How to discipline an autistic child

Whenever a kid misbehaves, one of the most common disciplines is giving him a kind of physical punishment. However, you will need another approach on how to discipline an autistic child effectively. This is because they are different from other kids.

So, you can’t apply conventional discipline techniques to teach an autistic child. Depending on where he sits on the autism spectrum, he will have difficulty understanding the outcomes of his behaviors.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t implement any discipline. Many believe that gentle, consistent disciplines are great strategies to teach your autistic kid control his emotions and actions.

Educate yourself with your autistic kid’s needs

It is always essential to have a good understanding of your autistic child’s symptoms and behaviors. Different kids will have different signs, depending on which spectrum they sit on. Therefore, make sure you have a knowledge of autism to have the right expectations and discipline techniques. For example, an 8-year-old autistic kid can act like a 3-year-old one due to difficulty in language or social interaction.

There are various approaches to learn about autism. For instance, you can join online support groups for families of autistic kids. You can also exchange views on this issue with other parents of children with ASD at your kid’s school. This way, you can have a deep understanding of what is considered typical behaviors for a child with autism.

Always put safety first

As you may know that an autistic child can exhibit misbehaves. Under certain circumstances, they might behave aggressively to themselves. In such situations, it’s best to take your kid out of the condition, especially when it is risky for them or other kids nearby, in terms of physically and emotionally.

Be consistent with the discipline techniques

Consistent discipline is considered one of the most important techniques for all kids, whether they are autistic or not. Nevertheless, those with certain disorders like ADHD or autism are believed to respond positively to discipline, but only if they can anticipate the situation’s outcomes.

It can be a long road to be consistent in how to discipline a child with autism, but it works in the long run. One of the best ways to stay consistent in discipline is trying to stick to a particular routine.

If there are any caregivers, or members in your family taking care of your kids, make sure they are aware of the routine. Also, they need to know how to deal with the child properly too. You can use stickers or pictures to show you kids what they should expect, in case they are non-verbal or having trouble understanding verbal language.

Use positive discipline

Autistic children tend to respond better to positive discipline. As mentioned above, visual tools such as stickers or pictures can help the kid relate positive behavior with having something he or she wants.

You first need to choose stickers that the child loves. Then give him or her one every day if he or she behaves well. When the child reaches a certain number of stickers, you’ll give him the item or thing he wants. Don’t forget to praise him when he behaves properly.

Besides, when the child starts acting up, try to tell him what you want him to do, not what he shouldn’t do. For instance, if the kid is pulling the dog’s tail, instead of saying “Stop hurting or pulling the dog’s tail”, you can tell him “Let go of its tail”.

How to discipline an autistic childUse positive discipline with your autistic kid instead of physical punishment.

Teach self-calming techniques to your autistic child

I usually receive a question on my blog, which is “My autistic child is out of control. How do I calm him down?” Well, you know all kids have meltdowns; however, it is more difficult to calm a child with autism, especially when he is still young. But I believe that you can help your kid control his tantrums teaching him some easy but effective self-calming techniques.

Try to teach your child to inhale and exhale slowly through the nose, close his eyes, and imagine something comfortable. It could be his favorite toys or anything that makes him feel pleasant. You can also hug him until he settles down. Nevertheless, these techniques seem to work effectively with older children since they can control their emotions better than younger ones.

Seek professional help

Seeking professional help is another effective way in your autism journey. Today there are various services and therapy. Therefore, finding an expert in this field is not difficult. They will give you proper approaches on disciplining autistic child. Above all, you need to learn as much as possible and pick out strategies that apply to your child.

Wrap up

It is always challenging to raise autistic children. However, their manner of action can be effectively controlled by gentle techniques. The most important thing is avoid physical discipline. These actions will teach them that hurting or hitting is an appropriate way to deal with a negative situation.

Instead, try to calm them down with gentle words or actions, give them lots of praise whenever they have the right behavior, or direct them to a better situation when they start acting up or throw a tantrum. That would be one of the most effective approaches on how to discipline an autistic child.

How to discipline an autistic child
It’s one of those moments you dread.

It’s the holidays, and your house is filled with relatives eating and chatting.

Suddenly something small and hard hits you in the cheek.

