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

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Dealing With Aspergers Children Who Refuse To Go To School

Has your Aspergers child given you some indication that he is nervous about starting back to school?  He may have even said, “I’m not going!!!

What youngster hasn't dreaded September, the end of summer and the return to school – but for many Aspergers students, the prospect of school produces a level of fear so intense that it is immobilizing, resulting in what's known as school-refusal behavior. Some Aspergers children have been known to be absent for weeks or months. Some may cry or scream for hours every morning in an effort to resist leaving home. Others may hide out in the nurse's office. Some children who miss school are simply truant (i.e., they'd just rather be doing something else), but sometimes there are genuine reasons to fear school (e.g., bullying, teasing).

Anywhere from 5% to 28% of kids will exhibit some degree of school-refusal behavior at some point, including truancy. For children with anxiety-fueled school refusal, the fear is real and can take time to overcome. Families may struggle for months to help an Aspergers youngster get back into the classroom. Ignoring the problem or failing to deal with it completely can lead to more-serious problems later on. Individuals who experience school-refusal behavior and anxiety disorders in childhood may face serious ramifications in adulthood.

Psychologists say and studies show the following:
  • Alcohol, drug use: A study of kids ages 9 to 13 with an anxiety disorder showed that those who still had the disorder seven years after treatment drank alcohol more often and were more likely to use marijuana than those whose disorders had resolved.
  • Depression: Teens and young adults ages 14 to 24 that had social anxiety were almost three times as likely to develop depression later on than those without the anxiety disorder.
  • Different life choices: Psychologists say they've seen young people with persistent anxiety make fear-fueled choices that can have long term effects, such as selecting a less-rigorous college or a less challenging career.
  • Psychiatric treatment: A study of school-refusing kids showed that about 20 to 29 years later they received more psychiatric treatment than the general population.

School refusal affects the entire family. If a child doesn't go to school, it may be hard for a parent to keep her job. Children are at heightened risk when starting a new school, and especially when entering middle school. It is the perfect storm with the onset of puberty, a huge transition and a chaotic academic environment.

Well-meaning moms and dads can make things worse by allowing an anxious Aspergers youngster to miss school. Such an accommodation sends the message that school is too scary for the youngster to handle and the fear is justified. Overprotective moms and dads rush in way too quickly to shield their Aspie from any experience that creates distress.

Untreated, an Aspergers youngster with school-refusal behavior is likely to fall behind academically, which can then lead to more anxiety. And there may be longer-term consequences. A 1997 study followed 35 students (ages 7-12) treated for school refusal. Twenty years later they were found to have had more psychiatric treatment and to have lived with their parents more often than a comparison group.

Some Aspergers teens with unresolved anxiety may go on to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. A 2004 study followed 9- to 13-year-olds who were treated for an anxiety disorder. Seven years after treatment, those who still had the disorder drank alcohol more days per month and were more likely to use marijuana than those whose disorder had resolved.

Children with school-refusal behavior may have (a) separation anxiety (i.e., a fear of being away from their moms and dads), (b) a social phobia (i.e., an inordinate fear of being judged), or (c) a fear of being called-on in class or being teased. A specific phobia (e.g., riding the bus, walking past a dog, being out in a storm, etc.) may be present as well. Other kids are depressed, in some cases unable to get out of bed.

Because many children complain of headaches, stomachaches or other physical symptoms, it can be difficult to tell whether anxiety, or a physical illness, is to blame. (Note: Anxiety-fueled ailments tend to disappear magically on weekends.)

Aspergers kids with school refusal may complain of physical symptoms shortly before it is time to leave for school or repeatedly ask to visit the school nurse. If the youngster is allowed to stay home, the symptoms quickly disappear, only to reappear the next morning. In some case, an Aspergers youngster may refuse to leave the house. Common physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea. Tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, avoidance, and defiance may show up, too.

Starting school, moving, and other stressful life events may trigger the onset of school refusal. Other reasons include the youngster’s fear that something will happen to a parent after he is in school, fear that she won’t do well in school, or fear of another student. Often a symptom of a deeper problem, anxiety-based school refusal affects 2 to 5 percent of school-age kids. It commonly takes place between the ages of five and six and between ten and eleven, and at times of transition, such as entering middle and high school. Kids who suffer from school refusal tend to have average or above-average intelligence. But they may develop serious educational or social problems if their fears and anxiety keep them away from school and friends for any length of time.

What Can Parents Do?

The most important thing a mother or father can do is obtain a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional. That evaluation will reveal the reasons behind the school refusal and can help determine what kind of treatment will be best. Your youngster’s pediatrician should be able to recommend a mental health professional in your area who works with kids on the spectrum.

