"I have a partner and many family members with Asperger’s, but the worst affected is 19. He has very limited social skills, his eating pattern is poor, and so is his sleeping pattern. But he is addicted to a game on his computer. How do we as parents encourage him to spend less time on the computer, eat better, and sleep more?"
Playing electronic games provides repetition, consistency, and security in his life. Also, electronic games are predictable. He can count on the same actions and results every time he plays the games. People with Asperger’s Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism want to feel safe and secure in their activities. The electronic games allow him to follow predetermined rules that result in predictable outcomes.
It sounds like your son is concentrating on electronic games at the expense of his health. He spends time in front of a video screen that could be better spent learning new eating habits and practicing better sleeping patterns.
Check into Asperger’s support groups for your son; there might be one in your local area. Support groups give advice on daily living skills and healthy lifestyles. Encourage your son to join one of these groups; he will meet people who are his age and may be experiencing similar difficulties with Asperger’s Syndrome. In addition to information, a support group can give your son the opportunity to talk about his feelings about Asperger’s and the help necessary for him to cope with adult responsibilities.
Another resource for your son is an Asperger’s specialist who can inform and teach your son social skills. A specialist, such as a psychiatrist, might prescribe Melatonin, which will help your son sleep better at night.
Your son is in his late teens, and he is fast approaching adulthood. You can use reasoning and negotiation instead of rules and orders. However, if the excessive computer use continues, you might need to move it into a room that restricts his access to it. Also, the computer can be used as a reward if your son tries new foods and establishes a regular pattern of sleep. Although your son is getting older, there are rules that are still effective in changing his behaviour; you should establish those rules in your household.
In terms of nutrition, many autistic children suffer from food allergies, overgrowth of intestinal yeast, and sensitivity to sugar and dairy products. Consult a doctor to see if your son needs to adjust his diet. Changing your son’s diet to wheat-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free products requires patience because people with Asperger’s can be very strong-willed, and implementing change can be difficult for both of you. See if other family members will adopt a diet similar to your son’s; this will make him feel integrated into the family. Also, read diet books, look into websites, and read advice from nutritionists.
Your son’s sleep patterns can be changed with consistent hours. He needs to establish a time that he will go to bed each evening and get up each morning. If he complains that he cannot get to sleep or wake up at a given time, tell him that there are parts of our bodies called circadian rhythms, and they help our bodies rest. If your son can get to bed at a specific time several nights in a row, the circadian rhythms in his body will reset and help him go to sleep and wake up at a given time each evening and morning. Remove all distractions from his bedroom to help him concentrate on rest and sleep.
The Parenting Aspergers Resource Guide: A Complete Resource Guide For Parents Who Have Children Diagnosed With Aspergers Syndrome