Disciplining a Child with Autism

Having a child with autism can present unique challenges, especially in terms of their behavior.

When a child hurts another child, throws a tantrum, or continually ignores instructions, you would normally take some sort of disciplinary action. However, when your child is on the autism spectrum, you need to approach these situations with an open and informed mind.

Unlike neurotypical children, your child may not understand the consequences of their actions — but that does not mean that your child cannot learn. Discipling a child with autism takes patience. You need to remain gentle and consistent, helping them develop into the best possible version of themselves.

How to Discipline a Child with Autism

Whether your child has autism or not, the way you discipline them can have lasting effects. That is why parents of all children are encouraged to use constructive approaches, avoiding any violent or physical punishment.

Experts discuss “behavior management” as a means of setting expectations and boundaries, instead of “punishing” or demoralizing your child. Showing your child what is right and wrong, and correcting inappropriate behavior, is one way you can show how much you love and care about them. After all, this will set them on a path towards personal growth, allowing them to become happy, healthy, and contributing members of their community.

Should I Discipline My Child with Autism?

The most important thing to remember here is that discipline is not about physically punishing your child, but helping them develop into a healthy, respectful adult. Early intervention can achieve incredible results. When you provide your child with the tools and support they need to choose more preferred behaviors, this will allow them to become more independent later in life.

Positive parenting with positive discipline teaches all children, including those with autism, to become resourceful and responsible. In the process, you will promote a more secure parent-child attachment and protect your child’s mental health.

When debating whether you should or should not discipline your child with autism, focus more on your approach and less on the “disciplinary” mentality. Remember, guiding your child towards more optimal behaviors is a loving thing to do — the key is how you do that.

How to Get a Child with Autism to Listen

Although you may feel as though your child never listens, they require additional attention and support. Depending on where your child is on the spectrum, your journey may be more challenging than other parents — but there is always a solution. Working one-on-one with your child’s clinical team and behavioral specialists will allow your family to benefit from a personalized plan. However, the following strategies are an excellent starting point.

Never stop learning about your child’s condition and needs

Remember, each individual is unique. What works for one child will not work for another. To ensure the best possible outcome for your child, it’s important to have a good understanding of their diagnosis. When you have a clear grasp on the needs and abilities of your child, this will help you create more realistic expectations. Stay consistent and believe in your child’s abilities.

Teach self-calming techniques

When your child with autism has a meltdown, they may lack the skills they need to calm themselves down. Work with your child’s treatment team to develop techniques that work for your child. Some common examples include closing one’s eyes and thinking of a pleasant image, learning deep breathing, counting to 10, singing a song, or seeking the comfort of someone your child trusts.

Related: Sensory Overload in Autism

Always use positive discipline

This is so important! Children with autism (and children in general) respond better to discipline that focuses on positive behavior. Setting clear expectations and rules, reviewing them frequently, and rewarding your child for desirable behavior can help your child understand what is acceptable. You can also use visual supports in this process. A sticker chart is a great example, as your child can visually see their positive achievements. You can also discuss natural consequences with your child’s healthcare provider. For example, taking a favorite toy or video game away for a certain period. You can then discuss what they could have done differently and offer alternatives to the challenging behavior.

Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center Specializes in Autism Services

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