How do you discipline a child with Asperger's Syndrome?

Dr. Tony Attwood

I tragically see a number of teachers saying "it's a matter of discipline!" Well, okay. Certainly having AS is not a license to do whatever you want to do, and there must be natural consequences. But my view is, with the child with AS, you must spend more time explaining what they did that was wrong, why it was wrong, what you are supposed to do, and how to know when you are supposed to do it.

Quite often, when the child is very emotional and upset, it is not a good time to explain this. When you've got emotion, you haven't got logic. Look at love. Love is never logical. The same with anger or distress. So, that may not be the time to explain consequences, etc. You may need to deal with the situation when the child is relaxed, possibly a couple of hours later. You say, okay let's learn from this. Let's go through what happened. Often what you find is a miscommunication or a misinterpretation by one or both parties. Both parties need to see the perspective of the other. But the time to do that may be when the person is reasonable, not emotional. We do drawing, pictures, Carol Gray's social stories, all those sorts of things to go through that process.

Often the child won't follow the rules unless they see a logical reason why, or if they see a value to themselves. And, if you talk about "people won't like you" - who cares? Or, "do it to please your teacher" - why should I please her? So what we have to use is, I'm afraid, a very mercenary approach. If you do this, this happens - if you do that, that happens. But it's very logical, it's almost like having a rule book. There are consequences for what you do, this is the logic.

If you start getting into complicated personal relationships, you've lost it. You have to be quite firm in the consequences with that individual, but you do need to spend time explaining things. For example, if we have a child who has hurt another child, or their brother or sister, we may say, "say sorry" and the person says "sorry," and as far as they are concerned, that's the end! If he's done something wrong, he must do, or donate, something to his sister for example, tidy his sister's room, or share a chocolate bar that he was going to have at lunch time, half each in other words something is lost or given, or they lose their time for the person concerned. They could also make an apology card. They must actually do something tangible, rather than just "sorry," and that's it.

It does mean that you have to explain this to teachers, because they expect the kids to know. You've got to explain that in those circumstances, the child needs more explanation. I also explain to teachers, "don't use the degree of disruption as the measure of guilt." Although the AS child is the one who hit the hardest, he is not the only participant, and between them it was six of one, and half dozen of the other. Many AS kids hate the injustice - that they get all the blame, but the person who called them names gets no punishment. You need to deal with both parties in that situation.

Courtesy of MAAP

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