5 Ways To Set Effective Limits With Your Autistic Child

This 8 year old goes to regular school. Since he displays severe hyperactive behavior, the school lets him attend only with an aide. So his mother goes in as his aide.


He runs around, throws things and bangs doors. When any of these incidents occur, the mother is instructed to hold the child in a tight bear hug, till the struggle stops and he calms down.


I was horrified, but managed to maintain a calm demeanour.


I asked the mother how she felt doing this.
“I feel terrible,” she confessed.


“Why do you do it if it makes you feel terrible? I countered.


“How can I say ‘no’ to a specialist?”
“Besides, I don’t know how else to control him. I think if I keep doing it, he will calm down.” She replied.


“ Has he calmed down?” I asked.


She paused. “No, in fact things have worsened.”


Dear Friend, you could be undergoing similar issues. You see your hyperactive child running around, destroying property, not being able to control himself.
You feel disempowered.
On top of that people’s judgments about you not being a good mother and the inability to parent your child effectively, drive you crazy.
Some people say you should be more strict with him while others advocate leniency.
You don’t know what to do. You feel inadequate and worthless.
You’ve lost your confidence and you’re confused about how to bring up your child.


Every piece of advice works for a while before it stops working.
You feel the need to get off this seesaw and set limits effectively. You just don’t know how.


Ready to steel yourself?




Yes, I know I’m shouting. Such is the seriousness of the matter.


This means no tying the child to a chair, no restraining him or her bodily (in the bear hug example above). These are not ethical forms of treatment.


In case of seriously aggressive behavior, please contact a behavior analyst for guidance.


Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.


1. Don’t restrict your child. Set an outer limit.


Don’t force your child to engage in an activity with you.

Be invitational for him to join you. If he joins you, mission accomplished. If not, he cannot leave the room.


If he does attempt to leave the room, bring him back- by gently and firmly holding his hand.


I tell my students, ‘feel free to join me when you want. But you cannot leave the room. I even offer them a chair.
After a couple of minutes of watching me, most of them join in willingly.


The key is to be calm yourself.


Most of my students are taller and bigger than me. No point fighting a losing battle, right?


This way, I maintain the student’s dignity and eventually get engagement and participation from her/him.


The bonus is: The student makes the decision to participate. It’s not forced upon him/her.


Dignify your child and yourself.


2. Both parents need to be on the same page


When you say ‘no’ to your child, make sure the ‘no’, is backed by your spouse.
Your spouse should not say ‘yes’, when you’ve said ‘no’.


This will result in your child becoming a master manipulator.
Both my children- autistic and neurotypical became pretty good at this.
Till we figured out what was happening and decided to take a united stand.


Back each other.


3. Stick to your decision.


Children read parents very closely. If they know you’re likely to given it after a while of cajoling, they’ll pester you till you finally give in.


They can become masterful at it too. If your child figures  by whining and crying he gets his way, then that behavior will increase.


Be aware of how you react.
Make a firm decision. And more importantly, stick with it.


Be aware of how your buttons get pressed.


4. You don’t have to answer every question


You don’t have to respond to every question that comes your way. I’ve seen children ask their parents incessant questions. And  parents feel they have to respond.


It’s difficult to take the constant barrage. The tension is so thick- it can be cut with a knife.


It’s traumatic to see children/adolescents/adults holding their parents to ransom like this.


Parents feel compelled to respond exactly as their child expects them to. It’s sad. Do remember you are in charge.


This gets difficult in public places.
In such cases, move to the quietest place you can find so that your child calms down.
Then re direct to a suitable activity. In these cases, the ipad or a tablet is a boon.


A simple rule to follow is: answer once and then zip your lips. Redirect to another activity or topic of conversation.
Do this when your child is young, in order to avoid this repetitive loop as s/he grows older.


Answer only once.


5. Be patient


Patience is the mother of all virtues.


Remember it took time for your situation to reach where it has.
Remediation will also take time.


Be persistent. Before expecting your child to change, you will have to change.


It has to be an inner change. You have to be strong from within. Your child will recognize that. Your strength will help him to calm down.


Be firm and consistent. If you try something sporadically for a couple of days, things will not change for your child.


Above all, be calm and patient.






Limit setting is essential for growth. It leads to positive development.
When you set limits consistently, your child will start trusting you.
Your child will not be anxiety ridden.
Learning can only take place when your child is regulated and calm.
When you set an outer limit, it will lead to behavioral and emotional regulation.
Imagine living a life without anxiety- yours and your child’s.


It’s a reality you can go after. Start by setting limits today.

If you’re struggling with this, you’re not alone. Contact us at SAI Connections to set up a customised plan for you.


You need boundaries… Even in our material creations, boundaries mark the most beautiful of places, between the ocean and the shore, between the mountains and the plains, where the canyon meets the river. ― Wm. Paul Young


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