Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Aspergers Children and School Phobia

Most Aspergers (high functioning autism) children at some time in their school career are challenged by anxiety. School phobia (known to professionals as school refusal), a complex and extreme form of anxiety about going to school (but not of the school itself as the name suggests), can have many causes and can include related anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia and selective mutism.

Symptoms include:
  • a racing heart
  • fatigue
  • frequent trips to the toilet
  • nausea
  • shaking
  • stomachaches

Young Aspergers children (up to age 7 or 8) with school phobia experience separation anxiety and cannot easily contemplate being parted from their parents, whereas older kids (8 plus) are more likely to have it take the form of social phobia where they are anxious about their performance in school (such as in games or in having to read aloud or answer questions in class).

Aspergers children with anxieties about going to school may suffer a panic attack if forced which then makes them fear having another panic attack and there is an increasing spiral of worry with which parents often do not know how to deal.

How School Phobia Starts—

Going to school for the first time is a period of great anxiety for very young kids. Many will be separated from their parents for the first time, or will be separated all day for the first time. This sudden change can make them anxious and they may suffer from separation anxiety. They are also probably unused to having the entire day organized for them and may be very tired by the end of the day – causing further stress and making them feel very vulnerable.

For older Aspergers children who are not new to the school, who have had a long summer break or have had time off because of illness, returning to school can be quite traumatic. They may no longer feel at home there. Their friendships might have changed. Their teacher and classroom might have changed. They may have got used to being at home and closely looked after by a parent, suddenly feeling insecure when all this attention is removed; and suddenly they are under the scrutiny of their teachers again.

Other Aspergers children may have felt unwell on the school bus or in school and associate these places with further illness and symptoms of panic, and so want to avoid them in order to avoid panicky symptoms and panic attacks fearing, for example, vomiting, fainting or having diarrhea. Other kids may have experienced stressful events.

Possible triggers for school phobia include:
  1. Being bullied
  2. Being off school for a long time through illness or because of a holiday
  3. Being unpopular, being chosen last for teams and feeling a physical failure (in games and gymnastics)
  4. Bereavement (of a person or pet)
  5. Fearing panic attacks when traveling to school or while in school
  6. Feeling an academic failure
  7. Feeling threatened by the arrival of a new baby
  8. Having a traumatic experience such as being abused, being raped, having witnessed a tragic event
  9. Moving to a new area and having to start at a new school and make new friends or just changing schools
  10. Not having good friends (or any friends at all)
  11. Problems at home such as a member of the family being very ill
  12. Problems at home such as marital rows, separation and divorce
  13. Starting school for the first time
  14. Violence in the home or any kind of abuse; of the youngster or of another parent

Children with Asperger Syndrome need to be dealt with differently to kids without the syndrome as, for example, teaching them relaxation techniques can actually make them more anxious.

How to Help—

The longer school phobia goes on, the harder it is to treat, so referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are usually quite quick to ‘nip it in the bud’. However, if your youngster is severely affected, it is better to ask for a referral (from your youngster’s doctor or head teacher) to the service before you are desperate as it is often overstretched: in reality it can take some time to get an appointment.

Things you can do yourself as a parent include getting help from your youngster’s school. Teachers need to be aware there is a problem. Sometimes being taught in a special unit in school (if the school has one) may help your youngster feel more secure as it is a more comfortable place and acts as a half-way point between home and school. (Some Aspergers children are so severely affected that they stop going to school.) It should be made quite clear to your youngster’s teachers that she is not ‘playing up’ but that her anxiety is very real and she is suffering from it.

At home, life should continue and your youngster should be encouraged to carry on as normal. But she might want to stop going out, especially without you, even to parties that she was quite happy being left at before. Although you need to deal sensitively with her, if she doesn’t absolutely have to miss something, it is best to help her go by going with her for part (or all) of the time so that her world does not shrink altogether. It is also helpful to:
  • Encourage your youngster to find things she can enjoy in the school day.
  • Explain that her fears are brought on by thoughts that are not true thoughts: she is reacting to normal things in an extreme way.
  • Find things that your youngster can look forward to each day.
  • Keep to the same routine. Make life boring for your youngster so that she has less to be anxious about (no surprise trips out). Make her go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on weekends) so that she has some secure framework to live around.
  • Reassure your youngster. Tell her that she will be fine once she has got over the part she dreads.
  • Tell her she is brave for going to school. Although her friends find it easy, she has a private battle she has to fight every school day.
  • Tell her you are proud of her for being so brave.
  • Tell her you love her.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


