Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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The Nervous Aspie

There is no doubt that kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism are much more prone to nervousness than their neurotypical peers. The nervous Aspergers child is one who:
  • has low self esteem
  • is easily frightened
  • is easily upset by minor inconveniences (e.g., small changes in routine)
  • lacks self-confidence
  • cries a great deal on slight provocation
  • worries about family, school, friends, or activities
  • worries about things before they happen

Nervous Aspies are often overly bothered or sensitive.  Some may seek a lot of reassurance from parents, and their nervousness may interfere with many of their day-to-day activities. Moms and dads should not discount their youngster’s inability to cope “normally.”  Because nervous kids may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed.  Moms and dads need to be alert to the signs of excessive nervousness in their child so they can intervene early and prevent further complications.

Here are some tips to help your nervous Aspergers child to learn to relax and be peaceful:

1. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older child helps a younger one learn to read can do wonders for both children. Volunteering and contributing to your local community can have positive effects on self-esteem for everyone involved.

2. Aspergers kids are generally not helped when moms and dads tell them to stop being afraid of something. What is helpful is an approach in which you acknowledge their fears and at the same time let them know that you will help them overcome these fears.

3. Be a positive role model. If you're excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your Aspergers child might eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your child will have a great role model.

4. Be spontaneous and affectionate. Your love will help boost your youngster's self-esteem. Give hugs and tell her you're proud of her when you can see her putting effort toward something or trying something at which she previously failed.

5. Comfort your youngster and let him know that you will work on problems together as they arise. He is never alone.

6. Create a safe, loving home environment. Children who don't feel safe are at greatest risk for developing poor self-esteem. A youngster who is exposed to moms and dads who fight and argue repeatedly may feel they have no control over their environment and become helpless or depressed.

7. Don’t “jump in” too early to help “fix” your youngster’s problems. Remember to give him lots of time to express his negative feelings around worries and problems first where you are just listening and acknowledging feelings before helping him to figure out a solution.

8. Establish a regular bedtime routine consisting of quieter activities that help your youngster to gradually relax.

9. Establish consistent daily routines and structure. Routines reduce nervousness, and regular daily patterns emphasize predictability. A regular routine will give a sense of control to both parent and youngster. Nervous kids do not cope well with a disorganized, spontaneous family life style.

10. Give positive, accurate feedback. Comments like "You always work yourself up into a meltdown" will make Aspergers children feel like they have no control over their outbursts. A better statement is, "I can see you were very upset with your sister, but it was nice that you were able to talk about it instead of hitting her." This acknowledges the youngster's feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages him or her to make the right choice again next time.

11. Help your Aspergers youngster to understand that the negative and pessimistic things she says to herself about herself are not helpful and can influence how she feels and behaves.

12. Help your youngster notice different feelings by naming various feelings she or others may experience. Explain how people show their feelings (e.g., through faces, bodies, words) and that showing your feelings is an important way for others to understand how you are feeling. Help your youngster notice how different feelings “feel” in her own body (e.g., tight hands, butterflies in stomach, etc.).

13. Help your youngster with their worries and problems by teaching him how to problem-solve by defining the problem, brainstorming all possible solutions and their consequences, and choosing the best solution.

14. Identify and redirect inaccurate beliefs. It's important for moms and dads to identify their child’s irrational beliefs about himself, whether they're about perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping Aspergers children set more accurate standards and be more realistic in evaluating themselves will help them have a healthy self-concept. Inaccurate perceptions of self can take root and become reality to these children.

15. It is helpful for kids to talk about their feelings; however, talking about feelings is not easy for Aspergers kids, especially when they are asked directly. It is important for moms and dads to watch and listen carefully for the times when the youngster does express feelings, either directly through words or indirectly through behaviors. At these times, you can help him by acknowledging and accepting his feelings through simply reflecting them back to him and refraining from providing advice or asking questions. When a youngster’s feelings are criticized, disapproved of, or not accepted by the mother or father, his internal sense of self is weakened.

16. It is important for Aspergers kids to have limits set and consequences for breaking the limits. Kids feel secure when there are limits setting restrictions on inappropriate behaviors.

