HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Primary Comorbid Conditions Associated with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism



In 1987, I started doing music therapy with children who had High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Although we didn't call it HFA at that time, we knew that some autistic children were higher functioning than others. I have always said - and continue to believe - that if you have an undiagnosed HFA child WITHOUT any comordid conditions, you have a child who may go his or her entire life without ever being diagnosed with HFA.

The child might be viewed as a little weird by peers, but without any comorbid conditions, few - if any - adults (e.g., parents, teachers, etc.) would ever suspect that the child had HFA. This is because HFA has few problematic symptoms in-and-of itself. Most often, it is the conditions associated with HFA that indicate something is not quite right. For example, an alarming number of children who were eventually diagnosed with Asperger's were first diagnosed with ADHD years earlier.

Unfortunately, in my 25+ years of experience, I have never met a child with HFA or Asperger's that did NOT have at least one comorbid condition. But, the good news is that most comorbid conditions are very treatable.

Personal One-on-One Parent Coaching from Mark Hutten, M.A.

Behavioral Support for Students with Aspergers & High-Functioning Autism

Effective behavioral support for a student with special needs requires highly individualized strategies that address the primary areas of difficulty in managing anxiety, communication, preferences for sameness and rules, ritualistic behaviors, social understanding and interactions, and sensory sensitivities.

While the specific components of a positive behavioral support plan will vary from child to child, the following tips will assist teachers as they work towards achieving the best outcomes on behalf of their special needs student:

1. Students with special needs experience communication difficulties. While they are able to use language quite effectively to discuss topics of interest, they may have great difficulty expressing sadness, anger, frustration and other important messages. As a result, behavior may be the most effective means to communicate when words fail.

2. Since behaviors are influenced by the quality of relationships with teachers, teachers should monitor their own behavior when working with special needs kids. Each time a teacher reprimands a child for misbehavior, an opportunity may be lost to "reframe" the moment in terms of the child’s need to develop alternative skills.

3. Schools that focus on suspension and expulsion as their primary disciplinary approach (rather than on teaching social skills and conflict resolution) are typically less effective.

4. Parents, teachers, and other school staff should collaborate on a behavior support plan that is clear and easily implemented. Once developed, the plan should be monitored across settings and regularly reviewed for its strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistencies in expectations and behaviors will only heighten the challenges demonstrated by a child with special needs.

5. Never assume that special needs students know appropriate social behaviors. While these kids are quite gifted in many ways, they will need to be taught social and communication skills as carefully as academic skills.

6. “Antecedents” are events that happen immediately before the student’s difficult behavior. “Setting events” are conditions that can enhance the possibility that a child may engage in difficult behavior (e.g., if a child is sick, hungry or tired, she may be less tolerant of schedule changes). By understanding settings events that can set the stage for difficult behaviors, changes can be made on those days when a child may not be performing at her best to (a) reduce the likelihood of difficult situations and (b) set the stage for learning more adaptive skills. In the classroom, many antecedents may spark behavioral incidents (e.g., many children with special needs have difficulty with noisy, crowded environments). Therefore, the special needs student who becomes physically aggressive in the hallway during passing periods may need to leave class a minute or two early to avoid the congestion which provokes this behavior. Over time, the child may learn to negotiate the hallways simply by being more accustomed to the situation, or by being given specific instruction or support.

7. A major issue is fitting special needs children into typical disciplinary practices. Many of these kids become highly anxious by loss of privileges, time outs or reprimands, and often can’t regroup following their application.

8. Behavior serves a purpose. The purpose or function of the behavior may be highly idiosyncratic and understood only from the perspective of the child. Students with special needs generally do not have a behavioral intent to disrupt the classroom, but instead difficult behaviors may arise from other needs (e.g., self-protection in stressful situations).

9. Children with special needs need to be taught acceptable behaviors that replace difficult behaviors, but that serve the same purpose as the difficult behaviors. For instance, the child may have trouble entering into a basketball game and instead inserts himself into the game, thus offending the other players and risking exclusion. Instead, the child can be coached on how and when to enter into a game.

10. Lastly, it is important to understand the idiosyncratic nature of special needs students and to consider difficult behaviors in light of characteristics associated with their disorder. Here are some general traits of the special needs student:
  • Academic difficulties: restricted problem solving skills, literal thinking, deficiencies with abstract reasoning.
  • Behavior serves a function, is related to context, and is a form of communication.
  • Emotional vulnerability: low self-esteem, easily overwhelmed, poor coping with stressors, self-critical.
  • Impairment in social interactions: difficulty understanding the “rules” of interaction, poor comprehension of jokes and metaphor, pedantic speaking style.
  • Inattention: poor organizational skills, easily distracted, focused on irrelevant stimuli, difficulty learning in group contexts.
  • Insistence on sameness: easily overwhelmed by minimal changes in routines, sensitive to environmental stressors, preference for rituals.
  • Poor motor coordination: slow clerical speed, clumsy gait, unsuccessful in games involving motor skills.
  • Restricted range of social competence: preoccupation with singular topics, asking repetitive questions, obsessively collecting items.

