Spanking (Autism)

12 Jul

Spanking (Autism)

[slight name change because of the fetish traffic…not that I don’t appreciate it or anything!]

I’m treading lightly on this one, and trying to be sensitive about it. I’M sensitive about it and hope readers might at least try to be likewise. This is not easy reading. It certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to write.

A few weeks ago, Percy and Jane were out, and Thomas and I were at home. We were fiddling around out in the garden and then came inside. He demanded pizza and I told him it wasn’t time to eat yet. He then goes to the microwave and punches the numbers to make it 5:00. I informed him that wasn’t going to cut it. He screamed and I told him screaming was finished and put him in the brown chair. Then he did something he had never done before; he hit me. He just hauled off and whapped me in the leg!

Up until this point, neither Jane nor I had ever spanked the boys. We both grew up getting a belt (me) a spoon (her) or a switch (me again) but have been using a time out chair (the brown chair), like Supernanny uses. And for the most part it has worked. The next step is to put them in their room for time out. Problem is, starting last month Thomas took to throwing all of his books off the bookshelf and trashing his room.

Thomas hit me when I told him to sit on the chair and yelled “NO!” He and Percy have gotten a lot more defiant this summer.

All this is to say that Thomas’ defiance to me ended at that moment when I gave him two hard swats to his bare bottom. Then I put him in his room and warned him not to clear his book shelves.

Actually, his defiance didn’t end until the next moment, when I walked in and his books were all over the floor which garnered him two more hard swats. I then told him he was going to get more if he didn’t have it cleaned up when I came back. This was a couple weeks ago, and I have since not had the compliance and defiance issues Jane continues to have.

I’m not a big fan of beating kids. The behaviorist in me understands that punishment only suppresses behavior, and does not teach new and better behaviors. But the old style behaviorists knew something the more modern version has forgotten: Punishment works. In fact, the famous Lovaas Young Autism Project (YAP) used punishers extensively in their famous study where so many students “recovered” from their autism. That’s not to say I want a researcher or anyone else spanking or striking or shocking my children. But my parents, Jane’s parents and now me understands that it can be an efficient tool if juxtaposed with good teaching and good guidance.

Jane wanted to accuse me of teaching the boys how to hit, which I said was utter nonsense. They learned how to hit at school from their peers! Actually, I think hitting is more of an instinctual thing, anyway. I was not hitting to counter hitting, I was using it to counter defiance.

Hmmm. That spanking was not my intended focus, here. But now I see where I’m going to be accused of beating on my autistic child or something. The last word on that is this: I believe that part or teaching and parenting kids (NT or AS or otherwise) means turning them into productive human beings. Kids today (and many of their parents) often act like selfish animals. I’m not playing that, and my kids have a very concrete understanding of my authority. I care enough not to condone poor behavior. I’ll do it again if I have to. It’s not capricious and I take absolutely no bloody pleasure in it at all. Ever. But it works. I still get hugs and kisses. But if I tell them to sit on the brown chair, they do it and I do not get this “NO!” nonsense. Jane still does get an awful lot of grief, especially from Thomas. Sometimes she’ll just look at me, and I’ll give him the same instruction she just did (i.e. pick up your shoes) and he’ll do it right away.

Spanking is a controversial topic among parents and I feel somewhat like a traitor to behaviorists who have spent decades developing nonaversive and effective techniques. Not everyone can or should do it. I think it is a decision and a practice for parents to decide for themselves and their own situations. Any practice can evolve into abuse, and it is important to guard against that, but swatting a child on the bottom should not be confused with using knuckles across their face. In our household, I think we do have a good balance between Jane, who is ambivalent about the practice and me, who is cautiously okay with it. Thomas gets the connection between the behavior and the consequence, which is the most important thing. It’s not just about compliance (although that is a big deal) it is about learning some control. The consequences for impulsiveness can be dire, and I’m trying to work on that aspect of his behavior in a way where his life isn’t on the line. At this point, I know he thinks a bit more when he’s trying to decide whether or not to listen to what I’m telling him. I’ll take that.


Comments to this post are closed due to some posters who wish to abuse others and other such foolishness.

22 Responses to “Spanking (Autism)”

  1. liz at 3:33 pm #

    Hi Dick! Listen, I am an anti-spanker….as a routine or as a threat. But the occasional swat (by occasional I mean less than once a month, and maybe less than once every three months) isn’t “beating”.

    Look, I was an animal trainer before I was a parent. I do not think that strong or even painful aversives are always heinous. In some senses, one strong aversive, coupled with a sound, lets you not use the strong aversive subsequently. (Example: horse misbehaving, trainer “pops” the lead rope (so it stings the nose) as trainer growls. Next time, growl alone is enough.)

