HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Aspergers Newsletters from MyAspergersChild.com [2010 Archive]


In today’s newsletter, I want to share with you the text version of a recent “phone-in” question- and-answer session. Also, I’ve included a great article about The Education System by Matthew Readman (a talented young writer who has Aspergers).

Ready?  O.K.  Let’s go…

What are some common signs or symptoms?

The most distinguishing symptom of AS is a youngster’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other.  Some kids with AS have become experts on vacuum cleaners, makes and models of cars, even objects as odd as deep fat fryers.  Kids with AS want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else.  Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors.  

Kids with AS will gather enormous amounts of factual information about their favorite subject and will talk incessantly about it, but the conversation may seem like a random collection of facts or statistics, with no point or conclusion.  

Their speech may be marked by a lack of rhythm, an odd inflection, or a monotone pitch.  Kids with AS often lack the ability to modulate the volume of their voice to match their surroundings.  For example, they will have to be reminded to talk softly every time they enter a library or a movie theatre.   

Unlike the severe withdrawal from the rest of the world that is characteristic of autism, kids with AS are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests.  In fact, they may approach other people, but make normal conversation impossible by inappropriate or eccentric behavior, or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest.    

Kids with AS usually have a history of developmental delays in motor skills such as pedaling a bike, catching a ball, or climbing outdoor play equipment.   They are often awkward and poorly coordinated with a walk that can appear either stilted or bouncy. 

Many kids with AS are highly active in early youngsterhood, and then develop anxiety or depression in young adulthood.  Other conditions that often co-exist with AS are ADHD, tic disorders (such as Tourette syndrome), depression, anxiety disorders, and OCD.    

What causes AS? Is it genetic?


Current research points to brain abnormalities as the cause of AS.  Using advanced brain imaging techniques, scientists have revealed structural and functional differences in specific regions of the brains of normal versus AS kids.  These defects are most likely caused by the abnormal migration of embryonic cells during fetal development that affects brain structure and “wiring” and then goes on to affect the neural circuits that control thought and behavior. 

For example, one study found a reduction of brain activity in the frontal lobe of AS kids when they were asked to respond to tasks that required them to use their judgment.  Another study found differences in activity when kids were asked to respond to facial expressions.  A different study investigating brain function in adults with AS revealed abnormal levels of specific proteins that correlate with obsessive and repetitive behaviors.  

Scientists have always known that there had to be a genetic component to AS and the other ASDs because of their tendency to run in families.    Additional evidence for the link between inherited genetic mutations and AS was observed in the higher incidence of family members who have behavioral symptoms similar to AS but in a more limited form.  For example, they had slight difficulties with social interaction, language, or reading. 

A specific gene for AS, however, has never been identified.  Instead, the most recent research indicates that there are most likely a common group of genes whose variations or deletions make an individual vulnerable to developing AS.  This combination of genetic variations or deletions will determine the severity and symptoms for each individual with AS.

How is it diagnosed?


The diagnosis of AS is complicated by the lack of a standardized diagnostic screen or schedule.  In fact, because there are several screening instruments in current use, each with different criteria, the same youngster could receive different diagnoses, depending on the screening tool the doctor uses.  

To further complicate the issue, some doctors believe that AS is not a separate and distinct disorder.  Instead, they call it high-functioning autism (HFA), and view it as being on the mild end of the ASD spectrum with symptoms that differ -- only in degree -- from classic autism.  Some clinicians use the two diagnoses, AS or HFA, interchangeably.  This makes gathering data about the incidence of AS difficult, since some kids will be diagnosed with HFA instead of AS, and vice versa. 

Most doctors rely on the presence of a core group of behaviors to alert them to the possibility of a diagnosis of AS.   These are: 

  • a lack of interactive play
  • a lack of interest in peers
  • abnormal eye contact
  • aloofness
  • the failure to turn when called by name
  • the failure to use gestures to point or show

Some of these behaviors may be apparent in the first few months of a youngster’s life, or they may appear later.  Problems in at least one of the areas of communication and socialization or repetitive, restricted behavior must be present before the age of 3.  

The diagnosis of AS is a two-stage process.  The first stage begins with developmental screening during a “well-youngster” check-up with a family doctor or pediatrician.  The second stage is a comprehensive team evaluation to either rule in or rule out AS.    This team generally includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and additional professionals who have expertise in diagnosing kids with AS.   

The comprehensive evaluation includes neurologic and genetic assessment, with in-depth cognitive and language testing to establish IQ and evaluate psychomotor function, verbal and non-verbal strengths and weaknesses, style of learning, and independent living skills.    An assessment of communication strengths and weaknesses includes evaluating non-verbal forms of communication (gaze and gestures); the use of non-literal language (metaphor, irony, absurdities, and humor); patterns of inflection, stress and volume modulation; pragmatics (turn-taking and sensitivity to verbal cues); and the content, clarity, and coherence of conversation.  The physician will look at the testing results and combine them with the youngster’s developmental history and current symptoms to make a diagnosis.

Are there treatments available?

The ideal treatment for AS coordinates therapies that address the three core symptoms of the disorder:  poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness.  There is no single best treatment package for all kids with AS, but most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better. 

An effective treatment program builds on the youngster’s interests, offers a predictable schedule, teaches tasks as a series of simple steps, actively engages the youngster’s attention in highly structured activities, and provides regular reinforcement of behavior.  This kind of program generally includes:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of “talk” therapy that can help the more explosive or anxious kids to manage their emotions better and cut back on obsessive interests and repetitive routines
  • medication, for co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety
  • occupational or physical therapy, for kids with sensory integration problems or poor motor coordination
  • parent training and support, to teach moms and dads behavioral techniques to use at home
  • social skills training, a form of group therapy that teaches kids with AS the skills they need to interact more successfully with other kids
  • specialized speech/language therapy, to help kids who have trouble with the pragmatics of speech – the give and take of normal conversation

Do kids with AS get better? What happens when they become adults?


With effective treatment, kids with AS can learn to cope with their disabilities, but they may still find social situations and personal relationships challenging.  Many adults with AS are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs, although they may continue to need encouragement and moral support to maintain an independent life.

Since there are so many different forms of ASD, understanding the genetic basis of each opens the door to opportunities for more precise diagnosis and treatment. Knowing the genetic profile of a particular disorder could mean early identification of those at risk, and early intervention when treatments and therapies are likely to be the most successful.



For more information on neurological disorders or research programs funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, contact the Institute's Brain Resources and Information Network (BRAIN) at:

MAAP Services for Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and PDD
P.O. Box 524
Crown Point, IN   46307
info@maapservices.org
http://www.maapservices.org
Tel: 219-662-1311
Fax: 219-662-0638


Autism Society of America
7910 Woodmont Ave.
Suite 300
Bethesda, MD   20814-3067
http://www.autism-society.org
Tel: 301-657-0881 800-3AUTISM (328-8476)
Fax: 301-657-0869

Autism Research Institute (ARI)
4182 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA   92116
director@autism.com
http://www.autismresearchinstitute.com
Tel: 866-366-3361
Fax: 619-563-6840

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6001 Executive Blvd. Rm. 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD   20892-9663
nimhinfo@nih.gov
http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Tel: 301-443-4513/866-415-8051 301-443-8431 (TTY)
Fax: 301-443-4279

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD   20892-3456
nidcdinfo@nidcd.nih.gov
http://www.nidcd.nih.gov
Tel: 800-241-1044 800-241-1055 (TTD/TTY)

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Here’s a great article about The Education System by Matthew Readman (a talented young writer who has Aspergers):

This article is on our education system.   I do not understand how our school system works.   I have been told that every child has the right to an education.   I believe in this fully.  What I do not understand is why some children are treated differently than others.   This year I started in a new school for enrichment studies.   Almost everyone in my class has an Individual Evaluation Plan (IEP).  This is a piece of paper you sit down with your parents and teachers to explain the problems you have and how your needs and difficulties are suppose to handled in the classroom.  i.e.   I need a safe place to go so I can calm down when I am angry.    What gets me real mad is we have a student in our class who yells and disrespects the teacher.  This student is thrown out of class almost every day.  Does this upset me YES!!!!   I guess you can say one of my “needs” is to follow orders, and it gets me mad when this child disrupts the class all the time.

As you would have guessed this kid and I are arch enemies.  We believe in total opposite things.  I believe you listen to the teacher, do your work and be quiet, as for him, the complete opposite.  This kid also has a violence problem.  When he gets mad he hits people.  He has hit me quite a few times, and after the 5th time I finally hit him back.   But who gets in trouble me!!!!  Why, because I should have known better not to hit, because the kid who hit me has a “violent problem”.

This is what I don’t understand when does one child’s disability more important than someone else’s?

Why do teachers and principals allow so such misconduct in the school over one child?  What about the rights of all the other children with IEP’s.  Basically it comes down to in my mind is a school will attend to the needs of children who are violent (bullies), before a child who actually needs coaching.   My mom always says “a squeaky wheel always gets heard” Does this mean you have to be a total jerk in class so you can get the teachers full attention?

I know for a fact that my IEP and other students in our class are not being met.  We are put in the back burner to this child.   So what options do we have?   If we complain I think our teacher will have nervous breakdown.    She is getting close because she cannot control this child.  Write a letter to the principal?  We did this and explained that this child is ruining our learning environment.  Again, the principal states very clearly every child has a right to an education.  What I am hoping is if my readers can maybe give us some other suggestions how kids can fight the school system on their own without getting parents involved.  We want to fight this on our own. Please add any comments or ideas on: MyAspergersChild.com.

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Hope this newsletter was helpful! 

Also - If you haven’t downloaded my eBook on preventing meltdowns, you may to consider doing so – especially if your Asperger youngster has frequent and/or severe temper tantrums.

See you in a few days…

God bless you and your family,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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I want to share with you a recent post from MyAspergersChild.com.  In this post, a parent asks for advice re: her ASD child and his meltdowns – and gets a great response from someone who has Aspergers.  Cool – right?  Here is the question along with the really good answer:


Question from the parent—

Hi, J is 9 and recently diagnosed ASD, TS, Visual Impairment.

We are having extreme meltdowns right now. I just don't know what is real and what is not anymore. Before the diagnosis I was kind of sure what was just bad behaviour and what might be ASD related and I felt he was pushing the limits and most of the time felt he knew what he was doing.

I'll give the scenario of tonights meltdown (bear with me):

J goes to kitchen to make a milkshake, there is enough for one more only, so he shots out to his 3 yr old sister (who he bullies dawn to dusk) that he is having the last one and there will be no more left. Not happy with that he brings the empty pot in and shows her its empty. I tell him to go out of the room and stop winding his sister up. He returns with his milkshake and sits on arm of sofa and starts rocking his legs and I can sense he is looking at me whilst i'm trying to ignore it waiting for me to react. In the end I did and asked him to move to the other sofa which he did and then started blowing bubbles.

His dad asks him to stop and he throws his head back and in a baby voice shouts back No, Make me, i'm not doing, shut up punk. Then he hides himself behind the curtain and I get up and physically take him out of the room and shut the door behind him.

He then loses control, kicks, punches everything and anything on his way up the stairs then stands at the top banging his head against the wall, kicking the walls and biting the bannisters. Recently he said he doesn't want to be left alone when he is like that so I go to him and try to comfort him but he is too far gone and it needs to runs its course. His whole body is stiff and he can't scream any louder he is so angry.

Eventually, after about 30 mins he is calm enough to talk to and comfort.

This seems to start with such a trivial thing, and I could ignore the bad behaviour and then there would be no meltdown but I don't feel that is the right thing to do. I end up looking at him and haven't a clue what to do for him, everything I try just doesn't make any difference and all the time thinking my god if I dont get control here soon it will be too late to make any impact.

Is this just bad behaviour or is this ASD/TS related. I can't find any useful book which will help me with this. I am being referred to my local CAMHS, will they be able to help with this? If I knew it was just plain bad behaviour I can be tougher but what are the meltdowns doing to J, surely it can't be a good thing for him?

Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.
XX


Answer from an adult with Aspergers—

A meltdown is a condition where the Aspie temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors.

It generally appears that the aspie has lost control over a single and specific issue however this is very rarely the case. Usually, the problem is the accumulation of a number of irritations which could span a fairly long period of time, particularly given the strong long-term memory facilities of the aspie.

Aspies don't tend to give a lot of clues that they are very irritated;
  • their facial expressions very often will not convey the irritation

  • their vocal tones will often remain flat even when they are fairly annoyed.

  • Some things which annoy aspies would not be considered annoying to neurotypicals. This makes NT's less likely to pick up on a potential problem.

  • Often Aspie grievances are aired as part of their normal conversation and may even be interpreted by NTs as part of their standard whinge.

The meltdown appears to most people as a tantrum or dummy spit. There are marked differences between adults and children.

Children tend to flop onto the ground and shout, scream or cry. Quite often, they will display violent behaviour such as hitting or kicking.

In adults, due to social pressures, violent behaviour in public is less common. Shouting outbursts or emotional displays however can occur. More often though, it leads to depression and the aspie simply retreats into themselves and abandons social contact.

Some aspies describe the meltdown as a red or grey band across the eyes. I've certainly experienced this. There is a loss of control and a feeling of being a powerless observer outside the body. This can be dangerous as the aspie may strike out, particularly if the instigator is nearby or if they are taunted during a meltdown.

Sometimes, depression is the only outward visible sign of a meltdown. At other times, depression results when the aspie leaves their meltdown state and confronts the results of the meltdown. The depression is a result of guilt over abusive, shouting or violent behaviour. I will cover depression in a different post.

There's not a great deal of that you can do when a meltdown occurs in a very young child. Probably the very best thing that you can do at their youngest ages is to train yourself to recognize a meltdown before it happens and take steps to avoid it.

Example: Aspies are quite possessive about their food and my youngest will sometimes decide that he does not want his meat to be cut up for him. When this happens, taking his plate from him and cutting his meat could cause a tantrum. The best way to deal with this is to avoid touching it for the first part of the meal until he starts to want your involvement. When this occurs, instead of taking his plate from him, it is more effective to lean over and help him to cut the first piece. Once he has cut the first piece with help, he will often allow the remaining pieces to be cut for him though I would still recommend that his plate not be moved.

Once the child reaches an age where they can understand, probably around seven years give or take a few. You can work on explaining the situation. One way you could do this would be to discreetly videotape a meltdown and allow them to watch it at a later date. You could then discuss the incident, explain why it isn't socially acceptable and give them some alternatives.

When I was little, I remember that the single best motivation for keeping control was once, when my mother called me in after play and talked about the day. In particular, she highlighted an incident where I had fallen over and hurt myself. She said, "did you see how your friend started to go home as soon as you fell over because they were scared that you were going to have a tantrum". She went on to say, "When you got up and laughed, they were so happy that they came racing back. I'm proud of you for not losing your temper".

I carried this with me for years later and would always strive to contain myself. I wouldn't always succeed but at least I was trying.

One of the most important things to realize is that Meltdowns are part of the Aspergers condition. They can't avoid them, merely try to reduce the damage. Punishing an aspie for a meltdown is like punishing someone for swearing when they hit their thumb with a hammer. It won't do any good whatsoever and can only serve to increase the distance between you and your child.

In addition, meltdowns aren't wholly caused by the current scenario but are usually the result of an overwhelming number of other issues. The one which "causes" the meltdown is the "straw that breaks the camels back". Unless you're a mind reader, you won't necessarily know what the other factors are and your aspie child may not be able to fully communicate the problem.

Meltdowns are part and parcel of Aspergers - they are NOT the result of poor parenting.


See ya next week with another newsletter,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


P.S. Have you checked out The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook? I think you’ll be really pleased with it – give it a try!  :)


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Welcome to today’s newsletter: a great article about The Education System by Matthew Readman (a talented young writer who has Aspergers):

This article is on our education system.   I do not understand how our school system works.   I have been told that every child has the right to an education.   I believe in this fully.  What I do not understand is why some children are treated differently than others.   This year I started in a new school for enrichment studies.   Almost everyone in my class has an Individual Evaluation Plan (IEP).  This is a piece of paper you sit down with your parents and teachers to explain the problems you have and how your needs and difficulties are suppose to handled in the classroom.  i.e.   I need a safe place to go so I can calm down when I am angry.    What gets me real mad is we have a student in our class who yells and disrespects the teacher.  This student is thrown out of class almost every day.  Does this upset me YES!!!!   I guess you can say one of my “needs” is to follow orders, and it gets me mad when this child disrupts the class all the time.

As you would have guessed this kid and I are arch enemies.  We believe in total opposite things.  I believe you listen to the teacher, do your work and be quiet, as for him, the complete opposite.  This kid also has a violence problem.  When he gets mad he hits people.  He has hit me quite a few times, and after the 5th time I finally hit him back.   But who gets in trouble me!!!!  Why, because I should have known better not to hit, because the kid who hit me has a “violent problem”.

This is what I don’t understand when does one child’s disability more important than someone else’s?

Why do teachers and principals allow so such misconduct in the school over one child?  What about the rights of all the other children with IEP’s.  Basically it comes down to in my mind is a school will attend to the needs of children who are violent (bullies), before a child who actually needs coaching.   My mom always says “a squeaky wheel always gets heard” Does this mean you have to be a total jerk in class so you can get the teachers full attention?

I know for a fact that my IEP and other students in our class are not being met.  We are put in the back burner to this child.   So what options do we have?   If we complain I think our teacher will have nervous breakdown.    She is getting close because she cannot control this child.  Write a letter to the principal?  We did this and explained that this child is ruining our learning environment.  Again, the principal states very clearly every child has a right to an education.  What I am hoping is if my readers can maybe give us some other suggestions how kids can fight the school system on their own without getting parents involved.  We want to fight this on our own. Please add any comments or ideas on the blog: MyAspergersChild.com
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In today’s newsletter, I want to talk about why Aspergers children should meditate – that’s right – “meditate”.

The development of controlled focus by youngsters who are within the autism spectrum, specifically Aspergers, is always a matter of great concern to parents. Without the ability to direct their focus and concentration where they have need of it, our children are effectively disabled. In adult life, we need to be able to remember to pay bills and remember instructions from employers. Without the ability to self-regulate this is extremely difficult. As a father with a son who falls within the spectrum of Aspergers, it’s a subject I have given a great deal of thought and research. He is also approaching his teen years, which are difficult for everyone. I don't want him to lose his originality, either, and it is a tough line to walk.

My concern is not whether he’ll go to college or become President, but whether (once married) he will make his wife miserable with his lack of empathy. I wonder whether anyone will hire him, even at minimum wage, if he can’t stay on task. It’s not that he’s not capable of working or listening, but that he doesn’t start unless constantly and continually prompted to do so. This is a serious handicap.

I meditate myself and have long thought that training the mind in methods of concentration would help him immensely. At first I thought that sitting still would be the biggest problem, but once we started doing it together I discovered that the abstract nature of the instructions were a far more serious barrier.

It should be noted that in this case of using meditation for a specific therapy, it should be practiced as a family ideally or at least with one parent. Making a child with this syndrome sit still for extended periods of time by himself will do little for concentration and will probably increase frustration with the practice. To them, it would be like mild torture.


If you are not a meditator yourself, I recommend practicing meditation yourself for at least a month to understand how it works, preferably without discussing it with the youngster. By doing it first yourself and lending an air of mystery to it by not explaining what you are doing often (as with my son) inspires the youngster to ask questions. By allowing him to participate in a “grownup” activity, it also lent an air of importance and gravity to the activity that helped with the act of sitting. Take some deep relaxing breaths as you settle with a smile on your face- maybe a little exaggerated- within view of where the youngster is to arouse his curiosity. Remember- don’t answer any questions. At most, say something like “I’ll tell you when you’re a little older,” or “You’re not quite ready for this yet.” If you are a teacher, allowing them to see you practicing in this way briefly every day before you teach it to them has the same effect- to inspire curiosity.

There are many meditations, but I recommend beginning with the “concentration meditation”. It is by far the simplest to understand. Start small- ten minutes or so daily, and do it at a time of day when you are least tired and have some privacy. Simply rest your attention on the breath “touch point”- wherever you most feel your breath. For some it is the tip of the nose or the inside of the nostril or the upper lip, etc. Any time your mind wanders, let go of that thought without getting involved with it and come back to the touch point. That’s all there is to it to start.


The Meditation—


Color is the main focus in this meditation. It was recommended to me that you paint a large circle on a paper or a wall. Use white, yellow, black, or red paint, preferably oils or watercolor. Red indicates beauty, yellow is energy, black is relaxation, and white is peace. Use pure colors, red like a shiny bright apple, yellow like the sun, black or dark midnight blue, or pure white. No mixed colors - let them be bright and clear. The outside of the circle should be white or black for contrast, and the outer rim should be smooth and uniform, and brush strokes should be as invisible as possible to that one is not distracted by imperfections. I wondered for a moment if I couldn't get a printed circle, but it would feel different than one you made yourself. In a pinch, though, I’m sure a circle cut out or printed will do, if you don’t have time or money to do it the other way.

Hang it on the wall and assume meditation posture or sit on a chair in front of it- not too far to be able to easily observe other things, not too close to be uncomfortable- just close enough to have one's vision mostly dominated by it. Gaze into the middle of the circle for a few minutes and then close your eyes. Try and bring up as clearly as you can the circle. As your concentration improves, the color will appear in your mind more and more brilliant, eventually (with the red) appearing like a sparkling ruby alive with light. This also helps to increase the desire to practice because it is so incredibly beautiful. It does take time for this phenomenon to develop, but I have seen it firsthand. Don't tell the children this, though- they will think they are doing something wrong if they don't see it immediately. Allow it to arise on its own, and congratulate them if they see it. It can come startlingly clear, very suddenly, into focus. The first time I saw it, I gasped.

Communication on what, exactly, I wanted him to do in his mind was a bit of a problem. Every youngster is different, but this is what worked with my son. I got him to picture a cartoon character with his imagination, doing something silly. Saying “make it appear in your mind” only confused him. Make sure you use language the youngster can already understand, as new terms and concepts are going to get in the way of the meditation. Then, I told him to replace that picture in his imagination with the circle, and to just work on bringing that object clearly into his mind, make that red as bright as possible. Don’t use imagery the youngster usually obsesses about, like trains in many cases, because they will likely stay on that image instead of the meditation object (color circle).

Start for one minute and add a minute or two a week, no more, even if they ask for more time (my son did). Use a timer. Allow the youngster earn the extra time with compliance. After the first few weeks, they look forward to the time meditating as the most relaxing time of the day. Some results in more skillfully directed focus should be apparent, if you are doing it correctly, in a few weeks. This is not a replacement for speech therapy or occupational therapy, just an extra tool that will hopefully make it easier for your youngster to gain control of his or her mind, and skillfully use their most valuable tool.

Consistency is key! Make the time to do it every day (or night) or the youngster will see it as a game instead as a serious mental training. This can’t be equated with the “Quiet Game” that my parents used to play with me on long car trips. Allow the youngster to slowly realize that he is responsible for his own mind- no one can train it for him. This is, without a doubt, the best medicine.


I hope you find the idea of meditation interesting – if not helpful.


Mark Hutten, M.A.




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In this week’s newsletter, I want to expose you to some reasons why your Aspergers child behaves the way he or she does. You may be surprised. Ready?  O.K.  Let’s go…

Motivation Behind the Behavior—

You need to understand what your youngster or adolescent is thinking, how he interprets what is going on, and how his deficits cause problems before you can begin any intervention strategy. Do not rush into action until you have collected enough information and analyzed what is going on. If you do not know the reasons behind the behavior, you may very likely do the wrong thing. If you know what is going on, you can help things go better.

Realizing that your youngster will not be a good observer of his behavior is your first step. The Aspergers youngster often does not know what to do in a situation. He does not know the appropriate behavior because he doesn't understand how the world works. Or, if he knows a better solution, he cannot use it because he becomes "stuck."

Not knowing what to do, or being unable to do what is appropriate, results in anxiety that leads to additional ineffective and inappropriate actions. An Aspergers behavior is usually a result of this anxiety, which leads to difficulty moving on and letting go of an issue and "getting stuck" on something. This is rigidity, and it is the most common reason for behavioral problems. See the sidebar for a list of reasons for rigidity. You must deal with rigidity and replace it with flexibility early on in your plan to help your youngster. Flexibility is a skill that can be taught, and you will make this a major part of your efforts to help your youngster.

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 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 youngster 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 youngster cannot be perfect, 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.

Note: Attention-getting is very rarely seen. It should not be considered as a reason for rigidity until all of the above reasons have been considered and eliminated.

Understanding your youngster involves knowing the Aspergers characteristics discussed earlier and how they manifest themselves in everyday behaviors. How does your youngster or adolescent see the world, think about matters, and react to what is going on around him? The following reasons will help you understand "why he acts the way he does."

Not Understanding How the World Works—

Your Aspergers youngster has a neuro-cognitive disorder that affects many areas of functioning. This includes a difficulty with the basic understanding of the rules of society, especially if they are not obvious. Life has many of these rules. Some are written, some are spoken, and some are learned through observation and intuition. Your youngster only knows what has been directly taught to him through books, movies, TV shows, the Internet, and explicit instructions. He is not able to sit in a room, observe what is happening, and understand social cues, implied directions, or how to "read between the lines," and as he is growing up, he does not learn how to do this. Instead, he learns facts. He does not "take in" what is happening around him that involves the rest of the world, only what directly impacts him.

Many of the conversations he has had have generally been about knowledge and facts, not about feelings, opinions, and interactions. As a result, he does not really know how the world works and what one is supposed to do in various situations. This can apply to even the smallest situations you might take for granted. Not knowing the unspoken rules of situations causes anxiety and upset. This leads to many of the behavioral issues that appear as the Aspergers youngster tries to impose his own sense of order on a world he doesn't understand.

The Aspergers youngster creates his own set of rules for everyday functioning to keep things from changing and thereby minimize his anxiety. Sometimes, he just makes up the rules when it is convenient. Other times, he attempts to make them up by looking for patterns, rules, or the logic of a situation to make it less chaotic for him and more predictable and understandable. If there are no rules for an event or situation, he will create them from his own experiences based on what he has read, seen, or heard. He will often have a great deal of information to use in reaching his conclusions and forming his opinions and feelings. As a result, some of his conclusions are correct and some are wrong.

He will rarely consider someone else's point of view if he does not consider them to be an "expert." The fewer people he sees as experts, the more behavioral difficulty you will see. He might consider teachers and others to be experts, but his moms and dads will rarely be seen as such. Therefore, he will argue with you about your opinions if different from his own. He thinks that his opinion is as good as yours, so he chooses his. This represents his rigid thinking. He finds it difficult to be flexible and consider alternate views, especially if he has already reached a conclusion. New ideas can be difficult to accept ("I'd rather do it the way I've always done it"). Being forced to think differently can cause a lot of anxiety.

You must never overestimate your Aspergers youngster's understanding of a situation because of his high intellectual ability or his other strengths. He is a boy who needs to figure out how the world works. He needs a road map and the set of instructions, one example at a time.

Frames of Reference—
 
In trying to understand how the world works, your youngster tries to make sense of your explanations, but sometimes is not able to do this. As a result, your effort at intervening falls short. This can occur because your explanation has no meaning. Each Aspergers youngster can only understand things for which they have a frame of reference, meaning they have a picture or idea about this from other sources or from prior discussions. They cannot understand what you will tell them without this frame of reference. For example, when I asked a teenage boy if he missed his moms and dads when he was at overnight camp for a week, he replied that it was not all that long. When I asked him again if he missed them, he said he could e-mail them whenever he wanted. After my third attempt to get an answer he finally said to me, "I can't answer that question. Since I have never missed anyone before, I have nothing against which I can compare my feelings to know what missing feels like." In the next few chapters we will explain how to give your youngster or adolescent a new frame of reference.


Preferred and Non-preferred Activities—
 
For all Aspergers individuals, life tends to be divided into two categories – preferred and non-preferred activities. Preferred activities are those things he engages in frequently and with great intensity. He seeks them out without any external motivation. However, not all of his preferred activities are equal. Some are much more highly desired and prized. An activity that is lower on the list can never be used as a motivator for one that is higher. For example, you cannot get him to substitute his video game playing by offering a food reward if the game playing is higher on his list.

Any activity that is not preferred can be considered non-preferred. They are less desirable and many are avoided. The lower they are on the list of desirability, the more he will resist or avoid doing them. Sometimes an activity or task becomes non-preferred because it is made to compete with one that is much more highly valued. For example, taking a bath could be enjoyable, but if your youngster is reading, and reading is higher on his list, he will resist or throw a tantrum.

Preferred and non-preferred activities are always problem areas. Your youngster or teen will always want to engage in preferred activities even when you have something more important for him to do. He does not want to end preferred activities and your attempts to have him end them can produce upset of one kind or another. On the other hand, trying to get him to do non-preferred activities, such as interacting socially, can also be difficult. If many non-preferred elements are combined together, the problem can become a nightmare, such as with homework.

The Aspergers youngster rarely has activities he just likes. He tends to either love or hate an activity. The middle ground is usually missing. Teaching a middle ground or shades of gray can be a goal and will be discussed later. Also, as you try to teach him something new, you will encounter resistance because you are asking him to do something that's not a preferred activity. But, as he outgrows younger interests, he will need to learn new ones in order to have some common interests with his peers. He needs to experience new things to see if he likes them, but may not want to do this just because you're asking him to do something new. He already has his list of preferred interests and will rarely see the need for anything new. Quite often, his preferred list will include computer or video games. However, the more he is on the computer or the more he plays video games, the less available he is to be in the real world and learn something new. Most likely, you will have to control his access to preferred activities if new ones are to be introduced.

Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors and Anxiety—

Obsessive-compulsive issues, also referred to as rituals, rigidity, perseverations, rules, or black-and-white thinking, originate in the Aspergers person's difficulty understanding the world around him. This creates anxiety, the underlying cause for his obsessive-compulsive behaviors. You will see anxiety in many different ways, depending on how your youngster manifests it. Some kids will show it in obvious ways, such as crying, hiding under furniture, or clinging to you. Others show it by trying to control the situation and bossing people around. Some may hit or throw a tantrum. Some may act silly. No matter how your youngster displays his anxiety, you need to recognize that it is there and not assume it is due to some other cause such as attention seeking or just plain misbehavior.

