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But does this peaceful parenting approach work with a special needs child, such as ASD and sensory issues?

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Dear Dr. Laura,

Does this peaceful parenting approach work with a special needs child, such as ASD and sensory issues? The pediatricians,  OTs, and specialists all seem to use rewards and punishments. 


I so often receive this question. I don't have a special needs child, but I have coached many parents with children who have special needs. I know that my basic approach not only works with special needs kids, but is even MORE important for them. The basic peaceful parenting approach is:

1. Regulate your own emotions. Even harder with a special needs child, but they are often even more sensitive than other children.

2. Connect. Often even harder, but even more important, because why else will they follow your lead?

3. Coach instead of punishing. Most "experts" give advice that centers on rewards and punishments.  I believe that all humans deserve the dignity of being coached to be their best selves, rather than punished when they don't behave as we'd like. Special needs children have a different experience of the world than we do, and it must often frighten them. When they act out of fear, they deserve love, not punishment. Of course we may need to set limits, but we can set those with love. It's also more effective in gaining cooperation, because ALL humans have the instinct to "follow" only those who have their best interests at heart, and rebel against being controlled.

Finally, the best answer I can give you is this letter I received from the mother of a special needs child.


"Hi Dr. Laura,
I just wanted take a minute to say THANK YOU for all the work you do to help parents, and children. I am so grateful to have found your site when my son was 2 years old. Your advice was essentially what I had done with him since he was a baby and then when, at 2 he started to have some challenging behaviors I started getting advice that he needed more "consequences" and just needed to learn and follow directions, that he needed "time outs" etc.

I knew deep down in my heart that my son was a "cranky" baby and was now showing challenging behaviors because something in world just wasn't right, not because of a lack of limits or "consequences". Finding your site gave me permission, courage and tools to parent him the way I knew he needed to be parented despite all the advice I was getting.

Fast forward a few years and we now know that my son has a rare speech disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech, autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing challenges. My heart knew he didn't need punishment and I am beyond grateful for the tools you gave me to help him navigate his world, which is clearly a very difficult and different world from the one you and I are in. I am now immersed in a world of therapists and even more advice, some helpful, some not, but I always fall back on your teachings. Your lessons and words provide the underpinnings of how I approach everything with my son. Some days it feels like an impossible task to keep calm but then I remember how overwhelming his world must be. Not everything you advise works perfectly for us because of some of his challenges but parenting him with love and compassion has fostered in him a sense of confidence in spite of his challenges. He is a loving, sweet, sensitive little man but it takes time and real connection to see just how sensitive he is and how much he wants to connect.

I really wanted to reach out because maybe there are other special needs parents out there wondering...but he/she has (fill in the blank), will this work...the resounding answer for us has been YES! I feel like because empathy is hard for him, because connection is hard for him, because he struggles in social situations that it is EVEN MORE important that we set loving limits and TEACH him about emotions and about how to be connected and how to express love. I don't know where we would be without you. I can't wait to read your book on siblings. We also have a beautiful 21 month old little girl who is happy and sweet and just filled with empathy and love.

Thank you so much for all you do."

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