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Helping Aspergers Children Through Divorce

Your very sensitive youngster with Aspergers (AS) or high functioning autism will probably sense marital discord long before you do – even if you believe you've been very secretive about it. He may internalize what is occurring around him and assume personal responsibility for it. It is a very disturbing time for an AS child, and the internal personalization of the situation cannot be contained indefinitely.

In the AS youngster, this can manifest itself in:
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Increase in “acting out” or other “attention-seeking” behaviors
  • Increased difficulty in school
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Rashes and other skin irritations
  • Regular symptoms of physical illness

Maintaining peace wherever possible and providing reassurances as the divorce unfolds are important considerations for helping AS children through divorce.

Here are 20 crucial tips for helping your child with the transition from a traditional two-parent family to a single-parent family:

1. All kids will require constant reassurances during a time in which uncertainty about the future reigns. This will be especially true of the youngster with AS, and as you've probably learned, verbal reassurances are not enough.

2. Ask your child about friends of his whose parents are divorced. This is a good way to learn of his fears and assumptions about divorced parents, and gives you the opportunity to clear-up any misconceptions and remind him that other kids have gone through what he is now going through.

3. Aspergers kids tend to have many questions, feelings, assumptions and concerns about divorce. Many moms and dads find it difficult to just sit quietly and listen to their kids talk without trying to interrupt with a "fix-it" statement. Your AS child needs to feel heard with quiet patience and undivided attention.

4. Be clear in communicating that the divorce is not your youngster's fault and demystify any new environmental changes.

5. Confine negativity and blame about each other to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home.

6. Encourage your AS youngster to write, draw, cartoon storyboard, or use the computer to communicate his feelings and understanding of the situation. “Social stories” about divorce are very helpful as well. Review and fine-tune this information with him regularly and be prepared to follow his lead in opening-up discussion at times you hadn't anticipated it.

7. If you and your spouse are civil with one another, meeting together with your youngster will be an optimal demonstration of solidarity and goodwill. Explain the circumstances as you would to any of your kids. Don't be surprised if your youngster with AS punctuates your discussion with his own recollections of marital conflicts that stretch back in time — some of which you may have forgotten or of which you failed to realize the full impact.

8. If you, the parent, are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or stuck, then get help. Therapy can provide a safe, supportive environment in which you can gain insight, learn problem solving skills and find solutions to dealing with the anger and pain of separation and divorce.

9. It is important to stress and review all the things that will stay the same during this transition in addition to walking through the future changes, and to do so often throughout the process.

10. It is natural for any youngster to feel emotional upheaval in wondering whom to “side” with, especially if one parent “plays” the youngster against the other. Your youngster with AS is likely to feel emotionally torn – even if you are seeking to escape a harmful or abusive situation.

11. Keep visible conflict, heated discussions, and legal talk away from your AS child.

12. Know that certain sights, sounds, and smells can trigger thoughts that will lead to your AS youngster's need to verbalize his feelings.

13. Know that most kids are naturally inclined to believe that they are somehow the cause of a divorce. This may be intensified in your youngster with AS and will be reinforced if he witnessed or overheard conflicts in which he was at the center of an argument.

14. Let your AS child know that it is normal for him to want his parents to get back together again. Kids can feel ashamed about this very normal wish. You can explain to your youngster that once divorced, it is very unlikely that parents ever get back together, but their wish for reconciliation is very normal.

15. Many AS kids hide their feelings of sadness, grief, anger or confusion because they are afraid expressing these feelings will upset their parents. They need to know all their feelings are acceptable.

16. Minimize the disruptions your child’s daily routines.

17. Read together and talk about a child’s book on divorce. This will help you explain important facts to your AS youngster and help him formulate questions he might otherwise not have words for.

18. Reassure your AS youngster regarding personal safety. Many kids are concerned that, if their parents get a divorce, there will not be enough food or shelter or clothing for them. Kids living with single mothers may also need reassurance that she has a plan to protect them in case of fire, "burglars" or "ghosts".

19. Your AS youngster may well have to decide where - and with whom - he'd like to live. This can snowball and lead to other social upheavals concerning a new home, new neighborhood, new family members, and a new school. It may also mean leaving behind friends, family, pets, and very familiar environments. Be sensitive to these changes, because children with AS don’t do well with change in general.

20. Your AS youngster will require pictures, words, and stories to help make sense of it all and to foster some measure of safety and comfort.