Too often, the focus of a behavior management plan is on discipline (i.e., strategies that focus exclusively on eliminating problematic behavior). Plans like this don’t focus on long-term behavioral change. An effective plan should expand beyond issuing consequences (e.g., time outs, loss of privileges, suspensions, etc.) and focus on preventing the problem behavior by teaching socially acceptable alternatives and creating a positive learning environment.

Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

Aspergers Children & Teens Who Purposely Injure Themselves

“I am wondering if there are a larger number of young people with Aspergers who self mutilate out of depression, anxiety and other pressing emotions more so than typical people. I want to know if there are members with Aspergers on this site that have ever engaged in this activity and what caused it …depression, anxiety, or is it from the Aspergers? Also, is it common for a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder to physically hurt himself on purpose ...and what can be done to stop him from doing this?"

Self-injury (also called self-harming and self-mutilation) is often a coping mechanism, particularly with the feeling of being rejected. This is a particular problem for anyone who has difficulty in understanding non-verbal communication. For most people, understanding facial expressions, body language, etc., is instinctive, starting as babies before language acquisition. But just as some people having hearing difficulties or are short-sighted or color-blind, others have difficulty with interpreting the non-verbal signs, which most people use continuously (e.g., when to speak and when to stop, whether people agree or disagree with us, whether others find us amusing or dull, etc.). These cues are not understood by many young people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism.

The inability to understand non-verbal cues is not immediately obvious, but it is an obstacle that gets in the way of social interaction. However, most Aspergers kids and teens can learn how to cope. Many teach themselves without realizing that they are not getting all the information available. But it gets more difficult in adolescence when fitting in with friends becomes more important. The give and take of a social interaction requires a skill in picking up non-verbal messages that Aspergers kids and teens struggle with, even though their understanding of what is being discussed will be as good as anyone’s. As a result, many of these young people get isolated and bullied.

By the time they reach adolescence, most “Aspies” will realize they are fundamentally different compared to their peers at school, but unless diagnosed, they will not understand why. Being rejected by their peers – over and over again – does serious psychological and emotional damage to young people with Aspergers. Not surprisingly, many become severely depressed and may resort to self-injury.

As frightening as it can be for moms and dads, self-injury among youngsters with Autism Spectrum Disorders is not all that uncommon. However, not all self-injury means the same thing on every occasion, nor is it the same in every Aspie.

The first thing a parent should do is decide if self-injury is giving their son or daughter some pleasure, or if the injury is his/her way of trying to tell the parent something (e.g., a younger child may repetitively bang his head against the wall due to an ear infection).

Self-injury can also be triggered by excessive arousal (e.g., certain frequencies of sound may trigger the behavior). This becomes the parent’s job to reduce the external noise and other arousal issues that can trigger the onset of self-injurious behavior.

On the other hand, the youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism may be using the behavior to bring on a heightened sense of stimulation to the body. A child like this needs training in sensory integration to normalize the senses.

Other kids and teens will engage in self-injury as a social means of getting attention or as a means of avoiding doing a task. In this case, the attention-getting behavior should be ignored, and the youngster who uses the behaviors to avoid getting out of a task should be encouraged to finish the task.

The trick to any unusual behavior is to do a "functional analysis": What happens before, during, and after the behavior? Is this a routine behavior (i.e., something learned)? What environmental stressors are present during the behavior? What, if anything, controls the behavior? Answering these questions will give you a means of managing the behavior in most cases.

Self-harming behaviors are actions that the young person performs that result in physical injury to his own body. Typical forms of this behavior may include:
  • biting oneself
  • burning oneself
  • cutting oneself with a knife or razor blade
  • head-banging
  • hitting oneself with hands or other body parts
  • picking at skin or sores
  • scratching or rubbing oneself repeatedly 
  • carving
  • branding
  • marking
  • abrasions
  • bruising
  • pulling hair
  • punching walls

The cause of self-harming behaviors in Aspies remains a mystery. It is thought that these behaviors may be caused by:
  • a chemical imbalance
  • attention-seeking
  • ear infection
  • frustration
  • headaches
  • seeking sensory stimulation/input
  • seizures
  • sinus problems
  • sound sensitivity
  • to escape or avoid a task

Why does self-injury make some Aspies feel better?

They feel a strong, uncomfortable emotional state, don't know how to handle it, don’t have a name for it, and know that hurting themselves will reduce the emotional discomfort very quickly. They may still feel bad, but they don't have that panicky-jittery-trapped feeling (it's a calm, bad feeling).

What are some of the signs and symptoms of self-injury?

