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The Emotional Aspergers Child

Many children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism fall into one of the “emotional types” listed below. Their feelings control their actions. These kids have many more tantrums, are less available, easily disengage, and are more prone to defiant behavior.

This is the most difficult type of Aspergers child to deal with, because rules – and the reasons for rules – mean much less to him. The parents and teachers who have to deal with the emotional "Aspie" often find themselves in a state of frustration or crisis. Many of these children will end up on medications for their issues, because their coping skills are poorly developed and inadequate to meet the demands of home and school. But that’s o.k., because the right medication and an effective behavioral plan can do wonders.

Type 1: The Fearful Aspie—

This is the most difficult type of emotional Aspie:
  • Even the slightest issue is a source of provocation.
  • He is unusually bright. 
  • He sees the world from an adversarial point of view (e.g., the world is against him, everyone is out to get him, and no one can be trusted). 
  • He wants to "destroy" people who go against him in any situation, no matter how trivial. 
  • His actions are hostile and aggressive to others. 
  • His thinking involves violent themes.
  • Once he begins his attack, he can be relentless until he is exhausted. 
  • The only coping strategy he has is to maintain a good "offense," and so he attacks before others do or say anything. 
  • Typically, he receives multiple diagnoses (e.g., Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Bipolar).

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

Since this is the most difficult type of emotional Aspie, parents must take extraordinary means to help him. Placating the youngster will only give the parent a momentary reprieve. Most moms and dads of these children refrain from physical interventions, but may be using a good deal of restraining techniques. Again, this is a temporary solution. Parents must seek professional help in terms of both medication and behavioral interventions. They also must stay calm in their interactions with these children. Only the most powerful reinforcers may be of some use. A highly structured environment with firmness is needed, along with great persistence and patience. Dealing with this type is something you don't do alone.

The ADHD, OCD, and Daydreaming Aspie—

The factors marking these three subtypes – ADHD, OCD, and preoccupation with a fantasy world – are very closely related. In all three, the youngster is often described as being inattentive, but there are a number of reasons for the inattention:
  1. If he is an ADHD youngster, he is inattentive because he’s not focused on any one thing for very long. He is distracted by anything new or different that passes in front of his eyes, and his interest moves from one thing to another.
  2. The OCD youngster, on the other hand, is inattentive because he is highly focused on something of interest. He is not so much distracted as preoccupied with something else that has greater appeal, usually related to some preferred activity (e.g., videos, numbers, how things are placed in his environment, etc.). 
  3. The daydreaming youngster is inattentive because he is lost in his fantasy world.

Some Aspergers children have one or the other, ADHD or OCD, and most have both to varying degrees. Since symptoms of both disorders can exist at the same time and to varying degrees, it can be difficult to tell which is which at times. In either case, the result is a lack of awareness of what is going on around him. But, it is important to distinguish between the two and decide how much each contributes to the inattention, because the parenting technique for each will be different. Under-focusing (ADHD) and over-focusing (OCD) are important variables that must be addressed, as well as the youngster who gets lost in a daydream.

Type 2: The Predominately ADHD Aspie—

This youngster:
  • has difficulty attending to and processing information on a consistent basis
  • has difficulty conversing because he is always looking around the room at something else, but doesn't stay focused on any one thing very long
  • has significant difficulty keeping track of school assignments
  • is easily distracted and forgetful
  • lacks focus
  • loses things
  • may not be able to stay in his seat at school 
  • wanders around in the classroom

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

Medication is very important in dealing with inattention and impulsiveness. Careful monitoring of all tasks and situations, along with powerful reinforcers, is sometimes helpful. This child will find it hard to stay focused on most tasks. Frequent breaks, structured tasks, and supervision are all necessary. If parents find the right medication, the inattention reduces significantly, but may not disappear.

Type 3: The Predominately OCD Aspie—

This youngster has many obsessions that take him away from the here and now. Although he appears inattentive, in reality, he has other thoughts that he is dwelling on (e.g., is everything around him exactly where it belongs, how many dots are in that ceiling tile over his head, are his shoelaces tied the way he likes them, etc.). The list can be endless. But no matter what is on his list, it usually takes precedence over everything else. He is often a perfectionist – everything has to go a certain way. If it doesn't, it's the end of the world. There is no middle ground – everything is black or white. It is either perfect – or it is terrible. He may have completion rituals where things must be finished before he moves on. All of this and more can be going on in his head and cause him to disengage from reality and become unavailable.

