Published Saturday, March 05, 2016 by

Autism & challenging behaviour - why I wished it was my poor parenting



Dealing with challenging behaviours, triggered by anxieties that we are only beginning to understand, has been one of the more difficult aspects of living with our Son's autism.

Many of the suggested strategies for children with autism have had little impact, and with the threat of another enforced school move we have been desperate for further assessments to provide further insight into his needs before things get any worse.

Having managed to secure an initial assessment with CAMHS, we were relieved when the mental health practitioner agreed to put our case forward to their team however there was one comment made that I can't stop reflecting on ....

I can see it is not due to inconsistent parenting

The fact that there could have been a question that the challenges we were facing was a result of poor parenting took me by surprise.

Before our Son was diagnosed, we had worried that we were to blame for his behaviour, however over time we realised that there was much more to it than that. Now any suggestion that he just needs boundaries, structure, consistency or discipline is deeply hurtful as our reality is so much more difficult.

As I considered all the difficulties we have faced over the past two years, and the daily worry of trying without success to stop his negative behaviours, I was surprised by my instant response to the statement ...

I wish it was my parenting, because then I might know how to address it

If only going on a parenting course and improving my parenting skills could successfully address our Sons "naughty" behaviour through positive parenting, effective discipline and well established boundaries.

Traditional parenting methods have not worked

We have the house rules on our wall for all to see, have tried to be firm and consistent in our parenting, and have tried to make regular use of both time out and reward charts to encourage positive behaviour.

Unfortunately that has not worked, and in some instances our attempt to discipline unwanted behaviour has only made things worse with an escalation that has made life more challenging for us all.

Creative parenting is what we need

To the outside world, many of the tactics that we use won't make sense and may seem to be at odds with what we "should" be doing, however we know that we have to do things differently if we want a happy household.

Currently this means that we trying a flexible approach to parenting which is driven by our Son's needs and focuses on:

  • Encouraging expected behaviour through the use of social stories, and developing his Theory of mind through Social Thinking
  • Not blaming or lecturing him for his challenging behaviour, but trying to discuss expected vs. unexpected behaviours when he is calm and ready to listen 
  • Reducing the demands we place on him at home, and giving him options so he can have a choice in what he does
  • Giving him advance warning before we need him to start or stop doing something
  • Looking for signs that he may be getting anxious, and try to head off meltdowns by addressing the underlying anxiety before the meltdown occurs
  • Changing it up, as what works today will not necessarily work tomorrow
  • Using mindfulness to help stay us stay calm in the present, by not dwelling on the past or fretting about the future
  • Engaging with parental support groups to share ideas, give us strength when times get tough and help us remember that we are not alone

We are rethinking parenting and trying to find a different way


This is an ongoing lesson in creative parenting, where you need to look past the visible behaviours to identify and address the underlying needs and find novel ways to get around the problem. It is not an easy path and we keep trying the best that we can as we know that our parenting is not to blame and our Son is not naughty.


Useful links I have found


Does your child have challenging behaviour? How do you cope, and what techniques have you found successful in managing this?