And then your head.

Your ten-year-old child is throwing crayons at you.

Now he steals a handful of crayons from one of the cousins and chucks them all right at you, while your visitors (and your mother-in-law!) stare.

The good news is that ABA offers some very successful methods to deal with this sort of situation.

How to discipline an autistic child

How to discipline an autistic child

How to discipline an autistic child

It’s important to understand from the start that ABA is not a system of discipline, nor does it focus on discipline. Instead, ABA seeks to understand the why behind the unwanted behaviors, and the how for giving your child the tools they need to start choosing preferred behaviors.

Does that sound like more work than a quick spanking or time out? Yep. That’s because it is. But the long-term pay off will be so much greater!

Each child is unique and depending on where your child lands on the spectrum methods will need to be adjusted to fit the needs of each child. Please use this information as supplemental help while also working with a licensed ABA or BCBA therapist.

How to Correct Problem Behavior


Problem behaviors are generally the child trying to communicate something. Simply “punishing” the behavior won’t bring about long-term results.

A child with autism generally won’t respond to authority in the same way a neurotypical child would, and many traditional methods will likely backfire in the long run.

Strong reactions from you will probably reinforce the behavior instead of deter it. If your voice gets louder, your face turns red or you wave your arms you’re suddenly very interesting. Instead of feeling chastised, your child may be curious and repeat the behavior to see what kind of show you’ll put on next.


Your interpretation of the “why” behind the behavior might be increasing your own anger… and it might be wrong.

It’s possible that what you observe as disrespectful might actually be your child’s reaction to physical pain or an inability to clearly express legitimate needs.


Look for patterns to see what your child might be trying to say. What happened immediately before the problem behavior? It might be as obvious as you refusing to buy a donut or as subtle as sensory overload each time Aunt Agatha hugs your child.


Behaviors have consequences. You will need to create a behavior plan that includes what we in the ABA professional community refer to as reinforcers and punishments in order to begin the change process.

Reinforcers are consequences that increase the likelihood of the behavior repeating. If your child knows that by not melting down in the store he gets to play with a favorite toy on the car ride home, the toy is the reinforcing consequence. It increases positive behavior.

Punishments are consequences that make your child less likely to repeat a behavior. If your child hits their sibling while playing with blocks, you remove access to what they want: the blocks and a playmate.

Step 5. REPEAT

Once your plan is in place, follow through. Consistency is the key to making this work, so you will need to repeat the same steps multiple times before you start to see a change.

Things will probably get worse before they get better, but if you persist it will work.


Because autism has neurological roots some sensations are truly painful for your child.

In all likelihood, your child’s behavior is a visceral reaction to some kind of trigger. It’s worth putting in the effort to try to pin down what that trigger might be.

The solution to a major meltdown could be as simple as asking Aunt Agatha to avoid wearing perfume when she comes over.

But What Do I Do RIGHT NOW?

IGNORE … If you know the behavior isn’t in response to true physical pain, and the behavior is non-harmful, seek to ignore it. For example, if your child is throwing crayons at you get up and walk out of the room. Any verbal discipline or chastisement actually reinforces what your child most likely wanted…your attention!

After some time away from the child, return to the room and offer your presence.

REMOVE … Until you start practicing ABA principles at home and preparing your child for upcoming triggers, you may need to remove your child from the situation. This may mean that in the short term you leave the store without finishing your grocery list or your child goes to his room until visitors leave the house.

Remember… ABA is all about working toward long-term changes in behavior, and sometimes short-term solutions will only prolong the change process.

For some children time outs are effective both at home and in public. However, they are only part of the story and alone will not result in long-term change.

Spanking is highly discouraged when working with children with autism.

Why? Because your child’s final takeaway will be that when others do something they don’t like, they can respond physically. This can lead to hitting other children or throwing rocks on the playground when they are upset.

In addition, spanking fails to take into account the reality that your child may be acting out because he or she is truly in pain or experiencing a valid need.

Instead, we want to give our children the tools to respond to the situation appropriately and be able to tell us what is wrong.

Autism professionals and parents often have a lot of questions surrounding disciplining children with and without autism. There’s added confusion about what discipline is, and how you should do it. So today we’re talking all about the important subject of discipline and positive parenting. If you’re wondering how to discipline a child with autism, this blog is for you.

Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around. So, if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now.

The word discipline, according to the dictionary, means training people to obey rules. Or a code of behavior using punishment to correct disobedience. Therefore when you think of the word discipline you often think of punishment. As a Behavior Analyst who believes in an almost exclusive positive approach, this definition is upsetting. Even though some forms of discipline, like spanking, are now considered abusive, which I believe they should be, the use of other punishment techniques like time out, threats, and even yelling or verbal reprimands are used in schools and homes pretty frequently.

But for decades the research has shown that all animals, including humans, learn best in the absence of punishment. This includes rewarding positive behavior. The best book I know on parenting, with a totally positive approach, is called Positive Parenting by Glen Latham. This outlines the importance of a positive approach for all children.

Unfortunately, many do not use a completely positive approach, and often include punishment, or the threat of punishment, for kids at homes and at schools. There’s even a bigger issue with disciplining, and especially using punishment for kids with autism and related developmental disorders that are rarely highlighted. Today I am going to highlight some of the considerations for kids with special needs as it comes to discipline and positive parenting.

Autism Discipline: What You Should Not Be Doing

Before I teach you how to discipline a child with autism, let’s talk about what not to do. First, children with autism often have language and cognitive delays, making them incapable of understanding the language of even simple rules such as, we keep our hands to ourselves, or we need to be quiet now. A six-year-old might have the language ability of a two-year-old, and that child cannot be expected to know how to stand in line, keep an appropriate distance from other kids, and wait for his classmates to be ready. All children need to be taught based on their abilities, strengths, and needs, not their actual chronological age. Reprimanding or punishing a child for not following classroom rules when he doesn’t have the ability to comprehend these rules is just inappropriate.

Secondly, many parents and teachers of kids with and without disabilities don’t know how to discipline without threats and punishment. We were never taught this in college or even high school. Even if you took a course in college on classroom management, this classroom management course was not an intense focus on ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, which is the science of changing socially significant behavior.

The methods used by well-meaning adults, currently, such as time out or yelling, often backfire and children become more disruptive over time, not less. It would be like having me try to fix your car. Since I’m not a mechanic and have no idea what I’m doing, I’d likely make a mess of things just trying to fix the car without education and experience. You may think that reducing problem behaviors is not rocket science, but I’ll tell you, it is complicated. And we can’t just use the techniques used by our parents as a guide for how we should discipline or have a positive parenting approach to raising kids or teaching them at schools. In general, I say that treating problem behavior by just making it up is a bad idea and it almost always makes the situation worse.

Thirdly, time out is one of the most overused disciplines and it’s a procedure used incorrectly most of the time. If time out is used for any child, it should be a rare occurrence and should work quickly to decrease behavior. The problem is, time out is almost never used correctly. As a parent, before I was a Behavior Analyst in the late 1990s, I used time out only a few times with my typically developing son Spencer, and never used it for Lucas, who has moderate to severe autism. As a BCBA since 2003, I’ve recommended time out on very rare occasions after careful assessment and a lot of data and oversight and with always trying a totally positive parenting approach first.

You shouldn’t be using time out daily or even weekly. If you are using time out so frequently, you are being too over-reactive and not preventing things enough. If you’re a professional using time out in any setting this should be a planned procedure approved by the team, including the parents, and you need to be collecting a lot of data using a positive approach in combination with any kind of time out procedure.

How to Discipline a Child with Autism Using Positive Parenting

Okay, now I’ve told you what not to do. Don’t treat a child based on actual age without considering his language and cognitive abilities, don’t use punishment willy nilly, or on a regular basis, and to really think about the use of time out. Now you’re probably wondering how to discipline a child with autism. I could go on and on for hours and hours, so these are going to just be a few tips.

  1. Each child with autism deserves an assessment of his or her strengths and needs. You can start with my one-page assessment as part of my three-step guide at
  2. If a child has the language ability of a much younger child, don’t expect them to follow the rules. They may need one-on-one support at school, and a lot of attention and teaching at home too, as just one example.
  3. You need to learn all you can about the science of Applied Behavior Analysis using a positive approach instead of punishment or threats with all the people in your life, especially children with autism.

