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Last Updated: 02/23/2018

 Article of Interest - Autism

Discipline and the Child with Autism: Tips on Parental Discipline

from'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 ourselves?

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.


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