Stress Management for Living, Teaching, & Parenting

Using Discipline without Stress with students who have Asperger’s Syndrome


I have used Discipline without Stress for about five or six years now and plan to continue to do so in the fall with my new Grade 3 class. I will be getting a student with Asperger’s Syndrome, who has a full time E.A. From what I understand, much of his day is based on rewards of some kind, such as time on the computer. If you have used the levels of responsibility with a student who is extremely emotional, yet quite high functioning, please post your ideas and advice.

REPSONSES from members of the Discipline without Stress mailring:

I have used Discipline without Stress for about 4 years now. During that time I’ve had at least 3-4 kids with Asperger’s and 2 with full-blown autism. Of those 2, one had a full-time aide and one had a part-time aide.  I have not had much success in using the system with those children. Where it has helped, however, has been with the other children.
They can understand eventually that even though so-and-so needs rewards in order to stay on task, they themselves can choose to operate at a higher level without needing rewards.

“Is it Level D if you need rewards in order to do your best work or to work without bothering others?”
(Of course not.)

“Is ____ capable of that?”
(Probably not, and we can talk about it in a way that is respectful of the other child which is important.)
Each time, the child in question has been different enough from the other children in so many ways that this just becomes another one of those areas that they are different–having an aide, going to the resource room, rocking or moaning, bothering other children, etc. I have second graders but even younger children are acutely aware when someone is that extreme in their behaviors.
I do expect those children to participate in our discussions and at the beginning of the year, in the process of setting up expectations and procedures. The more clear and explicit I am, the easier it is for them eventually, anyway. They tend to thrive on routines and predictability, so that part does help. However, I really have had very limited success with moving those kids into a system based on internal motivation. They just don’t seem to have the ability to “go there” (at least not in second grade) and certainly not with the autistic kids.
So they might have a behavior plan in place, but it’s very quiet and at least this year, none of my other kids were even aware of it. It was more, “J is working on the computer now because that’s what he needs to do…” and after the first couple of times none of the other kids even thought about it anymore.



From Sonia Overman:

I have had 4 autistic/Asperger’s syndrom students in my first grade class since I started using Discipline without Stress. What I have found is that each of
these students responded very differently, depending on their personal level of social awareness. Three of the students were able
to use at least some of the language, and it was clear that all four students benefited from the caring community surrounding them. My advice is to approach these kids as you would any other; work from their strengths, and scaffold them in their weaknesses.
If you find that DWS isn’t quite enough support for kids who do not understand basic social structures, then make a plan with the student (along with the other adults who work with them) that has more structure: behavior charts, a few tangible rewards, etc.
It is true that we try to avoid these things in Discipline without Stress, but the most important thing is to give each student the level of support necessary for them to be successful. Good luck!
Re:  Discipline without Stress with Asperger’s student
I’ve had children with autism in my class, and I’ve never had a special aide for them. When I taught second grade what worked for that child was giving him a choice of where he worked. He had difficulty understanding when it was appropriate to make physical contact with others, including hitting, etc.First you should know that I am very explicit with what is expected in the classroom. I do this by eliciting from the students over a period of days at the beginning of the year, then we practice, practice, practice. EVERYTHING in the classroom has a procedure, and my kids enjoy the practice because I challenge them to keep improving. The first few days always wear me out because I keep the energy high. This can be troublesome for some kids with autism, so I keep them close to me while we are practicing so I can monitor them and keep them balanced.Every child with an autism diagnosis is different, so what works with one child, may or may not work with another.Having said that I must emphasize that consistency and structure are generally imporant to these children. Consequently, I set the student up for success. For example, with one autistic boy, every time he came into my classroom and every time we transistioned, I would elicit from him what he thought was appropriate behavior for what we were doing. I kept on asking what else until he’d named the things that were appropriate. I gave him the choice of three places to work in the classroom: in a group, by himself, or by me, depending on what he thought was appropriate. I made it clear that although I was giving him the choice, I reserved the right to make a change depending on his behavior.

So if he chose to work in a group, but I noticed him touching others or their work, or he was getting in the way of their work, or they were getting in his way, I would move him. If he was working by himself, but was having difficulty getting started, or wasn’t working, then he’d move. If I was working with a group and he needed to be near me, he’d have to follow the procedure we established for getting my attention so he didn’t interrupt my instruction. He also had the choice to go to the “thinking chair” and reflect on what was happening (basically a time out, and since he had difficulty writing, I allowed him to draw his reflection, but he had to be quiet).

It took a while, and lots of patience on his part and mine, but we finally struck a balance, and he became more aware of what was appropriate. He was prone to “melt down” but rarely got to this point. He is now in middle school.

Last year I had a student in my fourth grade who had a different form of autism, and he was less outward with his behavior. As a matter of fact, I had to keep my eyes on him because he was so quiet he would simply stare into space when he became frustrated or confused. A few times at the end of the year he would quietly sing various phrases repetitively. He was very easily redirected, so he really didn’t pose a behavior problem in that sense. His behavior problem was more related to getting his work done and staying focused. One student in my class befriended him and enjoyed helping him stay on task. I think at first, it made her feel less nervous about being new to our school, and then it became a habit. I’d separate them from time to time, but she truly enjoyed this role, and she was patient and guided him. Other students wanted to help, too, but they were more into giving him the answers. (Are you thinking “she’s a natural teacher” like I am?)

The most important thing is to separate the child from the behavior. Most autistic kids can’t help themselves. They need lots of guidance and patience. I truly think they have a sixth sense and can feel whether you like them or not. Their perception of things is different than ours, but that doesn’t mean they are purposeful in their misbehavior, even if it seems to us that they are. You need to form a partnership with the parents so you can work as a team.

Hope this helps.


Dr. Marvin Marshall
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 714.220.1882
Piper Press
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 559.805.1389