17. Learning relaxation skills will help kids feel better when they are anxious, worried or scared. It will also help them learn that they have some control over their own bodies rather than being controlled by their nervousness. One way to help your youngster relax is to encourage slow, deep breathing. Another way to relax is to ask her to alternately tense and relax her muscles. You can also help your youngster use her imagination to relax. Help her to imagine a safe and relaxing place and to notice the good relaxing feelings in her body.

18. Listen to your youngster and allow him to express his feelings though his fears sound irrational. Let him know he can always talk to you when anything is bothering him.

19. Meet with your youngster’s teacher to find out how he is doing socially and academically and ask for help in getting your youngster to school.

20. Never make fun of, ridicule, scream at, punish, or demean your youngster because of his nervous demeanor. Do not allow family members, or other adults do so either.

21. Provide opportunities for exercise. Exercise is helpful in relieving stress and helping your youngster’s body to relax.

22. Soothing an Aspie is a very helpful strategy that moms and dads can use in relieving nervousness. These strategies communicate to the youngster that she is safe and cared for. Verbal reassurances of safety and love, rocking, cuddling, holding, massage, singing, and telling stories are just some of the soothing strategies that moms and dads can use. Moms and dads may be surprised to realize that Aspergers kids may sometimes need soothing that seems to the parent to be too “babyish” for the youngster’s age. However, nervous kids DO need extra soothing experiences that relax and relieve the tension in their bodies.

23. Take care of the basic needs of your Aspie – especially to prevent fatigue and hunger.

24. Take stock of what is happening at home. Are there stressful situations going on that are worrying your youngster? Are mornings tension-filled as you try to get everyone out the door? Reduce house-hold stress as much as possible.

25. There are many kid’s books available that deal specifically with nervousness, fears and worries. These books can be very helpful for kids as the stories will often model various ways of coping with fears and nervousness.

26. Watch for signs of abuse by others, problems in school, trouble with peers, and other factors that may affect your child’s self-esteem. Encourage your child to talk to you or other trusted adults about solving problems that are too big to solve by himself.

27. When your Aspie is feeling nervous, encourage her to engage in activities she enjoys (e.g., playing with a favorite toy, doing a fun art or craft activity, doing something active outside, playing a game, reading a book, playing with friends, etc.). Aspergers kids will often need the assistance and attention of their moms and dads to engage in these fun activities if they are feeling nervous.

28. While Aspergers kids are generally not helped when parents demand that they face their fears all at once, they are helped when parents can gently encourage them to approach feared situations. This is because exposure to feared situations leads to desensitization and reduction of the fear and nervousness. However, approaching feared situations can be difficult for nervous kids since they would rather avoid them. One way of helping a youngster approach a feared situation is to go about it in small steps so that each step is achievable and gradually becomes a little more difficult. Another important strategy for moms and dads is to reward the youngster for trying to approach a feared situation. The boy or girl will also find it helpful to be reminded that the fear will get smaller over time. In addition, kids can be reminded of fears and difficult situations that they have overcome in the past.

29. Severe nervousness in Aspergers kids can be treated. Early treatment can prevent future difficulties (e.g., loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, feelings of low self-esteem, etc.). Treatments may include a combination of the following:
  • behavioral treatments
  • consultation to the school
  • family therapy
  • individual psychotherapy

30. As a last resort, if nervousness becomes severe and begins to interfere with your Aspie’s usual activities, (e.g., separating from parents, attending school, making friends, etc.), then consider anti-anxiety medications prescribed by your doctor.

Aspergers: Early Identification and Intervention

Young people with Aspergers are often misdiagnosed and underserved in the U.S. The difficulty in understanding and acknowledging Aspergers by the medical, psychological, and psychiatric community can lead to misdiagnosis and even failure to provide the services needed for these children. Thus, it is critical that parents who suspect their child may have Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism educate themselves about the early signs associated with this disorder and begin the intervention process early.

Moms and dads frequently begin to suspect that there is something wrong before the age of two.  Many kids who are diagnosed at a very young age with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) may in fact have Aspergers.

