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Asperger's and Discipline

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/18/2011

Children with Asperger’s often show problem behaviors due to the nature of their condition. In some cases, they may be trying to communicate through their tantrums and other insistent behavior. Read on to understand more about Asperger’s discipline strategies that you can use.

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    Asperger’s Discipline: Behavior

    Asperger’s syndrome is characterized by deficits in social skills and communication. Some of the behavior difficulties seen in Asperger’s are:

    - Tantrums

    - Refusal to participate in some activities

    - Socially inappropriate behaviors

    - Obsessive or repetitive routines

    - Rituals or stereotypical behavior that interfere with other activities

    The most important thing to understand is that all these are part of Asperger’s syndrome, and that children are not trying to be “naughty” or disrespectful. In fact, some of the behaviors have different functions for children with Asperger’s. Some behaviors have communicative value, and are used by children to let others know of their needs. And some are for self-protection in stressful situations. A lot of the behaviors are related to the environment and the context.

    Understanding more about the child’s needs, and what he or she is trying to communicate is the first step towards disciplining a child with Asperger’s.

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    Asperger’s Discipline: Preventing the Occurrence of Problem Behaviors

    It is easier and more effective to prevent the occurrence of a problem behavior than to attempt to control it after it has begun. Thus, observing the child and the situations in which various behaviors occur is important. Finding ways to handle these issues before the child is overwhelmed by them, can promote positive behavior. Here are some practical tips you can use:

    Sickness: If the child is sick, he or she is highly likely to have a lower level of tolerance, and might exhibit difficult behaviors. Allow the child to rest in a comfortable place, and maybe even take the day off school.

    Change in Schedule: A change in schedule can make it difficult for a child with Asperger's to cope. Help the child understand in advance that the schedule is going to be different and what is going to happen, so that they can anticipate the change.

    Crowds: If you know that your child with Asperger’s finds it difficult to cope with crowds, avoid putting him or her in crowded situations. Take the child shopping in the morning or on weekdays to avoid lots of people. Similarly, in school, the child may prefer eating in the classroom than going to the cafeteria. Allowing the child to find their way to the next class a few minutes before the bell rings, will help them avoid crowded corridors between classes.

    Background Noises: Loud or continuous background noises can irritate children with Asperger’s and can trigger tantrums. Provide headphones, or earplugs in such situations to help a child with Asperger’s cope.

    Overwhelming social situations: Children with Asperger’s lack social skills. Thus when asked to participate in a group activity or any other activity that requires a lot of social interaction, they might refuse, or exhibit other problem behaviors. To prevent this, provide graded and controlled social situations to help the child learn and develop social skills. Moreover, do not force Asperger's children to be a part of social situations that will be overwhelming for them.

    Other Sensory Issues: Hypersensitivity to different textures, sounds or lights are commonly seen in Asperger’s. These can be the cause for tantrums before bath time, meal time, or some other activity that the child finds difficult to cope with. Modifying the textures, sounds and lights may make it easier and more comfortable for the child.

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    Asperger's Discipline Strategies:

    Discipline strategies can be divided into two types. The first aims at stopping or reducing problem behaviours like tantrums, repetitive behaviours etc. The next aims at increasing the occurrence of positive behaviours, like participating in social situations or behaving well for a period of time.

    Reducing Problem Behaviors

    Rules: Rules make it easier for children with Asperger’s to understand what is expected from them. Limit obsessive behaviours, or narrowed interests by setting rules on how much time they can engage in that specific activity.

    Differential Reinforcement:

    Reinforcement refers to various ways of encouraging the child to repeat a specific behavior. Children are given a reinforcer right after they engage in a positive behavior. The child learns that this specific behavior is associated with positive consequences, and thus engages in more of it. Reinforcers can be tangible like toys or edible items, non tangible like an activity they enjoy or a privilege like wearing a special badge. Social reinforcers are hugs, words of praise or public affirmation, and token reinforcers can be exchanged for things that the child wants at a later point of time.

    Differential reinforcement is a technique used to decrease the occurrence of a problem behaviour. This is done by reinforcing a positive behavior that cannot occur in the presence of a specific problem behavior. Differential reinforcement can be initially given for a specific time period and gradually lessened as the child gets used to the positive behaviour pattern. For example, reinforce a child for sitting in one place and working. This will prevent him or her from running around the class or engaging in other problem behaviors. Initially the child can be reinforced every 10 minutes, but after a few days you can increase it to 15 minutes then 20 minutes and so on.

    Checklists: Provide checklists for activities or tasks that the child is supposed to complete and teach them to check off the tasks as they are completed.

    Redirection: Take the child’s attention away from an undesirable activity, and move it towards a safer, or more productive activity. This can also be used in the context of repetitive behaviours. Introducing the child to an interesting activity may stop them from engaging in repetitive behavior for a while.

    In most children, we use negative consequences when they engage in problem behaviours. However, negative consequences can increase anxiety levels in children with Asperger's. Thus it is recommended that we use differential reinforcement techniques, or techniques where we reward positive behaviours that cannot occur with the problem behaviour.

    Increasing the occurrence of positive behaviors:

    Tokens: Students can receive tokens for good behavior that can be exchanged later for treats, or even activities.

    Self-monitoring and self-evaluation: As the child becomes older, help him or her to assess their own behavior so that they can learn to regulate it themselves.

    Skill training: In many cases, lack of skills can lead to behavior difficulties. Teaching social skills and social behavior, as well as techniques for self-management, including relaxation techniques, can make it easier for a child to cope during the day.

    Hope these Asperger’s Discipline strategies were useful. Every child is different, and different techniques will work with them. Understanding your child will help you support them and promote positive behaviors.

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    References:

    American Society of Autism. (n.d.). Supporting Appropriate Behavior In Students With Asperger’s. Retrieved from Autism- Visuals: http://autism-visuals.com/Documents/LWA_Behavior.pdf

    Motechin, S. (2006). Asperger(’s) Syndrome . Retrieved from Behaviour Advisor: http://www.behavioradvisor.com/AspergersSyndrome.html

    Steve Buckmann, C. P. (2002). Supporting Students with Asperger’s Syndrome Who Present Behavorial Challenges. Retrieved from BBB Autism Support Network: http://www.bbbautism.com/pdf/article_42_supporting_students_with_AS.pdf