keep a list of his routine (e.g., dinner, bath time, story and bed) in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of him waking in the morning to provide assurance as to what will happen. Social stories have proven to be a particularly successful technique in decreasing a youngster's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of his day is likely to play out.

At School—

Kids with HFA will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day that  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 (e.g., reading a book, helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks).

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

In Public—

Kids on the spectrum can become overwhelmed to the point of distress by even a short outing in public. The result is that many parents simply seek to avoid as much as possible situations where their youngster is exposed to the public. While 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 iPad in the car to block out other sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list explaining to your youngster a trip to the stores or doctor. Be sure to include on the list your return home. Consider giving her a task to complete during the trip, or having her assist you. At all times, maintaining consistency when dealing with the disorder and discipline is key. It pays to ensure that others involved in your youngster's care are familiar with your strategies and techniques and are able to apply them.

Most importantly, don't hesitate to seek support networks for parents of "special needs" kids, and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that 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 in a manner most beneficial to your youngster.

Knowing when, how, and how much to discipline your youngster can be quite challenging. You may be filled with worry for your youngster and her future. You may be learning more about becoming her strongest advocate. In so doing, you will need to find balance in your role as a parent and disciplinarian. There may be a fine line between being an effective parent and being perceived as zealous or coddling of your youngster.

Your youngster’s diagnosis is a label that describes a small part of who he is as a human being. He is many other things. His diagnosis does not exclusively define him (remember the self-fulfilling prophecy). In valuing your youngster’s gifts and talents concurrent with understanding his diagnosis, be cautious about going to extremes. You have every reason to be a strong advocate on behalf of your youngster and in protection of his rights. But this does not exempt him from being disciplined by you or, where appropriate, by teachers.

Some moms and dads can become overprotective. They may make frequent excuses for their youngster’s words or actions. And they may not discipline where most others agree it to be warranted. When this occurs - regardless of the youngster’s way of being - the balance of authority shifts. The youngster gains more and more control while being protected in a sheltered environment with little to no discipline.

The Latin root of the word discipline means “to teach.” Moms and dads who are overprotective and do nothing to discipline their youngster are teaching some very artificial life lessons that will significantly hinder their youngster in the real world. One mother openly despaired that she envisions caring for her son with Aspergers for the rest of her life. This may indeed be the case if she micromanages every aspect of his life.

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

The Dignity of Risk—

There is what is known as the “dignity of risk.” It speaks to the luxury we must allow persons with different ways of being to make long- and short-term mistakes, but not without support and guidance. This will be a great challenge to you as a parent who is naturally protective of your youngster. But it is the only way she will be able to learn and prepare for greater independence in the future. Disciplining your youngster should be a teaching and learning opportunity about making choices and decisions. When your youngster makes mistakes, assure her that she is still loved and valued. In other words, focus on the issue at hand, not the person.

For example, the parents of the adolescent who drove the uninsured car should demonstrate their discipline by first discussing his great error in judgment in addition to entering into a dialogue about good, better, and best choices in the future. It will be especially helpful - and will maximize the learning opportunity - if, in partnership with the child, they write it all down to make it as concrete as possible. They may also decide that another form of discipline (e.g., withholding allowance or grounding) is an entirely appropriate way to reinforce the seriousness of his actions.

This is not to suggest that they should not have intervened if they had had prior knowledge of his intentions - they certainly should have! But, where possible, look for small opportunities to deliberately allow your youngster to make mistakes for which you can set aside discipline-teaching time. It will be a learning process for you and your youngster.

An HFA youngster may behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated (as other kids do). But he may not be doing it intentionally, because as a youngster on the spectrum, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. He doesn't fully understand that other people hurt when he hits them. He may learn this as he gets older, but it may take some time. So how do parents of autistic kids tell them to not hit other people? How can they handle their misbehavior?

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

Here are a few short but helpful pointers to help parents in disciplining a young person on the autism spectrum:

Discipline is about teaching your youngster good and appropriate behavior. Discipline is about helping her to become an independent and responsible people. Regardless of the disorder, you still need to discipline your child with the consideration of her special needs. In particular, you need to keep in mind her unusual perception of pain. Therefore, spanking is a "no go." It will not teach that her behavior is unacceptable. In contrast, it may encourage her that hitting others is an acceptable behavior. It may even encourage self-injurious behavior. In fact, many experts strongly agree to not use any form of physical punishment on autistic kids.

The best method is through positive discipline, where you focus on your child's acceptable behavior and provide rewards so that he will be encouraged to repeat the behavior. To do that, first you need to establish ground rules. The ground rules state specifically what is considered acceptable behavior - and what is not. You must catch and reward your child when he is  well-behaved and following the rules. A reward need not necessarily be a physical or expensive one. It can be genuine praise or a 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 HFA kids are not able to generalize information. They are usually not able to apply what they learn in one learning context to another learning context (e.g., he may learn that hitting his friend at school is not acceptable, but he may not necessarily understand that he can't hit his sister at home). In other words, once the situation changes, it will be a totally a new learning experience for the child. Be consistent and provide many repetitions in disciplining him. If there is punishment, make sure that the punishment is always the same for the bad behavior. A consistent environment and many repetitions will help your youngster to learn and remember the differences between right and wrong.

Disciplining an HFA youngster is not easy, but your loving care and understanding of him will make the task much easier to fulfill. By accommodating her special needs, she will accept discipline with less push-back. Be persistent and enjoy every small success. Your child may not be the captain of a cheer-leading squad, but she is taking small steps to become an independent and responsible adult.

==> More crucial disciplinary strategies can be found here...

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD 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.

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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 or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your 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.

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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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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 ASD 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."

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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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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.

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A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

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•    Anonymous said… a good read...
•    Anonymous said… Do you take it away for the rest of the day or a set time that he loses it? My son is hf and loves his computer games but he doesn't seem to understand when he loses them as the unwanted behaviour continues x
•    Anonymous said… Figuring out an effective discipline strategy has been one of the most challenging issues I’ve faced as the parent of an ASD teen.
•    Anonymous said… Good info. I am glad you share this stuff. It helps me help Ryan and Mason as well as you guys. Consistency in his family environment is crucial.
•    Anonymous said… it depends on situation. He is 13 and when he was younger, yes it would be for the rest of that day onto next. Id give him opportunities to earn it bk but it depended on why it was taken away. Now hes 13 i will remove it till i see fit to return it. He was in big trouble a few wks bk as he hacked into the school computer to see if he could. He couldnt see the seriousness of this so all tecnology was removed for nearly 3 weeks. During that time, we researched serious acts of hacking and i showed him the consequences... Jail sentence etc. Also during that time he had chores around the house which he did earn money for as i wanted him to see, there are other things to do with ur time. Unfortunately when he gained the tec bk, the chores fell away to the way side. However i did show him that during that 3 weeks he also learned to play ukelele. Frustrating.... But sometimes tough love and consistencey does pay off from time to time. His behaviour has improved and the very thought of him loosing it again makes him think twice. Hope this helps x
•    Anonymous said… My son is hf and as a punishment I take away the thing he loves most.... technology. While he doesn’t have it he can reflect on his actions. Dnt get me wrong, it can be hard going but I’ve tried various strategies and this seems to work x
•    Anonymous said… We find we had to find different strategies to discipline our son with asd and spd it's not easy we can tell u he is 9 years old still keep on trying. 😢 😢.

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