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Discipline for Individuals with ASD


The purpose of discipline is to set clear expectations and healthy boundaries of appropriate behaviours, not to punish or embarrass the children.

Introduction

One way children can learn whether a behaviour is appropriate is through discipline. It is part of educating your child to understand socially acceptable and respectful behaviour, as well as learning right from wrong. Implementing discipline strategies can be challenging as it requires parents to enforce consequences to the negative behaviour (O’Nions, Happe, Evers, Boonen, & Noens, 2018). This challenge is further heightened especially when disciplining a child with ASD.


Children with autism struggle to understand non-verbal social communication cues, such as facial expressions and body language (Alshurman & Alsreaa, 2015). For example, a child with ASD may not recognise the expression of anger or the firm body language that is being portrayed by another individual. Hence, these misunderstandings can make traditional discipline techniques less effective for children with ASD as they might not understand the consequences of their actions (O’Nions et al., 2020). Instead, gentler and consistent strategies would be more efficient in helping them manage their behaviours (Parlade et al., 2020).


Being Gentle and Consistent

Children with autism tend to learn through imitation - If the child is screaming and throwing a tantrum, it is important for the adult to be calm and respond to the child’s behaviour clearly and gently (Contaldo, Colombi, Narzisi, & Muratori, 2016). This would allow the child to imitate the calm demeanour of the adult and better regulate their emotions as well. Consistency is also essential for safe and effective discipline (Ting & Weiss, 2017). Research has shown the majority of children with ASD respond well to structured discipline as they rely a lot on routines (Burkett, Morris, & Anthony, 2016). Consistent discipline can alleviate some of the child’s anxiety, which is a common characteristic of autism (Crowell, Keluskar, & Gorecki, 2019). As a result, if your child can predict the outcome when they engage in a certain behaviour, they may not feel as overwhelmed and will learn over time what is acceptable and appropriate, and when it is not. For example, saying no when the child is playing with scissors, consistently in any setting that this behaviour occurs and not responding differently based on the situation.


Communicate Clearly

In addition, the usage of clear and simple language while disciplining children with autism would be the best way in getting them to understand what is expected of them (Wright, 2013). These children tend to have trouble understanding subtleties in verbal language or body language (Sturrock, Chilton, Foy, Freed, & Adams, 2021). Hence, when a child starts displaying negative behaviours, rather than telling them what they should not do which may confuse the child as they might not know how to behave in that situation, direct them to what the appropriate and acceptable behaviour is instead (O’Nions et al., 2018). An example would be if a child is pulling a cat’s tail, instead of saying ‘Stop pulling the cat’s tail’, one can say ‘Pet the cat gently’.


Understanding Common Autistic Behaviours

However, not all behaviours should be disciplined, as some behaviours may be hard for children with ASD to control. For example, self-stimulation (spinning, rocking, hand flapping, etc.) is very common among children with autism (Kapp et al., 2019). These behaviours help them to regulate their emotions and it would do more harm than good by disciplining them for doing it (Joyce, Honey, Leekam, Barrett, & Rodgers, 2017). Similarly, many children with ASD are sensitive to sensory input (Thye, Bednarz, Herringshaw, Sartin, & Kana, 2018). They might experience overstimulation or under stimulation, which leads them to engage in screaming, biting, hurting themselves by hitting their head or avoiding eye contact (Leekam, Prior, & Uljarevic, 2011). These behaviours are a way of relieving their sensory needs (Thye et al., 2018). In such scenarios, it would be better to consider what sensory stimuli are causing the behaviour and change the environment rather than enforcing discipline.


Controlling the Environment

As mentioned above, the environment that a child with autism is placed in can play a huge part in how they behave (Noiprawat & Sahachaiseri, 2010). For example, crowded or noisy places could be a trigger for agitation or frustration (Koegel, Openden, & Koegel, 2004). Therefore, if one is aware of this, parents could avoid bringing the child to such locations or simply remove the child from that environment before any negative behaviour could occur.


Rewards and Consequences

Last but not least, rewards and consequences are one of the most effective techniques for disciplining children with ASD (Ashley et al., 2010). When the child performs the desired behaviour, they are given a reward as positive reinforcement – Giving the child extra time to play with the iPad for cleaning their room when asked. Conversely, when they perform an undesired behaviour, consequences are delivered – Reducing their iPad time when they do not clean their room when asked. Thus, the child is most likely to perform the desired behaviour as they will be rewarded and the undesired behaviour will be reduced due to the consequences they will have to face (Hayward, Gale, & Eikeseth, 2009).