•    Anonymous said... Great, useful read
•    Anonymous said... Homeschool him.
•    Anonymous said... Homeschool was the best thing I did for my daughter.
•    Anonymous said... Homeschool!!! Made a world of difference for our son. There is no need to force children into painful, emotionally damaging situations every day.
•    Anonymous said... I am homeschooling my son this year after a horrendous attempt at mainstreaming at a new school last year that just left him feeling horrible about himself and behind academically.
•    Anonymous said... I did homeschool .. Did wonders for his self esteem
•    Anonymous said... I would agree homeschooling sounds like it would just be so so much better for him....
•    Anonymous said... My son was compressing his anxiety all day and then melting down the second he was off the bus. It would happen every single night. Several times a week the school would call be because he was vomiting. After we finally figured out what was going on, we made the decision to homeschool him. It has been the best decision we've made and a huge blessing for our family. He is doing great, light years ahead academically and happy. I wish we'd have started when he was younger and never put him through that at all. 99% of the time, his Aspergers symptoms are gone or under control now.
•    Anonymous said... My sons kindergarten teacher told me he should snap out of it. She immediately learned the extent of my vocabulary.
•    Anonymous said... Same for my son....I homeschooled my son (12) last year. This year he is going to attend a small private school that is very similar to homeschooling with multi age classrooms.
•    Anonymous said... School is a constant struggle for my 16 year old aspie son. He's currently in a special ed autistic class at his high school but he still struggles with not wanting to be there. Last year we dealt with him having thoughts of injuring/killing one of his teachers. He too would hold things in until finally blowing up. I have been told by his IEP team and school counselors that home school would be a horrible idea for him and that because he has an IEP the school would not approve it. I considered online schooling for him but was basically told no. How did you all get around that? We live in Washington state.
•    Anonymous said... they likely say that because they don't want the school to lose funding they get for kids on IEPs, and plus the school has no right to tell you how you educate your child. Since when do schools have to approve homeschooling? Sounds like bullying tactics to me. It is your choice.
•    Anonymous said... This was perfect timing for starts on Tuesday and last year was a constant battle with the school and getting the kids to go. Meltdowns, nightmares, and physical illnesses all year. I have been strongly considering homeschool iand its great to know how well it has worked for others.
•    Anonymous said... We had the experience. We cyber school now and it has changed everything for the better. So grateful for options such as this to help these precious children succeed.
•    Anonymous said... Yup true, I sent my son to homeschool. Better environment for them. No bullying from teacher and friends. when there is no bully, they feel comfortable with the lesson they are in. Now he even able to skip 2 levels....
Post your comment below…


Anonymous said...

Sadly for my 2 Aspergers children the worst bullies were the teachers - who, in their ignorance of aspergers, punished and humiliated my children daily.

A lack of training and professional arrogance can be a very dangerous combination.

These days we are happily homeschooling


Anonymous said...

My son has been crying tonight about starting school in two days time. Tomorrow is his birthday
( he will be nine) and yet everything we do is over shadowed by his 'horror' of school. What are schools doing to our children? I am a teacher and yet I despair about the lack of warmth, ubderstanding, kindness and knowledge within my profession. I would do anything to protect my son from having to endure such anxiety, although home schooling does not sit cmfortably with me because I just want to love him and be his mum not his teacher.
Thankyou for newsletter it really helps but the magic wand to mAke this all go away is all I really want.


Anonymous said...

My daughter with Aspergers started middle school last year ( 6th grade). It turned her into an emotional and anxiety ridden mess. There were other factors in the mix, but she ended up having to be tutored the second half of the year. She's come a long way this summer with her anxiety until a week ago. She is just going to enrichment classes, and Homeschool classes and she couldnt even make it to the enrichment classes orientation. Its scary and frustrating. We will see what we can get her to do this year.

Anonymous said...

Im very lucky my son's school has programs for Aspergers and other illnesses so all the teachers are fantastic with him. My problem is, even with all the helpfull advise above being done, he still hates going to school and at times life itself. Hopefully over time this will improve.


judy said...

We have a 12 year old boy with Aspergers. He was bullied by kids and teachers from preschool till 6th grade. His dad was also killed in an accident in august of 2008. We found a private school in brentwood tennesse, named Currey Ingram Accadamy that is wonderful. All children are iep kids. Aspergers or on the spectrum or dyslexia. The tuition is 30,000 a year. Nathan attended the 6th grade and is now in the 7th. We are running through ins. and his grandmoters retirement. If you can find a way it is life changing and what the doctor ordered. If anyone knows of where there is a schlorship for a 7th grader please let us know. We need help to stay there. Thanks Judy

Anonymous said...

Our daughter (11) suffers from severe anxiety about getting the stomach flu. This carries over to anxiety about going to school or church because that is where you can pick up germs. She also gets very nervous about speaking in front of people (like introducing herself to the class, a presentation, or even just answering a question). We started bringing her to a counselor last spring. Things have gotten a bit better. I am able to help her recognize the words she tells herself in her head are often not true and we talk about what is the truth. We still can't really refute germs and illness, but more than anything, I try to reassure her that no matter what happens, she will not be alone, she will not be a failure, and she CAN face any challenge and meet it. Another thing the counselor recommended as okay is just plain distraction. When she is really obsessing over a fear, we simply change what we are doing (if possible) and I will let her stay up a bit late if she needs to read her favorite book for a bit to help her stop worrying about whether or not she is going to throw-up in the middle of the night.

It's a continual battle, but she has made some positive baby steps over the past few months. While she cried herself to sleep over worry about the first day of school, she has actually had a fantastic year so far. Not anxiety-free, but manageable.

Khadija said...

Oh wow, when it says "teaching them relaxation techniques can actually make them more anxious" I could have cried !

I am an Aspie and I have a nine year old Aspie son. I was diagnosed with School refusal at age 12 and I never went to high school. I was enrolled 15 separate times at different schools but never attended(I went back to study as a n adult). I was only diagnosed with Aspergers after my son was.

I went through the relaxation technique rubbish as both a child and an adult. The last time was with a so called Aspergers expert psychologist who as soon as I told her it was the one thing I would not do, made me ! I went home and had a mega-meltdown that landed me in the psych ward of the local hospital.

It is amazing to see a "professional" who gets it !
Thank you :)

Tisha said...

Homeschool!!! Our son was in public school until 3rd grade. He had an emotionally abusive teacher and we had no support from the administration or special ed team to help him. He was wetting the bed and having night terrors. Every day was a new phone call. He was humiliated in front of his class and the teacher encouraged the students to mock his meltdowns. Finally, he was physically restrained on the floor of the class for trying to follow his IEP and we weren't notified. That was the last straw. We took him out that day and haven't looked back.

It has made a world of difference for our son. He is calmer, happier, has friends, and is learning, which is the ultimate goal.

There is no need to force children into emotionally damaging situations every day.

Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders? Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here for the full article...

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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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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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