Most folks don’t enjoy disciplining their kids. I’m not a fan of it myself, but I do feel that by failing to show my son boundaries I am setting him up for a harsh lesson later in life with much more severe penalties. Discipline is additionally challenging with an autistic child, so I’m going to share some of the things we do that help us show Raymond consequences of his decisions. 

The first thing we learned is that we cannot teach him consequences while he is still upset. It just doesn’t work. When attempting to discuss poor behavior choices we noticed that Raymond often relives the moment, so we needed to get some time and distance between the event and the consequence. I know some parents subscribe to what I call the “dog training theory” of parenting, meaning that if you don’t rub their nose in it right when it happens then your child will never learn. I put that theory in the same place I would put what the dog had his nose rubbed in because its of the same quality level. Waiting a half hour or an hour is a great way to give your child a chance to calm down. It also allows me time to lower my pulse, take some deep breaths and think of a way to communicate the consequence in a way that is meaningful to my son. 

I know I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record, but raising your voice is probably the worst thing you can do in a disciplinary or pre-meltdown situation. A raised voice means “alarm/emergency” and a behavior issue means “I need help/understanding.” Nobody would start yelling at someone who was asking for help, so I try to remember that if my son is acting out he is trying to tell me something. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction I need to figure out what my child is trying to say. 

I’m not saying that I ignore dangerous behavior, but I’m saying that choosing my method of intervening is far more desirable than reacting without thinking. I notice that a calmer approach helps lower the probability of a meltdown and a measured tone helps Raymond realize that I’m not mad. Many times he is looking for a reaction of some sort, so by showing him that a poor choice isn’t the end of the world I’m helping him see more possibilities in the world. 

One of the things we try to do often is to show him the positive consequences of his actions. As parents we often focus on the negative side of behavior and fail to see how good our kids behave much of the time. We make sure to focus on rewards and how Raymond earned them, showing him that good choices deserve as much energy as poor choices. Good choices are somewhat naturally rewarding, but if a child wants attention and he earned time on his iPad then his need isn’t being met. We feel that attention is a big part of the reward system. Also, I don’t want my son to think that consequences are always negative. 

We also try to frame consequences like the loss of a favorite activity or toy by putting a time limit on it. Raymond becomes distressed when we take something away, so by letting him know that he can have it again tomorrow we cut down on the loss perseveration. It also lets him know that he can still earn other rewards, because we need him to be attentive and focused all day and not just give up. We also put time limits on some rewards, because we need to show Raymond that even preferred activities must end. The time limit also helps us transition without a big mess that could result in new consequences.