*** Additional Considerations ***

Breaking the News—

As soon as you're certain of your divorce plans, talk to your AS child about your decision to live apart. Although there's no easy way to break the news, if possible have both mom and dad present for this conversation. It's important to try to leave feelings of anger, guilt, or blame out of it. Practice how you're going to manage telling your child so you don't become upset or angry during the talk.

Tell your child that sometimes grown-ups change the way they love each other or can't agree on things and so they have to live apart. But remind them that children and parents are tied together for life, by birth or adoption. Family members often don't agree on things, but that is part of the circle of life — parents and children don't stop loving each other or get divorced from each other.

Give your children enough information to prepare them for the upcoming changes in their lives. Try to answer their questions as truthfully as possible. Remember that children don't need to know all the reasons behind a divorce (especially if it involves blaming the other parent). It's enough for them just to understand what will change in their daily routine, and — just as important — what will not.

With younger children, it's best to keep it simple. You might say something like: "Mom and dad are going to live in different houses so they don't fight so much, but we both love you very much."

Older children and teenagers may be more in tune with what moms and dads have been going through, and may have more questions based on what they've overheard and picked up on from conversations and fights. 

Handling the Child’s Reactions—

Tell children who are upset about the news that you recognize and care about their feelings and reassure them that all of their upset feelings are perfectly OK and understandable. You might say: "I know this is very upsetting for you. Can we try to think of something that would make you feel better?" or "We both love you and are sorry that we have to live apart."

Not all children react right away. Let yours know that is OK too, and there will be other times to talk when they're ready. Some children try to please their moms and dads by acting as if everything is fine, or try to avoid any difficult feelings by denying that they feel any anger or sadness at the news. Sometimes stress comes out in other ways — at school, or with friends, or in changes to their appetite, behavior or sleep patterns.

Whether your children express fear, worry, or relief about your separation and divorce, they'll want to know how their own day-to-day lives might change. Be prepared to answer these and other questions:
  • Can I still do my favorite activities?
  • Can I still go to camp this summer?
  • Where will each parent live?
  • Where will I go to school?
  • Where will we spend holidays such as Thanksgiving?
  • Who will I live with?
  • Will I have to go to a different school?
  • Will I move?
  • Will I still get to see my friends?

Being honest is not always easy when you don't have all the answers, or when children are feeling scared or guilty about what's going on. It's always the right thing to do to tell them what they need to know at that moment.

The Importance of Consistency—

Consistency and routine can go a long way toward providing comfort and familiarity that can help your family during this major life change. When possible, minimize unpredictable schedules, transitions, or abrupt separations.

Especially during a divorce, children will benefit from one-on-one time with each parent. No matter how inconvenient, try to accommodate your ex-partner as you figure out visitation schedules.

It's natural that you'll be concerned about how a youngster is coping with this change. The best thing that you can do is trust your instincts and rely on what you know about your children.
  • Do emotions seem to be getting in the way of everyday routines (e.g., school and social life)?
  • Do they seem to be acting differently than usual?
  • Is a youngster doing things like regressing to younger behaviors (e.g., thumb-sucking or bedwetting)? 

Behavioral changes are important to watch out for. For example, any new or changing signs of:
  • anxiety
  • difficulties with appetite
  • difficulties with friends
  • difficulties with sleep
  • moodiness
  • sadness
  • school problems

All of these can be signs of a problem.

Older children and teenagers may be vulnerable to risky behaviors (e.g., alcohol abuse, drug abuse, skipping school, defiant acts, etc.). Regardless of whether such troubles are related to the divorce, they are serious problems that affect a teenager's well-being and indicate the need for outside help.

Adjusting to a New Living Situation—

Because divorce can be such a big change, adjustments in living arrangements should be handled gradually. Several types of living situations should be considered:
  • joint custody in which both legal and physical custody are shared
  • joint custody where one parent has "tie breaking" authority in certain medical or educational domains
  • one parent may have sole custody

Which one is right for your children? That's a tough question and often the one that couples spend most time disagreeing on. Although some children can thrive spending half their time with each parent, others seem to need the stability of having one "home" and visiting with the other parent. Some moms and dads choose to both remain in the same home — but this only works in the rarest of circumstances and in general should be avoided.

Whatever arrangement you choose, your youngster's needs should come first. Avoid getting involved in a tug of war as a way to "win." When deciding how to handle holidays, birthdays, and vacations, stay focused on what's best for the children. It's important for moms and dads to resolve these issues themselves and not ask the children to choose.

