The perplexities of punishment -Mothering the autistic child

For the record, I am not an Ogre.
When I refer to “punishment” I mean it in the old fashion (1980-1990)  childhood sense of punishment of when you screwed up, Mom doled out a punishment to you, and you expected it even before you decided to launch an egg out the open window (because it was mid-July and no one had A/C back then!) or you flushed your sisters tamagachi down the toilet because HERS lived past day 12 when your met it’s untimely demise.

I have 4 boys age 7,5,4 and 2 with my oldest having HFA (high functioning Autism) Yes, to say the very least, I am CONSTANTLY inventing interesting and creative ways to keep them in line.


I’m not one of those parents that have vowed never to spank my child. I certainly try to avoid it, but lets face it, it worked for our parents and it sometimes gets the message across BUT for my children the threat of a spank on the behind is like threat of tickle tag. They LOVE IT! They find it funny and silly and ask (I mean really they bring me spatulas and ask if they can have a spank) So, no spanking in our house…because it is a reward 🙂             **In all seriousness, I do not condone any harmful behavior by parents and no one should ever be hurt ****

With a child on the spectrum punishment or a deterrent has to be carefully chosen as they have to A) understand WHY you are unhappy and B) how their behavior was unsatisfactory and C) be put in a safe environment while they are receiving a punishment.

For example, and one of my Mothers most used tactics, the “GO TO YOUR ROOM!”

A child’s room is a comfortable, conducive to quiet behavior, they can lay on their bed, read quietly, play with their toys and in our noisy house it is the one place a child can be ALONE. Kind of nice, no?

In theory, yes.

With LIncoln though, his curiosity and fearlessness can lead to trouble or even scarier DANGER.

My house has been baby-prooofed since Lincoln was 3 months and nothing has been removed since my 4 boy is still 2. I feel confident there is no place in this house my  3 younger children are not safe. Did you catch that? Smart 😉 Yes, I said 3, not 4.

With Autism, at least with my autistic son, safe situations can still lead to danger. The “common sense” 6th sense most of us start to have about 4 or 5 just is not there yet. If something catches his eye he doesn’t stop to ask or think about if it is a good idea or not.

Sending my son to his room means I cannot see him, therefore, I cannot know his actions. THIS is dangerous.

Would he fill up the tub to take a bath? Perhaps. He really loves the bath. I should hear the water run, but at times a vacuum or video game noise might block it out.

I have a lock on the bathroom door handles that he still cannot open, FYI. At 7 I still cannot risk him in the bathroom alone. All bathroom cupboards have locks. All windows.

There are still lamps, (electric sockets with plug covers but if he unplugged the lamp he’d free one) There is make-up and perfume in my room, closed away, but accessible if he is resourceful…and he is.

So, you say, go upstairs with him…

Sure, but then I leave 3 kids, a dog, and cat unsupervised. <insert sigh here>

IS this a good timeout place? LOL


Ahhhhh, time outs.

TImeouts worked when LIncoln was under 3. I used the playpen and it was “Baby jail” (I know I am not going to win Mom of the year for that name, but it worked. He got it) Baby Jail was a 4×4 space where Lincoln was contained but could still see us and move about. He could play quiet, he could talk to us if needed. He always hated to be out of our sight, or us out of his, so it was safe but effective. He NEVER tried to climb out. It took baby number 2 at 7 months showing him how to climb out to even put the though in his head.

As Lincoln grew the timeout chair replaced the playpen. Problem was, he couldn’t sit still! 2 minutes was like 2 days. Torture, for us and him.

Would this do?

After looking at the situation from a different perspective I learned that he was very attached to his trains, dinos, cars. so taking something away or offering something was a great motivator to good behavior. IT also helped teach cause and effect and repercussions of bad behavior.

I have moved to a “star system” which can be read about in IT is working very well at this age for ALL my kids, actually.

I important thing I needed to learn,(and parents I stress this to you as something it is imperative to understand and learn) is IF or HOW my son understood WHY he was wrong or why I frowned on his behavior. ASD kids have a hard time with emotions. They have a hard time regulating their emotions, responding in proper amounts (not overreacting or under reacting) and WHY they feel as they do. This is very frustrating to a child, much less a child with difficultly understanding social cues and norms.

Once I could see that my son knew he was making a bad choice, not that it was an honest reaction, I could decide when and how to respond with reprimand. I don’t always, even if the situation normally would warrant it.

It isn’t always easy, but once you work out the “hows” and “when s” life as Mom becomes much easier. Kids learn what to expect and how they are required to behave. Fun happens a lot more and “timeouts” much, much less!!

Do you have any unique ideas on how to help your child consistently behave in the fashion you require?


3 thoughts on “The perplexities of punishment -Mothering the autistic child

  1. I just read your piece on punishment…and I to have the same son is 7 with HFA and he has a twin sister that is normal…which is how we knew something was wrong..anyway I have found that making him sit right next to me where ever I am is the safest punishment..I found out the hard way when he was sent to his room and he had the time to remove the window lock (he likes to take things apart and put them together and climbed on the roof to get the ball he saw…so when he now “gets in trouble” I sit him right next to me! Lol drives him nuts! Good luck with you childden and God bless.

    • That is a fabulous idea! I don’t do that at home (though I should have thought of it!) I do if we are out in public…smart Mom!
      Must be challenging with Twins. Does it help to have a close sibling?

  2. Thank you for your post. It helped me get an additional idea. An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.

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