Help, please, with sanctions for teenager with Aspergers

Hi, I'm sorry if this has been covered before, I am new on here and desperate. I have been trying to contact the helpline but it is so busy.

My son is 13 and was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was about 9. Most of the time he manages really well, he does very well at school and has a few friends, however he has always had a problem with house rules and acceptance of the fact that, as parents, we do have to say what needs to be done and when, and that there will be sanctions for bad behaviour.  Now we are entering the teenage years he is becoming more aggressive, threatening and violent and to be honest it is tearing our family apart.  The only things he cares about are his iPad and xBox. All he talks about is computer games. We have set screen time limits and parental controls to protect both our children, and whilst we understand that our son needs his screen time to calm down, he cannot do this every waking moment.  When our son is violent, refuses to cooperate and makes life unpleasant for everyone he needs some sanctions to learn that this is not acceptable behaviour. The only sanction that means anything to him is reduction of screen time or bans from use of the Wi-Fi. We have discussed other sanctions and asked our son to suggest something else, but he refuses and states that any sanction is unreasonable. He wants complete control and says that no-one has the right to control him or tell him what to do. All we get back from him is the sanctions thrown back at us, with him saying he will confiscate our devices, or trash them and any bans he has apply to us too. He has threatened extreme violence and says that he will get worse and worse until we back down and remove the screen limits and see his point of view that we are causing the arguments so if we want a quiet life we have to do what he says. Obviously we can't have a 13 year old set the rules like this and control everyone but I just don't know where to go. His ASC makes him inflexible and he cannot see the effect it is having on us and our 11 year old daughter, who is terrified of his behaviour.

We have written down the screen limits, 1.5 hours a day on the xbox along with a bulletpoint explanation of why we set screen time and monitor internet access. We have written down that good behaviour will be rewarded with more screen time and bad behaviour will invoke sanctions of screen time reduction. We have specified what is meant by good behaviour (positive attitude, completion of homework and household tasks as expected and being cooperative, friendly and helpful) and bad behaviour (negative attitude, refusal to do tasks, violent, aggressive, threatening behaviour). The list is ripped up, refused and thrown back at us with more threats. He stormed to school today threatening and cursing me. He is very eloquent and his abuse is relentless. It is causing a lot of stress to us all.

Has anyone else experienced this and found a solution that works for their family? Many thanks.

  • Phew!  It's not an easy read, MJ.  There's so much I could say - both as an Aspie and as someone who works with largely low-functioning autistic people.

    I'll assume that, since your son's diagnosis, you've done a deal of research about the condition, so you have a reasonable idea about the neurodiverse mindset and the reasons for behaviours.  The idea of 'sanctions', though, immediately sets off alarms in my head!  Before I went into care work with a special focus on autism, I worked for several years in general special needs care.  In those settings, it was a constant source of frustration to me that autistic people got lumped together with everyone else and were expected to follow the same rules as everyone else.  I used to witness staff members telling off and otherwise punishing autistic people for behaving autistically.  I used to take issue with things, but get told stuff like 'They have to learn they can't always have their own way, just like everyone else does,' etc.  Okay.  But what these people didn't understand is that for autistic people, that learning process is entirely different.  It requires an approach which my current employer takes: non-aversive, and proactive.  So we'd never have a situation where, say, someone would get told that they cannot have this unless they do this.  'If you don't tidy your room, I'll take your games away,' or 'You've spent too much time on your computer now, so I'm switching it off'.  Instead, we work with each person over a long course of time to get to understand their behaviours, traits, interests, triggers, etc.  Then we gradually introduce adaptations that can lead to positive improvements.  We have one lad who started with us just over a year ago.  He's reasonably high-functioning, but still needs 24-hour one-to-one care.  He has road sense... but, if something triggers him (a dog, for instance, or a loud noise), he can run out into the road to escape from it.  When he first came to us, he was very rigid in his routines, and would very frequently have 'meltdowns' (I hate that term, but it's one that most people understand!)  Lots of things triggered him: other people around him, things being moved around in the day centre, doors being left open, etc.  We discovered that the only thing that would settle his anxiety at these times was to give him an iPad which was preset with a couple of his favourite videos.  Sometimes, he would have that iPad all day.  Now, after a year of patient and careful work with support staff and behaviour therapists, he's much more settled.  He goes out much more into the community.  He's fine being around other service users. He's more tolerant of changes.  And sometimes he can now go an entire day without needing the iPad.  All of that was achieved without punishments or other aversive methods.  It was entirely proactive. 

    Your son is clearly much more high-functioning than that.  But he will still need an approach that takes full account of his condition, and it will be quite different to the approach that we would normally take with neurotypical people. 

    I do feel for you in this.  I know what difficulties and frustrations it can throw up, and the strain it can put on families.  You clearly need more help than you seem to be getting.  What input do you have from the school?  How supportive are they?  Is his behaviour different there?  Also, have you had any support through people like behaviour therapists?  That's important - though I don't know what the provision is like in mainstream services.

    Check out these links, if you haven't already, to see what else might be available to you.  Also, if you look at the right-hand column, you'll see a list of 'Related' threads which might offer you some further insights and guidance.

    Family Life

    Understanding Behaviour

    Autism Services Directory

    Best regards,


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