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Defiant, Oppositional Teens with Aspergers: Simple Parenting Techniques that Work Wonders

Parenting a defiant teenager with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism is tough (if you don’t how that is). Here are some quick tips to give parents some relief from the power struggles:

1. Active Listening – Some behaviors are bids for attention or expressions of frustration at not feeling understood. Moms and dads can reduce problem behaviors when each defiant youngster feels genuinely cared about, understood, and paid attention to. Active listening is hard work and takes energy and practice. It cannot be done when thinking about or attending to other things, or when distractions occur. Active listening need not last a long time, but attention must be focused completely on the children and the message must be communicated back to them in the listeners own words in a way that lets them know they really were heard.

Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, respect for personal space, and choices of words are all important in communicating the desired message. It may take two or three attempts to really understand the message, and that is okay, as long as it is finally understood accurately and that is clearly demonstrated. A few brief exchanges of this sort for each youngster every day are necessary.

2. Consequencing – Consequences may be used to discourage unacceptable behavior of defiant teenagers. Usually this will occur after other techniques have been tried unsuccessfully. Consequences should not be confused with punishment; nor should they ever be given in anger. They should be applied consistently. That means that the behavior consequenced today, will again be consequenced next week. Also, behavior consequenced for one child will not be allowed for others. This consistency lowers anxiety by making the environment predictable. Consequences are given to help children establish boundaries. Consequences should be clearly explained, related to the behavior, and completed as soon as possible.

A parent who is angry with a child should calm down before deciding a consequence and if applicable should consult with the other parent before doing so. Consequences are more effective when discussed matter-of-factly from a caring and controlled point of view. Moms and dads should regularly discuss the effectiveness of consequences for the specific child and should always support each other in the positive discipline process.

3. Encouraging/Coaching – Encouragement, praise, and coaching are all effective ways to make pro-social behaviors more likely and more frequent. The stronger the relationship between parent and a given youngster, the more powerful this method becomes.

4. Ignoring Behavior – Moms and dads may consciously decide to ignore certain behaviors of their defiant teenager at times in an effort to extinguish the behavior by not reacting to it. The behavior may be inconsequential, may be designed just to "get a reaction," or may be masking another, more important, issue which is what really needs attention. Ignoring a behavior should not stop communication or relationship building. It is a specific behavior that is being ignored, not the person. Examples might include using certain words, attempts to provoke or annoy moms and dads, making personal comment to or about parents, saying "I won’t" or "you can’t make me," etc.

5. Logical Consequences – Logical consequences may be necessary when no natural one occurs, or when the natural one is insufficient to make a change in future behavior. An example would be a defiant child causing a disturbance at an event, not being allowed to attend the next one.

6. Natural Consequences – Sometimes consequences occur through the natural course of events (such as a child coming home late from school and missing a phone call from a friend). If the natural course of events makes an impact by teaching a lesson, moms and dads need not intervene further. They can be sympathetic to the child’s plight (this must be genuine however, and never patronizing or sarcastic).

7. Observing and Commenting – A parent may choose to comment on a behavior in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way to bring it to the attention of the youngster. This may be new information for the child to think about. What they choose to do with that feedback will provide further opportunities for discussion and teaching. For instance, "I notice you tend to be critical of others when they are taking about a success" or "You seem to only break the rules when you are in a group" etc.

8. Physical Proximity – Sometimes a defiant youngster who is beginning to become anxious, irritable or overly active will be calmed down by eye contact, a special "look" or signal, moving next to them or a reassuring hand on the arm or shoulder. Along with physical proximity it is important to be calm and reassuring.

9. Pre-Teaching – It is easier to prevent negative behaviors than to deal with them after they occur. A very effective tool is to pre-teach behavior prior to an event or potentially vulnerable situation. This involves talking with the person or group in detail about what will be happening, why, and what their role and expected behaviors will be. Pre-teaching reduces anxiety, clarifies expectations, builds confidence, sets up success, and can add to the fun of anticipating an event.

10. Redirecting – Commonly used with younger defiant kids or those with short attention spans, this technique simply stops one behavior by substituting another or diverting the attention of the child or group to a different subject or activity.

11. Re-Focus - A defiant child may be asked to spend time thinking about something (such as a recent run-away or self mutilation) and express their feelings and thoughts in some way. This could be writing, poetry, drawing, etc. Whatever format is used, it then needs to be processed with the teenager. They can then be assisted in identifying early clues and practicing alternative responses. The purpose of this type of activity is to encourage thinking, self-awareness, communication, and planning for different choices in the future.