Anxiety can occur for the smallest reason. Don't judge anxiety-producing situations by your own reaction to an event. Your youngster will be much more sensitive to situations than you will be, and often there will be no logical reason for his anxiety. Something that you would be anxious about causes no anxiety in your youngster, while a small event causes him to be quite anxious. When events change, he never knows what is going to come next and he becomes confused and upset, leading to some form of inappropriate behavior.

Your youngster's first reaction is to try to reduce or eliminate his anxiety. He must do something, and one of the most effective means is to take all changes, uncertainty, and variability out of the equation. This can be accomplished by obsessions. If everything is done a certain way, if there is a definite and unbreakable rule for every event, and if everyone does as he wishes, everything will be fine. Anxiety is then diminished or reduced, and no upset, tantrums, or meltdowns occur.

Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to do this in the real world. Nevertheless, anxiety needs to be dealt with in some manner. This is the first order of business in planning for many interventions. If you move ahead before this has been settled, it will continue to be a significant interfering factor. Let's look at some examples of this.

Sam, age seventeen, won't leave the house because he wants to have his nails in a certain condition. This condition requires many hours of grooming that interfere with sleeping, eating, and doing just about anything else. This is obsessive-compulsive behavior. Any attempt to get him to leave the house or stop his nail maintenance causes anxiety and is rarely successful.

Anytime Max, age eleven, hears an answer that he does not like, he becomes upset. If he asks a question or makes a request and the other person's response is not what he expected, he starts to argue with them, often acting out physically. He must have certain answers that are to his liking. This is rigidity in thought and it is also obsessive-compulsive.

Each of these cases has a cognitive and a behavioral component, and both must be considered. Each youngster must learn to get "unstuck" or let go of an issue and move on. They also need to learn how to change their thinking so that it doesn't become a problem to begin with.

Behavioral Manifestations of Anxiety—

  • Becoming easily overwhelmed and having difficulty calming down.
  • Creating their own set of rules for doing something.
  • Demanding unrealistic perfection in their handwriting, or wanting to avoid doing any writing.
  • Demonstrating unusual fears, anxiety, tantrums, and showing resistance to directions from others.
  • Displaying a good deal of silly behaviors because they are anxious or do not know what to do in a situation.
  • Eating a narrow range of foods.
  • Having a narrow range of interests, and becoming fixated on certain topics and/or routines.
  • Having trouble playing and socializing well with peers or avoiding socializing altogether. They prefer to be alone because others do not do things exactly as they do.
  • Insisting on having things and/or events occur in a certain way.
  • Intensely disliking loud noises and crowds.
  • Lecturing others or engaging in a monologue rather than having a reciprocal conversation.
  • Preferring to do the same things over and over.
  • Reacting poorly to new events, transitions, or changes.
  • Remaining in a fantasy world a good deal of the time and appearing unaware of events around them.
  • Tending to conserve energy and put forth the least effort they can, except with highly preferred activities.
  • Wanting things to go their way, when they want them to, no matter what anyone else may want. They may argue, throw a tantrum, ignore you, growl, refuse to yield, etc.

Black-and-White Thinking and Mind-blindness—

The obsessive-compulsive approach to life results in the narrow range of interests and insistence on set routines typical of an Aspergers youngster. However, it usually starts as a cognitive (thinking) issue before it becomes a behavioral one. Cognitive issues, such as the inability to take someone else's perspective (mind-blindness) and the lack of cognitive flexibility (black-and-white thinking), cause many of the behaviors we see. We know there is a cognitive element by looking at the youngster's behaviors. There is always some distress, anxiety, or obsession manifested in every inappropriate behavior.

As mentioned, your youngster's cognitive difficulties lead to inaccurate interpretations and understanding of the world. How someone interprets a situation determines how he will respond to it. Many times the interpretation of an event is either not an accurate one or not one that leads to positive or pro-social actions. If the event can be reinterpreted for him, it might lead to a more productive outcome. In doing this, we must first try to understand how the individual interprets a situation. All of the individual's behaviors are filtered through his perception of the way the world works.

Try to answer all the questions below to see which explanation fits the situation the best. Each of these questions represents a problematic way of thinking for your youngster. As a result of your questioning, it should become clearer that your youngster is engaging in a nonproductive interpretation and that correcting this faulty thinking with a more positive interpretation could lead to a more positive action. Remember, details are extremely important in trying to understand what is happening and what to do about it. Do not try to intervene until you understand, at least to a small degree, what is happening with your youngster. Changing thinking becomes a paramount issue, but one that is often neglected. However, successful changes in thinking will dramatically increase the success rate of any strategy you use.

Questions to Ask about Your Youngster's Behavior—

To help you determine the reasons why your youngster acts the way he does, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Because a situation was one way the first time, does he feel it has to be that way always? (Being rule bound.)
  2. Does he need to be taught a better way to deal with a problem? (He does not understand the way the world works.)
  3. Does he see only two choices to a situation rather than many options? (Black-and-white thinking.)
  4. Has he made a rule that can't be followed? (He sees only one way to solve a problem. He cannot see alternatives.)
  5. Is he blaming you for something that is beyond your control? (He feels that you must solve the problem for him even when it involves issues you have no control over.)
  6. Is he exaggerating the importance of an event? There are no small events, everything that goes wrong is a catastrophe. (Black-and-white thinking.)
  7. Is he expecting perfection in himself? (Black-and-white thinking.)
  8. Is he misunderstanding what is happening and assuming something that isn't true? (Misinterpretation.)
  9. Is he stuck on an idea and can't let it go? (He does not know how to let go and move on when there is a problem.)


See you next week,

Mark

P.S. You may be interested in my eBook on “Preventing Meltdowns in Aspergers Children.” Hope you enjoy it.



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In today’s newsletter, I’d like to talk briefly about Aspergers children and the “rules” they tend to create (consciously or unconsciously).

Aspergers Children and “Rules”—

Much has been made in the literature about the rigidity of the Aspergers child. A good example of this is their "resistance to change". Often the observed behavior isn't a resistance to change, but a binding to a particular rule or rule set.


The Aspergers child is, to a certain extent, controlled by rules. The impact of these invisible rules on their behavior should not be underestimated. It is often a source of conflict and can also be the source of Aspergers depression.


Where do these Rules come from?

The majority of the child's rules come from their own environment. They can be communicated directly or implied. In some cases, the Aspergers child will completely misunderstand directions and create an internal rule that isn't necessarily in their best interests. Changing these rules is difficult, especially when they've been in force for an extended period.


Here’s a story that represents a good example of what I’m talking about sent to me by an adult with Aspergers:

“When I was quite young, a grandparent saw a boy give me a "suck" on his chupa-chop (a lolly on a stick). Obviously, to an adult, this is quite disgusting. I was called inside immediately and lectured at length about germs and sharing food. As a direct result of this discussion, food non-sharing rules came into being and over time they grew in strength.

This caused quite a number of social problems at school. The other children would ask me for food if my mother had given me lunch money. I was unable to even share chips. I would point out to the other children that I never ever asked them for anything but it still caused a lot of problems and I lost quite a few "friends" because of it.

The longer the rule stayed in force and unchallenged, the stronger it got. I quickly got to the point where I couldn't eat food from someone else's plate (I still have great difficulty doing this). Worst of all, it kick-started a period where I couldn't eat my food if it had been "looked at" by a sibling. My mother told my poor sister that she wasn't allowed to look at my food at breakfast.

The worst of these rules disappeared after a couple of years, but I still struggle with the oldest parts of them. I still have difficulty if one of children tries to take something from my plate.”


Rules in Adults with Aspergers—

Adults who are aware of their condition can use their rules to great advantage. For example; if there is a need to lose weight and the adult with Aspergers creates sensible rules about eating, they will not be able to break them easily. Note: This can be dangerous if the rules aren't well thought out and malnutrition could result.

Other rules could include priorities at work. These are the sorts of rules which are seen by practitioners as "resistance to change". Contrary to opinion, they're not a result of the Aspergers individual clinging to the old ways because they want to.


What can moms and dads do?

Recognize the power of rules and help your Aspergers child to recognize them too. Understanding these rules is the key to using them wisely.

Try to figure out what rules are in place. This must usually be done by observation as the younger child probably won't realize that they are following rules. Even adults with Aspergers don't have a list of rules handy.

Foster a belief that rules sometimes need to change.

Watch rules carefully to determine if they are "tightening" and challenge them if they appear to be having any negative impact. If possible, try to redefine the boundaries of the existing rule.

See you in a few days,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

 

Parent's Strategies A - Z



Send Your Child to Camp: Asperger's/Autism Camp


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Today I want to look at some quick – yet effective – strategies to deal with Aspergers behaviors. Ready?  O.K.  Let’s go…

Disciplining kids displaying Aspergers characteristic behavior will often require an approach which is somewhat unique to that of other kids. Finding the balance between understanding the needs of a youngster with Aspergers and discipline which is age appropriate and situationally necessary is achievable when applying some simple but effective strategies. These strategies can be implemented both at home and in more public settings.

General Behavior Problems—

Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with Aspergers, primarily because they are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Consequently, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, whilst at the same time giving rise to distress in both the youngster and parent.

At all times the emotional and physical wellbeing of your youngster should take priority. Often this will necessitate removing your youngster from a potentially distressing situation as soon as possible. Consider maintaining a diary of your youngster's behavior with a view to ascertaining patterns or triggers. Recurring behavior may be indicative of a youngster taking some satisfaction in receiving a desired response from peers, moms and dads or teachers.

For example, a youngster with Aspergers may come to understand that hurting another youngster in class will result in his being removed from class, notwithstanding the associated consequence to his peer. The solution may not be most effectively rooted in punishing the youngster for the behavior, or even attempting to explain the situation from the perspective of their injured peer, but by treating the root cause behind the motivation for the misbehavior...for example, can the youngster be made more comfortable in class so that they will not want to leave it?

One of the means to achieve this may be to focus on the positive. Praise for good behavior, and reinforcement by way of something like a Reward Book, can assist. The use of encouraging verbal cues delivered in a calm tone are likely to elicit more beneficial responses than the harsher verbal warnings which might be effective on kids who are not displaying some sort of Aspergers characteristic. If necessary, when giving directions to cease a type of misbehavior, these should also be couched as positives rather than negatives. For example, rather than telling a youngster to stop hitting his brother with the ruler, the youngster should be directed to put the ruler down.

Obsessive or Fixated Behavior—

Almost all kids go through periods of development where they become engrossed in one subject matter or another, but kids with Aspergers often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behavior.

For example, if an Aspergers youngster becomes fixated upon reading a particular story each night, they may become distressed if this regime is not adhered to, or if the story is interrupted. Again, the use of a behavior diary can assist in identifying fixations for your youngster. Once a fixation is identified, it is important to set appropriate boundaries for your youngster. Providing a structure within which your youngster can explore the obsession can assist in then keeping the obsession within reasonable limits, without the associated angst which might otherwise arise through such limitations. For example, tell your youngster that they may watch their favorite cartoon for half an hour after dinner, and make clear time for that in their routine.

It is appropriate to utilize the obsession to motivate and reward your youngster for good behavior. Always ensure any reward associated with positive behavior is granted immediately to assist the youngster recognizing the nexus between the two.

A particularly useful technique to try to develop social reciprocity is to have your youngster talk for five minutes about a particularly favored topic after they have listened to you talk about an unrelated topic. This serves to help your youngster understand that not everyone shares their enthusiasm for their subject matter.

Bridging the Gap between Aspergers and Discipline and Other Siblings—

For siblings without Aspergers, the differential and what at times no doubt appears to be preferential treatment received by an Aspergers sibling can give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. Often they will fail to understand why their brother or sister apparently seems free to behave as they please without the normal constraints placed upon them.

It is important to explain to siblings – and encourage open discussion about - the disorder itself. Encouragement should extend to the things siblings can do to assist the Aspergers youngster, and this should be positively reinforced through acknowledgement when it occurs.

Sleep Difficulties—

Aspergers kids are known for experiencing sleep problems. Kids with Aspergers may have lesser sleep requirements, and as such are more likely to become anxious about sleeping, or may find they become anxious when waking during the night or early in the morning.

Combat your youngster's anxiety by making their bedrooms a place of safety and comfort. Remove or store items which might be prone to injure your youngster if they decide to wander at night. Include in the behavioral diary a record of your youngster's sleep patterns. It may assist your youngster if you keep a list of their routine, including dinner, bath time, story and bed, in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of them waking in the morning to provide assurance as to what will happen. Social stories have proven to be a particularly successful tactic in decreasing a youngster's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of their day is likely to play out.

At School—

Another Asperger characteristic is that kids will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day which lack structure. If left to their own devices their difficulties with social interaction and self management can result in anxiety. The use of a buddy system can assist in providing direction, as can the creation of a timetable for recess and lunch times. These should be raised with class teachers and implemented with their assistance.

Explain the concept of free time to your youngster, or consider providing a separate purpose or goal for your youngster during such time, such as reading a book, or helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks.

In Public—

Kids with Aspergers can become overwhelmed to the point of distress by even a short outing in public. The result is that many moms and dads with Aspergers simply seek to avoid as much as possible situations where their youngster is exposed to the public. While expedient, it may not offer the best long term solution to your youngster, and there are strategies to assist with outings.

Consider providing your youngster with an ipod, or have the radio on in the car to block out other sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list explaining to the youngster a trip to the shops, or doctor. Be sure to include on the list your return home. Consider giving your youngster a task to complete during the trip, or having them assist you. At all times, maintain consistency when dealing with the Aspergers youngster. It pays to ensure that others involved in your youngster's care are familiar with your strategies and techniques, such as those outlined above, and are able to apply them.

Most importantly, don't hesitate to seek support networks for moms and dads with Aspergers, and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge those who have dealt with the disorder before you have developed. The assistance you can gain from these and other resources can assist you in developing important strategies to deal with problems with Aspergers in a manner most beneficial to your youngster.

See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.







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In today’s newsletter, we will look at Aspergers children and their tantrums. I want to cover a lot of ground here, so I apologize up front for the length of this email (it is 10 pages long – so you may just want to print it and take it with you to work to read on lunch break or something).

Aspergers Children and Tantrums

Moms and dads expect tantrums from 2-year-olds, but angry outbursts don't necessarily stop after the toddler years. Older Aspergers children sometimes have trouble handling anger and frustration, too.

Some Aspergers children only lose their cool on occasion. But others seem to have a harder time when things don't go their way. Children who tend to have strong reactions by nature will need more help from moms and dads to manage their tempers.

Controlling outbursts can be difficult for Aspergers children — and helping them learn to do so is a tough job for the moms and dads who love them. Try to be patient and positive, and know that these skills take time to develop and that just about every youngster can improve with the right coaching.

 

Why Aspergers children Have Tantrums—

 

Tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. They're equally common in boys and girls and usually occur between the ages of 1 to 3.

Children' temperaments vary dramatically — so some children may experience regular tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They're a normal part of development and don't have to be seen as something negative. Unlike adults, Aspergers children don't have the same inhibitions or control.

Imagine how it feels when you're determined to program your DVD player and aren't able to do it, no matter how hard you try, because you can't understand how. It's pretty frustrating — do you swear, throw the manual, walk away, and slam the door on your way out? That's the adult version of a tantrum. Toddlers are also trying to master their world and when they aren't able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a tantrum.

Several basic causes of tantrums are familiar to moms and dads everywhere: The youngster is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, tantrums are often the result of child’s frustration with the world — they can't get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Tantrums are common during the second year of life, a time when young people are acquiring language. Toddlers generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone — a frustrating experience that may precipitate a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.

Another task toddlers are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. Toddlers want a sense of independence and control over the environment — more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as a youngster thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me." When Aspergers children discover that they can't do it and can't have everything they want, the stage is set for a tantrum.

Avoiding Tantrums—

The best way to deal with tantrums is to avoid them in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Consider the request carefully when your youngster wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn't. Choose your battles; accommodate when you can.
  • Distract your youngster. Take advantage of your little one's short attention span by offering a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Or simply change the environment. Take your toddler outside or inside or move to a different room.
  • Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach to make struggles less likely to develop over them. Obviously, this isn't always possible, especially outside of the home where the environment can't be controlled.
  • Know your youngster's limits. If you know your toddler is tired, it's not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.
  • Make sure your youngster isn't acting up simply because he or she isn't getting enough attention. To a youngster, negative attention (a parent's response to a tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your youngster being good ("time in"), which means rewarding your little one with attention for positive behavior.
  • Set the stage for success when Aspergers children are playing or trying to master a new task. Offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks.
  • Try to give toddlers some control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off tantrums. Offer minor choices such as "Do you want orange juice or apple juice?" or "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?" This way, you aren't asking "Do you want to brush your teeth now?" — which inevitably will be answered "no."

If a safety issue is involved and a toddler repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the youngster firmly for several minutes. Be consistent. Aspergers children must understand that you are inflexible on safety issues.

Tantrum Tactics—

 

The most important thing to keep in mind when you're faced with a youngster in the throes of a tantrum, no matter what the cause, is simple and crucial: Keep cool. Don't complicate the problem with your own frustration. Aspergers children can sense when moms and dads are becoming frustrated. This can just make their frustration worse, and you may have a more exaggerated tantrum on your hands. Instead, take deep breaths and try to think clearly.

Your youngster relies on you to be the example. Hitting and spanking don't help; physical tactics send the message that using force and physical punishment is OK. Instead, have enough self-control for both of you.

First, try to understand what's going on. Tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause. Try to understand where your youngster is coming from. For example, if your little one has just had a great disappointment, you may need to provide comfort.

It's a different situation when the tantrum stems from a youngster's being refused something. Toddlers have fairly rudimentary reasoning skills, so you aren't likely to get far with explanations. Ignoring the outburst is one way to handle it — if the tantrum poses no threat to your youngster or others. Continue your activities, paying no attention to your youngster but remaining within sight. Don't leave your little one alone, though, otherwise he or she may feel abandoned on top of all of the other uncontrollable emotions.

Aspergers children who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to tantrums in public places.

Preschoolers and older Aspergers children are more likely to use tantrums to get their way if they've learned that this behavior works. Once children are school age, it's appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off. Rather than setting a specific time limit, moms and dads can tell them to stay in the room until they've has regained control. The former option is empowering — children can affect the outcome by their own actions, thereby gaining a sense of control that was lost during the tantrum.

After the Storm—

Occasionally a youngster will have a hard time stopping a tantrum. In these cases, it might help to say to say, "I'll help you settle down now."

But do not reward your youngster after a tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to your little one that the tantrum was effective. Instead, verbally praise a youngster for regaining control.

Also, Aspergers children may be especially vulnerable after a tantrum when they know they've been less than adorable. Now is the time for a hug and reassurance that your youngster is loved, no matter what.

When to Call the Doctor—

You should consult your doctor if:

  • The tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings.
  • The tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration.
  • You have questions about what you're doing or what your youngster is doing.
  • You keep giving in.
  • Your youngster displays mood disorders such as negativity, low self-esteem, or extreme dependence.
  • Your youngster frequently hurts himself or herself or others.
  • Your youngster is destructive.
  • You're uncomfortable with your responses.

Your doctor can also check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums, although this is not common. These include hearing or vision problems, a chronic illness, language delays, or a learning disability.

Remember, tantrums usually aren't cause for concern and generally diminish on their own. As children mature developmentally and their grasp of themselves and the world increases, their frustration levels decrease. Less frustration and more control mean fewer tantrums — and happier moms and dads.

A Parent's Role—

Managing Aspergers children can be a challenge. Some days keeping the peace while keeping your cool seems impossible. But whether you're reacting to an occasional temper flare-up or a pattern of outbursts, managing your own anger when things get heated will make it easier to teach children to do the same.

To help tame a temper, try to be your youngster's ally — you're both rooting for your youngster to triumph over the temper that keeps leading to trouble.

While your own patience may be frayed by angry outbursts, opposition, defiance, arguing, and talking back, it's during these episodes that you need your patience most. Of course you feel angry, but what counts is how you handle that.

Reacting to an Aspergers child’s meltdowns with yelling and outbursts of your own will only teach them to do the same. But keeping your cool and calmly working through a frustrating situation lets you show — and teach — appropriate ways to handle anger and frustration.

Let's say you hear your children fighting over a toy in the other room. You have ignored it, hoping that they would work it out themselves. But the arguing turns into screaming, and soon you hear doors slamming, the thump of hitting, and crying. You decide to get involved before someone gets really hurt.

By the time you arrive at the scene of the fight, you may be at the end of your own rope. After all, the sound of screaming is upsetting, and you may be frustrated that your children aren't sharing or trying to get along. (And you know that this toy they're fighting over is going to be lost, broken, or ignored before long anyway!)

So what's the best way for you to react? With your own self-control intact. Teaching by example is your most powerful tool. Speak calmly, clearly, and firmly — not with anger, blame, harsh criticisms, threats, or putdowns. Of course, that's easier said than done. But remember that you're trying to teach your youngster how to handle anger. If you yell or threaten, you'll model and ingrain the exact kinds of behavior you want to discourage. Your children will see that you're so angry and unable to control your own temper that you can't help but scream — and that won't help them learn not to scream.

What You Can Do—

Regulating emotions and managing behavior are skills that develop slowly over time during childhood. Just like any other skills, your children will need to learn and practice them, with your help.

If it's uncharacteristic for your youngster to have a tantrum, on the rare occasion that it happens all you may need to do is clearly but calmly review the rules. "I know you're upset, but no yelling and no name-calling, please" may be all your youngster needs to gain composure. Follow up by clearly, calmly, and patiently giving an instruction like "tell me what you're upset about" or "please apologize to your brother for calling him that name." In this way, you're guiding your youngster back to acceptable behavior and encouraging self-control.

Aspergers children whose temper outbursts are routine may lack the necessary self-control to deal with frustration and anger, and may need more help managing those emotions. These steps may help:

Create clear ground rules and stick to them. Set and maintain clear expectations for what is and what is not acceptable. You can do this without using threats, accusations, or putdowns. Your youngster will get the message if you make clear, simple statements about what's off limits and explain what you want him or her to do. You might say: "There's no yelling in this house. Use your words to tell me what's upsetting you."

Or try these:
  • You may not throw things or break things on purpose.
  • We don't do that in this family.
  • There's no screaming allowed.
  • There's no name calling.
  • There's no door-slamming in our house.
  • In this family, we don't hit or push or shove.


Help Aspergers children put it into words. If your youngster is in the midst of an outburst, find out what's wrong. If necessary, use a time-out to get your youngster to settle down or calmly issue a reminder about house rules and expectations — "There's no yelling or throwing stuff; please stop that right now and cool your jets." Remind your youngster to talk to you without whining, sulking, or yelling. Once your youngster calms down, ask what got him or her so upset. You might say, "Use your words to tell me what's wrong and what you're mad about." By doing this you help your youngster put emotions into words and figure out what, if anything, needs to be done to solve the problem.


Listen and respond. Once your youngster puts the feelings into words, it's up to you to listen and say that you understand. If your youngster is struggling for words, offer some help: "so that made you angry," "you must have felt frustrated," or "that must have hurt your feelings." Offer to help find an answer if there's a problem to be solved, a conflict to be mended, or if an apology is required. Many times, feeling listened to and understood is all children need to regain their composure. But while acknowledging your youngster's feelings, it's important to make it clear that strong emotions aren't an excuse for unacceptable behavior. "I know you're mad, but it's still not OK to hit." Then tell your youngster some things to try instead.

 

Coping Strategies for Aspergers children—

 

Children who've learned that it's not OK to yell, hit, and throw stuff when they're upset need other strategies for calming down when they're angry. Offer some ideas to help them learn safe ways to get the anger out or to find other activities that can create a better mood.

Find a way to (safely) get the anger out. There may be no punching walls or even pillows, but you can suggest some good ways for a youngster to vent. Doing a bunch of jumping jacks, dancing around the bedroom, or going outside and doing cartwheels are all good choices. Or your youngster can choose to write about or draw a picture of what is so upsetting.

Learn to shift. This one is tough for Aspergers children — and adults, too. Explain that part of calming down is moving from a really angry mood to a more in-control mood. Instead of thinking of the person or situation that caused the anger, encourage your son or daughter to think of something else to do. Suggest things to think of or do that might bring about a better mood. Your youngster may feel better after a walk around the block, a bike ride, playing a game, reading a favorite book, digging in the garden, or listening to a favorite song. Try one of these things together so you both experience how doing something different can change the way a person feels.

Take a break from the situation. Tell your children that it's OK to walk away from a conflict to avoid an angry outburst. By moving to another part of the house or the backyard, a youngster can get some space and work on calming down.

 

Building a Strong Foundation—

 

Fortunately, really angry episodes don't happen too often for most Aspergers children. Those with temper troubles often have an active, strong-willed style and extra energy that needs to be discharged.

Try these steps during the calm times — they can prevent problems before they start by helping Aspergers children learn and practice skills needed to manage the heat of the moment:

Try to be flexible. Parenting can be a tiring experience, but try not to be too rigid. Hearing a constant chorus of "no" can be disheartening for Aspergers children. Sometimes, of course, "no" is absolutely the only answer — "no, you can't ride your bike without your helmet!" But other times, you might let the children win one. For instance, if your youngster wants to keep the wiffle ball game going a little longer, maybe give it 15 more minutes.

See that Aspergers children get a lot of physical activity. Active play can really help children who have big tempers. Encourage outside play and sports your youngster likes. Karate, wrestling, and running can be especially good for children who are trying to get their tempers under control. But any activity that gets the heart pumping can help burn off energy and stress.

Help them label emotions. Help Aspergers children get in the habit of saying what they're feeling and why — for example, "I'm mad because I have to clean my room while my friends are playing." Using words doesn't get a youngster out of doing a chore, but having the discussion can calm the situation. You're having a conversation instead of an argument. Praise your youngster for talking about it instead of slamming the door, for instance.

Encourage your youngster to take control. Compare a temper to a puppy that hasn't yet learned to behave and that's running around all over the place getting into things. Puppies might not mean to be bad — but they need to be trained so that they can learn that there's no eating shoes, no jumping on people or certain furniture, etc. The point is that your youngster's temper — like a puppy — needs to be trained to learn when it's OK to play, how to use all that extra energy, and how to follow rules.

As anyone who's been really angry knows, following sensible advice can be tough when emotions run high. Give your children responsibility for getting under control, but be there to remind them how to do it.

Most Aspergers children can learn to get better at handling anger and frustration. But if your youngster frequently gets into fights and arguments with friends, siblings, and adults, additional help might be needed. Talk with the other adults in your youngster's life — teachers, school counselors, and coaches might be able to help, and your youngster's doctor can recommend a counselor or psychologist.

See you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A


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Here’s just a short note to give you some quick pointers regarding your Aspergers child and crisis intervention. Please keep the following in mind:

  1. Allow the youngster, whenever possible, to make choices as you move through crisis intervention steps; however, do not offer choices if they would compromise what you are trying to achieve.

  1. Have a calm voice and demeanor, but convey firmness.

  1. Help the youngster to see you as a problem solver. Let him know that you are aware of how difficult the situation is for him. Tell him your job is to help with this difficulty. Explain clearly that your help does not mean avoiding the situation or doing it for the youngster, but rather helping him to do it. E.g., "You have a problem and I am here to help you solve it."

  1. Ignore or interrupt irrelevant comments. Respond with: "That doesn't make sense, I can't pay attention to that," or "That is off the topic, so I will have to ignore what you are saying," or "I can't help you with your problem while you are talking nonsense."

  1. Keep your goal in mind as you go through crisis intervention steps: creating new rules for responding in the future.

  1. Make it clear to the youngster that you are in control; don't plead or make second requests.

  1. Practice/rehearse what has been decided as the appropriate solution to the problem; this may involve completing an activity or sabotage, accepting a change, or restoring the environment after a meltdown.

  1. Say what you mean and mean what you say at all times during the crisis.

  1. Stay on topic during the crisis. The youngster may bring up extraneous or unrelated issues to try to justify his behavior.

  1. Use the steps in My Aspergers Child eBook for specific crisis intervention strategies.

See you next week.

Have a great weekend!

Mark Hutten, M.A.







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This may seem like a rather strange newsletter, but today I going to share a love story with you: He's gentle, unworldly, highly attentive and charmingly old-fashioned. The catch? The very things that make John so attractive to Rhonda are symptoms of Aspergers.

Rhonda Hennis and John Newsom sit tilted towards one other, laughing a lot and disappearing down the occasional alley of in-jokes, as couples do when they're still in that early, besotted stage.

John has just arrived at Rhonda's home in Hove and they're clearly delighted by the prospect of the next few days together. As always, John has switched off his mobile phone because, as he puts it, 'my time here is with Rhonda'. They won't see anyone else - John has no friends of his own and doesn't feel comfortable socializing - but plan to eat lots of chocolate, walk and watch television. 'We spend a lot of time feeling smug,' says Rhonda, 'because we see other couples who don't look very happy.'

In a few days, though, John will drive back to Wickham, Hampshire, 50 miles away, where he lives alone and works as a computer programmer. This will always be the case. Despite meeting five years ago, they won't 'progress' as other couples do. They'll neither live together nor have kids. Although there's only a year between them, at 39 John is so gangly, gawky, boyish and cute that he could be ten years younger than he is.

Yet Rhonda - who had a youngster at 19 and has two marriages behind her - is confident that few women could put up with him. 'God, he's so gorgeous he could have anyone - but not for long,' she says, laughing. 'Three or four months max… then, when the conversation turns to homes and babies and bank accounts, he'd be gone!' The two burst into laughter.

It wasn't always like this. The couple met through internet dating and the first stage of their relationship was fiery and fraught. To Rhonda, John was 'a puzzle'. He'd plainly state that their blissful weekends were enough for him, that he'd never live with her or even move nearer. Rhonda frequently found him selfish, cold and distant. John found Rhonda hard work, demanding and 'screechy'.

Ultimately, only one thing allowed them to start again from scratch - they uncovered the reason for John's 'insensitivity', his aloofness, the fact that he could see no future with Rhonda nor seemed to want one: John has Aspergers syndrome (AS).

Such a late diagnosis is not uncommon. Aspergers - a developmental condition that falls within the autism spectrum - was identified more than 60 years ago but became a standard diagnosis only in 1992 when it entered the World Health Organization’s diagnostic manual. As a result, the majority of adults with the syndrome almost certainly grew up without knowing they had it.

Estimates vary enormously as to the prevalence, but one in 100 individuals is thought to be on the autism spectrum, and it is more common in males by a ratio of nine to one. Individuals with AS normally have above-average intelligence but great difficulties with empathy, communication and social interaction.

