Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the nuclear option

Discipline is an issue for all parents. It poses an especially difficult challenge to parents of autistics. There are ways in which the rules of discipline simply don't work for these little people. For instance, if you have trouble picking up on social cues and you struggle to understand causes and their effects, you will probably be clueless when someone practices any form of discipline on you. There are other ways, however, in which discipline is even more important with autistic kids than with typicals. Some way, some how, you've got to communicate to them to refrain from running in the street, to try to pull it together when the grocery store meltdown is pending, and that kicking is not a format for showing love.

We're having a particularly tough week with Martin. He's happy as long as he gets to do whatever he wants. If we let him watch a 24-hour loop of Mary Poppins and Blue's Clues, eat PB&J for every meal, and have unlimited fresh blueberries, he would be all politeness. But life doesn't go that way. And the fact that you can't always get what you want (to quote the Stones) is something that parents of autistics have to work especially hard to get across. Let's just say, we're not doing very good at it right now.

Which brings me to a painful admission. I HAVE SPANKED MY KID. Yes, I admit it. I don't like it. I've got that classic, middle-class, smart-people aversion to it. But I have done it. I have done it after warnings, after time outs, after every other strategy has fizzled out in a flash of ineffectiveness. And here's what I've found about spanking. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There are moments when the warning that a spank will be delivered seems to travel directly into Martin's brain and cause a reconsideration and reformation of behavior. There are other moments when he either laughs at it or seems oblivious to it. So, like every form of discipline, it is not foolproof, but it can be useful.

I imagine some of you are now aghast, reconsidering your friendship with me, or about to call CPS. All I can say is that I'm sorry and I'm human and we're having a hard week.


  1. I always said that I'd never spank. That was before I had kids. I'm right there with you. I'm not a proponent of it for every time I need to use discipline, but I do find that it's very effective in certain situations. Sometimes a swat on the butt is the quickest way to get their attention-- especially when there isn't time for a sit-down, "let's-think-about-how-this-action-affects-you-and-others" conversation. Hang in there, Jen. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.
    Jen HS

  2. Oh Jen-Jen.
    You've not met my youngest who is a great kid but has some attachment issues. Well, actually a lot of attachment issues. There have been times when the only thing that gets her attention during one of her colossal meltdowns is a loud clap, sometimes on her sweet little bottom. Parenting was much easier when it was theoretical.
    Hope things get better for you.

  3. I'm so sorry you are having a tough week. Spanking has been part of our disciplinary repetoire as well, though I imagine that is not as comforting to you as it would be if I had a kid on the spectrum. I can imagine you asking yourself, "How do I know when to deliver a swat?" since his perception of it and reaction to it varies. You and S are doing a great job--you have such a commitment to your kids. I am praying for you. Jenny W

  4. Elaine is, as ever, so right-- discipline WAS easier when it was theoretical. Just when I think something's working it stops, and when I think it should work on both kids equally, it doesn't. I think every parent struggles with this one.