Discipline is a natural part of raising most children. It helps them understand healthy boundaries, encourages communication, and reels them in toward behaviors that lead toward more healthy habits in adult life.

Though disciplining a child with autism can be challenging territory. Your child might not understand how or why their behavior was wrong, and they might not fully grasp the consequences in a way that leads toward positive improved behaviors in the future.

Children with autism spectrum disorder are different than neurotypical children. Yet that doesn’t mean that your child is incapable of learning from discipline. It just takes patience and a strategic approach where you remain gentle and consistent, throughout the process.

Behaviors That Demonstrate Emotional Distress

It’s important to note that disciplining certain negative behaviors is a normal part of raising any child. Though there are some behaviors that children with autism spectrum disorder display, which indicate they are emotionally distressed or struggling to express their emotions via a healthy outlet. This includes things like:

  • Nervously chewing on their hands and fingers
  • Hand clapping and flapping
  • Repetitive rocking
  • Yelling & screaming
  • Hurting themselves
  • Banging or hitting their head
  • Physical aggression toward peers and adults

Should A Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder Be Disciplined

First and foremost, you need to remember that discipline isn’t about physically punishing your child with ASD. Rather it’s about helping them to develop into a healthy, respectful adult.

Often times early intervention in a negative behavior helps reduce the risk of negative reactions, while also achieving positive results sooner. Providing your child with the support system, skills and the need to choose more preferred behaviors increases their chances of healing independence later in life.

Cultivating a positive parenting experience and combining it with positive discipline helps your child to become resourceful and responsible. In the process, you will promote a more secure parent-child attachment and protect your child’s mental health.

If you’re deliberating whether or not you should discipline your autistic child with autism, you should always remember to focus on a positive approach. The underlying goal is to guide your child towards more healthy behaviors lovingly and constructively.

The Importance of Positive Discipline

All children respond best to positive disciplinary techniques. Though this is especially true for children with autism spectrum disorder.

This starts with defining clear expectations and rules, that your child is clearly aware of. Make a point to review them frequently. Then positively reward your child for desirable behavior with praise or perhaps a small treat or putting a sticker on a sticker board. This will go a long way toward helping your child to better understand what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Your child’s ABA therapist can help you understand the incentives that will work best for your child’s ASD symptoms and level of cognitive development.

Helping a Child with Autism to Listen

Listening is a challenging skill for any child, and it can be especially challenging for children with autism spectrum disorder. There will likely be times when you feel that your child never listens. Though this is often a sign that they simply require additional attention and support.

It often helps to work one-on-one with your child’s clinical team under the guidance of their ABA specialists. They can help you understand the specific techniques that will help you and your family to connect with your autistic child.

Once you have a clear grasp of the needs and abilities of your child, you can develop more realistic expectations. From there, it’s about being consistent and positive with every interaction.

Encourage Self-Soothing Techniques

All children have tantrums and emotional meltdowns, and sometimes these events need to be disciplined. Though a tantrum or meltdown for a child with autism might be because they lack the skills they need to calm themselves down.

In a time like this, you need to stay positive and work with your child’s therapeutic support team to strategically deploy the techniques that your child will connect with. This might include having the child close their eyes and think of a pleasant image.

Perhaps it’s a deep breathing exercise. It might be as simple as counting to 10 or singing a happy song. Every child is different and there is no one-size fit’s all self-soothing technique. You just have to say positive while finding the one that works best for your child.

Create Consistent Routine

Consistency in their routine, their schedule, and their everyday world will go a long way toward helping a child with autism to process their experiences. This helps improve their emotional threshold, while also helping them to understand what’s expected of them as they go through their day.

It’s completely natural for a child with ASD to act out in response to changes in their environment and/or their daily routine. These are times when you can reinforce expectations, helping them to understand that the old expectations and rules are still in place.

If there are any changes in the rules that come with the changes in the environment, be sure to also note them. Then reinforce these new rules with the same consistent positive reinforcement techniques. Allowing a little more time than normal for them to adapt and integrate into the change.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Way to Discipline a Child with ASD & ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often occurs as a comorbidity of autism spectrum disorder. For these children praising desired behaviors, as well as establishing consistent routines, and avoiding tantrum-triggering environments will go a long way toward reducing the need to actively provide discipline.

Does a Child with Autism Need Discipline at School

Every with ASD has different symptoms of different severity. If your child is acting out at school, it helps to coordinate with their ABA therapist and therapeutic support team as well as the child’s teacher. This creates a unified front to reduce negative behaviors while encouraging positive ones through consistency, positive reinforcement, and healthy disciplinary techniques.


All children benefit from a healthy dose of positive discipline to help them better understand their boundaries and how to transform negative behaviors into positive ones. For a child with ASD, a positive consistent approach to discipline helps them understand their expectations and grow toward their best possible self with confidence.