12. Requesting – When there is a good relationship between the parent and youngster, a simple request to do, or stop doing, something or a re-stating of the expectations is often enough. If over-used, however, it may become less effective, may be experienced by the child as overly controlling, or can slow the process of responsible growth and decision-making skills. Example: "Michelle, we don’t use that type of language here, could you please find a different word?"

13. Rewarding/Reinforcing – Rewarding positive behavior is the best way to ensure its continuation. A common error in parenting is to spend so much time and energy dealing with crises and negative behaviors, that kids who are being responsible can either get "lost" or are tempted to act less responsible to become part of the action.

Rewards can take many forms from simple a comment: "I noticed that you…." or "I really appreciated it when you…" to special time and attention or more concrete things such as a special treat or privilege. For every negative interaction the child experiences, it takes four positive interaction to overcome the effects. Moms and dads need to be very deliberate about maintaining at least a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions every day with every child.

14. RIGHTS – (such as food, clothing, therapy, medical attention, education, and spiritual activities) are NEVER withheld as a consequence. Privileges (such as television, telephone, radio, some activities, free time, visiting with friends, hobbies, walking around the grounds, etc.) may be temporarily withheld as logical consequences and can be powerful incentives for some teenagers.

15. Role Modeling – Most of what kids learn from adults comes from simply observing. All moms and dads are role models to their kids and need to be very conscious of their own behavior. Kids are astute observers of how we treat them, how we relate to each other and how we take care of ourselves.

16. Role Playing/Rehearsing – This technique can be used to practice for an upcoming situation that may be difficult, foreign, or anxiety producing or to re-create a situation that already occurred to experience alternative responses. Examples should include role-playing a situation in which the child was angry and became physically or emotionally abusive; or one in which they demanded or sulked instead of negotiating.

The purpose of the role-play is to practice more acceptable styles of self-expression while still making their intended point. Practicing of this sort will make the desired responses more likely in future similar situations. Role playing can also be used to practice saying something that is difficult or anticipating a variety of responses in order to reduce anxiety.

17. Sequencing – Desirable behaviors can be used as motivating for less desirable ones. For example – "You may watch one hour of approved TV as soon as your book report is satisfactorily completed" or "you may make that phone call as soon as you have finished cleaning up the kitchen." This type of statement helps the Parent avoid power struggles because they did not say, "no." It puts the struggle and control back with the youngster, where it belongs. They can then choose whether or not they will watch TV today and when (within limits). A version of this can be re-stated calmly and compassionately as often as necessary while the child struggles with their choice.

18. Shaping – Shaping behaviors is an approach that breaks skills down into steps and rewards small movements in the right direction. For instance, if you are trying to teach the skill of greeting a visitor, you would ultimately want the child to go through the following series of behaviors: stop what they are doing, stand up, look a the visitor, walk over to them, make eye contact, smile, say "hello," extend their right hand to shake, say "my name is…," etc. To ask for all of that from someone who has never done it before, or who is shy, is asking too much.

So at first they would be rewarded if they momentarily stopped what they were doing when someone new cam in. After a few times they would need to stop what they were doing, stand up and look in the direction of the visitor in order to be praised, and so on. In other words new skills are not all or nothing but are a series of steps to be learned.

19. Substitution – It is never enough to tell children what they can’t do or what behaviors they must stop doing. We must always add what they CAN do instead. Some examples might be ideas such as, "You cannot hit your roommate when you are angry, but you can go for a brisk walk, write in your journal, talk about how you feel, etc." The goal is to replace or substitute an unacceptable behavior with one that is acceptable and still meets the same need. The message should always be, "your needs and feelings are normal and okay and we are here to help you express them in ways that will allow you to be successful and responsible."

20. Teaching Alternatives – A good way to teach children personal responsibility is to spend time brainstorming together about all the possible responses, and predicting the reactions to each response. Instead of telling them what to do and what not to do (which can elicit dependency or oppositional responses); it is useful to spend time exploring different options. For example, instead of saying "don’t say that to your dad" it is better to say something like "that’s one way you could handle it. How do you think he would respond to that?" "Is that the response you want from him?" "How else might you phrase that idea?", etc. If they have trouble coming up with alternatives, you can help out by saying, "Do you want to know what some other people have tried?"

