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Autism Spectrum Disorder: Discipline Methods That Do Not Work For Us

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Every child is different and every child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is no exception to the rule. There are many different discipline methods out there. You’ll hear all kinds of advice, solicited or not, about what to do to discipline and change certain behaviors in your child. Those people, however, no matter if they are friends, family, or complete strangers do not know your child like you do. You will know what will work best and what will not.

My daughter is almost 4 years old and last June was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you have no experience with ASD let me say, it definitely adds unique situations and concerns that may or may not require discipline. This also means unique practices to work with your child, understand their needs and wants, while still keeping them safe, secure, and happy.

There are many discipline methods we have found do not work for our daughter:

Yelling “NO”

It can easy to get frustrated in a situation and just yell “NO” to your child and expect they understand what they did wrong. Our daughter with ASD does not always understand. She does know, generally, when she should not be doing something. For instance, she knows she shouldn’t climb on the counter, but she also has little to no impulse control. If she wants something on the counter, she does not necessarily come to ask us she’ll just climb up and grab it herself.

What we do to help curb the behavior and help her understand the risks. We remind her the risk of falling and hurting herself. We remind her she should come ask mom or dad for what she wants.


There are many who are not against spanking their children. There are many, especially older adults, who may interject when your child is throwing a tantrum in a store or having a meltdown that “that child needs a good spank.” I want to interject that spanking for ASD kids, especially mine, is counter intuitive. Behaviors like having a meltdown in a store require sensitivity not a spank. Then behaviors that may be a risk to her safety, like running into the street, a spanking may be the immediate response, for her, she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t connect why she was just spanked and what she did wrong. It does not change the behavior.

What we do is redirect her attention. If she’s in the store and upset by the lights, noise, or other surroundings we redirect her to just paying attention to mom or dad. Playing with her as we push the cart. If she runs into the street she gets stopped with a stern voice and told why she needs to stay with mom and dad.

Time Outs

Time outs are often an effective discipline method for many kids. For our daughter however it has never been successful. Just like spanking or saying “NO,” Gwenie does not connect the behavior to why she is being required to sit down and stay still. Besides the fact she is an active sensory seeker. She is unable to sit still without a distraction.

What We Do

We redirect her from the behavior. For instance, her brother and her tend to fight over toys. Rather than trying to put either in time out for fighting, pushing or pulling on one another we redirect both of them to either sharing toys, or to different toys they can play with separately.

What Suggestions I have for Disciplining those with Autism:

  • Make expectations clear. This may require repeating those expectations over and over.
  • Be consistent.
  • Learn about Autism. Understanding how your child thinks and feels will help you understand behaviors as well as their perception to discipline.
  • Use Clear and Simple Messages
  • Offer Praise
  • Establish a Routine
  • Have Confidence in their abilities


Is There A Cure for Autism?

What Is It Really Like to Have an Autistic Child?

Show Me One Person Cured of Autism…. I’ll Wait!

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  1. This is great for people to understand the differences between disciplining children with autism versus those without.

  2. Great post, autism is very close to my heart as I have several loved ones on the spectrum – Thank You

  3. Wonderful tips to discipline. I think they can be carried over to neurotypical children as well. But it’s definitely more important for those on the spectrum to help them process and redirect when necessary. In reality, punitive methods don’t really work anyway. At best, they create fear. At worst, they lead to lashing out and other inappropriate behaviors.

  4. I would never chime in with parenting advice during a meltdown. I firmly believe parents are doing the best they can and in the middle of it is not the time or place to interject.

  5. Well put! (though I would suggest that I agree with most of what you suggest for neurotypicals/other diagnoses, not just ASD!) 🙂 Everything I’ve read about spanking suggests it does more harm than good across the board. And though the end-line diagnosis is different, one of my daughters shares a lot of the characteristics/challenges (e.g. impulse control) you describe above – redirecting is almost always an effective technique when we can pull it off! (e.g. it’s not like we’re trying to get her out the door to school). Redirecting also works well for her closer-to-neurotypical sister!

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