Aspergers is not a disease; rather, it is a developmental neurobiological difference in brain functions and is characterized by the following:
  • stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities, and interests
  • qualitative impairment in social interaction
  • no significant delay in cognitive development
  • no general delay in language

In addition, intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis. Symptoms of Aspergers are usually recognized during the first three years of childhood; however, it is often not recognized until kids are of school age.

1. Parents may notice a lack of eye contact or social smiles, or they may observe too much eye contact and an appearance of the youngster viewing children as interesting to observe, but not necessarily interact with or seek recognition from. These kids may not have an interest in sharing toys and interests, and tend to be viewed as "lost in their own little world" at times. They may have a greater interest in sensory and physical play with others (e.g., tickling, hugging, piggy back, chasing, video games, fantasy play, repetitive watching of movies, reading books to the exclusion of social interaction, etc.).

2. Aspergers impacts normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. The disorder makes it hard for children to communicate with others and relate to the social world. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present; however, internal behaviors such as withdrawal, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and social isolation may be just as prevalent.

Communication may not appear to be delayed, but comprehension and social language requiring give and take may be lacking. Also, an unusual tone or quality, rote or repetitive speech may present. Blurting out, excessively asking the same question over and over, echoing or mimicking, large vocabulary, or difficulty listening to another and understanding another perspective can be apparent. Some children with Aspergers demonstrate extreme abilities in remembering facts, numbers, phone numbers, maps, words, birth dates, or other factual information. They may appear very rigid in their point of view, and unable to accept or understand another's perspective. They may appear to never be able to "let it go," or tend towards appearing argumentative or "splitting hairs." A conversation can lead to tantrums, emotional meltdowns, or withdrawal with seemingly little provocation.

3. Children with Aspergers may exhibit repeated body movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to children or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. They may also experience sensitivities in any or all of the five senses.

4. Children with Aspergers tend to rely heavily on rigid internal rules and struggle with the unwritten social rules of social interaction. Failure often accompanies Aspergers kids like a close companion. As a result, they may need much reassurance during stressful periods.

5. Empathy can be defined in numerous ways, and non-verbal communication (e.g., posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expression, tone, etc.), are clues in revealing our emotions, attitude, personality, relationships. This helps guide the interpretation of how another feels leading to an empathetic awareness or understanding of others.  This empathetic understanding can be hindered in a child with Aspergers.

Given that characteristics of Aspergers may include a complete lack of the sense of fear or danger, too little or too much eye contact, which can appear as overly aggressive, threatening, or seductive, combined with a hindrance in the ability to judge another person's feelings or intentions accurately, females with Aspergers may be at increased threat for assault, abuse, violence, or worse. Many girls on the spectrum provide stories of being singled-out or picked on mercilessly due to their odd behaviors or just not fitting in and are literally disabled when it came to surviving the more sophisticated social complexity of adolescent society.

6. Kids with Aspergers have difficulty understanding subtle cues. Misunderstandings, literal interpretation, and/or sensory over stimulation can lead to overreactions, irritability, low frustration tolerance, tantrums, aggressiveness, appearing to have an explosive temperament, self stimulation, anxiety, depression, or self injury. Kids with Aspergers develop a tendency of distrust towards others due to social failures and negative social experiences over time, which can lead to self-isolation and social phobia. This behavioral reaction can be viewed as "rude" by others, and often children on the spectrum struggle to understand why they are not liked or frequently feel rejected.

7. Kids with Aspergers may become extremely upset if their routine or ritual is changed in any way, and can become agitated if someone touches their things, moves furniture or toys around, or even takes a different driving route to or from school. They may be very rigid and insist on doing things the same way every time, or demonstrate an extreme aversion or experience tantrums during transitions. Stereotypical movements (e.g., spinning, flapping, lining things up, toe walking, body rocking, grimaces, twirling, pacing, racing around, noisemaking, leg bouncing, clearing of the throat, chair rocking) may be more significant or frequent during periods of change or transitions.  An extreme perfectionism or "having to finish" what they have started to the point of meltdowns may be evident especially during unexpected or unwanted transitions.