During the preteen years, when children become more involved with activities apart from their moms and dads, they may need different schedules to accommodate their changing priorities. Ideally, children benefit most from consistent support from both moms and dads, but they may resist equal time-sharing if it interrupts school or their social lives. Be prepared for their thoughts on time-sharing, and try to be flexible.

Your youngster may refuse to share time with you and your ex-spouse equally and may try to take sides. If this occurs, as hard as it is, try not to take it personally. Maintain the visitation schedule and emphasize the importance of the involvement of both moms and dads.

Children sometimes propose spending an entire summer, semester, or school year with the non-custodial parent. But this may not reflect that they want to move. Listen to and explore these options if they're brought up. This kind of arrangement can work well in "friendly" divorces, but is not typical of higher-conflict situations.

Changes of any kind are hard — know that you and your children can and will adjust to this one. Finding your inner strength and getting help to learn new coping skills are hard work, but can make a big difference to helping your family get through this difficult time.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

Top 75 Aspergers Websites for 2011

Below are the most popular Aspergers websites for 2011 (according to Google) in alphabetical order:

Helping Aspergers Children Transition to a New School


We are going to be moving to a nearby town over the holidays, and starting the first week in January, my son (with Asperger Syndrome) will be attending a new school. The timing is not very good for this move as we had hoped to wait until the end of the school year. In any event, how can we make this transition without having major meltdowns and/or behavioral problems?


The transition to a new school can include changing from elementary school to middle school - or middle school to high school. It can also include moving to a new school district. In any event, your Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster will rely on you to guide him toward making predictable sense of it all.

Changing schools, relocating to a new home, and having a new baby sister are all exciting times for the Aspergers child – but they are also stressful, overwhelming times. Even the word “change” may be disturbing for some Aspergers kids, because it may be associated with “loss of security” and “unpleasant circumstances.”

Below are 15 important tips to ease your Aspergers child’s transition to a new school. (Note: It may not be possible to implement all of these suggestions; some schools are more accommodating than others.)

1. A school-team meeting should take place to (a) plan for your youngster's transition, (b) ensure consistency, and (c) document the steps agreed upon. If the school does not offer such a meeting, contact your youngster's school to request that the principal schedule one.

2. Acknowledge that changing schools can be a scary or frustrating time because of so much being unknown. Moving up in grades is also a measure of growth and maturity. Reinforce with your youngster that he is growing and learning, and that he certainly wouldn't want to stay in his present grade level, even if it meant remaining in the same building.

3. As the ‘first day of school’ grows near, be prepared for your child’s anxiousness to grow. Be ready to offer reassurances and answer questions. Transitioning to a new school will be taxing and stressful for your youngster, but with preparations in place, it should be much more manageable.

4. Aspergers students usually don’t do well without structure. So ask school officials if there are any responsibilities that can be assigned to your child during unstructured activity times. Some schools offer structured indoor activities as alternatives to recess and other unstructured times.

5. Be sure that your youngster has his own way of visually counting down the days until the transition by marking off a calendar or some other timekeeping device.

6. Give the transition as much attention and importance as it carries for your child, but balance it with an air of fun and adventure. Remember, your youngster will reflect back to you what you project upon him. If your anxiety shines through, it will directly affect the intensity of his anxiety.

7. Have your youngster meet next year's primary or homeroom teacher before the end of his current school year. In addition, arrange for that teacher to observe your youngster in his current class to glean firsthand information about his learning style.

8. If your youngster has anxiety about being identified as an easy target for bullies, find out about the new school's bullying policy and obtain it in writing to review and share with your youngster. Follow up with the administration if you have any questions or concerns about incident investigation or accountability. Your youngster should know exactly who he can tell about any incidents in which he has felt bullied – verbally or physically.

9. Obtain a map of the new building’s layout for your youngster to keep. Specify all the areas, rooms, and exits he may use (e.g., location of his locker). This will help him to prepare and plan some subtle adaptations or accommodations.

10. Partner with your youngster in information-gathering prior to the transition, or at the least, provide daily updates to quell his fears and butterflies.

11. Pledge to support your youngster in demystifying as many of the unknowns as possible.

12. Schedule at least one visit to the new building and provide your youngster with a camera or camcorder to record the visit, allowing him to be in charge of directing the “movie” for the day. In this way, your youngster can relieve some of his anxiety by reviewing the images as often as he wishes at home where he feels safe and comfortable.

