Tips for parents who recently learned their child has Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism:
There are many things moms and dads can do to help their kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) overcome their challenges and get the most of life. From learning all you can about Aspergers to getting your youngster into treatment right away, you can make a big difference.
It’s also important to make sure you get the support you need. When you’re looking after a youngster with Aspergers, taking care of yourself is not an act of selfishness—it’s a necessity. Being emotionally strong allows you to be the best mother or father you can be to your youngster in need.
If you've recently learned that your youngster has - or might have - Aspergers, you're probably wondering and worrying about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that a youngster is anything other than happy and healthy, and a diagnosis of Aspergers can be particularly frightening. You may be unsure about how to best help your youngster, or you may be confused by conflicting treatment advice. Also, you may have been told that Aspergers is an incurable, lifelong condition, leaving you concerned that nothing you do will make a difference.
Unprepared moms and dads often have numerous questions about Aspergers and HFA once they have discovered it now affects their family. For example:
- How will my youngster learn best (e.g., through seeing, listening, or doing)?
- What are my youngster’s strengths?
- What are my youngster’s weaknesses?
- What behaviors are causing the most problems?
- What does my youngster enjoy and how can those activities be used in treatment?
- What important skills is my youngster lacking?
While it is true that Aspergers is not something a person simply "grows out of," there are many treatments that can help kids learn new skills and overcome a wide variety of developmental challenges. From free government services to in-home behavioral therapy and school-based programs, assistance is available to meet your youngster's special needs. With the right treatment plan, and a lot of love and support, your youngster can learn, grow, and thrive.
As the parent of a youngster with Aspergers or related developmental delays, the best thing you can do is to start treatment right away. Seek help as soon as you suspect something’s wrong. Don't wait to see if your youngster will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Don't even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier kids with Aspergers and HFA get help, the greater their chance of treatment success. Early intervention is the most effective way to speed up your youngster's development and reduce the symptoms associated with Aspergers.
Tips for Parents—
1. Accept your youngster – quirks and all. Rather than focusing on how your Aspergers youngster (your “Aspie”) is different from other kids and what he or she is “missing,” practice acceptance. Enjoy your kid’s special quirks, celebrate small successes, and stop comparing your youngster to others. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your youngster more than anything else.
2. Become an expert on your youngster. Figure out what triggers your Aspie’s “bad” or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your Aspergers youngster find stressful, calming, uncomfortable, and enjoyable? If you understand what affects your youngster, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing situations that cause difficulties.
3. Don’t give up. It’s impossible to predict the course of Aspergers. Don’t jump to conclusions about what life is going to be like for your youngster. Like everyone else, kids with Aspergers have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.
4. Learn about Aspergers. The more you know about Aspergers, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your Aspie. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
5. Provide structure and safety. Learning all you can about Aspergers and getting involved in treatment will go a long way toward helping your youngster. Additionally, the following tips will make daily home life easier for both you and your Aspergers youngster:
• Stick to a schedule. Kids with Aspergers tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a schedule for your youngster, with regular times for meals, therapy, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare your youngster for it in advance.
• Reward good behavior. Positive reinforcement can go a long way with kids with Aspergers, so make an effort to “catch them doing something good.” Praise them when they act appropriately or learn a new skill, being very specific about what behavior they’re being praised for. Also, look for other ways to reward them for good behavior, such as giving them a sticker or letting them play with a favorite toy.
• Create a home safety zone. Carve out a private space in your home where your Aspie can relax, feel secure, and be safe. This will involve organizing and setting boundaries in ways your youngster can understand. Visual cues can be helpful (e.g., colored tape marking areas that are off limits, labeling items in the house with pictures). You may also need to safety proof the house, particularly if your youngster is prone to tantrums or other self-injurious behaviors.
• Be consistent. Kids with Aspergers have a hard time adapting what they’ve learned in one setting (e.g., the therapist’s office, school) to others, including the home. For example, your youngster may use sign language at school to communicate, but never think to do so at home. Creating consistency in your youngster’s environment is the best way to reinforce learning. Find out what your youngster’s therapists are doing and continue their techniques at home. Explore the possibility of having therapy take place in more than one place in order to encourage your Aspie to transfer what he or she has learned from one environment to another. It’s also important to be consistent in the way you interact with your youngster and deal with challenging behaviors.
6. Find nonverbal ways to connect. Connecting with an Aspergers youngster can be challenging, but you don’t need to talk in order to communicate and bond. You communicate by the way you look at your youngster, the way you touch him or her, and by the tone of your voice and your body language. Your youngster is also communicating with you, even if he or she never speaks. You just need to learn the language.
• Figure out the need behind the tantrum. It’s only natural to feel upset when you are misunderstood or ignored, and it’s no different for kids with Aspergers. When kids with Aspergers act out, it’s often because you’re not picking up on their nonverbal cues. Throwing a tantrum is their way communicating their frustration and getting your attention.
• Look for nonverbal cues. If you are observant and aware, you can learn to pick up on the nonverbal cues that kids with Aspergers use to communicate. Pay attention to the kinds of sounds they make, their facial expressions, and the gestures they use when they’re tired, hungry, or want something.
• Make time for fun. A youngster coping with Aspergers is still a kid. For both kids and their parents, there needs to be more to life than therapy. Schedule playtime when your youngster is most alert and awake. Figure out ways to have fun together by thinking about the things that make your youngster smile, laugh, and come out of their shell. Your youngster is likely to enjoy these activities most if they don’t seem therapeutic or educational. There are tremendous benefits that result from your enjoyment of your youngster’s company and from your youngster’s enjoyment of spending unpressured time with you. Play is an essential part of learning and shouldn’t feel like work.
