Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Disciplining Your Teenager with Special Needs

Disaplining a teen with special needs can be tricky. There are a lot of matters that you have to consider:
1. A teen with special needs is likely to be just as much (or more) a “teen” than a person with special needs. Like all other teens, they crave independence, autonomy, and being themselves. This may be a big jolt for a parent who until now has been treating this child as a person with his mental age. Even a child with normal intelligence, may have needed (and may still need) more help physically than your average teen, and this is a sure producer of friction. For the teen with an intellectual handicap, “I can do it myself” can be downright frightening to a parent who understands the dangers that may be enherit in the child opting to do things “themselves”. Especially if they haven’t studied the topic at hand at all……
2. A teen with special needs knows what he wants, but may lack either the intelligence or impulse control that could help a “normal” teen see that a certain plan of action or type of behavior is entirely non-productive for them, or not safe.
3. The teen , even if he has intellectual disabilities, can probably read you BETTER than a book. Any inconsistencies, any non-enforcement of rules will be duly noted.
4. Despite all of the above, there may be times that we need to give the child a bit more leave-way because he simply is not able to act 100% in accordance to our desires.

A few examples:
1. I once considered myself a good disciplinarian until I realized that I “spoke” clearly, but often was not alert enough (or was too busy) to properly enforce. If I tell Ricki thast she can eat only one soya patty, but she sees that she can often snitch a second (or thirds or fourth) without severe consequences, she has been taught by me to try and get away with snitching.
2. Many parents try and protect their children by giving them fewer exposures to danger: no going to the grocery, no lighting of matches, etc. The problem with this method is when one sunny day the child decides on their own to do the action, without any prior preparation whatsoever…..

1. In general, unless there are very extenuating circumstances, this teen should follow and keep all the regular household rules. Even when you are busy, take the time to stand there and insist that they pick up the Kleenex they tossed behind the stove. It pays in the long run.
2. Never ever ever threaten a consequence that you are not able and/or willing to follow up on.
3. Actively work to help your child gain any independence skills that they are able to do. If they are attempting to do something you have not taught them, take it as a warning sign that you are not keeping pace with his desires for independence.
4. This next point is a difficult one for me, but I am improving: If you are doing something fun or good with your child, and they are acting atrociously, STOP if at all possible. Especially if this is a recurring theme. For example, Ricki always acts up when trying on clothing. Last time I went shopping with her, she started up, as usual, so I left the store. She learned that day that I will not tolerate certain behavior, even if it means that I will have to return a second day to finish then shopping.
5 For any bad behavior that is recurring, try and step back and see what the child is “gaining”. Any affective intervention will need to take this into account. Help him gain a good objective in a positive way.

A Few of my previous Posts on these themes:



I highly recomend the following book if you have a teen with special needs and a serious behavior problem. It is a practical, in-depth approuch:



RivkA with a capital A said...

This good advice seems applicable for ALL parents.

Trish said...

I really like your suggestion #3 - that's a very good point that I am finding even at age 7.

Thanks for a thorough post on the topic - this is great!

Rachel said...

This post is just as timely for parents of 2-year olds who are discovering a desire for independence too! Thank you very much for your sound advice... I think I try to follow most of those, but it helps to be reminded in print!