Individuals with Aspergers struggle to understand the unwritten social rules that help most of us act and speak appropriately. They find it hard to decipher figures of speech, facial expressions and tones of voice, and are frequently (but unintentionally) concise and literal to the point of rudeness. Since the 'real world' becomes an extremely stressful place, many retreat into their own safe haven of routine, solitude and obsessive special interests.

Today Aspergers is likely to be recognized in a youngster, and his school will be told he needs special support. Twenty years ago, however, he'd be the 'geek' who didn't quite fit but was left to get on with it. And that struggle has continued into adulthood. For someone with AS, the minefield of relationships, marriage and parenthood can be the hardest part of all.

Louise Mason manages the National Autistic Society (NAS) helpline and confirms that more calls are coming from couples who have recognized Aspergers in their relationship.

'When I started six years ago most of our calls were made by parents about their kids,' she says. 'Now we get more adult-related calls than youngster-related.' As Aspergers seems to run in families, many women identify it in their husbands - or their husbands see it in themselves - only after their youngster has been diagnosed and they've read the literature. 'They call in absolute shock,' says Mason. 'Often they've been experiencing difficulties for years without knowing why. There's no way around it: Aspergers can be very hard to live with.'

Maxine Smith, the author of Aspergers in Love (Jessica Kingsley, £14.95), is one of the few counselors to work specifically with couples affected by AS. Her surveys and questionnaires from the past decade suggest that 75 per cent of such couples seek counseling. 'I'd almost say AS was a "relationship disorder",' she says. 'It affects communication, interaction and the ability to empathize. Any research will tell you they're the key ingredients for a successful relationship.' In Smith's experience - and desperate clients come from as far as Japan, New Zealand and Canada - Aspergers relationships follow a common pattern.

'A huge number seem to meet on dating websites,' she says. 'For someone with Aspergers it's the perfect route.' Where once many individuals with AS were effectively barred from the dating game, the internet now provides the perfect point of entry (it has, as Smith puts it 'opened the floodgates').

Bypassing the enormous challenges involved in chatting someone up, it allows you to make a checklist and then select according to criteria. Although many individuals with Aspergers are unemployed or underemployed, others are at the top of their profession. 'On paper they look amazing,' says Smith. 'Doctors, IT consultants, engineers, solicitors… They could be in their forties but have never married - so no baggage. The internet also allows them to build a rapport by email,' she continues. 'When they meet, women are often very charmed by this polite, gentle man with an old-fashioned appeal.'

This was certainly true for Rhonda who found John completely different to anyone she had known. 'At the end of our first date he kissed my cheek and shook my hand,' she recalls. 'So different to all the guys that ply you with rioja. John seemed so untouched by needless fashion and peer pressure - I thought he was a Buddhist!'

However, in Smith's experience, this appeal can wear thin. 'Women fall in love and want to nurture this unworldly, slightly vulnerable man and help him grow up. As the relationship settles, though, they often find their own emotional needs aren't being met.

'Someone with Aspergers probably has good intentions,' she goes on. 'He wants to make her happy but can't read the signs. At the beginning of the courtship the woman could become his obsession and she has probably never experienced such attention. Five years down the line, when he has focused on something else and returns from work, yet again forgets to say hello and goes to the garage to take the car apart, things are very different. Women often say to me, "He's either got Aspergers or he's the most selfish man on the planet."'

Another problem can be the isolation. Individuals with Aspergers frequently have sensory difficulties - loud noise, strong smells and bright lights can be almost painful. This coupled with difficulties in social interaction, means that parties, family gatherings and big birthdays drop off the radar.

'I once saw a couple in their eighties who, after 50 years of marriage, realized what the problem was,' says Smith. 'They decided to stay together, but she bought a cottage up the road and he visited for meals. She could have friends and family over and he had space for his routine and interests. Quite a few couples decide to stay together but live apart.'

Jayne Jones, an accountant from Oxford, tried this following the diagnosis of her husband Steven, an IT consultant, six years ago. Steven learnt about Aspergers through a television program while he was off work with stress. He subsequently saw a specialist who placed him high on the Aspergers scale.

'We got together in 1995 and he'd always been very unusual,' says Jayne. 'There are lots of positives about Aspergers. I like its straightforwardness. There's no game-playing. Steven was the first person I had met who just let individuals be themselves. Most men want you to be a bit more like this or more like that. Steven just accepts you. He's also very intelligent - he has an IQ of over 150 - and very funny.'

However, Aspergers was hard to live with. 'He did lock himself in the room with the computer,' she says. 'We were under the same roof but not together. Rarely did we share the preparation and clearing away of meals because Steven couldn't stand the noise of cutlery and crockery.'

When their kids were born - Luke is nine and Beth is seven - Steven found the chaos of family life even more difficult. 'It wasn't predictable and calm enough. Family holidays we gave up on,' she says. 'He would try his best but by day three, without his familiarity, his routine, his computer; you could see all his systems shutting down. Then he'd spend each day with a large crate of beer in front of the television while I took the kids out. Steven drank vast quantities to cope with Aspergers - that was another problem.'

When Steven moved out, the plan had been that they would remain a couple, but in the end this didn't work out. 'He drank far less and was clearly so much happier in his own space,' says Jayne. 'He would spend a few hours with us, then go home to his bolthole and not talk to anyone for 24 hours. In the end, I couldn't cope with the massive periods of time alone.' The couple divorced last year.

Conventional counseling isn't recommended for Aspergers couples - in fact, it frequently makes things worse. 'Counseling works on empathy,' says Maxine Smith, 'helping you understand each other's point of view. That won't happen if you have Aspergers. You might be told to spend ten minutes a day talking about your emotions. Someone with Aspergers can't do it, feels pressurized and disappointment sets in.' For this reason, the NAS has a (small) database of couples counselors who specialize in Aspergers - of which Smith is one.

There are many strategies that can help. One is to write things down instead of saying them. Another is for the non-Aspergers half in the relationship to spell things out in no uncertain terms. ('I am feeling sad and would like a hug'), rather than hope their partner will read the cues. However, the key is understanding the Aspergers label, accepting its limitations and adjusting expectations. 'It's almost like blaming it on the Aspergers,' says Smith.

The diagnosis that saved John and Rhonda almost happened by accident - Rhonda got a job working with ASpire, a charity that supports adults with Aspergers. The more she learnt, the more she recognized in John. 'At first, I thought it was just a mad, crazy Rhonda idea,' he says. 'But as I researched it, the similarities became too great to ignore.'

Learning about Aspergers, he says, was 'life-changing'. Suddenly what Rhonda describes as his 'isolated, biscuit-eating life' made sense. John had been bullied at school and gone through university with no friends at all. He'd had only two jobs in his life doing the same thing and two very short-lived relationships (the first at 31). 'From an early age you try to join the world, but gradually, with rejection and not being able to understand social situations, it becomes too taxing,' he says. 'I wanted relationships with women but didn't have the confidence, the tools or the means.'

In Rhonda, John has found the perfect partner. She works with AS adults for a living and now understands his thought processes and almost speaks his language. She can foresee stressful situations, accepts his frequent need to be alone and rarely asks for more than John can give.

In return, she has a charming, quirky, logical and attentive partner who is still touchingly old-fashioned - he always opens doors for her, carries her shopping and whips off her glasses to clean them if he sees they are dirty. Most importantly, the two clearly love each other's company, share the same sense of humor - and have co-written a book, Asperger Syndrome - A Love Story (Jessica Kingsley, £12.99), to show that happy endings are possible, even if they're not quite the endings originally envisaged.

There are no plans of marriage or moving in, and John certainly doesn't think he could cope with kids. But they seem like soul mates. 'With Rhonda, I get acceptance and understanding,' says John. 'I don't necessarily want to join the rest of the world - but I'd like someone to join me in mine. I'd like to know at the end of my life that there's been one person who got me. That's what Rhonda does for me.'


Have a good day,

Mark Hutten, M.A.










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In today’s newsletter we will take a hard look at Aspergers children and the “bullying” issue. But first, I want to share with you a recent email from a mother who experienced bullying first hand:


Hello Mr. Hutten,

I would like to share with you and you can feel free to share with others something wonderful that happened to our family yesterday.  After almost a year and half of being bullied, harassed and assaulted on the school bus, our 13 year old Aspie daughter had her day in court with the perpetrator (another 13 year old bully).  My daughter was terrified to testify, but I assured her that her family was there to protect her.  We also were blessed to have a witnessed to one of the horrific beatings that my daughter endured come forward.  She was terrified as well.  The States Atty's office in Upper Marlboro, Maryland brought forth the case.  It was a long process, without any assistance from the school system.  Anyway, to make a long story short, the bully was found guilty on all three charges of second degree assault.  The judge remanded her into custody on the spot.  She was taken away in handcuffs.  There was high drama in the courtroom.  It had been such a long and lonely process, I did not know what to expect, but imagine my daughter witnessing the detention and handcuffing of her tormentor in front of her...it was amazing.  While it is not a joyous occasion to see a 13 year old child in handcuffs, I am blinded by the many, many long months of harassment and assaults that my child suffered and continues to suffer.  This is a partial victory for my daughter Amina.  Please include this in your newsletter for others to see.  The Justice System can and does work.  Thanks, Kim


Kids with Aspergers are ideal targets for bullying. Aspergers kids tend to be socially isolated and awkward in conversations and physical coordination. An Aspie youngster often has interests that other kids consider odd, or may have unusual verbal or physical habits. Most rewarding, from a bully’s perspective, is how easily many Aspergers kids “meltdown” and lose control when under pressure.

Approximately 90 percent of Aspergers kids are bullied – some sources suggest the number is closer to 100 percent. Adults with Aspergers often relate how helpless, angry and alone schoolyard bullying made them feel, and how the effects of bullying followed them into their adult lives.

Talking about Bullying with Aspergers Kids—

Kids with Aspergers have enough difficulty interacting at school without the added pressure of bullying. Unfortunately their problems understanding social conventions make it difficult for Aspie kids to explain that they are being bullied.

Moms and dads should talk to their kids about bullying, explaining that bullying can include teasing, intimidation, and threats as well as assault. Social stories (educational tales of common social experiences) can help explain what constitutes intimidation and unpleasant teasing. Teasing is especially problematic for Aspergers kids, as they may not differentiate between friendly banter and hurtful teasing.

Aspergers kids need to understand that all forms of bullying are wrong, not just assault and physical intimidation. A “friend” threatening not to be friends in order to manipulate an Aspie youngster into doing something wrong or illegal is bullying just as much as the playground thug who hits and kicks.

Helping Aspergers Kids understand Bullying—

Role-playing can also help Aspie kids identify bullying. If the Aspergers youngster has a neuro-typical sibling he or she may be able to help shed some light on bullying – after all, kids have a closer connection to today’s playground politics than adults.

Scenes from television, movies and video games provide plenty of opportunities to talk about bullying. Moms and dads and kids can discuss how the bullied character handled the situation, and whether he or she handled it appropriately or not. Both parent and youngster can share what they would do in a similar situation.

Kids with Aspergers may stay silent about bullying for a number of reasons, including:

• Threats and intimidation from the bully.
• Thinking that they somehow deserve bullying
• Thinking no one will believe them
• Shame
• Not wanting to worry moms and dads
• Not wanting to be seen as tattletales
• Confusion

Moms and dads and educators should make it quite clear that there is never a good reason to bully, and that the correct and safest thing to do is to tell an adult the youngster trusts – whether a parent, teacher or counselor. The traditional belief that ignoring bullying makes bullies stop is simply not true. Many schools now have no tolerance policies for bullying, but those policies can only be enforced if educators and school staff know bullying is occurring.

Cyber-bullying and “Stealth Bullying”—

Moms and dads should be aware of two other types of bullying that might affect their kids. Cyber-bullying is the use of the Internet, instant messaging and other online venues by school bullies to taunt, threaten or shame kids.

“Stealth bullying” is a common tactic used against Aspergers kids. Classmates quickly learn what buttons they need to press to trigger an outburst from a youngster with Aspergers. The bullies can manipulate the Aspergers youngster into disrupting class, and have the added payoff of watching their victim get into trouble for behavior they triggered.

Educators may need to keep an eye out for stealth bullying in the classroom and on the playground, although it can be difficult to detect. It may help to explain to educators that if an Aspergers youngster has a “meltdown” there is almost always a reason, even if the reason doesn’t make sense to neuro-typical minds.

Mark Hutten M.A.









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Aspergers - How to Deal with Meltdowns

In today’s newsletter, we will discuss methods for dealing with meltdowns.

Meltdowns can result in the Aspergers child going out of control. He may cry, scream, cry and scream, kick, throw things, pound on walls, or engage in other inappropriate behavior. It’s very difficult to determine when, where or why a meltdown will occur. When you ask the child what the problem is, he may give an off the wall reply, such as “I have no green toys,” when he has hundreds of green toys in his room.

Never punish an Aspergers child for having a meltdown, which appears to be nothing more than an intense temper tantrum. Allow him a quiet time and once he is again in control, try to find out what the real problem is. It could be something that happened immediately before the meltdown, yesterday, or even last week. It’s very difficult to determine why a meltdown occurs unless the child learns to communicate his feelings.

Meltdowns often occur after a rough day at school, a disagreement with a sibling, a lost game, a sporting event or other activity. Be patient and supportive. Don’t shout. Let the child know that you support him and love him. It is not unusual for Aspergers children to meltdown upon arriving home from school. A school day is very structured and they try to be on their best behavior, so venting when they get home is quite natural.

For a person with Aspergers, just living in the day-to-day world can be incredibly taxing. They depend on predictability in a world that is often random. They are constantly surrounded by other people whose social and emotional reality they don’t truly understand. If you have ever visited a culture significantly different from your own, you may recall how tiring it can be when you don’t intuitively know social rules or the meaning of people’s gestures and actions, when figuring it all out is work. It is like that for people with Aspergers every single day. To make matters worse, they want to connect, but cannot often successfully do so, despite repeated attempts.


It is no wonder some of them are prone to meltdowns. In the case of children, tantrums or rage attacks often take place either just at school, where stresses are greatest, or just at home, where the child can let it all out. The fact that the child is good-natured most of the time makes such outbursts all the more bewildering. The child can seem to be a “Jekyll and Hyde.” In some cases, teachers and parents may be perplexed by each other’s conflicting descriptions of the child, with one seeing the child as untroubled and one seeing the child as raging. In other cases, the child has a hard time controlling his impulses across all settings.


Hans Asperger, after whom Aspergers is named, included conduct problems in his list of descriptors. Says one group of researchers:


“The most common reason for referral of Aspergers patients involved failure at school and associated behavioral problems including aggressiveness, noncompliance, and negativism, which were accounted for in terms of their deficits in social understanding and extreme pursuit of highly circumscribed interests. Asperger was particularly concerned about his patients’ poor social adjustment and how mercilessly they were bullied and teased by peers.”


Coping with stress, confusion, and frustration is an enormous challenge for individuals with Aspergers. One way their supporters can help is by noting the patterns or total stress load around meltdowns and intervening before a blow-up. Those with Aspergers may not be able to self-monitor well enough to know they are building up to an explosion. For example, students with Aspergers…


“…may not always know that they are near a stage of crisis. Quite often, they just ‘tune out’ or daydream or state in a monotone voice a seemingly benign phrase, such as ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Since no emotion is conveyed, these behaviors go unnoticed by teachers. Then at a later point in time, the student engages, seemingly without provocation, in a verbally or physically aggressive event, often called a rage attack, meltdown, or neurological storm. The student may begin to scream or kick over a desk. There seems to be no predictability to this behavior; it just occurs.”


These meltdowns are horribly upsetting for the child while they are in progress; afterwards, he may think that once he feels better, everybody feels better, not appreciating the lingering worry, upset, or strain teachers, fellow students, or family members may still be feeling.


Clearly, such explosiveness, which seems from the outside to come from nowhere, can get a person with Aspergers into considerable trouble: suspended, fired, arrested. Working to know what types of stressors build up to crisis, and then working to help the person with Aspergers recognize when it’s happening and how to defuse it, is an important goal.


When the meltdown is occurring, the best reaction is to ensure the safety of all concerned. Know that explosive behavior is not planned but instead is most often caused by subtle and perplexing triggers. When the behavior happens, everyone in its path feels pain, especially the child.

 

Stages of Explosive Behavior—


So, what exactly is explosive behavior? In my book Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Endow, 2009), explosive behavior is defined as having four distinct stages, followed by a clearly defined recovery period. In addition, the physiological fight/flight mechanism is triggered immediately prior to the explosion.

In this model, the four stages of explosive behavior are the same for all experiencing explosive behavior and are depicted by four train cars called Starting Out, Picking Up Steam, Point of No Return and Explosion. The idea is to try to prevent the train cars from hooking up because when they do we have a runaway train that ends in explosion.

Working backwards, the Explosion is the stage where the meltdown behavior is evident. Immediately prior to this is the Point of No Return, which is exactly what it implies—there is no going back from the meltdown because this stage is where the fight/flight response is triggered. The pupils dilate, and breathing and heart rates increase. Physiologically, our bodies respond as if our very lives are at stake, and we automatically behave accordingly: We fight for our lives. It is entirely impossible to reason with anyone in this survival mode. As soon as you see the child’s identified Point of No Return behavior you can know the Explosion is coming and need to do your best to quickly create and maintain a safe environment.

The place to impact explosive behavior is ahead of when it occurs. In the Starting Out phase, whispers of behaviors are evident. The Picking Up Steam phase is just that—the whispers become louder. Though you can learn to successfully intervene at these stages, the most effective way to manage explosive behavior is proactively, before the whispers even start.

Strategies to Prevent Meltdowns Before They Start—


An individual mix of three major supports and interventions is usually most effective in preventing the first stage of meltdown behavior from starting. These three major supports include proactive use of a sensory diet to maintain optimal sensory regulation, visual supports and managing emotions that are too big.

People with AS usually do not have sensory systems that automatically regulate; instead, they must discover how to keep themselves regulated. This is most often accomplished by employing a sensory diet. A sensory diet for a person with autism is like insulin for a person with diabetes. It is easy to understand that a person with diabetes has a pancreas that is unable to regulate insulin effectively. We can measure blood sugar and know the exact state of affairs, and from there figure out how much insulin the person needs.

·         Managing Felt Emotions. A third area in which many with ASD need proactive support is in managing felt emotions. Most often, felt feelings are way too big for the situation. An example in my life is when I discover the grocery store is out of a specific item; I get a visceral reaction very similar to the horror I felt when first hearing about the 9/11 tragedy. I know cognitively the two events have no comparison and, yet, my visceral reaction is present and I need to consciously bring my too big feelings down to something more workable in the immediate situation. Managing felt emotions does not come automatically, but can be learned over time with systematic instruction and visual supports such as The Incredible 5-Point Scale.

·         Sensory Diet. Unfortunately, medical science does not allow us to take a blood sample to measure sensory dysregulation. However, we can figure out and employ a sensory diet to prevent dysregulation, and just like insulin prevents serious consequences for a diabetic, a sensory diet prevents serious troubles for an individual with AS. As an adult with autism, I spend time every day on sensory integration activities in order to be able to function well in my everyday life. A sensory diet employed proactively goes a long way in preventing the Starting Out stage of explosive behavior from ever occurring.


·         Visual Supports. Another crucial area of support to put in place proactively is that of visual supports. As an autistic, I can tell you the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is the monumental truth. Although each person with AS has a unique experience, processing written and spoken words is not considered by most of us to be our “first language.” For me, the meaning I get from spoken words can drop out entirely when I am under stress, my sensory system is dysregulated or my felt emotions are too big. Visual supports can be anything that shows rather than tells. Visual schedules are very commonly used successfully with many individuals with AS. Having a clear way to show beginnings and endings to the activities depicted on the visual schedule can support smooth transitions, thus keeping a meltdown at bay. For maximum effectiveness, visual supports need to be in place proactively rather than waiting until behavior unravels to pull them out.

The good news is that explosive behavior can be positively impacted. With proactive supports, explosive behavior can be outsmarted so individuals with ASD can move on to living purposeful and self-fulfilling lives.

Mark Hutten, M.A.









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Preparing the School for Your Child with Aspergers


In today’s newsletter, we will examine how to prepare teachers for your Aspergers child so that they will all know how to deal with most of the Aspergers traits.

Teachers can be great allies in keeping your son/daughter with Aspergers safe and successful in school, but you'll need to make sure they have all the knowledge they need to help. Use these suggestions to create an information packet to bring educators up to speed.

Five Things Teachers Need to Know—

1.      If there will be any sort of change in my son/daughter's classroom or routine, please notify me as far in advance as possible so that we can all work together in preparing her for it.
2.      My son/daughter has difficulty with social cues, nonverbal communication, figurative language and eye contact are part of his neurological makeup -- he is not being deliberately rude or disrespectful.
3.      My son/daughter is an individual, not a diagnosis; please be alert and receptive to the things that make her unique and special.
4.      My son/daughter needs structure and routine in order to function. Please try to keep his world as predictable as possible.
5.      Please keep the lines of communication open between our home and the school. My son/daughter needs all the adults in his life working together.

Please print the information below and provide a hard copy to your son/daughter’s teachers:

Aspergers Fact Sheet—

Symptoms/characteristics:

  • Appears eccentric to other kids.
  • Lacks conversational reciprocity, unless explicitly taught.
  • Loner, but intensely wants to be included by other kids; wants to be sociable.
  • May appear clumsy or have delayed motor development.
  • Needs space.  May be hypersensitive to light, touch, noise, or smell.   
  • No clinically-significant delays in language or cognition, unlike classic autism. 
  • Often frustrated by writing.
  • Repetitive, narrow and unusual patterns of behavior and interests
  • Severe difficulty with social interactions; socially naïve, inappropriate, awkward

Brain biology:

  • A pervasive developmental disorder.
  • Likely genetic factors being researched.
  • Often accompanied by mood and anxiety-spectrum disorders.
  • Possible overlap with Nonverbal Learning Disability. 
  • Processes faces as objects; reduced activation of fusiform gyrus (Yale, 2000).

Treatment: 

  • Consult autism organizations for comprehensive treatment information and school support, especially Division TEACCH of UNC Chapel Hill.
  • Teach and practice (rehearse) rote strategies for recognizing and handling social situations.  No medication.
  • Treat accompanying mood and anxiety disorders.  May include medication.

Classroom applications:

  • Capitalize on verbal strengths.  Relate subjects to narrow interests.
  • Compensate for writing difficulties (grapho-motor problems).  Reduce quantity of written work.  Teach keyboarding.  Use oral evaluation.
  • Delineate space so other students don’t intrude (e.g. mat or chalk outline on floor.)
  • May have more difficult behavior in school than home.  Parents are more predictable -- hence less anxiety-provoking -- than classmates.
  • Often Verbal IQ much higher than Performance.  Teachers typically overestimate academic ability, underestimate frustrations.  Remember, 80% of communication is non-verbal! 
  • Protect from bullies or predatory students.
  • Student may find some reading assignments and courses “pointless” if high in social content and low in practical or concrete application.  Needs fiction with strong plot.  May intensely dislike fiction, love nonfiction.
  • Use social stories (simple, first-person accounts of appropriate social behavior.)
  • Avoid unstructured or unsupervised social situations.
  • Avoid crowding in lines, bleachers or hallways.
  • Do not insist on eye contact.   Encourage to look at other person’s forehead if eye contact is difficult.

Advice for parents/care givers

  • Read first-person accounts to gain empathy (see “Books for teachers and parents -- Emergence: Labeled Autistic” below.)
  • Prepare child for novel social situations well in advance.  Rehearse.
  • Recognize and reward small steps toward desired behaviors.
  • Provide plenty of structure.
  • May be soothed by whole-body pressure, squeezing into tight space (e.g. between bed and wall), or by rocking or spinning.
  • Remember inflexibility often results from anxiety about unpredictable situations.  Use social stories to clarify expectations, provide concrete guidelines.
  • Get plenty of rest and respite.


See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.









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Helping Siblings Cope with Their Aspergers Brother or Sister


I usually don’t email people on Saturday, but the issue of “siblings having difficulty coping with their Aspergers brother or sister” seems to be a prominent concern among subscribers to my newsletter. So I thought I should address this sooner rather than later.

Having a youngster with any type of developmental disability can be very stressful for the moms and dads and the siblings of that youngster. This may be seen to be even more so at times for kids with (physically) hidden syndromes like Aspergers. Kids with physical disabilities have a more visible and obvious disability. Whereas kids on the autistic spectrum tend to look exactly like other kids but can behave very differently.

For siblings this behavior can be difficult to understand even when they are aware of their sibling's ASD. Many siblings can think of their ASD sibling as simply naughty or rude particularly if they are quite young and unable to fully understand the issues involved. Siblings may often feel embarrassed around peers, frustrated by not having the type of relationship with their sibling that they wanted or expected, and/or angry that the youngster with Aspergers requires so much of the moms and dads' time. This can often mean the youngster not wanting to ask friends over to play, as they fear their sibling may embarrass them.

It is hard enough for moms and dads of the youngster with Aspergers to understand why their youngster has this syndrome, much less why they behave the way they do. Teach siblings about Aspergers  to the extent that they are able to understand. Let them know that it is okay to be frustrated with their sibling who is affected, but it won't help their relationship. Let siblings know what that youngster needs, again to the extent that they can understand and provide as normal of an environment as possible. Try to make this as concrete as possible with real life examples of what you mean that they can follow and relate to.

Obviously some family dynamics can make this tricky - but try to make some special parent-youngster time with the non-Aspergers sibling at least weekly. In order to do this you may need to look to your family, friends or local social services to offer the youngster with Aspergers somewhere to go for some respite - while you can then do some activity with their sibling. This may mean staying in and watching a video or just chilling out in peace. Or it could involve a set activity like swimming, the cinema, walking, shopping etc. Whatever it is try to make it youngster-focused so that your youngster gets to determine what you do (within reason!)

It is often tempting to coddle the youngster with developmental disabilities, like Aspergers, and expect the other kids to do so as well. But, the youngster with Aspergers will benefit and learn social skills from their siblings as well, and they should be entitled to a reasonable amount of sibling rivalry as well as any other youngster. You don't want to deny the youngster with Aspergers the typical childhood, which includes fighting over toys and television shows. These formative sibling relationships and experiences have a major effect on kids as they grow up (regardless of Aspergers).

So to summarize, siblings need to know enough about their brother or sisters issues to give them an understanding at their level. They also need to know that it is OK to feel some negative emotions at times to their sibling, and where ever possible they need a little "special" time with you on their own.

I hope this information will be of help to you. Always feel free to email me [mbhutten@gmail.com] if you have a pressing issue that needs resolved quickly. I consider it my mission to help where I can.

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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Let me help your understand your Apergers child. In today’s newsletter, we will look at his/her (a) difficulty with the basic understanding of the rules of society and (b) reasons for rigidity…Ready. O.K. Let’s go:

Not Understanding How the World Works—


Your Aspergers youngster has a neuro-cognitive disorder that affects many areas of functioning. This includes a difficulty with the basic understanding of the rules of society, especially if they are not obvious. Life has many of these rules. Some are written, some are spoken, and some are learned through observation and intuition. Your youngster only knows what has been directly taught to him through books, movies, TV shows, the Internet, and explicit instructions. He is not able to sit in a room, observe what is happening, and understand social cues, implied directions, or how to "read between the lines," and as he is growing up, he does not learn how to do this. Instead, he learns facts. He does not "take in" what is happening around him that involves the rest of the world, only what directly impacts him.

Many of the conversations he has had have generally been about knowledge and facts, not about feelings, opinions, and interactions. As a result, he does not really know how the world works and what one is supposed to do in various situations. This can apply to even the smallest situations you might take for granted. Not knowing the unspoken rules of situations causes anxiety and upset. This leads to many of the behavioral issues that appear as the Asperger youngster tries to impose his own sense of order on a world he doesn't understand.

The Aspergers youngster creates his own set of rules for everyday functioning to keep things from changing and thereby minimize his anxiety. Sometimes, he just makes up the rules when it is convenient. Other times, he attempts to make them up by looking for patterns, rules, or the logic of a situation to make it less chaotic for him and more predictable and understandable. If there are no rules for an event or situation, he will create them from his own experiences based on what he has read, seen, or heard. He will often have a great deal of information to use in reaching his conclusions and forming his opinions and feelings. As a result, some of his conclusions are correct and some are wrong.

He will rarely consider someone else's point of view if he does not consider them to be an "expert." The fewer people he sees as experts, the more behavioral difficulty you will see. He might consider teachers and others to be experts, but his parents will rarely be seen as such. Therefore, he will argue with you about your opinions if different from his own. He thinks that his opinion is as good as yours, so he chooses his. This represents his rigid thinking. He finds it difficult to be flexible and consider alternate views, especially if he has already reached a conclusion. New ideas can be difficult to accept ("I'd rather do it the way I've always done it"). Being forced to think differently can cause a lot of anxiety.

You must never overestimate your Aspergers youngster's understanding of a situation because of his high intellectual ability or his other strengths. He is a boy who needs to figure out how the world works. He needs a road map and the set of instructions, one example at a time.

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 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 youngster 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 youngster cannot be perfect, 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.

Note: Attention-getting is very rarely seen. It should not be considered as a reason for rigidity until all of the above reasons have been considered and eliminated.


See you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.









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The Positive Side of Aspergers

Did you know there are many known benefits to having Aspergers? Here are some perfect examples of what I’m talking about…

Norm Ledgin caused a stir with his book, Diagnosing Jefferson. The author claimed that the genius of America's third president was due to Aspergers, which could explain his 54-year obsession with building and rebuilding Monticello, his inability to control his spending, and his affair with a youngster/slave.

After this book became a best seller, the author wrote Aspergers and Self-Esteem: Insight and Hope through Famous Role Models, which claims that thirteen giants of history - Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and Mozart among them-also had Aspergers.

Some individuals also believe that Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Galileo, Pablo Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Mead and Aristotle had Aspergers.

Lately authors are adding Bill Gates to the list of famous people with Aspergers because of his lack of social skills, inability to make eye contact and tendency to rock back and forth coupled with his obsession with technology.

“Aspies” are our visionaries, scientists, diplomats, inventors, chefs, artists, writers and musicians. They are the original thinkers and a driving force in our culture.