I hope you enjoyed this video blog about how to discipline a child with autism. If you did, I would love it if you’d leave me a comment. Tell me what your idea of discipline is. Give me a thumbs up, share this video with others who might benefit, and to learn more about how to help children with autism I would like it if you’d download my free 3-step guide to turn autism around for your child or client.

Discipline for any child is rooted in setting boundaries and helping children learn how to channel their emotions and behave appropriately. For the child with ASD who already has difficulties regulating emotion and behaving in a socio-normative manner, discipline may seem to be more challenging and ineffective. However, there are many things you can do to effectively discipline your autistic child. Here, we will discuss a few things that affect discipline with the child on the spectrum.
Before we jump in, there are a few things to keep in mind about discipline.

  • Effective discipline looks different for every child, on the spectrum or not.
  • Discipline helps people to get along with others, effectively express themselves, and create meaningful relationships.
  • Physical discipline is not often effective and is downright inappropriate for a child who does not understand.

How Autism Affects Discipline in the Child With ASD

Consistency Is Key

Consistency is the foundation of effective discipline for any child and even more so for the routine-driven autistic child who thrives on knowing what to expect. Setting routines and clear expectations that you do not waiver on is critical. As with the basics of ABA treatment, consistent discipline relies on reasons and consequences for behavior — both positive and negative.

Positive Discipline

Positive discipline is oftentimes more effective for both children with ASD and their neuro-normative peers alike. Basic human needs that can be perceived as “rewards” include love, safety, and acceptance. A loving embrace and empathetic explanations can be more effective than anger, yelling, or withholding affection. One idea is a token or sticker board to keep track of accomplishments and visually point out where they have not earned praise. This offers a tangible, visual motivational tool.

Speak Literally

When having discussions with your children, autistic or not, it’s important to keep the information brief and direct and listen more than you speak. Many children on the spectrum hear and think quite logically and literally, having difficulty interpreting metaphors or hypothetical situations. Children with autism often have language and cognitive delays. This makes them incapable of understanding simple rules, such as, we keep our hands to ourselves, or we need to be quiet now. All children should be taught based on their abilities, strengths, and needs, not their chronological age.

Focus on Behaviors and Actions

When the need for discipline arises, it’s important to focus on the behavior and actions that precipitated the need. Your child needs to know the reason for the discipline and understand that it is not to punish them for being them but to correct a specific behavior. It’s important for you to remember that your child is acting out for a reason — perhaps to gain attention, get an object they want, or attempting to avoid a distressing situation — and it has little to do with you or who they are as a person.

Control the Environment

It is critical to any incident with an autistic child that both discipline and praise are offered in an appropriate environment. If a sensory-sensitive autistic child is acting out, there is no amount of discipline that will be effective until the child feels safe and calm. Before you can begin to discuss actions or behaviors, you’ll need to control the child’s environment. Remove them from crowded, loud areas into calm and quiet

Learn Your Child’s Language

Many autistic children have difficulty communicating, whether they are verbal or non-verbal. Using expressions, directing emotions, and containing maladaptive behaviors can be overwhelming. As their parent, it’s important to learn your child’s communication behaviors and silent language. Anticipate needs to thwart maladaptive behaviors and learn how to read the signs to prevent outbursts before they happen to reduce the need for disciplinary interventions.

At SkyCare ABA, we coach parents to understand the tenants of Applied Behavior Analysis — antecedent, behavior, consequence — to be more effective at disciplining and caring for children on the spectrum. Many of our parents exclaim that the same principles that work for their autistic children can effectively be applied to all of their children. To learn more about our programs, visit us online today!

Autistic Children and Discipline

“Should you discipline an autistic child?” The debate.

There has been much debate regarding the topic of autism and discipline. After all, crying, tantrums and flapping may be the autistic child’s way of communicating that he isn’t happy about something. Yet, should the child be allowed to display these behaviors at any given time in any kind of setting?

What is the best way to discipline a child with autism?

Any time an autistic child’s behavior could cause harm to himself or those around him, you need to take action and stop the behavior. Just as you wouldn’t let a three year old play with matches, you wouldn’t want to let an autistic child engage in something dangerous. Be prepared that when you abruptly stop a behavior, it may cause the child to have a meltdown. Yet, better to deal with a meltdown than a child who is physically hurt.