    The other deal is…well. I don’t know how to put this gently, so I’ll be blunt. Boys need their moms to be dominant to them. I am willing to bet that Jane gets more grief because she has not found a way to enforce her dominance. I’m not talking about the kids quivering in submission, here, I’m talking about serving as an exterior locus of control when the kid’s impulses are leading him astray. She hasn’t found a way to “make her words golden”.

    Are you familiar with the (classroom and parenting) Love & Logic approach? This is the parenting philosophy that’s made the most sense to me. It avoids physical punishment in favor of choices and consequences–but leaves room for the “30 second riot act”.

  2. Dick Dalton at 7:55 pm #

    Thanks for chiming in, Liz! Not familiar with that specific term (Love & Logic approach) but I do understand pairing the unconditioned stimulus (pain of a swatting) with something else that can become conditioned and less physical, like a stern voice. Which I’m all for, since swatting is kind of hard on my hands! I really do think it hurt me more than him! I’m such a wuss!

    I see what you’re saying about mom’s being dominant with their kids, specifically sons. It just isn’t a natural part of who Jane is to enforce her will upon anyone, let alone the boys. I remember her having the same problem with her cats who would jump up on the table. She’d yell at them and threaten them and they’d just look at her. All I had to do was give a snap of my fingers and they fled the room.


  3. Bonnie Ventura at 11:12 am #

    Hi Dick. I followed the link to your blog from Autism Vox. I have two teenagers (an aspie son, and a daughter who is not autistic but had some awful tantrums when she was younger). My experience has been that the most effective way to discipline kids is to let them deal with the natural and logical consequences of their actions. Usually this means taking away whatever privileges are most closely related to the misbehavior, for a long enough period of time to make a substantial impression.

    For example, if one of my kids screamed for pizza in the food court, I would tell the kid that there wouldn’t be any more trips to the mall, meals at restaurants, microwave pizzas, or pizza delivery for at least a month. One time my daughter hit her brother with a miniature golf club because she was upset about losing the game, and I didn’t take her back to the miniature golf place for a year (although I took her brother a few times while leaving her at home with her dad). She was always on her best behavior while playing miniature golf thereafter.

    I remember throwing my books all over the floor when I was upset about being sent to my room as a child. I had a huge tantrum and threw everything that was movable into a heap in the middle of my bedroom, including the mattress. My mother just waited for the noise to die down, and then she calmly opened the door and informed me that I couldn’t come out to eat my dinner until everything was put back where it belonged. I spent the next several hours cleaning up the mess (because of autistic literal thinking, I took that to mean that every book, etc., had to be in its exact place), while the family ate dinner without me. When it was all cleaned up, I got a plate of warmed-over food and was sent straight to bed. That was the last time I ever threw my books on the floor.

  4. Dick Dalton at 2:21 pm #

    Thanks for the input, Bonnie! Make no mistake, what you suggest is what we have been doing mostly, and will continue to do. He’s been trashing his room all summer and we make him clean it up everytime. and it takes him hours and hours and frequent reminders, simply because he gets distracted and reads everybook. Same thing in stores and stuff, I’ll take him out and drag him back home everytime.

    I can say since the spanking, he has not trashed his room again, even though he has still been sent there for time out on occasion. Spanking is not, and should not be the first line or the only line. Should it even be on the menu? I think this is a question only each parent can answer for themselves. I know that if it is over used or abused, it won’t work and can do harm. I think there are some complications involved with using this with AS kids that maybe are not as evident with NT kids.

    Thanks for sharing and chiming in!


  5. A Mommy at 3:28 am #

    I think you have hit on something my husband and I searched and searched to learn. We are “spankers”. Now, please understand that we would say that 98% of spankers should not be spankers because they spank incorrectly.

    Spanking should be for the purpose of correction, without a glimmer of anger, with complete control. It should be carried out by a loving parent and be followed by a loving and affectionate interaction.

    What your sons’ behavior shows (and our Asperger’s son’s behavior also showed) is that he is one sharp guys and he DOES understand what is expected of him, and when he does not do it, he is making a conscious, defiant choice. So many medical professionals have told us that an ASD child can’t “make the connection” between their behavior and a “punishment”. Then how, I ask, can they make a connection between their behavior and a “reward”. They are both cause and affect relationships.

    I know that my son won’t stop writing on the computer screen for squat or a chocolate bar, but when Mommy or Daddy say, “Son, stop or you will have to have a spanking.” He stops.

    Now, mere compliance or “good” behavior is not our goal. A changed heart is. *And I am treading lightly on this one.* Our belief is that when we teach our children to obey their parents, they also have a foundation upon which to understand obedience to God and His commands.

