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Kids on the Autism Spectrum Who Steal Other People's Belongings


I am the dubiously proud mother of a 7-year-old girl with HFA. As with many autistics, she likes a certain sense of order in her surroundings, and will rearrange other people's belongings to accommodate her own preferences. We have spoken to her time and time again about not touching other people's things... all to no avail. Now her teacher reports she is taking things from others. This has been happening in our home rather regularly, and we have tried everything we can think of to stop or prevent the behavior, but it seems to be getting worse not better. Any help you can give me would be MUCH appreciated!


I don’t see this as an high-functioning autistic trait per say. The desire for forbidden objects overwhelms many kids, making the temptation to take them too much to resist. Your daughter probably just can't control her “desire” to have other’s belongings – but it is possible for her to control her “behavior.”

Often times, kids take things because they lack impulse control and haven't developed a strong sense of right and wrong just yet. But you should also ask yourself if there is another reason your daughter is taking things that don't belong to her (e.g., lack of attention at home, not enough friends in school, etc.).

Whatever the reason for your daughter’s behavior, it does infringe on the rights of the other kids.

As one mother stated, "My son is 13 and is still grabbing and touching other people's belongings. His hands are as busy as a toddler's only now the things that interest him are not grandma's shiny breakables, but someone else's cell phone or ipod. He will pick them up and start pushing buttons, etc. His world is "all about me" and he doesn't notice how appalled or annoyed people are with him. In a few years, I'm afraid someone will really take him to task over this. The cute factor is long gone. He also has stolen other people's belongings, if they are related to his special interest. His reasoning? 'I wanted it!' " 

Your first goal should be to stop this undesirable behavior and help your daughter to respect the belongings of others. Here are a few ideas:

1. Acknowledge her desires. It's important to validate your daughter’s feelings while also maintaining leadership and stopping the behavior. You might say, "I know you want that toy, but it's Michelle’s. You need to ask her if you can play with it." Or you might say, "You really want that doll, don't you? But it belongs here in school so the other kids can use it."

2. Anticipate and remove temptations. Make a box where kids can keep the toys they bring in, and place it out of reach.

3. Give two choices; this helps children learn decision-making skills.

4. Realize you must teach your child boundaries; children are not born with them.

5. Recognize and respect the child’s boundaries. For example, knock on their closed bedroom door instead of just walking in.

6. Review the rules. Make sure that your daughter knows that "don't take things that do not belong to you" is a school rule. Have her return the object or classroom material, but do not force her to apologize.

7. Set your own boundaries as the parent, and have consequences for crossing them.

8. Share your opinions with your child. Allow your child her opinions. Opinions are not right or wrong. This will help her think for herself.

9. Teach impulses control. Help your daughter learn to stop and think before she takes other’s stuff. Explain to her that she needs to ask herself, "Who does this belong to, and can I play with it?" Point out to her that if the item in question belongs to another youngster, she should ask the owner whether she can use it and accept the response. If she uses the object, she needs to return it when she's done.

10. When you recognize that boundaries need to be set, do it clearly, do it without anger, and use as few words as possible.

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

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

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