Does Autism Lead to Differences in Parenting Styles?

autismparentingstylesI just read an interesting article based on new autism research out of Belgium and the Netherlands – Does Autism Make Moms Parent Differently? “A new study suggests that moms of kids with autism address their children’s behavior differently than parents of kids without the developmental disorder. Researchers found that mothers with children on the spectrum were less likely to set rules or use discipline, but more frequently imposed so-called positive parenting, encouraging good behavior rather than focusing on the bad.”

It is interesting how the word ‘discipline’ has strayed so far from its roots. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of discipline is punishment, while the obsolete definition is instruction. The origin of the word is, “Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin disciplina teaching, learning, from discipulus pupil.” So, discipline once meant to teach and now it means to punish.

I still use it as it was originally intended – I use positive discipline with my children, both of whom are on the autism spectrum.

Looking at my friends and acquaintances that have neurotypical children – they have also used positive discipline in their childrearing. Perhaps I parent my autistic children like my friends parented their neurotypical children because we practice attachment parenting principles.

The article goes on to say, “What’s more, even though children with autism displayed more behavior problems, the study found that their parents were less controlling. It’s unclear, the researchers said, whether this is because such moms are more concerned with addressing the cause of their child’s behavior or if these parents are simply conditioned to expect less.”

Perhaps these researchers have never tried to ‘control’ a child in the middle of an autism tantrum – the mother of all meltdowns that lead to the parent doing whatever they can to keep the child from injuring themselves. I certainly never expected less of my children because they have autism – usually my reaction was based on the need to determine what was causing said behavior and addressing that issue. The thing is, my friends that have neurotypical children do the same thing. There’s a problem, figure out the problem, solve the problem. It may be more difficult when your child has autism, but it is the basis of parenting in my opinion.

If you’ve read the article about the study, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it – whether or not you have children on the autism spectrum.

About Melissa

Melissa is the mother of two children on the autism spectrum and strives to provide information about all aspects of autism through her blog, The Autism Education Site. Follow Melissa on Twitter. Like me on Facebook.

© Melissa Hincha-Ownby and The Autism Education Site, 2008-2014.


  1. Thank you for your post. It helped me get an additional idea. An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.