The following tips will help you and your Aspie develop coping strategies for school anxieties and other stressful situations:
  • Arrange an informal meeting with your youngster’s teacher away from the classroom.
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of going to school: being with friends, learning a favorite subject, and playing at recess.
  • Encourage hobbies and interests. Fun is relaxation, and hobbies are good distractions that help build self-confidence.
  • Expose kids to school in small degrees, increasing exposure slowly over time. Eventually this will help them realize there is nothing to fear and that nothing bad will happen.
  • Help your Aspie establish a support system. A variety of people should be in your youngster’s life—other kids as well as family members or educators who are willing to talk with your youngster should the occasion arise.
  • Learn about your Aspie’s anxiety disorder and treatment options. For more information about school refusal and kid’s anxiety disorders, type "anxiety" and/or "school problems" in the search box at the top of this page.
  • Meet with the school guidance counselor for extra support and direction.
  • Talk with your Aspie about feelings and fears, which helps reduce them.
  • Try self-help methods with your Aspie. In addition to a therapist’s recommendations, a good self-help book will provide relaxation techniques. Be open to new ideas so that your youngster is, too.

Treatment—

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which clients learn to change negative thoughts and behavior, is the main treatment for school-refusal behavior and the anxiety disorders that often underlie it. The primary technique is exposure therapy, where children gradually face and master their fears.

CBT is very effective. Recent studies have shown that about half to 70% of children with anxiety disorders treated with CBT will have a significant improvement in function and decrease in their symptoms. Some specialized school-refusal clinics have success rates that are even higher.

Antidepressants such as Zoloft (sertraline) or Prozac (fluoxetine) are often prescribed for kids with anxiety disorders, although their use in kids is controversial.

Psychologists stress the importance of seeking treatment quickly—after as little as two weeks of missed school. The longer they've been out of school, the poorer the prognosis.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a 16 years old, ADHD, ODD, Asperger and every time is time to go to school, he start having a bad case of hives and he can't sleep; at school he has panick attacks too.

Cindy said...

My daughter was just diagnosed with Asperger a month ago at age 11. Over the years we have forced her to go to school at the advice of school officials and a very misguided therapist, even when we knew it was bad for her mental health. We understand school refusal and have done research on it. However, we also know our daughter, and we now know that she has suffered harm that can't be reversed because we listened to the so-called "experts" instead of using common sense and our own intuition. We pushed her beyond what her mind could handle. I realize there has to be a balance reached, but finding that balance is very difficult!

Anonymous said...

Nice idea telling them just to go to school but if the whole thing is just too overwhelming, not only do they shut down but everything else also starts to slide. Even the best schools are often unable to deal with our Aspie kids. Sometimes home schooling is the only option, allowing us to actually educate them and socialise in the real world.

homeschool family said...

I just wanted to say that we home educate our daughter who has just been diagnosed with Aspergers. She has been out of school for 3 years and although it is primarliy to do with her Aspergers we did not realise that at the time, we just knew she was desperately unhappy.
Since being out of school it has significantly reduced the amount of anxiety she suffers, although she still feels anxiety in certain situations of course. Her social skills have improved and she has friends. Sometimes the school setting does not suit the child.

Anonymous said...

I am just this year going to try online school for my 9 yr old. After taking him out of school to homeschool this past year when even the Charter School was unable to appropriately accomodate his needs and actually ended up making the school refusal the worst it has ever been I chose homeschool. I have tried the advice in this post since the time my son was in Kindergarten. I agree with the other posts that making them go to school may work for some children but it is not the right thing for all children. And medicating them so they can go to school when there are other options is not a good idea either. You can't just make someone fit into a mold because that is how they are supposed to be. I am so glad they have these online schools where they can still be a part of the public school system. My sons anxiety has improved immensely since I decided to do what I thought was right and not what all these professionals tried to tell me was right.

Anonymous said...

Maritza Quiñones I have a 16 years old, ADHD, ODD, Asperger and every time is time to go to school, he start having a bad case of hives and he can't sleep; at school he has panick attacks too.
August 4 at 12:00pm · Like
Shanna Dawson-Ferguson My son is 6 and has an Autism diagnois, but I'm really wondering if he has Aspergers. He hates school, and he has told me all summer he is never going back to school. I keep informing him that he will be going back to school.
Saturday at 6:44pm · Like

Anonymous said...

my son has just been diagnosed with aspergers 7 months ago at age 11 all the times ive been pushing him to school because school said theres nothing wrong with him just shows you what they know hes due to start high school tomorrow but all 6 weeks holidays he said hes not going and he wont go

Anonymous said...

