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Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition affecting between one in eighty eight and one in one hundred children. It was recently redefined in the new diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) and many people are confused about how to understand the new criteria.

People with ASD must now show “persistent deficits” in two separate “domains”. These are (1) social communication and social interaction impairments and (2) restricted, and repetitive patterns of behavior.  There must be at least two repetitive behaviors in addition to social communication deficits. These can include “stereotyped or repetitive motor movements”, “insistence on sameness or inflexible adherence to routines”, “highly restricted, fixated interests”, or hypo or hyper reactivity to sensory input.

Parents of children with ASD are familiar with the phrase that if you have met a child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD. The severity of the condition is so variable, that it is impossible to present any stereotype of an ASD that makes sense, but there is still good evidence that parents of children with ASD live with behavioral problems on a semi-regular basis. Learning to manage these behaviors can make parent’s lives much easier.

Change who’s in control by “Entering and Blending”

There is a concept in the marital art Aikido called “entering and blending” that shows great promise in managing the aggression that can occur with ASD.

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By entering you step towards your attacker, positioning your feet so that they are slightly aside of the attackers path and then making “close and authoritative contact”. If an ASD child is pushing towards you, let their energy come at you as you move to the entering position, then firmly but gently, grasp their wrist or hand, and turn to go with them. In doing so, you are signaling your willingness to engage, whilst still providing yourself with a path to let the energy pass by without harming you.  There should be no pain or aggression in this action.

By entering you have also blended with the child by coming to face in the same direction as they are moving, and most importantly, you are looking at the situation from their viewpoint without giving up your own viewpoint that their behavior is unacceptable.

Entering and blending can also be a verbal technique that allows you to avoid responding to every sentence your child says with a counter sentence and perpetuating the argument. By blending and entering we give a little, turn to see their viewpoint, and try to resolve the situation from that position using their words.

It’s a powerful technique.

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Change the Stimulation Level

ASD may have a sensory component, and increasing or decreasing stimulation can be a useful way to control an explosive situation. There’s a lot of experimentation required, because not every ASD child will react in the same way. For some, turning the lights down may be intolerable and induce profound anxiety, whereas others will find the reduction of stimulation to be soothing.

One clue can be found in “stimming”; self stimulatory behavior where repetitive motions or sounds are made by the child in response to their sensory situation. Stimming can occur when children are happy or sad. My son likes to flap his hands when he’s having a great moment.  He also kicks the floor in a particular way when he’s happy or angry. It’s important to watch well and keep notes about what triggers stimming.

Stimming can tell you exactly what’s going on – or completely confuse you – but it is at least some real evidence of what the mood of the day is. If you can find a “happy” stimming situation, try to adapt the current sensory input to match that situation. If there are only negatives then remove the triggers for these and see if the situation improves.

Change the conversation

One of the key elements of an ASD diagnosis is repetitive behavior or fixation on certain types of objects or concepts. My son has been through a range of such fixations. The first occurred at the age of two when we had to stop every time he saw a flag and take it home with us. This morphed into the world of drains, and he and I spent many a cozy day standing over a drain and discussing its most intricate life story. Then came sharks and we’ve finally settled (for now) on marines.

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While it can be very difficult to maintain a conversation about drains for two hours at a time, I can rest assured that if I can shift the topic to something he is interested about then we can engage. Then I can direct the conversation and tease it around to the problem at hand. Patience is essential.

Change mood through exercise

The literature on the relationship between mood and exercise is extensive. If you can get the blood moving then endorphins will fire, and a euphoric feeling, sometimes called a “runners high”, can change your mood. Nowhere is this more true in children who have fewer filters and access to a more immediate response to endorphins.

You probably aren’t going to get your child to go for a run when they are really angry. Try instead for small gains; keep them walking around after you, even if that means a trip around the entire house four or five times. Chances are they’re so keen to yell at you that they’ll come without even knowing what they are doing. It’s a dirty trick, but it works.

Sometimes simple things like tickling work. It’s hard to be angry if someone is tickling you, but be sure that they aren’t so angry that you’ll just make it worse. Get down on the floor with them, wrestle, tickle and just turn a tantrum into fun. Sometimes they’re really just bored and a little physical engagement can do the trick.