Acknowledge positive behaviors

Rather than thinking about behavior in terms of discipline, focus on acknowledging the child’s appropriate behavior. For example, if the child has recently mastered the goal of quietly shutting a door each time he leaves his bedroom, verbally praise him each time you observe him shutting the door quietly. If the child doesn’t respond to verbal praise, try a reward chart or his favorite edibles.

Be consistent.

Whether it is the use of time-out, re-directing, or taking away a favorite toy, it is important to be consistent when disciplining an autistic child. This can be a challenge at times, especially if you’ve had a stressful day and you just want some peace and quiet. On those days, it’s easy to just let your child do whatever and not try to discipline him. However, the more consistent you are with your discipline techniques, the sooner your child will learn that there are consequences for his behavior.

Provide a time-out area.

For many autistic children, it is beneficial to have a time out area where the child can calm down and regroup. This needs to be an area that is non-stimulating. There shouldn’t be a lot of things in the room, especially objects that the child enjoys. If the child tends to throw tantrums or bangs himself against the wall when upset, consider putting padding against the wall and on the floor. Some kids respond well if there is calming music or might fall asleep if given a weighted blanket to cover up with.

In regards to autistic children, focus on the good behavior, be consistent, and devise a plan of action to deal with serious inappropriate behaviors.

1 comment

Thank you for your post. It helped me get an additional idea. An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.

How to discipline an autistic child

Deciding how to discipline an autistic child is no small task. The autism spectrum involves challenging behaviors like anger, aggression, extreme mood swings, and intense meltdowns. Because of their unique needs, children with autism must be disciplined a bit differently than children not on the autism spectrum. Therefore, it’s important to know how to discipline a child with autism.

There are multiple discipline approaches for kids with autism, not all of them equally sound. Some discipline methods that parents use include:

  • No discipline
  • Punishments, including physical punishments
  • Use of rules and negative consequences
  • Positive reinforcement

Before going further, we can knock a couple of these discipline methods out of the way. Punishments, especially physical ones, are never recommended for any child. They are harsh, confusing, and they don’t teach children positive ways to behave. Punishments are ineffective and hurtful.

Opposite of punishment is providing no discipline at all. Despite myths to the contrary, autistic children can understand discipline. They need to learn proper behavior just as their peers do, and they learn through methods that meet their needs.

While children with autism can and should be disciplined, it’s imperative to separate behavior that is an inherent part of their autism from intentional actions. Kids should never be disciplined for things like making noises, repeating phrases or words, rocking, and more. These are behaviors that can’t be extinguished, and trying to discipline them away will be upsetting, confusing, frustrating, and hurtful to your autistic child and even to you.

Learning how to discipline an autistic child involves knowing not only the types of discipline choices but which ones to use for your own child.

Deciding How to Discipline Your Autistic Child: Go Deeper than the Behavior

These four key elements are essential in learning how to discipline a child on the autism spectrum (Wallace, 2018):

  • Identification
  • Understanding
  • Management
  • Prevention

First, identify your child’s behavior, and describe it in detail. What, specifically, is your child doing that is undesirable? Knowing exactly what’s going on will help you respond the way your child needs you to.

Then, expand your description to the circumstances around it. What time of day is it? Is your child having a meltdown or acting aggressively because they’re hungry? Tired? Stressed? Transitioning from afternoon to evening? What else is going on? What is the setting? Are there other people involved? Identifying what happens before your child misbehaves will help you take the next step.

Armed with objective facts, you can begin to understand what underlies the misbehavior. Go deeper and uncover the purpose of the behavior. Often in autism, misbehavior is an attempt at communication. Your child might be trying to tell you something but doesn’t have the words. This can frustrate them and make them feel unheard. Another possibility is that your child is reacting to physical sensations or sensory overstimulation. Tending to these will allow the misbehavior to wane.

Once you identify and understand triggers that are contributing to the behavior, you can operate from a perspective of empathy and respond constructively to what your child is doing. The calm management of behaviors is the next step in how to discipline an autistic child.

