HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Best Way to Teach Communication Skills to Children on the Autism Spectrum

“What would be the best way to teach communication skills to my 4 year old son with high functioning autism?”

These skills are best taught by a communication specialist with an interest in pragmatics in speech. Alternatively, social training groups may be used if there are enough opportunities for the child with High Functioning Autism or Asperger's to have one-on-one contact with the instructor and for the practicing of specific skills.

Teaching often includes the following: 
  • Verbal decoding of nonverbal behaviors of others
  • Social awareness
  • Processing of visual information along with auditory information in order to facilitate the creation of the appropriate social context of the interaction
  • Appropriate nonverbal behavior (e.g., the use of gaze for social interaction, monitoring and patterning of inflection of voice, etc.). This may involve imitative drills, working with a mirror, and so on.
  • Correct interpretation of ambiguous communications (e.g., non-literal language)
  • Perspective-taking skills

If possible, try to consult with a speech-language pathologist. These professionals are trained to teach language and communication skills.

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Guiding Asperger’s and HFA Teens Through Adolescence To Adulthood

Parenting any adolescent has its challenges. When he or she has Asperger’s (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA), the challenges are even greater. While most young people on the autism spectrum attend regular school, have friends, and participate in the same activities as their peers, they possess certain traits - and face certain obstacles - that “typical” adolescents don’t. For example:
  • Adolescents on the autism spectrum might imitate what they have learned in books or movies, and their voices might sound flat or boring.
  • Many AS and HFA adolescents prefer to be alone and may not show an interest in making friends. 
  • Some are quiet and withdrawn. 
  • They often don’t understand the importance of eye contact – and may avoid it altogether. 
  • They have trouble understanding jokes or sarcasm.
  • Some AS and HFA adolescents don’t understand socially acceptable ways to express frustration, and may become aggressive or throw tantrums.
  • Most of these young people are socially awkward since they have difficulty processing social cues, (e.g., body language, sarcasm, humor, figurative language, emotional responses, and facial expressions). These nuances of social interaction may fall unnoticed to the adolescent.
  • Sometimes they seem insensitive or look unemotional, but often they just don't know how to express how they're feeling. It doesn't mean they don't have feelings – it’s just more difficult for them to show those feelings or understand the feelings of others.
  • Many of these adolescents have trouble coping with change, and may not react well to changes in routine.
  • Most report that they feel "sensory overload" (e.g., they have heightened senses that can make noises seem louder and more startling, and lights may seem brighter). 
  • Regarding sexuality, special issues that may need to be addressed for these adolescents include: communicating about inappropriate behavior, dealing with menstrual cycles, distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate touching, maintaining physical boundaries with others, physical changes, and refraining from self-touch.
  • The hallmark of AS and HFA is “social development” issues. These adolescents have trouble interacting with others. The part of the brain that recognizes and displays human emotion has developed differently, and a smile or a frown does not hold the same emotional significance as it does for a “typical” teenager.
  • AS and HFA traits can include fixation on objects and ideas, or making repetitive motions or using repetitive speech.

Adolescents with AS and HFA need time to gradually learn and practice adult life-skills (e.g., finding a job, managing finances, doing laundry, preparing meals, driving a car, arranging medical appointments, etc.). They may not be ready for adult responsibilities at the same age as their “typical” peers. Thus, it’s very important that parents help their “special needs” teenagers learn to be comfortable with their own situation and abilities.

Below are some suggestions for how parents can guide their AS and HFA teenagers through adolescence – and prepare them for adulthood:

1. AS and HFA adolescents can learn appropriate behaviors, and many of them work hard to learn emotional interpretation and response. Also, they DO feel emotions (e.g., empathy); however, it’s learning to express these emotions in a way others understand that is difficult. The earlier the symptoms of AS and HFA are addressed, the more likely it’s that the adolescent will have better success in his or her social interactions.

2. Adolescents on the autism spectrum need to know both the mechanics and morals connected with sex. Books and classes have suggestions about how to handle the topic.

3. Assign age-appropriate chores. Your “special needs” teenager can begin with simple tasks (e.g., setting the table, taking out the garbage, etc.). Later, she can take on larger tasks (e.g., preparing a simple meal once a week for the family).

