Disciplining Children With Special Needs

Sylvia Philips by Sylvia Philips Additional Needs

Sylvia Philips

Sylvia Philips

My family has been through the tragedy, trials and ultimate triumph over childhood brain cancer. My daughter Bethany, underwent emergency surgery t...

During and after the surgery to remove it she suffered numerous complications which caused her to have multiple life long disabilities.

Memories of Bethany's lengthy battle with a brain tumor and her constant suffering with uncontrolled seizures have made it difficult for my husband and I to discipline her.

We want her life to be as happy as possible.

When children are first diagnosed with a disability or illness, parents aren't thinking ahead to an obscure time in the future when they may actually have the privilege of needing to discipline their beloved child one day!  But that day is more than likely going to occur!

Bethany's illness has sentenced her to forever be a two year old with autism, a language processing delay, and a severe, uncontrollable seizure disorder.

It has also caused her to have problems with aggressive and at times violent behavior.

In other words, even though Bethany is a 140 pound, sixteen year old young woman, she functions in real life as a toddler.

She comes complete with giant sized temper tantrums, has great difficulty understanding lengthy and complicated strings of spoken language, and has an extremely limited vocabulary.

So unfortunately, she does engage in a few undesirable behaviors every now and then.

Below are some guidelines that we try to remember when Bethany is acting in a less than desirable manner.

● Is Bethany capable of understanding what we are asking of her? We must be sure to explain what we are asking to her in short, simple, and precise language.

● Is her behavior a common characteristic of or an innocent behavior related to her disability?

I suggest that parents educate themselves extensively on their child's own unique condition.

Expecting our children to do the impossible is extremely cruel.

● Could this behavior be a side effect of her medications?   I suggest parents familiarize themselves with all side effects, both common and rare of each medication their child takes.  Asking our children to fight the negative side effects of a medication is also impossible, in my opinion.

● Is Bethany's misbehavior an attempt to communicate something important to us that she is not able to communicate in a more appropriate manner?  Is Bethany hungry, thirsty, tired, or not feeling well and unable to let us know?

I am reminded of an incident when Bethany refused to participate in an outing.

She kept pointing to her neck and telling us she was waiting for it to go away.

We thought she was just being obstinate, but the next day her neck was horribly swollen. It turned out that she had an infected lymph node but was incapable of telling us in a way that we understood!!

● Are we expecting Bethany to be acting as her chronological age and not her functioning age?

Because of Bethany's brain injury, she functions as a two year old.  It would unfair to expect her to behave like a typical teenager in a similar situation.

● Is she acting this way because she needs attention?

Some children crave attention so much that they will behave in a way to attract even negative attention.

If after exhausting all other options, we determine that Bethany's behavior is actual misbehavior we try to implement some form of positive discipline to change the undesirable behavior.

Below are some suggestions for putting together a positive discipline plan for your child.

● Set a standard of behavior for your child and be consistent.

Explain the standard of behavior to your child in a form that he or she will understand, be it simple written instructions, spoken words, or in pictures.

● Teach your child in simple, incremental steps how to meet your standard.

● Model the desired behavior for your child.

● Give your child some control by offering choices.  Examples: “You must go outside to play, but you can choose the activity you do.”

“You must get dressed, but you can choose your outfit.”

● Catch your child being good and praise them for it.

Make a BIG deal about good behavior and ignore undesirable behaviors if possible.

● Design a system for rewarding desirable behaviors.

Use sticker charts, coupons, tokens, rewards etc. to motivate good behavior.

While I certainly don't claim that these suggestions have been the magic bullet in putting an end to all of Bethany's undesirable behaviors, they have been very helpful to us and I believe they offer a good place to begin.

Disclaimer: I am not a behavior therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist and am not claiming that implementing these suggestions will “cure” your child of all undesirable behaviors.


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