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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Teaching Interpersonal Relationship Skills to the "Friendless" Asperger's Child

One of the most significant problems for children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) is difficulty in social interaction. AS and HFA also create problems with "mind reading" (i.e., knowing what another person might be thinking or feeling). Most young people can observe others and guess (through a combination of tone and body language) what's "really" going on. But without help and training, AS and HFA children can't.

What comes naturally to “typical” kids does not come naturally to kids on the autism spectrum. The lack of interpersonal relationship skills makes it difficult for these boys and girls to make and keep friends – and often leads to social isolation. Now for the good news: Parents can learn to teach interpersonal relationship skills to their “special needs” youngsters. 

Here are some concrete ways to give AS and HFA children the tools they need to interact appropriately in social situations:

1. Practice reciprocal interactions. Some kids with AS and HFA have very one-sided conversations. They often talk only about their favorite subject, fail to ask questions to the peer they converse with, and fail to acknowledge interests of the peer. Thus, teach your youngster how to ask questions during a conversation, and practice taking turns while talking. Let your youngster ask a question, answer it, and let him ask another question. Do this exercise regularly to teach him how to have a conversation.

2. Rehearse social situations through role-play. If your youngster has difficulty in a specific social situation, practice it beforehand. Kids with AS and HFA must be taught what to say and do in specific situations. Engage in role-play with your youngster to physically act-out the situation. Tell him what he is expected to say or do, and then actually have him act it out with you.

3. Consider involving your child in a skills-acquisition group. Relationship skills groups offer an opportunity for children with AS and HFA to practice their interpersonal skills with each other and/or “typical” peers on a regular basis.

4. Teachers can play a crucial role in teaching social skills to students on the autism spectrum. These skills need to be learned and understood well enough by the AS or HFA students to generalize them to outside situations beyond the classroom environment. Thus, to promote “skill generalization,” interventions should focus on orchestrating peer-involvement by prompting students to engage and initiate social interactions with classmates. Teachers can also work with each individual student to practice new skills learned. Involving outside people (e.g., moms and dads, other family members, other classrooms) to promote different interactions can easily support this. Additionally, field trips can help provide natural and safe settings to practice interpersonal relationship skills outside of the classroom. Lastly, intervention sessions should be used to practice skills (e.g., assigning homework tasks) to increase repetition of training and ensure long-lasting learning.

5. Interpersonal relationship skills should not be a set of hard-and-fast rules. You can’t force AS or HFA kids to memorize them the way they would a set of multiplication tables. Different situations call for dynamic thinking. Thus, teach problem-solving and new ways to approach a particular challenge.

6. Parents can teach their youngsters how to recognize the feelings of others. Many kids with AS and HFA have great difficulty understanding how others feel by reading cues. This greatly impacts their social interactions. Therefore, use picture cards, books and magazines to point out facial expressions to your youngster. Teach her what each facial expression is and what it means. Let her practice by telling you what each facial expression is and what it means.

7. The biggest mistake parents can make is to assume that interpersonal relationship skills can be taught once and remembered forever. Social interaction is fluid, with so many variables that it can be daunting even to a “typical” youngster. For those on the spectrum, the training must continue far longer. Challenges get more and more complex as a youngster ages, bringing more things into the picture. So, be sure to go over the skills your child learned in the beginning on a regular basis, adding in more skills that can help her fine-tune her interactions.

8. Make use of “social skills training” materials. There are many tools and interventions available that involve using videos, software or virtual-reality programs to teach complex interpersonal relationship skills (e.g., recognition of emotions in facial expressions and tone of voice).

9. Make use of social stories. Social stories are simple stories written from the youngster's point of view. Each story describes a specific situation, what other people will do or say in that situation, and what your youngster is expected to do or say in that situation. Information on how to write social stories can be found HERE.

10. Locate resources in your area. Drama therapy, for example, is somewhat unusual, but where it's offered, it has the potential to be both fun and educational. Video modeling, video critiques of interactions, group therapy and other approaches may also be available in your area.

Training an AS or HFA youngster in relationship skills may take months – or even years. You may not see any improvement at first – but over time, it will happen. Stay the course, try new training methods, and be there for your youngster as he matures. Positive results will come if you keep at them. Take into account the many facets of social interaction. Think about your youngster's strengths and weaknesses. Know his abilities as well as his language skills. With plenty of forethought, you can implement a good social skills training program for your child.

Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

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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