Posted by: myautisticmuslimchild | May 22, 2010

Discipline and Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affect approximately 1 in 110 people.  Autistic disorders range from mild to severe on the spectrum. Parents, educators, therapists, and first responders will need additional information and training on how to manage the challenging behaviors that are often characteristic of ASD.

Children with autism can become frustrated and angry because they find it difficult to express their feelings in a way that other people can understand, and  as a result, they will appear disorderly to the “typical” person.

Children with autism are concrete, literal thinkers and they have difficulty expressing themselves verbally or non-verbally, which will often leads to frustration, anxiety and/or anger.

Difficult behavior usually serves a purpose for the autistic child, and our task is to identify this purpose so that we may prevent bad behavior. For example, the child might be wanting something, or trying to get the caregiver’s or teacher’s attention, or he/she might want to avoid performing their tasks, trying to escape from a confusing or unpleasant situation.

Our goal should be to identify clearly what motivates and interests the child, and then assist them to communicate their needs, frustrations, and anxieties in a socially acceptable way.

There are steps one can take to reduce confusion and thereby diminish or even eliminate the difficult behavior.

The most important step is preventing situations that may cause difficult behavior. Although this will often require time and effort, but the effort is generally rewarded in the long run, and it is more effective than reacting to the bad behavior that has already occurred.

We need to consider any medical needs the child might have. For example if the child has seasonal allergies you might want to check the pollen level before you take them outside.

Also, establish and stick to a routine. Children in general love routines, and autistic children moreso. Autistic kids feel safer and more balanced with a structured life. Consistency in daily routine is crucial, so stick to it as much as possible, because children with autism can become very confused when routines change. Let the child know in advance if there is going to be any change in the routine to avoid undesirable behavior like screaming or self-inflicted injury.

Recognize when you child might require some down time. After school or therapy, they might feel overwhelmed, or tired so give them some time to relax or even to take a nap to regenerate. We need it too, so what makes you think that these children who are going to school, then going to therapy – usual a total of 10 hours per day between the two – do not get tired?

Allow them plenty of time to do their tasks, and exercise patience with them at all times.

Recognize, and acknowledge their positive attitude, and establish a reward system for it.  Teaching that good behavior will be followed by very satisfying consequences will encourage the child to repeat the positive behavior to attain more reward. When acknowledging  anything positive that your child has done, be very specific when verbalizing it. For example, instead of saying “good job”, you should say, “Nice turn taking with your sister” and so on. This way the child is immediately reinforced verbally in a very specific way, and you may use your established reward system as well.

To avoid confusion and anxiety about performing a task, you should give a short but very specific instruction.

Certainly , we can not eliminate negative behavior, so what can one do when this occurs?

You may choose to ignore the behavior, or try to redirect your child.

Institute clear expectations, and predictable consequences for any behavior.

Identify the function of their behavior. Children in the autistic spectrum seek social interaction and attention in an inappropriate way. Limit interactions and stop all requests when negative behavior occurs.

The best way to avoid  their negative conduct is to teach them a more acceptable, or alternative, way of expressing their wants and needs.

Furthermore avoid power struggles and confrontations. Children with autism tend to “get stuck” on things, and if power struggle ensues, the child will be engaged even more intensely with that specific person, thing or action.

At last we get to a very controversial point regarding disciplining an autistic child. I got  several emails about it ….

Should one spank, or hit in any way an autistic child as a mode of  discipline?

I did some research and here it is below in a nutshell. Please feel free to contribute your ideas, or practices with us.

Most parents resort to spanking as a mode of discipline, due to repeated misbehavior, and being too busy or too lazy to figure out a new way to redirect a child from his disruptive ways of dealing with things. I had not found any article that promotes this type of physical discipline method. In contrary, every article I had read said that spanking or other types of hitting are not even an effective mode of punishment for an autistic child.

Most autistic children have sensory issues, which means that they feel things in a different way.  The Autistic child feels temperature and pressure in a much different way than us “typical” people. You may spank the child and they do not even feel it, even if you leave a mark on them, or you may rub them and they feel you are beating them. So what is the use of beating an autistic child, when they can’t even decipher touch, intention or facial expression.

A spanking in most cases will only confuse an autistic child, and it will make them think it is okay to hit. They copy your actions more so than typical children, so if an autistic child is being beaten or spanked as a form of discipline they are more likely to hit another child or person. They just do not understand why they are being spanked. It is always a better option to discipline them with other methods.

We want our autistic child to learn to love and respect, whereas with beating we do not allow them to develop those feelings toward us, they will be scared of us. I personally do not want my child to come to me when I call him because he is simply scared of me, I want him to interact with me out of love and respect. There is a big difference in those  two actions.


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