    Though our son be disabled, he still has a soul. For my husband and myself, it was a long, hard, gut wrenching struggle to discern whether *this* child should be brought up differently than our other children.

    Of course! Even the Bible says that we are to raise up each child according to their “bent”. Every typically developing child is different from the next and has to be treated individualistically. However, we deemed that for a child who knows they are acting in defiance, a spanking is appropriate.

    One other thing. I would argue that “spanking” (properly done) is different than “hitting”. Spanking is a form of discipline carried out in a controlled and careful fashion by a loving and self controlled parent. Hitting is uncontrolled act of violent aggression.

  6. Dick Dalton at 8:17 pm #

    Ah! YOU’VE hit a nail! Thing is, my ASD son is having a hard time discriminating between hitting and spanking. He sort of knows. The spanking caused a sort of mini-obsession for him and I’ve backed off of it for awhile. I need to figure out how to handle it better where it doesn’t become such a preoccupation with him.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  7. Laura at 7:27 pm #

    Have you resumed spanking? Or did you decide that wasn’t the best direction to go in? I have a 6yr old with Aspergers. We grapple with effective methods of discipline/motivation. We suspect that spanking would work very well, but have concerns. Our son is emotionally immature and resorts to hitting/biting when agitated – we don’t want spanking to cause his aggression to increase. We figure that if we do the spanking in a very controlled manner, without anger – it would be effective. The yelling that we often resort to isn’t good. We do try time-outs, quite time in his room, and revoking privilidges. We need something more severe for blantant non-compliance, violence towards his siblings & a sassy attitude he’s begun to show.

    I’d appreciate the feedback as you’re a few steps ahead of us with this.


  8. Dick Dalton at 12:52 am #

    Thanks for stoppng by!

    I’ve expanded an answer to you in a full-fledged post that will probably be more inflammatory than this one, but hopefully addresses the issue in more detail.


  9. James at 3:38 am #

    ha good one!

  10. Chris at 5:20 pm #

    Oh wow, we’ve been going through the exact same thing. Our 7 year old girl (yes, a girl!) has Asperger’s and is very gifted and bright. I’ve heard the ‘she can’t help it’ argument for years, and in some cases it’s absolutely correct–and those situations are fairly obvious. But in other cases, I think that she doesn’t make the ’cause and effect’ connection between action and punishment OR reward because the punishments/rewards are simply too abstract (no TV tomorrow, no mini-golf for a year—none of that is going to register with her when she’s in stubborn mode!). She can’t think that far ahead, not even to tomorrow. But a non-angry spanking preceded by warnings has been amazing. I’m well aware of the reasons not to spank and ironically I agree with those reasons! We never did this before. But then there’s my kid and my abstract reasons don’t hold up.
    The spanking is immediate and definitely not wanted. The possibility of it stops her when nothing else does. I hate it. She knows I hate doing it. But it works, and it is followed by love. But I feel like we’ve got to keep it on the down-low!

  11. john at 4:07 pm #

    Boys need their moms to be dominant to them.

    WTF is that? Lady, those boys will grow up, and then they’ll have problems toward women. You are sick .

  12. Doctor at 8:47 am #

    you people should be ashamed!!do some research on attachment parenting.this kid is acting out because he does not feel secure at home .

  13. Doctor at 9:11 am #

    I needed to add that what you are doing by beating your child is pure animalism.get some professional help asap.

  14. Dick at 1:29 pm #

    There is no empirical research on attachment parenting. It’s anecdotal heresay based on a rather flimsy feel-good theory. It also produces guilt-mongering comments like the one above, especially in the world of autism. You’re basically going back to the abusive “Refrigerator Mother” paradigm, which was nothing but animalistic abuse based on the same stupid, backwards tactic of guilting parents into surrenderring their children to institutions where the autistic kids were subsequently sexually abused and raped.


  15. Doctor at 1:36 am #

    I have four children-one of which was adopted from a Russian orphanage.My child was fed Phenebarbital on a daily basis to keep him quiet(20 infants to 1 caregiver)he has come along way-from angry,hurt child to a smart(child is gifted)loving 5 year old.Attachment parenting is what saved my son,the attachment between humans is very real,if I had given my child “some hard smacks”that would have led to shame,needless fears,and low-self esteem.

    If you think the comments are “guilt-mongering”,you must have reason to feel guilt.

    Not sure how sexual abuse or rape came into spanking or whatever a refrigerator mother is it has NOTHING to do with the fact that spanking,slapping,hitting,smacking whatever you want to call it,does nothing to teach a child-it is a band-aid covering up the real problem or reason why the child is acting up.Spanking produces mindless obedience for obediences sake-it does not teach the why behind something.Do not settle for bullying your child into compliance-your child deserves more.