8. Kids with Aspergers may display a very narrow or an unusual range of interests, with elaborate or unusual play-based behaviors. They may act-out elaborate rituals, which appear to be creative play, but are actually scripted activities without the variation or creativity of imaginary play. They may demonstrate fixations on things (e.g., Pokémon, television shows, computer games, numbers, trains, cars, etc.), and tend toward lining things up, organizing by color, or even repeating lines verbatim.

9. Kids with Aspergers may exhibit and excessive desire or intense aversion to sensory input. They may appear hyperactive, and pursue movement to an excessive degree, or they can appear unresponsive or ‘flat’ if overwhelmed hypersensitive to sensory input and movement.  Some may have an unusual or extreme response to sounds and cover their ears in response to vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, crying babies, sirens or other loud or unexpected noise. Some may be extremely affected by smells, tastes, textures, heat, or commotions. They may have problems falling asleep, or staying asleep. Kids who are overly reactive to crowds and commotion may appear uncomfortable or avoidant of cafeterias, malls, gymnasiums, parties, family gatherings, or even theaters. In reaction, they may feel hot, get a stomach or headache or tantrum, or resist going to such places. 

10. Kids with Aspergers may interact very well with grown-ups, but struggle with appropriately initiating peer interaction or maintaining interest.  Sometimes, kids with Aspergers do not notice if a playmate loses interest, or even wanders away. The unwritten social rules seem to be confusing, and interpreting social comments, facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language can be similar to trying to interpret a foreign language. A general lack of fear may be evident, and kids with Aspergers may talk openly with strangers, hug strangers, invade other's personal space, bump into peers in lines, touch or climb on others inappropriately, or have excessive or a complete lack of separation anxiety from moms and dads.

11. Motor clumsiness or fine motor difficulties may be present, and intuitive physics may be higher than intuitive psycho-social abilities. An Aspergers youngster may be able to dismantle and recreate elaborate Lego designs, set a clock, reprogram a VCR, match shapes, or display, artistic or musical talents.

12. Social isolation, a limitation in reciprocation or give and take interactions, tending to be self-absorbed or aloof, a lack of social discrimination, and/or difficulties with social skills are also common in Aspergers children and teens. Social isolation may look like the youngster is withdrawn, avoiding contact or interaction with children, family, or peers, and a preference towards playing alone or with "things" rather than playmates. Kids with Aspergers may appear to play next to – but not with – others, and establishing friendships with “give and take” interactions may be lacking.

For a professional to meet only briefly in a single setting is not enough to paint a complete portrait of an Aspergers child's needs and abilities.  Often, a child with Aspergers can appear to have the behaviors of a mentally handicapped, behaviorally disordered, or hearing impaired person. The behaviors noted are sometimes dismissed as immaturity, odd, or shy.

Early identification and intervention are considered key to positive outcomes for kids on the spectrum. In order to reach all Aspergers children, school psychologists, mental health professionals, physicians, and moms and dads should work together to become better informed regarding research, assessment tools, and diagnostic criteria, as well as the best proactive interventions to increase social skills, personal communication, behavior, and peer interaction for Aspergers children. 

Teaching The Anxious Aspergers Student

Teaching students with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism who also experience social anxiety in the classroom WILL be challenging. School can be difficult for Aspergers students without the anxiety issue, but it is especially difficult for the anxious “Aspie.” If you are a teacher of an anxious student with Aspergers, knowing how to encourage and foster a good environment for learning is paramount.

There is no one sign that indicates that an Aspergers student has social anxiety. However, some common signs include:
  • appearing very anxious when the center of attention
  • being constantly alone in the playground
  • clinging
  • crying for no apparent reason
  • devoting an excessive amount of time to the computer
  • experiencing severe anxiety about tests and quizzes
  • freezing for no apparent reason
  • frequent claims of illness so as to avoid going to school
  • having no friends, or having only one friend
  • hovering on the edge of groups
  • not joining in
  • poor eye contact
  • refusing to go to school 
  • saying very little or even nothing during class
  • speaking very softly
  • throwing tantrums or experiencing meltdowns
  • unwillingness to participate in class activities (e.g., show and tell, debating, reading aloud, raising their hand to answer and ask questions, etc.)