Red flags for cutting or self-injury include:
  • Changes in eating habits. This could mean being secretive about eating, or unusual weight loss or gain, as eating disorders are often associated with self-harm.
  • Covering up. 
  • Frequent “accidents.” Someone who self-harms may claim to be clumsy or have many mishaps, in order to explain away injuries.
  • Indications of depression. Low mood, tearfulness, lack of motivation, or loss of energy can be signs of depression, which may lead to self-injury.
  • Unexplained wounds. A self-harmer may have fresh or scars from cuts, bruises, or cigarette burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs or chest.

What can be done to prevent self-injurious behavior?

Cause/Intervention:

Cause: self-injurious behavior is driven by a chemical imbalance or a medical condition
Intervention: treat the child with appropriate medications

Cause: self-injurious behavior is driven by attention-seeking
Intervention: use tactical ignoring of self-injurious behavior; give child attention for appropriate behavior when it occurs; encourage other behavior that makes the self-injurious behavior impossible to perform (e.g., encourage the child to manipulate toys, which keeps the hands occupied and prevents face-slapping)

Cause: self-injurious behavior is driven by frustration
Intervention: teach “frustration tolerance”; give the child constructive things to do to prevent boredom; teach coping skills and relaxation techniques

Cause: child is seeking sensory stimulation/input
Intervention: find a replacement behavior that will meet this need in a less destructive way (see “What can the Aspergers child or teen do instead of self-injury?” below)

Cause: self-injurious behavior is driven by sound sensitivity
Intervention: provide ear plugs; remove child from the source of the sound; remove the sound or reduce the sound level

Cause: child wants to escape or avoid a task
Intervention: provide an escape route for the child (e.g., a safe ‘time-out’ room/corner); provide an alternate task and give options (e.g., child does not want to pick up his room, thus he can pick another chore from a ‘chart of chores’)

One theory suggests that Aspies that injure themselves do so to release opiate-like chemicals in the brain. Naltrexone is a medication that inhibits the release of these opiate-like chemicals in the brain, and the belief is that this will remove the reason for the self-injury.

What else can be done in dealing with Aspergers children and teens that self-injure?
  • Don’t judge. Avoid judgmental comments or telling the Aspie to stop the self-harming behavior.
  • Encourage. Encourage expressions of emotions, including anger.
  • Examine and change. If the self-harmer is your child, prepare yourself to address the difficulties in your family. This is not about blame, but rather about learning new ways of dealing with family interactions and communications that can help the entire family.
  • Find resources. Help the Aspie find a therapist or support group. If you don’t know how to find help, encourage your loved one to talk to someone who might be able to help, such as a teacher, a school counselor, or your minister.
  • Reassure. Let the Aspie know that you care and are available to listen—and then be available.
  • Spend time. Spend time doing enjoyable activities together.
  • Understand. It is vital to understand that self-harming behavior is an attempt to maintain a certain amount of control, which in and of itself is a way of self-soothing.

What are some of the DOs and DON’Ts when talking to the Aspie about self-harming behavior?

DO:

Talk about the subject of emotional and physical pain. This way the self-injurer can talk about their internal suffering, rather than express it by hurting themselves. Ask questions such as:
  • "Do you want to change your self-injury behavior?"
  • "How can I help you?" 
  • "How do you hurt yourself?"
  • "How long have you been hurting yourself?"
  • "How often do you injure yourself?"
  • "Why do you hurt yourself?"

DON’T:
  • Try to impose limits. This may increase the Aspie’s self-harming behavior in order for him to feel as if he has control over the situation.
  • Tell him to not injure himself. This is his way of coping, a final attempt to relieve emotional and or physical pain, and he will continue to hurt himself as long as he feels it's necessary. Telling him not to will just make him hide it more.
  • Keep asking questions if the self-injurer does not wish to talk about his cutting or self-harm. It may cause further alienation and make him feel even more alone and isolated.

What can the Aspergers child or teen do instead of self-injury?
  • Bite into a hot pepper or chew a piece of ginger root.
  • Break sticks.
  • Call a friend and just talk about things that you like.
  • Clean your room (or your whole house).
  • Crank up the music and dance.
  • Do something slow and soothing, like taking a hot bath with bath oil or bubbles, curling up under a comforter with hot cocoa and a good book, babying yourself somehow.
  • Draw on yourself with a red felt-tip pen.
  • Flatten aluminum cans for recycling, seeing how fast you can go.
  • Go for a walk/jog/run.
  • Hit a punching bag.
  • Light sweet-smelling incense.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Make a soft cloth doll to represent the things you are angry at. Cut and tear it instead of yourself.
  • Make a tray of special treats and tuck yourself into bed with it and watch TV or read.
  • Make clay models and cut or smash them.
  • On a sketch or photo of yourself, mark in red ink what you want to do; cut and tear the picture.
  • Paint yourself with red food coloring.
  • Play handball or tennis.
  • Put a finger into a frozen food (like ice cream) for a minute.
  • Rip up an old newspaper or phone book.
  • Rub liniment under your nose.
  • Slap a tabletop hard.
  • Smooth nice body lotion into the parts or yourself you want to hurt.
  • Snap your wrist with a rubber band.
  • Squeeze ice really hard.
  • Stomp around in heavy shoes.
  • Take a cold bath.
  • Throw ice into the bathtub or against a brick wall hard enough to shatter.
  • Try something physical and violent, something not directed at a living thing (e.g., slash an empty plastic soda bottle or a piece of heavy cardboard or an old shirt or sock).
  • Use a pillow to hit a wall, pillow-fight style.
  • Visit a friend.


