Discipline and the Special Needs Toddler — The Bump
Special Needs

Discipline and the Special Needs Toddler

Hello - I don't post here often but I'm looking for some advice and insight on discipline for our 2.5 y/o. We've had several evaluations with developmental pediatricians and EI and right now are treating a speech delay and developmental delay. We don't have enough markers to really rule him in or out of the Autism Spectrum. He seems to be going through a phase where he is tantruming and acting out and I am looking for ways to handle it. Mostly it occurs at diaper changing time or transition time or sometimes he's just doing something we don't want to reinforce. With his twin sister I can tell her no in a stern voice and she can read that I am angry and that is typically enough to stop the behavior. With DS he tends to laugh and continue the behavior and it almost spurs him to do it more. For example the other evening he was taking books from the bookshelf and throwing them. I told him he could not throw the books but he continued. I removed him from the room and made him sit in a chair in another room for a minute until he settled down. I don't know if he's old enough for time out and he will not sit in one spot unless he is forced to. I am just unsure if he gets the concept of consequences for the action and if I am addressing it in a way that he connects with. I would just love any insight into discipline or really correcting inappropriate behavior at this age with a child who may or may not be able to read the situation and understand, Or maybe he's just fooling me and he totally understands and just acts as if he doesn't. Anyway just looking for experiences and techniques. Thanks!

Re: Discipline and the Special Needs Toddler

  • I struggle with disciplinary techniques with our sone as well. It really seems like nothing works. But I when you mentioned the transitioning from one thing to another, I do have an idea. Have you tried a timer. With almost EVERYTHING we have to set a timer and tell our son "you have _ minutes and the we will ____". We do this from changing activities, meal times, bedtimes. We have almost no argument from him because it seems to give him a warning and extra time for him to process what is changing.

    Again I am at a loss on dicipline. I have tried nughty spots, behavior charts, reward system but I am not sure what I am doing wrong.

    Thank you for posting this seeing as its a struggle for us as well.

  • Thanks for the reply and for empathizing. We have begun a countdown for transitions where I tell him what is going to happen a few times and then I tell him we're going to do something new and I will count down 5,4,3,2,1 and it has helped. It seems like he's regressed a little bit over the last week or so with an illness. It's just so hard to get him to sit still to get the concept of time out down. And it's hard for him to get the 'FIRST, THEN' concept. It's tough because there are so many concepts I see that he understands in his therapy that I would never believe he could understand so there is part of me that thinks he understands his behavior is wrong and he should understand a consequence but then I preceive it as he just does not get the consequence aspect and so I feel like I make no headway. I'm rambling and I guess not making sense but just struggle with ways to curb some of the behavior.
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  • My DD1 has ASD, and we started using 1-2-3 Magic before she got a dx. It has been very useful and effective. It also taught me as a parent how much explaining, threatening (do you want a TO??!) and second chances I give when I should simply be saying "That's one." 

    A lot of the explanations just fly by her, and threats/second chances rarely have an effect on any kid, which is the point. :) But she understands "that's one" means she is doing something she shouldn't and needs to stop. I think it's really helpful to have that element where the parent is disciplining and gives the child a chance to figure out on their own what they're doing wrong and what the appropriate action is -- and then act accordingly if they can't or won't stop. It echoes a lot of the therapy approaches we've done, and it keeps things simple for both of us. That's a very good thing, especially for kids with SN, IMO.  

    It takes consistency, and there have been times when she was littler when it was TO after TO to drive home that a behavior was not acceptable. She can be stubborn. Definitely read the book.  

    She haaaated TOs as a toddler -- still does. We rarely get to three.  

    image

    DD1, 1/5/2008 ~~~ DD2, 3/17/2010
  • I will also say that if DD1 wouldn't sit in TO, I would sit with her (usually on our stairs) to make sure she stayed and/or hold her if necessary, while being as disengaged as possible (no eye contact, etc.). 

    OMG, she hated that with all her little heart. But she eventually did get it.  

    image

    DD1, 1/5/2008 ~~~ DD2, 3/17/2010
  • Oh I understand. Sometimes I feel like he is too smart for his own good. Because we do time out, he all of a sudden needs to go potty. I had to figure out that h is conning me into getting out of the punishment.

