Disciplining A Child With Autism

Dear Sara,

My sister has a fifteen-year-old son with autism and I sometimes help out by letting him stay at my house when he’s not in school and she needs a break. He likes pencils and pens and takes all of mine home in his backpack. He also goes behind my back and pinches my elbows. I don’t know how to discipline him as he doesn’t seem to understand or change no matter what I do. Is there anything I can do to make him see that what he’s doing isn’t good?

Dear Claire,

On his occasional visits to you, there is probably not much you can do to change your nephew’s behavior. He doesn’t process information the same way as you do and needs long term help. Your sister needs you to be there to help when she needs a break and this is what you need to keep in mind. She deals with her son’s problems on a daily basis and knows that change is going to be slow. Hide your pens and pencils and wear long sleeved shirts. You are giving your sister the break she needs.


  1. There are varying degrees of autism. I wouldn’t assume that he cannot be told or corrected. You may have to repeatedly tell him and not tempt him with pens lying around or standing in front of him. You need to confront him when it happens and be consistent. I’ve worked with two teenagers and an adult and While others just ignored their bad behavior, I talked to them about it. In a bit, they didn’t do it around me but wanted to just talk about how it was not appropriate, whereas they did the unwanted behavior around others. You have to be consistent.

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