Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Learning Your Aspergers Child’s “Triggers”: Help for Destructive Behavior

Destructive behavior (e.g., hitting and kicking, throwing objects, damaging property, screaming, etc.) is common in some kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. This type of behavior can be disturbing and possibly dangerous, and requires a specific parenting approach as well as additional supervision to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Since children on the spectrum do not respond well to traditional disciplinary strategies, parents must come up with an approach that doesn't accidentally reward unwanted behavior.

While Aspergers is an incurable condition, learning and development is possible with the proper treatment and education. Moms and dads should embrace early intervention opportunities whenever possible, as these can help kids develop strategies for dealing with some of the more challenging behaviors associated with Aspergers. In addition to developing coping mechanisms for destructive behavior, early intervention can help provide a greater degree of independence as these youngsters get older.

Kids with Aspergers generally have specific “triggers” that signal danger or disruption to their feelings of comfort and security. These young people tend to develop their own “cues” in response to these trigger events (i.e., warning signals that parents can “read” to understand that the youngster is having difficulty).  These cues may include any of the following:
  • becoming quiet or withdrawn
  • changes in speech patterns
  • complaining
  • exhibiting a fear or avoidance response
  • facial expressions
  • feeling ill
  • getting irritable
  • nervous tics
  • sweating

When parents anticipate these triggers or observe these cues, they should provide assurance, support and attention as quickly as possible. If parents miss these cues, Aspergers kids may escalate their behavior to a point where they completely lose control. 

Because parents and teachers see kids in different situations, it is essential that they work together to share information about triggers and cues. This is best done on a regular basis (e.g., during the IEP meeting or a periodic review meeting) rather than in response to a crisis. However, when a crisis does occur, those who work with the youngster should meet to briefly discuss specific concerns and how to best address his/her needs in the current situation.

Tips for reducing and eliminating destructive behavior in Aspergers children:

1. Aspergers kids have difficulties with social skills and self-management, and will need instruction in anger-control, tolerance of individual differences, and self-monitoring.

2. Children with Aspergers interpret very literally; therefore, moms and dads need to choose their words carefully to insure their youngster will not misinterpret what they are trying to get across.

3. Consider changing your child’s diet. A gluten-free/casein-free diet is a popular diet for aggressive kids on the spectrum. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats, and casein is a protein found in milk.

4. Eliminate sensory issues. If your Aspergers youngster has sensory issues that are overwhelming, he can become aggressive. Loud noises, bright lights, lots of people, and irritating touches often cause problems for some “Aspies.” An occupational therapist can help by doing a Sensory Profile to determine if your youngster has any sensory defensiveness.

5. Food allergies are an often overlooked cause of destructive behavior. Some children may have red ears, red cheeks, or dark circles under their eyes. These are often signs of food allergies. Some of the symptoms associated with food allergies are headaches, tantrums, feelings of nausea, difficulty concentrating, and stomach aches. As a result, the youngster is less tolerant of others and is more likely to act out. Since many of these kids also have poor communication skills, parents may not be aware that their son or daughter is not feeling well. The youngster should be tested if food allergies are suspected. If the child tests positive for certain foods, then these products should be eliminated from the diet.

6. Give your child the opportunity and space to calm down when he’s upset. If he needs to release some physical energy, find some non-destructive activities he can engage in.

7. Let your youngster know he can count in his head until the negative feeling goes away. This will help him realize that eventually the feeling does start to alleviate on its own, even if he doesn’t act on it.

8. Make sure your “Aspie”  understands that, while you understand he gets frustrated sometimes, destroying property is not acceptable – not in your home, or in the rest of the world either. Be clear in your expectations and what the consequences will be if he does destroy property.

9. Many children with Aspergers can be helped to comprehend behavior they observe - but poorly understand - through the use of “social stories.” The parent’s explanation of what is happening can be reduced to a social story. A storybook can then be kept by the youngster to help reinforce the information on a concrete, basic level.

10. Many parents are giving their Aspergers kids safe nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin B6 with magnesium and Di-methyl-glycine (DMG). Nearly half have reported a reduction in behavioral problems as well as improvements in their youngster’s general well-being.

11. Moms and dads often feel furious when their youngster damages or destroys property. This is understandable. Property destruction is a personal violation, and it hurts to have a son or daughter treat something that you’ve worked hard for with such little respect. But, once you make up my mind that you will hold your child accountable for anything he purposely destroys, making sure he pays for things by controlling the money you usually chose to spend on him, you won’t feel as angry. You will be able to respond more calmly, because you know he will be held accountable. And once he learns that he pays for the damages, it may only take a few times for him to choose to handle things differently.

