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Cursing in Kids with High-Functioning Autism [ASD Level 1]

"My 5 year old son is a high functioning autistic child - and is constantly swearing. I've tried time-outs, taken games away, used positive rewards for not swearing, and so on. He just can't seem to quit. He tells me he HAS to get the words out. His favorite cuss word is "dammit" (which he got from me), and he uses it all day long. Any suggestions?"

Because of an inability to (a) control impulses, (b) understand appropriate and inappropriate behavior, (c) empathize with others’ feelings, and (d) manage frustrations in dealing with daily life, kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often behave inappropriately at home or in public.

The use of profanity is particularly inappropriate and is something about which you must be direct and forceful. Your son may refuse to accept that his behavior needs to change (since he hears you using the same curse word that you don't want him to use), in which case, he probably won't respond to the strategies that you have tried so far.

Here are some pointers:

Sit down and have a talk with your son. Establish firm rules for his behavior. Let him know that cursing at home or in public is inappropriate and disrespectful of others. Ask him why he curses. He may respond by saying that he gets frustrated or angry when certain situations occur. If you can address the situations, you may be able to find ways for him to avoid them or handle them more appropriately.

Behavior modification techniques using a visual chart can be very effective.  Make a house rule: No Cursing. List the curse words he is not to use. Make a visual chart of the rules. List a consequence for each day he curses (not each time he curses). Choose a consequence that deprives him, for one day, of something he loves to do (e.g., no watching TV, no playing video games, etc.). List a reward for each day that he follows the house rule (e.g., extra TV or video game time, money, a special privilege, etc.).

Also, pick one replacement word that is acceptable for your son to use whenever he "HAS to get the words out" (e.g., ding nabbit, awe shucks, bleep-idy bleep, scooby doo). Be creative here. You will probably never get your son to give up his favorite word, but you may be able to help him find a new favorite word. You should start using the replacement word regularly as well. In this way, "dammit" will lose its attraction over the new word that he hears coming from you.

Lastly, model frustration-tolerance for your son whenever YOU become frustrated. He is obviously following your lead, so only say and do the things you want him to say and do.

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

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


•    Anonymous said... I soooooo totally understand!! My almost 16 year old cusses like a sailor!! He got it from his military dad but my gosh has taken it to new heights and it's worse when he's playing his xbox !!! Ugh

•    Anonymous said... it's highly likely it Tourette's syndrome. The tics may not start for a couple more years, but that "need"to get the words out is very typical. Also the lack of improvement with what you're doing. If possible please see him as possibly having ts and that his swearing is completely involuntary. Try to just ignore it. Making an issue about it makes it worse because Tourette's is an inhibition problem. The more forbidden something is the more the urge to do it. Another sign is hitting the ones he is closest to, often the mother. Sending you patience!

•    Anonymous said... just say no we don't use those words, but if you're feeling angry or frustrated you can use What The! instead. This forms of swearing are on all the tv shows so they should see and hear it and think this is cool when they hear it on Tv. It will take a few months of saying the above for it to sink in.

•    Anonymous said... My son makes a lot of sounds and gestures as his way of stemming. His psychiatrist said when he started on Adderall that it can unmask Tourettes like symptoms. Might be something you want to check into. A lot of these kids have dual diagnosis and its very real.

*   Anonymous said... I find it works better to find a way to say yes, rather than constantly trying to enforce "no". Try giving him a spot where he can swear (in his room, into a pillow to muffle it) instead...

*   Anonymous said...I'm down to " I'm going to charge you 25 cents for each one".

* Unknown said...I have a stepson who is slightly autistic. They say it used to be referred to as Asperger's. He has a bad habit of cussing when he gets angry and doesn't get his way. His dad and I are trying to teach him and that cussing is an inappropriate behavior in anyplace. His mom told him this evening that he is only allowed to cuss at her house. My question is, How do we deal with this?
* Anonymous said...What should I do if my son, aged 11, is swearing/cursing when frustrated but can not recall the incident. He did it to school staff when he had to wait a long time to go to the bathroom and school would like to take some action against him. How can I work with this situation. I have had a general discussion with him regarding swearing/cursing in general and he responded well to it. Your advice would be much appreciated.
* Anonymous said...Children and adults with autism also have verbal tics. If he feels he has to do it, have you investigated the possibility of tics?
*Anonymous said...My son is the same age and exactly the same in how he behaves. Any suggestions would be appreciated. He swears at his teachers and we have been called into his school twice in the three weeks that he has been there.
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