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

Parents should attempt to gain control over this child’s obsessions. There must be limits and restrictions on certain activities. Rituals and routines are addressed through sabotage. Teach him how to be more flexible by changing routines. Expand his repertoire of interests, teach him shades of gray, and have him develop a balance in his life. Obsessions will remain, but parents can use them as reinforcers as long as they limit the amount of time spent on the obsessions.

Type 4: The Predominately Daydreaming Aspie—

This youngster is very similar to the OCD type, except his distractions primarily involve his preoccupations with fantasy (e.g., fantasy books, Japanese animé, Pokémon, show tunes, cartoons, TV shows, video games. etc.). If, for example, the fantasy involves books or music, he doesn't need the actual object to experience its pleasure. So he replays, re-creates, or in some way engages in the obsession in his head. As he is eating dinner, sitting in class, doing his homework, or talking to his parents, there is another video playing in his head – a video that is all about fantasy. He may perform word-for-word scripting of dialogue and scenes in his head, or combine different ones together, or make up his own based on something he has seen or read. These fantasies serve many functions (e.g., they are enjoyable, they remove him from the unpleasantness of the real world, demands are reduced, everything goes just the way he wants, etc.). Consequently, reality is avoided, interactions with others occur less frequently, and life goes on without him. This is how he copes with stress and reality. Interfere with his preoccupations, and you will experience his wrath. Leave him to his preoccupations, and he can entertain himself for hours.

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

Everything that was suggested about the OCD type applies here. In addition, parents must go beyond those techniques to include teaching the child the difference between reality and fantasy, how to recognize it, what constitutes each, and how to be in the here and now. Parents should limit fantasy time and help the child to develop the ability to enjoy non-fantasy activities. If he can't enjoy the real world, he won't want to be a part of it. Medication is needed in some cases.

Type 5: The Stressed Aspie—

This youngster differs from all other types because he has no coping skills. While every other type experiences stress to some degree, they cope with it through rules, rituals, obsessions, or daydreaming. The stressed Aspie has never figured out how to deal with problems. As a result, his stress overwhelms him and he shuts down (e.g., hides under furniture, cries, wants to stay at home, acts silly, wants to stay inside, tries to avoid people and places outside of his comfort zone, etc.). He is very rigid, but doesn't really know the rules of the world. His stress comes from his confusion and lack of understanding of how the world works. He usually needs much more time to handle even the smallest issue. Parents will know if they have a stressed Aspie because he cries quite a bit, clings to parents in new situations or with new people, doesn't want to leave his house, and when away from home often tells parents he wants to go back home immediately.

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

This youngster needs a great deal of structure, routine, and explanation about every possible troublesome situation. Parents need to explain the rules of each situation, including what to do and what not to do, before he experiences the situation. Give him lots of warning on what is going to happen, preparing him for change. Never overwhelm him. Go slowly and don't try to accomplish too much at one time. Help him get past each issue that has occurred, to "get over it" and move on. These are the prevention aspects of dealing with stress (i.e., try to prevent situations from overwhelming him). However, that will never be sufficient, and he will need to learn how to cope with it as well. Teach stress management skills (e.g., stress resiliency, stress immunity, learned optimism, "theory of mind"). Teach him emotional regulation skills (e.g., stress management, self-calming, being okay). Medication may be needed if these skills are difficult for him to learn.

Type 6: The Defiant Aspie—

This youngster:
  • argues about everything, and almost anything can lead to a tantrum
  • can be violent
  • doesn't understand the way the world works and becomes anxious as a result
  • feels threatened by others and thinks they are trying to control him or are being unfair and arbitrary
  • has his own rules about the world and how things are supposed to be
  • is easier to deal with if - and when - he feels safer
  • is often diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • may look similar to the fearful type, but he is less adversarial and less intense
  • needs to fight with others to gain control and get things straightened out to his way of thinking; however, his arguing does nothing but further aggravate the situation and his rigidity, lack of understanding, and disuse of logic prevent him from seeing this clearly
  • relies on his feelings to determine his actions