21. Teaching Interactions – Effective parenting requires frequent interactions. Situations, both dramatic and mundane, present themselves continually. Moms and dads, who recognize the golden opportunities in routine living tasks, capitalize upon them by turning them into teaching interactions, build solid relationships, have fewer behavior problems, and receive daily rewards. Problems = teachable moments. Teaching interactions can take several forms such as demonstrating a skill; processing dynamics (such as "have you noticed that when someone doesn’t fulfill their responsibility; others become resentful and peopled become irritable with one another?"); teaching a concept (such as negotiation); or others.

The point is that on-duty parents should always be interacting with children, and the nature of those interactions is teaching; rather than lecturing, punishing, judging, criticizing, doing for, or becoming friends with the youngster. Again, problems = teachable moments.

22. Temporarily Removing One or More Privileges – It is not meaningful or realistic to "remove all privileges." This generally leads to resentment towards the adult and a lack of understanding or personal responsibility. When this technique is chosen, 1) it must be made clear to the teenager exactly which privileges(s) will be removed, 2)why it is being removed, 3) exactly how it will be handled, 4) and for what time period. If there is something they can do to get the privilege(s) reinstated sooner, that should also be clearly explained. Note: this requires more thought and explanation than simply saying, "your grounded."

23. Tolerating Behavior – When establishing a relationship or dealing with multiple behaviors, it may be necessary to tolerate some behaviors temporarily. This is a purposeful, thought-out choice on the part of the parent based upon priorities, values, relationship, age and developmental level of the child involved, current situation, and specific treatment issues. This is not to be confused with passivity, avoiding conflict, letting the youngster "do whatever they want," inconsistently enforcing expectations or other methods that don’t work.

24. Writing Assignments – Education sometimes alters behavior. Examples include researching the long-term effects of smoking or drug usage; talking with teenage parents to learn what sacrifices they have made; learning about a particular culture, religion or disability in order to develop understanding or tolerance, etc. Such an assignment should include considerable thinking, learning, and dialogue with parents, rather than simply writing a certain number of words without much independent thought.

My Aspergers Teen: Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark, my son is 8 years old, diagnosed as high functioning autism aspergers syndrome. At present we are dealing with really bad anxiety, to the point where he cries most days, normally at bed time. He has a really low self esteem and has when he is reprimanded for something he at times says he wants to kill himself. Its really worrying me because he is only 8 and I can only imagine its going to get worse as he does become a teenager.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,

This could not have come at a better time! My 14 year old Aspie son and my husband butt heads quite a bit and my husband is of the old school that you will mind me and you will respect me because I am your father! So I sat down and read out loud your newsletter. I think it made some sense to my husband, hopefully! Thank you! I think as soon as payday comes I will down load your book on Aspie Teens!

G.

Anonymous said...

I have a 17 year old grandson with Aspergers who seems to be in a very
bad situation right now. We are desperately trying to find some help
in this area. My daughter lives about 45 minutes west of Boston, MA.

Sean was diagnosed around the 3rd grade. He had all of the usual
symptons, i.e., he was a dinosaur, pokemon - any character that he
was into at the time. Always a very easy going boy, probably until he
hit high school & things started to change. We always felt he was on
the "lighter" end of Aspergers. He did play baseball in jr. high, and
has run track thru high school..

Things have changed and this past year has definitely been the worst.
He first started to sneak out of the house at night (usually because
of a girlfriend) and hang out all night. The lying and attitude
really started. Also got into a lot of smoking pot. It's been on
thing after another.

He now has a different girlfriend and started doing the same things.
Defiant, beligerant, just plain rude. He does not want to follow any
rules, thinks he should be able to do what he wants and come and go as
he pleases. Last week was just brutal.

As of Monday things calmed down a bit and after a phone call with his
mother he came back home. Also said to her," I love you Mom', which
I'm not sure if he's ever said on his own. They talked for several
hours & really felt that they were back on the right track.

Last nite, came home past curfew with a lip piercing and a totally new
attitude, again, that he could do whatever he wanted. They talked and
got nowhere and in the end he told her that he had no respect for her!

My daughter & her husband really feel they are in a desperate
situation. She called his councilor who has still not called them
back. Would you have any advice of what to do or supply us with some
people in this area that really specialize in Aspergers? They really
need some help,

Anonymous said...

This is better advice than was given when I was a teenager and Autism was so litlte understood. thanks for your guidelines.

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.”

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.

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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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here to read the full article...

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