13. See if the school can provide a peer-mentor or some other student who can show your youngster around in a discreet, non-stigmatizing way with the potential for friendship.

14. Understand that many educators may not know much about Aspergers if they haven't had a child with Aspergers previously. It will be your job to help educate them.

15. Ask your child’s new teacher if she can provide your child with a clear, up-to-date photograph of herself. In addition, attached to the photograph, the teacher may add any personal data she feels comfortable sharing. Share this information and the photo with your child. Some examples of personal data include:
  • Birthday (month and day only)
  • Car make, model, color and year
  • Favorite color
  • Favorite music
  • Favorite places to vacation
  • Favorite sports
  • Full name, with an indication of how the teacher is to be addressed (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Miss)
  • Hobbies
  • Loved ones and their names
  • Pets and their names

With a little assistance and reassurance from parents, the Aspergers child can be expected to succeed – and enjoy – his new school environment.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums

The Misdiagnosis of Aspergers Children

Some "Aspergers" (high functioning autistic) children do not have Aspergers at all, they are simply "gifted." Has your child been misdiagnosed?

No one knows exactly how many gifted kids are misdiagnosed by clinicians and pediatricians who are not trained in the unique emotional difficulties of the gifted youngster. A common belief is that gifted kids do not have any particular social or emotional problems. Yet, research indicates that up to 20 % of high school dropouts test in the gifted range.

Some gifted kids may not seem different than other “behaviorally-difficult” children in their behavior and emotions, but the underlying causes are different. Any youngster can become withdrawn, aggressive, depressed, anxious, or sad – or exhibit any number of other problem behaviors given the right circumstances. However, there are a many aspects of giftedness that create unique challenges.

Gifted kids, many of whom are “asynchronous” (i.e., developing at different rates in different areas), encounter difficulties conforming to expectations, have behavior problems due to boredom, or otherwise struggle in a school setting.

Because of their finely tuned awareness, gifted kids tend to experience life differently and more intensely than others. Unfortunately, peers and adults at school or home often do not understand these differences. Gifted kids may experience the following problems:
  • Boredom and impatience
  • Difficulty observing boundaries and channeling their intense energy
  • Disregard for, or open questioning of, rules and traditions
  • Frustration and disappointment when ideals are not reached
  • Not "fitting in" with their peers
  • Preoccupation with deep human concerns, sometimes leading to anxiety and depression

In a clinical situation, the youngster's intense personal traits and difficulties may be viewed as symptoms of a mental or emotional disorder. Misguided therapy or medication may follow, as the clinician attempts to suppress or "cure" the symptoms of giftedness.

Common misdiagnoses of gifted kids include:

1. Aspergers— Highly gifted kids often have different ways of interacting socially. Their unusual comments and jokes may be misinterpreted as signs of Aspergers. Children with Aspergers may be gifted—especially in certain specific skills—but they do not respond as well as neurotypical kids to ordinary social or emotional cues. They may not make friends readily and often prefer to keep to themselves. Gifted kids, on the other hand, often show a great deal of concern for others and are highly sociable. If your gifted youngster gets along well with both grown-ups and peers, then a diagnosis of Aspergers is very unlikely. If you are concerned about your youngster’s socializing skills, then you may want to consult with a psychologist who specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder— Traits such as intensity, impatience, sensitivity, and high energy are common in kids with ADHD , as well as in gifted kids. Some gifted kids do have ADHD, but many do not. They are at a different developmental level than other kids. As a result, they may be inattentive and impulsive in certain situations.

3. Mood Disorders— Gifted kids may have intense mood swings. They notice inconsistencies and absurdities in society and in the people around them. They can feel different and alienated from others. These traits are often found in kids with depression, especially those with bipolar disorder. A gifted child who has mood swings, irritability, difficulties with anger control, etc., may not suffer from a mood disorder, but should be seen by a psychologist for proper diagnosis.

4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder— Gifted kids like to organize things into complex structures. They tend to be perfectionists and idealists. They can get upset when others do not go along with their ideas, appearing intolerant and "bossy." This behavior may be mistaken for obsessive-compulsive disorder or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. If obsessive tendencies seem to be getting in the way of a youngster’s success or happiness, then a psychiatric consultation is suggested.