  16. Doctor at 1:47 am #

    I am surprised that people with special needs kids would even CONSIDER spanking.Very cruel.I think some of you are just burned out and tired from parenting that you resort to spanking to force your children to listen.I have many clients with these same issues,there are so many other non-abusive ways to parent your children.Please consider some humane ways of raising your children,they will grow up to resent you if you don’t.

  17. Dick Dalton at 7:35 am #

    I would never agree to arbitrarily beating anyone. Ever. Punishment of any sort is a tricky thing and over doing it creates as many problems as it treats. Phenobarbitol is a relatively cheap drug that effectively treats siezures but over use creates learning and behavior problems. In the case you cite above, it was abused. But does this mean we abandon the use of all effective medications because some people will abuse them? Punishment of any type can turn into abuse all too easily. But it is effective, and can facilitate learning by supressing behaviors that interfere with attending. Teaching new adaptive behaviors should be part of the experience, for sure.

    The most inhumane thing a parent can do is to NOT parent, to NOT establish boundries and to basically allow their children to behave as animals. Spend some time in any daycare, school or place where there are lots of kids and the parents are not there and you’ll quickly see the results of both extreme methods. Too much punish versus too much permissiveness. Add to the mix effective methods of parenting that are not applied consistently. There are a lot of reasons and ways things can and do go wrong. There’s even more reasons for children to resent their parents.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most parents are intelligent enough and responsible enough to make their own decisions when it comes to raising their children. Most children eventually become productive and responsible adults. There are countless “experts” who make their living by propogating FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt and then selling the cure for a problem they just created.

    One more thing, and I’ll let you have the last word here(and I’m only giving you one, so make it good!): I was tenantive even writing about this topic as I know there is controversy surrounding it. I knew there are people like you out there who believe that any sort of physical punishment is akin to barbaric cruelty and abuse. I suspected that I might be accused of being a lazy parent and a poor parent. However I think it is important to bring these things out into the open for some public discussion without being driven back underground by pointless accusations and ad hominem attacks. If you can add to the discussion beyond calling the practice abusive and cruel or calling parents incompetent, I’m all for it.


  18. Doctor at 2:12 pm # Here you will find excellent reasons to not spank.I have never had even the urge to spank any of my children.I will not be back here again.It is so sad that parents will turn to violence before getting help.What starts as a smack or 2 can spiral out of control.My hope is that one day spanking will be against the law here in the united states-just like in Sweden.

    The easy way out in discipline is not always the best way. Good luck to you all in your parenting .

  19. Agree with doctor at 9:38 pm #

    You said it doctor.Violence solves nothing.

  20. Elizabeth at 5:54 pm #

    One of my daughters has an ‘autism spectrum disorder’. (I have three children). She will be 5 in august. My husband has asperger’s. Life is difficult sometimes. They are both newley diagnosed. After finding this out about my daughter and doing alot of play therapy, where the counselor was unable to really help as far as telling my daughter to just be verbal instead of acting out.
    ( Yeah, like it is easy for my husband to even talk, how easy would it be for my autistic child to stop her fit and calmly tell me that I have upset her and she is very disatisfied)!! Whatever! For awhile there I stopped any swats, and I rarely spanked prior to that, anyway. But her behavior continued to get worse and agression toward her older sister got pretty bad. Then she purposefully poked her baby sister’s soft spot several times out of anger. Knowing full and well (per her own acknowlagement) that a baby could ‘die’ if the soft spot were hit hard. All because she was angry over something that had nothing to do with her baby sister! After sending her to her room and me in shock, then crying my eyes out over what my own flesh and blood had cold heartedly told me and attempted to do, I got advice from my wise father (who, by the way, spanked me as a child), and his advise was to do just so. So I did. Boy was my daughter mad! I explained to her why and talked to her. Gave her loves, and hugs. Then spanked her so she would never forget. And her behavior is improving again. Wow, long story. I am very careful with my spanking or swats and usually have only ever given them in these sort of extreme cases. I thought for a while there that she did not “know” or it wasn’t “her fault”. She got away with so much and the structure we (the counselor and I ) were trying to give her was not working. Til someone can wave some magical wand over any of my children and make them always be “perfect”, then I will still exact this form of punishment with proper guidance on any of my children NA or AS. Thank you.

  21. Elizabeth at 5:55 pm #

    Oh, by the way, th URL above does not work. :O)


  1. Another word or two about physical punishment « The Life That Chose Me -

    […] A reader asked me about spanking and it remains one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written.  I figure about half the folks looking at it are pervs and end up moving on.  But I remain amazed at the response all the same. […]

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