If you have an Aspergers student in class who is experiencing social anxiety, here are some ideas for assisting him or her:

1. Allow Aspergers children to take a "break" (e.g., go get a drink) if they seem to become overwhelmed

2. Allow the child with Aspergers to arrive late if it makes the transition easier.

3. Allow the youngster with Aspergers to sit with classmates that he/she is familiar with or is friends with.

4. Assign a "lifeline" peer to the Aspergers youngster who can help answer his/her questions if called upon in a group setting.

5. Communicate with parents about what you observe.

6. Develop and follow a regular predictable classroom routine.

7. Embarrassment is a concern for all adolescents, but is multiplied in Aspergers teens experiencing anxiety. Modifications and adaptations should be in place with subtle non-intrusive methods to allow the teen to maintain a sense of dignity and responsibility. Blatant, harsh criticisms of these adolescents will perpetuate their fears of failure and feed into their cycles of anxiety and avoidance.

8. Encourage completion of activities and assignments, yet allow extra time when needed.

9. Encourage friendships between kids with Aspergers and friendly, outgoing classmates.

10. Encourage the child to keep a written log of assignments and due dates.

11. Ensure that you have a zero tolerance rule for bullying and discrimination of any kind. Have consequences in place for children who embarrass or humiliate other kids to prevent this behavior in the classroom (e.g., during speeches, any youngster who snickers during another child's speech would have marks deducted from his/her own grade).

12. For younger Aspergers kids, make the student your special helper to give him/her a role in the classroom.

13. For younger Aspergers kids, read storybooks about self-esteem and bullying. For older kids read novels or watch movies with the same content.

14. Have a preset time each week that the child can talk with you or another staff member about how he is feeling and his fears.

15. Help the child confront feared situations with gentle encouragement.

16. Identify a "safe place" that the child can go to if feeling overwhelmed, and have a signal and exit strategy for these situations.

17. If an Aspergers child misses a lot of school due to social anxiety, allow gradual reintroduction at a pace that the child is comfortable with.

18. If possible, decrease homework load.

19. In your interactions with the child, speak softly and calmly.

20. Modify instructional methods if necessary (e.g., explaining an assignment one-on-one with the child).

21. Pair children for activities rather than allowing children to choose pairs, to prevent the child with Aspergers from being left out.

22. Promote self-esteem by offering praise for small accomplishments and rewarding participation even if the child gives a wrong answer.

23. Regular meetings between parents, teachers, counselors and other school staff are important for planning classroom strategies for the child with Aspergers.

24. Team with parents to develop calming techniques and relaxation strategies.

25. The child with Aspergers may require social skills training or instruction in relaxation techniques delivered by a special education teacher or other team member.

Note to Parents: If your Aspergers child experiences social anxiety in a school setting, feel free to copy, paste, and print this article for your child's teachers.

The IEP Process Made Simple

The 7 steps in the development of an Individualized Education Program:

"Back To School" Preparations for Aspergers Kids

With a new school year around the corner, it’s time for new notebooks, new outfits, and new adventures to come. A fresh start! What could be more exciting? Unless you’re a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism.

These children often find life chaotic, challenging, and anxiety provoking—even when they’re in familiar surroundings. To them, the excitement of a new year is anything but – it can feel like a long list of threats! Fortunately, moms and dads can be a big help. The key is to prepare the situation for the child, and the child for the situation. 

Here are 12 practical tips for parents:

1. If a choice of educators is available, take advantage of the opportunity. Meet with the educators and decide which one's credentials and personality will work best for your Aspergers youngster.

2. If your child is comfortable with it, let him prepare a presentation for his classmates to teach them about his disorder and let them ask any questions they may have. This will help the other kids to accept any of his noticeable differences.

3. Learn the new routine. Ask the teacher to go over the daily classroom routine so that you can review it with your youngster. Create social stories and review them often so that he/she knows what to expect when school starts. Let your Aspie visit the school and meet his teacher before school starts. Getting a tour of the school, the bathrooms, and the classroom will help him to feel more comfortable and will give his teacher an opportunity to get to know him and his needs before the room is filled with other students.