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Change the Scene

We’ve touched on the fact that some anger is a product of boredom, and one of the best antidotes to boredom is a change of scenery. Walk outside. Don’t ask them to come and they probably will anyway because they are bored. Sit down on the grass and start picking daffodils. Pass them carefully over and ask them to pick the petals off and place them in a pile. If they ignore you – fine.

Changing the scene is almost never something you want to ask the child about. Just do it, and you’ll ignore a load of negativity and pointless banter.

It’s important not to treat changing the scene as a reward for bad behavior. Do not take your child to the lego store because he had a tantrum. Instead have yourself or your husband make paper airplanes with him and try to get them all in the fireplace. Start a christmas list. The options really are endless in the modern day and age.

Don’t think that there’s a different, better child ‘hiding’ behind the autism. This is your child. Love the child in front of you. Encourage his strengths, celebrate his quirks, and improve his weaknesses, the way you would with any child. You may have to work harder on some of this, but that’s the goal. – Claire Scovell LaZebnik

Featured photo credit: Jonathon Kos Read via media.lifehack.org

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Published on February 11, 2021

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

I’m old enough to remember how the cane at school was used for punishment. My dad is old enough to think that banning corporal punishment in schools resulted in today’s poorly disciplined youth. With all of this as my early experiences, there was a time when I would have been better assigned to write about how to negatively discipline your child.

What changed? Thankfully, my wife showed me different approaches for discipline that were very positive. Plus, I was open to learning.

What has not changed is that kids are full of problems with impulses and emotions that flip from sad to happy, then angry in a moment. Though we’re not that different as adults with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and stimulants such as sugar and caffeine in our diets.

Punishment as Discipline?

What this means is that we usually take the easy path when a child misbehaves and punish them. Punishment may solve an isolated problem, but it’s not really teaching the kids anything useful in the long term.

Probably it’s time for me to be clear about what I mean by punishment and discipline as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different.

Discipline VS. Punishment

Punishment is where we inflict pain or suffering on our child as a penalty. Discipline means to teach. They’re quite the opposite, but you’ll notice that teachers, parents, and coaches often confuse the two words.

So, as parents, we have to have clear goals to teach our kids. It’s a long-term plan—using strategies that will have the longest-lasting impact on our kids are the best use of our time and energy.

If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, then it becomes easier to find the best strategy. The better we are at responding when our kids misbehave or do not follow our guidance, the better the results are going to be.

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3 Positive Discipline Strategies for Your Child

Stay with me as I appreciate that a lot of people who read these blogs do not always have children with impulse control. We’ve had a lot of kids in our martial arts classes that were the complete opposite. They had concentration issues, hyperactive, and disruptive to the other children.

The easy solution is to punish their parents by removing the kids from the class or punish the child with penalties such as time outs and burpees. Yes, it was tempting to do all of this, but one of our club values is that we pull you up rather than push you down.

This means it’s a long-term gain to build trust and confidence, which is destroyed by constant punishments.

Here are the discipline strategies we used to build trust and confidence with these hyperactive kids.

1. Patience

The first positive discipline strategy is to simply be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to get results. Remember I said that we need to build trust and connection. You’ll get further with this goal using patience.

As a coach, sometimes I was not the best person for this role, but we had other coaches in the club that could step in here. As a parent, you may not have this luxury, so it’s really important to recognize any improvements that you see and celebrate them.

2. Redirection

The second strategy we use is redirection. It’s important with a redirection to take “no” out of the equation. Choices are a great alternative.

Imagine a scenario where you’re in a restaurant and your kid is wailing. The hard part here is getting your child to stop screaming long enough for you to build a connection. Most parents have calming strategies and if you practice them with your child, they are more likely to be effective.

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In the first moment of calm, you can say “Your choice to scream and cry in public is not a good one. It would be best to say, Dad. What can I do to get ice-cream?” You can replace this with an appropriate option.