Managing the Misbehavior of Autistic Children

Knowing how to discipline a child with mild autism as well as more serious autism is understanding how to manage their misbehavior. One approach is to make rules and have consequences for breaking them. For this approach to work, parents need to follow certain guidelines:

  • Rules must be extremely clear with no room for interpretation. Children with autism are literal, black-and-white thinkers. Stating, “Don’t jump on the couch,” means that they can jump on anything else.
  • Consequences also must be clear and used consistently, every time a rule is broken.

Positive reinforcement is a highly recommended form of discipline for children on the autism spectrum This type of discipline teaches children to understand what behaviors are desirable and encourages them to do more of it.

Build on positive behaviors kids already use. When you catch them being good, reinforce the behavior with praise. Token boards add a visual, concrete element to positive reinforcement. The board sports a picture of a reward the child wants to earn and has pouches for kids to place little tokens you give them for positive behavior. When they’ve earned enough tokens, they receive the reward.

Prevent Negative Behaviors in Children with Autism

Discipline wouldn’t be complete if it stopped with consequences or positive reinforcement. Teaching kids with autism ultimately involves preventing misbehavior from happening in the first place (or at least greatly minimizing it).

Return to your identification and understanding of the misbehavior. Use your observations to make some changes. Creating an environment that is calming, consistent, predictable, responsive, and rewarding is how to discipline an autistic child.

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This post has been a long time in the making as it’s something that I struggled with for quite some time. And it’s something that I’d like to expand on in the future. Until then, let’s talk about discipline tips for children with autism or ADHD. Now, I know, I don’t talk a lot about ADHD but in recent research, I’ve found so many similarities. So, even though this post addresses autism, specifically; I believe that these tips can also be kept in mind for children with ADHD. Find more tips for parenting an autistic child.

Can you discipline a child with autism?

Nearly all parents struggle to find the right way to discipline their children, and there are some families in which discipline is lax or even non-existent.

Remember, as well, sometimes there might be something else at play. For example, if your child also has ADHD in addition to autism? Consider one of these 12 best alternatives to Adderall.

How to Discipline Children with Autism

Three important things to remember when it comes to dealing with discipline for autistic children are:

  • be positive
  • be consistent,
  • and to be timely.

What is positive discipline?

This means that the positive behaviors should be rewarded as much as possible and the negative ones should not be rewarded with a lot of attention. This is good advice for any child, but is very important for children with autism.

When children have bad moments, it is important for a parent to figure out why. They may just be acting out in a naughty manner, but they may also be experiencing tension or frustration. They could, for example, be experiencing sensory overload.

If they are frustrated, this is an excellent time to remove them from the situation and to show them breathing or relaxation techniques they should use when they feel that way to help them calm down.

It might take a while, but with some perseverance they may be able to learn to use them.

How to be consistent with discipline

When it comes to mom and dad, discipline must be consistent. That means that the punishment should come immediately following the offense. If parents lack consistency they will lack control.

The same punishments should be used each time.

If parents decide they want to use the 1-2-3 method, they have to use it every time and there has to be an outcome if they get to ‘three’. You cannot count to two and then go back to one or the child will know they can get away with things.

If a time out is the punishment after ‘three’ is reached, this has to be enforced no matter what. If not you run the risk of losing control of the moment and the situation, and the child has learned nothing positive.

Timing matters with discipline

There should be no waiting for the other spouse to get home to deal with the problem or to reprimand bad behavior, as the child may be confused when they are being punished long after the event took place.

Timing is essential.

However, it is important that both parents be equally involved in using discipline so that the child does not learn to act up in front of the parent that is known to pass the buck when these things happen.

How else do you discipline a child with autism?

Each offense should be dealt with in the same manner, as this gives the child a clear picture of what will happen when they do something that they should not be doing. Any delayed punishments will not work with a child who has autism.

It is also important for parents to remain calm.

Try to avoid yelling or out of control actions. If you’re feeling frustrated should walk away from the situation to calm down. Parenting is hard for any parent, but with the extra stress of autism, things can easily get out of control even for the best of parents.

Each child will learn about discipline in a different way, and as long as the punishments are just, immediate, and consistent, there should be some progress being made.

Dealing with autism and discipline is never easy, but with practice, you can learn to cope.

