discipling a child with special needs

Disciplining a Child With Special Needs

Let’s talk about behavior. This is a sticky topic to talk about, and it has many facets. We’ll hit on a few of these now, and we’ll probably talk about some of the other facets later.

Say no:

We encourage our families to understand that it’s okay to tell your child no. If they are performing a behavior that is not working for you, it’s okay to try to change it. How you do this is a personal matter. Your method of discipline is a personal thing and a family matter. Sometimes it’s a matter of tradition. Sometimes it’s based on your faith. We will not interfere with whatever your family choices are.

Teachable Moments:

But let’s say that your child ran out into a parking lot with cars everywhere. You are not going to run after them and hug them, and say, “Gee, that’s really great that you did that!” Instead, you’re going to be petrified that your child might get hurt, and want to communicate to them that running out in front of cars is not okay. We need to teach the child that we don’t run in front of cars or walk across the street when the light is red. These are things that the kids must learn because, in our absence or when the kids grow up, they need to understand safety.


We know parents often struggle with how to communicate this to their child. Plus, how do you communicate it if the child has a language deficit? Or if they’re nonverbal? (By the way, this is a great topic to talk to your speech or occupational therapist about!) There are many ways to correct an unwanted behavior, even if your child is nonverbal.

Journaling Behavior:

We also encourage parents to keep a journal about problematic behaviors. What times of day do they happen? What happened right before? What did you do and how did your child respond? Sometimes you might be viewing things differently than the child is, and what you might think is discouraging actually reinforces the behavior. Then the behavior perpetuates because even though you’re giving a negative response, the child is getting the attention they want so they continue to do it. Sometimes it takes a village and a lot of providers to help figure out why that behavior is continuing.  


But please understand that it is okay to say no, and it is okay to talk to your kiddo to tell them something is not safe, even if they’re nonverbal. The important thing is that you understand that as a parent, you do not have to tolerate a behavior that is intolerable because your child struggles more than other children. We want to try to make the kids’ lives as normal as possible, and help them to be functioning, responsible children and then adults. And sometimes, this means telling them no and changing unwanted behaviors.


We’re more than happy to answer any questions you have about behavior problems. Give us a call! 

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