The challenge with being calm and redirecting is that we need to be clear-minded, focused, and really engaged at the moment. If you’re on your phone, talking with friends or family, thinking about work or the bills, you’ll miss this opportunity to discipline in a way that has long-term benefits.

3. Repair and Ground Rules

The third positive discipline strategy is to repair and use ground rules. Once you’ve given the better option and it has been taken, you have a chance to repair this behavior to lessen its occurrence to better yet, prevent it from happening again. And by setting appropriate ground rules, you can make this a long-term win by helping your child improve their behavior.

It’s these ground rules that help you correct the poor choices of your child and direct the behavior that you want to see.

Consequences Versus Ultimatums

When I was a child and being punished. My parents worked in a busy business for long hours, so their default was to go to ultimatums. “Do that again and you’re grounded for a week,” or “If I catch you doing X, you’ll go to bed without dinner”.

Looking back, this worked to a point. But the flip side is that I remembered more of the ultimatums than the happier times. I’ve learned through trial and error with my own kids that consequences are more effective while not breaking down trust.

What to Do When Ground Rules Get Broken?

It’s on the consequences that you use when the ground rules are broken.

In the martial arts class, when the hyperactive student breaks the ground rules. They would miss a turn in a game or go to the back of the line in a queue. We do not want to shame the child by isolating them. But on the flip side, there should be clear ground rules and proportionate consequences.

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Yes, there are times when we would like to exclude the student from the class, the club, and even the universe. Again, it’s here that patience is so important and probably impulse control too. With an attainable consequence, you can maintain trust and you’re more likely to get the long-term behavior that you’re looking to achieve.

Interestingly, we would occasionally hear a strategy from parents that little Kevin has been misbehaving at home with his sister or something similar. He likes martial arts training, so the parent would react by removing Kevin from the martial arts class as a punishment.

We would suggest that this would remove Kevin from an environment where he is behaving positively. Removing him from this is likely to be detrimental to the change you would like to see. He may even feel shame when he returns to the class and loses all the progress he’s made.

Alternatives to Punishment

Another option is to tell Kevin to write a letter to his sister, apologizing for his behavior, and explaining how he is going to behave in the future.

If your child is too young to write, give the apology face to face. For the apology to feel sincere, there is some value to pre-framing or practicing this between yourself and your child before they give it to the intended person.

Don’t expect them to know the ground rules or what you’re thinking! It will be clearer to your child and better received with some practice. You can practice along the lines of: “X is the behavior I did, Y is what I should have done, and Z is my promise to you for how I’m going to act in the future.” You can replace XYZ with the appropriate actions.

It does not need to be a letter or in person, it can even be a video. But there has to be an intention to repair the broken ground rule. If you try these strategies, that is become fully engaged with them and you’re still getting nowhere.

But what to do if these strategies do not work? Then there is plenty to gain by seeking the help of an expert. Chances are that something is interfering or limiting their development.

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This does not mean that your child has a neurological deficiency, although this may be the root cause. But it means that you can get an objective view and help on how to create the changes that you would like to see. Remember that using positive discipline strategies is better than mere punishment.

There are groups that you can chat with for help. Family Lives UK has the aim of ensuring that all parents have somewhere to turn before they reached a crisis point. The NSPCC also provides a useful guide to positive parenting that you can download.[1]

Bottom Line

So, there your go, the three takeaways on strategies you can use for positively disciplining your child. The first one is about you! Be patient, be present, and think about what is best for the long term. AKA, avoid ultimatums and punishment. The second is to use a redirect, then repair and repeat (ground rules) as your 3-step method of discipline.

Using these positive discipline strategies require you to be fully engaged with your child. Again, being impulsive breaks trust and you lose some of the gains you’ve both worked hard to achieve.

Lastly, consequences are better than punishment. Plus, avoid shaming, especially in public at all costs.

I hope this blog has been useful, and remember that you should be more focused on repairing bad behavior because being proactive and encouraging good behavior with rewards, fun, and positive emotions takes less effort than repairing the bad.

More Tips on How To Discipline Your Child

Featured photo credit: Leo Rivas via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NSPCC Learning: Positive parenting

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