Parenting teenagers is hard enough ...right? But throw "Asperger Syndrome" (high functioning autism) into the equation - and now you really got a mountain to climb. Do not despair! Here you will find 40 ways to effectively parent, nurture, and discipline your defiant Aspergers teen:
1. Writing Assignments - Education sometimes alters unwanted “Aspergers-related” behavior. Examples include:
- learning about a particular culture, religion or disability in order to develop understanding or tolerance
- researching the long-term effects of smoking or drug usage
- talking with teen parents to learn what sacrifices they have made
Such an assignment should include considerable thinking, learning, and dialogue with moms and dads, rather than simply writing a certain number of words without much independent thought.
2. Tolerating Behavior - When establishing a relationship or dealing with multiple behaviors, it may be necessary to tolerate some behaviors temporarily. This is a purposeful, thought-out choice on the part of the mother/father based on:
- age and developmental level of teen involved
- current situation
- specific treatment issues
This is not to be confused with passivity, avoiding conflict, letting the Aspergers youngster "do whatever they want," inconsistently enforcing expectations or other methods that don't work.
3. Temporarily Removing One or More Privileges - It is not meaningful or realistic to "remove all privileges." This generally leads to resentment towards the parent and a lack of understanding or personal responsibility. When this technique is chosen:
- it must be made clear to the adolescent exactly which privilege(s) will be removed
- why it is being removed
- exactly how it will be handled
- for what time period
If there is something they can do to get the privilege(s) reinstated sooner, that should also be clearly explained. Note: this requires more thought and explanation than simply saying, "You’re grounded."
4. Teaching Interactions - Effective parenting of Aspergers teens requires frequent interactions. Situations, both dramatic and mundane, present themselves continually. Moms and dads, who recognize the golden opportunities in routine living tasks, capitalize upon them by turning them into teaching interactions, build solid relationships, have fewer behavior problems, and receive daily rewards. Problems = teachable moments. Teaching interactions can take several forms such as:
- teaching a concept (e.g., negotiation)
- processing dynamics (e.g., "Have you noticed that when someone doesn't fulfill their responsibility, others become resentful?")
- demonstrating a skill
The point is that on-duty moms and dads should always be interacting with their teens, and the nature of those interactions is teaching; rather than:
- becoming friends with the teen
- doing things for the teen
5. A regular bed time at a reasonable hour is more important than ever, if you can put/keep it in place. Regular routines of all kinds—familiar foods, rituals, vacations—are reassuring when the adolescent’s body, biochemistry, and social scene are changing so fast.
6. Teaching Alternatives - A good way to teach the Aspergers teen personal responsibility is to spend time brainstorming together about all the possible responses, and predicting the reactions to each response. Instead of telling them what to do and what not to do (which can elicit dependency or oppositional responses), it is useful to spend time exploring different options. For example, instead of saying, "Don't say that to your father" …it is better to say something like, "That's one way you could handle it. How do you think he would respond to that?" … "Is that the response you want from him?" … "How else might you phrase that idea?" …etc. If they have trouble coming up with alternatives, you can help out by saying, "Do you want to know what some other people have tried?"
7. Establish verbal codes or gestures to convey that one or both parties need a time out: a chance to cool down before continuing a difficult discussion at a later time.
8. Substitution - It is never enough to tell teens what they can't do or what behaviors they must stop doing. We must always add what they CAN do instead. Some examples might be ideas such as, "You cannot hit your classmate when you are angry, but you can go for a brisk walk, write in your journal, talk about how you feel, etc." The goal is to replace or substitute an unacceptable behavior with one that is acceptable and still meets the same need. The message should always be, "Your needs and feelings are normal and okay and we are here to help you express them in ways that will allow you to be successful and responsible."
9. Go with the flow of your Aspergers youngster’s nature. Simplify schedules and routines, streamline possessions and furnishings. If your adolescent only likes plain T shirts without collars or buttons, buy plain T shirts. If your kid likes familiar foods, or has a favorite restaurant, indulge her.
10. Shaping - Shaping behaviors is an approach that breaks skills down into steps and rewards small movements in the right direction. For example, if you are trying to teach the skill of greeting a visitor, you would ultimately want the Aspergers teen to go through the following series of behaviors:
- stop what they are doing
- stand up
- look at the visitor
- walk over to them
- make eye contact
- say "hello"
- extend your right hand to shake
- say “my name is ___”
To ask for all of that from someone who has never done it before, or who is shy, is asking too much. So at first they would be rewarded if they momentarily stopped what they were doing when someone new cam in. After a few times they would need to stop what they were doing, stand up and look in the direction of the visitor in order to be praised, and so on. In other words new skills are not all or nothing but are a series of steps to be learned.
11. Sequencing - Desirable behaviors can be used as motivating for less desirable ones. For example, "You may watch one hour of approved TV as soon as your book report is satisfactorily completed" –or- "You may make that phone call as soon as you have finished cleaning up the kitchen." This type of statement helps the mother/father avoid power struggles because they did not say, "no." It puts the struggle and control back with the Aspergers youngster, where it belongs. They can then choose whether or not they will watch TV today and when (within limits). A version of this can be re-stated calmly and compassionately as often as necessary while the Aspie struggles with their choice.
12. Have realistic, modest goals for what the adolescent or the family can accomplish in a give time period. You may need to postpone some plans for career goals, trips, culture or recreation.
13. Some Aspergers adolescents adjust o.k. to middle/high school with appropriate supports and accommodations, Others, however, just cannot handle a large, impersonal high school. You may need to hire an advocate or lawyer to negotiate with your school system to pay for an alternative school placement, tuition, and transportation.
14. Role Playing/Rehearsing - This technique can be used to practice for an upcoming situation that may be difficult, foreign or anxiety producing or to re-create a situation that already occurred to experience alternative responses. Examples should include role-playing a situation in which the Aspergers teen was angry and became physically or emotionally abusive, or one in which they demanded or sulked instead of negotiating. The purpose of the role-play is to practice more acceptable styles of self-expression while still making their intended point. Practicing of this sort will make the desired responses more likely in future similar situations. Role playing can also be used to practice saying something that is difficult or anticipating a variety of responses in order to reduce anxiety.
15. If you can afford it, you may prefer to pay private school tuition rather than paying a lawyer to negotiate with a financially strapped or resistant school system. However, a private school may not be the best choice. Some families move to a community with a better high school. Residential schools may be worth considering for some. The right fit can build tremendous confidence for the adolescent, give the parents a break, and prepare everyone for the independence of the post high school years.
16. Role Modeling - Most of what kids learn from grown-ups comes from simply observing. All moms and dads are role models to their kids and need to be very conscious of their own behavior. Kids are astute observers of how we treat them, how we relate to each other and how we take care of ourselves.
17. Impersonal, written communication is easier for the adolescent to absorb (e.g., lists of routines and rules, notes, charts, or calendars). E-mail may become a new option.
18. Your Teen's Rights - Food, clothing, therapy, medical attention, education, spiritual activities are NEVER withheld as a consequence. Privileges (e.g., television, telephone, radio, some activities, free time, visiting with friends, hobbies, walking around the grounds, etc.) may be temporarily withheld as logical consequences and can be powerful incentives for some adolescents.
19. Aspergers teens need structure, down time, soothing activities, and preparation for transitions.
20. Rewarding/Reinforcing - Rewarding positive behavior is the best way to ensure its continuation. A common error in parenting is to spend so much time and energy dealing with crises and negative behaviors that kids who are being responsible can either get "lost" or are tempted to act less responsible to become part of the action. Rewards can take many forms from simple a comment: "I noticed that you..." or "I really appreciated it when you..." to special time and attention or more concrete things such as a special treat or privilege. For every negative interaction the Aspergers teen experiences, it takes four positive interaction to overcome the effects. Moms and dads need to be very deliberate about maintaining at least a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions every day with every teenager.
21. Look for volunteer activities or part time jobs at the high school or in the community. Be persistent in asking the school to provide help in the areas of career assessment, job readiness skills, and internships or volunteer opportunities. They probably have such services for intellectually challenged adolescents, but may not realize our teens need that help, too. They may also not know how to adapt existing programs to meet our teens’ needs.
22. Requesting - When there is a good relationship between the mother/father and youngster, a simple request to do, or stop doing, something or a re-stating of the expectations is often enough. If over-used, however, it may become less effective, may be experienced by the Aspergers youngster as overly controlling, or can slow the process of responsible growth and decision-making skills. Example: "We don't use that type of language here, could you please find a different word?"
23. Make sure thorough neuropsychiatric re-evaluations are performed every three years. This information and documentation may be critical in securing appropriate services, alternative school placements, transition plans, choosing an appropriate college or other post secondary program, and proving eligibility for services and benefits as an adult.
24. Refocus - A defiant teen may be asked to spend time thinking about something (e.g., a recent run-away or self mutilation) and express their feelings and thoughts in some way. This could be writing, poetry, drawing, etc. Whatever format is used, it then needs to be processed with the adolescent. They can then be assisted in identifying early clues and practicing alternative responses. The purpose of this type of activity is to encourage thinking, self-awareness, communication, and planning for different choices in the future.
25. Schedule regular monthly educational team meetings to (a) monitor your adolescent’s progress and (b) ensure that the IEP is being faithfully carried out (and to modify it if necessary). Because adolescents can be so volatile or fragile, and because so many important things must be accomplished in four short years of high school, these meetings are critical.
26. Side by side conversations (e.g., walking, in the car) may be more comfortable for the adolescent than talking face to face.
27. Special interests may change, but whatever the current one is, it remains an important font of motivation, pleasure, relaxation, and reassurance for the adolescent.
28. Redirecting - Commonly used with younger defiant kids or those with short attention spans, this technique simply stops one behavior by substituting another or diverting the attention of the Aspergers teen or group to a different subject or activity.
29. Teach laundry and other self-care/home care skills by small steps over time. Try to get the adolescent to take an elective such as cooking or personal finance at the high school.
30. Pre-Teaching - It is easier to prevent negative behaviors than to deal with them after they occur. A very effective tool is to pre-teach behavior prior to an event or potentially vulnerable situation. This involves talking with the person or group in detail about what will be happening, why, and what their role and expected behaviors will be. Pre-teaching reduces anxiety, clarifies expectations, builds confidence, sets up success, and can add to the fun of anticipating an event.
31. Physical Proximity - Sometimes a defiant Aspie 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. Along with physical proximity it is important to be calm and reassuring.
32. Observing and Commenting - A mother/father may choose to comment on a behavior in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way to bring it to the attention of the Aspergers youngster. This may be new information for the Aspergers teen to think about. What they choose to do with that feedback will provide further opportunities for discussion and teaching. For example, "I notice you tend to be critical of others when they are taking about a success" –or- "You seem to only break the rules when you are in a group" etc.
33. Tell your adolescent just what s/he needs to know – one message at a time – concisely.
34. Natural Consequences - Sometimes consequences occur through the natural course of events (e.g., a teen coming home late from school and missing a phone call from a friend). If the natural course of events makes an impact by teaching a lesson, moms and dads need not intervene further. They can be sympathetic to the Aspergers teen's plight (this must be genuine however, and never patronizing or sarcastic).
35. Logical Consequences - Logical consequences may be necessary when no natural one occurs, or when the natural one is insufficient to make a change in future behavior. An example would be a defiant teen causing a disturbance at an event, not being allowed to attend the next one.
36. Ignoring Behavior - Moms and dads may consciously decide to ignore certain behaviors of their defiant adolescent at times in an effort to extinguish the behavior by not reacting to it. The behavior may be inconsequential, may be designed just to "get a reaction," or may be masking another, more important, issue which is what really needs attention. Ignoring a behavior should not stop communication or relationship building. It is a specific behavior that is being ignored, not the person. Examples might include using certain words, attempts to provoke or annoy moms and dads, making personal comment to or about moms and dads, saying "I won't" or "you can't make me," etc.
37. Encouraging/Coaching - Encouragement, praise, and coaching are all effective ways to make pro-social behaviors more likely and more frequent. The stronger the relationship between mother/father and a given youngster, the more powerful this method becomes.
38. Consequences - Consequences may be used to discourage unacceptable behavior of defiant adolescents. Usually this will occur after other techniques have been tried unsuccessfully. Discipline should not be confused with punishment; nor should they ever be given in anger. They should be applied consistently. That means that the behavior disciplined today, will again be disciplined next week. Also, behavior disciplined for one teen will not be allowed for others. This consistency lowers anxiety by making the environment predictable. Remember:
- A mother/father who is angry with an Aspergers teen should calm down before deciding a consequence, and if applicable, should consult with the other parent before doing so.
- Consequences are given to help teenagers establish boundaries.
- Consequences are more effective when discussed matter-of-factly from a caring and controlled point of view.
- Consequences should be clearly explained, related to the behavior, and completed as soon as possible.
- Moms and dads should regularly discuss the effectiveness of consequences for the specific teen and should always support each other in the positive discipline process.
39. Active Listening - Some “Aspergers-related” behaviors are bids for attention or expressions of frustration at not feeling understood. Moms and dads can reduce problem behaviors when each defiant youngster feels genuinely cared about, understood, and paid attention to. Active listening is hard work and takes energy and practice. It cannot be done when thinking about or attending to other things, or when distractions occur. Active listening need not last a long time, but attention must be focused completely on the Aspergers teen and the message must be communicated back to them in the listeners own words in a way that lets them know they really were heard. Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, respect for personal space, and choices of words are all important in communicating the desired message. It may take two or three attempts to really understand the message, and that is okay, as long as it is finally understood accurately and that is clearly demonstrated. A few brief exchanges of this sort for each youngster every day are necessary.
40. Patience – Your Aspergers teen has this thing called “mindblindness.” In other words, he may not understand some of the social norms that other children and teens learn automatically. Thus, be able to distinguish between “misbehavior” (which is intentional) and “Aspergers-related” behavior (which is never intentional).
Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism