Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Why Your Teen with Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism Prefers To Be Alone

The Cycle of Anxiety to Inflexibility in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“My son on the autism spectrum (high functioning) is very stubborn - and is often angry and disobedient. He also has severe anxiety. Is it possible that the anxiety is causing him to act-out in various ways?”

The short answer is “yes.” A common theme exists among children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) – specifically, their tendency to exhibit both behavioral and cognitive rigidity (which parents often perceive as stubbornness and disobedience) in response to anxiety. A strong correlation between anxiety and inflexibility is evident both at home and in the school environment. 


A vulnerability to anxiety is an intrinsic feature of Asperger’s and HFA due to (a) specific neurotransmitter system defects, (b) a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses, and (c) a secondary consequence of the child’s inability to make appropriate social judgments.

There are several factors at play that increase the anxiety level of children on the autism spectrum:
  • A lack of empathy significantly limits skills for autonomous social problem-solving. For example, if the child is unaware that she hurts her peers’ feeling by being the “class tattletale” when anyone breaks a rule, she is not likely to change that behavior, resulting in being the “class outcast.”
  • For the higher functioning youngster on the autism spectrum, there is sufficient grasp of situations to recognize that others “get it” when he does not.
  • Limitations in generalizing from one situation to another often contribute to repeating the same social mistakes. For example, the child may have found a way to positively connect with his siblings at home, yet he doesn’t translate that same skill over to connecting with classmates.
  • Limitations in the child’s ability to grasp social cues (e.g., body language) creates repeated social errors. For example, he may talk incessantly about a special interest, but due to an inability to read non-verbal cues, he fails to recognize that the listeners have become bored. But, he continues to ramble on about his interest and fails to get his message across because no one is paying attention anymore. 
  • Social limitations make it difficult for a child with the disorder to develop coping strategies for soothing herself and containing difficult emotions.
  • The child on the autism spectrum is often teased and bullied by his peers, yet he has great difficulty mounting an effective socially adaptive response.

The circumstances that raise the anxiety level of children with Asperger’s and HFA often result in their increased need to control people, places, and things. This need for control takes the form of rigidity.

Behavioral and Cognitive Rigidity—

Behavioral rigidity refers to the youngster’s difficulty in maintaining appropriate behavior in new and unfamiliar situations. Cognitive rigidity occurs when the youngster is unable to consider alternatives to the current situation, alternative viewpoints, or innovative solutions to a problem.

Children with rigid thinking tend to view situations in “either-or” terms (e.g., right or wrong, good or bad). They want concrete, black and white answers. The “gray areas” of life are very uncomfortable.

Symptoms of rigidity often introduce some of the most disruptive, chronic behaviors exhibited by children with Asperger’s and HFA. For example, aggression, difficulties tolerating changes in routine, dislike of changes to plans that have been previously laid out, meltdowns, tantrums, frustration, and problems with minor differences in the environment, such as changes in location for certain activities.

Parents often find themselves “walking on eggshells” in an effort to circumvent any extreme reaction from their brittle child. In addition, the child herself may articulate her anxiety over fears that things will not go according to plan, or that she will be forced to make changes that she can’t handle.

Sometimes these behaviors are identified as “obsessive-compulsive” because of the child’s need for ritualized order or non-functional routine. In other words, the child has a strong “need for sameness.”

As one can easily imagine, behavioral and cognitive rigidity causes many problems in the Asperger’s or HFA child’s relationships, which usually results in an even higher level of anxiety for him or her. Thus, the cycle continues.

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"Rationale-Dependent" Thinking in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

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.

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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.

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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.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA 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.

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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."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes.

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Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content