I was recently asked what I thought about discipline and children with autism. The first point I should make, is the lower the function of the child, the harder it is to make discipline work. I can work, however. Again, I put my research skills to the test in order to be of the most help I can be to any who read my blogs.
The first order of business is to address corporal punishement. Hitting doesn't work, I can tell you that from seeing in person. Yes, spanking is still hitting and we work hard to teach them not to hit, so all you do is mess with their heads and they take it straight to the heart. They will take it most personally and you're better off, just not doing that. Yes, I have given my son with autism a swift swat on the bottom, but it never gets any message across other than it's a mean thing to do. So lets leave spanking by the wayside.
Remember my last blog on socializing your child. Social stories also do a lot to help learn proper behaviors around the home. For that matter, most of what I put in that blog can help here. Yet the question remains, if you must use punishment, what do you use?
It's going to take a lot of time and practice, but there are methods of discipline that can be used with autism.
Time out: You bet, time out can still be a very effective measure, but the time you use is much much shorter in span. With most children, you set a time out spot that is safe and NOT scary and the child must stay in that spot quietly for one minute per year of age. With autism, the attention span is harder to control, so you go by a much shorter span of time. For example, at 3 and 4 years of age, we only went for about 20 to 30 seconds and worked our way up from there. You will need a lot of patience to get this to work. You must be quick and direct to act on time out and consistent. Don't say your going to put him or her into time out and then not do it. That's self sabotage and it will ruin you both. If he gets up and leaves time out, put him back and repeat the process over and over. NO WORDS. Action, action, action. Actions speak louder than words. Once he has done his time, let him out, explain again why he went there and that you love him. Yes, you've likely seen this on SuperNanny. It works. Our high functioning kids can do this. It takes more time and effort, but it is so worth it in the long run.
Offenses that invovled objects such as toys, bring about another punishment. Removal of the offending issue. If they won't behave with what ever object you are correcting them on, give them one chance with clear warning of the consequence and that's all. Take away the object for the rest of the day. Once they are older, take it away for three days (5-7 yrs), above that you can do a week. Any offensive behavior on that, brings time out. Is this hard to do, sure it is. Again, once you have the behaviors established, it's worth it.
Restraint: This is only to be used if the child presents a danger to themselves or others. You must be very gentle and I suggest the "hug" method. Hold them in a sitting position in front of you and take hold of their wrists. Hold their hands in their lap will hugging them close to you. If you must, loop your legs over theirs to stop kicking. Watch out for head butting or biting. Hold them close and tight (but gentle!) and softly remind them that when they stop or calm, you will let them go.
Using social stories can help explain consequences like time out, so they better understand how it works. Make sure they understand that a consequence is never a slight against, rather a natural occurance based on what they do. Always praise and use rewards. Good rewards should involve their keen interests, that you know get their attention. Use visual aides. In my son's class, they have a visual aide that tells all the students how they are doing. It's a stop light. Everyone starts on green. When they get out of line, they move to yellow, another transgression takes them to red and they lose a recess. They can actually earn their way back to green by doing things extra well. All of the kids in my son's class are on this system, and it works. It works for my son because it's consistent for the entire class and and done the same every time. So there you have some idea of good discipline technique for high function autistic children. If you have a system that works well for you, please comment and put it here so that it can help other parents. According to studies and reviews (search for them online), this is the best form of discipline for a child with autism. I use it myself. It works.