Do iPad apps really help families affected by autism?



Click here to explore a comprehensive list of the best and most current apps for autism...

The App Revolution: Help for Kids & Teens on the Spectrum

The Apple iPad has been hailed as a miracle for assisting kids with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other special needs. Parents, educators, and therapists describe the profound difference that apps for Apple and Android products have made in helping these kids develop many different skills.

iPad apps have provided a means of communicating for some kids who can’t speak or have language delays. Other programs help kids learn to handle social situations that can be stressful (e.g., school, large crowds, etc.). And many apps can help develop fine-motor skills (e.g., writing, manipulating small objects, etc.).

iPad and iPhone apps are literally revolutionizing learning and communication for ASD kids and teens. Since the launch of these digital devices, many parents, teachers, special education professionals, and therapists worldwide have discovered that most ASD kids are highly receptive to using apps since they are so visually-oriented. This discovery has been reported by major news media in the last year including:
  • BBC News
  • CBC News 
  • CBS 60 Minutes 
  • CNN 
  • Fox News 
  • The Journal 
  • The New York Times

iPad and iPhone apps are helping ASD kids to learn and communicate in a new way that utilizes their visual learning strength. Many of these children have shown a keen interest due to the ease of interaction with the devices and the immediate visual responses from the apps.

The needs and abilities of children and teens with ASD differ greatly. For many of them, the existing apps on the market are either too complicated to understand, too basic, or poorly designed. Thus, we at MyAspergersChild.com wanted to compile a list of the most effective apps related to ASD. This led us to spend months researching and working with many ASD children and teens, their parents, special education teachers, speech therapists and other professionals in order to compile a list of the apps that have had the greatest reported benefit to date. We now have that list and have put it up on our sister website: Best-Autism-Apps.com

In addition to the apps, we are on a quest to find the best and most current iBooks and Audiobooks related to Autism Spectrum Disorders. Here you will find the most useful digital products for kids and teens with ASD, their parents, teachers and therapists: Best-Autism-Apps.com

P.S. Do you have a favorite autism app that you would like to add to our new website? If so, please email us at mbhutten@gmail.com, and we will research the apps’ track-record and consider adding it to the list.

Can Children With Autism Outgrow Their Disabilities?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Autism now affects 1 in 88 kids (although other estimates say it's more like 1 in 60), and is becoming a challenge shared by more and more American families.

The good news: About 10% of kids with low-functioning Autism outgrow most of their severe disabilities by the time they become teenagers.

A recent study offers some good news for parents with Autistic children: most kids affected by Autism don’t have intellectual disabilities. Even among the severely low-functioning ones, about 10% improve significantly over time with some outgrowing their diagnosis by their teenage years.

The research tracked approximately 7,000 Autistic kids in California for a total of 9 years. These children were followed from diagnosis to age 14 (or the oldest age they had reached by the time the data collection was completed).

The study found that 63% of these kids didn’t have intellectual disabilities. Although Autism is known to cause cognitive deficits in some kids, it is also associated with certain enhanced intellectual abilities – and some affected kids have extremely high IQs.

About 33% of the children involved in the study were considered low- to low/medium-functioning in terms of social and communication skills (i.e., they had trouble talking, socializing, and making friends).

Children with High-Functioning Autism can communicate effectively with others, maintain friendships, and are willing to engage in social activities. While the highest-functioning kids tended to show the most improvement over time in the study, about 10% of those who started out in the low-functioning group also moved into the highest group by age 14.

The critical finding is that the kids who seemed very low-functioning at the beginning of the study – and then did extremely well – tended not to have any intellectual disabilities. The low-functioning kids without intellectual disabilities were 50% more likely to outgrow their diagnosis as those who had cognitive deficits.

The earlier a youngster receives help for Autism, the more likely he is to overcome this disorder. Early intervention is paramount since the brain is remarkably vulnerable early in life and built to shape itself to the environmental challenges it initially faces. The young mind is extremely receptive to input, whether it is positive or negative. This is why younger kids can learn a second language easily – and why early exposure to violence and environmental stress are so incredibly harmful.