4. Make a transition book. On the day that you and your child will be taking a tour of the school, take a camera with you and take pictures of everything you can and use them to create a transition book. This is a book about your youngster's new teacher and class. Look at the book regularly to help your youngster become familiar with the new environment.

5. Meet with the school staff at the beginning of each school year. Talk to them about an individual education plan (IEP) for your youngster or a 504 plan. With an IEP, the school is required by law to accommodate your youngster to the specifications stated in the signed document. A 504 plan is less structured, but can offer guidance on educating and caring for your youngster and allow you to ensure he/she receives the best education possible. Continue to meet with the staff on a regular basis to make certain all of your youngster's needs are being met.

6. Make digital copies of your IEP and other paperwork. You're going to have to send multiple copies of these documents to various professionals throughout the year, and it's very handy to have them available via email. Stop by an office supply store and have them make you a digital copy as well as an extra hard copy to have on hand.

7. Remember that an Aspergers child will pick up on your stress, so make sure you have all your necessary supplies early. Have everything ready a full week before school starts (e.g., clothes, supplies, meeting the teacher, the bedtime routine, etc.). It usually makes for smoother adjustment from summer schedule to school schedule again.

8. Write up a brief, one-page document that covers your Aspergers son or daughter at a glance. Note any food allergies or medical needs the school should know about, the schedule for taking medications, things that are likely to set your youngster off, things that will calm him down, emergency contact information, any diet restrictions, any physical limitations, etc. Talk with the teacher about the information in the packet and make sure she feels comfortable with all of it. It will give you peace of mind to know that your youngster is in capable hands.

9. Schedule your well-child check up. Don't wait until the school nurse calls to say she doesn't have your youngster's updated records. Schedule your youngster's appointment as early as possible -- and when you schedule the appointment, let them know you need immunization and other records for school.

10. Oftentimes, moms and dads of Aspergers kids don't allow others to care for their youngster and don't take any time for themselves. This is pretty normal and understandable, but it could mean trouble when the time comes to let go. Start early by allowing a few people you know and trust to take care of your Aspergers youngster while you run errands or go to a movie. Let your youngster play at your friend or relative's house for an afternoon while you get coffee with a friend or your spouse. Take baby steps and practice sending your Aspie into the world.

11. Start snapping photos for social stories. You can have one for your morning routine at home, one about going to school, one for situations your youngster may encounter at school (e.g., eating lunch in the cafeteria), and one for doing homework later in the evening. Take pictures with your digital camera or cell phone, develop them directly into a book at a local drugstore, and then narrate them with your youngster again and again.

12. Teach your Aspergers child to speak up for himself. Learning to self-advocate is important. Your youngster faces a lifetime of challenges when it comes to standing up for himself in school, at doctors' appointments, and in the real world. Answer his questions with openness and honesty, and let him speak for himself with doctors and anyone who is curious about his disorder. He will feel more comfortable with himself and his uniqueness and will amaze you with how well he is able to take care of his own needs.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

Parenting Aspergers Teens 101

Parenting teenagers is tough, and it is especially challenging when the teen has Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism. 

Here are some important tips for parents: 

Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Social Skills Training for Aspergers Teens

What’s the best thing that can happen to a teenager with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism? Without a doubt, the answer is: a good dose of social skills training!

One of the most significant problems for teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism is difficulty in social interaction. This difficulty is made even more significant due to problems with speech and language. But Aspergers also seems to create problems with "mind reading" (i.e., knowing what another person might be thinking or feeling).

“Typical” teens can observe others and guess (through a combination of tone and body language) what's "really" going on in one of their peers. But without help and training, Aspergers teens will struggle in this area. This "mind blindness" can lead even the highest-functioning Aspie to make social blunders that cause all kinds of problems. Without knowing why, a teen with Aspergers can hurt feelings, ask inappropriate questions, act oddly or generally open themselves up to hostility, teasing, bullying and isolation.