    One other thing we are trying for discipline is taking his tablet away. He is extremely smarty pants tech saavy and we were advised to get him one because he can benefit from it and in out situation there are many apps for Aspie/Autistic children including a "calm me down" app on the Ipad. However back to the point of dicipline, we take this away for 5 mins, 10 mins etc based on his behavior we are wanting to correct and it seems to be working. But its only be a couple of days. Time out worked for about a week then failed. So I am praying this works longer.

    Does your youngster have a favorite toy or activity that you could try to implement it as a reward. "When you are behaving appropriatly you get ____"
    And removed when bahavior is not appropriate?
  • My sons are not on the spectrum, but are both adopted and suffered neglect for a portion of their early lives.  As is often typical with kids that didn't have their earliest needs met, have a really hard time understanding cause and effect.

    Honestly, I believe the only way to teach this is to put it into practice, unwaveringly.  The first time the behavior presents, tell him, "Doing x, it is not okay.  The next time you do x, y will happen."  Then, the very next time he does x, do y.  Everytime after, do y.  If he is capable of learning cause and effect, he will learn it from this.

    Here's the tricky part:  if his behaviors get worse, that is actually a sign that he does get it, but is pushing back.  You can't get from willful disobedience to compliance without him trying to ramp up his behaviors and outlast you.  He will try to make your enforcement so miserable that you just five in and let him do what he wants.  So, if his acting out gets worse when you consequence his bad behavior, escalate the consequence.  "You know that x is not okay, but you keep doing it.  From now on, everytime you do x, z will happen."

    If, however, his behaviors do not get worse or better, and it seems he's just continuing as he always did, I would take that as a sign that he really doesn't understand or at this point learn the concept of cause and effect.

    Two books that really helped me were Parenting with Love and Logic and 1, 2, 3, Magic. We do a bled of the two in our home.  My older son, who's been with us for 2.5 years has come lightyears from where we started, and is really very well behaved and completely understands cause and effect when it comes to behaviors now.  We often talk about real-life examples of consequences in action (he's 10).  My 6 year-old is starting to get it, but he's only been with us for just under a year.


  • imagelite-bright:

    I will also say that if DD1 wouldn't sit in TO, I would sit with her (usually on our stairs) to make sure she stayed and/or hold her if necessary, while being as disengaged as possible (no eye contact, etc.). 

    OMG, she hated that with all her little heart. But she eventually did get it.  

    Yup.  We did this, too. 


  • Thanks everyone for the information. I will definitely get those books and read them.
  • We struggle with this issue too so I don't have any super great advice for you on how to discipline. However, you said that he tantrums around transitions. have you thought about using a visual schedule? When we've done this in the past - at times when Sir I is doing his version of a tantrum - I put pictures/pecs icons of the next 2-3 things on there and talk him through it. EG "First you're going to have a bath, then put on pj's, then get into bed" and point at each pic as I say it. Then when each thing is done he watches me take that picture off and I'll say "OK, bath is over, next it's pj's, then bed." And do this until those 3 things are done.  This has worked well for running errands, going to friends houses, going to school etc. I only put 2-3 things on there b/c plans do change, and he freaks out if we aren't doing what the next picture says. I've found this really helps with transitions, since he know's whats coming next. And the timers a PP mentioned work wonders too :)
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  • We struggle with discipline as well.  In fact, for a moment I wondered if I wrote this post because I could relate to all of it!

    Diaper changes are our biggest struggle, too.  For the most part I can ignore undesierable behaviors and she gets the hint.   DD wants a reaction, and when she doesn't get it she moves on.  With diaper changes though I HAVE to react or else she'll pee all over the carpet with her running around. No thanks.

    She laughs at us using a stern voice.  She thinks time outs are a game.  It's frustrating.  Obviously I have no advice, but I can commiserate. 

    DD has an expressive speech delay, but is fine with her receptive language skills.  I know she knows exactly what I am saying, but I don't know if she understands tone.  Until she can read facial cues better I feel like we are at a loss.

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