How do I Discipline an Autistic Child?

If your son or daughter has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), making every aspect of life as consistent as possible can be helpful in disciplinary process. This means the same discipline techniques from therapy and school should also be used at home. Understanding your child's limits and providing him or her with the opportunity to succeed can also be a useful discipline tool. It is also common for an autistic child to respond better to positive reinforcement and rewards rather than verbal reprimands. It may also be helpful to show your child what to do rather than simply stating what not to do.

In order to effectively discipline your autistic child, it can be beneficial to work closely with all of the major players in the child's life, thereby coming up with a consistent means of correcting behavior. This includes doctors, therapists, teachers, and caregivers. For example, if your son or daughter's therapist uses stickers as a reward system, then teachers, doctors, and family should follow the same system. Working with all of the people in your child's life to determine what will work best can go a long way in establishing consistent discipline.


Preventing outbursts and upsets is also a part of disciplining an autistic child. While you certainly cannot protect children from everything, providing a safe environment in which they are likely to succeed can make it easier for them to learn. For many children with autism, this means sticking to a strict schedule, avoiding or limiting any known triggers, and thoroughly explaining, in advance, any changes to routine.

Researchers have found that the majority of children with ASD respond better to positive reinforcement than they do negative reinforcement. An autistic child often has a difficult time understanding why he or she is not supposed to behave in a certain way. Rewarding your kid for acting well helps to create a mental connection between a good action and a good outcome, thereby making it more likely that the action will be repeated to gain the reward. Negative reinforcement often causes an autistic child to shut down, greatly reducing his or her ability to understand what is expected.

If your child is behaving in a way that is undesirable, it may be beneficial to demonstrate what he or she should be doing. Children with ASD typically have a difficult time grasping how they should react to situations in daily life; merely telling your child that he or she shouldn’t be doing something will often do very little good. For example, if your child keeps taking a toy away from a sibling, it may be helpful to show your son or daughter how to share the toy with your other child rather than just telling him or her to give it back. Understanding what your child is capable of accomplishing and providing a safe, constructive environment in which to do so are considered by many to be among the most effective means of disciplining an autistic child.



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