(Inside: How do you discipline an autistic child? Punishment? Time-ins? I’m going to share 5 important steps to discipline an autistic child!)
“He just needs more discipline”
“My kids would NEVER act like that…”
“Parents these days can’t even control their kid…”
I’ve heard all of this and more dozens of times about my son A-Man.
Whether he’s screaming in a grocery store, hitting a child at the park, or refusing to talk to strangers politely when they ask his name or his age…
Everyone thinks the answer is clear: I should just discipline more.
So I’m going to share 5 important steps to discipline an autistic child.
5 Important Steps to Discipline an Autistic Child
Now before you come out with pitchforks, I am not about to suggest that you should “spank the autism out of your child” or that you should punish autistic behaviors like stimming or meltdowns.
Because I definitely discipline my autistic son (like I do all my children), but it true discipline isn’t about punishment at all…
#1 Disciplining an Autistic Child Starts Before a Negative Behavior
See, when you say discipline, most people think about harsh punishments for misbehaviors.
But the fact is, discipline starts long before a negative behavior.
Discipline is more about the way that you parent than the way that you punish.
So the very first step to discipline an autistic child is realizing that the discipline has to start before the negative behaviors.
#2 Focus on Meeting Your Autistic Child’s Needs
Now we know discipline needs to start before a negative behavior, but what exactly do we do before the negative behaviors?
Well first, you focus on meeting your autistic child’s needs.
So often behaviors are caused by a basic need that’s going unmet.
I mean, how many times has your child had a meltdown and afterward, you realized that they hadn’t eaten in hours?
And meeting needs gets more difficult with autistic children who can’t always communicate their needs clearly.
So if you find yourself dealing with aggression or a meltdown, first try to think about what basic needs may be the root cause.
Think, has your child eaten lately? Are they thirsty? Have they gotten the sensory input they need? Did they have enough sleep last night?
#3 Work to Keep Things as Consistent as Possible
The next step to discipline an autistic child is to keep things as consistent as possible.
Autistic children thrive on routine because they feel confident knowing what to expect.
So when you keep life as consistent as possible, your autistic child is much less likely to have negative behaviors caused by anxiety.
Plus, when you keep as many of the day-to-day activities consistent, your autistic child will have more energy to handle when things have to be different.
#4 Implement Visual Schedules and Guides in Your Home
Most autistic children will succeed best with visual learning.
So the next step to disciplining your autistic child is to implement visual schedules and visual guides in your home.
Whether you use PECS to communicate with your autistic child, or you use a visual timer as a part of your routine, implementing visual strategies will help keep behaviors at bay.
Visual schedules help give your child a sense of control in their environment, and it plays into our last tip by helping your autistic child understand what’s coming next.
#5 Have a Plan for In-the-Moment Discipline
And finally, what you likely hoped you’d see as soon as you clicked onto this post… In-the-moment discipline.
And I’ll apologize now… I’m not going to tell you there’s some magical phrase or 3-step process that will take every negative behavior away.
That’s just not reality.
What you can do, though, is to make sure you have a plan for in-the-moment discipline.
Some kids do best with time-ins, others need space on their own to calm down. Still others will need sensory input or pressure to work through their struggles.
Whatever works best to calm your child, make sure you have a solid plan for it.
“When they scream, we will go have a time-in.”
“When they yell mean words, they will go to their calm down space”
“When they hit, we will offer sensory input”
And then make sure everyone who cares for your child is on board with that plan, so that your child can feel safe knowing exactly what to expect.
When you follow these five strategies to discipline an autistic child, you will be able to connect with your child in a new way and stop feeling like you’re walking on eggshells to avoid another meltdown.
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