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

Responding to violent autistic behavior in toddlers and children requires significant parental considerations. Interspersions, not intensities; will worsen the behavior further for the child. For example, lets take Adam, who likes hit the child next to him in school because he likes to hear the other child’s reaction–“He hit me!” Or, let’s talk about Sophie; who, out of jealousy, throws her classmate’s stationaries off the table and on the ground.

For children with high functioning or borderline autism, it is often the attention they get from being difficult that keeps children into the habit. For parents, the time to act is now! If you don’t intervene today, the problem would only grow, not to mention that there can be another child victimized tomorrow.

While many of you may have taken temporary measures to alleviate this problem, unless you have a longer-term autistic behavior control strategy in place, the child might end up hurting several others and in worst cases, him/herself.

The DO’s and DON’Ts for Handling Violent Autistic Behavior

Ways to minimize such behavior and assuring everyone’s safety requires some specific strategies to be in place. It’s not that you always have to do something; there are certain things you must also refrain from.

The List of DO’s

  • Visual or non-verbal redirections: Gestures/visuals tell an individual what you want him/her to do without use of words. Hold him/her out, wave to gain his/her attention and then send the message to sit down or stand up with your hands. It is commanding without attending to the behavior.
  • Block aggression without engaging: Best way to do this is keeping the individual from being too close to others. Do it without talking or looking straight into his/her eyes. Also, obstruct his/her view to the target with a beanbag, a chair or something else. Keep him in your view and watch covertly to assure safety.
  • Attend the victim: If the child is attacking or teasing other students, keep eyes on the student being targeted. Ask him/her if he/she is OK, fuss over him/her, and pay lots of attention to the child. Ignore the attacking child and talk about the behavior expected from the victim in such cases. Plain ignoring goes a long way.
  • Assuring safety: Don’t sacrifice safety to avoid attention. This may go without saying but it’s important to recognize that sometimes violent autistic behavior is going to escalate and you are going to have to do something to keep a student from running out into the parking lot or hurting another student. Those are times when you will have to intervene, but do it with as little attention as possible.
  • Check your own emotions: That’s tough. Not letting your blood boil with frustration and holding a neutral face is difficult but possible; an expressive face just reinforces an attention-seeking behavior. Keep your calm and don’t involuntarily yell out–when a kid pulls yours or another’s hair all in a sudden. Take a deep breath for that.

The List of DON’Ts

  • Don’t talk (or yell): A child engages in such violent autistic behaviors – even meltdowns – if upset about something. It is often not intentional and those times are not a good time to try reasoning. Language is likely to increase problems furthermore. Being upset makes a person not want to talk to anyone.
  • Eye-contacts are not advised: Keeping an eye for safety and making eye contacts (i.e. looking directly into the eyes of the individual) engages him/her even more and provides the attention which you are trying to cut off. Look off in the distance; look at another direction…anywhere but directly at the child.
  • Avoid touching: Touching an upset individual will only escalate the situation and fights might break out. If it’s only a pretense to gain attention, physical contact provides that. Physically intervention to assure safety, if at all required, must be brief.
  • Don’t discuss the child’s behavior: That’s simply attending to the behavior, because you are talking about it. Instead, talk to other students about what they are doing right and the behaviours expected from them. This way, you’ll send a positive message and remove the attention from the troubled child.
  • Don’t refrain from teaching appropriate ways to gain attention: Behavior is maintained by a counter reinforcement behavior, the replacement skill here will be something that attracts attention appropriately. Reinforcing should be present in addition to teaching the skill (e.g., tapping your arm, using a communication switch). If it turns out to be a more reliable way to gain attention than the violent behavior, then such negative behavior is eventually going to stop.

Additional Resources to Handle Violent Behavior of Autistic Child

We have a lot of resources to handle difficult and/or violent behavior for children with Autism at home and in classrooms. Here are a few:

Hope this post provides you some insight on handling violent autistic behaviors in children; especially those that are related to gaining attention in particular. Even though the focus was primarily on attention-seeking behavior, the use and importance of reinforcements, in general, needs to be understood. It will ensure that all these strategies become useful for any incident involving violent behavior. If you got some more tips to share, please post your comments below.