Disciplining children displaying asperger characteristic behavior will often require an approach which is somewhat unique to that of other children. Finding the balance between understanding the needs of a child with aspergers and discipline which is age appropriate and situationally necessary is achievable when applying some simple but effective strategies. These strategies can be implelented both at home or in more public settings.
General Behaviour Problems
Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for children with Aspergers syndrome, primarily because they are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Consequently, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, whilst at the same time giving rise to distress in both the child and parent.
At all times the emotional and physical wellbeing of your child should take priority. Often this will necessitate removing your child from a potentially disressing situation as soon as possible. Consider maintaining a diary of your child's behavior with a view to ascertaining patterns or triggers. Recurring behavior may be indicative of a child taking some satisfaction in receiving a desired response from peers, parents or teachers.
For example, a child with Aspergers may come to understand that hurting another child in class will result in his being removed from class, notwithstanding the associated consequence to his peer. The solution may not be most effectively rooted in punishing the child for the behavior, or even attempting to explain the situation from the perspective of their injured peer, but by treating the root cause behind the motivation for the misbehavior...for example, can the child be made more comfortable in class so that they will not want to leave it?
One of the means to achieve this may be to focus on the positive. Praise for good behavior, and reinforcement by way of something like a Reward Book, can assist. The use of encouraging verbal cues delivered in a calm tone are likely to elicit more beneficial responses than the harsher verbal warnings which might be effective on children who are not displaying some sort of Asperger characteristic. If necessary, when giving directions to cease a type of misbehavior, these should also be couched as positives rather than negatives. For example, rather than telling a child to stop hitting his brother with the ruler, the child should be directed to put the ruler down.
Obsessive or Fixated Behaviour
Almost all children go through periods of development where they become engrossed in one subject matter or another, but children with Aspergers often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behaviour.
For example, if an Aspergers child becomes fixated upon reading a particular story each night, they may become distressed if this regime is not adhered to, or if the story is interrupted. Again, the use of a behavior diary can assist in identifying fixations for your child. Once a fixation is identified, it is important to set appropriate boundaries for your child. Providing a structure within which your child can explore the obsession can assist in then keeping the obsession within reasonable limits, without the associated angst which might otherwise arise through such limitations. For example, tell your child that they may watch their favourite cartoon for half an hour after dinner, and make clear time for that in their routine.
It is appropriate to utilise the obsession to motivate and reward your child for good behaviour. Always ensure any reward associated with positive behavior is granded immediately to assist the child recognising the nexus between the two.
A particularly useful technique to try to develope social reciprocity is to have your child talk for five minutes about a particularly favoured topic after they have listened to you talk about an unrelated topic. This serves to help your child understand that not everyone shares their enthusiasm for their subject matter.
Bridging The Gap Between Aspergers and Discipline and Other Siblings
For siblings without Aspergers syndrome, the differential and what at times no doubt appears to be preferential treatment recieved by an Aspergers sibling can give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. Often they will fail to understand why their brother or sister apparently seems free to behave as they please without the normal constraints placed upon them.
It is important to explain to siblings, or peers of Aspergers children and encourage open discussion about the disorder itself. Encouragement should extend to the things siblings can do to assist the Aspergers child, and this should be positively reinforced through acknowledgement when it occurs.
Aspergers Children are renouned for experiencing sleep problems. Children with Aspergers may have lesser sleep requirements, and as such are more likely to become anxious about sleeping, or may find they become anxious when waking during the night or early in the morning.
Combat your child's anxiety by making their bedrooms a place of safety and comfort. Remove or store items which might be prone to injur your child if they decide to wander at night. Include in the behavioral diary a record of your child's sleep patters. It may assist your child if you keep a list of their routine, including dinner, bath time, story and bed, in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of them waking in the morning to provide assurance as to what will happen. Social stories have proven to be a particularly successful tactic in decreasing a child's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of their day is likely to play out.
Another Asperger characteristic is that children will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day which lack structure. If left to their own devices their difficulties with social interaction and self management can result in anxiety. The use of a buddy system can assist in providing direction, as can the creation of a timetable for recess and lunch times. These should be raised with class teachers and implemented with their assistance.
Explain the concept of free time to your child, or consider providing a seperate purpose or goal for your child during such time, such as reading a book, or helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks.
Children with Aspergers can become overwhelmed to the point of distress by even a short sourjourn in public. The result is that many parents with Aspergers simply seek to avoid as much as possible situations where their child is exposed to the public. Whilst expedient, it may not offer the best long term solution to your child, and there are strategies to assist with outings.
Consider providing your child with an ipod, or have the radio on in the car to block out other sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list explaining to the child a trip to the shops, or doctor. Be sure to include on the list your return home. Consider giving your child a task to complete during the trip, or having them assist you. At all times, maintaining consistency when dealing with Aspergers and discipline is key. It pays to ensure that others involved in your child's care are familiar with your strategies and techniques, such as those outlined above, and are able to apply them.
Most importantly, don't hesitate to seek support networks for parents with Aspergers syndrome, and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge those who have dealt with the disorder before you have developed. The assistance you can gain from these and other resources can assist you in developing important strategies to deal with problems with Aspergers in a manner most beneficial to your child.
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