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Discipline Strategies for Autistic Children & Teenagers


Discipline strategies can help autistic children and teenagers learn to behave appropriately and also have stronger communication skills with those around them in the process of learning what they should and should not do

Discipline and discipline strategies are more than just reprimanding and scolding children, they are built on listening skills and communicating with one another.


Discipline strategies also guide children towards behaving appropriately in various situations in their daily lives by helping children to:

  • Recognise appropriate and inappropriate actions/behaviours

  • Develop healthy social skills, such as how to get along with their peers, for both current and new friendships

  • Learn to understand, manage and express their feelings well


Discipline Strategies for Autistic Children & Teenagers

Here are some discipline strategies that can help children determine and differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviours easily:


1. Praise and reward child for appropriate behaviours

When children are praised for their good behaviours, they are more likely to keep behaving well! Use Descriptive Praise, which is where you tell your child exactly what it is that you are praising them for. This is best for encouraging good behaviour. For instance, ‘I appreciate how you stayed calm when you did not win the game’.


Many autistic children and teenagers respond well to social praises, but some may not respond well. If your child tends to withdraw from others around them, your child might not be motivated by verbal praises as much. Or if your child has limited language abilities or is non-verbal, your child might not be able to understand the positive words you are saying to them at all.


Parents can actively work on this with their children by teaching them how to respond to praise. Initially, this can be in the form of adding something to help the child associate positive words with things they like. This could be something to play with or an activity. Eventually, the child might enjoy the praise on its own.

2. Setting clear rules about behaviours

Having rules are important and can be defined not as strict regimens in this context but as positive statements that help children learn rules and boundaries within their family as well as a way of developing good habits.

The rule could be that the child can not watch cartoons until they have finished all their homework for the day. For example, ‘First, finish your work, then have cartoons. Parents can also use visual support such as flashcards to show what needs to be done first. If they have not finished, there is no screen time yet.

3. Include positive and negative consequences for behaviours

Consequences are something that happens after your child behaves in a particular manner. They can be both positive and negative.

  • Positive: For example, the child gets more time at the playground if they finish all their vegetables during dinner.

  • Negative: For example, the games/toys are put away for 15 minutes if the child is throwing them everywhere.

Consequences can be used interchangeably to guide your child’s behaviour. But more priority should be placed on giving your child positive attention for behaving in ways that you like. Therefore, minimising the use of negative consequences.

Parents can use Quiet Time or Time Out as useful consequences as well! Both involve taking the child away from their reinforcing activities and not giving them attention for a short period of time. Again, if your child tends to be withdrawn, Time-out might not work and could instead become a reward rather than a negative consequence if it gives the child time alone. So take note of what works best with your child.

4. Teaching social skills to use in unfamiliar and challenging situations

At times, autistic children and teenagers may look as if they are intentionally behaving inappropriately. But in actuality, they do not have the skills to handle unfamiliar or difficult situations as we do.


For example, the child does not greet someone. They are not being rude deliberately, they may just not know how they should be greeting the person. Or, they may start hitting themselves out of frustration as a certain sound or noise upsets them. And even pee on themselves because they like the warmth and feeling of wet clothes, not because they want to upset you or do something wrong on purpose.

Role plays, video modelling and social stories are good strategies to help autistic children and teenagers develop social skills. Also, breaking down tasks into simpler steps can encourage them to learn everyday skills such as how to ask for something you need, or how to put on their shirt for school.

In conclusion, having discipline strategies are essential as they can act as a form of routine that children with autism thrive on and also help set them up for success when parents are praising and encouraging the desired behaviours. Establishing rules and limits is a way of also reinforcing these routines, which in turn, may be a source of comfort to kids with autism as well.

Written by Angelyn Fletcher.


References:

Bader, S.H., Barry, T.D., & Hann, J.A.H. (2015). The relation between parental expressed emotion and externalising behaviours in children and adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 30(1), 23. DOI: 10.1177/1088357614523065.


Baker, J. (2008). No more meltdowns: Positive strategies for managing and preventing out-of-control behaviour. Arlington, VA: Future Horizons.


Roux, G., Sofronoff, K., & Sanders, M. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of group stepping stones Triple P: A mixed-disability trial. Family Process, 52(3), 411. DOI: 10.1111/famp.12016.


Solomon, M., Ono, M., Timmer, S., & Goodlin-Jones, B. (2008). The effectiveness of parent-child interaction therapy for families of children on the autism spectrum. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(9), 1767-1776. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-008-0567-5.


Tellegen, C.L., & Sanders, M.R. (2014). A randomised controlled trial evaluating a brief parenting program with children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(6), 1193. DOI: 10.1037/a0037246.


Totsika, V., Hastings, R.P., Vagenas, D., & Emerson, E. (2014). Parenting and the behaviour problems of young children with an intellectual disability: Concurrent and longitudinal relationships in a population-based study. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 119(5), 422-435. DOI: 10.1352/1944-7558-119.5.422.


Turcotte, P., Shea, L., & Mandell, D. (2018). School discipline, hospitalization, and police contact overlap among individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(3), 883-891. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-017-3359-y.



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