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Altered Disciplinary Methods for High-Functioning Autistic Children

"My 5 y.o. son was recently diagnosed with high functioning autism. In light of this revelation, should I discipline him the same way I do my other kids, or should I make some adjustments based on his condition?"

Kids with ASD Level 1 or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have no greater permission to misbehave than your other kids. But, the way you gain control over your “typical” kids’ behavior will differ with an HFA youngster, mostly because of differences in how he thinks and how he perceives rewards and discipline.

HFA kids do not respond well to negative reinforcement (e.g., threatening, scolding, etc.). Also, they don’t respond negatively to isolation, so the statement, “Go to your room!” may be seen as a reward instead of a consequence. Furthermore, spanking should never be used – not even as a last resort. 

Due to the way he thinks, your son probably won’t be able to tie the “misbehavior” to the “punishment,” leaving you back at square one. Therefore, you need to be more creative in defining which things will be viewed as rewards - and which things will be viewed as discipline.

Focus on rewarding (reinforcing) positive behavior rather than simply punishing “bad” behavior. Positive rewards can include being able to play a preferred computer game, listening to preferred music, or watching a preferred television program. Rewarding your son in this way may be enough to alter his behavior accordingly.

These specific privileges are often offered because HFA kids respond less to human contact - or even human praise – and more to the presence or absence of “things.” Rewards can be offered along with praise, but praise alone has little positive benefit and doesn’t improve self-esteem the same way it does for “typical” kids.

Discipline should involve removing anything your son prefers (e.g., television, toys, computer games, movies, etc.). All discipline and rewards must come with very concrete explanations as to why they are given. Only then can he match the reward or consequence with the behavior he has engaged in - and only then can change occur.

"Make-ups" can also be used as a form of discipline. This mother of an HFA child describes it well:

"I find it is critical that my son (9 yrs) have the chance to earn back his lost computer time. He usually is given the chance to do 'make ups' - to help me with a chore I would usually do or give me comfort in or whomever he has wronged. We negotiate these things depending. This week - he freaked out that the shirt he likes to wear to church each week was dirty, and he yelled at his dad for 20 minutes - so he picked up 50 sticks in the yard. He had a meltdown in public with me - so he had to play an anger management game with me or empty the dishwasher. 'Make ups' have to be approved by the offended. If we're fighting over homework and he's had a punishment given - it might simply be that he finishes the rest of the work without any more arguing and foregoes a break or agrees to work ahead on something."
==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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