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Disciplining Children With Autism: Advice For Teachers And Parents

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

When parents or teachers must discipline a child with autism for behavioral reasons, they should be aware that some techniques are more effective than others. Because children with autism sometimes have difficulty processing the idea of discipline, adults should use consistent and literal methods.

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    How Discipline Benefits Children With Autism

    Children with autism vary greatly in their capacity to communicate and to control impulsive behavior. Those who display a moderate to high level of functioning are typically able to receive and respond to disciplinary methods when necessary. Though certain behavioral quirks associated with autism (such as vocal or physical tics) should not be addressed with discipline, adults who are in an authoritative position should employ some positive strategies for disciplining children with autism in situations when a child's behavior poses risk to self or others and when the child is deliberately stubborn or defiant.

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    Disciplinary Techniques For Children On The Autism Spectrum

    These positive strategies for disciplining children with autism should be implemented by parents, teachers, and caregivers in a consistent manner. When used each time the child's behavior is in need of correction, these methods are highly successful in regard to promoting good behavior:

    --If a child with autism disregards a home or classroom rule, adults can simply and firmly restate the rule so that the child is reminded of the appropriate way to behave. For example, if the child leaves his or her seat during a lesson, the teacher can say, "You must sit in your chair." Children with autism tend to respond well to visual cues, so teachers and parents may want to make signs with pictures or text for the child to observe when being disciplined.

    --Redirection is another positive strategy for caregivers to try when disciplining an autistic child. In this situation, the child is led away from the area where the disruption is occurring and encouraged to focus on a new activity. Redirection is often effective when a child is frustrated and at risk for displaying inappropriate behaviors such as yelling, throwing items, or becoming aggressive.

    --"Time-outs" are sometimes beneficial when a child with autism is repeatedly exhibiting negative behaviors. Teachers and parents should approach this disciplinary method as providing the child with a chair or pillow where they can sit to "cool down", and by setting a timer that the child can watch during the duration of the time-out. The caregiver can say to the child, "You may get up in three minutes if you are calm."

    --Because autistic children are visual and concrete thinkers, adults who are in an authoritative position may wish to use the "green light, yellow light, red light" system as a way of reminding the child to exhibit appropriate behaviors.

    Positive strategies for disciplining children with autism can be adjusted according to the degree of cognitive functioning that an individual child displays. These children thrive on routine and structure, and will often learn to accept discipline without much difficulty if consistent methods are applied.

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