Kids with Aspergers (high functioning autism) need to have a routine and need to know what is going to happen next at all times. Routine is stabilizing and essential to kids with Aspergers; they get very anxious when they are not prepared for what will happen.
Having a routine and predictability helps kids with Aspergers feel safe. Whether you're trying to figure out how to best help a youngster, creating a routine, using explicit, literal, verbal language to communicate, being aware of sensory issues and trying to minimize them as much as possible, and having lots of love and understanding will go a long way to helping kids with Aspergers navigate the world.
What are some things a parent can do to help?
The most important thing is to be consistent. Kids with Aspergers thrive on routine. Everything needs to be done at the same time, in the same way, every day, as much as possible, to give a sense of safety and security. When there will be a change in routine, tell your youngster as far in advance and explain what will happen.
When you talk to your youngster with Aspergers, you should use a calm and even tone of voice, and use explicit language that says exactly what you mean.
Do not make requests too complicated or ask an Aspergers youngster to do things with too many steps at once. Try to keep your language as literal as possible.
Try to be very verbal. If your youngster does something right, praise them for it. But this advice is definitely not just for kids.
I received this email from an adult which describes how he feels when things get complicated and he begins to meltdown:
“An Aspie is like a juggler who can keep one ball in the air at a time, but struggles with more than one. Right now I am battling with four or five balls (problems) that just do not seem to get resolved and at times, like today, and my mind is on overload and cannot cope - it just goes blank, I forget things, lose things, which are uncharacteristic. Can you recommend anything to help me, please?”
If your youngster has a meltdown, the most important thing to remember when dealing with these situations is to try to figure out what caused them. Your youngster is not doing this to intentionally annoy you; he is doing it because he has reached his limit of tolerance in whatever he is dealing with. If you feel his meltdown was caused by a change in routine, reassure him of the routine for the rest of the day and that the routine will not change the next day, if that is the case.
In the research I conducted for my ebook entitled My Aspergers Child, I interviewed hundreds of parents. The following are specific actions that parents of Aspergers kids told me helps minimize or reduce the likelihood of meltdowns:
"We try not to change anything around him. I try to be with him as much as possible."
"Keeping on a strict schedule and explaining if something will be different, aside from the normal routine."
"We have added visual cues where possible we try not to stray from routine, even when something exciting is happening we created 'retreats' where our son can go to calm down."
"I try to keep some kind of structure. Any change in his routine, will result in a meltdown - from his morning routine all the way to his bedtime."
"We provide warnings (30 minute, 10 minute, 5, etc.) when we know a transition is approaching. We have ‘do overs’ as an opportunity to ‘go back in time’ and make things the way she likes them. We don't raise our voice with her because that causes her to become highly agitated. Instead, we try to be silly and cajole her into calming down."
"We have tried to ‘slow down’ and work around his temperament. We no longer ‘rush’ to do things and try to allow plenty of time because we found that by telling him we were ‘running late’ it only caused him to get more upset. We have tried to cut down/eliminate those items that we know send him on ‘sensory overload.’ We have altered his diet and we are still working at how to lessen/shorten the melt downs as well as what other things trigger them."
"Making changes would be the wrong thing to do in Sara's case. We have had the same routine since she was 2 and any change would pretty much destroy her perfect world."
"We tend to follow the same routine, or sequence of activities, we have to be careful about transitions, make sure that preferred foods are available, he needs very close following to see that homework and other non preferred activities are completed well so use picture schedules at times."
An email from a parent who has tried the strategies outlined in the My Aspergers Child eBook:
"My grandson is 12 and a half. Before the ebook, he would have anger and aggression issues. He would go into his own world and block everyone completely out. He would not listen. He would stare completely right through you as if you were not even there. He would freak out and basically have a temper tantrum. It was a severe temper tantrum like you were dealing with a two year old – like the terrible twos.
You can't go to restaurants. You can't go to the grocery store. You can't go to the movies. You are afraid to go to family functions. You're actually afraid to go anywhere. You get constant phone calls from the school because he is labeled as a "problem youngster." That has been my son all of his life.
After the ebook, he no longer has any meltdowns. I immediately started implementing things and the way that I handled things and I started focusing on all of the positives in his life. The My Aspergers Child eBook helped establish the understanding of what my son goes through – how he sees the world – because I had absolutely no clue. Then around family he is fine because now the family understands because I have explained the situation with them.
The greatest thing that I got out of the My Aspergers Child eBook would be Mark Hutten’s detailed solutions on how to cope with Aspergers, the way he puts it into laymen's terms and understanding how my son sees the world by giving examples. And I think it helped that he has a grandson with Aspergers as well."
My Aspergers Child: How to Prevent Meltdowns