Hans Asperger, the German doctor who discovered the syndrome, would agree with Kennedy's assessment. He believed that "for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential. The essential ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world, from the simply practical and to rethink a subject with originality so as to create in new ways with all abilities canalized into the one specialty."

Likewise, Dr. Temple Grandin, an adult with autism who became a successful engineer, academic and speaker, believes that her disorder is an asset. She once famously called NASA a sheltered workshop for individuals with autism and Aspergers. She believes that individuals with autistic spectrum disorders are the great innovators, and "if the world was left to you socialites, nothing would get done and we would still be in caves talking to each other." However, it is absolutely impossible to diagnose anyone posthumously or without having the person in the room. Clinicians can only diagnose Aspergers by observing behaviors.

Another problem in throwing individuals like Mozart and Benjamin Franklin into the Asperger population is that even if a person is in front of them, doctors have a hard time distinguishing between intellectual giftedness, Attention Deficit Disorder and Aspergers.

There has been little research into the personalities of intellectually gifted individuals, but the few that have been done show that they are often intense, restless, strong-willed, and sensitive to light and sound -- all qualities of Aspergers.

Individuals with very high IQs often question the status quo, resist direction, have long attention spans, undergo periods of intense work and effort, and like to organize things even as kids. Other individuals often perceive them as "different." All this is the same with those who have Aspergers.

The idea that every person with Aspergers is a potential genius can put undue pressure on a youngster with Aspergers. Luke Jackson, a thirteen-year-old author with Aspergers, complains that he is always watching television about high functioning autistic individuals who can do things like play the piano brilliantly without taking lessons, draw detailed renditions of buildings they had only seen once or add numbers in their heads like Rainman. "I find these television programs depressing," he says. "I got all the nerdiness and freakishness but none of the genius."

Many individuals who are experts in Aspergers such as Dr. Teresa Bolick, Dr. Tony Attwood, and Dierdre Lovecky write about the positive aspects of Aspergers without focusing on the idea of genius. Lovecky notes how people with Aspergers often have advanced vocabularies, recognize patterns others do not, and pursue ideas despite evidence to the contrary because they are not easily swayed by others' opinions. Their ability to focus on details and their inability to see the big picture means they can often come up with solutions to problems others overlook.

People with Aspergers are often willing to spend long hours in laboratories and in front of computer screens because they do not mind being alone. All this enables them to make tremendous contributions at work and school. Individuals often admire those who can work independently. Our society celebrates the individual who does what he thinks is right and goes his own way.

Because of their unusual reactions to stimuli such as light and sound, people with Aspergers see the world differently than most individuals. They are able to comprehend multiple levels of meanings of words and can be fabulous punsters. When told they had to "eat and run," one Aspergers individual said, "Oh, that's makes us carnivorous panty hose."

Many experts relate that people with Aspergers can make amazingly loyal friends. They are usually free from sexism or racism. They do not manipulate individuals but speak out frankly and honestly. They are sincere truth-tellers, whose naivety and trusting nature makes them incapable of backstabbing. As employees, they are completely dependable and follow the rules of the job. Their deficits are actually assets, as they are unfettered by convention or manners. People with Aspergers help us stay grounded by questioning why we do what we do, why we need to get married, and other basic societal assumptions.

Moms and dads who have successfully raised happy and productive kids with Aspergers often advise others to never give up or become discouraged. An Aspergers individual who receives good help and professional services can lead a good life. The goal does not have to be about genius but rather everyday love and sharing among family members. Success for a person with Aspergers can be going to work or school without many incidents. Success can be simply having improved social relationships until the time when everyone's life becomes better. Life then becomes a more cooperative adventure for everyone and all.

So, you may have a real entrepreneur for a son/daughter (could happen!).

Have a great weekend – and I’ll see you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.










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Depression and Aspergers

In today’s newsletter, let’s take a quick look at depression as it may relate to your child…

Individuals with Aspergers are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, especially in late adolescence and early adult life. The inability of children with Aspergers to communicate feelings of disturbance, anxiety or distress can also mean that it is often very difficult to diagnose depressive or anxiety states, particularly for clinicians who have little knowledge or understanding of developmental disorders. Similarly, because of their impairment in non-verbal expression, they may not appear to be depressed. This can mean that it is not until the illness is well developed that it is recognized, with possible consequences such as total withdrawal, increased obsessive behavior, refusal to leave the home, go to work or college etc., and threatened, attempted or actual suicide.

Depression is common in individuals with Aspergers with about 1 in 15 individuals with the disorder experiencing such symptoms. Individuals with Aspergers leaving home and going to college frequently report feelings of depression. As one young person says, "I also had to deal with anger, frustration, and depression that I had been keeping inside since high school". One study found depression to be more common in children aged 10-12 years with high-functioning autism/Asperger syndrome than in the general population of children of the same age.

Depression in children with Aspergers may be related to a growing awareness of their disability or a sense of being different from their peer group and/or an inability to form relationships or take part in social activities successfully. Personal accounts by young people with Aspergers frequently refer to attempts to make friends but "I just did not know the rules of what you were or were not supposed to do".

Indeed, some children have even been accused of harassment in their attempts to socialize, something that can only add to their depression and anxiety; "I also did not know how to approach girls and ask them to go out with me. I would just walk up and talk to them, whether they wanted to talk to me or not. Some accused me of harassment, but I thought that was the way everybody did that."

The difficulties children with Asperger syndrome have with personal space can compound this sort of problem. For example, they may stand too close or too far from the person to whom they are speaking.

Childhood experiences such as bullying or abuse may also result in depression, as can a history of misdiagnosis. Another possibility is that the child is biologically predisposed to depression. However, there are, of course, many other factors that may trigger the depression and this list should not be taken as exhaustive.

Depression might show itself through an individual’s particular preoccupations and obsessions and care must be taken to ensure that the depression is not diagnosed as other mental disorders. It is important to assess the individual’s depression in the context of their Aspergers (i.e., their social disabilities and any gradual or sudden changes in behavior, sleep patterns, anger or withdrawal should always be taken seriously).

Symptoms of depression can be psychological (poor concentration/memory, thoughts of death or suicide, tearfulness); physical (slowing down or agitation, tiredness/lack of energy, sleep problems, disturbed appetite (weight loss or gain)); or affects of mood and motivation (e.g., low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, withdrawal or bizarre beliefs, etc.).

Some children with Aspergers are unable to express appropriate and subtle emotions. They may, for example, laugh or giggle in circumstances where other people would show embarrassment, discomfort, pain or sadness. This unusual reaction, for example after bereavement, does not mean the child is being callous or is mentally ill. They need understanding and tolerance of their idiosyncratic way of expressing their grief.

In treating depression, medications used in general practice may be prescribed. It is important to realize, however, that such agents do not make an impact on the primary social impairments that underlie Aspergers. As with any treatment for depression, adjustments may have to be made to find the appropriate drug and dosage for that particular child. Side effects should also be monitored and effort made to ensure the benefits of the treatment outweigh the penalties. It is also important to identify the cause for the depression, and this may involve counseling, social skills training, or meeting up with individuals with similar interests and values.

In the next newsletter, we will look at anxiety in Aspergers children.

See you then,

Mark Hutten, M.A.









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Children with Aspergers can experience a variety of mental health problems, notably anxiety and depression, but also impulsiveness and mood swings. They may be misdiagnosed as having a psychotic disorder, thus it is important for psychiatrists treating them to be knowledgeable about autism and Aspergers. Conventional drug treatment can be used to treat depression, anxiety and other disorders. Behavioral treatments and therapies can also be effective. However, any treatment must be careful tailored to suit an individual and overseen by a qualified practitioner.

In today’s newsletter, we will look at anxiety:

Anxiety is a common problem in children with Aspergers. At puberty, many Aspergers children report that “fear” is their main emotion. Any change in school schedule, for example, can cause intense anxiety and the fear of a panic attack.

One study found that 84.1% of children with pervasive developmental disorder met the full criteria of at least one anxiety disorder (phobia, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, avoidant disorder, overanxious disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder). This does not necessarily go away as the child grows older.

Many young adults with Aspergers report intense feelings of anxiety, an anxiety that may reach a level where treatment is required. For some children, it is the treatment of their anxiety disorder that leads to a diagnosis of Aspergers.

Kids with Aspergers are particularly prone to anxiety disorders as a consequence of the social demands made upon them. Any social contact can generate anxiety as to how to start, maintain and end the activity and conversation. Changes to daily routine can exacerbate the anxiety, as can certain sensory experiences.

One way of coping with their anxiety levels is for children with Aspergers to retreat into their particular interest. Their level of preoccupation can be used a measure of their degree of anxiety – the more anxious the person, the more intense the interest. Anxiety can also increase the rigidity in thought processes and insistence upon routines, thus, the more anxious the child, the greater the expression of Aspergers.

One potentially good way of managing anxiety is to use behavioral techniques. For kids, this may involve teachers or parents looking out for recognized symptoms, such as rocking or hand-flapping, as an indication that the child is anxious. Adults and older kids can be taught to recognize these symptoms themselves, although some might need prompting. Specific events may also be known to trigger anxiety (e.g., a stranger entering the room). When certain events (internal or external) are recognized as a sign of imminent or increasing anxiety, action can be taken for example, relaxation, distraction or physical activity.

The choice of relaxation method depends very much on the child and many of the relaxation products available commercially can be adapted for use for kids with Aspergers. Young kids may respond to watching their favorite video. Older kids and adults may prefer to listen to calming music. There is much music on the market, both from specialist outfits and regular music stores, that is written specifically to bring about a feeling of tranquility. It is important the child does not have social demands, however slight, made upon him if he is to benefit. It is also important that he has access to a quiet room.

Other techniques include massage (this should be administered carefully to avoid sensory defensiveness), aromatherapy, deep breathing and using positive thoughts. I often suggest the use of photographs, postcards or pictures of a pleasant or familiar scene. These need to be small enough to be carried about and should be laminated in order to protect them. I also want to stress the need to practice whichever method of relaxation is chosen at frequent and regular intervals in order for it to be of any practical use when anxieties actually arise.

An alternative option, particularly if the child is very agitated, is to undertake a physical activity. Activities may include using the swing or trampoline, going for a long walk perhaps with the dog, or doing physical chores around the home.

Drug treatment may be effective for anxiety. Children may respond to Buspirone, Propranilol or Clonazepam, although I have found that St. Johns Wort, benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants to be more effective. As with all drug treatments it may take time to find the correct drug and dosage for any particular person. Such treatment must only be conducted through a qualified medical practitioner.

Whatever method you choose to reduce anxiety, it is crucial to identify the cause of the anxiety. This should be done by careful monitoring of the precedents to an increase in anxiety and the source of the anxiety tackled.

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.





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Preventing Problems Before They Occur

Would you like to know how to prevent problems BEFORE they occur? I’m sure you would – who wouldn’t?  Sooner is better than later – right?!  O.K.  Let’s learn how to do this…

Most parents tend to wait until a problem arises and then attempt to deal with it through the use of a consequence. Consequences can be positive (gaining something) or negative (losing something). At times, consequences are discussed prior to an event, but usually in terms of a motivator: "If you do this, you will gain (lose) something else." More often we use consequences in the middle of a problem, such as, "If you don't stop that, you're going right to bed." Or, "You won't watch any TV if you don't leave your sister alone." Or, "You're in time-out right now. I've had it." All of these statements are made when the behavior is out of control. You have given many warnings and you are now acting out of frustration. However, none of these comments will lead to positive change in the short or long run.

With an Aspergers youngster it is far better to anticipate the occurrence of a behavior and then plan for it. Many problem behaviors are repetitious, especially in the same situation. Even when they don't occur every time, they may still be frequent enough to warrant this approach. A rule of thumb is if a behavior repeats itself at least half of the time, you need to prepare for it. For example, if homework, bedtime, or dinnertime have been frequent problems in the past, chances are very good they will continue to be so in the future.

Future vision is the ability of a person to know what is going to happen in an upcoming situation because of its constant reoccurrence. When you know what is going to happen, you can prepare your youngster for the event prior to its occurrence by discussing what usually occurs and what needs to occur. For example, going out to dinner is often a problem time. So talk with your youngster about what normally happens, how he acts, how you do, and then follow that up with a discussion and see if you can get a firm commitment from your youngster that he is going to follow these new behaviors. If he responds in a positive way, you have increased the likelihood that things will go better when you go out for dinner.

If you happen to miss the opportunity to prevent a problem, there is often a small "window of opportunity" in which you can still salvage the situation. In the example above, suppose you have forgotten to say something before you left for dinner. As events begin to unravel, you have a very brief period of time – sometimes only a minute or two – before you'll be in a messy situation. Seize this opportunity. It may be the last best one in that situation.

Using Environmental Controls—

To make interventions effective you need to create an environment in which your youngster feels comfortable, anxiety is decreased, and your youngster has an understanding of the events taking place around him. The environment needs to provide consistency, predictability, structure, routine, organization, logically explained rules, and clear rewards/consequences in response to these rules. When this is in place, your youngster will begin to feel competent. I am reminded of a child who had been expelled from his kindergarten class as the result of unmanageable behaviors – even with one-on-one support. After his first week in my class of eight Aspergers children, without any additional support, he said, "Hey, I like this new school. I know the way." A number of things must be in place to create "the Aspergers world."

Physical Environment

First, the physical environment must be consistent. In all locations you need to identify consistent areas where specific activities are completed, such as that homework is always completed at the desk in his bedroom or at the kitchen table. These areas/activities should also have consistent behavioral expectations, which are explained to your youngster, such as, "At my desk I do calm sitting." Calm sitting is modeled and practiced. You need to identify clear physical boundaries, such as a planned seating arrangement in school or a planned play area at home. Use consistent materials that are clearly marked and accessible, like toys that are within easy reach and stored in or right by the area they will be used in.

In addition, expectations, such as the rules, rewards, and consequences, should be visually available. Once again, these must be clearly described to your youngster. After this has been completed, use charts with stickers or stars to keep track of reward systems. Use the letters of your youngster's name placed on a chart to keep track of consequences. Throughout the day, if letters have been received, they can slowly be erased for positive responding. This provides a wonderful visual response for appropriate behaviors, and you can deliver this feedback, depending on your youngster's needs, every ten minutes, fifteen minutes . . . three hours – you decide what works best.

Interpersonal Environment

Second, your relationship with your youngster must also be consistent in both word and action. He must see you as a predictable person, a person in control, a calm person, and, finally, a person who keeps his word. Being "easy" or giving your youngster a "break" will hinder your effectiveness. You make rules and stick to them. You make requests and follow through; you don't make second requests, and you don't plead. Your interactions must be stable, allowing your youngster to anticipate how he will respond. He must see you as someone who can help him understand the world around him. The highest praise I can receive from a youngster is being thought of as his helper or problem solver – "Ask Mrs. Simpson, she knows how to help." "Mrs. Simpson is a problem solver." "Did you know Mrs. Simpson's job is to help me figure things out?" If you are only seen as a problem causer, your effectiveness will be minimal. You must be highly organized and pay attention to details as you create a structured environment for your youngster. However, you must be able to remain flexible within this structure. By doing so, you will provide the structure your youngster needs to learn to be flexible.

Reinforcers—

Third, reinforcers will need to be very individualized, as the Aspergers youngster or adolescent often does not respond to typical reinforcers. You must be well aware of what your youngster views as a reward. Incorporating obsessions into a reinforcement system is an appropriate way of offering a strong reinforcer and of also controlling access to an obsession. You need to make sure your youngster is aware of how the reward/consequence system works. Natural consequences can also be highly effective and will remove the "giving" or "denying" of the reward from you. An example of a natural consequence is: "If you finish your morning routine within a certain time limits you will have time to watch a favorite TV show before school. If you take too long, you will not be able to watch the show." Favored activities should follow less favored or challenging activities. A word of caution: reinforcers can also cause difficulties if they are used too frequently. Not only will they lose some of their potency, but struggles can arise over the giving or not giving of the reward.

Daily Routine

Fourth, at both home and in school, develop a daily routine so that your youngster knows what he is doing and when. Posting the schedule and reviewing it when your youngster becomes "stuck" can provide the necessary prompt to move on. In addition, compliance is not a struggle between you and your youngster, but rather simply a matter of following the schedule. The person views the schedule as a guide. As noted, a guide will always serve to decrease anxiety, which in turn decreases behavior issues. I have heard my children tell visitors who enter our classroom, "That's our schedule; don't erase it or we won't know what to do." This is said even by children with excellent memories, who from the first week of school could perfectly recite the daily schedule for each day of the week (again, during sabotage, a goal will be to decrease the importance of the schedule as the year progresses).

The important detail is to review the schedule. We have seen many situations where detailed schedules are written, but never regularly and carefully reviewed with the youngster. As you review the schedule, you not only lessen anxiety, but you also provide an opportunity to discuss appropriate responding. When you develop a schedule at home, you may number the items on it, such as 1, 2, 3, but try to avoid assigning times to each event or activity. It is often difficult to do things to the minute, and failure to do so can lead to further upset for an Aspergers youngster. You may also choose to establish a routine for only a small portion of the day, if you feel a day-long schedule would be too great a change for your youngster. For example, you might create a schedule for an activity, such as going to the mall, as an easier place to start. For an adolescent, rather than using a written schedule, you could use a desk calendar or day planner. Again, this accomplishes the goal of providing a visual guide. We will discuss the use of schedules in greater detail later on in this chapter.

The creation of this environment will take time and will require you to examine more details than you knew existed in any environment. Your reward, however, will be the miracle of watching your youngster leave his anxieties and problematic behaviors behind. You will see him begin to really trust you and take chances he never thought he could. You will witness his gradual and steady steps into a larger world.

Using Language

It's time to expand your ideas of how to use language and to explore how you can use it as a powerful tool to decrease anxiety and increase compliance. Remember to gain your youngster's attention before you begin to speak. You should be physically close to him (though not in his personal space) and, for the young youngster, on his eye level. Your language should convey meaning, provide the "road map" or "game plan," and enable your youngster to respond more appropriately. These kids don't have the road map we all have and take for granted, which allows us to maneuver in the world around us. Language used in a concrete, predictable manner becomes a way to teach alternative behaviors. For example, even after social skills training, saying to Cody, age nine, "Today after school, Mom is taking you to the playground to make and play with a new friend," doesn't provide enough information. He doesn't know what that means or what is expected of him. Instead, I would provide Cody with a "game plan."

Reframing—

When your youngster misinterprets a situation, your language can be used to reframe the situation, allowing your youngster to reinterpret it appropriately. This reframing can also be used when your youngster engages in inappropriate behaviors. Through your language, you provide alternative responses for the future. More important, your language can be used to introduce new ways of thinking or rethinking previously held beliefs.

An example of this would be the introduction of new foods into a youngster's repertoire. This was a goal for Joe, an eleven-year-old who would eat very few foods. More disturbing, the particular foods he ate made him seem unusual to his middle school peers (the same soup brought from home each day, cold noodles, etc.). In beginning to work with Joe, the idea of eating new foods was introduced by linking the eating of new foods with age-specific skills. The discussion began by asking him to recall different skills he had learned at different ages (crawl/walk/run, cry/sounds/words, drink from a bottle/sippy cup/regular cup, etc.). This led to the development of a new system to classify how a youngster changes: the preschool way, the elementary school way, the middle school way, the high school way. Trying, eating, and then incorporating new foods into his diet was put into this system with specific foods for each category. Items such as pizza, sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers – typical adolescent foods – were included in the middle school category. This language approach was paired with a step-by-step program to actually introduce the new foods. In addition, we helped Joe to view eating these new foods in a different way (we reframed his approach to new foods).

So, there you go. Good luck – I know you can do this!

Mark Hutten, M.A.








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Aspergers Characteristics

To help you better understand Aspergers (AS), here is a list of a number of characteristics that most Aspergers individuals have in common, as described (anonymously) by several adults with Aspergers:


1.     Alienation— Being required to function in the intensely social realm contributes to the alienation AS people feel. When the alienation commences differs person-to-person the higher functioning individuals probably feel this earlier than others. Not being able to relate on the wave length, not aware of social issues, correct ways of responding, preferring to delve deeply into a subject, not being admitted to social groups, ostracism, bullying, teasing have all contributed to the AS individuals understanding that we are from a different planet, cultural aliens at best shunned and actively excluded at the worst. To sum; the advice given by an AS person don’t worry about them worry about yourself. Some AS individuals have learned to act to use social coping strategies to mask their AS mannerisms thus AS is concealed, others become reclusive, however no one AS person will ever be exactly like another each responding differently to another.

2.     Anger and frustration— Anger in AS individuals needs to be understood as an over stimulation where a little or a lot will cause the same effects, and that many AS individuals irrespective of age have a one size fits all response. Anger management presents problems for some AS individuals. Their ability to see things in black and white results in tantrums when they don’t get their exact own way, or per chance they are used to getting their own way and now cannot. Anger expressed may be a childish way to cope the person needing to be trained early on what is socially appropriate. Still others have an extremely short fuse blow up then wonder what all the fuss is about, conversely some ASPERGERS bottle up anger and turn it inward and hit or bite themselves, never revealing once where the bother is. As many ASPERGERS individuals are perfectionists it is prudent to train the ASPERGERS person in how to cope with the mistake without the fuss anger whatever this may take time. The ASPERGERS person often is expected to grow out of this behavior but does not as they need to be helped out.

3.     Aptitude— A number of ASPERGERS individuals show special abilities these would include, painting /drawing, logic /computer skills, able to load the brain with facts, detail specific, early reader, hyperlexia, mathematical abilities, engineering tendencies, logic and argument. While these in themselves are useful when nurtured the individual can achieve ha high level of competency in a chosen field, this could be in sciences e.g., chemistry, physics, geology or IT where computer work requires ability and learning rather than training alone. Others may excel in music performance, composition or teaching. A number of gifted individuals of high achievement are / were ASPERGERS this would include Grandin, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Gates, Mozart and Bella Bartok to list but a few. By supporting and promoting the ASPERGERS person’s skills early in life greater achievement is possible in that person’s life.

4.     Communication difficulties— ASPERGERS individuals often experience great bother with communication of any sort. Sometimes some ASPERGERS individuals are unable to speak or do so much later, than nonspectrum individuals, i.e. after 3-5years of age. Problems are many fold -- it is difficult to communicate in linear thought and/or we fail to interpret nonverbal signals, or that what we communicate is out of kilter with the audience expectations. Also we are often extremely literal in our interpretation of others conversations, on many occasions we can become confused when ambiguous communication appears. Thus we may check that cats and dogs are raining down and announce they are not here yet, or understand there are two suns when someone talked about two sons.

5.     Detail vs. the Big Picture— As ASPERGERS individuals are often skilled at noticing details problems invariably arise. The importance of the detail prevents the ASPERGERS person from understanding the bigger picture as the context of that detail is only a detail. The context often requires social understanding to be able to process the whole picture this would require theory of mind, flexibility, where in the whole the detail may fit and its size to the end result. ASPERGERS individuals not able to access their frontal cortex or prefrontal lobe efficiently if at all, they must transact their social transactions from the realm of memory being prevented from accessing instinct or social areas of the brain. Consequently some tasks are difficult; turn taking, hypothetical scenarios, and other’s points of view cause ASPERGERS individuals great difficulty, and bother in thought. Thus often the ASPERGERS person aims for closure unable to realize the real consequences outside the ASPERGERS mindset or time frame. Some as a result fall foul of the law not apprehending the full ramifications of their actions in the big picture.

6.     Light— Too much light, the wrong sort of light i.e. blue light, movement, synesthesia where sound appears in the brain as light.

7.     Loneliness— As ASPERGERS individuals lack social capacity or awareness even, they find that despite sincere efforts and hard work they are unable to; connect rationally, understand body language, obtain friendships, employment, trust and or relationships. Many ASPERGERS individuals can and do work hard to be employed, marry as well as having at least one friend however there are some who find themselves isolated or worse alienated. Isolation can be due to; exposure anxiety, over stimulation in the environment, teasing, inability to enjoy social experiences like sport, talking about social things or enjoying others company, but mostly it’s because we are not programmed as nonspectrum individuals are. The alienation may be due in part to an inability to organize simple everyday experiences, eating, dressing appropriately, catching public transport, waking up in time, many things others take for granted, but we find extremely difficult to enact successfully alone or with other individuals. The alienation may also be due to criticism and teasing which has lead to a very poor self-image. These above listed points in turn have discouraged the ASPERGERS to pursue relevant goals. As ASPERGERS individuals are dereistic goal centeredness is not what he/she are programmed or interested in, thus the ASPERGERS individuals finds themselves an island of self marooned in a sea of sociality.

8.     Need For Routine— As a train or tram needs tracks so to do ASPERGERS individuals need routine and predictability. Change can cause ASPERGERS to become stressed and too much change can lead to meltdowns. Changes like a different teacher at school, a new routine, doing things in a different order are some of the more obvious more subtle might include putting pants on before the shirt, going to the toilet at someone else’s place, changing a bedroom curtain can contribute to stress.

9.     Pain— Some ASPERGERS individuals are unable to detect pain - others do but have a high pain threshold. On the other hand some are more sensitized and respond to only very small pain incidents out of proportion to the incident, still others may respond to minor pain incidents but fail to do so in more severe events.

10. Poor Coordination and Motor Clumsiness— ASPERGERS individuals may have cerebellum developmental delays resulting in poor balance, poor hand to eye coordination, or poor spatial awareness. Some may have motor clumsiness that results in difficulties with sequencing a task correctly, catching a ball, handwriting, cleaning teeth, shoelace tying, and other such like activities. These bothers make the person appear uncoordinated prone to fall and stand out when the person tries to run with other individuals, simple ball handling skills appear almost impossible. Some of these bothers if untreated will remain for life, others learned slowly later. Poor coordination may result in avoidance of some or all activities by the ASPERGERS person as they aim for perfection not pleasure when completing some sports tasks.

11. Right and wrong— Many ASPERGERS individuals seem pre-programmed to detect right and wrong and often will bluntly announce what is wrong. Other times will note others short comings but not their own.

12. Sensory Sensitivities—As with other ASPERGERS bothers this problem area tends to manifest as a spectrum ranging from no sensitivity to extreme sensitivity. Although some ASPERGERS have under sensitized systems the majority are more highly sensitized to their environment than nonspectrum individuals. The most noticeable response to a stimulus would be light or sound. Briefly we have included aspects of the stimulus that causes bother.

13. Smell— As with food smells and fragrances affect different ASPERGERS in different ways. Some perfumes over power others do not, the response to the overpowering may be avoidance, anger, windup due to overload, or inability to cooperate with the person who has the perfume, ditto other odors and smells but a number of ASPERGERS individuals prefer some odors and try to smell them more regularly. Smell may trigger outbursts when the fragrance smell whatever is linked to an event thus when experience at a later date the same feelings or replay of the event takes place.

14. Social Relationship Problems— From my perspective, many ASPERGERS individuals try hard to be social when we become aware of that need but often much effort results in frustration and alienation. Essentially we are not programmed to be social and each type of interaction must be learned by rote and cannot be transacted by instinct, as everyone else is able to. At other times we have no idea of how to respond even being totally unaware that we should. Some friends tried hard to be friends I was totally unaware of their efforts, failing to apprehend nonverbal signals. At other times facial expressions or etiquette are at best a totally foreign language no matter who is enacting the dialog. Some of us dislike social contact due to exposure anxiety not wanting to be different but not knowing what to do. Even after fifty years practice social relationships are very difficult with non-ASPERGERS individuals. The development of peer relations contiguous with age development appears out of sync where a lack of reciprocity results in a lack of sharing, bringing or reciprocation. Some ASPERGERS individuals will however bond more successfully with adults than peers, similarly they may also develop friendships with children who are much younger than themselves, yet another group may try to connect with their cohort particularly at school often being me with a lack of success alienation teasing and so on, a more noticeable group has no contact with anyone and isolates to cope. Occasionally the later group has individuals in it that are prone to running off not aware of danger, fear, strangers, or different surroundings. A lack of social or emotional reciprocity often characterizes individuals with ASPERGERS and may cause nonspectrum individuals to think the ASPERGERS person is actively snubbing them rather it often is that the ASPERGERS person is unable to respond as they either don’t know how to, are not aware that this is the time to say something etc, or choose not to as they see no need. Many ASPERGERS find it hard to locate a gap in conversation and then be able to immediately respond.

15. Socially imaginative Play Deficits— Many ASPERGERS children are unable to play pretend games often indulging in repetitive behaviors, seriation, tearing up paper, rocking, ant tracking, and other actions. Symmetrical patterns, color grouping and repetitive activities are nearly always preferred to joining others in their activities. Some ASPERGERS children may be attracted to wheels and perseverate over activities that involve them, as a child the bike turned upside down was a most excellent toy for as long as I could be allowed to indulge I could ignore all. Preferring to play alone ASPERGERS children may play parallel to other children or perchance with others try to dominate the activity.

16. Sound— Too much sound, too much of one frequency of sound, and or the brain focusing on one sound and ignoring all other sounds i.e. a computer fan, cause ASPERGERS individuals great discomfort and distraction. Unable to filter extraneous sounds a mélange of sound overloads the ASPERGERS who often has bother discerning which they should be hearing or ignoring individual peaks of sensitivity aggravate an already troublesome condition.

17. Special Interests— ASD individuals often develop unusual interests some of whom will be suitable for employment; an interest in busses allowed my brother a bus-driving career. Other interests may not be so useful and when one inappropriate interest is extinguished another usually takes its place. Encouragement should be given early to foster suitable special interests so that the ASD person has something to be interested in which would allow teachers to utilize in an educational setting as well as preparing the person for employment. It may be useful to encourage the ASD person’s memory so that what has been loaded is useful but prepares the ASD on learning more rather than letting the world drift by.

18. Taste— Some ASPERGERS individuals are able to detect certain chemicals or tastes to micro molar amounts whereas others totally lack taste discernment. When medication, for the ASPERGERS person, is administered via drink or food the ASPERGERS person is often able to detect the presence of medication via taste even in very small doses. Other individuals have extreme bother in consuming certain types of food for the taste they perceive overpowers them greatly. To cope, they often limit themselves to what they eat opting for bland or foods of a certain taste only at the expense of everything else.

19. Time— ASPERGERS individuals not only experience bother understanding time they often are unable to utilize time effectively. Organizational skills in some ASPERGERS individuals are nonexistent chaos characterizes interactions their lives and homes. Deadlines are ignored, as they may not be understood.

