Rewards and Discipline for Children on the Autism Spectrum

"I need help coming up with some effective ways to discipline a 5 year old with high functioning autism. What we are currently doing is obviously not working."

One of the most difficult challenges in dealing with ASD level 1 or High-Functioning Autism is determining how to reward the child when he has done a good job and how to discipline him when he exhibits an undesirable behavior. Some moms and dads of such children are often reluctant to use any form of discipline, and the usual reward systems don’t often work.

Many kids with ASD don’t respond as well to praise or hugs as other kids do. Instead, they might respond to things like a favorite treat, a favorite toy or preferred music as a way of showing them they’ve done something good.

While the natural parental response is to lavish their kids with praise, it may be over-stimulating to a youngster on the autism spectrum, and as a result, may not alter his or her behavior. It’s up to the parent to determine which things are preferred by the child so that those can be used in a sort of reward system.

The usual punishments also tend to be those that don’t work for "special needs" kids. Things like “time out” work well with children who thrive on contact with others, but don’t work on autistic children who don’t have the same drive to be with people - in fact, many prefer to be left alone to engage in their special interest.
==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Taking away a preferred game or activity may be the best way to show your dissatisfaction with something your ASD son is doing. Explain to your son what the preferred behavior is so that he can begin to shape his behavior toward what is expected of him.

It probably goes without saying that corporal punishment (e.g., spanking) tends NOT to be very effective with these young people. They operate on a skewed perception of sensation and may have an exaggerated response to corporal punishment - or they may not respond at all, which only serves to upset the child without giving him or her an idea of what behavior is expected.

Discipline and reward systems are a part of raising children, autistic or not. With kids on the spectrum, the discipline and rewards have to be geared toward the developmental stage the child is in, and to which things are preferred or not preferred. While this takes some trial and error, finding the right way to show appreciation or dissatisfaction are worth the effort and will go a long way toward getting your son to behave in a positive way.

Here are a few more tips to help with disciplining your son:

•    Your son’s need to feel in control should not be taken to extremes. Moms and dads must set limits and expectations for all kids. Having ASD does not give one free rein to be out of control, and that should not be endorsed or indulged by you, the parent.

•    Your son’s diagnosis is a label that describes a small piece of who he is as a human being. He is many other things. His diagnosis does not exclusively define him.

•    Your son may take personally criticisms you think mild or trivial. If you are a parent short on patience and prone to critical or sarcastic comments, be prepared for your son to withdraw from you more and more until you are shut out completely.

•    Your approach to discipline should mostly be one of prevention – not intervention.

•    You have the responsibility to be fair in how you communicate rules and expectations. Because your son will be most open to receiving this information in ways that are literal and concrete, this means making it tangible (e.g., put it in writing as a simple, bullet-point list).

•    Understand that your son (a) needs to feel safe, comfortable and in control, (b) will become unhinged by anything significantly unpredictable, (c) is doing the very best he knows how to in the moment with what he's got available to him, and (d) has good reasons for doing what he's doing.

•    Some moms and dads can become over-protective of their “special needs” child (i.e., the youngster gains more and more control while being protected in a sheltered environment with little to no discipline). 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. Don’t make this mistake!

•    Never assume your son will automatically transfer and apply information previously learned in one environment to a new situation that, in your mind, is remarkably similar. For the child on the spectrum, a new situation is a new situation.
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

•    Look for small opportunities to deliberately allow your son to make mistakes for which you can set aside “discipline-teaching” time. It will be a learning process for you and your son.

•    Don’t assume your son will understand appropriate social behavior under a wide variety of specific circumstances and, when that doesn't occur, discipline in the moment.

•    Disciplining your son should be a teaching and learning opportunity about making choices and decisions. When your son makes mistakes, assure him that he is still loved and valued.

•    Before you discipline, be mindful that your son's logic will not necessarily reflect your idea of common sense.

•    Because your son is inherently gentle and sensitive, he may be particularly prone to being vulnerable (i.e., he may be more susceptible than “neurotypical” children to experiencing problems in communication and social interaction).

•    Be cautious about going to extremes. You have every reason to be a strong advocate on behalf of your son and in protection of his rights, but this does not exempt him from being disciplined by you, the parent.

•    Lastly, a list of rules should become your son's property and, depending upon the situation, should be kept in his pocket for ready reference.