5. Oppositional Defiant Disorder— Like kids with oppositional defiant disorder , gifted kids frequently appear "strong-willed." However, such behavior is often due to their intensity, sensitivity, and idealism. They do not like to be criticized for their different way of thinking. They may question the rules and engage in power struggles with authority figures.

Common concerns in gifted kids include:

1. Sleep Disorders— Nightmare disorder, sleep terror disorder, and sleepwalking disorder appear to be more common in gifted kids. Some gifted kids sleep a lot less than other kids. Others sleep a lot more. In the presence of unusual sleep patterns, your family doctor can advise whether a gifted youngster needs further evaluation for sleep or psychological problems.

2. Relational Problems— Moms and dads may lack information about the traits of gifted kids. Such kids may appear to be willful, mischievous, or strange. They may be criticized or disciplined for behaviors that stem from curiosity, intensity, and sensitivity. Power struggles, tantrums, and other behavior problems may surface. Effective therapy should involve helping the family understand and cope with the youngster's intensity.

3. Learning Disabilities— Gifted kids often have hidden learning disabilities (e.g., auditory processing weaknesses, difficulties with visual perception, writing disabilities, spatial disorientation, dyslexia, and attention deficits). Gifted kids may develop a poor self-image when learning disabilities are present. They tend to dwell on the things they can’t do and may need help in developing a good self-image. Gifted kids with learning disabilities have a great deal of trouble getting needed help in their schools because their academic achievement is usually above grade level despite their disability. Most school systems require a history of academic failure before they will provide remedial services.

Gifted kids have many strengths and possess greater than average awareness, perception, and sensitivity. This may be expressed in one or more areas (e.g., art, music, language, science, math, etc.). Common traits of gifted and talented kids include:
  • Ability to process information at deeper levels
  • Complexity and intense inner turmoil
  • Creativity and strong imagination
  • Deep compassion for others
  • High sensitivity
  • Intensity
  • Keen observation, perception, and insight
  • Love of learning
  • Perfectionism and idealism
  • Questioning established rules, beliefs, traditions, and authority
  • Strong absorption in their interests

Problems associated with the strengths of gifted children include:

Strengths: Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem-solving and intellectual activity.
Possible Problems: Rejects or omits details; resists practice or drill; questions teaching procedure.

Strengths: Acquires and retains information quickly.
Possible Problems: Impatient with slowness of others; dislikes routine and drill; may resist mastering foundational skills; may make concepts unduly complex. 

Strengths: Can see cause--effect relations.
Possible Problems: Difficulty accepting the illogical-such as feelings, traditions, or matters to be taken on faith. 

Strengths: Creative and inventive; likes new ways of doing things.
Possible Problems: May disrupt plans or reject what is already known; seen by others as different and out of step. 

Strengths: Diverse interests and abilities; versatility.
Possible Problems: May appear scattered and disorganized; frustrations over lack of time; others may expect continual competence. 

Strengths: Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order; seeks to systematize.
Possible Problems: Constructs complicated rules or systems; may be seen as bossy, rude, or domineering. 

Strengths: High energy, alertness, eagerness; periods of intense efforts.
Possible Problems: Frustration with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others' schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive. 

Strengths: Independent; prefers individualized work; reliant on self.
Possible Problems: May reject parent or peer input; non-conformity; may be unconventional. 

Strengths: Inquisitive attitude, intellectual curiosity; intrinsic motivation; searching for significance.
Possible Problems: Asks embarrassing questions; strong-willed; resists direction; seems excessive in interests; expects same of others. 

Strengths: Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistence.
Possible Problems: Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during period of focused interests; stubbornness. 

Strengths: Keen observer; willing to consider the unusual; open to new experiences.
Possible Problems: Overly intense focus; occasional gullibility. 

Strengths: Large vocabulary and facile verbal proficiency; broad information in advanced areas.
Possible Problems: May use words to escape or avoid situations; becomes bored with school and age-peers; seen by others as a "know it all." 

Strengths: Love of truth, equity, and fair play.
Possible Problems: Difficulty in being practical; worry about humanitarian concerns. 

Strengths: Sensitivity, empathy for others; desire to be accepted by others.
Possible Problems: Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection; expects others to have similar values; need for success and recognition; may feel different and alienated. 

Strengths: Strong sense of humor.
Possible Problems: Sees absurdities of situations; humor may not be understood by peers; may become "class clown" to gain attention. 

Strengths: Thinks critically; has high expectancies; is self-critical and evaluates others.
Possible Problems: Critical or intolerant toward others; may become discouraged or depressed; perfectionist.