20. Touch— Often referred to as tactile sensitivity, Aspergers individuals are highly sensitive to certain fabrics; sometimes these cannot be tolerated i.e. wool, wearing shoes, hats sunscreen application and the like. Seams labels joins in the fabrics are also sources of often-intense irritation. Others cannot tolerate; hugs, light caress like touch that is perceived as painful, certain types of food in the mouth or even full stomachs.

21. Vibes— If an ASPERGERS person has sensitivities to light sound etc then the ASPERGERS person may have an ability to detect things in the spiritual realm, to certain areas or sites, individual’s houses, even certain individuals themselves. Instinctively able to sum up a person results in their perception taking place before the other person has even spoken to them.

22. Vulnerability— ASPERGERS individuals are often unable to protect themselves at school or in various social settings they find themselves in. In later life they are may be regarded as eccentric odd or different, some unable to work as supervisors but capable of high work output and ethics when in suitable employment. Some ASPERGERS individuals are extremely trusting -- others suspicious of all.

So, what do you think? Several Asperger adult friends of mine put this newsletter together. I think they did a great job and provided a lot of insight into the Aspergers condition that you and I would never have otherwise. Hope you enjoyed it.

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.










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If your situation is like most parents of Aspergers children, your child’s teachers have no (or little) clue how to make classroom accommodations for this disorder.  Thus, I have put together a “fact sheet” of sorts (11 pages long) that I would like you to (a) print out on your printer, and (b) tactfully share with your child’s teacher(s).  If you don’t help educate them – who will?  Sadly, probably nobody!

Here you go…


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Children with Aspergers will respond quite well to specific classroom adaptations. Here are the recommended methods a teacher can employ with their Aspergers students: 

• Implement Creative Programming - Through the student’s IEP, educators can develop class schedules which will be motivating and challenging to the student while addressing his/her needs.
• Intervene Early - The earlier intervention begins, the earlier children can learn the needed skills for adulthood and friendship.
• Obtain In-Depth Training - learn the differences among the kids with Aspergers in elementary, middle school and high school.
• Recognize Children’ Strengths - Many children with Aspergers will go on to make great contributions to society. However, we must tap into their strengths and offer support so that they do not drop out of school because academic and social demands are too high.
• Understand How Social Impairments Impact Learning and Peer Relationships. Some children require weekly sessions with trained staff members who can help them “solve the puzzles” they encounter in everyday activities and help alleviate depression caused by perception of social failure. Provide ongoing social skill instruction to help children form relationships with peers.

Role of Inclusion Educators—

1. Carefully structure seating arrangements and group work. Kids with Aspergers should not be seated near class bullies or aggressive children. Rather, sit them next to children who can serve as a “peer buddy.” See where the youngster works most effectively; near the teacher or near a quiet open space. Avoid self-selection when children are being assigned to a group. Teach children how to function as a team and accept all members.

2. Connect with Each Other, Parents, Internet, and Other Support Groups. To avoid the feelings of many educators and families who feel isolated in their attempts to support children with Aspergers, create regular communication through meetings, telephone or e-mail among inclusion and special education educators and parents. Create a Home School Coordination- Improve the behavior of this student by combining school and home effort. Work on goals that the youngster should meet. Then send home a note indicating if the youngster has met that goal. If s/he has done so, reward him/her (in school and at home if the appropriate behavior is being exhibited there as well).

3. Don’t Take it Personally. Don’t be insulted by the student who interrupts, speaks too loudly or misses your jokes. Separate the youngster from the syndrome (be perturbed with the behavior, but support the youngster) and try to imagine the world as viewed through his eyes. Model warmth and acceptance. Refrain from impatience and irritation so peers will too.

4. Help Your Classroom Become a Caring Environment. Create and maintain your classroom as a safe, supportive and accepting community by expecting and ensuring that all children respect, support and take responsibility for each other. Help create a strong sense of belonging among all the diverse children in your classroom.

5. Prepare for Changes in the Routine. Since most children with Aspergers thrive on clear expectations and routines there are many different methods a teacher can use to help create smooth transitions. Write class schedules and time frames on the blackboard, or use a picture schedule for younger kids. Designate classroom jobs, space and time with certain activities (e.g., computer). Explain changes in the routine well in advance (e.g., “On Thursday, we will have an assembly. That means you go straight from your second period class to the auditorium.”).

6. Promote Positive Peer Interactions. Create ways to connect the student with empathic peers in order to promote social acceptance and friendships. Use role playing and games - Try the program “Magic Circle” where children are seated in a circle and are encouraged to share their feelings and listen to others. This type of activity helps promote active listening skills and recognition of each individual. Help the student engage in successful conversations and reflection by using comic strips, since the pictures, words and symbols identify what the people say and do and emphasize what people may be thinking. Social stories which describe typical social situations and explain the meaning of various comments and identify appropriate responses are also good. Direct the youngster to participate in activities or clubs in which their abilities might neutralize their social deficiencies (e.g., math groups). Make sure they are not involved in groups that are frequented by bullies. Identify the student’s special gifts and teach him/her to share those gifts through tutoring, class presentations, or community service.

7. Provide a Safe Haven. Children with Aspergers can become overwhelmed by noise, crowds, chaos or trying to engage in social interactions (e.g., an assembly, recess time), which can lead to anxiety and stress. Offer an alternative to attending these events. Try earplugs or headphones to assist in screening out troubling noise. Make sure the youngster has a trusted contact person with whom they feel comfortable with (e.g., special education teacher, school psychologist, guidance counselor or principal, older responsible pupil). Give access to a quiet, private place (e.g., school library, tutoring room, empty classroom or office) where the student can spend lunchtime, study hall or any other free time alone, can rest and refresh themselves to alleviate the stress that accompanies the constant effort to fit in.

8. Use Available Resources/ Make Needed Accommodations. Children with Aspergers often respond well to visuals, graphic models and technology. They often have impaired gross or fine motor skills. Encourage the use of computers for written assignments and exams. Allow for extra time or quiet space if needed. When significant amounts of notes need to be taken, pair the student with Aspergers with a buddy in order that the student can photocopy the notes missed. Allow time on the Internet. The effort and anxiety associated with interpersonal connections is greatly reduced because then children only have to deal with the written word. However, limit the amount of time on the computer in order that a potential obsession does not develop and that the computer does not become a substitute for human contact.

Characteristics of Aspergers—

• Cognitive abilities which are average or above average (They are often known as “little professors”)
• Depression, frequent school absences, low school motivation due to being socially vulnerable and easy targets for teasing and bullying
• Difficulties with subjects that require inferential reasoning, abstract concepts, problem solving, extensive calculations or social judgments.
• Fine motor problems which lead to poor penmanship and low writing motivation
• Friends and new acquaintances may be acknowledged with tight and enthusiastic hugs instead of formal greetings like “Hi, how are you?”
• Gross motor clumsiness which leads to poor skills in competitive sports and physical activities
• Hypersensitivity to noises or smells
• Lack of emotional reciprocity or empathy
• May begin to talk about the latest topic of concern which is of interest only to themselves (e.g., train schedules), may be age inappropriate or boring but the person does not pick up on looks of disinterest or snickers from the group.
• May move into the personal space of others, not recognizing body language, facial and verbal cues that he/she has transgressed
• May not make direct eye contact
• Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
• Rigid and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
• Speech and language peculiarities such as: stilted and formal language, voice too loud or monotone or hyperverbal.
• Stereotyped and repetitive motor movements

Personal Challenges for Children with Aspergers—

Listed below are behaviors that a youngster with Aspergers might encounter on a daily basis.

Social Interactions:

• inappropriate use of eye contact, avoidance or extended staring
• little sense of other people’s boundaries
• not accepting hugging, cuddling or touching unless self initiated
• poor use of nonverbal gestures
• trouble with back and forth social interactions
• wanting to be left alone at times

Interest and Activities:

• defensive to touch which isn’t self initiated
• difficulty waiting
• history of eating problems
• lack of fear or real danger
• lining up and or/ ordering objects
• pacing or running back and forth, round and round
• repeatedly watching videos or video segments
• resisting change
• strong attachment to inanimate objects
• very sensitive to sounds

Qualitative Impairments in Communication:

• difficulty understanding abstract concepts
• problem understanding jokes
• problem with getting the order of words in sentences correct
• problems answering questions
• problems using speed, tone and volume appropriately
• problems with reciprocal conversations

Learning Characteristics:

• delayed response time
• good visual skills
• hyperactivity
• needs help to problem solve
• problems organizing
• short attention span to some activities and not others
• well developed long term memory

Observable Problems Behaviors:

• aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, pinching
• low motivation
• temper tantrums
• toileting problems

Motor Problems:

• balance
• clumsiness
• motor planning- can’t make body do what it needs to do
• stiffness
• tired easily

Environmental Challenges that Lower Ability to Function Competently—

Personal:

- not being understood
- not understanding
- not having choices
- making a mistake
- being touched

Major Changes:

- alterations in school, work, home, community
- time changes
- staff or teacher absent
- cancellation of event or activity
- having to wait too long

Environmental Confusion:

- crowds
- noise
- not having enough space
- losing things of value
- surrounded by too much movement
- surrounded by too much visual stimuli

Relationships:

- being corrected
- being denied
- being late
- being ignored
- being left out
- being teased
- being scolded

Sensory Challenges—

Sound/ Auditory:

- reacts to unexpected sound
- fears some noises
- making self induced noises
- confused about direction of sound
- distracted by certain sounds

Sight/Vision:

- has been diagnosed as having a visual problem
- is sensitive to light
- has difficulty tracking
- upset by things looking different
- closely examines objects or hands

Smell/Olfactory:

- sensitive to smells
- explores environment by smelling
- reacts strongly to some smells
- ignores strong odors

Touch/Tactile:

- defensive about being touched
- prefers deep touching rather than soft
- dislikes feel of certain clothing
- over or under dresses for temperature
- upset by sticky, gooey hands

Taste:

- has an eating problem
- dislikes certain textures or foods
- tastes non-edibles

Movement/Vestibular:

- seems fearful in space
- arches back when held or moved
- likes rocking, swinging, spinning
- avoids balancing activities

Perceptual/Perceptual Motor:

- has difficulty with time perception
- problems with use of some tools
- difficulty with body in space
- relies on knowing location of furniture

Social Skills which may be Personal Challenges—

Personal Management/Self Control:

- waiting
- finishing work
- taking care of belongings
- turning in assignments on time
- changing activities
- accepting correction

Reciprocal Interactions:

- imitating
- sharing
- taking turns
- offering help, comfort
- inviting others to join
- asking for a favor
- letting someone know you are hurt or sick

Reciprocating Social Interactions Appropriately:

- listening
- commenting on a topic
- answering questions
- accepting help
- responding to teasing
- making a choice
- giving eye contact appropriately

Manner of Interaction:

- being polite
- being kind
- being considerate
- being honest
- not walking away when someone is talking

Abstract Social Concepts:

- being good
- timing
- fairness
- friendship
- caring
- lying
- humor

Group Behaviors:

- come when called to a group
- stay in certain places
- participate with group
- follow group rules
- winning and losing
- pick up, clean up, straighten up

Effective Behavior Interventions of Problem Behaviors –

What makes us do what we do?

Biological Influences
Instructional/ Reinforcement History
Setting /Events
Stimulus Events

In order to create an effective intervention for problem behaviors, educators (and parents) need to take into consideration a variety of aspects.

1. Hypothesize the function of the behavior

• Social Attention
• Escape/ avoidance
• Wants tangible item or activity
• Sensory Feedback

2. Gather Information

a. Antecedent : Does the behavior occur……

- When you are attending to other people in the room?
- Following a request to perform a difficult task?
- When a request for an item or activity is denied?
- Repeatedly, in the same way, for long periods of time, even when no on is around?

b. Consequence: When the behavior occurs, do others….

- Attend to the student?
- Leave the student alone?
- Negotiate or give the desired item/activity
- Allow the student to engage in inappropriate behavior?

3. Plan an Intervention

a. Based on information gathered, are environmental changes needed?

- Move student closer to teacher.
- Limit materials available to student.
- Remove distracters.

b. Based on information gathered, determine how people should react to the challenging behavior each time it occurs.

- Plan to ignore.
- Plan to attend.
- Plan to remove privileges.
- Plan to redirect.

4. Identify a Replacement Behavior

a. What appropriate behavior is “functionally equivalent” to the challenging behavior?

- Manipulating a stress ball or twist pen to replace inappropriate hand movements
- Teaching the student to ask if he can use the computer later to replace tantrum behavior
- Teaching student to raise his hand to replace attention-seeking behaviors
- Teaching the student to communicate his wants appropriately to replace escape/ avoidance behaviors

b. Complete replacement behavior planning guide with team…

1. Which behavior is the team going to target for replacement?
2. What functionally equivalent behavior is the team going to train in place of the problem behavior?
3. In what situations will training occur?
4. Who will be responsible for conducting the training sessions?
5. What motivation system will be implemented during training?
6. Describe how the team will evaluate if and how the student uses the new response.

Promoting Positive Classroom Behavior of Children—

The suggestions written below can be used to help kids with Aspergers but can be used in any classroom to help promote a positive atmosphere.

a) Rules - Establish, teach and enforce classroom rules. Rules should be positively stated and identify the specific behaviors you wish to see displayed

b) Premack Principle - Method of maintaining and increasing compliance with rules through the use of positive reinforcement. A desired activity is available to children on the completion of an undesired activity (e.g., a student who stays in their seat for a period of time can earn an opportunity to work on the computer).

c) Contingency Contracts - Children and educators formalize agreements concerning specific behavior for the exchange of reinforcers by writing an agreement. It outlines the behaviors and consequences of a specific behavior management system. (See the link on this site titled "Contracts")

d) Self Recording - The student monitors his or her own behaviors by using a data collection system. Children can be taught to increase their on task behavior during a class by placing a + in a box when they are paying attention for several minutes and a -–if they are off task.

e) Self Evaluation - A self-management system that has been used to promote appropriate behavior in many general education programs. Children are taught to evaluate their in class behavior using a rating scale. For example, a student can rate his on task and disruptive behaviors using a 0-5 point rating scale ("unacceptable" to "excellent"). The student earns points (which can be exchanged for reinforcers) based on both student behavior and the accuracy of his ratings.

Ways to Decrease Inappropriate Classroom Behaviors –

Listed below are various ways to decrease inappropriate behaviors and increase appropriate ones for kids with Aspergers.

- Redirection - Introduce a novel stimulus to recapture the student’s attention by delivering verbal and nonverbal cues to the student to stop misbehavior, offering assistance with a task, engaging him/her in conversation, reminding him/her to focus attention on the task, or modeling calm and controlled behavior.

- Interspersed Requests - Used to motivate children to perform a difficult or unpleasant task by initially asking them to perform several easier tasks, which they can complete successfully in a short amount of time. This helps promote “behavioral momentum”.

- Differential Reinforcement - Techniques used to decrease inappropriate behaviors by reinforcing the occurrence of positive behaviors, which cannot coexist with the appropriate behavior. (See the link on this site titled "Differential Reinforcement")

- Extinction - A strategy in which the positive reinforcers maintaining a behavior are withheld or terminated, resulting in the reduction in the behavior. (See the link on this site titled "What is ABA" ---then read about 'Ignoring')

- Checklists and Schedules - Provide visual structure and motivation needed to complete assignments and remain on task by checking off assignments and activities upon their completion.

Adaptation of Oral Presentations/Lectures for Children—

Some children require modifications to be made in order for them to understand what is being taught. There are various types of adaptations. Listed below are a few which can be used to help any student achieve to their highest potential:

Pausing - to help children retain lecture content pause for 2 minutes every 5-7 consecutive minutes of lecturing. During the pause children can discuss and review content, ask questions or engage in visual imagery.

Visual Aids - Visual supports such as charts, graphs, lists and pictures can be used to highlight main points, maintain attention, promote eye contact and address the needs of visual learners.

Guided Notes - Outlined and guided notes in which the student fills in the blanks provide a foundation for note taking, and promotes on task behavior. Since many kids with Aspergers have difficulty with fine motor skills such as writing, this is a method that can be implemented to help them throughout lectures.

Active Student Responding (To encourage active participation) choral responding- in which children answer simultaneously on a cue from a teacher during fast paced lessons.

Response Cards - cards are simultaneously held up by all children to display their responses to questions or problems presented by the teacher

Cooperative Learning Groups/ Peer Tutoring - helps with social interaction

Other Strategies—

- Use repetition by asking children to answer the same questions several times during a class period.
- Reinforce correct responses and appropriate behavior with descriptive statements that identify what made the answer "right".
- Group student with peers who participate and attend.
- Select children randomly to respond and remind them that they may be called on next.
-Change activities frequently.
-Vary the presentation and response modes of instructional activities.
- Decrease the complexity and syntax of statements.

Affective Education Strategies to Implement in Any Classroom—

Rapport - Maintaining rapport with children can help establish a positive classroom environment. Educators can establish rapport by talking to children about topics in which they are interested, sharing their own interests, providing opportunities for children to perform activities in which they excel, and complimenting children.

Humor - Good natured joking helps develop a good relationships and a positive classroom atmosphere. Humor helps children see a situation from another perspective and decreases the likelihood of conflicts.

Dialoguing - Dialoging involves meeting with the children to assist them in identifying the problem, discovering their perspective on that problem, phrase it in their words, and discussing solutions for resolving the problem. It helps children understand their behaviors and problem solve alternatives to inappropriate behaviors.


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Thanks for “spreading the word”.

Have a great day, and I’ll see you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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John’s Story: An Adult with Newly Diagnosed “Aspergers”

I received this email from a young man recently diagnosed with Aspergers. I thought it was quite insightful and wanted to share it with you. This is John’s story…

“I went to a psychiatrist recently for mild depression. I had met a woman earlier, who never believed in depression or that she had it, but she took drugs that were prescribed to her, and the effect was enormous--like night and day. She suggested that I looked into depression medication if there is a remote chance.

Since, for one or two months, I found myself with an unusually low level of energy, being unproductive and unable to get work done for reasons I could not explain, I decided to try it out. I could not even will myself to do the simplest things. I examined my diet, my level of exercise, and air quality of my house.

The psychiatrist (the MD, who prescribes medication) referred me to a psychologist (the PhD) for further testing. I saw on a note a phrase "Pervasive development disorder." Hmm, that doesn't sound good. I went through a battery of tests, to check my intelligence, my memory, my social skills and so on. I was asked to define words--ordinary and difficult and asked to pronounce some difficult words, too. The psychologist noted that at few times that I accomplished some puzzles faster than anyone has seen. Doing in 30 seconds, puzzles that ordinarily take a minimum of two minutes; I felt happy about that. But the final review would be different.

The psychiatrist took the test results and told me that I had Asperger's syndrome--a sort of high-functioning autism. Huh? The test results showed that I was highly intelligent. According to the psychologist, if I took an IQ tests, I would be declared at least superior which is consistent with my education and my background. But, that I have a complete disregard for social matters or anything else non-intellectual. I also miss social cues, and have peculiar mannerisms, such as my "rocking."

Hey, Bill Gates rocks too, but then he was also compared to an autistic child in a Time Magazine article. Bill Gates used to brag about his SAT scores (800 Math), and would ask a girl her SATs score at Harvard, it's been reported. I started seeing connections, my SAT scores were higher than any of my 400 high school classmates, not to mention any other senior in the past 3 years; and in today's scale would be a perfect 1600. (Since the early 90's ETS readjusted SAT scores by 100 pts.) With 1 question wrong, my 790 GMAT score was also the highest at the UCLA Anderson School of Business. What was crazy is that when I took the paper-based GMAT, I finished each section in a fraction of the 30-minute allotted time--10 minutes for the quantitative section and 15 for the verbal section.

But I have also been called socially retarded. That's funny, I got a great score on an emotional IQ tests, but that's probably because I know what the right answer. I don't do well in social situations, can't converse in a group of more than 2 people. I have to translate my thoughts from my head to my mouth, unlike most people, who speak directly what they think; so I can't keep pace with other people in a group conversation. But then again I have never had a girl friend until I was 27. And since the girl was from a different culture, she didn't know better. I think that's why she divorcing me, because she's has been more exposed to other people in the US and wants someone more emotional and "normal."

I wonder if Asperger's is a medical term for "nerdiness." Even if it isn't, I think there would be greatly disproportionate concentration of sufferers at Microsoft compared to the rest of the world. In China, my wife says, you would not find such people, because "nerdiness" is not respected at all and ensures future poverty, so the family socializes nerds out of the condition.

Fortunately, I am in good company. Some people think Bill Gates has Asperger Syndrome. Not to mention that supposedly other famous scientists like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Unfortunately, Isaac Newton died a virgin.”

So, there you go. Hope you enjoyed John’s story.

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook is a straightforward and highly practical tool designed to help parents (and teachers) implement comprehensive parenting and educational strategies, providing systems to deal with the physical, mental, emotional and social issues that occur in the day-to-day realities of Aspergers children. ==> Special discount to newsletter subscribers: Enter the following discount code: AEU246 and receive The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook for only $17.00 (SAVE $32.00).







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In this week’s newsletter, we will take a close look at Aspergers children who refuse to go to school.  Ready?  O.K.  Let’s look at a couple case examples first…

Case Example 1: Kayla, an eight-year-old Aspergers girl, has always had difficulty attending school. Since she began third grade two months ago, her problems have significantly worsened. She constantly begs to stay home from school, having tantrums that cause delay in dressing and often result in her missing the bus. After arriving at school, Kayla frequently complains of stomachaches, headaches and a sore throat to her teacher and asks to visit the school nurse with whom she pleads to call her mother. Her mother typically picks her up early twice a week. When Kayla gets home she spends the remainder of the afternoon watching TV and playing with her toys. When her mother is unable to pick her up early, Kayla calls her mother's cell phone periodically throughout the afternoon to "check in" and reassure herself that nothing bad has happened. Kayla's teacher has expressed concern about her missing so much class time which has resulted in incomplete assignments and difficulty learning.

Case Example 2: Jake is a fourteen-year-old Aspergers boy who has missed forty-three days of school since beginning the eighth grade four months ago. When home from school, Jake spends most of the day online or playing video games. On the days he does attend school he is typically late for his first period which enables him to avoid hanging out with other kids before class. He always goes to the library during lunch. When he does go to class, he sits in the back of the classroom, never raises his hand and has difficulty working on group projects. Jake' teachers have noticed that he is always absent on days that tests or book reports are scheduled. His parents have already punished him after his first report card came home since he received D's in Math and Social Studies and failed Gym for cutting. Jake' parents have started to wonder if they should change his school placement and have asked the school to arrange home tutoring while this alternative is explored.

Prevalence and defining characteristics—

As much as 28% of school aged kids in America refuse school at some point during their education.1 School refusal behavior is as common among boys as girls. While any youngster aged 5-17 may refuse to attend school, most youths who refuse are 10-13 years old. Peaks in school refusal behavior are also seen at times of transition such as 5-6 and 14-15 years as kids enter new schools. Although the problem is considerably more prevalent in some urban areas, it is seen equally across socioeconomic levels.

Kayla and Jake are just two examples of how school refusal manifests in Aspergers youth. The hallmark of this behavior is its heterogeneity. Defined as substantial, child-motivated refusal to attend school and/or difficulties remaining in class for an entire day, the term "school refusal behavior" replaces obsolete terms such as "truancy" or "school phobia," because such labels do not adequately or accurately represent all youths who have difficulty attending school. School refusal behavior is seen as a continuum that includes youths who always miss school as well as those who rarely miss school but attend under duress. Hence, school refusal behavior is identified in youths aged 5-17 years who:

1. are entirely absent from school
2. attend school initially but leave during the course of the school day
3. exhibit unusual distress during school days that leads to pleas for future absenteeism.
4. go to school following crying, clinging, tantrums or other intense behavior problems

As evidenced by Kayla and Jake, there are varying degrees of school refusal behavior. Initial school refusal behavior for a brief period may resolve without intervention. Substantial school refusal behavior occurs for a minimum of two weeks. Acute school refusal behavior involves cases lasting two weeks to one year, being a consistent problem for the majority of that time. Chronic school refusal behavior interferes with two or more academic years as this refers to cases lasting more than one calendar year. Youths who are absent from school as a result of chronic physical illness, school withdrawal which is motivated by moms and dads or societal conditions such as homelessness, or running away to avoid abuse should not be included in the above definition of school refusal behavior as these factors are not youngster-initiated.

While some school-refusers exhibit a more heterogeneous presentation, typically these youths can be categorized into two main types of troublesome behavior -- internalizing or externalizing problems. The most prevalent internalizing problems are generalized worrying ("the worry-wart"), social anxiety and isolation, depression, fatigue, and physical complaints (e.g. stomachaches, nausea, tremors and headaches). The most prevalent externalizing problems are tantrums (including crying and screaming), verbal and physical aggression, and oppositional behavior.

The cause and maintenance of school refusal behavior—

Kayla had several physiological symptoms at school and went home to be with her mother and play. Jake on the other hand, avoided potentially distressing social and evaluative situations at school which negatively impacted his academic performance. Although many behaviors characterize youths who refuse school, there are a few variables that serve to cause and maintain this problem. School refusal behavior occurs for one or more of the following reasons:

1. To avoid school-related objects or situations that cause general distress such as anxiety, depression or physiological symptoms
2. To escape uncomfortable peer interactions and/or academic performance situations such as test-taking or oral presentations
3. To pursue tangible reinforcement outside of school
4. To receive attention from significant others outside of school

The above four reasons for school refusal behavior can be explained by principles of reinforcement. Any one youngster can refuse school for one or more of these reasons. The first two reasons characterize youths who refuse school to avoid or escape something unpleasant (negative reinforcement). For example, one of the reasons for Kayla's crying in the morning is her fear of riding the school bus. By tantruming she accomplishes her goal of avoiding the school-related object (the school bus) that causes her distress. Another example of negative reinforcement is when Jake escapes aversive peer interactions and exams by school refusing. The third and fourth reasons characterize youths who refuse school to gain rewards (positive reinforcement). Kayla, as is common with many younger kids, tries to avoid school as a means of having her mother provide her with excessive attention and closeness. Thus, Kayla's behavior in this situation may be associated with separation anxiety.

Another instance of positive reinforcement is exemplified by Jake, who basically has more fun being at home on the computer and listening to music than being in school. It is important to note that alcohol and drug use can occur among adolescents who school refuse for one or more of the reasons listed above. For example, a teenager who is extremely socially anxious may drink alcohol as a way of enduring distressing social or evaluative situations. Another youngster who avoids school may smoke marijuana during school hours as a means of gaining acceptance by peers or simply because it is more enjoyable than attending school. While all forms of school refusal can be equally debilitating, typically, mental health professionals receive fewer referrals for youths who have internalizing as opposed to externalizing behavior problems. In other words, the youth who exhibits anxiety is less likely to receive treatment than the youth who is disruptive.

Home Schooling and Aspergers Children—

A common strategy in dealing with school refusal in Aspergers children is to switch to a home school environment. However, home schooling a child with Aspergers is completely different than educating a non-Aspergers child. Here is a summary plan:

• Child can only grow to be fully functioning if he first experiences a fully functional home life. Fighting, crying and meltdowns do not positively contribute to a functional home. Child functions best when conflict is removed so ALWAYS remove conflict and remain flexible.

• Meltdowns are worse for Child than they are for you. Remain calm and use Child's logic, obsessive compulsiveness and anger as a learning experience. Shutting your ears is tantamount to saying you know everything and are a superior person.

• Nobody can accuse you of being a bad mother. By designing education around the need of your child you are being the best mother you can be. Most people will be grateful that their children do not have Aspergers.

• Nobody can read your mind. Think abusive thoughts but NEVER say them because they will destroy Child's confidence and reinforce further unacceptable behavior and school refusal.

• Short term goals are not time specific. They can be revisited and strengthened at any stage. Know that the goals can be re-met if you do things differently.

• Teachable moments are everywhere. School does not have to represent that which we know as beneficial for us. School is everywhere and Aspergers learning occurs best without stress.

• What I value as important is not important to Child or his development. Allow him to explore that which he is highly interested in, even if it has no recognizable educational value to you.

• When you reign in and block outsiders from coming to your home and adding over stimulus, remember that it will only be for a short time while Child reaches emotional and social equilibrium again. Email and on-line Aspergers support groups produce no over stimulus to Child and are there 24 hours per day. Use them.

• Work through obsessions. On days when Child is focused on issues not included in the home school learning areas, it is acceptable to investigate Child's obsessions. These are teachable moments that will otherwise be lost.

• You are a team, a package, a caring parent. Team work means working together to get the best result. Work with Child, not against him.

• You can only recognize a bad day because you have first had good days to measure against. Things do improve. Hasten improvement by reducing conflict and grabbing whatever teachable moments you can.

So, if your Aspergers child is having some anxiety over school attendance -- and you need additional information or assistance -- do not hesitate to email me (mbhutten@gmail.com), and I will do my best to help.

Mark Hutten, M.A.


P.S. Here are some important links for you:










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Aspergers Students and Behavior Management

In today’s newsletter, we will look at some classroom behavior management techniques that “should be” used by all teachers with Aspergers students. I strongly urge you to print a copy of this newsletter and (tactfully) share it with your child’s teachers. You can help educate the professional community – and, unfortunately, if you don’t, it may not get done.

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Challenging behaviors are frequently the primary obstacle in supporting students with Aspergers. Effective behavioral support requires highly individualized practices that address the primary areas of difficulty in social understanding and interactions, pragmatic communication, managing anxiety, preferences for sameness and rules, and ritualistic behaviors. While the specific elements of a positive behavioral support program will vary from child to child, the following 8 steps go a long way in assuring that schools are working towards achieving the best outcomes on behalf of their students:

1.     Collaborate! Educators, administrators, related service personnel and moms/dads should collaborate on a behavior support plan that is clear and easily implemented. Once developed, the plan should be monitored across settings, and regularly reviewed for its strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistencies in our expectations and behaviors will only heighten the challenges demonstrated by a child with Aspergers.

2.     Design long-term prevention plans. In the midst of problematic behaviors, adopting a long-term approach to a child’s educational program may be difficult. However, plans for supporting a child over the long term should be outlined from the start. Many procedures and supports with the most relevance and utility for children with Aspergers (e.g., specific accommodations, peer supports, social skills, self-management strategies) must be developed progressively as the youngster moves through school. These are not crisis management strategies but the very things that can decrease crisis situations from arising.