In order to effectively discipline the child on the autism spectrum, parents will need to comprehend each of the factors above and fully place them in the proper context of any given situation. This knowledge will aid parents in laying a foundation for “prevention” (rather than having to switch to “intervention”).

==> Are you experiencing a lot of behavior problems with your child on the autism spectrum? Get more solutions right here...

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said... With my son, it is about explaining things in a very straightforward way.
•    Anonymous said... We tried 123 magic when my son was 5 he laughed at me lol so I think it depends on the child.
•    Anonymous said... We remove to our son 7 year old his favorite Toys ( legos ) ,,he has a Tamtrun with hinself because he Know that his Behavior not was okey .After we explain to hin cause and consecuence and then we put a Tag with number 10 on the lego box and that is the points that he have to win during the week to get the legos back just with good choice and behave we give 2 point per each day with happy face ! He really work hard to control hinself and this reward point token work better then spank or time out Also he Know how depp breathe ,blow air in Yoga class very recomend ,when he see how Many points he colect he is so happy that soon he Will get his favorite Toy back and Also learn a lesson that not everything have to be in his way !!!
•    Anonymous said... We need to explain things to our son but at the same time if we need to we take Lego away from him for a certain time.
•    Anonymous said... We have accountable kids, it's a chart with a ticket reward system and cards with daily routine stuff like get up, brush your teeth, get dressed, etc. when the child finishes each grouping of chores (morning, mid day and evening) he gets a ticket used for a privilege of their choice (watching tv or playing video games etc). If the child misbehaves or breaks a house rule a ticket is taken and they don't have the tickets to pay for their privilege. Yes we had some meltdowns before the system became routine but now he lives for it because it has turned his daily routine into a visual. They have a website accountable kids.com
•    Anonymous said... Punishments and rewards do not work with my aspie teen. Never have. I've had to really consider my parenting so that I am very clear and simple (black and white in fact) about expectations and the "fall out" should we deviate. And I've had to be consistent. If I attempt to impose a punishment/non related consequence or attempt to bribe him with rewards, he becomes very confused as that doesn't jive with his logical understanding of the world. If he deviates from the plan (won't put his jeans in the dryer as previously planned, for example) and they r not dry by the time I would need to drive him to make it to his class on time, then the fallout is he wears wet jeans or misses class. When he was younger we used to chart these things and he'd follow the "choices" to their logical endings. Now he can think it through on his own. Of course not without ur teen mouthing off and such. So I've introduced the fall out for how we treat each other. If u mouth someone off, they become angry or scared of u and do not feel willing or safe to drive u to class. He is really struggling with this and I wish I'd done it from the get go. As he points out, people and their emotions r not logical. it's labour intensive and is pretty much a full time job, which is crazy because I'm a single lady running daycare for 12 hours a day out of my home as well as sole mothering and homeschooling my aspie teen. But I've noticed mothering my aspie teen is very much what works for toddlers. Simple, clear, black and white expectations, and loving, supportive comfort when the result of their actions is not their preferred one, along with a "I know it will b better next time" pep talk. And, just like toddlers, my aspie teen forgets the next time and I need to remind him what happened last time. And, like toddlers, he becomes hurt, confused, and our relationship requires repair if I impose punishments or bribe with rewards. It's tough. And every family works differently. I've had to alter me and my thinking and behaving, not his. But I can tell u our relationship requires repair far less often because we have conflict far less often. He is trusting me more. And we r enjoying each other's company more. And I think he has a better chance at independence this way.
•    Anonymous said... Maybe instead of operating on a system of punishment, love and understanding would be better.
•    Anonymous said... Just be patient and stick with your rules. If takes time for any kid to get it but they will. My 8 yo aspire girl is doing much better at taking her time outs and punishments than at 5 best of luck!
•    Anonymous said... Definitely a struggle....and we have a master at acting like "nothing matters" so it's hard to know what is actually working. However, though I really don't think "time outs" really work because one can't "reason" even after the fact...going to his bedroom to sit on his bed does give us all a break from the "funk" he is in at that moment. Something from my special education training that has stuck with me over the years here at home is consistency....choose one way to discipline for a specific behavior and stick with it until something better comes along. Sometimes it doesn't seem to be working but consistency in itself benefit.
•    Anonymous said... Disciplining my 16 year old son is so tiring and taking his privileges away is not working anymore .
•    Anonymous said... Give him a hug.
