Special Considerations When Disciplining Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

"I hate Hate HATE that I run low on patience with my child (high functioning autistic)! I'm trying to be more patient every moment of every day. In my heart I wouldn't change a single thing about him. He didn't do anything to deserve having an autism spectrum disorder. Sometimes it just seems so unfair. In any event, how can I discipline him in a way that's effective such that (a) we don't have to keep trying to solve the same problem over and over again, and (b) I don't lose my patience with his slow progress? ~ Signed, bad dad :( "

Most of us as parents of kids with high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger's have been so annoyed and frustrated by certain events that we lost our temper - and our sanity (for a moment).

Teaching and correcting a youngster on the autism spectrum requires balancing a number of considerations. As a father, you have the right to set the same rules as you would for any of your other kids. But you also have the responsibility to ensure you are being fair in communicating your boundaries so you can expect your HFA youngster's compliance. To discipline fairly, you will need to first know that you have communicated fully your rules in ways your youngster understands best.
 

Disciplining Kids on the Autism Spectrum:

1. A list of rules should become your youngster's property and, depending upon the situation, should be kept in his pocket for ready reference.

2. 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, the parent.

3. Because your youngster 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).

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

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

6. 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.

7. 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.
 

8. Never assume your youngster 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.

9. Some moms and dads can become over-protective of their HFA 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!

10. 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.

11. You have the responsibility to be fair in how you communicate rules and expectations. Because your youngster 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).

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

13. Your youngster 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 youngster to withdraw from you more and more until you are shut out completely.

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

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

In order to effectively discipline the child on the spectrum, you 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 you in laying a foundation for “prevention” (rather than having to switch to “intervention”).

 

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