If, for example, kids with Autism receive intervention before such coping strategies as repetitive behaviors and social withdrawal are deep-rooted, their innate over-sensitivity to environmental stress is far less likely to become disabling – plus their other talents can burgeon. Therapists can actually start to change brain functioning if they provide the right kind of ongoing and focused intervention. But this only happens when these kids are reached early enough. Once the ‘window of opportunity’ has passed, it is much more difficult to treat Autism.

Parents should have a doctor screen their child for Autism at her 18-month well-child visit. A lot depends on how good that parent is at advocating for the youngster. Moms and dads need to be aware not only of what services are available, but also which ones are best, which are not helpful, and how to get the best care.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said... My daughter has Asperger's and I have found that as she matures many of her gifts are becoming more acceptable in society. So it's not so much she is becoming someone else as it is she is growing into her own skin amd becoming more comfortable and confident in expressing herself. She has learned how to cope and read social cues better and is taking active interest in putting her talents to work for her. If she has any "disabilities", it is that there are still "normal" people out there who think that all children must act the same.
•    Anonymous said... I am going for a evaluation for my son. Nothing seems normal about his behavior. Its not just ADHD. I know it. I just feel so bad because I don't have a clue how to respond to him. But he has ALL the characteristics and now its starting to make sense.
•    Anonymous said... Aspie's learn coping skills and the ability to imitate "normal" behavior, they conform themselves to fit in to normal society, so they are not "normal" they are ACTING normal.just wanted to add that we are an aspie family as my brothers, and my partner have aspergers all adults.

*   Anonymous said... My daughter is going to 17 in August we finally had a confirmed diagnoses four days after she turned 15 after 10 and a half years of being told she was ADHD since then I have been told she has ODD (ADHD) still in the picture, and chronic anxiety. single mum in a very small 2 bed unit. am currently sharing a room with my 14 year old daughter to give my special girl her own space.... hate my self every day for not being able to have the tools to deal with her meltdowns................. feel lost most of the time.. I know deep down I am doing the best I can...... but sick of feeling like I'm in a whirl wind most of the time... I can go weeks with things ok but at times I just want to give up.. after being a single parent for 15 years.. I just keep picking my self up give myself a good talking TOO and get on with my job.... BUT I KEEP thinking HOW long can I keep doing this???? When is it me time?

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Helping Aspergers Children Avoid The "Back To School Jitters"

Preparing kids with Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism) for the new school year requires a little more than making sure uniforms fit and backpacks are filled with all the necessary school supplies. Most U.S. schools will open their doors on Aug. 20. Before then, moms and dads need to ensure all their documents are in order, transportation is prepared, and good communication is established with their youngster's school.

Here are 25 ways in which you can help your Aspergers youngster prepare for the new school year:

1. Ask the school whether you will be able to walk your Aspie into the classroom and hand him off to the teacher.  Find out how long you will be able to stay.  If you suspect that your son or daughter might have a hard time saying goodbye, by all means speak with the teacher now and make a plan for how to handle the first day. 

2. Ask the teacher to provide you with the daily class routine so that you can review this schedule with your Aspie at home.

3. Be sure all children lay out clothes the night before, that lunches are made, and that everyone gets enough sleep and a healthy breakfast.  Plan to arrive at school early so you have time for meaningful goodbyes.  And don’t forget that “first day of school” photo before you leave home!

4. Bring a camera and ask to take photos of the new classroom, teacher and surroundings.

5. Create a “Transition Book” for your Aspie. This is a book about your youngster’s new teacher and class. You can use the photos you took during your meeting at the school. Look at the book regularly to help your Aspie become familiar with the new environment.

6. Encourage your child’s questions by asking what she thinks school will be like.  Emphasize the things you think she’ll enjoy, but be sure not to minimize her fears. Children can be stricken by worries that parents might find silly (e.g., finding the bathroom at school). Normalize any fears and reassure her that she will have fun, that the school can reach you if necessary, and that your love is always with her even when you aren’t.

7. Facilitate bonding with the other children. Children are always nervous about their new teacher, but if they know any of the other children, they’ll feel more at ease.  

8. Facilitate your Aspie’s bonding with the teacher.  All children need to feel connected to their teacher to feel comfortable in the classroom.   Until they do, they are not ready to learn.  Experienced educators know this, and “collect” their students emotionally at the start of the school year. 

9. Find out what other children are in your child’s class and arrange a play date so she’ll feel more connected if she hasn’t seen these children all summer.

10. Get your child back on an early to bed schedule well before school starts.  Most children begin staying up late in the summer months.  But children need 9 ½ to 11 hours of sleep a night, depending on their age. Getting them back on schedule so they’re sound asleep by 9pm to be up at 7am for school takes a couple of weeks of gradually moving the bedtime earlier. Imposing an early bedtime cold turkey the night before school starts results in a youngster who simply isn’t ready for an earlier bedtime, having slept in that morning and with the night-before-school jitters.  In that situation, you can expect everyone’s anxiety to escalate.  So keep an eye on the calendar and start moving bedtime a bit earlier every night by having children read in bed for an hour before lights out, which is also good for their reading skills.