3.     Discuss how children with Aspergers fit into typical school-wide discipline practices and procedures. A major issue is fitting children into typical disciplinary practices. Many children with Aspergers become highly anxious by loss of privileges, time outs or reprimands, and often cannot regroup following their application. Another issue is school-wide discipline procedures. Schools which focus on suspension and expulsion as their primary approach, rather than on teaching social skills, conflict resolution and negotiation and on building community learning, are typically less effective.

4.     Make teaching alternative skills an integral part of your program. Children with Aspergers should be taught acceptable behaviors that replace problematic behavior and that serve the same purpose as the challenging behavior. For example, a young youngster with Aspergers may have trouble entering into a kick ball game and instead inserts himself into the game, thereby offending the other players and risking exclusion. Instead, the youngster can be coached on how and when to enter into the game. Never assume that a child knows appropriate social behaviors. While these children are quite gifted in many ways, they will need to be taught social and pragmatic communication skills as methodically as academic skills. Self-management strategies also are important skills to teach. Self-management teaches people to discriminate their own target behavior and record the occurrence or absence of that target behavior. Self-management assists children in achieving greater levels of independent functioning across many settings and situations. Instead of teaching situation specific behaviors, self-management teaches a more general skill that can be applied in an unlimited number of settings. The procedure has particular relevance and immediate utility for children with Aspergers who can be taught, for example, how to practice relaxation or how to find a place to regroup when upset.

5.     Think prevention. Too often the focus of a behavior management program is on discipline procedures that focus exclusively on eliminating problematic behavior. Programs like this do not focus on long-term behavioral change. An effective program should expand beyond consequence strategies (e.g., time out, loss of privileges) and focus on preventing the occurrence of problem behavior by teaching socially acceptable alternatives and creating positive learning environments.

6.     Use antecedent and setting event strategies. Antecedents are events that happen immediately before the problematic behavior. Setting events are situations or conditions that can enhance the possibility that a child may engage in a problematic behavior. For example, if a child is ill, tired or hungry, he may be less tolerant of schedule changes. By understanding settings events that can set the stage for problematic behaviors, changes can be made on those days when a child may not be performing at his best to prevent or reduce the likelihood of difficult situations and set the stage for learning more adaptive skills over time. In schools, many antecedents may spark behavioral incidents. For example, many children with Aspergers have difficulty with noisy, crowded environments. Therefore, the newly arrived high school freshman who becomes physically aggressive in the hallway during passing periods may need to leave class a minute or two early to avoid the congestion which provokes this behavior. Over time, the child may learn to negotiate the hallways simply by being more accustomed to the situation, or by being given specific instruction or support.

Key issues to address when discussing these types of strategies are:

  • Will the strategy need to be permanent, or is it a temporary “fix” which allows the child (with support) to increase skills needed to manage the situation in the future?
  • What can be done to modify the situation if the situation cannot be eliminated entirely?
  • What can be done to eliminate the problem situation (e.g., the offending condition)?

7. Understand the characteristics of Aspergers that may influence a child’s ability to learn and function in the school environment. It is important to understand the idiosyncratic nature of Aspergers and to consider problematic behaviors in light of characteristics associated with this disability. Following are some general characteristics:

  • Academic difficulties: restricted problem solving skills, literal thinking, deficiencies with abstract reasoning.
  • Behavior serves a function, is related to context, and is a form of communication.
  • Emotional vulnerability: low self-esteem, easily overwhelmed, poor coping with stressors, self-critical.
  • Impairment in social interactions: difficulty understanding the “rules” of interaction, poor comprehension of jokes and metaphor, pedantic speaking style.
  • Inattention: poor organizational skills, easily distracted, focused on irrelevant stimuli, difficulty learning in group contexts.
  • Insistence on sameness: easily overwhelmed by minimal changes in routines, sensitive to environmental stressors, preference for rituals.
  • Poor motor coordination: slow clerical speed, clumsy gait, unsuccessful in games involving motor skills.
  • Restricted range of social competence: preoccupation with singular topics, asking repetitive questions, obsessively collecting items.

8. Know that effective behavioral support is contingent on understanding the child, the context in which he/she operates, and the reason(s) for behavior. In order to effectively adopt a functional behavioral assessment approach, several assumptions about behavior must be regarded as valid.

  • Behavior has communicative value (if not specific intent). Students with Aspergers experience pragmatic communication difficulties; while they are able to use language quite effectively to discuss high interest topics, they may have tremendous difficulty expressing sadness, anger, frustration and other important messages. As a result, behavior may be the most effective means to communicate when words fail. 

  • Behavior is context related. Understanding how features of a setting impact an individual (either positively or negatively) has particular value for adopting preventive efforts and sets the stage for teaching alternative skills.

  • Behavior is functional. In other words, it serves a purpose(s). The purpose or function of the behavior may be highly idiosyncratic and understood only from the perspective of the individual. Students with Aspergers generally do not have a behavioral intent to disrupt educational settings, but instead problematic behaviors may arise from other needs (self-protection in stressful situations).

  • Effective behavioral change may require all involved to change their behavior.

Since behaviors are influenced by context and by the quality of relationships with others, professionals and family members should monitor their own behavior when working with children with Aspergers. Each time a teacher reprimands a child for misbehavior, an opportunity may be lost to reframe the moment in terms of the child’s need to develop alternative skills.

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Have a great weekend. I’ll see you on Monday.

Mark Hutten, M.A.











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In today’s newsletter, we will look at some activities to do with your Aspergers child that will help him/her with the development of much needed social skills. Kids with Aspergers like to focus on just one or two things that interest them to the exclusion of everything else. Fun games or activities that get them interacting with the larger world can help offset this tendency. Of course, every youngster plays differently, but here are some suggestions:

1. Brainstorm a list of activities your youngster enjoys doing. Include other things that he should do or needs to learn (e.g., practicing his multiplication tables, reading a book, or cleaning his room). Include at least one thing to do that involves going out such as a trip to the library or local playground.

2. Choose books with some kind of interactive component. Pop-up books, books with colorful pictures or interesting textures can get him engaged while he learns new words.

3. Get siblings in on the act. They can suggest and be involved in the daily activities, and it probably wouldn't hurt for ones close in age to your Aspergers youngster to follow a similar schedule. Older siblings can periodically take on the responsibility of making sure the calendar is being followed and the activities are being done.

4. Go to the park. Exercise is a great way for Aspergers children to blow off steam. Playgrounds and jungle gyms provide a chance to improve motor skills, and she can have fun amusing herself on slides, merry-go-rounds and swings.

5. Hang the calendar in a place that is readily accessible and near a clock. Fill the calendar with daily activities. The activities should encompass the entire day from the time your youngster wakes up to the time she goes to sleep. Do not forget the mundane activities such as eating. If you do, she may assume that those things will not occur. As part of the activities, add several pages from the activity books for her to complete and specify each day's pages. Put activities she needs to do at the beginning with things she enjoys included later on in the list. That way, it can be considered a reward to do the fun things after the "chores".

Spend the first few days making sure that your youngster is following the events on the calendar. If he balks at doing the necessary things, explain that more time can be allotted for him to complete those things but that could cause the things he wants to do to drop off the calendar. Correct the activity pages after he completes them and have him fix errors. After he seems to have the routine down, you can leave for a few minutes, but check back frequently to make sure the things on the calendar are getting done. Do not assume he will follow your directions or the calendar without you there.

Modify the calendar during the first week and as necessary. Which activities required more time? What things just didn't work out the way you planned? Adjust times as needed. Aspergers kids work best when there is routine so do not change the calendar dramatically from one day to the next.

6. Keep puzzles around. Kids with Aspergers usually need to develop their spatial skills. Puzzles or models of any sort are a fun way to get the youngster working with his hands and thinking about how things fit together.

7. Look through the local newspaper or other local magazines for events going on in your area. Many events sponsored by churches are free, such as a weekly movie night. During the summer, many organizations set up activities with kids in mind. Pick one or two events that you would like to do with your youngster.

8. Play board games together. This provides social interaction, but does so in a structured way that Aspergers children tend to be more comfortable with. And, as with all kids, games help children learn to handle defeat.

9. Sing together. Studies have shown that music can have a powerful socializing effect on Aspergers kids; and, like everybody else, they have an easier time learning words when they are set to music.

10. Watch TV or movies together and talk about how the characters interact. You can point out the use of sarcasm in a sitcom, or explain why somebody cries in a drama. This can act as a kind of tutorial that will help your youngster pick up on social queues.

So, have fun.

See you next time,

Mark Hutten, M.A.







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HOW TO TALK SO YOUR KIDS WILL LISTEN

Do you grow tired of talking to your Aspergers child and having your words go in one ear and out the other (or worse yet, the words don’t even go in one ear)? Maybe I can help you…

A major part of discipline is learning how to talk with kids. The way you talk to your youngster teaches him how to talk to others. Here are some talking tips that will get your child to listen:

1.      Address the youngster—Open your request with the youngster's name, "Lauren, will you please..."

2.      Ask your youngster to repeat the request back to you—If he can't, it's too long or too complicated.

3.      Be positive—Instead of "no running," try: "Inside we walk, outside you may run."

4.      Begin your directives with "I want."—Instead of "Get down," say "I want you to get down." Instead of "Let Becky have a turn," say "I want you to let Becky have a turn now." This works well with kids who want to please but don't like being ordered. By saying "I want," you give a reason for compliance rather than just an order.

5.      Close the discussion—If a matter is really closed to discussion, say so. "I'm not changing my mind about this. Sorry." You'll save wear and tear on both you and your youngster. Reserve your "I mean business" tone of voice for when you do.

6.      Connect before you direct—Before giving your youngster directions, squat to your youngster's eye level and engage your youngster in eye-to-eye contact to get his attention. Teach him how to focus: "Mary, I need your eyes." "Billy, I need your ears." Offer the same body language when listening to the youngster. Be sure not to make your eye contact so intense that your youngster perceives it as controlling rather than connecting.

7.      Give advance notice—"We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to the girls…"

8.      Give choices—"Do you want to put your pajamas on or brush your teeth first?" "Red shirt or blue one?"

9.      Give likable alternatives—You can't go by yourself to the park; but you can play in the neighbor's yard.

10.  Legs first, mouth second—Instead of hollering, "Turn off the TV, it's time for dinner!" walk into the room where your youngster is watching TV, join in with your youngster's interests for a few minutes, and then, during a commercial break, have your youngster turn off the TV. Going to your youngster conveys you're serious about your request; otherwise kids interpret this as a mere preference.

11.  Let your youngster complete the thought—Instead of "Don't leave your mess piled up," try: "Matthew, think of where you want to store your soccer stuff." Letting the youngster fill in the blanks is more likely to create a lasting lesson.

12.  Make an offer the youngster can't refuse—You can reason with a two or three-year-old, especially to avoid power struggles. "Get dressed so you can go outside and play." Offer a reason for your request that is to the youngster's advantage, and one that is difficult to refuse. This gives her a reason to move out of her power position and do what you want her to do.

13.  Open up a closed youngster—Carefully chosen phrases open up closed little minds and mouths. Stick to topics that you know your youngster gets excited about. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no. Stick to specifics. Instead of "Did you have a good day at school today?" try "What is the most fun thing you did today?"

14.  Replay your message—Toddlers need to be told a thousand times. Kids under two have difficulty internalizing your directives. Most three- year-olds begin to internalize directives so that what you ask begins to sink in. Do less and less repeating as your youngster gets older. Preteens regard repetition as nagging.

15.  Settle the listener—Before giving your directive, restore emotional equilibrium, otherwise you are wasting your time. Nothing sinks in when a youngster is an emotional wreck.

16.  Speak developmentally correctly—The younger the child, the shorter and simpler your directives should be. Consider your youngster's level of understanding. For example, a common error moms and dads make is asking a three-year- old, "Why did you do that?" Most adults can't always answer that question about their behavior. Try instead, "Let's talk about what you did."

17.  Speak psychologically correctly—Threats and judgmental openers are likely to put the youngster on the defensive. "You" messages make a youngster clam up. "I" messages are non-accusing. Instead of "You'd better do this..." or "You must...," try "I would like...." or "I am so pleased when you..." Instead of "You need to clear the table," say "I need you to clear the table." Don't ask a leading question when a negative answer is not an option. "Will you please pick up your coat?" Just say, "Pick up your coat, please."

18.  Speak socially correctly—Even a two-year-old can learn "please." Expect your youngster to be polite. Kids shouldn't feel manners are optional. Speak to your kids the way you want them to speak to you.

19.  Stay brief—We use the one-sentence rule: Put the main directive in the opening sentence. The longer you ramble, the more likely your youngster is to become parent-deaf. Too much talking is a very common mistake when dialoging about an issue. It gives the youngster the feeling that you're not quite sure what it is you want to say. If she can keep you talking she can get you sidetracked.

20.  Stay simple—Use short sentences with one-syllable words. Listen to how kids communicate with each other and take note. When your youngster shows that glazed, disinterested look, you are no longer being understood.

21.  Talk the youngster down—The louder your youngster yells, the softer you respond. Let your youngster ventilate while you interject timely comments: "I understand" or "Can I help?" Sometimes just having a caring listener available will wind down the tantrum. If you come in at his level, you have two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for him.

22.  Use "When you…I feel…because…"—When you run away from mommy in the store I feel worried because you might get lost.

23.  Use rhyme rules.—"If you hit, you must sit." Get your youngster to repeat them.

24.  Write it—Reminders can evolve into nagging so easily, especially for preteens who feel being told things puts them in the slave category. Without saying a word you can communicate anything you need said. Talk with a pad and pencil. Leave humorous notes for your youngster. Then sit back and watch it happen.

25.  When...then."—"When you get your teeth brushed, then we'll begin the story." "When your work is finished, then you can watch TV." "When," which implies that you expect obedience, works better than "if," which suggests that the youngster has a choice when you don't mean to give him one.


I hope this was helpful.

See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.






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I was going to wait until Monday to send this newsletter out, but since the weekend is coming up, I thought you may want to implement the following strategy with your child since he/she will home from school.

Let me introduce you to a concept called “social stories”…

A social story describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a social story is to share accurate social information in a reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all social stories developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a story should never be to change the youngster’s behavior, that youngster’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses. Although social stories were first developed for use with kids with Aspergers, the approach has also been successful with adolescents and adults with Aspergers and other social and communication delays and differences – as well as individuals developing normally.

 

Sample Social Story—


Frequently, kids with Aspergers expect things to be the same way that they first saw them. Such was the case with Jimmy, who expected to find the overhead projector in the classroom bathroom--just as it had been the first time he went there! He refused to use the bathroom unless the projector was in there, causing problems when the teacher was in the middle of a lesson using the projector in the classroom. Further complicating the issue was his insistence that the projector was needed to keep the bathroom free of bugs. Jimmy’s mother wrote the following story for him:

 

My name is Jimmy. I am an intelligent second grader at Cottonwood Elementary School. Sometimes, I have to use the bathroom. This is okay.

Bathrooms need to have a toilet or urinal, and maybe sinks. Sometimes, when people need to find a place to keep something until they need it, they might place it in the bathroom. My teacher keeps her overhead projector in the bathroom when she is not using it to make more room in the classroom. It's okay to store an overhead projector in the bathroom, but usually most bathrooms do not have overhead projectors in them.

Sometimes, my teacher uses the overhead projector to teach the kids. If she were to bring all the kids into the bathroom where the overhead projector is, it would be too crowded! So my teacher brings the overhead projector into the classroom to use it.

It's okay to use our bathroom with the overhead projector in it. It's also very okay and intelligent to use our bathroom when my teacher is using the overhead projector with the class.

The custodians work very hard to keep our bathrooms clean. They use disinfectant to keep everything nice for the kids. If the custodians notice bugs, like spiders, they might use bug spray. Bug spray, and other things that custodians have, are used to keep bathrooms free of spiders and things. People never use overhead projectors to keep an area free of spiders; it just would not work. If I should ever see a bug in the bathroom, it's okay to tell an adult. The adult may know how to use a tissue or toilet paper to get rid of the bug, or we may choose to use another bathroom.

So, our Aspergers kids may need similar social stories for a wide variety of situations. Simply changing the topic and adapting the vocabulary and situation to accommodate your youngster's concerns will help to produce a social story that helps him to deal with a necessary change from his expectations.

I’m sure you can be very creative as you write your own relevant social stories that pertain to your child’s unique circumstances. There are also many social stories in book form already in publication (check your local library or bookstore).

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.





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Aspergers: Bad News – Good News

If you have had a multitude of emotions related to your child’s diagnosis of Aspergers, then you will be able to relate to the information in this newsletter…

The impact of the diagnosis of Aspergers on a family is no doubt partly related to the manner in which the individual was diagnosed. Families who recognize early on that there is something seriously wrong with their youngster and are given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (and only later learn their youngster has Aspergers) will experience many of the reactions families with autistic kids have.

Many families, whose kids progress far enough to no longer warrant an autism diagnosis, experience considerable relief and pride in their youngster’s accomplishments. At the same time, they still struggle with complex feelings related to their youngster's Aspergers diagnosis.

If the diagnosis is made in a parent or other relative when a youngster in the family receives the diagnosis, a different constellation of feelings is often set into motion. In these families, the adult must grapple not only with the diagnosis of a disability in the youngster, but with coming to terms with his own disability as well.

It is hard to overestimate the impact the diagnosis of Aspergers has on a family. For many moms and dads, this pain is so searing that even years later, the memory automatically causes tears. All moms and dads wish for healthy kids and this diagnosis shatters that hope irrevocably; never mind the fantasy of "perfect" kids, it shatters the premise that one has a normal youngster.

There is generally a kind of anxiety surrounding the birth of a baby that the youngster be healthy and many of these kids early on seemed to be fine. To learn that one does not have the normal little girl or boy one thought one had is an especially painful blow.

Compounding the impact of the diagnosis of Aspergers is the fact that Aspergers, unlike some other handicaps, affects multiple and diverse aspects of functioning. There may be impairments of cognition, motor skills, language, behavior, and certainly social and emotional interaction. Aspergers affects the way in which kids respond to and relate to their moms and dads. This is most dramatic in those autistic kids who act as if people do not exist. There is nothing more chilling than the gaze of a youngster who appears not to see. Such difficulties tend to make moms and dads feel helpless and as if they don’t matter.

Most families become preoccupied with Aspergers and see it as the central feature of their lives. According to one father, "There isn't an hour that goes by that I don't think about it." Another parent said, "Will I ever be happy again?"

Now for the good news…

When contemplating disorders such as Aspergers, there is a tendency to focus on negative aspects, such as difficulty in reading social cues. But many of those with Aspergers have positive traits as well, which has led some people to question whether it should be viewed as a difference rather than a disorder.

·         Extreme Endurance—Some of those with Aspergers have great endurance when engaging in activities they like, which may translate into a talent for certain athletic pursuits, despite an inclination to be clumsy. Some Aspergers children have talents for swimming, rowing, running, bodybuilding, or other activities that require sustained physical effort. They tend to prefer individual sports to team sports, as there are no social demands and they can exercise complete control over the activity. Those who develop an interest in sport or fitness are likely to work at it every day, often for long periods of time. This tendency to adhere unvaryingly to routines enables Aspergers children who have fitness interests to stay fit and healthy, manifesting an exercise ethic that ordinary people can only match with a heroic exertion of will power.

·         Free of Prejudice—Aspergers children are very accepting of the quirks and idiosyncrasies of others. Most don’t discriminate against anyone based on race, gender, age, or any other surface criteria, but instead judge people based on their behavior. They don't usually recognize hierarchies, and so are unlikely to accord someone superior status simply because that person is wealthy or has attained a high position in an organization. Those with Aspergers can listen to people’s problems and provide a fresh perspective, offering pure assessments based on the information provided, untainted by the judgments that people often make regarding one another's social position or social skills. Others can relax and be themselves around an Aspergers child without fearing social censure.


·         High Integrity—Aspergers children will not go along with the crowd if they know that something is wrong. Most stick to their positions, even in the face of intense social pressure, and their values aren't shaped by financial, social, or political influences. Most Aspergers children have a good work ethic and pay attention to detail. Conscientious, reliable, and honest, many Aspergers children make very good employees if able to control their pace and work within either a solitary or socially supportive environment. Aspergers children are persistent, and when they set their minds to something or make a promise, they can usually be trusted to follow through.

·         Intelligent and Talented—Those with Aspergers often have above-average intelligence, and many have one or more highly developed talents. They are more likely than those of the general population to pursue a university education, and because many are drawn to technology, they tend to become proficient in the technological media required for lucrative employment in the Information Age. Enthusiasm and a propensity for obsessive research ensure that Aspergers children develop a broad and deep base of knowledge in subjects of interest. They loathe small talk and trivialities, preferring instead to talk about significant things that will enhance their knowledge base. Because they have exceptional memories, those with Aspergers can bring up a variety of interesting facts (though some of these facts will only be interesting to the Aspergers children themselves), as well as recalling fine details that others miss. They also bring a highly original perspective to problem solving, and their acute sensitivity may support creative talents as well.


·         Trustworthy and Reliable—Most people with Aspergers are dependable and loyal. They don’t play games or force others to live up to demanding social expectations. Aspergers children have no hidden agendas and no interest in harming others or taking advantage of their weaknesses. They are not inclined to lie to, steal from, or attack the reputations of those around them. Aspergers children are not likely to be bullies, con artists, or social manipulators, and girls with Aspergers are less inclined to be fickle or bitchy than their neuro-typical counterparts. While some people with Aspergers may lash out when provoked, they are unlikely to launch unprovoked attacks, verbal or otherwise. Aspergers children like to spend time alone and are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves. While most like to have friends, their need for social contact is not usually as strong as that of ordinary people. Because they are not motivated by an intense social drive to spend time with anybody who happens to be available, they can be selective, choosing honest, genuine, dependable people who share their interests.

So you see, there is much more good news than bad as it relates to a child with Aspergers.

Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.













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Aspergers and Aggression

Many parents, grandparents, and teachers today must deal with aggression in a youngster with Aspergers. I’m one of them. My grandson is 12, and he has both Aspergers and OCD.  One of the random things we discovered when he was five was that “jumping” is a great way to help him relieve his extra stress and energy. A therapist put him on a mini-trampoline for a few minutes and for the first time in years he seemed to be calm. We went out and bought a mini-trampoline that afternoon! 

It's been seven years since that miraculous discovery, and last year I bought my daughter and son-in-law a larger trampoline for all the kids to use. We still have the little one, which we use inside on bad weather days, but the kids all love the big one outdoors. We have a one-youngster-at-a-time rule, because we know how excited they can become. 

The other thing we have used is a punching bag. I would use this option only if others aren't working, mainly because the punching activity is easily transferred to other things, including people. We have ours hung from a rafter in the basement where it's not obvious and the kids rarely remember we have it. We only mention it when they have gotten so upset about something that the need an extreme physical release.

I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you!

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.






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Tips for Parents of Aspergers Children/Teens

In today’s newsletter, we will look at some crucial tips for parenting children with Aspergers. Understanding the implication of Aspergers can bring a greater level of tolerance and acceptance for those with the condition. Here are some traits and behavior patterns commonly seen in the syndrome:

  • A youngster can be helped if parents consistently work with him and highlight his strengths and work consistently on his weaknesses.
  • Aspergers is often detected when a youngster starts preschool. He will generally interact better with his teacher than his peers and may display silly, loud, aggressive or socially withdrawn behavior.
  • Kids with Aspergers express their feelings in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they may seem emotionless and other times they may display extreme emotion that is not appropriate to the situation.
  • Kids with Aspergers prefer routine and structure and can become irritable and distressed if the unexpected happens.
  • Eye contact is not understood or made use of.
  • Gross and fine motor skills are often underdeveloped, causing problems in sports and balance.
  • Intense preoccupations often centre on certain toys or areas of interest. Common obsessions are dinosaurs and forms of transport and how they work.
  • Interrupting conversations is a common problem as the youngster does not understand the social signals that allow conversation to move from one to another.
  • It is possible to teach social skills but it is a long slow process and often requires parental intervention to repair social damage when they act inappropriately.
  • Many kids are perfectionists and struggle if they fail to produce perfect schoolwork. Encourage them to move on, and create distractions if necessary to get them to continue working.
  • Most children with Aspergers are of average or above average intelligence.
  • Older kids may enjoy a club that is focused on their interest – for example, coin or stamp collecting.
  • On a positive note, this aversion to rule-breaking means the Aspergers youngster is less likely to experiment with smoking, drinking, drugs, and sex as he matures.
  • Rules are very important and a youngster may become angry if a game is not played fairly or his peers break school rules.
  • Short stories can be useful in teaching social skills. Use one page visual aids that teach about listening to others and keeping quiet and still while they talk.
  • The youngster may appear cold and uncaring but it is not deliberate. He does not think about others and cannot understand the social graces that keep society functioning.
  • They find it hard to generalize. If taught that they shouldn’t hit a youngster at school, they do not automatically make the connection that they shouldn’t hit a youngster in the mall.
  • They have excellent thinking skills where things are concerned but are extremely poor at interpreting human relationships.
  • They will often seek out other people to talk to about their interests. The conversation is usually one-sided – more like a lecture where they talk about their knowledge and aren't interested in feedback.
  • Things are interpreted very literally, meaning that sarcasm, playful teasing and figures of speech are not understood.

There is hope for kids who have Aspergers, and with training and support from their family and health professionals, they can live meaningful, productive lives. Here are some important parenting tips to implement ASAP:

1.     Although it is not the youngster’s fault, he will still ultimately be the one to take the consequences of his behavior. It will help your youngster if you can explain the consequences clearly and logically when your youngster is able to listen.
2.     Celebrate your Aspie’s humor, creativity, and passion.
3.     Do you want to understand the Aspie`s actions? Just ask yourself: What behavior would make sense if you only had 4 seconds to live?
4.     Don’t argue; nag; or attempt unsolicited and spontaneous transplants of your wisdom to your youngster. Instead, either a) decide that the issue is aggravating but not significant enough to warrant intervention; or b) make an appointment with your youngster to discuss the issue.
5.     Especially with teens, negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. Parents need to model negotiation, not inflexibility. Don’t worry about losing control: the parent always gets to decide when negotiation is over and which compromise is accepted. Remember: negative behaviors usually occur because the Aspie is spinning out of control, not because he is evil. While evil behavior would need to be aggressively squelched, the much more common overwhelmed behavior needs to be calmly defused.
6.     Forgive your youngster and yourself nightly. You didn’t ask to live with the effects of Aspergers any more than did your youngster.
7.     Head off big fights before they begin. Seek to diffuse, not to inflame. When tempers flare, allow everyone to cool off. Serious discussion can only occur during times of composure.
8.     If it is working, keep doing it. If not, do something else.
9.     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.
10.   Imagine your youngster delivering your eulogy. What do you want him to say about you? Keep those bigger goals in mind as you choose your interactions/reactions to your youngster.
11.   Instead of punishing wrong behavior, set a reward for the correct behavior you would rather replace it with. Rewards should be immediate, frequent, powerful, clearly defined, and consistent. Also remember that a behavior always gets stronger before it changes.
12.   Keep a sense of humor. Seek to enjoy – not to scream.
13.   Pick your fights. Is the issue at hand worth chipping away at your relationship with your youngster? Can your youngster really control the offending behavior at this moment?
14.   Plan ahead. Give warnings before transitions. Discuss in advance what is expected, and what the results might be. Have the youngster repeat out loud the terms he just agreed to.
15.   Recognize that attention issues in the youngster are only the tip of the iceberg that the whole family must address.
16.   Remember that a youngster with Aspergers is still a youngster with thoughts and feelings, and that you are the adult this youngster looks to for support and guidance.
17.   Remember that kids with Aspergers have two time frames: Now, and Huh. There is no future. There is only now. The past is non-negotiable.
18.   Review this text, and others, periodically. You are going to forget this stuff, and different principles will likely be needed at different stages. 
19.   The kids who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.
20.  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 the youngster a sense of safety and security. When there will be a change in your youngster's routine, tell them 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 a 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.
21.   The patient in Aspergers is the whole family.
22.  This is hard work. It is also hard work for your youngster.
23.  This is not a contest with your youngster. The winner is not the one with more points. The winner is the one whose youngster still loves them when they graduate from high school.
24.  You do not have a standard youngster. You can view the issue as a disability. Or, you can view it as wonderful uniqueness. Or, you can view it as both. This "disability outlook" will help because it eliminates blame; sets reasonable expectations thereby minimizing anger; and points the way for parents/teachers to see themselves as "therapists" not victims.
25.  You will make it through this; you have no choice.

Always remember, kids with Aspergers are for the most part bright, happy and loving kids. If we can help break through to their 'own little world' we can help them to cope a little better in society. They have a need to finish tasks they have started. Strategies can be developed to reduce the stress they experience at such times. Warnings that an activity is to finish in x minutes can help with older kids. With younger kids attempts to 'save' the task help - videoing a program, mark in a book, etc.

As the kids mature some problems will get easier, but like all other kids new problems will emerge. Some teenagers can feel the lack of friendships difficult to cope with as they try hard to make friends in their own way but find it hard to keep them. This is not always the case. Many have friends who act as 'buddies' for long periods of time. Social skills will have to be taught in an effort for them to find a place in the world ... so take all opportunities to explain situations time and time again ..... and one day.......it may work!

Have a great week.

See you next time,

Mark Hutten, M.A.










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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


In today’s newsletter, I thought I would share some recent emails from parents along with my responses to their inquiries. Ready?  O.K.!   Question number one:


Are people with Asperger's Syndrome more likely to be involved in criminal activities?

1. Are individuals with Aspergers more likely to be involved in criminal activities?

Some individuals with ASPERGERS have found themselves before the criminal justice system for a variety of offences that are usually related to their special interests, sensory sensitivity or strong moral code. If a person's special interest is of a dangerous nature it can sometimes lead them into unusual crimes associated with that interest. The courts are becoming increasingly aware of the nature of ASPERGERS and are responding accordingly. More often than not, individuals with ASPERGERS are more likely to be victims than offenders. Their naivety and vulnerability make them easy targets.

2. Can Aspergers occur with another disorder?

The simple answer to this question is YES. The symptoms of ASPERGERS have been recognized in individuals with other conditions and disorders. Once a single diagnosis of ASPERGERS is confirmed, it is wise to continue the diagnostic process to see if there is another specific medical condition associated with the ASPERGERS.

