Discipline for any child is rooted in setting boundaries and helping children learn how to channel their emotions and behave appropriately. For the child with ASD who already has difficulties regulating emotion and behaving in a socio-normative manner, discipline may seem to be more challenging and ineffective. However, there are many things you can do to effectively discipline your autistic child. Here, we will discuss a few things that affect discipline with the child on the spectrum.
Before we jump in, there are a few things to keep in mind about discipline.
- Effective discipline looks different for every child, on the spectrum or not.
- Discipline helps people to get along with others, effectively express themselves, and create meaningful relationships.
- Physical discipline is not often effective and is downright inappropriate for a child who does not understand.
How Autism Affects Discipline in the Child With ASD
Consistency Is Key
Consistency is the foundation of effective discipline for any child and even more so for the routine-driven autistic child who thrives on knowing what to expect. Setting routines and clear expectations that you do not waiver on is critical. As with the basics of ABA treatment, consistent discipline relies on reasons and consequences for behavior — both positive and negative.
Positive discipline is oftentimes more effective for both children with ASD and their neuro-normative peers alike. Basic human needs that can be perceived as “rewards” include love, safety, and acceptance. A loving embrace and empathetic explanations can be more effective than anger, yelling, or withholding affection. One idea is a token or sticker board to keep track of accomplishments and visually point out where they have not earned praise. This offers a tangible, visual motivational tool.
When having discussions with your children, autistic or not, it’s important to keep the information brief and direct and listen more than you speak. Many children on the spectrum hear and think quite logically and literally, having difficulty interpreting metaphors or hypothetical situations. Children with autism often have language and cognitive delays. This makes them incapable of understanding simple rules, such as, we keep our hands to ourselves, or we need to be quiet now. All children should be taught based on their abilities, strengths, and needs, not their chronological age.
Focus on Behaviors and Actions
When the need for discipline arises, it’s important to focus on the behavior and actions that precipitated the need. Your child needs to know the reason for the discipline and understand that it is not to punish them for being them but to correct a specific behavior. It’s important for you to remember that your child is acting out for a reason — perhaps to gain attention, get an object they want, or attempting to avoid a distressing situation — and it has little to do with you or who they are as a person.
Control the Environment
It is critical to any incident with an autistic child that both discipline and praise are offered in an appropriate environment. If a sensory-sensitive autistic child is acting out, there is no amount of discipline that will be effective until the child feels safe and calm. Before you can begin to discuss actions or behaviors, you’ll need to control the child’s environment. Remove them from crowded, loud areas into calm and quiet
Learn Your Child’s Language
Many autistic children have difficulty communicating, whether they are verbal or non-verbal. Using expressions, directing emotions, and containing maladaptive behaviors can be overwhelming. As their parent, it’s important to learn your child’s communication behaviors and silent language. Anticipate needs to thwart maladaptive behaviors and learn how to read the signs to prevent outbursts before they happen to reduce the need for disciplinary interventions.
At SkyCare ABA, we coach parents to understand the tenants of Applied Behavior Analysis — antecedent, behavior, consequence — to be more effective at disciplining and caring for children on the spectrum. Many of our parents exclaim that the same principles that work for their autistic children can effectively be applied to all of their children. To learn more about our programs, visit us online today!