Disciplining Kids With Autism: 3 Things To Remember
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.
I was raised by an old school Puerto Rican mother who believed in tough love. She was quick with a slipper and quicker with her hands. She moved so swiftly, you didn’t realize you were given a cocotazo, until you felt your scalp stinging. Needless to say – I got the slipper and cocotazos often. I also went to Catholic school. I was a chatty kid and I spent most of my grade school years with tape on my mouth or sitting alone in a corner. It wasn’t considered abuse. It was discipline. And it was the early 1980s – no one cared.
I don’t believe in spanking my son, Norrin. And I would be horrified if any teacher put tape on his mouth to keep him quiet. But it’s 2012. And the idea of discipline has changed.
A few months ago, while at a friends home Norrin misbehaved and I guess my response wasn’t enough. We were asked to leave (kicked out, actually – but that is a whole other blog post). I knew that my friend felt I should have disciplined Norrin. And later, my friend made sure to tell that it was the third time (over several visits, not that same day) my son had misbehaved and that such behavior was unacceptable in his home.
Kids with autism don’t often get things by the third time. It took us months to get Norrin to point his finger. Years for potty training (and at almost seven years old, he still wears pull-ups at night). It takes a long time to teach Norrin most things. Eventually he gets it. In his own time.
So how does an autism parent discipline their child? How do we teach them that some behavior – hitting, yelling, throwing – is simply not acceptable?
Back in the Early Intervention days, ABA therapists told us to ignore negative behavior and redirect. Most parents can get away with ignoring and redirecting the negative behaviors of a three-year-old. Ignoring and redirecting a seven-year-old exhibiting negative behavior – all adult eyes are on you. And they are judging.
I decided to try something new. (Well, new for me. You may be doing this already.) I made up a list of “House Rules.” I got the idea from Norrin’s teacher after she gave me her list of class rules. Now, when Norrin breaks one of the house rules, I point him to the list. I ask him to read it out loud. I talk to him about right and wrong. And then I redirect him. If he corrects the behavior, I give some kind of verbal praise and a hug. If he does not – I take something away (like the iPad). So far, it seems to be working. (I’ll keep you posted.)
The thing is, when it comes to disciplining Norrin, most of the time, I am at a loss. Some days he gets it. Some days he doesn’t. And it’s hard to know if I’m doing the right thing.
But this much I do know (because I’ve learned the hard way):
- What works for parents of “typical” kids, is probably not going to work for yours;
- Screaming at your kid while he’s in the middle of a meltdown isn’t the right time to teach anything; and
- They need you to be patient.
How do you teach discipline to your kids?