Lack of understanding by moms and dads, teachers, and clinicians – combined with the lack of appropriately differentiated education –all lead to interpersonal conflicts, which are then mislabeled, and thus prompt the misdiagnoses.

Gifted and talented kids often must overcome many challenges to reach their potential. They frequently need help interacting in the mainstream world, finding supportive environments, and channeling their skills. When gifted kids are misdiagnosed and wrongly stigmatized, they cannot get the type of support they need. Families, teachers, and health professionals need to be better educated about the social and emotional needs of gifted kids.

Follow-up Question:

I have a 16 year old son who has Asperger Syndrome.  He has also tested in the 99th percentile for intelligence.  He learns easily and fast in most subjects.  But, as is common with Aspies, he has very little common sense.  He has problems making friends in the first place, but has further isolated himself from his peers by saying out loud in class (several times), “I don’t know why I have to learn this stuff that I already know.  They (classmates) may need to because they are not as smart as me, but why do I have to?”  Needless to say it does not go over well.  If you ask him why he would say such a thing he says “Because it is true”.  Also, he constantly challenges the teacher on whether what she has said is correct.  Any ideas as to how to get him to understand and change this behaviour?  


Gifted Aspergers students can become frustrated in the classroom due to repetition and the lack of challenge. This may lead some kids to act-out or be disruptive. It may cause others to become disinterested and dislike school. Still others may become upset at the mere thought of going to school. 

The starting point is to validate your son’s feelings—whatever they might be—and acknowledge and accept that the feelings are there. You can accept the feeling without having to accept the means of expression of the feeling (e.g., disrupting class). You need to communicate that your son’s feelings are understandable and natural, under the circumstances, and for the way that your son sees the world. You want to simply be offering an empathic narrative about what may be going on in your son’s mind and the connection between the trigger event (e.g., rehashing old material), the interpretation or meaning it had for your son (e.g., “this is so boring”), and the resulting feelings that arose in your son (e.g., frustration).

As the parent, you have the opportunity to model healthy ways of dealing with frustration in the ways that you, yourself, react when these feelings come up for you. The goal is to model that your own and your son’s difficult feelings can be observed, can be tolerated without "destroying" you or "driving you over the edge," and that they can be managed in conscious, healthy ways.  Monitor your own level of frustration or anger. Learn to recognize your own internal signs for when you get close to "not being able to take it anymore," or to "exploding.” It's ok to give yourself a time out, and it's not a sign of defeat. In fact, it's modeling behavior that you want your son to use. You can say something like "I'm getting close to the point where I can't think clearly, so I'm going to take a few minutes to clear my head."
You can also work with your son on a specific technique to help him step out of automatic reactions and unacceptable behavior. Use the sequence, "Stop, Think, Choose" as the keywords for your son to use to coach himself toward more conscious choices for behavior. The trick is to develop the association of this sequence with the onset of the frustration or anger. You would work with your son during calm times to offer acceptable choices for ways to express the feelings. Then, help your son to pick a trigger or identify a "switch" that informs your son that he is starting to reach his limits of tolerance. This might involve having him recognize that he's clenching his fists or feeling tension in his body, being able to recognize and articulate "I'm angry," or anything else that will help him catch himself in the process of becoming upset.

At first, you will have to help your son to catch himself, and you might do this with comments like, "I can see that you're starting to get frustrated. Is this one of those times when you could use your 'stop-think-choose' technique?" Presenting this technique as a choice gives your son the opportunity to learn that he can exercise control over his reactions and behavior. You may still need to coach him through the process of stopping, thinking, choosing before he can manage it himself.

One of the most common sources of frustration for gifted children has to do with their perception that others' rules don't make sense, aren't logical, and things that others say or do aren't rational (and therefore need not be obeyed). They believe that the world should operate according to THEIR rules (which they believe are totally logical), and they feel outraged when the world doesn't oblige.

Their natural drive for self-determination and efforts to feel in control of -- and to exert control over -- their world bring them into frequent conflict with the "real" rules. This can create a deep sense of despair and fear that they can never be in control of their world. Some children may even feel individually punished for not being allowed to be in control, and will fight to protect their self-esteem and efforts at self-efficacy. This can explain why sometimes the smallest incident that seems unjust to them can trigger such intense distress. They're reacting to the feeling that the entire world appears irrational, uncontrollable and unpredictable to them. Think about how scary that would be!

