Setting Boundaries for Children with Autism

By sandra.caplesc…, 12 January, 2023
Child sitting on a bench.

What are boundaries? In simple terms, they refer to understanding and respecting our own needs and respecting others’ needs. Kids might not be aware of boundaries, so it’s necessary to emphasize helping children develop self-awareness and empathy.

Parents set boundaries for young kids: Don’t interrupt. No hitting other children. For autistic people, the process can be rather stressful. Parents of children with autism might think there are no boundaries or let their child dictate everything.

Children with autism spectrum disorder can still follow boundaries, but it’s a more complicated path. It’s not easy to do, but once you work on this and achieve success, you and your child’s life will improve. This article will explore strategies for setting boundaries for children with an autism spectrum disorder.

Read: How to Help Children with Autism Make Friends.

Why Are Personal Boundaries Important?

Many adults with autism spectrum are very literal and don’t have a natural awareness filter of social etiquette rules like neurotypical individuals. It usually takes more effort and support from parents to make them understand or engage with these social rules.

Every autistic individual is different—so everyone’s experience with boundaries is different. Teaching boundaries from a young age will ensure they grow with realistic expectations and positive behaviors.

Boundaries are invisible lines that communicate what isn’t allowed or accepted. Because they are invisible, most autistic people don’t understand what they are. However, personal boundaries are extremely important and help people navigate the world without hurting others.

Strategies for Setting Boundaries

With a child with autism, you need to think about your goals and needs. After setting these goals, you must think about how to communicate these needs. There’s no need for yelling or crying. Your little bundle of joy is unique; you just need to find different ways to reach the goal.

Set Personal Boundaries Together

It’s important to set boundaries together with your autistic child. While for parents, setting boundaries means us deciding the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable, autistic children need to understand the reason for the boundaries.

It’s also a good idea to create goals for all members and stick with them. This consistency is critical in autism treatment programs. The repetition allows children to understand their limits and expectations.

Set a Limit

Instead of using restrictions, set a limit. While you allow your children to have free range, you just need to put an outer limit. For example, your little one can use the entire living room for play but only use the outdoors with supervision.

It would help if you also taught your child about unwanted physical contact because some autistic children don’t like physical contact. It’s a good idea to let them express their wishes adequately and teach them to say “No, thank you” when a family member asks for a hug, for example.

Set Clear Boundaries

When setting boundaries, think about what you want your autistic child to do. Think about what the boundary looks and sounds like. Getting the boundary as straightforward as possible will let your child know what is expected of them. After the boundary is clearly defined, you can make it visual. If possible, use real-life pictures.

Even after the boundaries have been set, you need to ensure they are not crossed. Take these factors into account:

  • Who was involved?
  • When was the boundary crossed?
  • What was happening earlier that day?

Think about why your child struggled to meet that boundary. Talk to your child about it or put yourself in their shoes:

  • If anxious, how can you work through that anxiety?
  • If they get distracted, how can you set reminders?
  • If boundaries were unrealistic, how can you adjust the expectations?

Create Space

Another important thing is to recognize when a situation is too stressful for your child. Calming sensory rooms are specially-designed classes that promote a calm mind and relax anxious children. This way, children can step away and hide in this space when overwhelmed.

You can use these items:

Body Boundaries

Children with autism should be able to use the correct names for body parts—this way, you ensure that boundaries are kept. If someone is breaking these boundaries, they should be able to communicate.

Teach autistic children the correct contexts for different situations. For example, a stranger might touch their hands through a handshake, while a friend might hug them. They should also know that they should wear street clothes and that it’s okay to be naked when taking a bath.

Here are some tips for teaching children about parts of their bodies:

  • Take advantage of everyday moments, such as when your little one is taking a bath.
  • Singing songs is a fun way for kids to learn body parts.
  • Read a book, such as a picture book, to show your child the body parts. They can also understand the difference between boys and girls.
  • Play games with your child.
  • Coloring a drawing of different body parts can help your child label them easier.

Ensure Personal Boundaries Are Kept

Many people presume autistic children are fussy and attention-seeking when they ask for their boundaries to be met. There might be times when your child’s wishes can be overridden, so it’s important to stand up for your child—and advocate for them.