Disciplining Children with Autism

Disciplining Children with Autism

Autism presents its own set of challenges when it comes to parenting and disciplining at home and in school. Children with autism tend to have difficulty communicating, and they typically either retreat into themselves or become frustrated and angry. Follow some tips to discipline children with autism more effectively.


Communication is often one of the most challenging tasks for children with autism and their families or schools. Children with autism prefer concrete ways of thinking, and communicating verbally and non-verbally can be difficult. When a child with autism becomes frustrated with not understanding a situation or a way to communicate his emotions, acting out with anger is a likely result. To discipline and help prevent this behavior, try a few strategies:

  • Communicate through multiple modalities (use written, verbal, gesture, or visual cues)
  • Use short and concrete sentences; start with simple sentences and work towards more complex ones
  • Use positive statements — suggest what you want rather than what you don’t want
  • Follow a daily schedule and use routines; providing structure helps your child know what to expect

Discipline and Praise

When unwanted behaviors do occur, it is important to keep your cool; rather than becoming angry and exasperated yourself, take a deep breath and remember some hints for disciplining children and offering praise.

  • Focus on the positive aspects of a situation. If a child with autism is yelling at his sibling, explain that it’s not nice to yell, but applaud him on using words.
  • Choose punishments that fit the crime, and make sure the discipline makes sense to the child. If a child throws a toy, you take the toy away. If the child becomes upset, take a moment to explain why throwing a toy is unacceptable and what responses will be better in the future.
  • Avoid physical punishments. Due to heightened senses that a child with autism often feels, these reactions often feel exaggerated to the child and can cause extreme pain and discomfort.
  • Find opportunities to offer praise, and use it often. If a child with autism does something well or properly, let him know.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Many children with autism are treated with ABA therapy, or applied behavioral analysis. Utilize these same tools at home to discipline your child.

  • Ensure your child receives positive reinforcement for demonstrating useful skills and appropriate behaviors. This reinforcement can be anything from giving your child a cracker to rewarding them with free play time.
  • Practice useful communication skills; you might need to prompt your child with phrases to help get him started.
  • Give clear instruction and give your child a chance to respond appropriately. Reward appropriate behaviors. If your child does not respond appropriately, give a gentle prompt and allow the child another chance to respond the way you want.

Many of these tips are the same across the board of parenting, and children with autism might need just a bit more positive reinforcement or cues to understand and respond appropriately to situations. Preventing tantrums by using effective communication, patience, schedules and routine, and practicing good behavior are the most ideal tools for disciplining children with autism.

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