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

Try to avoid power struggles. Do not show much emotion in your responses, and try to be matter-of-fact. Stay focused on a particular issue, and don't get sidetracked as you have a discussion with this youngster. It's very easy for the discussion to get off track and become nonproductive. Try to see his arguing as a sign of stress and not purposeful misbehavior. Try to get him to see you as a problem solver rather than an adversary. Don't over-focus on the content of a discussion, but rather on the process (i.e., what is going on behind the content of the discussion). For example, a discussion may begin around what he is going to get from you for his birthday present. Before you know it, you are being accused of buying his siblings bigger and better birthday presents. Rather than debate the merits of this argument (which will only escalate further), parents should discuss how he is stuck on certain ideas that will only lead to greater upset, and the impact his actions have on himself and others. This child needs to begin to see his role in what is going on and stop blaming others for what occurs. Teach him how to stay focused and how to self-calm, as well as how to compromise and negotiate. But most of all, he needs to see the parent as trying to help him solve his problems, not making them worse.

Type 7: The Pessimistic Aspie—

This youngster tends to be more of an irritation than anything else. He does a lot of complaining and whining about doing things that are not preferred activities, because he only enjoys preferred activities. As a result of his actions, there can be a good deal of arguing and refusals. He usually sees the world in a pessimistic way and rarely sees the good aspects of an event or situation, no matter how much good has occurred. Tantrums, bossiness, rituals, and rules are not issues. He may even be fairly cooperative at times. The major concern regarding this youngster is that he is more prone to future depression than any other type.

Suggested Parenting Techniques:

This child needs to learn to be comfortable with non-preferred activities and that it is better to "say nothing than be pessimistic." Teach him how to use positive commenting and responses. Direct instruction in how to have a "positive attitude" and "learned optimism" is needed.

In this post, we’ve talked about the Aspergers child who is more emotional than rational, and we have examined the subtypes of the emotional child: fearful, ADHD, OCD, daydreaming, stressed, defiant, and pessimistic. Each Aspergers youngster has issues that make him unique. It is his uniqueness that reveals what subtype he is and what parenting techniques need to be used. When parents understand their youngster and his interaction with the world, they will be better able to help him reach his full potential. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article! It is so helpful to read about the different subtypes of Aspies. Every Aspie I meet seems different so this helps us to understand a little more. As I read down the list I was waiting to see which one my 8 yo son is. It looks like he is a Pessimistic Aspie. His intense negativity and your description that "he only enjoys preferred activities" is right-on. Most of the time our family feels like we are held hostage to what our son wants to do, and it's getting worse as he gets older.

Anonymous said...

I could see my son in almost every type. Although mostly "type 1". Does anyone know what types of medication are usually prescribed for these kind of issues?

Anonymous said...

My daughter is very in the "world is out to get me" way of thinking and I can see her in type 1 but also 2 - 5. She takes Zoloft & Methylphenadate. We've seen a positive difference since being on those two. The Methylphenadate is extended release and that works. Although she still is pretty nervous at times it's more manageable. She's also in counseling. So all that put together has helped a lot.

Anonymous said...

I see my son in almost all of these too, but especially in Type 1 and type 3 the OCD Aspie. He has what his psychiatrist calls 'Hyper-Focus'.

Anonymous said...

Right now he's "hyper-focused" on Star Wars. Love the kid more than the world, but some days it's hard to take. Wish I could get in his head to see what's going on in there :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO SO much for this article! !!

Anonymous said...

Mother of a Type 6 with a little 2 and 3, right here!

Anonymous said...

my son has been taking Strattera for a little over a year now I believe, and it has done wonders. He doesn't get anxious nearly as much, focuses much better in school, and only shows minimal signs of OCD now. I know everyone is different though.

Marie said...

To the family that feels like they're sometimes held hostage, I can completely relate. It will get worse when they get older, so it is imperative to help them learn to CHOOSE a cooperative viewpoint rather than be allowed the position of controling the whole families activities by their tantrums or pessimistic whining. Those can wear you down. You need to NOT feel guilty while they are learning to deal with consequences of a bad choice. For example, everyone in the family wants to go to the park on a picnic except your Aspie child of 10, who insists on staying home to watch a movie. If he goes with you, you know he'll complain the whole time about how awful it is. What should you do? There's more than one way to deal with every situation, and that's why it's good to learn from each other. One possibility; work out a safe place to leave the child (with a GP,Aunt,Uncle, best friend -- no,Great friend!)while the family enjoys their outing. Take pictures of the fun your are having together to share with the child later. Maybe add in something you know they would have really liked (ice cream, a walk in a tunnle,stopping at book store to look at Star Wars books). Then nonchalantly and happily share what took place with the family, later with pictures. It is important that you are ONLY letting them see what they too could have experienced if they chose to go, NOT using it as an "I told you you should have gone" moment. The goal is to help them WANT to be in relational situations, and to learn they can be enjoyable. As well as learning the value of sacrificing something they think is best for themselves for something that might be best for others.