Conclusion

In summary, it is important to remember that children with autism are not behaving in a certain manner to be bad or defiant. They are usually struggling to communicate and deal with uncomfortable feelings that they do not know how to express. Most importantly, one has to learn to listen to their child’s needs and adapt any discipline strategies accordingly. It takes time, effort and patience, but they are capable of it!


Written by: Rebecca


References:


Alshurman, W., & Alsreaa, I. (2015). The efficiency of peer teaching of developing non verbal communication to children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(29), 33-38. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1081260.pdf


Ashley, A., Zeeland, S., Dapretto, M., Ghahremani, D. G., Poldrack, R. A., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2010). Reward processing in autism. Autism Research, 3(2), 53-67. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.122


Burkett, K., Morris, E., & Anthony, J. (2016). Parenting african american children with autism: The influence of respect and faith in mother, father, single, and two-parent care. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 28(5), 496-504. doi: 10.1177/1043659616662316.


Contaldo, A., Colombi, C., Narzisi, A., & Muratori, F. (2016). The social effect of “being imitated” in children with autism spectrum disorder. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1- 16. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00726


Crowell, J. A., Keluskar, J., & Gorecki, A. (2019). Parenting behaviour and the development of children with autism spectrum disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 90, 21-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2018.11.007


Hayward, D. W., Gale, C. M., & Eikeseth, S. (2009). Intensive behavioursl intervention for young children with autism: A research-based service model. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3(3), 571-580. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2008.12.002



Joyce, C., Honey, E., Leekam, S. R., Barrett, S. L., & Rodgers, J. (2017). Anxiety, intolerance of uncertainty and restricted and repetitive behaviour: Insights directly from young people with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 3789–3802. doi:10.1007/s10803-017-3027-2


Kapp, S. K., Steward, R., Crane, L., Elliott, D., Elphick, C., Pellicano, E., & Russell, G. (2019). ‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming. Autism, 23(7), 1782-1792. doi: 10.1177/1362361319829628


Koegel, R., Openden, D., & Koegel, L. (2004). “A systematic desensitization paradigm to treat hypersensitivity to auditory stimuli in children with autism in family contexts,” Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 29(2), 122- 134. DOI:10.2511/rpsd.29.2.122

Leekam, S. R., Prior, M. R., & Uljarevic, M. (2011). Restricted and repetitive behaviours in autism spectrum disorders: A review of research in the last decade. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 562-593. doi:10.1037/a0023341


Noiprawat, N., & Sahachaiseri, N. (2010). The model of environments enhancing autistic children’s development. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 5, 1257-1261. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.07.271


O’Nions, E., Ceulemans, E., Happe, F., Benson, P., Evers, K., & Noens, I. (2020). Parenting strategies used by parents of children with ASD: Differential links with child problem behaviour. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50, 386-401. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04219-2


O’Nions, E., Happe, F., Evers, K., Boonen, H., & Noens, I. (2018). How do parents manage irritability, challenging behaviour, non-compliance and anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders? A meta-synthesis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(4), 1272-1286. doi: 10.1007/s10803-017-3361-4


Parlade, M. V., Weinstein, A., Garcia, D., Rowley, A. M. Ginn, N. C., & Jent, J. F. (2020). Parent-child interaction therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder and a matched case-control sample. Autism, 24(1), 160-176. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361319855851


Sturrock, A., Chilton, H., Foy, K., Freed, J., & Adams, C. (2021). In their own words: The impact of subtle language and communication difficulties as described by autistic girls and boys without intellectual disability. Autism. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613211002047


Thye, M. D., Bednarz, H. M., Herringshaw, A. J., Sartin, E. B., & Kana, R. K. (2018). The impact of atypical sensory processing on social impairments in autism spectrum disorder. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 29, 151-167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2017.04.010


Ting, V., & Weiss, J. A. (2017). Emotion regulation and parent co-regulation in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(3), 680-689. doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-3009-9


Wright, B. (2013). Autism. Early Years Educator, 2(7), 1. https://doi.org/10.12968/eyed.2000.2.7.15406



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