My aspie 9 yr old has school refusal. He has explosive behaviors, and screams, cries, kicks, he refuses to go saying they hate him and he hates it. I have always taken him eventually when he calms down. I just want his work made up and him to realize he has to o it is not an option. This yr has been rough in 4th grade. The academics are hard. He has a 1 on 1 aide now. I think kids can be mean to him. I keep a notebook and write down comments everyday in it and send it back to school. They are doing a fba now. So far they have been very understanding with him and us. I have found klonipin helps as needed for anxiety to get him cooperative.

Anonymous said...

I have an 8 y/o son who has been diagnosed with Asperger's since age 4. He is currently in second grade and for the past few months has been having significant behavioral problems in the school, which have resulted in 3 suspensions. The school has done the usual protocol of functional behavior analysis to reveal that his behaviors are attention-seeking and to avoid school work. He behaviors typically include destruction of school property and refusal to follow directives of school staff. On a few occasions he has run from school staff and is now not permitted to attend recess or P.E. due to concerns of him running off. While running, it is reported that he is frequently looking back to see if others are chasing him and then he responds with a giggle. School staff reported being unable to manage his behaviors and are concerned for his safety and the safety of other children and staff.

Until today I have struggled with understanding why the school has such difficulty with my son. His behavior is managed at home by the structure and consequences that his father and I maintain. Upon the beginning of a meltdown, he is sent to his room to calm himself, which usually takes less than 5 minutes. We do not have to physically take him to his room. Verbal prompting and the suggestion of loss of privileges usually does the trick.

My son has been out of school for 2 weeks due to a combination of suspension, holidays, and illness. I took him to school this morning and he was fine and calm on the car ride over. Upon arriving at school, he became agitated as I would not permit him to take a toy into the school. He then took off running from ME!! Twice, I did the normal routine directing him to come back to me and counted to 3. He began to return but then would take off again. After the second chance, he ran towards the street and I then chased him down. He looked back a few times, giggling. I caught him and firmly escorted him into school. He was yelling "NO!" repeatedly, which is common for him in preparation for meltdown mode. He continued screaming "NO!" along with other unpleasant remarks directed at me and made gestures towards destroying school property. He kicked a desk while walking by and with much effort, I was able to get him to apologize. School administratio!
n expressed concern that his behavior will only continue to escalate if left at school. I clearly agreed; however, I expressed my concern that permitting him to return home because of his outbursts only reinforces the outburst. He clearly stated repeatedly this morning that he doesn't like school. He was taken back home and lost video game privileges for the day.

I am at a loss. My son hasn't responded to me in such a manner in years. School staff don't know how to manage him and his behaviors. I don't know how to get him back into school. He has baffled us all . . .

Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

We have been battling school refusal with our now 12 yr old daughter for 3 years. There is no help for them or us. She is in high school this year and things are not improving. I am seriously considering home schooling but wondering if she will even comply to that eventually. It is a big problem and very stressful, a situation that should be addressed by politicians. Schools and/or departmental services need to be more available with help for these kids and us as parents.

Anonymous said...

It is the toughest decision to make, but your child needs to be around other children to learn properly. The key is to ease in acceptance. We tried letting our very intelligent kid stay home because of the stress of going. Soon the child was refusing other important activities that she previosly accepted. Her language skills suffered to the point where we had to bring in a speech expert. Finally we used CBT and she started to come back to us and now makes friends at school fairly easily. The whole problem with us was getting good support and advice for our specific case.

Every child has the potential to return to school, but the longer it goes, the harder it gets. The more stressfull it gets for the parents too. I think we gave up after a few months because it was easier on us. In the end I think we made our lives worse by postponing the only course of action that eventually helped. If you don't get good professional advice, it is too easy to simply grab on to whatever advice gives the most comfort to our home life. Our kid got upset about school, but liked the activities and the other kids. Taking instruction in a normal classroom was the big problem as she had grown up with one-on-one teaching and attention. That was the biggest change, not school itself. She loved to play, but as an only child, never got used to waiting for attention, or waiting for a turn. There is plenty that a school can do to help for kids at that end of the Aspie spectrum. The biggest problem is getting the kid and the teachers together (getting a knowlegible teacher) and having the child reach a comfort level before going for full-out acceptance.

We slid too far towards the stress avoidance and it led to a worse situation where panic could set in over things that previously were never problems. Eating vegtables, personal hygiene, accepting a bed-time, and going outdoors went from being things she did to things that got refused. Eventually even bringing up the topics led to fits of panic. Stick with it and don't waste a year like we did. We are still trying to catch-up.

Anonymous said...

