Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Teens with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism may be prone to anger, which can be made worse by difficulty in communicating feelings of disturbance, anxiety or distress. Anger may be a common reaction experienced when coming to terms with problems in employment, relationships, friendships and other areas in life affected by Aspergers.

There can be an ‘on-off’ quality to this anger, where the child may be calm minutes later after an angry outburst, while those around are stunned and may feel hurt or shocked for hours, if not days, afterward. Parents often struggle to understand these angry outbursts, with resentment and bitterness often building up over time. Once they understand that child has trouble controlling his anger or understanding its effects on others, they can often begin to respond in ways that will help to manage these outbursts.

In some cases, Aspergers teens may not acknowledge they have trouble with their anger, and will blame others for provoking them. Again, this can create enormous conflict within the family. It may take carefully phrased feedback and plenty of time for the teens to gradually realize they have a problem with how they express their anger.

The next step is for the teen to learn anger management skills. A good place to start is identifying a pattern in how the outbursts are related to specific frustrations. Such triggers may originate from the environment, specific individuals or internal thoughts.

Common causes of anger in Aspergers teens:
  • Being swamped by multiple tasks or sensory stimulation
  • Build up of stress
  • Difficulties with employment and relationships despite being intelligent in many areas
  • Having routines and order disrupted
  • Intolerance of imperfections in others
  • Other people’s behavior (e.g., insensitive comments, being ignored)

Identifying the cause of anger can be a challenge.  

It is important to consider all possible influences relating to:
  • How well the teenager is treated by peers
  • The environment (e.g., too much stimulation, lack of structure, change of routine)
  • The teen’s mental state(e.g., existing frustration, confusion)
  • The teen’s physical state (e.g., pain, tiredness)

Steps to successful self-management of anger include:
  • Awareness of situations— The teen becomes more aware of the situations which are associated with them becoming angry. They may like to ask other people who know them to describe situations and behaviors they have noticed.
  • Becoming motivated— The teen identifies why they would like to manage anger more successfully. They identify what benefits they expect in everyday living from improving their anger management.
  • Develop an anger management record— The teen may keep a diary or chart of situations that trigger anger. List the situation, the level of anger on a scale of one to ten and the coping strategies that help to overcome or reduce feelings of anger.
  • Levels of anger and coping strategies— As the teen becomes more aware of situations associated with anger, they can keep a record of events, triggers and associated levels of anger. Different levels of anger can be explored (e.g. mildly annoyed, frustrated, irritated and higher levels of anger).
  • Self-awareness— A teen becomes more aware of personal thoughts, behaviors and physical states which are associated with anger. This awareness is important for the teen in order for them to notice the early signs of becoming angry. They should be encouraged to write down a list of changes they notice as they begin to feel angry.

A simple and effective technique for reducing levels of anger is the “Stop – Think” technique:

As a teen notices the thoughts running through his mind...

1. Stop and think before reacting to the situation (are these thoughts accurate or helpful?)
2. Challenge the inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts
3. Create a new thought

A plan can also be developed to help a teen avoid becoming angry when they plan to enter into a situation that has a history of triggering anger. An example of a personal plan is using the “Stop – Think” technique when approaching a shopping center situation that is known to trigger anger.
  • My goal: To improve my ability to cope with anger when I am waiting in long queues. 
  • Typical angry thoughts: ‘The service here is so slack. Why can’t they hurry it up? I'm going to lose my cool any moment now’. Stop thinking this! 
  •  New calmer and helpful thoughts: ‘Everyone is probably frustrated by the long line – even the person serving us. I could come back another time, or, I can wait here and think about pleasant things such as going to see a movie’.

Other possible approaches:
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • Creative destruction or physical activity techniques to reduce anger
  • Find anger management classes in your area
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Self-talk methods
  • Use visual imagery (jumping into a cool stream takes the heat of anger away)

Coping with extreme anger:

It is hoped that teens with Aspergers can make use of these strategies when they notice themselves becoming angry and therefore avoid feeling extreme anger. However, this is clearly not always possible. For situations where teens feel they cannot control their anger, they can have a personal safety plan.

