Munson Health
Behavior Management for Children with Autism

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You ask your child to pack a bag for school and your child screams “I know! Stop reminding me!” Your gut reaction is to send your child to their room for talking back to you. However, if you are parenting a child with autism, this type of punishment won’t decrease behavioral problems. But, what will?

Why Traditional Discipline Fails

Autism results in a variety of intellectual, social, behavioral, and communication problems. These problems make it difficult for children with autism to understand the rules of society and the results of their actions.
For these reasons, traditional methods of discipline that use negative reinforcement will only make the behavior worse and increase tension. However, by reinforcing positive behaviors, you may begin to decrease behavioral problems over time.

Focus on the Positive

Your child may not understand why certain behaviors result in punishment. However, if you provide your child with rewards for positive behaviors, he or she will be more likely to repeat them in the future.
The reward that each child desires will vary. It is important to understand what motivates your child. For example, one child may desire time playing with a certain toy while another might be motivated by a trip to a favorite playground. If your child is older, you may want to consider having your child work towards a special reward, such as a trip to an amusement park.

Behavior Management Tips

Here are some ways you can help manage your child’s behavior:
  • Use a chart to track your child’s progress and encourage positive behaviors. You can use stickers or tokens to involve your child in the process. Place the chart in a place where your child can see it every day.
  • Praise your child when he or she displays the desired behavior. Be specific by saying things like “Thank you for picking up your room.” This will help your child link the desired behavior with praise.
  • Be an example to your child, model the behaviors you want to see your child have.
  • Try to use the same discipline methods with all your children to avoid appearing to play favorites.
  • Be consistent. Everyone involved with your child should agree to use the same discipline methods. Share your approach with other caregivers.
  • If your child cannot control his or her emotions, then it may be best to move to a different environment and allow your child to become calm.
Meltdowns and outbursts can occur anywhere. Educate your family, friends, and your child’s caretakers about your child’s condition and the benefits of positive reinforcement. Having more people who understand your child and the need for positive reinforcement can increase the support for your child and decrease tension during outbursts.


American Academy of Pediatrics

National Autism Association



Autism Canada

Autism Society Canada



National Autistic Society. Behaviour and discipline issues for children with autism. Super Nanny website. Available at: Accessed April 10, 2014.

What are the positive strategies for supporting behavior improvement? Autism Speaks website. Available at: Published 2012. Accessed April 10, 2014.

Why is autism associated with aggressive and challenging behaviors? Autism Speaks website. Available at: Published 2012. Accessed April 10, 2014.


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