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How to Avoid Power Stuggles With Autistic Children

by Tiffany Raiford

Children with autism require more structure, a more consistent routine and a different approach to discipline than other children. Children with autism are often repetitive, socially awkward and have difficulty communicating. This can make power struggles particularly difficult. When you want your autistic child to do something or stop doing something, your request to stop might turn into a battle for control. These power struggles are not uncommon, but they can be avoided.

Stick to your routine as often as possible, advises Amy Hobbs, training coordinator for the Autism Society of North Carolina. Autistic children find change difficult to deal with, confusing and scary. When too much change occurs at once, it can cause your child to become difficult to deal with. When you keep your routine as similar as possible every day, your child is more likely to understand what is going to happen, what is expected of him and it can limit the number of power struggles you experience.

Keep directions and activities simple. According to the Autism Today website, big tasks and complicated directions can confuse a child with autism, which can cause a power struggle. You are less likely to find yourself in the midst of one if you keep your child from becoming overwhelmed. For example, if you want her to get ready for bed, break up the process into smaller steps. Start by instructing her to brush her teeth. Then have her change into her pajamas. Then ask her to pick up her toys. An autistic child is more likely to become overwhelmed if you say something along the lines of, “I want you to brush your teeth, clean you room, put on your pajamas and get ready for me to tuck you in.” Keep tasks as simple as possible.

Use visual requests and commands when possible. According to Hobbs, if you want your child to have chores or a list of things to do throughout the day, put it on a chart or list that your child can see. Autistic children are typically able to visualize commands far better than they are able to understand them verbally. This can help you avoid power struggles by allowing your child to understand what it is you are asking of her.

Remove yourself from the setting if you see a power struggle coming. According to Autism Today, autistic children have a hard time communicating with words and are more likely to understand actions. When you see circumstances going south, walk away from it and it’s more likely to diffuse the tension in the moment.

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