Teaching Self-Control to Your Autistic Child
Self-discipline is a skill that most children, especially those with autism, have difficulty acquiring. This includes inappropriate outbursts as well as habits that are potentially dangerous, such as banging their head off the wall or being aggressive towards others. In order to prevent these behaviors, parents and educators use a technique known as self-management. When we give the child power over himself or herself, it helps keep the situation under control and may be a step in the right direction towards learning other behaviors.
The reason that self-management works is because the child is not being controlled by others. When we teach them self-management during certain times of the day, such as when they are at school or therapy, they are more likely to practice self-control during other times of the day as well. The solution is to implement a program where the child is able to monitor their own behavior/activities.
The best thing to do is start with short periods of time, monitoring your child from a passive viewpoint. Every 10 to 15 minutes, remind your child that he or she is the one in control of themselves and must pay attention to and be aware of behaviors that are good vs. behaviors that are bad.
This monitoring is a type of self-evaluation. If the child knows they are in control, they are more likely to think about their past and present behavior. Make sure that you have clear goals in place- for example, have them go an entire afternoon with no aggression towards others or a whole day at school with zero self-injury.
Every 15 minutes, ask they child how they are doing. Are they meeting the goal? If not, perhaps the child isn’t ready to practice self-management or perhaps the goal is too lofty. In the beginning, the goals should be easy to reach and then you can gradually move them towards the more difficult goals in the future. When your child becomes successful at self-monitoring, they will have a better attitude towards it.
Of course, when you’re implementing a self-management system, there also needs to be a reward system in place. Allow your child to come up with his or her own reward, depending on what they are interested in. Reinforcing these behavior goals will make them more clear in your child’s mind and by being allowed to choose their own reward, he/she will feel like they are in control of the whole situation.
You may want to choose simple rewards, such as a smiley face when they meet the behavior goals and a sad face when they don’t. From there, work up to a larger goal such as allowing them to get a new toy or do a special activity once they’ve earned a certain number of smiley faces.
Keep in mind that this isn’t going to happen overnight- it’s going to take some time and effort. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you have the time to devote to this experience. When you reinforce the good behaviors with rewards determined by the child, they are more likely to continue even when not participating in a self-management program. If your child is mature enough, it may be a good program to try.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2021 Krista Mounsey