Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Tips to Solve Anger and Behavior Issues
in Children with Autism
Let’s face it, being a parent is a tough job. It’s even tougher when you have a special needs child. There are so many emotions that go along with it that it can be very difficult to sort them out.
You constantly ask yourself, am I doing the right thing? Would someone else be doing this better? Should I give in to his demands because I feel bad for him having this disability? Am I doing enough? It can be very hard to ever feel like you are doing enough. It is important, though, to remember to keep things in perspective, and remember that you are the authority on your child.
No one knows your child better than you do
There might be some people who understand more about autism, but no one knows your child like you do. No one else knows that if you pick him up and tickle him while whispering nonsense words, that you can always get a laugh; or that his favorite cereal is Cheerios with strawberries in it but he hates blueberries; or that he sleeps on his side with half a dozen stuffed animals and that he needs to have the nightlight with Winnie the Pooh on it in order to sleep.
You know all the details. You just have to trust yourself to make the right decisions. More likely than not, you’ll end up doing just fine.
How to discipline an autistic child
One area that can be particularly hard for parents, though, is to know how to discipline autistic kids. They can seem so out of control sometimes that you just want to run in the other direction! Their tantrums can be loud, overwhelming, and destructive. They don’t seem to respond to common sense. If you tell them they’re okay, they just cry louder.
Maybe your first child was able to pick himself up after getting hurt and move on, and you’re puzzled as to why your autistic child can’t do the same thing. Maybe, your child screams and lashes out at you for what seems like nothing, and you’re at your wit’s end in figuring out how to make it stop.
In my books, I have written a lot about different methods of discipline that seem to work relatively well for kids with autism. These methods work because they seem to communicate with the child in a way that he understands, and give the child an incentive to modify his behavior. The goal here is not necessarily to punish, but to get the child to think about his behavior, to see why it’s wrong or not appropriate, and to motivate him to change it.
What role does anger play in behavior problems in autistic kids?
Before we talk about specific methods of discipline, it is necessary to talk about the role anger plays in behavioral problems. Kids with autism often have significant trouble with emotional regulation. If something happens to them that seems unfair or troubling, all of a sudden it’s all they can think about, all they know to be true about their world at that moment. They are likely to become angry and don’t have much experience understanding their anger or knowing how to control it.
Kids should be allowed to feel and express strong emotions
We often think of anger as a bad thing. Many of us were taught not to show any emotions, especially anger. We were taught to hold the feelings in and never show them. But it is important to get rid of that notion. Holding things in never helps. Feelings were meant to be expressed. Kids should be allowed to feel and express strong emotions—but taught how to do so in a healthy, constructive way.
Anger and aggression are different from each other
Anger is a temporary feeling caused by frustration, while aggression is an act often meant to hurt someone or destroy something that someone owns. Anger is okay, but aggression is not.
It is important to show the child that you accept his or her feelings, and that you respect them. After you do this, then you can suggest other ways that he can express the feelings. You might tell a child, for example, “This is a way you can express this feeling to me in a way that will be safer and more appropriate,” and tell him how.
Kids with autism need to be taught how to deal with their anger and how to cope with it
It is important to teach your child with autism or Asperger’s syndrome how to cope with anger…because everyone gets angry.
- For example you could buy a punching bag, and whenever your child gets angry, teach him to use it.
- Or maybe he can run some laps around the neighborhood to get out his pent-up energy and frustration.
- Or, maybe you have a silly song that you can teach him that he can learn to sing to himself whenever he starts to feel frustrated.
If you get him to laugh, the frustration will disappear. Teach him to use words to express what is making him so angry instead of just having him lash out at whatever is available.
Here are some specific tips to help control anger in a child with autism.
- Ignore Bad Behavior Aimed at Getting Attention: Many children with autism learn quite quickly that bad behavior gets your attention…and gets it fast. If possible, try to ignore bad behavior. Getting upset and giving your child a lot of attention when they misbehave can reinforce this behavior and create a pattern that you do not want. Don’t let your child do something dangerous, but if his or her behavior is simply annoying or he is antagonizing you, try to ignore it. Don’t give your child with autism the satisfaction of being able to pull your strings whenever he wants. While this may not eliminate the bad behavior, reacting to negative behavior can definitely cause bad behavior to increase.
- Let Your Child Burn Off Energy: Children (especially those with autism) need to run around, play, burn off energy. They spend entirely too much time in front of passive activities…TV, computers, card games. Autistic kids need to run around and play. Encourage this.
- Anticipate and Avoid Problem Situations: Try to anticipate when your child might melt down. Are there situations that cause your child to get angry? Can these be avoided? Many children with autism have a tough time playing with their peers in very competitive games…such as basketball…where the object is to take the ball away from your child. This caused a tremendous amount of problems with my son when he was younger. Avoid these games if possible. Instead, encourage the boys to play a game throwing Frisbees or some other activity that. Learn what triggers your child’s anger…and head these situations off before they occur.
- Hug or Gently Touch Your Child–This Can Work Wonders. This was especially helpful with my son. By the time a child with autism has a meltdown and gets angry, words can be like pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out. Words simply do not work sometimes. Instead, if your loved one is angry, calmly stroke their back or rub their shoulders. Move the child to a quiet environment…especially one with a dark room and little noise. Remember, many times when a child with autism is angry it is because they became overwhelmed and were not able to process their emotions or handle the situation. Gentle physical contact and QUIET can work wonders in getting your child centered and calm.