When your child is diagnosed with Autism a lot of fears flood over you. You wonder if they will ever drive, have a “normal” life, be able to excel in their studies or be on their own as an adult.
All of the past few months/years wash over you as your brain repeats things you didn’t understand about your child. Finally, you are hit with…
“Does my autistic child understand discipline?”
What a sobering question!
How are you going to discipline a child that may or may not understand why they are being punished? — And that’s the first thing. Making sure your child understands why they were wrong and why they are being punished.
Even if your child doesn’t respond, doesn’t look you in the eye, or doesn’t shake his/her head in agreement. They understand. They are taking it in. The lights are on, someone is home, even if you can’t tell.
If you still aren’t sure, ask your child’s Occupational Therapist. Your child’s OT will be able to offer you specific tips, activities, and tools for helping your child understand discipline.
How to Discipline Your Autistic Child
Disciplining your autistic child can be different from what you’re used to, but one thing is the same, you must be consistent. Every time your child is corrected for a recurring problem, they are learning more and more.
If you stop correcting them for bad behavior, they will assume the action is no longer a problem to you anymore and revert completely!
Have a discipline routine.
In the home, a time-out chair or rug is great because your child will associate that space specifically for a time-out. You may also consider a time-out blanket because they can go with you. The time-out blanket will help combat the thinking of “the time out chair is at home, there’s no way to punish me here…”
Be prepared for meltdowns!
Don’t stop disciplining your child for bad behavior just because it results in a meltdown. If discipline results in a meltdown when your child is two, that won’t change by the time they are ten unless you start working with them early! (Don’t wait until your child is able to physically harm you or others to start discipline.)
Talk everything out!
Even if your child is non-verbal, they are listening. Get down to your child’s level, talk calmly, and explain in full detail why their action was wrong. Go further to explain that “instead of [insert action], you could do ____ instead next time”.
Example: If their little sister was singing loudly and your child harmed the sister to get her to stop, you could say “Instead of hitting your sister, next time leave the area or put on your headphones if she is bothering you. If that doesn’t work, please come and get me.”
If your child is fixated on a specific problem and acting out, redirect your child. For example, he/she won’t stop screaming at their little sister for singing loudly. You’ve done time out and the entire time he/she remained paused at the problem and returns to little sister to further his/her case once released from punishment.
Remove your child from the situation and redirect his/her focus onto something else. Show them a new game on your phone, take them to draw a picture, or go outside. Once he/she is settled you can talk to our child calmly about why they shouldn’t do whatever it was they were doing.
*Reminder: Redirection is a powerful tool when used in conjunction with discipline, not in place of it.
“Help! My Autistic Child Just Destroyed My Living Room in a Fit of Rage!”
Meltdowns and “fits of rage” happen. Once your child is calm, they need to clean up after themselves. If your child is overwhelmed by the mess, stay with them and point out one thing at a time. Example: “Let’s start by putting the cushions back on the couch.” Once that is done, move onward to another set of items that can be put back into place. Repeat until the room is restored.
If you are struggling to discipline your autistic child, DON’T GIVE UP! It will get easier.