3. Can Aspergers occur with Attention Deficit Disorder?

These are two distinct conditions, but it is possible for a youngster to have both. They have specific differences, but there are some similarities, and a youngster can have a dual diagnosis and require treatment for both conditions.

4. Can the person develop normal relationships?

In early childhood, a youngster with ASPERGERS may need to be given instructions on the different ways of relating to family members, to a teacher, to friends and to strangers. Teenagers with ASPERGERS can be delayed in their social/emotional maturity compared to the other kids in their class. It may be necessary to repeat some school programs on human relationships and sexuality when the person with ASPERGERS has reached that stage of their emotional development. With a prolonged emotional adolescence and delayed acquisition of social skills, the person may not have a close and intimate relationship until much later than their peers. Many individuals with ASPERGERS have loving relationships, but the partners may need counseling on each other's background and perspective. One could describe these relationships as similar to those between individuals of two different cultures, unaware of the conventions and expectations of the other partner.

5. Could a difficult pregnancy or birth have been a cause?

Some studies state that quite a high percentage of cases had a history of natal conditions that might have caused damage. But, in general, pregnancy may well have been unremarkable. However, the incidence of obstetric abnormalities is high. No one factor can be identified, but labor crises and neonatal problems are recorded with a significant number of kids with ASPERGERS. There is also a greater incidence of babies who are small for gestational age, and mothers in the older age range. It is recognized that there are three principal causes of Aspergers - genetic factors, unfavorable genetic events, and infections during pregnancy or early infancy that affect the brain.

6. Could Aspergers be a form of schizophrenia?

These are again, two distinct conditions. The chances of a person with ASPERGERS developing schizophrenia are only marginally greater than for any individual. Some individuals with ASPERGERS are wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, when they have extreme stress, anxiety and depression related to their ASPERGERS. A false diagnostic trail is easily created and it is important to re-trace the steps and see what is causing the stress and anxiety for the person with ASPERGERS.

7. Could Aspergers be inherited?

Some research shows that there are strikingly similar features in first or second degree relatives on either side of the family, or the family history includes "eccentric" individuals who have a mild expression of the syndrome. There are also some families with a history of kids with ASPERGERS and classic Autism. Should a relative have had similar characteristics when younger, they have a unique advantage in helping the youngster - they know what they are going through. There is no formal identification of the precise means of transmission if the cause is genetic, but we do have some suggestions as to which chromosomes may be involved. As our knowledge of genetics improves, we may soon be able to predict the recurrence rate for individual families.

8. Could the pattern be secondary to a language disorder?

If a young youngster has difficulty understanding the language of other kids and cannot speak as well as their peers, then it would be quite understandable for them to avoid interactions and social play, as speech is an integral part of such activities. However, the youngster with ASPERGERS has more complex and severe social impairments, which identify the syndrome from other disorders.

9. Could we have caused the condition?

Aspergers is not caused by emotional trauma, neglect or failing to love your youngster. The research studies have clearly shown that ASPERGERS is a developmental disorder due to a dysfunction of specific structures and systems of the brain. These structures may not have fully developed due to chromosomal abnormalities or may have been damaged during pregnancy, birth or the first few months of life.

10. Do girls have a different expression of the syndrome?

The boy to girl ratio for referrals for a diagnostic assessment is about ten boys to one girl. However, the evidence indicates that the actual ratio of diagnosed kids is 4 boys to one girl (this is the same ratio as occurs with classic autism). Why are so few girls referred for a diagnosis? In general, boys tend to have a greater expression of social deficits, whereas girls tend to be relatively more able in social play and have a more even profile of social skills. Girls seem to be more able to follow social actions by delayed imitation because they observe other kids and copy them, perhaps masking the symptoms of Aspergers.

11. How can you reduce the person's level of anxiety?

A person with Aspergers is especially susceptible to high levels of anxiety, and this can only be reduced by practical strategies to cope with the issues causing the anxiety. Sensory issues, social skills and the need for structure and routine can cause unbearable stress and anxiety and this increases the expression of their Aspergers itself, thus causing a vicious circle. Stress management programs can help minor levels of anxiety - providing a sanctuary without social or conversational interruption and using relaxation techniques. If a person becomes increasingly anxious or agitated, it may help to start an activity that requires physical exertion (e.g. a trampoline or swing). Offering a youngster an alternative to the playground at break-time can be invaluable, and using specific ways (such as sending the youngster to the school office with a message) to give the youngster a break from the classroom. It helps if the teacher can establish a special code with the youngster with ASPERGERS, so that they can signal their anxiety without drawing attention to themselves. We recommend Cognitive Behavior Therapy as an excellent way to reducing anxiety for individuals with Aspergers.

12. How do you share the news?

This varies according to each youngster and their circumstances. For some it may help if the diagnosis becomes public, while for others it may be preferable that they are not distinguished from other kids. A principle of who needs to know is considered to be useful. There are classroom activities that can be used to help other kids to understand the condition, and how to help their classmate with ASPERGERS. At home, it will become apparent to siblings that a diagnosis has been reached, and it is important to explain things properly to them. There are some useful books on this topic; also local help groups may run workshops for siblings. How do you tell the youngster themselves that they have ASPERGERS? The answer may be to tell the youngster when they are emotionally able to cope with the information and want to know why they have difficulties in situations that other kids find so easy. It is important to give the person with ASPERGERS a sense of their many positive qualities, and to give examples of the many scientists and artists who have ASPERGERS and have used these qualities for great achievements. Once the person knows they have ASPERGERS it can provide a sense of relief and understanding.

13. Is the person likely to become depressed?

Clinical evidence shows that there is a greater risk of depression in individuals with ASPERGERS. In early childhood the person may be less concerned about their differences to other kids. During adolescence they start to become more interested in socializing with others and become acutely aware of their difficulties. The most common cause of depression is the person with ASPERGERS wanting to be like others and to have friends, but not knowing how to succeed. Should one suspect that the person with ASPERGERS is depressed, it is essential that they obtain a referral to a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable in Aspergers and obtain treatment. Treatment for depression involved conventional medicine, but should also include programs to deal with the origin of the depression.

14. Is there a specific area of the brain that is Dysfunctional?

There is increasing evidence to suggest that the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are dysfunctional.

15. What are the advantages of using the term Aspergers?

If the term Aspergers is used it can avoid misunderstandings in relation to the use of the term autism. Many individuals have a negative association with the term autism, so it is good to use a different one. When a youngster is said to have Aspergers, the usual response is "I've never heard of that. What is it?" The reply can simply explain that the youngster has a neurological condition which means that they are learning to socialize and understand the thoughts and feelings of other individuals, have difficulty with a natural conversation, can develop an intense fascination in a particular area of interest, and can be a little clumsy.

16. What are the changes we can expect during adolescence?

The physical changes of adolescence are likely to occur at the same age as for their peers, but young individuals with Aspergers may be confused by such changes. During the hormonal changes and increased stress associated with adolescence, the teenager may have a temporary increase in their expression of ASPERGERS. Moms and dads need to be supportive and patient, and remember that this is a difficult time for virtually all kids. Some of the emotional changes of adolescence may be significantly delayed in kids with ASPERGERS, and while other teenagers are intent on romance and testing the rules, the teenager with ASPERGERS still wants simple friendships, has strong moral values and wants to achieve high grades. They can be ridiculed for these qualities, but it is important to explain that they are valuable qualities, not yet recognized by others. Some traits of adolescence can occur later than usual and extend well into a person with ASPERGERS's twenties, thus the emotional changes of adolescence are often delayed and prolonged.

17. What is the difference between High Functioning Autism and Aspergers?

Some kids have the features of autism in early childhood and then develop the ability to talk using complex sentences, develop basic social skills and an intellectual capacity within the normal range. This group was first described as having High Functioning Autism. It is most likely to be used as a term for those who had a diagnosis of autism in their early childhood. It is less likely to be used for kids whose early development was not consistent with classic autism. Both autism and Aspergers are on the same seamless continuum, and there will be those kids who are in a diagnostic "grey area", where one is unsure which term to use.

18. What is the difference between the syndrome and the normal range of abilities and personality?

The normal range of abilities and behavior in childhood is quite extensive. Many kids have a shy personality, are not great conversationalists, have unusual hobbies and are a little clumsy. However, with ASPERGERS the characteristics are qualitatively different. They are beyond the normal range and have a distinct pattern.

19. What should we look for in a school and teacher?

What are the attributes of a good school? Most important is the personality and ability of the class teachers and their access to support and resources. It is not essential that the teacher has experience of similar kids, as each youngster with ASPERGERS is unique and a teacher uses different strategies for each individual. It is very important to find as small-sized a class as possible, to have a quiet, well-ordered classroom, with an atmosphere of encouragement not criticism, and to have practical support from the school administration. It is important to maintain consistency for the youngster with ASPERGERS, so try not to change school unless absolutely necessary once a youngster is settled.

That’s it. I hope you found something beneficial in the Q & A above.

See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.








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Would you like to work with me one-on-one?

I’ve decided to offer you an opportunity to receive personal attention – if you feel that you would benefit from “parent coaching.”

I will be very happy to give you cut-to-the-chase, no nonsense advice that will have a positive effect on your Aspergers child immediately rather than months or years down the road. But, I only want to work with care-givers who are serious about making a difference in their child's life. Please do not sign-up for this coaching service if you’re not willing to do some hard work - work that will be well worth the effort.

I've gone through what you are now going through. If I didn't have answers to a bunch of Aspergers-related issues – and if I didn't feel that it was my mission of sorts to help other care-givers of Aspergers children, then I wouldn't be making this offer.

I can - and will - help you avoid a lengthy trail-and error period (often lasting two decades or more) in which you try to find "reasons for behavior," "treatments for symptoms,” and "solutions to problems."  

If you’re interested, click here for more information.

I’ll see you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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The Cycle of Meltdowns


In today’s newsletter, we will explore the “cycle of meltdowns.”

Meltdowns typically occur in three stages that can be of variable length. These stages are (1) the “acting-in” stage, (2) the “acting-out” stage, and (3) the recuperation stage.

The “Acting-In” Stage

The “acting-in” stage is the initial stage of a tantrum, rage, or meltdown. During this stage, kids and teens with ASPERGERS exhibit specific behavior changes that may not seem to be related directly to a meltdown. The behaviors may seem minor. That is, children with ASPERGERS may clear their throats, lower their voices, tense their muscles, tap their foot, grimace, or otherwise indicate general discontent. Furthermore, somatic complaints also may occur during the “acting-in” stage. Children also may engage in behaviors that are more obvious, including emotionally or physically withdrawing, or verbally or physically affecting someone else. For example, the child may challenge the classroom structure or authority by attempting to engage in a power struggle.

During this stage, it is imperative that a parent or teacher intervene without becoming part of a struggle. Interventions that can occur during this stage include: antiseptic bouncing, proximity control, signal interference, support from routine, “just walk and don't talk,” redirecting, home base, and acknowledging child difficulties (discussed in My Aspergers Child eBook). All of these strategies can be effective in stopping the cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns, and they are invaluable in that they can help the youngster regain control with minimal adult support.

The “Acting-Out” Stage

If behavior is not diffused during the “acting-in” stage, the youngster or adolescent may move to the “acting-out” stage. At this point, the child is dis-inhibited and acts impulsively, emotionally, and sometimes explosively. These behaviors may be externalized (i.e., screaming, biting, hitting, kicking, destroying property, or self-injury) or internalized (i.e., withdrawal). Meltdowns are not purposeful, and once the “acting-out” stage begins, most often it must run its course.

During this stage, emphasis should be placed on youngster, peer, and adult safety, and protection of school, home, or personal property. The best way to cope with a tantrum, rage, or meltdown is to get the youngster to home base. As mentioned, this room is not viewed as a reward or disciplinary room, but is seen as a place where the child can regain self-control.

Of importance here is helping the individual with ASPERGERS regain control and preserve dignity. To that end, adults should have developed plans for (1) obtaining assistance from educators, such as a crisis teacher or principal, (2) removing other children from the area, or (3) providing therapeutic restraint, if necessary.

The Recuperation Stage

Following a meltdown, the youngster with ASPERGERS has contrite feelings and often cannot fully remember what occurred during the “acting-out” stage. Some may become sullen, withdraw, or deny that inappropriate behavior occurred; others are so physically exhausted that they need to sleep.

It is imperative that interventions are implemented at a time when the child can accept them and in a manner the child can understand and accept. Otherwise, the intervention may simply resume the cycle in a more accelerated pattern, leading more quickly to the “acting-out” stage. During the recuperation stage, kids often are not ready to learn. Thus, it is important that adults work with them to help them once again become a part of the routine. This is often best accomplished by directing the youth to a highly motivating task that can be easily accomplished, such as activity related to a special interest.

So, children with ASPERGERS experiencing stress may react by having a tantrum, rage, or meltdown. Behaviors do not occur in isolation or randomly; they are associated most often with a reason or cause. The child who engages in an inappropriate behavior is attempting to communicate. Before selecting an intervention to be used during the “acting-out” cycle or to prevent the cycle from occurring, it is important to understand the function or role the target behavior plays.


See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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They Talk Before They Walk 

A quick story for you: As a young child, Jayne was consumed by Pokemon, the collectible card game of animated creatures originated in Japan. It was no mere pastime, but an all-encompassing interest that engaged her considerable vocabulary to the exclusion of all other age-appropriate attachments or interests. And it was accompanied by other troubling signs: an inability to make eye contact with others, to engage with peers in a reciprocal fashion, and to make friends.  

As Jayne matured, her social isolation deepened, as did the uncommon and all-consuming nature of her interests. As a teen, she developed an exhaustive knowledge about everything related to a fast-food chain in the state where she resides. At an age when conformity to the norm is at a premium and castigation of those who deviate is most severe, Jayne inhabits an island of her own inaccessible idiosyncrasy.

As little as 14 years ago, she also may have had difficulty getting a psychiatric diagnosis that fit. Too verbal and intellectually adept for autism, she was liable to get a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a personality disorder, or even schizophrenia.

Today, Jayne's primary condition is recognized as Aspergers, a close relative of autism distinguished by severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, but without the clinically significant delay in language acquisition characteristic of autism; also distinctive is the presence of restrictive, highly idiosyncratic interests.

First introduced in DSM-IV in 1994, Aspergers is still prone to being overlooked or labeled as something else. As in the case of Jayne, OCD is often diagnosed – she exhibits some of those features and receives medication for them. But overlooked before she was diagnosed with Aspergers was the severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, dating back to her earliest years.

Even a decade ago people had a good understanding about autism, but these “Aspergers-like” children fell between the cracks. They didn't fall neatly into any psychiatric diagnosis, and they didn't look like they had autism because their language was so well developed. People knew they were odd, but no one knew what to do with them. As a clinician in child mental health, it has been a great relief to have this diagnosis as something you can hang your hat on. These children have tremendous needs that must be met by schools and the medical community.

They Talk Before They Walk—

These are children who talk before they walk. Words are their lifeline, and from a research perspective, that's a critical observation that captures the difference from autism.

The Aspergers description went “underground” for several decades, but during an international field trial of autism conducted by Volkmar and others in the 1980s, a number of clients consistently surfaced, across cultures and languages, who matched the definition. From this emerged a consensus definition for inclusion of Aspergers in DSM-IV in 1994.

Now the criteria are in need of refinement and will likely be updated in the next edition of DSM. Chief among the difficulties with the current criteria is dependence upon the absence of criteria normally present in autism—namely, the lack of delay in acquisition of language at age 2 or 3—and the stipulation that if autism cannot be ruled out, it should be the diagnosis of choice.

While Aspergers individuals do not lack vocabulary or speech production and are often precocious in this area, they have trouble fitting language into context and lack other skills requiring intuition of social context. They may have a variety of language weaknesses as toddlers including delayed onset of speech, rattling on in tangential ways, and speech articulation problems. But they are of a different quality than those found in high-functioning autism, such as mutism or very severe deficits in vocabulary.

Clinicians say a client's history of language acquisition is difficult enough to ascertain when a patient first presents at the age of 10 or 12, let alone as an adult. When you see these children in the clinic, it feels somewhat artificial to make a distinction just because they had an early language delay.

If they had a language delay at age 3 or 4, I am forced by DSM to call it autism, and if they didn't and have a normal IQ, to call it Aspergers. That's not a problem because those who have the language delay often continue to have signs of autism. And often, the more severe cases end up being called autism and the less severe cases are Aspergers. But not always, and it can seem arbitrary eight or nine years down the road. If the family is overwhelmed, the least of their concerns is remembering exactly when the child first uttered single words and phrases.

Confusion over diagnosis, combined with a relative paucity of research, has resulted in extremely wide-ranging estimates of prevalence of Asperger's—between 3 and 48 per 10,000. Nonetheless, there are real differences between Aspergers and autism, and they need to be better spelled out.

So what should clinicians look for? 

In making the diagnosis, clinicians should look for three bell-ringer traits. These are impaired social interactions, especially difficulty with social reciprocity; idiosyncratic interests or activities; and odd, mechanical, or socially inappropriate speech patterns.

As with Jayne, treatment may involve medication of secondary symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive tendencies or attention-deficit problems; antidepressants, anxiolytics, or atypical antipsychotic medications may be useful.

Social-skills training targeted at teaching specific, often rudimentary social rules and protocols is the other component of treatment. Social algorithms—how to respond to different social situations and verbal cues—allow patients with Aspergers to learn conversation and other social skills cognitively so they can approximate an intuitive sense of how to behave.

In contrast to autism, you want to use the verbal capacities of Aspergers clients as a pathway to treatment.

The long-term prognosis is not necessarily bleak; the intensity of interest and volume of knowledge that clients may bring to idiosyncratic subjects can make them highly valued workers as adults. Along a continuum the symptoms of Aspergers can at some point “fade to normal,” and there are those in the community of people with autism-spectrum disorders who resist being labeled as disordered. For young people, especially teenagers, the “different-ness” they experience can be traumatic.

Even when these children don't meet criteria for depression, they are very much at risk for demoralization. In middle school especially they can experience self-hatred and anger as they try to make friends and find more and more that people aren't interested in their favorite topics and aren't patient with their social awkwardness.

So there is a place in treatment for supportive therapy and psycho-education. Sometimes I will give them things to read about Aspergers, and they are incredibly relieved to know there is a disorder, and that other people have it – and have found a way to lead happy lives.

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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A newsletter subscriber (Tonya) recently asked me, “If you could spend a couple minutes with my Aspergers son to give him your best advice – what would you tell him?”

I thought that was an interesting question!  So, this is what I would tell Tonya’s son:


Living with Aspergers has been described as being born on the wrong planet by some, because people diagnosed with this Autistic Spectrum Disorder have to learn to live with “neuro-typicals” (NTs). Those with this disorder display intense interests in certain material things or activities (e.g., video games) – at the cost of developing some important social skills. Below are tips on how to develop these much needed social skills:

  1. Consult a psychologist, licensed social worker or a psychiatrist to learn more about Aspergers. As therapists, they develop a “treatment plan” to assist you with daily living. Use the treatment plan to develop social skills. Some of the things practiced may include how to converse with people in different social situations.

  1. Join some clubs that feature activities of interest. Aspergers people tend to be interested in a few narrow activities, and uninterested in anything outside of them.

  1. Learn when it is appropriate to touch people. Practice what you learned and try to follow the treatment plan recommendations.

  1. Learn which specific aspects of Aspergers give you the most trouble, and try to work around them.

  1. Maintain eye contact, but do not stare. The best way to achieve eye contact is to look at their left eye briefly and then shift to their right eye.

  1. Memorize people's behavior when they are distressed. Ask friends how actions may have caused distress. Ask friends how to prevent causing distress in the future.

  1. Remember, some agencies have special social and support groups for people with Aspergers. Look around to see if there is one around you and join one! This will give you a safe place to make friends and learn social skills.

  1. Talk with people – don't "talk at" them. A good ratio in a one on one conversation is to listen about 60% of the time and talk about 30%. Try not to talk for more than five to ten minutes at a time. Let the other person, or people, set the pace of the conversation.

  1. Try to behave in a manner that is seen as acceptable. Allow enough of your uniqueness through to intrigue people, but try to keep most of it under control.

  1. Remember: Being yourself is not the solution – it is part of the problem. Learn to change!

So, I firmly believe that helping with “social skills development” is THE most important thing we can do for our Aspergers children. And the items listed above - albeit a short list - will be a wonderful start in the direction of such development.

Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.






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Online Resources for Parents with Aspergers Children—

Just a quick note to share some valuable online resources with you:


·         If you want a list of books and videos about Aspergers, try:
http://www.kandi.org/aspergers/Books_and_Videos/index2.html

·         If you want to buy computer software that helps children with Aspergers, try:
http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger
 
·         If you want to find a professional clinician in your area, go to: http://www.aspergers.com/asplist.htm
http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger

·         If you want to find a summer camp or boarding school program for kids with Aspergers, try:
http://www.talismancamps.com
http://www.newleafacademy.com (middle school females)
  
Helpful Websites:

·         A Directory for Aspergers: Support Groups and Organizations
http://www.kandi.org/aspergers/index2.html
This website is a great place to start your search for local, national and international organizations and support groups as well as to get more information. There are over 200 websites featured here; however, many are more about autism. You get links to books, videos, news and magazine articles, and supplies for Aspergers children. You can also find chat rooms, personal web pages, message boards, and many other websites. Some are for teachers only.

·         ASPEN (Aspergers Educational Network)
9 Aspen Circle, Edison, NJ 08820
http://www.aspennj.org/
Aspen is a non-profit organization for people and families with Aspergers in the New Jersey area. Yearly dues are $35. It operates many support groups in New Jersey, and sponsors educational conferences for parents. The website has a wealth of good information about Aspergers for everyone.

·         ASPERGER HELP
http://aspergerhelp.net/
This is an online resource with forums, blogs, articles and information about Aspergers. Besides getting plenty of information, you can join an online support group here.

·         Aspergers And High Functioning Autism Association
PO Box 475, Roslyn Heights, New York 11577
http://www.ahany.org/index.htm
AHA is a coalition of parents who support one another as they seek to improve educational resources and increased opportunities for adults and children with high functioning autism and Aspergers. AHA has an impressive advisory board of professors and medical doctors. It offers conferences and support groups in New York for parents, teens and adults with Aspergers or high functioning Autism as well as a quarterly newsletter. The AHA website is a font of information about Aspergers.

·         MAPP Services
Box 524, Crown Point, IN 46308
Website:
http://www.asperger.org
MAPP Services is an organization providing information and support for those whose autism does not involve intellectual impairment. MAPP stands for "More advanced individuals with Autism, Aspergers, and Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD)." This organization began in 1984 with just 24 families; now its newsletter, The MAPP, reaches over 10,000. Their website gives links to local groups in every state, and contains a lot of up-to-date research on Aspergers.

·         O.A.S.I.S.(Online Aspergers Information and Support)
Patricia Romanowski Bashe and Barbara Kirby
http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/
These two authors wrote the Oasis Guide to Aspergers (New York: Crown Publishing) 2005, and now keep parents up-to-date through their award-winning Oasis website. You can find a bookstore, scholarly papers and articles, teachers' tips and resources, and plenty of advice for parents on everything from legal rights in school systems to helping Aspergers individuals get employment. State by state listings of local professionals who can help you in your area, also lists of camps and boarding schools for Aspergers children are included, plus many links to other helpful websites.

Additional resources:

·         Parents’ Strategies A-Z


Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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TEACHING SOCIAL SKILLS


Good afternoon. I conducted a seminar for parents of Aspergers children/teens over the weekend. I thought I would share – albeit briefly – the main points of that seminar, which addressed “how to teach social skills to children/teens with Aspergers.”


KEY CONCEPTS:

1.    Aspergers kids and teens are often described by their parents as being bright but clueless.

2.    Kids with Aspergers often score well within the normal range on standardized tests typically used by schools to evaluate students. These tests usually do not test for social skills.

3.    It is often helpful for parents to think of themselves as coaches for their kids.

4.    Children/teens with Aspergers can have wide ranges of strengths and weaknesses which can puzzle and frustrate parents and educators. For example, since he can program a computer, why can’t he write a book report?

5.    Persons with social-cognitive deficits still desire successful social relationships and companionship. Do not assume that they don’t want to have friends.

6.    Poor parenting or role modeling does not cause Aspergers.


INTERVENTIONS:

1.    An activity notebook: These can be used to document all the activities in a given day. Then parents and youngster together can plan for minor changes in routines to help decrease time spent in repetitive stereotypes movements such as rubbing or twirling, or spending all one’s time on a single interest.

2.    Discussions on specific topics such as how to greet others, how to wait your turn, how to ask for something, what to do when you don’t get your own way, and how to tell someone you like them. Use pictures, role model actual situations, or write in a journal.

3.    Emotion Flash Cards or vocabulary cards: These are cards that describe in pictures various emotions.

4.    How to give and receive compliments. What types of compliments are appropriate in a given situation?

5.    How to help others. Teach the youngster or teen specific tools to use to understand situations in which it is or isn’t appropriate to help others.

6.    How to understand and use skills such as using a friendly and respectful tone of voice, or waiting for pauses in conversation.

7.    Learning to recognize early signs of stress and anxiety, to avoid going into the anxiety-anger cycle.

8.    Roll-play various stressful and/or emotional situations.

9.    Strategies to teach how to recognize and cope with one’s emotions. These include the use of an anger thermometer, lists of things that might make one horrified, bored, confused, overjoyed, or mad; or emotion scales which assign a number score to the intensity of a given emotion.

10. Teach commonsense rules for starting conversations. For example, one system is the PATHS method. This stands for Prepare ahead, Ask yourself what you are going to talk about, Time it right, say Hello, and watch for nonverbal Signals.

11. Teach how to notice and use nonverbal skills. For example, the SENSE method. This stands for Space (maintain the proper physical space between others), Eye Contact, Nodding (To show agreement or disagreement), Statements of Encouragement (such as uh-uh), and Expressions (face).

12. Teach the difference between public and private. Be very specific. Make lists or draw pictures of private activities and public activities. Make lists of examples of private places and public places.

13. Teach vocal cues. One such cue is proper use of tone of voice. Ask teen or youngster to try to guess what people are thinking based on inflection in speech patterns or tone of voice.

14. The “I Laugh” Approach: These are a series of specific exercises to teach communication skills and problem solving. “I Laugh” stands for: Initiating new activities, Listen effectively, Abstracting and inference, Understanding perspective, Gestalt, the big picture, and Humor.


I’ll go into this more in subsequent newsletters.

See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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Hope all is well in your home today!

In this newsletter, we will look at discipline vs. punishment. Here are some characteristics and results of using a “punishment-based” parenting style (rather than “discipline-based”):

  1. Children learn that they better not get caught when misbehaving and if they dont get caught there will be no punishment.
  2. Children who are usually punished have a hard time trusting. They may react with anger and isolate themselves from their parents.
  3. Consequences are inconsistent and unpredictable. As a child my husband was never sure if he would get into trouble for a certain behavior. As a result he took the risk, because in his words he had a fifty-fifty chance of getting away with it. When he was caught the punishment was often severe or not enforced. A week grounding usually only lasted two days before his parents forget or grew tired of him being around the house and sent him off to play.
  4. In punishment-based parenting few words of explanation are given by the parent, often leaving children confused and unsure of the behavior that warranted the punishment.
  5. Parents do not recognize the difference between mistakes and misbehavior. Both receive punishment.
  6. Punishment is given out of anger or frustration. It is often excessive and the parent is not in control.

After reading these characteristics, what type of parent are you? If you find that you lean more towards punishment, you might want to reevaluate your system and learn some new techniques to better discipline your child.

I have a resource page for you that I call “Discipline for Children: PDF Library for Parents.”  On this page (see link below) you’ll find 15 eBooks on how to discipline – rather than punish - children.

I trust that you will find a least a few tips there that will be beneficial.


Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


P.S. Here are 26 additional free parenting eBooks that you may want to look at as well:



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The Ten Commandments of Crisis Intervention

In today’s newsletter, we will take a look at The Ten Commandments of Crisis Intervention for your Aspergers child.

  1. Allow the youngster, whenever possible, to make choices as you move through the crisis intervention steps; however, do not offer choices if they would compromise what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Have a calm voice and demeanor, but convey firmness.
  3. Help the youngster to see you as a problem solver. Let him know that you are aware of how difficult the situation is for him. Tell him your job is to help with this difficulty. Explain clearly that your help does not mean avoiding the situation or doing it for the youngster, but rather helping him to do it. E.g., "You have a problem and I am here to help you solve it."
  4. Ignore or interrupt irrelevant comments. Respond with: "That doesn't make sense, I can't pay attention to that," or "That is off the topic, so I will have to ignore what you are saying," or "I can't help you with your problem while you are talking nonsense."
  5. Make it clear to the youngster that you are in control; don't plead or make second requests.
  6. Practice/rehearse what has been decided as the appropriate solution to the problem; this may involve completing an activity or sabotage, accepting a change, or restoring the environment after a meltdown.
  7. Say what you mean and mean what you say at all times during the crisis.
  8. Stay on topic during the crisis. The youngster may bring up extraneous or unrelated issues to try to justify his behavior.
  9. Keep your goal in mind as you go through the crisis intervention steps: creating new rules for responding in the future.
  10. A step isn't completed until the youngster has given you his verbal consent to the conditions of the step. Be prepared to repeat steps if additional meltdowns occur before moving on to the next step.


Short and sweet …but very effective.

See you next week.

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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Aspergers Tantrums

Hope all is well in your home!

Today we will look at a couple tips to curb tantrums (meltdowns) in your Aspergers child…

There is no doubt you, the parent of a youngster with Aspergers, have experienced the array of emotions from him/her (e.g., temper tantrums, loud outbursts, rages, etc). While, you may be inclined to believe that some of these rages are unfounded and come without reason, in kids with Aspergers, these rages and outbursts usually do come about with a strong foundation (at least in the mind of the child). If your youngster lives with Aspergers and experiences rages, temper tantrums, and outbursts on a regular basis, it is important that you understand how to manage and resolve these behaviors in order to restore some sense of normalcy to your life and to the life of your child.


Typically rages in Aspergers kids occur when he has experienced a maximum sensory overload and can no longer interpret the environment stimuli occurring around them. The rages and outbursts may occur because of miscommunication between your child and another child, or when your youngster is simply not able to interpret the communication occurring in their environment.


