One frequently observed feature of Aspergers (high functioning autism) is rigidity in thought and behavior. Rigidity seems to pervade so many areas of the lives of children with Aspergers.
Novel situations often produce anxiety for these children. They may be uncomfortable with change in general. This can result in behavior that may be viewed as oppositional and can lead to emotional meltdowns. This general rigidity is what parents, neighbors, and teachers often label as stubbornness.
Children with Aspergers may have many fears in addition to those related to unexpected changes in schedules. Large groups of people and complex, open environments like school hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, or bus stations tend to overwhelm children with Aspergers. They may also be overwhelmed by unexpected academic challenge or by having too many things to remember or too many tasks to perform.
They often have limited frustration tolerance and may display tantrums when thwarted. Routines and rules are very important to kids with Aspergers in providing a sense of needed order and structure, and hence, predictability about the world.
Another form or rigidity is moralism, a kind of self-righteous and inflexible adherence to nonnegotiable moral principles that is often out of context with practical reality. An example might be a youngster who criticizes a parent who has run a yellow traffic light when the parent is on the way to the emergency room for treatment of a severe cut or burn.
Rigidity is also found in the inflexibility over matters that are of little consequence, such as arguing about whether the route to the emergency room was the quickest when it might be the difference between a few hundred yards by choosing to take one turn over another. In the classroom, this may be found when an Aspergers student fixates on a perception that a teacher has not enforced a rule consistently. Such fixations on moral correctness can escalate and interfere with availability for instruction.
Reasons for Rigidity—
1. A misunderstanding or misinterpretation of another's action.
2. A violation of a rule or ritual – changing something from the way it is supposed to be. Someone is violating a rule and this is unacceptable to the Aspergers youngster.
3. Anxiety about a current or upcoming event, no matter how trivial it might appear to you.
4. Immediate gratification of a need.
5. Lack of knowledge about how something is done. By not knowing how the world works with regard to specific situations and events, the youth will act inappropriately instead.
6. Other internal issues, such as sensory, inattention (ADHD), oppositional tendency (ODD), or other psychiatric issues may also be causes of behavior.
7. The need to avoid or escape from a non-preferred activity, often something difficult or undesirable. Often, if your son/daughter cannot be perfect, he/she does not want to engage in an activity.
8. The need to control a situation.
9. The need to engage in or continue a preferred activity, usually an obsessive action or fantasy.
10. Transitioning from one activity to another. This is usually a problem because it may mean ending an activity before he is finished with it.
Many Aspergers children have a hard time with changes. The reason for this behavior can be caused by anxiety, and this anxiety results in rigidity.
Here are the reasons Aspergers kids are so resistant to any kind of change:
- anxiety about a current or upcoming event (e.g., the start of school)
- not understanding how the world works
- not understanding the actions of someone else
- other issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- reluctant to participate in an activity the child cannot do perfectly or an activity that is difficult for him.
- someone changing a circumstance or rule that has been established
- the need for instant satisfaction, the child may not understand delayed gratification
- the need to control a situation
- the need to keep doing the activity that the child likes (obsession or fantasy)
- transitioning to another activity, this is especially hard if the activity is not finished
The cause of anxiety or rigidity in your Aspergers child has a lot to do with the fact that she does not have the ability to understand the world like we do.
Because of the Aspergers neuro-cognitive disorder, she:
- does not “take in” what is going on around her
- does not know how to “read between the lines”
- does not understand implied directions
- does not understand social cues
- needs explicit instructions
- will have difficulty understanding rules of society
“Facts” are what kids with Aspergers learn and feel less anxious about. Since Aspergers kids have a hard time with all the normal rules of society, having “rules” has a calming effect on them. They think, “This is the rule. I can handle it o.k.”
Facts also have to be from someone they think is an “expert” in their eyes. Teachers and doctors may have this leverage with them, but moms and dads are, for the most part, not considered “experts.”
Understanding what causes so much anxiety, tantrums, and out of control behavior helps parents to know where their Aspergers child is coming from, and with that, parents will be able to help their kids become healthy and happy adults.
My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns in Aspergers Children