One possible way to address this is to find some activity or environment where your son truly can set the rules and he can feel in control. This requires some creative thinking by you to construct or find such an environment. When your son can find one place where he feels that things "make sense," and feels in control, then much of the distress over not being in control in other places subsides.

Another common source of distress for a gifted child is the fear that he really isn't as smart as others say he is, and he's going to fall from gifted grace if anyone ever found out. He therefore feels very protective of his self-image as someone who is "smart," but feels fragile since he doesn't believe it's something he has any control over.

Another way you can help your son when he explodes over perceived injustices or doesn't like following rules set by others is to help him empathize. The idea is to help your son recognize that other people have different perspectives about things, and that their reasons for doing something may be completely consistent with their own perspectives, even if they're different from his own.

Aspergers children, especially, have a difficult time recognizing that other perspectives can exist in other people's minds. In fact, being able to conceive of a different belief being held in another person's mind is a learned process, often called Theory of Mind, and usually doesn't even start to develop until around age three or four. It can take several more years for the capacity to develop to the point where a child can actually understand another's behavior and reactions in terms of completely different perceptions existing in another's mind. Since this is a learned skill, it's something you can assist your son to develop.
One way to do this is by engaging him in games or exercises where you ask him to imagine what's taking place in the other person's mind, when he has been in a conflict with someone else, or has refused to do something he's been asked to do. You can ask him to tell the story first from his own point of view, and then ask him to pretend that he's the other person, and tell the story again from the other's point of view. Encourage him to explain, in as much detail as possible, what he imagines the other person's motives were, or what the other person must have been thinking or feeling that made her act the way she did. If he was in an argument with another person, then ask him to replay the argument, but to argue it from the other person's perspective.
You can encourage your son to try to imagine as many different motives as possible, that the other person might have had for doing what she did. Approach this as a brainstorming exercise and challenge your son to be creative, no matter how outlandish his responses might be. You can help by throwing in some ideas of your own and even making a game out of it where you take turns guessing at the motives and intentions of the other person.
Basically, any type of exercise that helps your son to be curious about the perceptions and intentions of others, and helps him to become accepting of different perceptions, will benefit him in numerous ways. For example, if he felt hurt by something someone did, instead of assuming that the other person must have had the deliberate intention of hurting him, he might be able to see that the other person was trying to concentrate on a task, and was annoyed at being interrupted. This could help him take things less personally in the long run.
Lastly, if your son reverts to behavior that is destructive or unacceptable when he's upset, then form a plan AHEAD OF TIME for how you're going to respond to it. You want to establish clear rules for what is and is not acceptable behavior, write them down, and post them for your son to see and remember. Then, you want to formulate clear and precise consequences when the rules are broken, write them down, and post them for your son to see and remember. The critical elements in making a system like this work are clarity and consistency.

Another angle would be to approach your son’s teacher to see if there are some advanced (new) lessons your son can be doing while the others are repeating former lessons.

Avoiding Meltdowns and Tantrums While Shopping

All parents with Aspergers and high functioning autistic children have experienced it: the dreaded meltdown in a public place. Your child is screaming at the top of his lungs while an assortment of disapproving eyes are all focused on you. The pressure is on! What can you do? Fear not, you are not alone.

Below are some tips to preventing meltdowns and tantrums while shopping:

1. Anything that reduces uncertainty will help to reduce meltdowns. Give your Aspergers youngster a visual list of where you are going and the places you will be visiting. Make cards with pictures of the places you are going to, or cut out pictures from a magazine. Let your youngster help you make the list and arrange the order of places where you are going. In this way, he will be able to anticipate where you are going and what will happen next. Take your list along, and every time you have finished one errand, remove the card from the list and ask your youngster to tell you where you are going next. Once all the cards have been removed from the list, you can take him for a treat (if there were no meltdowns).

2. Set expectations. Before leaving the house, set out clear rules so your Aspie knows what to expect. Explain you are going for only the items on your list – and nothing else (e.g., say to your youngster “we are not buying a toy today” and ask him to repeat this statement back to you). If your youngster knows what to expect before leaving, there is less chance of him having a meltdown when you say “no.”

3. During meltdown, put your Aspergers youngster's needs first. It is tempting to worry about “what everyone else is thinking,” but make eye-contact with your youngster and let him know you are "present" to the situation. Stay cool. The last thing your screaming Aspie needs is to be confronted with a screaming mother or father telling him to “stop it” and threatening to take away all of his favorite toys when you get home. Stay calm and talk to your youngster. Verbal aggression is fueled by lack of communication. When parent and child are shouting at each other, this breaks down the communication even more.