Possible steps in a personal safety plan:
  1. Avoid situations which are associated with a high risk of becoming angry
  2. Explain to another person how they can be of help to solve the problem
  3. Explore the benefits of using medication with a doctor or psychiatrist
  4. Leave the situation if possible
  5. Make changes to routines and surroundings e.g. avoid driving in peak hour traffic
  6. Phone a friend, or a crisis center to talk about the cause of anger
  7. Plan ways to become distracted from the stressful situation (e.g., carry a magazine)

My Aspergers Teen: Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens


Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,
I just want to say a big thank-you for your news letters...they are extremely informative & helpful...those little tips can make a big difference in the life's of us parents...thanks again, cheryl.

Anonymous said...

Jack recently was diagnosed with mild asperger's syndrome, however we have been aware since infancy that he was unique. He was an intense toddler, very difficult to entertain, slept very little, and began showing signs of giftedness. He was reading by age 2, and learning computer basics by age 3. His favorite past time as a small child was taking a part computers and teaching himself software programs such as flash and photoshop. Currently, Jack's narrow focus remains computers with an extreme interest in programming languages.

Behavior problems have included, defiance, aggression, bad language (always when angry) and guilt. We have chosen our battles with Jack but often feel defeated at the end of the day. Our biggest concern has been school placement. Over the last three years Jack has been at three schools: public school in third grade where he simply shut down; private day school for part of fourth grade where he was disruptive, angry and eventually refused to go back; and finally, a small school for gifted kids that he attends now. He does not refuse to go, likes the school but has outbursts of defiance and anger with bad language. The school continues to work with him but we are concerned that eventually the tantrums and bad language will cause the other parents to expect him to be dismissed.

Maggie said...

My son is only 9, but is prone to daily bouts of rage with his Asperger's... even becoming physically threatening at times.

Thanks for this article... which I find incredibly insightful.

It's scary to think what he might be like as a teenager, given the extent of his rage today. We have him in therapy and are going to try medication... which is also scary.

I appreciate this blog... just found it tonight!

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

My son is 8 years old with ADHD and Aspergers. In the past couple of months he has become very quick to anger and gets frustrated even when I walk in the room! Please help me to understand why this is happening and what things can I do to help him. I have tried talking to him about saying nice things and trying hard to not let the mean comments out, but he only seems to understand at that moment and forgets the very next! I miss my loving little boy!!! :(

Anonymous said...

tHE SCHOOLS need to do a better job of educating all the teachers in the district about autism, n ot just the special ed dept.

Anonymous said...

Schools definitely need to be educated. :(

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm an aspie, and I know what it feels like to get very angry, it happens to me all the time, especially when I'm stressed.

Anonymous said...

I have a 21 yr old son with Aspergers & an anger problem. I have seen a change for the worse ever since he listens to Eminem. The songs are filled with hate & anger. I find it does affect him. The problem is he is so stubborn & rigid that he rarely takes good wise advice. I don't have a lot of hope for him right now. He cannot get along with people. He loves controvercy & debating. He has another side which is very infantile. This is by far the most difficult disabilities. I am a mother who just wants peace & love in her home. But this ASD makes certain we don't have peace. Awareness is an understatement of what is needed. This is a very real problem & the government needs to make "communities" where these autistic people can live among their peers & be safe. My son has never worked a job, sleeps erratic, won't eat meat (because he loves animals) has no interest in material things, no aspirations for life. If the government doesn't wake up & intervene, our country is in bigger trouble than it thinks. Because the reality is that these autistic/aspergr kids will be tomorrows future. And if their lives are any indication, the future is bleak.

Grant said...

I am 17 and male with Aspergers. I do have a very bad anger problem. I have an even lower form below mild. But when im angry its like the incredible hulk and I lose all my control and it seems for me to black out. I try different coping methods, but it takes a lot to make me mad, but its all really with my mom. Im in highschool,m a senior and I have been in so many fights with my mom. I cuss like a sailor mainly when im losing control. And there is a point that my family knows where it literally "Blacks out" for me. And it feels lime im dreaming. Im not what people call "so smart" i am doing good in school, ut im not like mild where i see what mild is to the difference of me from it. I have hit my mom, well really pushed before. In 2008 I lost control and woke up from my anger trance outside and the police were there. But i had it happened last month, my parents still dont understand even though the doctor told them what is common and what ASP is! They continue to treat me as an kid without it. Which almost all these things they know triggers me to lose control but still do it. I will try and practive these coping methods. I literally cant stop myself when im angry. Im not the nerdy type, (no offeense to anyone) I am aware of ASP and I learned everything i can so far about it. No one suspects me of it either. I have dated the "popular girls" in school too so no one reeally knows. And its very true, we are very stressed when it comes to relationships and stressfulness.