4. Base your support and expectations on your teen's abilities, level of emotional security, and history – not on her chronological age or what her peers are doing.

5. Celebrate and enjoy each milestone your teen reaches on the road to self-sufficiency. But at the same time, understand that you are going to have frustrations, and that this phase is going to bring a whole new set of stressors.

6. Check with your adolescent's school about any transition services the district may provide.

7. Don’t rescue your teenager by paying off her debts or by making excuses to her teacher for a failing grade. Let her feel the consequences, and the lessons will be long lasting.

8. Emphasize that your teen’s main responsibility at this stage in life is to get an education. It’s difficult to become a successful, self-supporting grown-up in contemporary society without at least a high school diploma. If marks and test results start to decline, be sure to show concern and take measures to reverse the trend as quickly and as forcefully as possible.

9. Enroll your teenager in a life-skills class, and also teach these skills at home.

10. Explain how you will help your adolescent move into adult life. AS and HFA adolescents need to know how long they can live at home and whether or not their mom and dad will help them with their first apartment rental, pay college tuition, keep them on the family health insurance, etc.

11. Explore substitutes or assistance for skills that are not manageable. As the parent, you are the best judge of when your adolescent is ready to partially or fully manage adult tasks.

12. Get your teen involved in peer-mentoring groups to learn life and job skills.

13. Group video instruction can help teens with AS and HFA learn important social skills. While the diagnosis rate for AS and HFA for 14- to 17-year-olds has more than doubled in the past five years, very few strategies have been found to help these teens develop the social skills they need to be successful. Studies have shown AS and HFA teens are more likely to pay attention when an innovative technology delivers the information. Video-based group instruction is important, given the often limited resources in schools that also face increasing numbers of students being diagnosed with AS and HFA.

14. Have your teenager meet with other AS and HFA adolescents with similar challenges. This can make her feel not so alone and ostracized.

15. Include your teenager in groups (e.g., support, therapy, social and sports groups).

16. Lead by example. Teens absorb attitudes, behaviors and habits from their parents. When they see the family wage-earners going to work daily, and both mom and dad cooperating to do cleaning, cooking and other household chores, they come to understand that everyone needs to contribute to the welfare of the family.

17. Make a list of the skills you believe your “special needs” teen will need in the outside world. Do this as you go through your day – working, shopping, paying bills, cooking and performing other normal tasks. Writing the list yourself will make you aware of behaviors that you can model and share with your adolescent. Show the list to his teachers, doctor, therapist and any other caregiver who helps him. Ask these people to review and add to the tasks, using their knowledge of your teen’s abilities and problems. Also, turn the everyday activities from your list into “teaching moments” (e.g., at the grocery store, you can ask your teen to find the least expensive canned peaches; wait at a bus stop and demonstrate how to pay the fare, find a seat and get off at the right stop; show your teen simple cooking and cleaning methods, etc.).

18. One of the greatest gifts you can give your AS or HFA adolescent is the ability to handle his emotions. Teaching him how to identify, reflect on, and deal with his feelings by the time he leaves home is one of the best ways to prepare him for adulthood. In fact, this emotional strength and ability will take your child much farther in life than intellectual ability or a specific ability (e.g., athletic or artistic ability).

19. Provide ongoing emotional and tangible support even after your young adult moves out of your home. Moms and dads who visit frequently, assist with household management, help to fill out tax forms, etc., help their adult children not feel too overwhelmed as they adjust to life away from parents.

20. Remember that under Federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), by the time a special education student reaches age 16, the school is to provide a plan that may include help obtaining further education, getting a job, or living independently. Moms and dads need to advocate for these services. Communicate respectfully, clearly, and often with your school's "transition coordinator" about your teen's transition plan.

21. See that your adolescent gets enough experience in normal social etiquette (e.g., talking to a store clerk, relating to friends at a party, asking for information, etc.).

22. Seek out social-skills classes sponsored by local schools, community centers, colleges or charitable foundations.

23. Teach and re-teach your adolescent adult life-skills (e.g., balancing a checkbook, paying off a credit card balance, cooking, laundry, car maintenance, making doctor appointments, etc.). Provide abundant opportunities for supervised practice.

