How to Effectively Discipline an Autistic Child

How-to-Effectively-Discipline-an-Autistic-Child

In recent news, an 8-year-old child was handcuffed after disrupting a class and exhibiting challenging behaviors. Disciplining children can be a very sensitive topic, but handcuffing a child is blatantly traumatic and entirely unnecessary. School staff and parents’ immediate reaction to a challenging behavior is critical because an anxious response will often intensify an already challenging situation.

Thinking back to your teen years can illustrate the seriousness of an inappropriate response to an autistic child’s behavior. When you were a young person, it was difficult to verbalize what was really bothering you; often times our parents seemed to fuel the fire because they “didn’t understand” or didn’t know how to react to our teen angst. Things may have become explosive, when oftentimes a better response from the responsible adult could have eased a

Children with special needs also have a difficult time controlling their emotions and their erratic behavior is often a form of communication. Though it may be difficult not to react in anger or disapproval, it’s important to bridge the gap of communication by implementing a coping strategy specific to the child’s tantrum. Like any child, one with special needs may be acting out for any number of reasons: not being allowed to play with a certain toy, wanting candy or snacks, lack of attention and not wanting to do a tedious task or chore. Whatever the reason, it’s important to understand that the child is trying to communicate.

Understanding how Applied Behavior Analysis can help will ease a potentially problematic experience. Behaviorists suggest there are four main reasons we do the things we do. To help remember them, behaviorists have created a quirky little acronym: S-E-A-T. SEAT is an acronym for Sensory, Escape, Attention, and Tangibles. These four things describe the ‘reason’ a child can become upset. To determine the function requires an analysis of the behavior. Discussing these functions with a behavior therapist, like those at PediaPlex, is the best way to understand the young person and implement appropriate strategies to decreasing challenging behaviors.

When a behavior occurs, especially a high intensity behavior, there is a need to remain calm. It is important to keep the area around the child safe by removing any dangerous or potentially dangerous items. The amount of attention given to the child’s behavior must be limited and a hand or a pillow can be used to block aggression. The child must be prompted to calm down by squeezing their hands or by asking them to take deep breaths and count to 10. If the child is behaving to gain access to an activity, person or additional time before transitioning to different activity, they should be prompted to use the form of communication implemented by a behavior therapist. If the behavior is a means to escape an undesirable task or transition, block the child using your hand, a pillow, or rolled up sweater.

Verbal or physical aggression on the part of the responsible adult is unnecessary. All that is needed is to wait until the child has calmed down and then follow through with the task or transition. The task or transition may be modified in order to increase the chance that the child will comply without triggering another behavior.

Mitigating intense tantrums is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, patience, and understanding to help the child cope with their emotions. Please keep in mind that these behaviors are typical of any child, despite the varying degree of intensity or lack of communication. More than likely, the child has not developed the appropriate ways to cope and communicate effectively. By using available resources and coming up with a strategy specific to the child, managing a meltdown will become much easier.

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