Discipline and the Child with
Autism: Tips on
from About.com's Autism Guide
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How do we handle the aggressive behaviors that many children
with autism exhibit when they are disappointed or frustrated?
This is an age old question that was brought home to me today,
when Jonathan smashed a drinking glass in the kitchen sink
because he was upset at being told no. Are there good ways to
handle this problem, or are we as parents left to fend for
Fortunately, while actual situations must be dealt with on an
individual basis, there are some excellent suggestions from the
book Pervasive Developmental Disorders: Finding a Diagnosis and
Getting Help by Mitzi Waltz. This is one of the most practical
books I have found for parents and other caregivers, and I
highly recommend it. The following are adapted from Chapter 10
of this book.
The best discipline is positive, so parents must rely on
providing incentives for desirable behavior before using
punishment to control undesirable behavior. The "token economy"
schemes used in many classrooms can be successfully adapted for
home use, for example. Parents should also learn about
alternative strategies for addressing the roots of problem
behavior, such as relaxation techniques.
Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only
punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical
consequences of an undesirable action.
Parents must agree on basic guidelines for stopping undesirable
behavior, such as whether physical punishment is ever
acceptable, what form discipline will take, and under what
circumstances it will be meted out.
Physical punishment is a last resort and should be used in a
controlled fashion, if at all.
Parents must develop a common set of effective disciplinary
measures for undesirable behavior.
Parents must agree to avoid calling the child (or each other)
hurtful names or using other verbal abuse.
Parents need to support each other in the effort to remain calm
during behavior problems. If a parent is losing control, he or
she should feel free to turn the situation over to the other
partner long enough to take a "parental time-out."
Parents must not give one partner the permanent role of
disciplinarian. The old "wait 'til Daddy gets home" scenario
lets one parent off the hook, and encourages children to be
fearful and manipulative. For children with neurological
problems, delayed discipline can be particularly confusing.
Parents should agree to look closer for hidden causes, if an
undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives
nor disincentives seem to curb it.
Most importantly, parents must present a united front, even when
they don't actually agree. Arguments over discipline should not
occur in front of the child.
These suggestions are not only effective for parents, but they
may be adapted easily for teachers, child care workers and
others who are in close contact with the autistic child. They
offer an excellent approach to discipline, which is often a
major point of conflict within the family unit.