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Parenting Challenges with ASD
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In the last section, we discussed How to Build Basic Social Skills. This will include being specific, observing social signals, using pictures, teaching emotional vocabulary and teaching how to behave differently with different people.
Do you have a client related to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who exhibits behavior toward that child that you would consider unhelpful? Does he or she shout, use subtle behaviors or sulk?
In this section, we will discuss effective parenting regarding Discipline Techniques to Avoid. This will include yelling, overuse of time-out, subtle consequences and sulking. What discipline techniques do you counsel your clients to avoid?
Eli, age 60, and his daughter Rayna, age 30, were grandfather and mother to Adam, age 7. Eli stated, "Adam was just recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’ve only read a little bit about it, and Rayna’s told me some. Basically, what I’ve gathered is that they absorb information differently than typical children and what works to teach a typical often doesn’t make sense to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder."
Rayna stated, "We’ve both come to ask about discipline techniques. Adam is often at my parents’ house, and so we thought it would be helpful to come here together so we could both give Adam consistent discipline when necessary." Eli asked, "Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder aren’t exempt from discipline altogether, are they?" I stated, "No at all. Good discipline educates. It will help Adam learn what to do differently next time, so he can be praised for better behavior instead of reprimanded for inappropriate behavior. Discipline is just as appropriate for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder as it is for a typical child."
Eli stated, "Good. I was worried you were going to tell me that we should let him run wild!" Rayna asked, "Are there any discipline procedures that should be avoided?"
4 Discipline Techniques to Avoid
♦ Technique #1 - Yelling
I stated, "First, let’s discuss yelling. As you may know, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are often oversensitive to noise, and are susceptible to anxiety. Although most parents occasionally become upset and raise their voices, it’s often not an effective way of helping a child make sense of what he is expected to do. Likewise, it may be helpful to avoid long-winded lectures. Long explanations with strings of cause and effect are often difficult for many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to learn from. Also, try to avoid put-downs, insults or sarcasm, and, of course, physical punishment."
Eli stated, "Are you saying that a good spanking isn’t in order from time to time?" I stated, "Those are decisions you and Rayna can make. All I’m saying is that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have a disability related to understanding the social signals of other people, and physical punishment is often unhelpful in communicating desired messages for these children."
♦ Technique #2 - Overuse of Time-Out
Eli asked, "What about time-out?" I stated, "I would try not to over-use the time-out strategy. This is mainly because children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often prefer being alone to interacting with others, and sending a child who prefers being alone to his room may not be effective as a discipline tool."
Rayna stated, "But what about personal time-out? Everybody needs his or her space from time to time…are you suggesting that time-out can be overused?" I stated, "Not at all. Voluntary time-out can be very useful for a child who is becoming stressed. When I advised against over-using time-out, I was referring mostly to time-out as a consequence." Would you agree with this advice?
♦ Technique #3 - Subtle Consequences
I stated, "Third, in addition to yelling and over-use of time out, let’s discuss subtle consequences. Suppose you tell Adam that if he leaves his Legos all over the floor, some will get lost and later on he won’t be able to find them when he wants to build something. That may be true, but it’s unlikely that he will apply that knowledge and pick up his Legos. It may be more helpful to tell him clearly that he must put the toys back."
♦ Technique #4 - Sulking
I continued to state, "Fourth, let’s discuss sulking. Most indirect expressions or displeasure are difficult for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to absorb. If Adam has displeased you or behaved poorly, you’ll need to say so. He will not be able to pick up on your subtle expressions of disappointment or hurt feelings on your part. Also, when he does do well, be sure to acknowledge him promptly and explicitly." Rayna asked, "Do you have any suggestions for good ways to discipline Adam?"
I stated, "As I mentioned before, it’s often helpful to be clear and concise, because children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have difficulty following long chains of cause and effect. Also, be consistent. If Adam is allowed to bring food into the family room, but not the living room, that rule will probably be most effective when enforced consistently. That means you’ll have to be vigilant, although Adam may well take on the role of enforcer for his siblings later." Eli asked, "Is there anything else you’d advise?"
I continued to stated, "One last thing. Use consequences. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have a more difficult time learning from consequences alone, but they are often capable of seeing the link between the violation of a rule and the consequence for the violation. If Adam knows the rule against eating in the living room, and the consequence is having to vacuum the living room rug, then the consequence can be imposed reliably when the rule is violated."
Do you have an Eli or a Rayna who are struggling to discipline a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Would playing this section be helpful for him or her? In this section, we discussed Discipline Techniques to Avoid. These included yelling, overuse of time-out, subtle consequences and sulking.
In the next section, we will discuss Choosing the Classroom. This will include small setting, orderly and predictable environment, real-life settings, learning by rote and part-to-whole sequences.
Powers, M. D., Psy.D., & Poland, J. (2002). Asperger Syndrome and Your Child: A Parent’s Guide. HarperCollins.
(AS is now ASD per DSM-5.)
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Goetz, G. L., Rodriguez, G., & Hartley, S. L. (2019). Actor-partner examination of daily parenting stress and couple interactions in the context of child autism. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(5), 554–564.
Krackow, E. (2021). Adults’ perceptions of child maltreatment allegations: The influence of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, parental coaching, accuracy of children’s autobiographical recall and expert witness testimony. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. Advance online publication.
Papp, L. M., Drastal, K. C., Lorang, E. K., & Hartley, S. L. (2020). Mother-father physiological synchrony during conflict and moderation by parenting challenges: Findings from parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Families, Systems, & Health, 38(4), 476–481.
Rosenbrock, G. J., Jellinek, E. R., Truong, D. M., McKee, S. L., Stewart, C. M., & Mire, S. S. (2021). Treatment acceptability in parent-mediated interventions: Considerations for maximizing outcomes for children with autism. Practice Innovations. Advance online publication.
What are four discipline techniques to avoid? To select and enter your answer go to .