Autism Spectrum Disorders, commonly known as ASD, affect approximately 1 in 150 people and the diagnosis is increasing annually. Autistic disorders range from mild to severe on the spectrum. As more children with autism are diagnosed and enter school, parents and educators will need additional information and training on how to manage the challenging behaviors that are characteristic of ASD. Some of the symptoms of ASD include extreme rigidity, poor social skills, impairment in non-verbal communication, engagement in restrictive patterns of behavior and/or preoccupation with objects of limited interest to others. Intense behaviors, such as temper tantrums or rage episodes typically occur with the disorder. Interventions and patterns of discipline that are specific to the autistic child have been identified as effective across multiple settings.
Disciplinary Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Use direct verbal messages in a calm, neutral tone of voice. Say the child’s name and give short, simple commands without the opportunity for choice. Individuals on the autism spectrum are very literal and concrete in their communication and don’t understand subtle social cues such as voice inflection, facial expressions and gestures. Choices you present to them can be overwhelming.
Avoid confrontation and power struggles. Individuals on the autism spectrum tend to obsess or « get stuck » on things. If a power struggle ensues, the child becomes more engaged with the tug of war than the original issue. This can lead to rapid escalation of negative behavior such as temper tantrums or aggressive behavior.
Provide expectations and predictable consequences for behavior. Individuals on the autism spectrum crave external routine and structure because they are typically unable to provide this for themselves. Transitions and change are very difficult for these children and you always need to reinforce your discipline in a consistent manner.
Reinforce compliant behavior and avoid rewarding non-compliance. Identify the function of behavior. Individuals on the autism spectrum seek social interaction and attention in negative and inappropriate ways. Limit interactions and stop all requests during intense behavior. Reward low intensity and desired behaviors.
Be proactive, not reactive. Use measures to prevent escalation of undesired behavior before it occurs by providing structured environments, avoiding significant triggers and minimizing inconsequential requests and arguing. Allow escape to a planned place if necessary to calm the child.