4. Avoid a physical struggle when possible. If a meltdown does happen, you may have to physically restrain your youngster to prevent him from harming himself or others, but generally a physical struggle makes things worse. If your Aspie finds comfort in being held, he will see this as a reward for his meltdown, especially in public. As a result, you may see him having more – not fewer – outbursts.

5. Avoid verbal examinations. Although it is a good idea to talk with your youngster when you are shopping, avoid creating the impression that outings are verbal examinations. Sometimes, well-meaning moms and dads present their youngster with a rapid-fire series of questions (e.g., "What color is that balloon?" … "What shape is that?" … "Point to the clown") as they navigate through their shopping trip. Aspergers kids have speech-processing delays. Because they are already distracted by everything they see during an outing, asking them a series of questions can create additional cognitive demands, and in some cases trigger meltdowns. Allow your youngster's interests to guide occasional questions from you (e.g., if your youngster is staring intently at a poster of a popular kid's book character in a store window, you might ask him the name of the character he sees).

6. Don't make jokes. This is not the time to try and cajole him back to a calm state. If he is shrieking and thrashing around on the floor, put your shopping cart in reverse, tell the check-out lady you will return another time, and physically walk out of the store with your Aspie in tow. Sometimes a different environment is all it takes to calm an Aspergers youngster down. If he doesn't calm down, leave …quickly.

7. Be realistic. Aspergers kids can only be “stimulated” for so long. Be considerate and remind yourself how you feel when something over-stimulates you (e.g., the sound of loud screeching brakes). No child is going to sit quietly as you visit seven shoe stores and try on every pair you like. Cut shopping strips down to one hour (two at the most!). Also, consider browsing websites to find the items you want before going in order to cut down on shopping time.

8. Build in opportunities for choices along the way so that your Aspergers youngster feels he has some control. For example, if you are going to take a break in mid-morning during a shopping spree, you might include a choice of snacks on your youngster's schedule so that he can choose between a fruit smoothie or some chocolate milk. On the visual schedule, the item that comes after the visit to the shoe store can show two images side by side – a fruit smoothie or a container of chocolate milk – from which your youngster can choose.

9. Apologize to bystanders while you attempt to gingerly make your way out the door. You need not gush, simply say, "I'm sorry, we are having a difficult morning."

10. Diffuse the problem ahead of time. If you see a meltdown brewing, try to gently diffuse it by stopping, bending down to your youngster, and speaking softly and gently to “nip it in the bud” before it escalates. Explain the expectations that the two of you agreed upon earlier - and that you both promised “no screaming or shouting” - and give him something to look forward to (e.g., trip to the park on the way home, lunch at McDonald’s, etc.).

11. Use distraction. Only a mother or father can recognize and understand the benefit of using the technique called “distraction.” When that bottom lip starts wobbling, you’ll do whatever it takes to prevent a screaming session. To the uneducated eye, it may appear you are spinning around on one foot, singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” while clapping your hands, but in all actuality, over your years of parenting, you have mastered distraction.

12. For younger children, don’t go out before naps. When possible, have your Aspie take a good hour nap before leaving for a shopping trip. If he is tired, he will be quick to explode if he becomes over-stimulated.

13. Don’t go out hungry. A hungry kid is a grouchy kid. Go shopping – especially food shopping – only after a snack or meal.

14. Ignore the minor tantrums. It can be easy to crumble with embarrassment and feel you must reprimand your child as other shoppers look on. By allowing yourself to get angry and raise your voice, you will simply add fuel to the fire. Tantrums are attempts to get your attention so that your youngster can get what he wants. Ignore the milder form of tantrums, and he will tire-out eventually or forget what he was complaining about. (Note: There is a difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Tantrums are voluntary – meltdowns are not!)

15. Refrain from trying to act like a full-blown, major meltdown isn't happening. Nothing is more maddening to bystanders than witnessing a mother or father attempting – and tragically failing – to ignore her youngster's “totally out-of-control” behavior. It’s a "lose-lose" situation for all concerned to pretend that high-voltage behavior is not taking place.

With the right techniques, you can avoid public meltdowns and tantrums completely, but this takes time, patience, determination – and sometimes, just plain guts!

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content