• Pay attention to your youngster’s sensory sensitivities. Many kids with Aspergers are hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Other kids with Aspergers are “under-sensitive” to sensory stimuli. Figure out what sights, sounds, smells, movements, and tactile sensations trigger your Aspie’s “bad” or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. If you understand what affects your youngster, you’ll be better at troubleshooting problems, preventing situations that cause difficulties, and creating successful experiences.
7. Create a personalized Aspergers treatment plan. With so many different Aspergers treatments available, and it can be tough to figure out which approach is right for your youngster. Making things more complicated, you may hear different or even conflicting recommendations from moms and dads and docs. When putting together an Aspergers treatment plan for your youngster, keep in mind that there is no single treatment that will work for everyone. Each person on the spectrum is unique, with different strengths and weaknesses.
Your youngster’s treatment should be tailored according to his or her individual needs. You know your youngster best, so it’s up to you to make sure those needs are being met. You can do that by asking yourself the following questions:
A good Aspergers treatment plan will:
- Actively engage your youngster's attention in highly structured activities.
- Build on your youngster's interests.
- Involve the moms and dads.
- Offer a predictable schedule.
- Provide regular reinforcement of behavior.
- Teach tasks as a series of simple steps.
Keep in mind that no matter what Aspergers treatment plan is chosen, your involvement is vital to success. You can help your youngster get the most out of treatment by working hand-in-hand with the Aspergers treatment team and following through with the therapy at home.
When it comes to Aspergers treatment, there are a dizzying variety of therapies and approaches. Some Aspergers therapies focus on reducing problematic behaviors and building communication and social skills, while others deal with sensory integration problems, motor skills, emotional issues, and food sensitivities.
With so many choices, it is extremely important to do your research, talk to Aspergers treatment experts, and ask questions. But keep in mind that you don't have to choose just one type of therapy. The goal of Aspergers treatment should be to treat all of your youngster's symptoms and needs. This often requires a combined treatment approach that takes advantage of many different types of therapy.
Common Aspergers treatments include behavior therapy, speech-language therapy, play-based therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nutritional therapy.
8. Find help and support. Caring for a youngster with Aspergers and HFA can demand a lot of energy and time. There may be days when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or discouraged. Parenting isn’t ever easy, and raising a youngster with special needs is even more challenging. It’s essential that you take care of yourself in order to be the best parent you can be.
Don’t try to do everything on your own. You don’t have to! There are many places that families of Aspergers children can turn to for advice, a helping hand, advocacy, and support:
• Respite care – Every parent needs a break now and again. And for moms and dads coping with the added stress of Aspergers, this is especially true. In respite care, another caregiver takes over temporarily, giving you a break for a few hours, days, or even weeks. To find respite care options in your area, see the box to the right.
• Individual, marital, or family counseling – If stress, anxiety, or depression is getting to you, you may want to see a therapist of your own. Therapy is a safe place where you can talk honestly about everything you’re feeling—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Marriage or family therapy can also help you work out problems that the challenges of life with an Aspergers youngster are causing in your spousal relationship or with other family members.
• Aspergers support groups – Joining an Aspergers support group is a great way to meet other families dealing with the same challenges you are. Moms and dads can share information, get advice, and lean on each other for emotional support. Just being around others who are in the same boat and sharing their experience can go a long way toward reducing the isolation many moms and dads feel after receiving a youngster’s Aspergers diagnosis.
9. Know your youngster’s rights. As the parent of an Autistic youngster, you have a legal right to:
- Be involved in developing your youngster’s IEP from start to finish.
- Disagree with the school system’s recommendations.
- Free or low-cost legal representation if you can’t come to an agreement with the school.
- Invite anyone you want—from a relative to your youngster’s doctor—to be on the IEP team.
- Request an IEP meeting at any time if you feel your youngster’s needs are not being met.
- Seek an outside evaluation for your youngster.
10. Consider yourself a member of a very elite and interesting group of parents. Many leading figures in the fields of science, politics and the arts have achieved success because they had Aspergers. Some of the characteristics linked to Aspergers are the same as those associated with creative genius. One of the reasons for this could be the fact that the disorder creates people who are able to persist with one idea for huge periods of time - while those without the disorder would have long since moved on to another area of thought.
In keeping with this positive mind-set, please share the following message with your Aspergers child and/or teenager:
There are aspects of Asperger that you can use to your great advantage. For example:
1. 3-Dimensional Thinking: Your ability to utilize 3-dimensional visioning gives you a unique perspective when designing and creating solutions.
2. Attention to Detail: Your ability to remember and process minute details without getting lost or overwhelmed gives you a distinct advantage when solving complex problems.
3. Cutting through the Smoke Screen: Your ability to recognize and speak the truth that is being "conveniently" ignored by others can be vital to the success of a project or endeavor.
4. Focus: Your ability to focus on one objective over long periods of time without becoming distracted allows you to accomplish large and challenging tasks.
5. Independent Thinking: Your willingness to consider unpopular or unusual possibilities generates new options and opportunities and can pave the way for others.
6. Internal Motivation: Rather than being swayed by social convention, other's opinions, social pressure or fears, you can hold firm to your own purpose. Your unique ideas can thrive, despite naysayers.
7. Logical Decision Making: Your ability to make logical and rational decisions and stick to your course of action without being swayed by impulse or emotional reactions allows you to navigate successfully through difficult situations without being pulled off-course.
8. Unique Global Insights: Your ability to find novel connections among multidisciplinary facts and ideas allows you to create new, coherent, and meaningful insight that others would not have reached without you.