In most kids with Aspergers, rages occur because of frustration in their ability to interpret and communicate effectively, and in combination with the sensory overload of the activities around them. If you feel that your youngster is experiencing rages, tantrums, and outbursts due to environment stimulation complications, it is important to place him in an environment where you can, to some extent, control what happens in the environment. Progressively, over time you can increase the exposure that your youngster experiences in their environment as a way to slowly teach him how to manage and respond to the stimuli without experiencing feelings of rage.


When your youngster lives with Aspergers and has feelings of rage, it is important to understand some of the early warning signs that a temper tantrum is about to occur. In kids with Aspergers, biting of the lower lip or chewing on their play things is quite common when feeling distressed. In addition, he may begin to pick at his hands or fingers and show signs that he wants to rock in a chair. Some Aspergers kids, when feeling frustrated, may begin pacing, or even bolt-out of a room as a way to alleviate the frustration they feel when too much stimulation is present.


All of these early warning signs are important to signify that a rage is about to occur, and when you see these warning signs in your Aspergers child, not only should you defuse the situation, but also look around the environment to determine what could possibly be causing the rage to occur. Learning by experience, you can teach your youngster how to more effectively manage rage and feelings of frustration so as to create a more peaceful, tantrum-free, environment in which to live.

A parent’s behavior can influence a meltdown’s duration, so always check your response first:

1.      Calm down
2.      Priorities safety
3.      Quiet down
4.      Re-establish self-control in the child, then deal with the issue
5.      Slow down

1.      Calm Down. Take 3 slow, deep breaths, and rather than dreading the meltdown that’s about to take place, assure yourself that you’ve survived meltdowns 1000 times before and will do so this time too.

2.      Priorities safety when your Aspergers youngster is having a meltdown. Understand that they can be extremely impulsive and irrational at this time. Don’t presume that the safety rules they know will be utilized while they’re melting down. Just because your Aspergers child knows not to go near the street when they are calm doesn’t mean they won’t run straight into 4 lanes of traffic when they are having a meltdown. If your Aspergers youngster starts melting down when you’re driving in the car, pull over and stop. If your child tends to “flee” when melting down, don’t chase them. This just adds more danger to the situation. Tail them at a safe distance (maintain visual contact) if necessary.

3.      Quiet down. Keep your speaking voice quiet and your tone neutrally pleasant. Don’t speak unnecessarily. Less is best. Don’t be “baited” into an argument. (Often Aspergers kids seem to “want” to fight. They know how to “push your buttons”, so don’t be side-tracked from the meltdown issue).

4.      Re-establish self-control in the youngster. When your Aspergers child is calm and has regained self-control, he will often be exhausted. Keep that in mind as you work through the meltdown issue. Reinforce to your youngster the appropriate way to express their needs/requests.

5.      Slow down. Meltdown often occurs at the most inconvenient time e.g. rushing out the door to school. The extra pressure the fear of being late creates, adds to the stress of the situation. (Aspergers kids respond to referred mood and will pick up on your stress. This stress is then added to their own.) So forget the clock and focus on the situation. Make sure the significant people in your life know your priorities here. Let your boss know that your Aspergers youngster has meltdowns that have the capacity to bring life to a standstill, and you may be late. Let your child’s teacher know that if your youngster is late due to a meltdown that it’s unavoidable, and your child shouldn’t be reprimanded for it.

Remember, all behavior is a form of communication, so try to work out the ‘message’ your Aspergers youngster is trying to convey with their meltdown, rather than responding and reacting to the behavior displayed.

Have a great week,
Mark Hutten, M.A.





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Just a quick note to introduce you to:


The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook is a downloadable ebook designed to help you, the parent, understand every aspect of Aspergers and to effectively parent a child with this disorder.

Drawing on case studies and personal accounts from extensive clinical experience and from correspondence with children and teens with Aspergers, this ebook brings together a wealth of information on all aspects of the syndrome for children through to adults.

I am offering a special discount this week to my newsletter subscribers. So feel free to take advantage of this limited-time offer. You can download this widely acclaimed Aspergers resource guide for parents with Aspergers children and teens for only $5.00.

Enjoy!

See you next week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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Socialization Tips for Children and Teens with Aspergers

In today’s newsletter, we will look at some socialization tips for your Aspergers child or teenager…

In order to improve their social skills, children and teens with Aspergers need to learn and focus on socialization intellectually. What may come naturally for those without Aspergers or autism needs concentration by those with the condition. Here are some tips:

• Communicate with Pictures: To teach young children to be social, incorporate picture stories into their daily lives. This is important for difficult subjects such as sharing and communicating feelings. The stories should communicate how to handle the situation.

• Education Is Key: Education is an important part of Asperger socialization. Young children may be unable to grasp socialization skills initially, but as they get older, they can learn what gestures mean and how to interact with peers.

• Help Them Make Friends: In school and other social situations, those with Asperger syndrome will perform best with a parent's aid. Find a friend for the student at school that they know and can work with. The child may eventually learn from the friend how to interact.

• Professional Social Help: Work with a psychologist and counselor to teach and improve social skills. Some with this high form of autism can learn to be social. Therapies often teach Asperger patients to recognize potential problem situations. In addition, these professionals teach and practice strategies with patients so they can handle most situations.

• Rules of Social Language: Work with a speech pathologist that will evaluate and offer help for children with language. Even though the child may speak perfectly, learning social language is often necessary. Learning eye contact from a speech pathologist, for example, is an important skill.

Perhaps the best socialization tips for children with Aspergers come from practice. The only way for the child (or adult) to learn how to be social is to participate in numerous events and outings.

• Be involved in sports and extracurricular activities. Through practice, children and teens learn to be socially positive.
• During the teen years, dating is often difficult. Encourage teens to go out with friends and to date. It may take practice, but they will learn social skills with each outing.
• Encourage socialization from a young age by bringing other children into the home. With supervision, allow play dates to be teaching moments, too. A parent may say, "See how Billy has his hand outstretched? That means he wants to say hello with a handshake. Shake his hand."
• Reduce anxiety for your child whenever possible. Keep the rest of their life structured and organized as well as ensure that the environment is a positive and rewarding one for them. This allows them to focus on social interactions without concern about other difficulties.
• Utilize role-play at home prior to any type of excursion. Role-play allows the individual to image all of the various scenarios that could happen. Then, teach strategies for dealing with situations that are difficult.

I hope this was helpful.

On another note, be sure to check out the Aspergers Support Groups website. On this site, you will find contact information for Aspergers and Autism support groups in a location near you.

Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.





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Help for Parents with Defiant Aspergers Teens


If you have a teenager with Aspergers, then you will want to read today’s newsletter (otherwise, it won’t really apply).

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.

The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing a child with a neurological disorder. Violent rages, self-injury, isolation-seeking tendencies and communication problems that arise due to auditory and sensory issues are just some of the behaviors that parents of teens with Aspergers will have to learn to control.

Parents need to come up with a consistent disciplinary plan ahead of time, and then present a united front and continually review their strategies for potential changes and improvements as the Aspergers teen develops and matures.

Click here for more information on how you can effectively discipline a defiant Aspergers teenager. This information is guaranteed to improve both behavior and self-esteem!


Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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Aspergers Children and School Phobia

Most Aspergers children at some time in their school career are challenged by anxiety. School phobia, a complex and extreme form of anxiety about going to school, can have many causes and can include related anxiety disorders.

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.

In today’s newsletter, we will look at how school phobia starts, the possible triggers for school phobia, and what you can do to help.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

=> Aspergers Children and School Phobia


 P.S. There is a comments button at the bottom of the newsletter - and I would really appreciate any questions or comments that you may have.  Thanks!



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I hope your Labor Day is going well.  In today’s newsletter, we will look at a sample behavioral management plan for Aspergers children.

Although behavior problems are not unusual at home or school, they are not always a major presenting problem in Aspergers. Negative behavioral outbursts are most frequently related to frustration, being thwarted, or difficulties in compliance when a particularly rigid response pattern has been challenged or interrupted. Parents first should attempt to analyze the “communicative intent” of the negative behavior. A harsh, punitive approach to negative behavior is especially ill-advised when the child’s negative behavior was his attempt to communicate his feelings.

Click here for a sample behavior plan that you can adapt to your specific situation…


Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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Parents of Older Teens or Young Adults Still Living At Home



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."

Parents face issues such as college preparation, vocational training, teaching independent living, and providing lifetime financial support for their child, if necessary. Meanwhile, their immature Aspergers teenager is often indifferent – and even hostile – to these concerns.

If you have an older teenager who has no clue where he is going in life, or if you have an “adult-child” still living at home (in his early 20s or beyond), then this will be the most important letter you will ever read.

Click here to go to the letter…


Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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Aspergers Teens and Steps to Successful Self-Management of Anger

In today’s newsletter, we will look at Aspergers teens and “Steps to Successful Self-Management of Anger”…
Teens with Aspergers 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, afterwards. 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.
Click here for today’s newsletter… 

Have a great week,
Mark Hutten, M.A.

=> ASPERGERS TEENS AND ANGER



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In today’s newsletter, we will look at Aspergers Children and Physical Education Class. Throughout this article, Jim Dilmon, a young man with Aspergers shares with us his experiences taking physical education in a generalized education setting. Jim, who is now 25 years old, attended a large public high school in New York. He recently graduated from college and is a teacher in a public school.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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Getting Aspergers Kids Ready For School


Scenario: It’s Monday morning. You’re running a bit late (or a lot late) for work. You MUST be out the door and on your way in 5 minutes ...when you notice your Aspergers child is still in his pajamas. OMG!

Have you ever had a bad morning because your Aspergers child made you late for work?

Here are some tips for improving your morning routine and getting him to school on time. Getting Aspergers kids ready for school can be a nightmare. Making these minor adjustments to your morning can help improve your mood - and his - for the entire day:

Click here for today’s newsletter…


Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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Defiant, Oppositional Teens with Aspergers: Parenting Techniques

Do you have a teen or pre-teen who is giving you some problems?

Parenting a defiant teenager with Aspergers if tough (if you don’t how that is). Some behaviors are bids for attention or expressions of frustration at not feeling understood. 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. In any event, it is much easier to prevent negative behaviors than to deal with them after they occur.

In today’s newsletter, we will look at some quick tips to give parents some relief from the power struggles (these strategies work equally well in pre-teens).

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…


See you later in the week ,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

=> Defiant, Oppositional Teens/Preteens with Aspergers: Simple Parenting Techniques that Work Wonders





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Today, I’d like to talk to you about some very simple – yet highly effective – parenting techniques for Aspergers children. There are many things you can do to help your child better understand the world, and in doing so, make everyone's lives a little easier.

Remember, they are children just like the rest; they have their own personalities, abilities, likes and dislikes - they just need extra support, patience and understanding from everyone around them. Here are some simple – but very effective techniques:


• Begin early to teach the difference between private and public places and actions, so that they can develop ways of coping with more complex social rules later in life.

• Don't always expect them to 'act their age' they are usually immature and you should make some allowances for this.

• Explain why they should look at you when you speak to them.... encourage them; give lots of praise for any achievement - especially when they use a social skill without prompting.

• Find a way of coping with behavior problems - perhaps trying to ignore it if it's not too bad or hugging sometimes can help.

• In some young kids who appear not to listen - the act of 'singing' your words can have a beneficial effect.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter for more parenting techniques…


Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

=> Parenting Aspergers Children: Helpful Strategies




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A Message to Your Aspergers Teenager

Today I have a message for your teenager (assuming he or she is an adolescent)…

Are you a teenager with Aspergers?  Then this message is for YOU:

Living with Aspergers has been described as being born on the wrong planet, because people diagnosed with this disorder have to learn to live with “Neuro-Typicals” (i.e., people who do not have Aspergers). Those with this syndrome display intense interests at the cost of socialization skills.

Here are some tips on how to help you deal with “Neuro-Typicals” (they can be very annoying sometimes) ==>
How to Live With Aspergers: A Message to Aspergers Teens



Mark Hutten


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Getting Your Asperger Child to Try New Food

As if coping with Aspergers wasn't difficult enough, meal times can become the battle of the century trying to get your Aspergers child to eat something, anything. Sometimes, due to their sensory issues, getting a child with Aspergers to eat can make you want to pull your hair out. One day they will eat something, and the next day they scream when it comes near their mouth … not to mention your fears as a mother or father that your child is not getting adequate nutrition.

In today’s newsletter, I will be showing you some ways to get your Aspergers child to try new food.

Click here to go to the newsletter…


Have a great weekend ,

Mark Hutten,M.A.





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Spouses with Aspergers

If you or your spouse has the diagnosis of Aspergers, then today’s newsletter will be of special importance to you. I am going to share some crucial “relationship tips” that are ALWAYS needed when dealing with an Aspergers spouse.

Married couples affected by Aspergers can have a happy, loving, and successful relationship. It may take a little work and a little extra effort, but it is possible and it is worth it. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, couples that truly love each other can and will make their marriage work.

Click here for today’s newsletter and important tips…

As always, I read and appreciate your comments. Please feel free to share your feedback - or ask any questions - via the “comments” link located below today’s newsletter.


Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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The Blessings of Aspergers:  40 Positive Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome


Do you know that there are many positives associated with the Aspergers condition?  Also known as “autism lite” or a “shadow syndrome” of autism, Aspergers is an autistic spectrum disorder that affects approximately 1 out of every 200 people. Those with Aspergers are high-functioning in the sense that they are better able to maintain social relationships than those with autism. Unlike those with autism, people with Aspergers often score highly on measures of verbal intelligence.

When contemplating disorders such as Aspergers, there is a tendency to focus on negative aspects. But many of those with Aspergers have positive traits as well, which has led some people to question whether it should be viewed as a difference rather than a disorder. In today’s newsletter, I will be showing you the positives associated with the Aspergers condition.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> The Blessings of Aspergers: 40 Positive Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome



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Some research shows that there are strikingly similar features in first or second degree relatives on either side of the family, or the family history includes "eccentric" individuals who have a mild expression of Aspergers. There are also some families with a history of children with Aspergers and classic Autism.

In today’s newsletter, we will look at Aspergers in the family.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…


Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Aspergers in the Family




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Are Aspergers Children Too Smart For Their Own Good?


One parent's search for answers to a particularly distressing school situation led her to characterize the plight of her 9-year-old Aspergers son like this: "The good news is he's bright, and the bad news is he's bright!"

This revealing description makes a sadly accurate statement about an educational system that not only fails to understand the Aspergers youngster – it also fails to recognize that such understanding is in fact necessary if positive change is to occur. An analysis of what this parent meant by her statement gives one a window on the sometimes bizarre world of Aspergers.

In most disorders, a descriptor like "high functioning" is an excellent indicator of potential success – thus, the good news. How then can intelligence be considered bad news? The answer to this question lies in the paradoxical nature of Aspergers itself.

Click here for today’s newsletter…

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Are Aspergers Children Too Smart For Their Own Good?



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Parents of a child with Aspergers are often faced with this dilemma:  Do we limit our child's time spent doing the activities that interest him most and run the risk that he will withdraw even more, or do we allow him ongoing, easy access to things like video games, science fiction books and movies despite the obvious social repercussions?

It’s important for parents to find the balance between accepting their child’s unique interests, and encouraging him to develop social skills and additional interests that might take him outside of his comfort zone. By granting unlimited access to fixations (e.g., video games), parents offer their young one nothing more than a quick fix. The fixation may be a convenient coping skill for facing the hardship of a long, difficult day at school, but it will not be the healthiest path into adulthood.

In today’s newsletter, we will look at what you can do to curb unhealthy fixations.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…


I’ll see you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Dealing with Fixations in Aspergers Children




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In today’s newsletter, I will be describing the “behavior contract” – and I will provide you with some templates so you can draft one for yourself. These contracts are built based on the special needs of Aspergers children (although they can be used for other children as well).

A behavior contract is an agreement between the child and parent. It is a written agreement about how the child will behave and will indicate the appropriate consequence should the child neglect to behave according to the contract. It also states the reinforcers to be used for successful compliance. The behavior contract provides the Aspergers child with structure and self-management.

Click here to go to todays’ newsletter…

Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Behavior Contracts for Aspergers Children




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I bet you have never stopped to think that you may have a potential genius for a son or daughter – now have you?

Aspergers individuals can be so successful mainly because they are more focused and persistent, they do not get distracted, and they are not interested in outside society as much as the “average” person. People with Aspergers often make wonderful intellectual contributions to society in general. Studies suggest an association with achievements in art, music, engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physics.

Aspergers is oftentimes seen as a disorder with both positives and negatives; however, many well-known adults with Aspergers have achieved great success within their career fields. There are numerous extremely successful people who either had, or are believed to have had, Aspergers.

In today’s newsletter, we will be looking at some of the famous people who have (or may have had) Aspergers.


Click here to go to today’s newsletter…


Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


==> The Potential Genius of Aspergers





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Coping with the Holidays: Help for Aspergers Children

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, I thought we should have a conversation about “coping with the holidays” – an especially important topic for parents with Aspergers children.

Aspergers kids and teens are easily over-stimulated. Their emotions overwhelm them, and it is up to the people around them to make life easier for them. The holidays are especially difficult for kids who have Aspergers. Remember, they are not social people. Crowds and noise overwhelm them. They do not cope well with the hustle and bustle of holidays, especially Christmas.

How can you enjoy the season while at the same time keeping your Aspergers youngster calm and behaving appropriately? That’s the topic of today’s newsletter.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

See you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Coping with the Holidays: Help for Aspergers Children




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I recently received a chat message from a parent who is experiencing some difficulties with her Aspergers son’s school. Here is the message:


“My son has been diagnosed with Asperger's and we are now working with the middle school for their evaluation processes to approve special education help. They are specifically stating that they do not believe the diagnosis based on observations of my son interacting with other children at school and being the 'life of the party' basically for the group.

I have tried to explain that this behavior is his way of coping with the lunchroom situation as a learned behavior and that he is not actually experiencing the situation the same way they are based on his comments to me at home each day about his interactions with the other students. How do I get these educated people to listen to lowly me, mom, and get him the help he needs that they seem to want to deny?”


In today’s newsletter, I will be showing you some things you can do to help your child’s teachers to understand -- and deal with -- Aspergers.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…


Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.





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People with Aspergers are viewed largely in negative terms. This inaccurate stereotyping often leads to inappropriate interventions, which can lead to long-term damage.

It has been well documented that those with Aspergers are vulnerable people who will face certain difficulties. These are often highlighted by individuals who see only the negatives rather than the positives such differences could represent.

In today’s newsletter, we will be looking at some of the unfair, negative stereotypes – as well as the areas in which “Aspies” will excel compared to the general population.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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Lack of Empathy?

In today’s newsletter, I would like for us to explore the issue of Aspergers individuals and their alleged “lack of empathy.”

Aspergers is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom, and is characterized by (a) qualitative impairment in social interaction, (b) stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and (c) no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language. Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis.

The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Aspergers. People with Aspergers experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others , a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.

A mother of an Aspergers child tells her story of a son who seemed to lack empathy:

“The realization that my child was lacking the feeling of empathy gradually came to me when he was between the ages of 2 and 4. I had a vague idea someplace in the back of my mind that a part of my child's difficulties with coping in the world around him had something to do with the reality that he did not seem to really feel his emotions apart from experiencing anger and sadness. Even if I said that he was happy, he could not agree with me proclaiming that just because he was poking fun at something did not mean that he was happy. 

As a young child, he totally couldn't cope with his 8 month old sibling crying whenever he fell down, bumped his head or pinched a finger. My child asked the most perplexing questions like "why is that baby shouting?" …"why is he doing that?" …and, my personal favorite …"can't we take that loud baby back to the store and get a new one?" I patiently spelled out many times that after an infant injures himself, he or she whines until the discomfort stops but my child continued to be convinced that this infant made that racket simply to irritate him.

When my child was 4, it started to be clear to me that he was not able to empathize. I had come down with an especially awful flu virus and passed out on the family room floor in the center of a game that I was playing with the children. When I came to, my younger child was patting my cheek and saying "Mommy, what's wrong?", while my older child had a meltdown because I had stopped playing! Actually, after my hubby raced me to the hospital, children in tow, my Aspergers child continued to be upset with me for interrupting "his" game. 

Soon after that, I had a summary of feelings stuck on the refrigerator in big letters and spent part of everyday hoping to get him to comprehend his emotions and the emotions of other people. He came to hate the "face game" when I put a collection of catalogues in front of him and asked him to cut out all of the faces that matched up the list of feelings. Since I did not know back then that he had Aspergers, I'm not completely sure I approached this issue in the best way. 

As he grew older and began school, we experimented with numerous discussions around the issue of emotions, how they may control us, or we can control them. We talked about how to be warm and friendly to other children, how they would feel if he treated them all like insects, and how to recognize his own emotions. Honestly, I don't know that we really succeeded in this area. I believe he has learned not to say what he truly believes in certain circumstances due to parental disapproval. It is really an issue that we will most likely focus on for a long time.”

Aspergers individuals have difficult reading body language (i.e., non-verbal communication). This reduced ability to read body language means less displays of empathy; however, in this case, "empathy" is used in the sense of mimicry of emotions.

There is a natural tendency of people to mimic others in their behavior. So if one person laughs, it is more likely that other people within earshot will laugh too. The same occurs with sadness. Empathy comes to play because sadness is not just tears but an entire set of circumstances.

So what happens is that the Aspergers individual is seen as responding inappropriately to other’s emotions. That's because he/she is not connecting through body language. So in a very real sense, the person with Aspergers is less empathetic. One would not expect an Aspie to respond to body language just as you would not expect a deaf person to respond to your voice.

Does this mean that people with Aspergers have no feelings? No. In the commonly understood sense, Aspies have feelings like anyone else. If you don't know about an event, you have no feelings about it. So to use a rather strange example here, you would have no worries about running over an invisible man. There are people and events we know about only by reading about them or by hearing the stories. Just like people without Aspergers, Aspies have empathy with people they read about.

Many people with Aspergers have the ability to feel empathy (some more so than others, some maybe not so much). Aspergers is not the same for each and every person who has it. However, the blanket statement that people with Aspergers lack empathy is not all that accurate. It is a statement without explanation –a statement, black-and-white as it is, that doesn’t take into account each person’s individuality, and the reality that others can feel more than you can know. This is especially true when much that can be felt by those with Aspergers is not met with the same need for expression as it is for those without Aspergers.

A groundbreaking study suggests people with Aspergers do not lack empathy – rather, they feel other’s emotions too intensely to cope. Thus, the “lack of empathy issue” may have more to do with “sensitivity to stimuli” than an inability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes.

So there you go.  I hope this was insightful. Have a great weekend.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook



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Yesterday, I received this question from a parent, and I thought it would be a good topic for today’s newsletter:

“My daughter has difficulty socializing with her peers. One day, she has friends and the next day no more. When conflicts arise, she doesn't know what to say, do. She doesn't know how to express in words her feelings. She tries, but it's confused. She sees things as black and white. How can I as a parent help her?”

Making and keeping friends is a very common problem for Aspergers kids. So in this newsletter, I will be giving you some ideas on how you can help your child with friendships. You will need to take this information and tailor it accordingly, based on your child’s age and level of understanding.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

See you later in the week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Note:  As always, feel free to comment using the comment link at the bottom of today’s newsletter.

 ==> Developing Friendships: Tips for Children and Teens with Aspergers




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I got an email today from a special education teacher concerning a rather aggressive Aspergers child:

“I am a special education teacher. I have an Aspergers student that hits impulsively. We have tried behavior modification, social stories, sensory exercises, and music therapy. She will say what she did was wrong and we will role play the correct behavior. She still hits and is getting in a lot of trouble. There is no pattern or functional cause. I want to help her but am running out of ideas. Does you have any suggestions??”

If your child tends to get aggressive from time-to-time (e.g., hits, kicks, spits, pushes, throws things, etc.), then you will want to read today’s newsletter that addresses aggressive behavior is Aspergers children.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

I’ll see you next time,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


==> Violent Aspergers Children: What Parents and Teachers Can Do





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Are you experiencing relationship difficulties with an Aspergers spouse or partner? If so, has separation or divorce crossed your mind? 

Aspergers is such a difficult disorder to handle with your child, but when it is your partner or spouse, it is unbelievable the damage it can do to your relationship. 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.

A person with Aspergers may have trouble understanding the emotions of their partner, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed. Because of this, a person with Aspergers might be seen as egotistical, selfish or uncaring.

These are unfair labels, because the affected individuals are neurologically unable to understand other people's emotional states, and they are usually shocked, upset and remorseful when told their actions were hurtful or inappropriate!

If you are in a relationship with someone who has Aspergers …and if you have felt confused, frustrated and alone …and if you want some advice to make things better …then click on the link below and read what I suggest.


…or copy and paste the following URL into your browser: http://www.myoutofcontrolteen.com/LivingWithAspergersPartner.html


If you have any questions, as always – feel free to email me.

Have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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If you are in a relationship with someone who has Aspergers, then today’s newsletter might have some helpful information for you.

Folks with Aspergers often live in their own little world. Intimate relationships with ‘Aspies’ is difficult simply because they have a problem with communication and empathy (abilities healthy relationships rely on). Getting into a romantic relationship with an ‘Aspie’ will require you to change your expectation of "normal" behaviors. In exchange, however, you might find yourself part of a lasting and satisfying relationship.
Here are some tips for those who may be in a romantic relationship with a person with Aspergers:

Click here for today’s newsletter…

Oh …and happy Thanksgiving!

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Living With An Aspergers Partner/Spouse





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I hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend.

Adolescence is a time that is more emotional for everyone. Yet the hormonal changes coupled with the problems associated with Aspergers can result in the Aspergers teenager becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Childish temper tantrums can reappear. The Aspie teen may act-up by physically attacking a teacher or peer. He may even experience a "meltdown" at home after another day filled with harassment, bullying, pressure to conform, and rejection. Suicide and drug addiction become real concerns, as the Aspergers teenager now has access to cars, drugs and alcohol.

In today’s newsletter, we will look at Aspergers-related drug abuse and what you can do to prevent it.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter…

…or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:
http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/11/aspergers-teens-and-marijuana-use.html


See you later in the week ,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Aspergers Teens and Marijuana Use





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The majority of children with Aspergers will experience repeated bullying and/or victimization at school.  Aspergers students are easy targets for a variety of reasons:

• Due to having a low social IQ, they let things build up …then retaliate without an awareness of what the consequences might be
• They appear different than their “typical” peers
• They are not always aware of teasing or bullying behavior
• “Intimidation” is not in their vocabulary
• The need to dominate or control others is not part of their personality

In today’s very important newsletter, we will look at bullying behavior against the Aspergers student – and what needs to be done to STOP IT!

Click here to go to today’s newsletter …or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:
http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/12/bullying-of-aspergers-children.html


Please provide feedback, questions, comments, or your personal story as it relates to this issue …by clicking on the comments link at the end of today’s newsletter (very bottom of the article on MyAspergersChild.com).

Thanks, and have a great weekend,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> The Bullying of Aspergers Children




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Aspergers Children and Poor Reading Comprehension

Children with Aspergers struggle with some aspects of language, and as a result, reading comprehension is affected as well. Aspies are mainly visual thinkers, so they find it difficult to think with words and understand them.

In today’s newsletter, I will be giving you some tips to help with reading comprehension in your Aspergers child.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter …or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:
http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/12/aspergers-students-and-poor-reading.html


Have a great week,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Aspergers Students and Poor Reading Comprehension




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I conducted a seminar yesterday on “Aspergers and Anxiety” …I thought you might like to read the transcript of the Q & A part of the presentation.

Click here for the transcript… or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:

Have a great weekend.  I’ll see you again on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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I received this question via email yesterday:

“Do the symptoms of Aspergers differ according to the age of the person affected by the disorder? In other words, does a young child have a different set of issues compared to a teen or an adult?”

I think this is a great question, so in today’s newsletter, I will be showing you what the symptoms of Aspergers look like during preschool, grade school, middle school, high school, and on to adulthood.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter… or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:

Hope you’re having a great week.

See you next time,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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Roughly 60-70 % of children with Aspergers have symptoms which are compatible with an ADHD diagnosis. Both Aspergers children and ADHD children have serious sensory integration problems, can be uncoordinated and impulsive, and they both very much respond positively to structure and routine.

It is common for a child with Aspergers to first be diagnosed with ADHD due to attention and behavioral issues. As further tests are done and more specialists get involved, a more specific diagnosis of Aspergers is often made.

In today’s newsletter, I will be showing you the similarities and differences between Aspergers and ADHD. You may be surprised by the comparison.

Click here to go to today’s newsletter… or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:


Have a MERRY MERRY Christmas,

Mark Hutten, M.A.




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Anticipation for the Aspergers child is often a negative emotion that leads to overload resulting in a meltdown. Rather than having a time of “peace” and “joy”, the Aspergers child runs the risk of behaving like a demon-possessed maniac, creating havoc amongst his siblings, upsetting Aunt Jane, and giving you an “attitude” when you try to diplomatically reprimand him.

So, how do you manage to foster some Christmas spirit amongst your family while keeping your Aspergers child calm and behaving appropriately?   That’s the subject of today’s newsletter...

Click here to go to today’s newsletter… or copy and paste the following URL into your browser:


I hope you have a great holiday,

Mark Hutten, M.A.



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I hope you had a great Christmas!

I recently received the following email from a parent:

“How can I help my youngest child age 4 cope with my 12 year old Asperger child’s sneaky aggressive behavior toward him? My four year old loves his older brother but is constantly being manipulated and abused. He does this very sneaky and tries not to get caught.

A typical example: My Asperger child will appear to cuddle with my child on the couch while he's secretly smashing the air out of him until the 4 year old screams. It's hard to watch my loving four year getting hurt every time I turn my back.”

I thought this would be a good topic for today’s newsletter: Aspergers Children Who Abuse Their Siblings

Click here to discover what you can do as a parent to prevent sibling abuse… or you can copy and paste the following URL into your browser: http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/12/aspergers-children-who-abuse-their.html

Have a great week and a Happy New Year,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your information and have already gotten some great tips that I have begun to try. Many thanks, and have a great weekend. Jodi

Anonymous said...

I wanted you to know that I do appreciate your resources and suggestions and all the encouragement that comes through your website.
God Bless you. Susan

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

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.

Click here to read the full article...

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.

Click here to read the full article...

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.

Click here
to read the full article...

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