In general, social skills therapists are social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists and speech/language therapists who specialize in working with children and teens on the spectrum. Over time, they have developed or learned techniques to build social interaction skills ranging from basic skills (e.g., making eye contact) to complex and subtle skills (e.g., asking for a date).

Since there is no official certification for social skills therapists, techniques vary. In a school setting, social skills therapy may consist of group activities (e.g., games and conversation) with Aspergers teens and their typically developing peers. Groups may be overseen by school psychologists or social workers, and may be held in the classroom, lunchroom or playground.

Out-of-school social skills groups are similar in style, but are paid for privately. Teens are grouped by age and ability, and may make use of specific social skills curricula as developed by well-established practitioners of social skills therapy.

Drama therapy, a variation of social skills therapy, has the potential to be both fun and educational. Video modeling, video critiques of interactions, group therapy and other approaches may also be available in your area, and are especially appropriate for Aspergers teens. Typical cognitive therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist may also be helpful.

In theory, social skills therapy will provide Aspergers teens with the ability to converse, share, play and work with their typical peers. In an ideal world, such therapy will allow these teens to become almost indistinguishable from their typical peers.

Since there is no official certification for social skills therapists, it can be a challenge to find a qualified practitioner. Most of the best social skills therapists are not so much trained as born. In other words, they happen to be very talented therapists in their own field, with an innate understanding of how to help Aspergers children and teens comprehend how others think, feel, and act. Thus, the fact that someone has been trained in a particular social skills method does not necessarily make him/her an ideal therapist. The best way to decide if a therapist is right for your teenager is to attend a few sessions.

Most school programs for Aspergers teens include social skills therapy. There is no guarantee that the facilitator running those programs has specific training in - or experience with - running such programs, so it may be worth your time to inquire into just who is offering such programs – and why they were chosen to do so. It's not at all unusual for a school psychologist or social worker to run social skills programs with relatively little training or background. So beware!

Social skills learning and therapy groups are offered to help Aspergers teens who have difficulty making and keeping friends, coping with frustration and aggression, dealing with loneliness, and much more. These groups are good learning environments for Aspergers adults too.

Meeting in social skills groups with others with whom they have no past experience allows Aspergers teens  to learn freely, without labels or expectations, thus offering relief from rejection and the anxiety of having to live up to a social image. Shedding labels and sharing experiences with others is liberating and builds a sense of peer-acceptance. A sense of bonding results from positive experiences in relationship.

The best way to learn a skill is to first have a reason for learning it, then to have it modeled for you, and finally to try it out on your own. Social skills therapy groups provide Aspergers teens with models for thinking and problem-solving in this way. Exposure to new ways of thinking about their problems and being aware of social attitudes leads to self and peer-acceptance. For example, through learning to recognize fear and anger beneath a situation and being taught skills, more appropriate responses become obvious and workable. Seeing how one's choices affect others also leads to improved ability to recognize “cause and effect” and being able to see oneself in context. Above all, the experience of success begins to ground more confidence in dealing with conflict situations.

It is difficult for Aspergers teens to self-reflect on actions and exercise self-control. When these teens are anxious or overly stimulated, impulsivity can become more exaggerated. In fact, structure can help focus and control, but often at the expense of the opportunity for feedback. Recognizing difficulty with impulse control, or what to do to acquire it, or how to avoid the traps of social labels, can be difficult and exhausting without feedback. Group learning can be more effective for gaining self-control because it offers a different kind of interactive learning in a less demanding environment. Learning respect for personal boundaries, adjusting to limits, and safe exploration of social problem solving are much more likely to happen in a small therapy group.

When Aspergers teens are taught more appropriate strategies in place of those that don't work, the effect can be very liberating. Some of the skills learned in the past really worked at some point, until the strategies got worn out due to the complexity of situations. Those that are updated are remembered because it helps to cope better. Trial and error can be effective. Practice makes perfect, and encouragement is vital to discovering new skills. A teenager’s sense of confidence will grow in leaps and bounds with the experience of “power of informed choice” working for him/her. Applying effective strategies to otherwise painful situations in a safe environment can elicit feelings of acceptance, satisfaction, success and harmony.

Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

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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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content