24. The most important thing moms and dads can do is to “let go” of their “special needs” teen and let him experience success -- and failure -- on his own. No matter how complex the special need is, that teenager will be striving for a state of independence. He wants that, just like all teens want independence. As true as this may be, it can be challenging emotionally for moms and dads to transition from a protective, advocatory role and to permit new degrees of autonomy.

25. The next time you talk to your AS or HFA adolescent about a problem she is facing, help her to reason on how her choices reflect on her. Help her to see how her choices either enhance her reputation or tarnish it, which in turn will help or hurt her future prospects.

26. Very few young adults on the autism spectrum are ready for full "independent" living. They all need ongoing support and encouragement from parents as they learn to negotiate the adult world. “Launching” AS and HFA individuals from the “nest” brings some unique challenges. Initially, "interdependence" rather than "independence" is a more fitting goal for these young people as they begin to venture into the world.

27. When a problematic issue arises, try reversing roles. Ask your adolescent what advice she would give you if you were her child. Have her do research to come up with reasons to support – or challenge – her thinking. Discuss the matter again within a week.

28. When your adolescent shows that she is handling her social life, schoolwork, and part-time employment well, you can start to gradually loosen the apron strings and trust her with more responsibility. This may be the time to go on a short vacation and leave your adolescent home alone to look after herself and the house. Soon she'll be off to college or university (hopefully), and she needs to practice being on her own.

29. Write down one or two areas in which you could extend a little more freedom to your “special needs” teenager. Explain to her that you are extending this freedom on a trial basis. If she handles it responsibly, in time she can be granted more. If she does not do so, the freedoms she has been granted will be curtailed.

30. Your AS or HFA teen needs to be socialized. Give her plenty of opportunities to mix amicably with other people of all age groups. She should visit restaurants, movies, and malls and learn to behave appropriately in all circumstances. Grown-ups don’t live in isolation. They need to interact graciously with different types of people in a variety of milieus. As your teenager matures, she should improve her social skills so she can converse pleasantly with anyone in diverse situations.

As mentioned earlier, young people on the autism spectrum need extra time to learn and practice adult life-skills, because their “emotional age” is much younger than their “chronological age” …in other words, you may have a teenager who is 17-years-old chronologically, but emotionally more like 14-year-old. So, the earlier you begin helping out in this area – the better!

Launching Adult Children With Aspergers: How To Promote Self-Reliance

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But...

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

If your child suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, expect him to experience both minor and major meltdowns over incidents that are part of daily life. He may have a major meltdown over a very small incident, or may experience a minor meltdown over something that is major. There is no way of telling how he is going to react about certain situations. However, there are many ways to help your child learn to control his emotions.

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing a child with a neurological disorder. Violent rages, self-injury, isolation-seeking tendencies and communication problems that arise due to auditory and sensory issues are just some of the behaviors that parents of teens with Aspergers will have to learn to control.

Parents need to come up with a consistent disciplinary plan ahead of time, and then present a united front and continually review their strategies for potential changes and improvements as the Aspergers teen develops and matures.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

Although they may vary slightly from person to person, children with Aspergers tend to have similar symptoms, the main ones being:

=> A need to know when everything is happening in order not to feel completely overwhelmed
=> A rigid insistence on routine (where any change can cause an emotional and physiological meltdown)
=> Difficulties with social functioning, particularly in the rough and tumble of a school environment
=> Obsessive interests, with a focus on one subject to the exclusion of all others
=> Sensory issues, where they are oversensitive to bright light, loud sounds and unpleasant smells
=> Social isolation and struggles to make friends due to a lack of empathy, and an inability to pick up on or understand social graces and cues (such as stopping talking and allowing others to speak)

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent?

Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Parents face issues such as college preparation, vocational training, teaching independent living, and providing lifetime financial support for their child, if necessary. Meanwhile, their immature Aspergers teenager is often indifferent – and even hostile – to these concerns.

As you were raising your child, you imagined how he would be when he grew up. Maybe you envisioned him going to college, learning a skilled traded, getting a good job, or beginning his own family. But now that (once clear) vision may be dashed. You may be grieving the loss of the child you wish you had.

If you have an older teenager with Aspergers who has no clue where he is going in life, or if you have an “adult-child” with Aspergers still living at home (in his early 20s or beyond), here are the steps you will need to take in order to foster the development of self-reliance in this child.

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