Adele Brombacher said...

I have an 18 year old aspergers son & although he is on medication & has had different types of therapy for a large part of his life, we are in the thick of this at the moment. It is really awful & such a worry as he will be going to University soon & starting his adult life. How do we begin to deal with this?

Kbabs said...

Thank you for sharing... just realizing over the past several months that my son who will be 17 in 2 months, could very well have Aspergers, as well. He is struggling so much every single day. We are planning on asking his therapist for advise on getting him checked. Just need to find an answer so he can get the right kind of help :(. He blames everyone else for his problems socializing & without help he is going to run into the same thing in college, work etc.

Kbabs said...

Adele I would love to chat w/ you on the subject if you wouldn't mind... my son is almost 17 and is not diagnosed. I am having so much trouble with him lately, and could use a little advice. Hope everything ends up getting better for you, soon! Nothing is worse than feeling like your child NEEDS you so bad but your hands are tied and you cannot even get a foor in the door:(

katie said...

My son is 14 and making terrible choices. We are about to pull him out of school again tomorrow to start home schooling. We are in need of help.

katie said...

My son is 14 and has high functioning aspergers. We are about to pull him out of school tomorrow due to terrible choices he is making. We will have to go back to home schooling. Any solutions?

Ian said...

I've just found this article and all the comments. My 16 year old Aspergers son just had huge meltdown. We've been working with him since he was 2 1/2, and thank God for that. We live in Canada, and have access to a lot of free help, but it's still not enough. He suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression, and is being treated for both. He's had problems with school attendance (becomes ill) for several years. We had to pull him out of the regular school system last year and put him in a school recovery/therapy program. He was supposed to go to a full therapy school this year, but didn't get a placement. He's back at his regular school with a reduced schedule. We'll see how it goes. We understand most of his triggers but still find them extremely hard to deal with. The one thing the social worker and psychiatrist always say is NOT TO GET UPSET, STAY CALM - which is difficult, but we try. When he was first diagnosed - at least 5+ years ago - the psychiatrist said that the teen years would be very difficult, but that he would be relatively fine as an adult. We keep hanging onto that. I hope some of this can help another parent...

A Toronto Parent

Elizabeth Douglas said...

I am 14 and have aspergers I do get angry very easily and have usually heads to remove myself from a situation and stay in a separate room until calm. However your tips have helped me a lot especially in difficult social situations where I cannot exclude myself in the next room

Jamie S said...

It's about 1 am and I hope one of you out there can help me. My 18 yr old aspie son, diagnosed at 3 and on meds, maynot graduate from high school on Friday because he forgot...or didn't want to do? ?? some assignments. He got upset and went to bed/sleep and i am up worrying about his future. He is very smart but is not motivated in the least to do anything but play video games and spend time on the web. I feel like a bad parent.

Unknown said...

I have lived in huge amount of guilt after I sent my 12 year old son to his dad in another state. He was suspected of Asperger's by one of his counselors but it was not confirmed by the psychologist that did the full assessment (supposedly). He has high IQ, great scores in state tests, but his grades have deteriorated from all As to Bs and Cs. He is angry everyday but suppress it at school and sports teams. Only went off in front of me and his younger brother who is 6. This year he got violent with me and things went out of control. I was scared of him cause he talked about killing me and drew pictures that told such a story of killing me.
He is not doing well at his dad's either. Just had a fight with him and caused him to bleed. But he hates me now as he believes I "abondoned" him. I visited him and was almost hit by baseball bat and a wooden sword. He said he would kill me if I show up again.
I have been depressed when he was here. Now I am depressed when he is not here. I really believe he has Asperger's. But no one believes it. They just wanted to blame it on divorce and long absence of his dad. Now his dad doesn't want to believe Asperger's either. My son is not receiving any treatment. He was seeing two counselors when he was with me. I am so worried about him. He self harms, too.
Everyday it is hard to feel motivated as there is this huge void in me. I have been his sole caretaker over the years. Our relationship has been intense but when he was in a good mood he told me I was the best mom. He said he loved me more than he loved himself.
I feel that I have lost my son. He blocked me in his phone and email. What I bought online to be mailed to him he wouldn't use. I am relying on postcards now. This is so sad.
Susan. L

J.Cas said...

You need to get help from a BCBA. Many insurance companies will cover their services! I think that he would greatly benefit from this type of intervention.

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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."

Click here to read the full article…

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.

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Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

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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