Disciplining a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome

Are you unsure on how to best parent your child that has Asperger’s Syndrome? If you answered, “yes” you’re not alone. Many parents that have a child with Asperger’s Syndrome feel the same. To help understand common challenges parents face when it comes to disciplining their child with Asperger’s Syndrome and for tips on disciplining a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have interviewed therapist Andrew Ferrante LMHC.

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

A: I am a Massachusetts Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). I am currently working out of my private practice in Harvard Square, but due to an increase in demand, I am in the process of relocating to a larger office in Copley Square, Boston. I hold a Master’s Degree in Psychoanalysis and I work with adults and young adults who struggle with anxiety, depression, as well as individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a veteran of the Iraq War, I am sensitive to the needs of those who struggle with PTSD upon discharge from the Armed Services . Additionally, I have developed a keen interest and ability to work with individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. I see you have a few questions about Asperger’s, so let’s get started! What are your questions?

Q: What are common challenges that parents face when it comes to disciplining their child with Asperger’s Syndrome?

A: That’s a good question, Jaleh. The challenges parents face when it comes to caring for a child with Asperger’s Syndrome (or “Aspie” as they fondly call themselves) are many. “Disciplining” is important, but it is only part of an effective behavioral approach. The first step in any effective behavioral approach is to establish what the boundaries are (i.e., the rules) and to reinforce them consistently. It is important to emphasize consistency, because the Aspie child requires consistency much more than a “neuro-typical” child. In addition to having consistent rules, it is imperative for a parent to support the integrity of those rules with an appropriate behavioral plan. A good behavioral plan consists of BOTH rewards and consequences (the “discipline”). These rewards and consequences ought to be disclosed to the child regularly, so that the receipt of either comes as no surprise when the child does well, or misbehaves. This often involves a concrete display of the “House Rules”, usually displayed in a conspicuous place, like on the refrigerator, or above the threshold of the kitchen. The greatest challenge I witness with parents comes when they aren’t able to implement a balanced, consistent, and concrete behavioral plan, or parents who have convinced themselves that they have tried everything. I look parents like this in the eye and tell them, “I believe you’ve tried everything. Let’s try it differently this time” as sometimes their behavioral plan is not necessarily the problem, but HOW it is being implemented. The parents who have the greatest success with their Aspie’s implement a balanced, consistent, and concrete plan.

Q: What type of impact do those challenges have on the parent child relationship?

A: Hmm. Having a child with Asperger’s Syndrome can be an extreme challenge at times. The most important thing is that the parents must not lose, or surrender control. The parents (both, if possible) must assume a leadership role with their Aspie child. The greatest challenges arise when parents give up, or take a passive posture with their child. It’s very challenging to re-establish authority once it has been surrendered.

Q: What are some disciplining tips you can give to parents who have a child with Asperger’s Syndrome?

A: Again, it is important to emphasize that disciplining is only part of an effective behavioral plan. Behavioral plans that emphasize disciplining first and foremost are limited in their effectiveness. At best, they result in children who fearfully obey their parents, but ultimately resent them for being so strict. My general tip for parents is to think and act comprehensively. This means installing a behavioral plan that includes clear and concrete rules, rewards and consequences and parents who are able and willing to engage that plan DAILY.

The best piece of practical advice I give parents is to change HOW they speak to their child. Aspies are much more sensitive to how they are spoken to than “neuro-typical” children. This involves complex sensory issues, which they are born with. It is imperative for a parent to realize that they may be saying all the right things to their Aspie child, but how they are saying it may undermine all their efforts. So, heres my TIP: Get “low and slow”. This means many things, such as (1) get low, so that you and your child are on the same physical level (2) slow your speech down (your child cannot process what you are trying to tell him if you speak too quickly) (3) you speak quicker and louder when you are upset, so slow yourself down first (take a breath, slow down your heart rate) (4) speak directly and calmly, and be literal (avoid using idiomatic language).

Q: What type of professional help is available for a parent who has difficulties disciplining their child who has Asperger’s Syndrome?

A: I always refer my Aspies and their parents to the Asperger’s Association of New England. It is a wonderful resource for children, adults, and parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome. They hold educational seminars and support groups year round. They even have an on-line parent support group. I have been a member of AANE for many years, and I plan to continue my membership for many more. Who knows, I might see you there someday! If you would like to join or donate, then please visit them at www.aane.org. Good Luck! ‘”Andrew Ferrante, LMHC

Thank you Andrew for doing the interview on disciplining a child with Asperger’s syndrome. For more information on Andrew Ferrante or his work you can check out his website on www.andrewferrante.com.

Recommended Readings:
How to Cope with Your Child’s Asperger’s Syndrome
7 Keys to Successful Parenting
Tips For Disciplining a Defiant Child