All children need boundaries, rules, regulations, and expectations. The setting of boundaries defines limits and provides guidance for a child’s actions, defining which actions are acceptable and which are unacceptable. Boundaries provide unwritten, invisible, rules of behavior that provide structure and expectedness to the world around. Boundaries provide a safety and security. Without boundaries children can become lost, anxious and insecure.
Children on the autism spectrum have a very difficult time reading unwritten and invisible rules and boundaries. Children on the spectrum require concrete boundaries or their behavior may look disorganized. Without boundaries children, especially children on the spectrum, can behave in a way that is unacceptable to standards causing outsiders to perceive their behavior as resistant, oppositional, noncompliant, and purposeful. While for the children the reality is that without boundaries and expectations they do not understand what is being asked of them, they become anxious and are often in a free fall.
Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder require very concrete, black and white rules and boundaries with consistent consequences. Clear and consistent boundaries provide a predictability allowing the children to feel safe and secure with a path that will assist in decreasing anxiety. To assure understanding the boundaries/expectations must be clear and consistent with immediate and firm consequences so that the child’s world can become consistent. In the future, the rigidity of implementation can be gradually reduced. One should not overestimate a child’s ability to understand. Remember, what may be intuitive to an adult may not be to the child, therefore we must:
Define the boundaries – teach the boundaries
Do not assume immediate success – provide gentle guidance
Avoid continually changing rules – children on the spectrum function best with habit
While it is extremely important to set boundaries and expectations for social interactions and behavior, it is also very important to set academic goals and expectations that will lead into successful transitioning into adulthood. There are some individuals with disabilities, such as Stevie Wonder, who set their own level of expectation. Others, such as Helen Keller and Temple Grandin, had to work much harder at reaching their goals. We cannot accept a disability as an excuse for poor behavior or achievement. We cannot pity the individual because they have a disability. Research has pointed out that quality of life, and employment, is associated with higher levels of education. It is also known that the higher the level of educational attainment the better the quality of life, due to great possibilities of successful and competitive employment. Not every child will go into a post-secondary education program. Therefore, transition plans for children on the autism spectrum need to take a close look at the child’s needs, desires, and aspirations and include post-secondary education as a goal to reaching their aspirations.