Disciplining Autistic Children


Authored by Stacy Hensley in Child and Teen Health 
Published on 09-15-2009

Deciding the best method for disciplining autistic children can be difficult. Every child with autism is different. Because of these differences, the approaches to discipline will need to be different for each autistic child.

Reasons for the Behavior

The best advice given to the parent of an autistic child, is to be perceptive. Pay attention to what happens right before a bad behavior begins. This can help you determine the cause of the behavior so that it can be avoided in the future. Keep a journal so that you can compare different situations. This will also help if your child is in occupational or behavioral therapy. Let the therapist look at the journal to see if there are any patterns that you may have missed.

Verbal Discipline for Autistic Children

The use of verbal discipline needs to be direct and to the point. Autistic children may have problems interpreting the tone of voice you use, or understanding a look of anger. You should tell them exactly what they are doing wrong, and the exact consequences if they continue the behavior. Try to avoid giving choices, because this can lead to the autistic child becoming overwhelmed.


There are two ways to deal with tantrums. If the autistic child is not violent, then it may be best to just ignore the behavior. Giving them a chance to get it out of their system can often help them calm down. Your reaction can lead to a tug of war between you and the child, which can cause it to last longer than if you just ignore the tantrum.

Some autistic children are violent and may injure themselves or others. In this case, you will need to face the child away from you, and hold them in your lap, securing their arms and legs until they have calmed down. For some children it helps if you talk or sing softly while you are holding them.

Rules and Consequences

Even autistic children that are not verbal understand most of what they hear. Take the time to explain the rules and the consequences of breaking the rules. Be as consistent as you possibly can, if you always let things slide then they will not understand that there are consequences for their actions. Discipline your autistic child immediately, so that they know and understand exactly what behavior they are being punished for.


How you discipline will depend on where your autistic child falls on the spectrum. Communicate with your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers about how your child behaves. They may notice behaviors or patterns of behaviors that you have missed. They may be able to offer more effective suggestions on how to discipline certain behaviors.

Support Groups

Join a local parent support group. Talking and listening to how other parents discipline their kids can give you some great ideas. It also helps you realize that you are not alone and there are other parents out there who know exactly how you feel. Discipline is hard but necessary. Always take the time to reassure your child that you love them and don’t like having to punish them.


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