Autism Series – Discipline

by beagooddad on July 23, 2007

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I’ve written this post at least 4 times in the last week. I have changed my mind nearly as many times during that time frame because of some changes that Pookie has been going through and some realizations about how little I know about some things and how much I have learned about others. I’ve come up with tons of reasons, valid and otherwise, for not writing this post and finally told myself that I’m not allowed to write any other posts until this one is posted.

Let’s start with a few of my ground rules for disciplining a child with autism.

Never hit a kid with autism. Spanking may be okay for some parents and kids, but I can’t imagine it working positively with a kid with autism. I can’t imagine ever spanking Pookie and then realizing that he just didn’t understand what I was trying to get him to do because of some internal monologue or sensory overload he was going through. He would end up scared and confused and I would feel like a piece of crap and Pookie would not be better prepared to handle the situation in the future. So no hitting.

Avoid yelling at a kid with autism. Sometimes you will have to raise your voice to be heard over his yelling but really, really try to focus on not raising your temper with your voice. It doesn’t ever seem to help and if sensory overload is part of the problem, yelling is not going to help that situation.

Don’t send them to their room as a punishment. The room will quickly become a calm, isolated place that they will do bad things to get to when an environment gets uncomfortable.

So, what is a parent to do when their autistic child goes through the Terrible Twos?

Pookie has been going through the Terrible Twos over the last few weeks. He’s pushing boundaries. He’s asking for things and then getting mad when he can’t have them. He’s walking away in public when we are not going in the direction he wants to go. He might be 4 1/2 but he is going through the Terrible Twos.

I have found 2 things have been working very well for me.  I’ve actually used both of them on two typically developing boys in the last week with great success.

Sit Them Down. Make them sit down. Immediately. Right where they are.

Make Them Talk. Make them tell you what they did wrong and what they need to stop doing.

Let me say that Pookie is extremely well behaved most of the time. Even on his worst days, he spends most of the day causing no trouble. I’m not sure why I feel I need to say that, but it makes me feel better to say.

Most of the time when he gets in trouble, he yells. Loudly. He also will either try to walk away or try to keep doing what he was doing when he got in trouble.

Sitting him down forces him to not do either. He has to stay and deal with the situation. After a few days, it seemed to click. It’s not really a time out because he doesn’t get to get away from anything.

But, the real magic with Pookie, and the other kids I’ve done this to, is making them talk. I ask him what he did. If he can’t tell me, I’ll tell him what I am expecting to hear. I continue to ask and repeat until he tells me.

Then, I make him say that he is going to stop. Something like “No more walking away” or “No more watching TV” or “No more yelling” is all it takes.

As soon as the yelling is done, he can stand up and go about his day. If he decides to start yelling or do something naughty, I make him sit back down and we start all over again.

The first couple days it would often take a handful of minutes to calm down if any screaming was involved. These days, it is common for the whole routine to take less than a minute and not have any more problems.

I’m sure there is some magic with dealing with the situation right when and where it happens and making him acknowledge it with words. I’m just happy that it has been working well for the last couple weeks and don’t want to jinx it by thinking about it too much.

There. The discipline post is finally done. That was a lot harder than I expected it to be. It’s hard to talk about bad behavior from a kid that behaves so well most of the time.

Tomorrow we are going to talk about echolalia which is probably the thing that has most fascinated and frustrated me about raising an autistic child. For a full list of everything planned for this series on autism, the topics and links for the post already written can be found on the intro post.

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