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

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Asperger's Children and Temper Tantrums

In this post, we’re going to look at temper tantrums in children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Tantrums should not be confused with meltdowns. There does seem to be a fine line between tantrums and meltdowns, so if you’re not sure which is which, view this video first: What is the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum?

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. Aspergers and HFA kid's temperaments vary dramatically — so some Aspergers kids may experience regular temper tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They're a normal part of development and don't have to be seen as something negative. However, unlike “typical” children, Aspergers kids don't have the same inhibitions or control.

Imagine how it feels when you're determined to program your DVD player and aren't able to do it no matter how hard you try, because you can't understand how. It's very frustrating! Do you swear, throw the manual, walk away and slam the door on your way out? That's the grown-up version of a temper tantrum. Aspergers kids are also trying to master their world, and when they aren't able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a temper tantrum.

Several basic causes of temper tantrums are familiar to mothers and fathers everywhere: The Aspergers youngster is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, temper tantrums are often the result of Aspergers kid's frustration with the world. They can't get something (e.g., an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Temper tantrums are common during the second year of life for all kids. This is a time when kids are acquiring language. However, Aspergers kids generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone. That would be a frustrating experience that may precipitate a temper tantrum. As language skills improve, temper tantrums tend to decrease.

Another task that all kids are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. However, even though Aspergers kids want a sense of independence and control over the environment, this may be more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as an Aspergers youngster thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me." When Aspergers kids discover that they can't do it or can't have everything they want, the stage is set for a temper tantrum.

Avoiding Temper Tantrums in Aspergers Children—

The best way to deal with temper tantrums is to avoid them in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some strategies that may help:

1. Aspergers kids are more likely to use temper tantrums to get their way if they've learned that this behavior works. Once the young people are school age, it's appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off. Rather than setting a specific time limit, mothers and fathers can tell them to stay in the room “until they've regained control.” This option is empowering, because Aspergers kids can affect the outcome by their own actions, thereby gaining a sense of control that was lost during the temper tantrum.

2. Aspergers kids have fairly rudimentary reasoning skills, so you aren't likely to get very far with explanations. If the temper tantrum poses no threat to your youngster or others, then ignoring the outburst may be the best way to handle it.  Continue your activities, and pay no attention to your youngster – but remain within sight. Don't leave him or her alone, otherwise he or she may feel abandoned on top of all of the other uncontrollable emotions.

3. Aspergers kids may be especially vulnerable AFTER a temper tantrum when they know they've been less than adorable. Now is the time for a hug and reassurance that your youngster is loved, no matter what.

4. Aspergers kids who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a temper tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to temper tantrums in public places.

5. Consider the request carefully when your youngster wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn't. Choose your battles carefully, and accommodate when you can.

6. Distract your youngster. Take advantage of your Aspie’s short attention span by offering a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Also, you can simply change the environment. Take your youngster outside or inside or move to a different room.

7. If a safety issue is involved, and the youngster repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the youngster firmly for several minutes. Be consistent. Aspergers kids must understand that you are inflexible on safety issues.

8. Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach to make struggles less likely to develop over them. Obviously, this isn't always possible, especially outside of the home where the environment can't be controlled.

9. Know your youngster's limits. If you know he or she is tired, it's not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.

10. Make sure your youngster isn't acting-out simply because he or she isn't getting enough attention. To an Aspergers youngster, negative attention (a parent's response to a temper tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your youngster being good ("time in"), which means rewarding him or her with attention for positive behavior.

11. Occasionally an Aspergers youngster will have a hard time stopping a temper tantrum. In these cases, it might help to say to say, "I'll help you settle down now." But, do not reward your youngster after a temper tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to him or her that the temper tantrum was effective. Instead, verbally praise the youngster for regaining control.

12. Set the stage for success when your son or daughter is playing or trying to master a new task. Offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks.

13. Temper tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause. Try to understand where your youngster is coming from. For example, if he or she has just had a great disappointment, you may need to provide comfort. If he or she is simply a sore loser at games and hits a playmate, then you may to provide a consequence.

14. The most important thing to keep in mind when you're faced with a boy or girl in the throes of a temper tantrum – no matter what the cause – is simple yet very important: Keep your cool. Don't complicate the problem with your own frustration. Aspergers kids can sense when mothers and fathers are becoming frustrated. This can just make their frustration worse, and you may have a more exaggerated temper tantrum on your hands. Instead, take deep breaths and try to think clearly.

15. Try to give your "special needs" child some control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off temper tantrums. Offer minor choices, for example, "Do you want orange juice or apple juice?" or "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?" This way, you aren't asking "Do you want to brush your teeth now?" …which inevitably will be answered "no."

16. Your youngster relies on you to be the example. Smacking and spanking don't help. Physical tactics send the message that using force and physical punishment is acceptable. Instead, have enough self-control for both of you.

17. You should consult your child’s pediatrician if any of the following occur:
  • tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings
  • tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration
  • you keep giving into your child’s demands
  • your youngster displays mood issues (e.g., negativity, low self-esteem, extreme dependence)
  • your youngster frequently hurts himself/herself or others
  • your youngster is destructive
  • you're uncomfortable with your responses to the child's tantrums

Your doctor can also check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums (e.g., hearing or vision problems, chronic illness, language delays, learning disability, etc.).

Remember, temper tantrums usually aren't cause for concern and generally diminish on their own. As Aspergers kids mature developmentally, and their grasp of themselves and the world increases, their frustration levels decrease. Less frustration and more control mean fewer temper tantrums — and happier mothers and fathers.

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