How to discipline autistic children effectively

Autistic Children and Discipline

“Should you discipline an autistic child?” The debate.

There has been much debate regarding the topic of autism and discipline.  After all, crying, tantrums and flapping may be the autistic child’s way of communicating that he isn’t happy about something.  Yet, should the child be allowed to display these behaviors at any given time in any kind of setting?

What is the best way to discipline a child with autism?

Any time an autistic child’s behavior could cause harm to himself or those around him, you need to take action and stop the behavior.  Just as you wouldn’t let a three year old play with matches, you wouldn’t want to let an autistic child engage in something dangerous.  Be prepared that when you abruptly stop a behavior, it may cause the child to have a meltdown.  Yet, better to deal with a meltdown than a child who is physically hurt.

Acknowledge positive behaviors

Rather than thinking about behavior in terms of discipline, focus on acknowledging the child’s appropriate behavior.  For example, if the child has recently mastered the goal of quietly shutting a door each time he leaves his bedroom, verbally praise him each time you observe him shutting the door quietly.  If the child doesn’t respond to verbal praise, try a reward chart or his favorite edibles.

Be consistent.

Whether it is the use of time-out, re-directing, or taking away a favorite toy, it is important to be consistent when disciplining an autistic child.  This can be a challenge at times, especially if you’ve had a stressful day and you just want some peace and quiet.  On those days, it’s easy to just let your child do whatever and not try to discipline him.  However, the more consistent you are with your discipline techniques, the sooner your child will learn that there are consequences for his behavior.

Provide a time-out area.

For many autistic children, it is beneficial to have a time out area where the child can calm down and regroup.  This needs to be an area that is non-stimulating.  There shouldn’t be a lot of things in the room, especially objects that the child enjoys.  If the child tends to throw tantrums or bangs himself against the wall when upset, consider putting padding against the wall and on the floor.  Some kids respond well if there is calming music or might fall asleep if given a weighted blanket to cover up with.

In regards to autistic children, focus on the good behavior, be consistent, and devise a plan of action to deal with serious inappropriate behaviors.

1 comment

  1. Thank you for your post. It helped me get an additional idea. An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.

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