11. Get yourself to bed early the night before school so you can get up early enough to deal calmly with any last minute crises. 

12. If a younger sibling will be at home with you, be sure your Aspergers child knows how boring it will be at home and how jealous you and the younger sibling are that you don’t get to go to school like a big kid.  Explain that every day after school you will have special time with your big girl to hear all about her day and have a snack together.

13. If you’re new in town, make a special effort to meet other children in the neighborhood.  Often schools are willing to introduce new families to each other, allowing children to connect with other new students in the weeks before school starts. 

14. If your Aspergers youngster gets teary when you say goodbye, reassure her that she will be fine and that you can’t wait to see her at the end of the day.  Use the goodbye routine you’ve practiced, and then hand her off to her teacher.  Don’t leave her adrift without a new attachment person, but once you’ve put her in good hands, don’t worry. 

15. Let your Aspie choose his own school supplies, whether from around your house or from the store, and ready them in his backpack or bag. 

16. Make sure you’re a few minutes early to pick your Aspie up that first week of school.  Not seeing you immediately will exacerbate any anxieties he has and may panic him altogether.  If your Aspie cries when you pick him up, don’t worry.  You’re seeing the stress of his having to keep it together all day and be a big boy.

17. Moms and dads need to review special education documents such as individualized education plans, or IEPs, and meet with principals and, if possible, educators to ensure everyone is on the same page as far as the students' needs are concerned -- from modified teaching lessons to transportation.  Moms and dads should go through their youngster's IEPs before the school year starts and make a list of anything ambiguous, or something you don't quite understand.  After completing your homework, you may realize that your Aspie's IEP is lacking or needs adjustment. You may want to consult with an independent professional (e.g., psychologist or behaviorist) and/or convene with the IEP team to discuss your youngsters changing needs. Moms and dads can call an IEP meeting at any time, and the district is required to hold the meeting at a mutually convenient date/time within 30 calendar days (beginning with the first day of school and excluding any breaks that are two weeks or more). As always, be sure to make your request in writing.

18. Once school has started, check-in with your Aspie’s new teacher on a regular basis to see if the transition has been successful.

19. Research shows that children forget a lot during the summer.  If your Aspie has been reading through the summer months, congratulations!  If not, this is the time to start.  Visit the library and let him pick some books he’ll enjoy.  Introduce the idea that for the rest of the summer everyone in the family will read for an hour every day. 

20. Share your own stories about things you loved about school.

21. Start conversations about the next grade at school or about beginning school.  One good way to do this is to select books relating to that grade.  Your librarian can be helpful. Get your children excited by talking about what they can expect, including snack, playground, reading, computers, singing and art.  If you know other kids who will be in his class or in the school, be sure to mention that he will see or play with them. 

22. Take advantage of any orientation opportunities.  Many schools let new students, especially in the younger grades, come to school for an orientation session before school begins.  If the school doesn’t have such a program, ask if you and your Aspie can come by to meet the new teacher for a few minutes a day or so before school starts.  Educators are busy preparing their rooms and materials at that time, but any experienced teacher is happy to take a few minutes to meet a new student and make him feel comfortable, since she knows that helps her students settle into the school year.

23. The day before school starts, talk about exactly what will happen the next day to give your Aspie a comfortable mental movie. Be alert for signs that he is worried, and reflect that most children are a little nervous before the first day of school, but that he will feel right at home in his new classroom soon. 

24. There are many books and computer applications for kids that tell social stories. Provide your Aspie with social stories that model appropriate behavior at school and with other kids.

25. Try to arrange for your child to travel to school that first morning with a youngster he or she knows. Even if they aren’t in the same classroom, it will ease last minute jitters.

Overcoming the EQ Deficit: Help for Aspergers Men

While much of what I'm about to talk about applies to both men and women, this post is going to lean more toward addressing the male-version of Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism...

Men with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism suffer from a phenomenon called “mind-blindness,” which is a cognitive condition where the person is unable to attribute mental states to self and others. As a result of this condition, he is often unaware of others' mental states and has difficulty attributing beliefs and desires to others.

Lacking in this ability to develop a mental awareness of what is in the mind of his partner, the Aspergers man is often viewed as emotionally detached.

"Emotional intelligence" is in many ways the opposite of mind-blindness. Emotional intelligence (EQ) matters just as much as intellectual ability (IQ) when it comes to happiness and success in life. Emotional intelligence helps one build stronger relationships, succeed at work, and achieve career and personal goals.

