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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Help for Depressed Aspergers Children and Teens

“Is it common for children with Asperger’s to be depressed? Lately, my daughter has been quite sad much of the time for no apparent reason that any of us can identify. She does tend to be a 'loner' - but she says she prefers it that way.”

Research suggests that almost 70 percent of young people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism suffer from depression at some point in their life. Mood disorders and anxiety disorders are very common. Also, around 30 percent of these children have ADHD. Depression and anxiety can be more difficult to detect in Aspergers children and teens because their facial expressions and body language are often not as easy to read, and because they may have difficulties in describing emotions.

Kids with Aspergers have difficulty verbalizing their feelings and thoughts. This can be misinterpreted by adults and can lead to the assumption that because these thoughts and feelings aren’t verbalized, that they don’t exist. Often, the opposite is true. Many kids with Aspergers have an overwhelming number of thoughts and feelings that go unexpressed. This inability to express feelings can lead to depression.

Kids with Aspergers often find school a challenging environment. Difficulty with social interaction can lead to a youngster feeling isolated and friendless, especially during adolescence. Those feelings of isolation and confusion can lead to depression. This can be compounded by an inability to express the feelings of depression to parents.

Learning to cope with depression is an important part of learning to cope with Aspergers. Since depression in kids with Aspergers is often linked to feelings of isolation and frustration with not being able to express themselves, it’s important for moms and dads to understand that while kids with Aspergers don’t necessarily express their feelings, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have them. 

The three best things parents can do to help their Aspergers child avoid - or beat - depression are (1) help her to identify emotions, (2) teach social skills, and (3) watch for the early warning signs of depression.

Identifying Emotions

Talk with your daughter about how she might be feeling about her social relationships with peers. Try to give her the words to use (e.g., mad, glad, sad, frustrated, etc.). By giving her these “feeling words” and trying to help her differentiate the words and identify those feelings, you can help her develop her voice while expressing her emotions. You may not be able to make her social relationships smoother for her, but you can try to get her to understand that her feelings surrounding those relationships are valid.

Talking to your daughter about emotions can be a frustrating experience for you, but the benefits will hopefully outweigh the frustrations you are dealing with. 

Teaching Social Skills

Each Aspergers youngster has his own temperament. Some “Aspies” enjoy higher levels of social activity while others prefer less. While this may be a preference these kids are born with, much of what experts call “social competence” (i.e., the ability to get along with others) is learned. This means that it can be practiced and improved upon, especially if the youngster's mother or father is a patient coach.

Aspergers kids don't need to be the most popular in their class, but they do need good social skills. Being sociable helps them with resilience (i.e., the ability to withstand hard times). Kids who are constantly rejected by peers are lonely and have lower self-esteem. When they are older, these kids are more likely to drop out of school and use drugs and alcohol. Moms and dads can help their Aspergers kids learn social skills so that they are not constantly rejected or begin to bully and reject others.

In an ideal world, social skills include the child’s emotions, intellect, ethics, and behaviors. Emotionally he learns to manage strong feelings (e.g., anger) and show empathy for others. His intellect is used to solve relationship conflicts and make decisions. Ethically he develops the ability to sincerely care for others and engage in socially-responsible actions. Behaviorally he learns specific communication skills (e.g., turn-taking, how to start a conversation, etc.). But we don’t live in an ideal world. Your child will need your guidance to achieve these skills.

Moms and dads can act as coaches for their Aspergers youngster to develop these social skills. The child learns a lot from how his parents treat him and when he observes how they interact with others. Moms and dads, like other coaches, will need to be creative and specific in teaching social skills. Beyond saying "You need to be better at X," good coaches teach concrete skills and then support the use of these skills across a variety of situations. The goal should be not just to teach kids to "be nice," but also to help them to advocate for themselves as well as care for others.

Many kids experience occasional rejection, and some are often socially clumsy, insensitive, or even unkind. Signs that a youngster may need some social coaching include:
  • Acts bossy or insists on own way a lot
  • Can't seem to start or maintain a conversation 
  • Doesn't show empathy when others are hurt or rejected 
  • Has trouble losing or winning gracefully 
  • Lacks at least one or two close mutual friends 
  • Seems constantly ignored or victimized by other kids or constantly teases or annoys other kids
  • Uses a louder voice than most kids

Moms and dads can use opportunities to point out when others are using desired social skills. It might be a specific behavior of the parent, another adult, a youngster, or even a character in a book or on TV. The idea is to give kids examples and role models of people engaging in the appropriate social skill.

A parent can help a youngster substitute a specific appropriate response for a specific inappropriate one. This might mean brainstorming with the youngster about different alternative responses and then practicing one or more with the youngster. Practicing can involve mapping out actual words to say or behaviors to use, role-playing, and using the newly learned skills in real situations.

Often Aspergers kids are not eager to work on new skills, so moms and dads must reward their kids with praise when the new skills are practiced as a way of helping the skills become habits. This might be a specific verbal statement (e.g., "You did an awesome job of X instead of Y when you got angry at the store"), a nonverbal sign (e.g., a thumbs up), or even a treat (e.g., 10 minutes extra fun time before bedtime).

Without nagging, moms and dads can gently remind their youngster to use a new skill when the opportunity arises. This might be verbal (e.g., "Now might be a good time to count to ten in your head") or nonverbal (e.g.,  zipping the lips when a youngster is about to interrupt).

Any good coach knows that patience is important, because learning new skills takes time and practice. And everyone differs in how long it takes to learn something new. Coaches often have to be creative in their teaching strategies, because Aspergers kids have different ways of learning. The important thing to remember is that the ability to have good social relationships is not simply about personality or in-born traits. Children and teens that get along with others have learned skills to do so, and they practice these regularly. Just like a good coach can make the difference for a budding football player, moms and dads can help their Aspergers kids become socially skilled.

Watching for Warning Signs

It’s also helpful for you to understand the warning signs of depression. Watch for behavioral changes that might indicate depression in your daughter. For example:
  • Does she have difficulty sleeping?
  • Has she gained or lost a significant amount of weight?
  • Has she lost interest in things that typically gave her pleasure?
  • Is she giving up on her social relationships?
  • Is she more easily frustrated?

If you notice unusual changes, speak with your daughter’s pediatrician about the possibility of depression and possible treatments.

Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

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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.

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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. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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