Anonymous said...

This is great and spot-on. I think this will help my husband and the school who are having difficulties understanding my son's tantrums and violent behaviors.

Anonymous said...

My son was on Strattera. His doctor took him off and put him on Vyvanse and intuniv. I could see him in almost all of them but he is more ADHD and OCD.

Anonymous said...

my son is a #1 at school and #6 everywhere else. His Psychiatrist has him on Zoloft, Tenex anad Metadate. The addition of Zoloft has turned him into a #6 at school also.

Anonymous said...

Very grateful for this article! I can see my son in a few of the different types but mostly ADHD and daydreamer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this article! I can see my son in several of the different types but he falls mostly in the ADHD and OCD category.

Anonymous said...

I see all of these in my daughter, depending on the day, she is more one than the other.

Nonie said...

My son is the emotional, fearful type. It has been incredibly difficult to help him and this advice is good, but where to turn when there are no family supports and community supports are sooo limited? I have utilized supports in home and the most successful approach for me has been nutritional - removing food sensitivities and using supplements. For more info parents can contact me through my website. Anyone who knows of services in Ontario for adult Aspies please contact me. I am currently seeking. Namaste!

Manic Mom said...

Thank you, Thank you for this great post!! My 5 year old is a little of type 1, but is also so scared of everything new and has a rule or regulation for everything he does. I have enjoyed looking at your blog a lot.

Anonymous said...

Great summary, and I plan to highlight aspects for extended family and teachers to read. My teen had terrible (scary) behaviors in school and at home by age 12, and this gradually improved with 1) a clear diagnosis, resulting in some parenting changes, 2) a good ABA consult to set up a behavior plan, and 3) meds, which have variably included ADHD stimulants, antidepressants, antianxietals, and lately antipsychotics (but I think that's another story as there is Bipolar in our family).

To the parents held hostage: Hard to know what to force and what to let go; I forced social skills training and am glad I did. I also incorporated chores into daily routines to foster a sense of competence. Baby steps!

Anonymous said...

Fearful/ defiant
Really? I didn't know that was a thing. If I was aspie I would be the daydreaming / preoccupied type. Especially when raising a young child and having no time for artistic expression. My son kept getting violent at school- he often accuses others of being first/ getting more- and has violent outbursts at those times as well. I also notice he sometimes has a breakdown if he hasn't eaten- but he doesn't always ask for food when he is hungry. He also retells fiction, but is more focused on science.. Which he can go on and on about.. Very interesting. I have heard of a depressed person being diagnosed with OD, of course alot of Autistic/ Aspergers would have oppositional behaviors.

Holly Wade said...

My daughter is OCD, daydreamer and stressed. She has been on a low dose of Prozac for almost a year and it has helped her anxiety so much. This is a new diagnosis and I hope to learn more to be able to help her. Thank you for the informative article!

what a strange world said...

Thanks for this article. I see myself in some of these definitions, especially daydreamer and anything that is anti-rules. This is all so scary.

I'm an adult, almost 30 now, and was diagnosed with ADD (non-hyperactivity) about two years ago. Now, I wonder if I have a form of aspergers, too. These articles help.

I wish there was a brain scan I could do so I could just "know" for sure what I have.

Best of luck to all the parents and educators who deal with us, you are great people

what a strange world said...

Wow, this has been an eye-opening last couple of days. I have been reading up on these different forms of aspergers and see myself in some of them. Specifically the daydreamer type.

I am an adult now, almost 30, and was diagnosed with ADD (non-hyperactivity) by a professional about 3 years ago.

I was defiant growing up, inattentive, and a prolific daydreamer. Yet, since I was so bright and never struggled in class, nor had any "serious" behavior problems, nothing was ever formally diagnosed.

*sigh* I wish I could scan my brain and just "know" what I have for sure.

Parents and teachers who work with these kids- keep up the learning and patience, you are amazing people.

Christine Birchfield said...

Hi how is your son doing? My son is 11 and also a pessimistic Aspie. I'm wondering if you've turned a medication? we have been doing behavioral therapy and also a neurofeedback.

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.

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