So the “fix” (so to speak) for the Aspergers man would be to replace mind-blindness with emotional intelligence. But is this even possible? The answer is: it depends.

If the man is willing to seek treatment from a therapist (preferably one who specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorders), then chances are he will successfully work around his weaknesses and capitalize on his strengths. On the other hand, if the man refuses to acknowledge his mind-blindness issue (which is easy to do since a blind mind will have trouble seeing itself), then he will likely suffer the negative consequences associated with being out of touch -- and out of step -- with the world around him. Like a bicyclist with two flat tires, the Aspergers man’s progress will be slow and shaky.

Emotional intelligence is:
  • the ability to appreciate complicated relationships among different emotions
  • the ability to comprehend emotion language
  • the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artifacts, including the ability to identify one's own emotions
  • the ability to harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities (e.g., thinking and problem solving)
  • the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups

Perceiving emotions represents a basic aspect of emotional intelligence, as it makes all other processing of emotional information possible. The emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his changing moods in order to best fit the task at hand. Understanding emotions encompasses the ability to be sensitive to slight variations between emotions, and the ability to recognize and describe how emotions evolve over time. The emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve intended goals.

Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:

1. Relationship management: Knowing how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

2. Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and how they affect one’s thoughts and behavior, knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and having self-confidence.

3. Self-management: Being able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, managing emotions in healthy ways, taking initiative, following through on commitments, and adapting to changing circumstances.

4. Social awareness: Understanding the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, picking up on emotional cues, feeling comfortable socially, and recognizing the power dynamics in a group or organization.

The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to relieve stress. Uncontrolled stress impacts the Aspergers man’s mental health, making him vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If he is unable to understand and manage his emotions, he will be open to mood swings, which makes it very difficult for him to form strong relationships, and can leave him feeling lonely and isolated.

Emotional intelligence can help him navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in his career. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.

By understanding his emotions and how to control them, the Aspergers man is better able to express how he feels – and understands how others are feeling. This allows him to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in his personal life.

Emotional intelligence consists of five key skills:
  1. The ability to connect with others through nonverbal communication
  2. The ability to quickly reduce stress
  3. The ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions
  4. The ability to resolve conflicts positively and with confidence
  5. The ability to use humor and play to deal with challenges

These five skills of emotional intelligence can be learned, but there is a difference between learning about emotional intelligence and applying that knowledge to one's life. Just because the Aspergers man knows he “should” do something doesn’t mean he will – especially if he becomes overwhelmed by stress, which can hijack his best intentions.

In order to permanently change behavior in ways that stand up under pressure, he will need to learn how to take advantage of the powerful emotional parts of his brain that remain active and accessible even in times of stress. This means that he can’t simply read about emotional intelligence in order to master it. Rather, he has to experience and practice the skills in his everyday life.

EQ Skill #1: Paying Attention to Nonverbal Communication—

Often, “what” somebody says is less important than “how” he or she says it or the other nonverbal signals that are sent out (e.g., the gestures a person makes, the way he sits, how fast or how loud he talks, how close he stands to others, how much eye contact he makes, etc). In order to hold the attention of others and build connection and trust, the Aspergers man needs to be aware of – and in control of – this body language. He also needs to be able to accurately read and respond to the nonverbal cues that other people send.

Messages don’t stop when someone stops speaking. Even when a person is silent, he or she is still communicating nonverbally. The Aspergers man needs to think about what he is transmitting as well, and if what he says matches what he feels. Nonverbal messages can produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement, and desire for connection – or they can generate fear, confusion, distrust, and disinterest.

Tips for improving nonverbal communication:

Successful nonverbal communication depends on one’s ability to manage stress, recognize one’s own emotions, and understand the signals one is sending and receiving. When communicating, the Aspergers man needs to:
  • Pay attention to the nonverbal cues he is sending and receiving (e.g., facial expression, tone of voice, posture and gestures, touch, timing and pace of the conversation).
  • Make eye contact, which will communicate interest and maintain the flow of a conversation, and help gauge the other person’s response.
  • Focus on the other person. If the Aspergers man is planning what he is going to say next, daydreaming, or thinking about something else, he is almost certain to miss nonverbal cues and other subtleties in the conversation.

EQ Skill #2: Quickly Reducing Stress—

High levels of stress can overwhelm the mind and body, getting in the way of one’s ability to accurately “read” a situation, to hear what someone else is saying, to be aware of one’s own feelings and needs, and to communicate clearly. Being able to quickly calm down and diffuse stress helps one stay balanced, focused, and in control – no matter what challenges are faced or how stressful a situation becomes.