•    Anonymous said... I prefer the word 'discipline' (correct with love) than 'punish' but that's just semantics. Each child is different and it's hard. Some days you succeed and some you don't. Biggest lesson I've learnt is your not perfect, no one is. Don't be too hard on yourself and try to think and speak 'logically'. My son understands the logic not the emotion. I have to wait for the emotions (both his and mine) to pass to have any success.
•    Anonymous said... I tell my son of he continues his negative behavior I'll have to take a privilege away. Something that's important to him like computer time. We set boundaries and it works. It took awhile but he is very well behaved at home, probably because it's a quite environment. He still has moments at school but he's learning to recognize his anxiety triggers and ask his teachers for a break in the calming room at school before he "loses it".
•    Anonymous said... in hindsight I would say you should never 'punish' a child with aspergers, they will not be controlled, you need to explain repeatedly and find another way to deal with your own frustrations and everybody elses expectations of your unique child
•    Anonymous said... My son is 9 now. At 5 I made a gift box full of dollar store toys wrapped up and rewarded him for good behavior. At 5 discipline didn't work and when we figured that out life got easier. They can't control the emotions that young it takes time. When I let go of that notion it was freeing. Don't listen to people with children who don't have aspergers it's a totally different ball game. Patients and give him words to express what he's feeling., talk in small direct sentences
•    Anonymous said... Taking away Tv time or device time.. Using those as a punishment / reward. If you send them to their room you are just punishing yourself for later when they have so much energy!
•    Anonymous said... Temple Grandin herself said that what was really effective for her was taking away something that she really really loved. In her case it was horseback riding. With my HFAs its really tough for us because their objection is pretty dramatic. I want to give in at once to relieve the stress on everybody. But we do what we have to do and explain/talk about it over and over. And it does make a difference. But i think it needs to be a case by case decision.
•    Anonymous said... Try natural consequences. It is more effective than enforced punishment. Punishment only teaches children not to get caught.
•    Anonymous said... Very hard, we usually take away electronics & he earns time on them when he shows appropriate behavior. But not always effective when electronics are needed for school or homework.
•    Anonymous said… Don't punish. Be positive set reasonable limits you can reinforce
•    Anonymous said… I found that it helped if I included my kids in the discussion about house rules and asked them what consequences they thought they should have for certain behaviors. It wasn't always perfect but when I included them there was less of a struggle. I know other parents who say I give my kids too much power but they're 11 and 14 now and they're on the honor roll (mostly) and they don't get in trouble at school. They're happy and healthy and they know that they can come to me and Dad and talk about it if they've done something and that we will be fair about it.
•    Anonymous said… maybe have him help write the house rules too . they love to have some control  ❤
•    Anonymous said… My son and I invented a points system. You get 3 points to win swapping cards ( not money) and 9 points for a lego man. Write a list of things to gain points for and a list of loose points as a guide. Never go into to negative points, always reward abundantly for good behaviours when having hard times to avoid negative points. Then you have a tool.
•    Anonymous said… None of the standard punishments worked on my ASD daughter until I realised we read 5 books to her every night. We removed 1 book each time she misbehaved, one night she had none left so it worked as a 'threat'...
•    Anonymous said… Remind me of the time my two children were fighting and my AS boy had pinned his sister to the floor and was pushing his fingers into her eyes. I sort of side swiped him to stop him - it didn't hurt but he was offended and ran off. A short while later I was sitting watching TV when he returned and as he went past me he hit me across the head. I jumped up an asked him what he was doing - pointing out that "you DO NOT HIT people" He was completely flumoxed and said to me "but you hit me". I saw his point, immediately apologised and admitted I was wrong, explaining that I was scared he was going to hurt his sister. I felt this was important. He struggles to know the right thing to do and gets by by copying other people's behaviour.
•    Anonymous said… That word punishing is unsettling. Maybe correct them and encourage making better choices. Reward and praise for good behavior.
•    Anonymous said… What if your aspie child does not like to be touched? I have this problem with my 13 year old; I even have to ask his permission to check his touch his forehead to see if he has a fever when he is sick. He hates taking pills, and having his temp checked.His sensory issues are worse right now, espcially his sensitivity to sound, which makes him not want to go to school. Also, discipling him has become such a fight. When we do take away his technology for behaviors, he acts out even more, and starts kicking his walls, and will be rough with his younger sister, to try and get back his phone and computer, thinking we will give in. Lets just say it is exhausting!
•    Anonymous said… Write down the rules of the house and place it on the wall .go over each one and ask him what it means .have him explain the house rules to you . hope it helps.

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