Have you experienced an out-of-control yelling match with your Aspergers (high functioning autism) teen? While parenting these teens, moms and dads often find themselves in a power struggle. Teen "Aspies" try all sorts of things to get what they want, and sometimes this involves yelling and cussing-out their parents. The techniques that follow should help parents deal with aggressive Aspergers teens:
1. Avoid Excessive Negative Attention— It's a mistake to pay more attention to what the Aspergers youngster is doing wrong (e.g., his failures, mistakes, misbehaviors, etc.) than to what he is doing right (e.g., his successes, achievements, good behaviors, etc.). When you go to bed at night, review the day you have had with your Aspie. Have you spent as much time during the day looking at his appropriate behaviors as you have looking at his inappropriate actions?
You should avoid using punishment as a primary method of control. Instead, substitute positive consequences, which place the emphasis on good behavior rather than on bad behavior. Eliminate verbal punishment (e.g., hollering, putting down the teenager, name-calling, excessive criticism), and use reward as a disciplinary tactic. Emphasize successes, accomplishments, achievements, and good behaviors. Pay more attention to normal good behavior and be positive. Constant nagging of an Aspergers adolescent will certainly result in a buildup of anger, resentment, and aggressive behaviors.
2. Avoid Excessive Restrictions— Some Aspergers kids who are overprotected, excessively restricted, and generally not allowed to be like other youngsters their age may develop resentment and anger. They want to do things that others do, but are prevented from doing so. Sometimes you have to look at your adolescent's peer group in order to decide what is and is not appropriate – and what is too much restriction.
3. Avoid Random Discipline— Moms and dads often discipline after the fact. This is “random discipline.” They set a rule and wait for the teenager to break it before they decide upon a consequence. To Aspergers adolescents, the concept of fairness is extremely important. If they are disciplined in this fashion, they may frequently feel unjustly treated. In addition, random discipline often makes adolescents feel that others are responsible for what has happened to them and anger is apt to develop. You should spell out the rules and consequences for your youngster's behavior at the same time. The most important part of this process is not the rule, but the consequence. Put the responsibility for what happens to the youngster squarely on his or her shoulders.
4. Do Not Let the Behavior Get Out of Control— Once a youngster is actively involved in an aggressive behavior or shouting match, it is difficult to deal with the behavior. Rather than wait till the behavior occurs to handle it, sometimes it is possible, and better, to try to prevent it from happening or to catch it early and not let it get out of control. In some adolescents, the aggressive behavior develops gradually and may involve several steps. Some initial behaviors appear and then intensify.
For example, an adolescent's brother may call him stupid. Some verbal exchanges follow, then a pushing and shoving match begins, and finally a full-blown fight erupts. Rather than wait to react when the fight starts, it would be better to try to catch the behavior early, and intervene before the situation gets out of hand. Target the name-calling or verbal arguing and try to stop that, rather than wait to zero in on the fighting.
5. Don't Get into a Power Struggle—You tell your Aspie to clean his room and he refuses. Then you threaten, "You had better clean it, or you're not going out on Saturday." He replies, "You can't make me clean it and I'm going out on Saturday, anyway." Then you say something, he says something, you both begin to shout, and a full-blown power struggle has developed. This is a good way to generate anger in your youngster. When possible, avoid battles and power struggles, which only lead to a buildup of anger. At times, it may be better to have the youngster experience the consequence of his behavior rather than to win the battle and get him to do what you want. If you try to win each fight, you may battle the youngster throughout adolescence, and will probably end up losing the war.
6. Encourage Appropriate Communication— The most effective way to deal with anger and rebellious behavior is to have adolescents appropriately communicate their feelings of disapproval and resentment. Encourage them to express and explain negative feelings, sources of anger, and their opinions—that is, what angers them, what we do that they do not like, what they disapprove of. If an Aspergers adolescent expresses emotions appropriately, in a normal tone of voice, she should not be viewed as rude or disrespectful. This is an appropriate expression of anger, and the youngster should not be reprimanded or punished. In other words, allow adolescents to complain, disagree, or disapprove, provided they are not sarcastic, flippant, or nasty.
Remember, though, that allowing a youngster to shout, swear, or be fresh does not teach effective communication of emotions. If the adolescent is complaining about excessive restrictions, punishments, or other things that she does not like, listen. Try to understand her feelings. If the complaints are realistic, see if something can be worked out and resolved, or if a compromise can be achieved.
7. Look for Ways to Compromise— In many situations with Aspie teens, you should try to treat them the way you would one of your friends or another adult. Rather than get into a battle to see who is going to win, it may be better to create a situation where a compromise is reached.
8. Provide Appropriate Models— Kids learn a great deal from modeling their parents' behavior. The way we handle our conflicts and problems is apt to be imitated by our kids. If I handle my anger by hollering, throwing things, or hitting, there is a good possibility that my kids will handle their conflicts in a similar fashion. The old saying "Don't do as I do; do as I say" is a very ineffective way of dealing with behavior. Therefore, if you see aggressive or rebellious behaviors in your adolescent, look at yourself, your spouse, or an older sibling to see if one of you is modeling these behaviors. If so, the behavior must stop before we can expect to change the teenager's conduct. If there is a significant amount of arguing in the home, or if parents demonstrate disrespect for one another, it is likely that the adolescent will adopt similar behavior patterns. If you scream at your youngster, he is likely to scream back.
Moms and dads who use physical punishment with the young youngster, as a primary method of dealing with his or her behavior, forget one important thing: kids grow and usually get as big as or bigger than them. A young child disciplined through physical punishment will probably end up as a teenager who gets into physical battles with his parents. Moms and dads must look at themselves to be sure they are not models of the behavior they are trying to eliminate in the youngster. Serving as an appropriate model is a good way to teach kids how to deal with and express anger.
9. Stabilize the Environment— Aspergers adolescents who experience environmental change—especially divorce, separation, or remarriage—may develop underlying anger. The anger and resentment that result from the changes may be expressed in other ways. Try to identify the changes, stabilize the environment, and get him to express his feelings through more appropriate methods. If the teenager has questions regarding a divorce or remarriage, discuss them with him.
10. Try Not to React to Passive-Aggressive Behavior— Some of the opposition, stubbornness, resistance, and other passive-aggressive maneuvers of Aspergers adolescents are designed to express anger and/or to get a reaction from the parents. Ignoring this behavior is often an effective way to reduce it. Some ways of dealing with this passive-aggressive behavior will result in the development of more anger, while others will help deflate the anger balloon. For example, if you ask your Aspie to do something – and he is doing it, although complaining the whole time, ignore his complaints since he is doing what you asked.
Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens