"I have great difficulty with my 6-year-old Aspergers daughter at home due to frequent tantrums and meltdowns, yet her teacher states that her behavior at school is quite good. Why is this – and what can I do to get the same results at home?"
First of all, just because the behavior occurs at home doesn’t necessarily mean the “cause” of the behavior lies there. Your daughter may find school very stressful, but keeps her emotions bottled-up until she gets home. Most kids with Aspergers do not display the body language and facial expressions you would expect to see when a youngster is feeling a particular way. While your daughter may appear relatively calm at school, she may be experiencing very different emotions under the surface.
Asking an Aspergers youngster how she feels may not get the correct response, because most Aspies struggle to explain their emotions to someone. Some Aspergers kids find carrying visual “stress scales” helpful for overcoming these communication problems. These scales can be either in the format of a scale from 1-5, a thermometer, or a traffic light system. The idea is that when the youngster indicates that she is at a '4' or 'amber' (before she reaches a '5' or 'red'), she needs to be helped in some way to calm down again.
Instead of adults asking your daughter how she is feeling, she can show them the appropriate number or color. Scales can turn “emotions” (which are abstract concepts that require imagination to understand fully) into concrete examples of numbers or colors. This is something that kids with Aspergers find easier to understand. If your daughter finds it difficult to use a scale, she could use a “help card” instead. This could be a red card, or have the word ‘help’ or a meaningful symbol on it, which she could carry around. When she begins to feel stressed-out or mad, she can show it to a teacher. It is important that everyone in contact with your daughter knows what to do if they are shown a card or a stress scale.
Some Aspergers kids may need to be redirected to a different activity, have a quick run outside, or retreat to a quieter part of the school. It can be difficult to find a quiet area, especially in a big mainstream school, but it does not need to be a big space. Some schools will have an area (e.g., the library) where your daughter can listen to her iPod (for example) in order to filter-out external noise for a few minutes while she calms down.
Teachers may be concerned that by giving your daughter a card to leave the room, she may abuse the privilege (e.g., showing it to avoid activities she doesn’t want to be in), thus disrupting her education. Strict boundaries need to be given to your daughter regarding the use of a card or stress scale (e.g., clear instructions about where your daughter gets to go – and for how long). On a positive note, effective use of the card could ultimately reduce the amount of disruption to your daughter’s education. Instead of her being kept in a permanent state of anxiety during class, she may return to the classroom much more relaxed and focused.
Some moms and dads report behavioral difficulties in their Aspergers kids when they first come home after school, which might be because they are releasing the stress of the school day. If your daughter does this, it might be helpful to have a period of time right after school when she can relax. You could do this by reducing the amount of social interaction your daughter has immediately after school and by providing an activity which you think may help her de-stress. This activity will depend on your daughter’s preferences. If she is relatively physical in her method of stress-release (e.g., kicking or hitting), providing a trampoline, punching bag, or letting her run around the yard may help relieve the stress. Other Aspergers kids like to clam-down by watching television or listening to music. Some find lights especially soothing (e.g., a bubble tube or spinning light).
For some Aspergers kids, the timetable of the school day provides enough structure and routine to help contain any anxiety and stress. Aspies have a strong preference for routine, and this is automatically incorporated into most school environments. Your daughter may benefit from having a visual timetable for home as well (it will make the environment more predictable for her). A timetable can either be constructed showing the whole day's activities, half the day, or simply the activities that are now and next.