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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Why are children on the autism spectrum prone to "meltdowns"?

Children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are prone to meltdowns when they find themselves trapped in a situation that is difficult to cope with, especially those which involve frustration, sensory overload, pain or confusion. These situations tend to happen more frequently for children who have one or more of the following characteristics:
  • Communication delays or challenges
  • Difficulty identifying and controlling emotions 
  • Difficulty understanding cause and effect 
  • Difficulty with social comprehension
  • Executive functioning disruption 
  • Hypersensitivity to sensory input

  • Low frustration threshold

  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Resistance to change
  • Rigid or inflexible thinking

  • Sensory integration dysfunctions


Think of meltdowns as an “escape mechanism.” If the AS or HFA child has the means to get himself out of a stressful situation before it becomes overwhelming, the cognitive and emotional pressure subsides. Without these means of escape, the stress will escalate, and the child’s body will begin to panic, setting him on a course towards neurological meltdown. Escape routes are such things as:
  • Autonomy (the freedom to make their own decisions)
  • Coping and calming mechanisms (being able to soothe themselves under stress)
  • Independence (the ability to act on decisions)
  • Language and comprehension (understanding others and making themselves understood)
  • Motor and social skills (the ability to prevent or remove themselves from uncomfortable situations)

“Typical” children without autism have a functional set of escape routes. For example, they:
  • Can calm themselves down relatively quickly in most cases
  • Can communicate their needs and emotions
  • Can regulate the extra sensory input
  • Have the freedom to leave when a stressful situation becomes too much to handle
  • Know what it feels like when they are getting upset
  • Understand that most people don't deliberately try to hurt them

In short, “typical” children have coping strategies that allow emotional and cognitive stress to defuse. But, this is not the case with AS and HFA children. When these “special needs” kids find themselves in a stressful situation from which they can’t easily escape, their brain becomes flooded with emotional, sensory or cognitive input, which jams the circuits and initiates a “fight-or-flight” response associated with panic. Executive functions (e.g., memory, planning, reasoning, decision-making) start to short-circuit, which makes it even more difficult for these kids to find a way out of the painful situation. Eventually, the neurological pressure builds to the point where it is released externally as an outburst of physical energy (e.g., yelling, hitting, throwing things, etc.). Although this explosive reaction resembles a temper tantrum and often seems to come from nowhere, it's just one part of the meltdown cycle.

Meltdowns and temper tantrums can often look the same on the outside, but that’s where the similarity ends. A temper tantrum is a voluntary “battle of wills” to try and gain control over a situation. It’s designed to draw attention for the sole purpose of satisfying a want (e.g., having more time to play video games) or avoiding something that is unwanted (e.g., shutting off the computer and getting ready for bed), so once that goal has been met, the outburst quickly resolves itself.

Conversely, meltdowns are almost the complete opposite. A meltdown is an involuntary physical and emotional reaction to being placed in an overwhelming situation from which there is no easy escape. The child isn’t in control or trying to get attention, in fact he is often unaware of things happening around him.

How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Aspergers Children

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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

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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.

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Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA 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.

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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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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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