Tips for reducing stress:
  • The best way to reduce stress quickly is by engaging one or more of the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so the Aspergers man needs to find things that are soothing and/or energizing to him. For example, if he is a visual person, he can relieve stress by surrounding himself with uplifting images. If he responds more to sound, he may find a wind chime, a favorite piece of music, or the sound of a water fountain helps to quickly reduce his stress levels.
  • Everyone reacts differently to stress. If the Aspergers man tends to become angry or agitated under stress, he will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet him down. If he tends to become depressed or withdrawn, he will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating. If he tends to freeze (speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others), he needs stress relief activities that provide both comfort and stimulation.
  • Recognize what stress feels like. How does your body feel when you’re stressed? Are your muscles or stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Being aware of one’s physical response to stress will help regulate tension when it occurs.

EQ Skill #3: Managing Emotions—

Being able to connect to one’s emotions (i.e., having a moment-to-moment awareness of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions) is the key to understanding self and others. Many Aspergers men are disconnected from their emotions – especially strong core emotions like sadness, fear and joy. But although we can distort, deny, or numb our feelings, we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness, we are unable to fully understand our own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.

How in touch are you with your emotions?
  • Are your emotions accompanied by physical sensations that you experience in certain places of your body (e.g., lower back, stomach, chest, etc.)?
  • Can you experience intense feelings that are strong enough to capture both your attention and that of others?
  • Do your emotions factor into your decision making?
  • Do you pay attention to your emotions?
  • Do you experience feelings that flow (i.e., encountering one emotion after another as your experiences change from moment to moment)?
  • Do you experience discrete feelings and emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy), each of which is evident in subtle facial expressions?

If any of these experiences are foreign to you, then your emotions may be turned down or off. In order to be emotionally healthy and emotionally intelligent, you must reconnect to your core emotions, accept them, and become comfortable with them.

EQ Skill #4: Resolving Conflicts Positively--

Disagreements and misunderstandings are to be expected in relationships. Two people can’t possibly have the same needs, beliefs, and expectations at all times. However, that is not a bad thing. Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people. When conflict isn’t perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity, and safety in relationships.

Tips for resolving conflict:
  • Choose your arguments. Arguments take time and energy, especially if you want to resolve them in a positive way. Consider what is worth arguing about and what is not.
  • End conflicts that can't be resolved. It takes two people to keep an argument going. You can choose to disengage from a conflict, even if you still disagree.
  • Forgive. Other people’s hurtful behavior is in the past. To resolve conflict, you need to give up the urge to punish or seek revenge.
  • Stay focused in the present. When you are not holding on to old hurts and resentments, you can recognize the reality of a current situation and view it as a new opportunity for resolving old feelings about conflicts.

EQ Skill #5: Using Humor and Play to Deal with Challenges--

Humor, laughter, and play are natural solutions to life’s problems. They lighten burdens and help keep things in perspective. A good hearty laugh reduces stress, elevates mood, and brings the nervous system back into balance. It’s never too late to develop and embrace your playful, humorous side. The more you joke, play, and laugh – the easier it becomes. Playful communication broadens emotional intelligence and helps the individual:
  • Become more creative. When we loosen up, we free ourselves of rigid ways of thinking and being, allowing us to get creative and see things in new ways.
  • Simultaneously relax and become more energized. Playful communication relieves fatigue and relaxes the body, which allows the person to recharge and accomplish more.
  • Smooth over differences. Using gentle humor often helps us say things that might be otherwise difficult to express without creating an argument.
  • Take hardships in stride. By allowing us to view our frustrations and disappointments from new perspectives, laughter and play enable us to survive annoyances, hard times, and setbacks.

In order to develop playful communication, the Aspergers man needs to:
  • find enjoyable activities that loosen him up and help him embrace his playful nature
  • play with animals, babies, young children, and outgoing people who appreciate playful banter
  • set aside regular, quality playtime

In a nutshell, the Aspergers man can begin to replace mind-blindness with emotional intelligence – with the assistance of a qualified professional – by doing the following:
  1. Acknowledging his negative feelings, looking for their source, and coming up with a way to solve the underlying problem 
  2. Avoiding people who invalidate him or don't respect his feelings 
  3. Being honest with himself
  4. Developing constructive coping skills for specific moods
  5. Examining his feelings rather than the actions or motives of other people
  6. Getting up and moving when he is feeling down
  7. Learning to relax when his emotions are running high
  8. Listening twice as much as he speaks
  9. Looking for the humor or life lesson in a negative situation
  10. Paying attention to non-verbal communication (e.g., watch faces, listen to tone of voice, take note of body language)
  11. Showing respect by respecting other people's feelings
  12. Taking responsibility for his own emotions and happiness

Most of you have heard that “there is no cure for Aspergers Syndrome.” And technically, that’s correct. But, emotional intelligence can be taught. And some people with Aspergers – both male and female – who have received quality treatment from a qualified professional have lost their Aspergers diagnosis after a few years of intensive therapy. That is, after being re-tested, they did not meet the criteria for Aspergers Syndrome any longer. The same can be true for you. So, what are you waiting for?

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