12. Often times, a behavior problem is a reaction to a request or demand made by parents. The child may have learned that he can escape or avoid such situations (e.g., doing chores or homework) by acting out. A functional assessment of the child’s behavior (i.e., antecedents, consequences, context of the behavior) may reveal certain relationships between the behavior and the function the behavior serves. If avoidance is the function the behavior serves, parents should follow through with all requests and demands they make to the child. If the child is able to escape or avoid such situations, even only some of the time, the behavior problem will likely continue.

13. Remember that any change in routine may result in emotional or behavioral upset. If the youngster’s environment must be changed (e.g., the absence of a parent), try to maintain as much of the normal routine as possible (e.g., meals, play, bedtime) in the new environment.  In addition, try to bring concrete elements from the youngster’s more routine environment (e.g., a toy, blanket, game, etc.) into the new environment to maintain some degree of “sameness” or constancy.

14. Some kids break their own things when they’re upset or angry. If your youngster gets angry, throws his iPad and it breaks, the natural consequence is that he no longer has an iPad. Don’t buy him a new one!

15. Talk with your youngster during a calm moment about things he can do instead of breaking things when he gets upset.

16. Teach your youngster to use journaling, music, drawing, clay, or any other non-destructive activity he might be interested in to release feelings.

17. Try behavior intervention. Behavior specialists work with kids who have difficult and aggressive behaviors. They observe them in their environments to determine the underlying cause of the behaviors.

18. Your job as a mother or father is to prepare your youngster for the “real world.” In the real world, if you destroy property, there are consequences (e.g., financial, legal, etc.). You want to respond to your youngster’s destructive behavior in a way that leaves no doubt about what he will experience should he engage in this behavior outside your home.

19. It is important to consider the child’s level of arousal when formulating a strategy to treat behavioral problems:
  • Over-arousal. Sometimes behavioral problems occur when the child is overly-excited. This can occur when the child is anxious and/or when there is too much stimulation in the environment. In these cases, treatment should be aimed at calming the child.
  • Under-arousal. Behavioral problems may be due to a low level of arousal, such as when the child is passive or bored. Behaviors such as aggression and destructiveness may be exciting, and thus appealing to some of these kids. If parents suspect behavior problems are due to under-arousal, the child should be kept busy or active.

20. If all else fails, it may be necessary to try medication to reduce destructive behavior. Discuss medication with your youngster’s doctor, neurologist or behavior specialist. Determine as a team the best approach to treating him with the proper medication. Keep in mind that medication is not necessarily permanent, and if it doesn't work, just stop it.

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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. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

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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.

If your child suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, expect him to experience both minor and major meltdowns over incidents that are part of daily life. He may have a major meltdown over a very small incident, or may experience a minor meltdown over something that is major. There is no way of telling how he is going to react about certain situations. However, there are many ways to help your child learn to control his emotions.

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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.

The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing a child with a neurological disorder. Violent rages, self-injury, isolation-seeking tendencies and communication problems that arise due to auditory and sensory issues are just some of the behaviors that parents of teens with Aspergers will have to learn to control.

Parents need to come up with a consistent disciplinary plan ahead of time, and then present a united front and continually review their strategies for potential changes and improvements as the Aspergers teen develops and matures.

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Parenting children with Aspergers can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

Although they may vary slightly from person to person, children with Aspergers tend to have similar symptoms, the main ones being:

=> A need to know when everything is happening in order not to feel completely overwhelmed
=> A rigid insistence on routine (where any change can cause an emotional and physiological meltdown)
=> Difficulties with social functioning, particularly in the rough and tumble of a school environment
=> Obsessive interests, with a focus on one subject to the exclusion of all others
=> Sensory issues, where they are oversensitive to bright light, loud sounds and unpleasant smells
=> Social isolation and struggles to make friends due to a lack of empathy, and an inability to pick up on or understand social graces and cues (such as stopping talking and allowing others to speak)

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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."

Parents face issues such as college preparation, vocational training, teaching independent living, and providing lifetime financial support for their child, if necessary. Meanwhile, their immature Aspergers teenager is often indifferent – and even hostile – to these concerns.

As you were raising your child, you imagined how he would be when he grew up. Maybe you envisioned him going to college, learning a skilled traded, getting a good job, or beginning his own family. But now that (once clear) vision may be dashed. You may be grieving the loss of the child you wish you had.

If you have an older teenager with Aspergers who has no clue where he is going in life, or if you have an “adult-child” with Aspergers still living at home (in his early 20s or beyond), here are the steps you will need to take in order to foster the development of self-reliance in this child.

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