DISCIPLINE:  The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.   

Sounds like a Barbara Woodhouse book without the walkies.

Discipline.  I’m not a fan of the word.  I’m a free spirit, the word obey sends shivers down my spine and I’ve never been one to conform but it’s a word I’ve found myself googling a lot lately because:

  1. I don’t know how to discipline my child.
  2. I don’t know whether he should be disciplined.
  3. I’m still struggling to establish what is naughty and what is aughty.
  4. I need to help Reilly with self-control.
  5. The strain of managing Reilly out and about is near impossible.

Can you imagine how hard it is to even attempt to make your child understand that their behaviour is wrong or upsetting when they don’t know how to read emotion, you can’t have a conversation about it and you have no idea whether they understand you or not? When a neurotypical child is naughty you discuss it, remove toys, use a naughty step, ground them, whatever your chosen method and whatever works for you.  I did this with Alex & Ellis, probably once or twice (I did say I was a soft touch).  I can’t do this with Reilly.
A lady coughed in McDonalds yesterday and Reilly stood staring straight at her then lurched at her and pulled her hair.  Thankfully when I explained that coughing is a trigger for Reilly to kick off she was brilliant.  I did my usual No Reilly, nice hands, don’t pull hair and ushered him off into the corner where he decided he would pull my hair too. It was disastrous.  I couldn’t remove him because he won’t walk and I can’t carry him now like I used to.

So question is on this occasion was he reacting to the cough as misophonia, an extreme emotional reaction to ordinary sounds.  Does he not like coughing and just showing his distaste. Was he just being naughty? I honestly don’t know but I find it exhausting.

My fear is as he grows bigger and stronger this behaviour is going to be extremely difficult to handle and I’m searching for ways to communicate behaviours and help him understand.

Is it fair to discipline or punish a child that doesn’t know they’ve done anything wrong? I don’t think so and until I know it’s certainly not for me but how the hell do I work that out.

I welcome any advice from parents of non verbal children particularly around Reilly’s age on how they distinguish between behaviours and what positive methods they use to calm these situations, particularly teaching self-control.  I can’t be the only one struggling with this.

 Naughty or sensory seeking? Who knows?  not me that’s for sure. 

Published by

Christine Stephenson

Really busy mam who runs her own charity, has 3 sons and learning about autism every day. Contact me at

2 thoughts on “Strainspotting ”

  1. Hi, my son is suffering with autism he is five years old. He started speaking words at the age of four and now at the age of five he is starting to use sentences so my situation is slightly different. However before he could communicate verbally I found PECS very helpful. I used a dry wipe pen to cross a picture of his favourite snack (potato crisps) to help him understand that he has done something he shouldn’t have and as a result he will miss out. When he went through a stage of not eating breakfast earlier this year I left his toast on the side with a picture of crossed out crisps and every time he asked for his snack I would show him the plate and the picture and say ‘no toast – no crisps’. That worked very well. I agree that it is hard to discipline/ punish someone who doesn’t understand that their behaviour is ‘wrong’ but in my opinion discipline is a way to teach children the ‘right’ behaviours. I want my son to live an independent life one day because I will not be able to look after him forever. Especially as my son has autism it is in my opinion very important to set out rules and stick to them to help him learn life 😦 because unlike non-autistic children he doesn’t naturally acquire those skills. Good luck x


    1. I desperately need to know how to do it effectively 😩 I hope Reilly starts to talk too. Or even just nod. Trains are his motivators he loves them. I need to work something around them and be prepared for a shakey start xx


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