autism and discipline

I always get a little giggle when parents use threats as a ‘strategy’ to get their child to respond accordingly.  Some common threats are:

  • Threatening to leave without them:  When they tell their child it’s time to leave and their child refuses, often this is followed by the “Ok I’m leaving then, Bye” with the parent slowly walking towards the car.  Let’s face it, you never going to leave them there.
  • You Just Wait: This is the, “You just wait till Dad comes home” or “Just wait till we get home” or one of favourites, “You just wait, that security man is going to come lock you up!”
  • We never going to come here again:  When your child is misbehaving in a place they really enjoy going to.  But let’s face it, of course you going to back there.

Another popular strategy of trying to curb bad behaviour is manipulation.

  • If you eat your supper you can have some ice-cream.
  • If you pack away your toys I’ll give you a treat.
  • If you listen nicely you can watch a movie.

Now I’m all supportive of rewarding good behaviour, however these rewards should never be negotiated.  All you doing is creating a sense of what’s in it for me attitude.  These are not sustainably effective.

effective discipline Autism and Discipline Strategies

What are Effective Strategies?

The Discipline strategy you decide upon needs to be appropriate to the child’s behaviour and their age.

It is very important to note that every child and parent differ in what they feel comfortable with regarding discipline.  Which ever strategy your choose, you have to insure that it is effective in allowing your child to understand that the behaviour is inappropriate and unacceptable.

Hand over hand: This is when you give an instruction, should your child not comply you physically help your child to complete the task by cupping their hands in yours and following through on the instruction.  Eg: Pack away the cars.  They don’t listen, hand over hand the packing away.  Put the cars back out and repeat the instruction until they do it on their own.  The hand over hand strategy is a prompt used in ABA therapy, and by no means should it be done in an angry invasive manner.

Over – correction: Say your child scribbles on the wall.  Make them clean it off, plus some more…lets say the whole wall.

Time – out: Have your child remain in the same place for the duration of time applicable to their age.  You need to find a time-out place that is not comfortable for them.  Time-out does not work in ones room, on a comfy couch or place where they can entertain them self with any sort of distraction

Removing privileges high on their ‘I love it’ list: This could be anything from an i-pod, to TV games, TV time, Favourite toys, Treats etc.  These can be taken away for a period of time before returned to them.  It is helpful to explain to your child that should they repeat the unacceptable behaviour you will confiscate that item and it will only be returned after a period of time.  This way you are giving them the opportunity to choose better the next time, and that behaviour may then never occur, however should it reoccur you must stay true to your word and remove the item.

Natural consequence: This is when the child is given a choice.  Be careful not to mix this with manipulation.   Eg: Your child refuses to get ready in the morning (providing they have these skills to do so).  You can set them a timer as to how long they have to get ready – make the timer to go off a little earlier than what your expected time of departure would be so that you have some extra time to play with.  Should they manage getting ready before the timer goes off, they will be able to watch a little tv etc before leaving.  If they don’t then unfortunately they will loose out on that extra time for a preferred activity.

Spanking / Hidings: Now this is a very controversial topic, and I am by no means saying that this method is neither right nor wrong.  However I realise that some families have found this method effective when done properly.  If this is a method you choose, you have to be aware that smacking your child in anger is abuse.  You have to be calm and neutral.  Please don’t ever use your hand either.

Remember in any discpline technique you choose it is vitally important that you do not discipline in your own anger.  You have to stay calm and neutral where the emphasis is placed on the consequence to behaviour and not your anger you may be feeling.

It is also important to be sensitive to any sensory issues your child may present with.

And most IMPORTANTLY discipline should only take place in the presence of DEFIANT behaviours!

Please ALWAYS remember that you cannot Discipline in Anger or Discipline Sensory Integration Issues your child may have.

Which ever method you choose to use always be consistent.

sign Autism and Discipline Strategies





Autism and Discipline part 1 What You Should Know Before You Discipline

Autism and Discipline part 2 Breaking Bad Behaviours – How to Discipline Effectively

Autism and Discipline part 3 Autism and Discipline – Strategies



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  6 Responses to “Autism and Discipline-Strategies”

  1. Very good info. I have a child with Autism and it can be difficult to get him to comply. Helpful things for me to know.

  2. Smacking a child is physical assault [try doing the same thing to an adult, and see how quickly you get charged...] and is especially heinous when inflicted on a child who may have severe sensory issues. Don’t do it, don’t advocate it.

    • Hi Jack. Yes smacking a child in your own anger is abuse as I mentioned in the article. By no means do I advocate this kind of discipline however I also realize this is a strategy that some parents use hence I thought it important to mention this especially to bring attention to what the parents emotions are at the time of discipline.

  3. Yeah. Well.
    A “what’s in it for me” attitude is probably something your child shoudl learn.
    Because, let’s face it, no one ever does anything when there is no reward for it. (And yes, the fluffy warm feeling you get for having done the right thing IS a reward.)
    So while I’m all for natural or maybe even negotiated bad consequences, the same applies to good things.
    So yes, bribe your kids. Because, if we’re honest about it, your kid will once spend their whole adult life being bribed and manipulated one way or another.
    And the best thing about that? It works.

    Making a kid clean your walls?
    Confining a kid to uncomfortable spaces?
    Ah. Not so much, no.

    • Hi Cynthia
      thanks for a great comment…
      I definitely agree on rewarding good behaviors, however it should never come in the form of “if you do x, you will get y”; it should rather come in the form of….”wow, you did x, you can now have y”. This way your child feels completely special in that you noticed what they did and they get a surprise reward for it….this automatically increases the chances of your child doing x again without having you use manipulation or bribery. If you only ever choose to use manipulation/bribe as a strategy to get your child to do what you have asked of them, they then start learning to feel a sense of entitlement; and they will loose the opportunity to actually experience intrinsic motivation as apposed to extrinsic motivation. They become dependent on what others can do for them instead of what they can accomplish themselves.

      With regards to spanking, I do realize that not too many parents advocate this, however for some that do I thought it vital to bring to their attention their emotional state during discipline…please see article for more info.

      with regards to making your child clean the walls. If your child has scribbled all over the walls, that’s fine, but it is then their responsibility to clean their mess. They will very quickly think twice before doing a picasso stint again. If your child scribbles on the walls as a form of defiance (ie: they know better but do it anyway) then by all means should they clean the mess themselves plus more wall space. If your child scribbled on the walls without knowing better; I still think it is important to involve them in the cleaning up process but of course with help from the parent. This will quickly teach that the wall is not the place to draw their master piece, and obviously it is the parents responsibility to divert them to a more appropriate place to draw (chalk board, paper etc.)

      Confining a kid to uncomfortable spaces. Time out works incredibly well with all children, not just children with ASD. But it is only effective when the parents emotions are neutral and they are required to stay in a place that is not comfy for them. Timeout in a bed room….well what bliss…that is no form of discipline to try and overcome defiant behaviors as the child will have cart blanche to all their toys. many parents have found it useful to have a timeout step, chair, or even use the bathroom etc. It is also quite important to keep the term as timeout as this is neutral, using the term ‘the naughty chair’ verbally reinforces being naughty and that is not what we are after in overcoming behaviors. The general rule for timeout is one minute per year of child.


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