It is the toughest decision to make, but your child needs to be around other children to learn properly. The key is to ease in acceptance. We tried letting our very intelligent kid stay home because of the stress of going. Soon the child was refusing other important activities that she previosly accepted. Her language skills suffered to the point where we had to bring in a speech expert. Finally we used CBT and she started to come back to us and now makes friends at school fairly easily. The whole problem with us was geting good support and advice for our specific case. Every child has the potential to return to school, but the longer it goes, the harder it gets. The more stressfull it gets for the parents too. I think we gave up after a few months because it was easier on us. In the end I think we made our lives worse by postponing the only course of action that eventually helped. If you don't get good professional advice, it is too easy to simply grab on to whatever advice gives the most comfort to our home life. Our kid got upset about school, but liked the activities and the other kids. Taking instruction in a normal classroom was the big problem as she had grown up with one on one teaching and attention. That was the biggest change, not school itself. She loved to play, but as an only child, never got used to waiting for attention, or waiting for a turn. There is plenty that a school can do to help for kids at that end of the Aspie spectrum. The biggest problem is getting the kid and the teachers together and having the child reach a comfort level before going for full-out acceptance. We slid too far towards the stress avoidance and it led to a worse situation where panic could set in over things that previously were never problems. Eating vegtables, personal hygiene, accepting a bed-time, going outdoors went from being things she did to things that got refused. Eventually even bringing up the topics led to fits of panic. Stick with it and don't waste a year like we did. We are still trying to catch-up.

Anonymous said...

My 7 yr old used to love school, would cry if forced to leave. His experiences there have desrtroyed that enthusiasm. He hates to go and does anything he can to leave now. He has an IEP, but educators seem to be focused on changing his way of thinking rather than helping him learn how to cope with the syndrome. His behavior and meltdowns have been getting worse. He's doing things now that he hasn't done since he was 3 yrs old. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I have struggled for years with my son who is now 14. He was just diagnosed with Asperger's after years of looking for answers. Anyways ever sice Grade 1 my son would have severe behavioral outbursts at school and was always either restrained in a rubber room or sent home. By Grade 3 he started to fight going to school, running awway, crying, expressing physical ailmnets. I literally had to force him to school and he would end up getting sent home. As the years went on he got bigger and I could no longer physically force him to go. The last time I tried he jumped out of a mioving car. The only sucessful years he had were the years he had an aid. This made all the difference he was on the honor roll in Grades 5 and 6 and even won science fairs. In Grade 7 his aid was taken away and he was thrown into the regular classroom with no support. His avoidance of school has increased and it is very difficult for me to get him to school and most days he is either sent home or runs away, he finds Junior high too stressful. I have been fighting for 3 years to get supports for him. We just had a team meeting and everyone ganged up on me and said the reason for his school avoidance is because I make home too attractive!
I try to make my home as safe and nuturing as possible. He is not allowed on the computer when he is not going to school. What am I supposed to do lock him in a dungeon because he can't handle school?
It has been suggested by his Dr and the school that his adversion to school may be a matter for protective services. I am so upset. I have lost my career and spend my days advocating for this child and now they are turning the tables on me. I am quickly losing all faith in the system and seriously researching home schooling.

Anonymous said...

I have 14 year old son with the same conditions that your daughter has. He is refusing to go to school and I'm trying to get a home tutor. Ive forced him to go in the past and wish I hadn't of done as he has hurt himself by cutting his arms and legs and panicked so bad that he hasn't slept and l

Anonymous said...

I totally understand the social aspects of getting your aspie child into school. My 14 year old aspie just started highschool after two years of homeschooling so we could make sure she was being social (she hates it by the way). In 6th grade we sent her to public school in an effort to socialize her, and the school fought us tooth and nail that she had ANY issues. They said she was just lazy. We were truant all the time, and in trouble all the time. I made her stick out the year and she ended up cutting herself and becoming more and more withdrawn. Our family was a mess by the end of the year! My husband and I are both teachers too!! I have spent the last two years at home, trying to fix the damage that that school caused. Luckily our highschool has a program specifically geared for aspergers. So she may not like it, but goes 3 hours a day, small class size, with aides in every room. So, this school wants her to feel safe and they work hard to help us. If you are in a school that is fighting you be very careful. You may cause more harm then good by pushing them to stay in that environment. We are teaching our daughter to recognize when there is a situation that will cause her major stress, and change it or make adjustments. BUT, also letting her know she needs to find other options that still interact with people. This will happen her whole life, she needs to be able to see that if it won't work for her she must find a solution to correct it. Don't just try to get through a year in school, try and help them figure out how to get through life. That's just a goal, with aspies sometimes getting through the day is an accomplishment!!

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

Click here to read the full article…

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Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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