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

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Asperger’s Teen Isolation: Antisocial Behavior or Self-Preservation?

“Should we be concerned about our 14 year old Aspergers (high functioning) son’s lack of social interaction outside of school and his time spent sitting at home mostly just on his phone.   He refuses to play a school sport and is resistant to joining any clubs or volunteering.   Besides the times he is doing things with his dad and the occasional skateboarding, he is mostly just sitting at home.”

As long as your son doesn’t appear to be depressed, then it would be best to drop it. One thing you need to understand about young people on the autism spectrum is that their “isolation” (i.e., spending lots of time alone) has more to do with self-preservation than being “antisocial.” Let me use the following analogy:

Think of children as having their own internal batteries. Most neurotypical children (i.e., those not on the spectrum) get their batteries recharged by associating with peers. When they are home by themselves for any length of time, they get bored and lonely. In other words, their batteries become run down and need recharging. So, they get out of the house and go find their friends to get recharged.

This situation works the opposite way for most children on the autism spectrum. When they find themselves in social situations – especially for lengthy periods of time in group settings (e.g., school) – their batteries run down. When they are out in the community, they have difficulty paying attention to what others are doing, what others are saying, how they are supposed to respond to others – all the things that keep them from engaging in their special interest (e.g., computer games). Having to tread water in the ocean of social contacts is exhausting for these children. In other words, it totally runs their batteries down. So, they hibernate, disengage, and find time to be alone to engross themselves in their special interest as a way to recharge.

Young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can become anxious when drained of energy from non-desired activities and lengthy social interactions. Thus, time alone to engage in their special interest is a must – and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or feel pressured into doing something else instead (unless they are refusing to do their chores or homework, for example). In addition to distracting themselves with their interests, they use “alone time” to calm down and reflect, which helps them to deal with people, tasks and sensory sensitivities much easier.

A child with AS or HFA is not necessarily a person who is shy, rather he is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people. The “Aspie” is more concerned with the inner world of the mind. He enjoys thinking, exploring his thoughts and feelings. This is true even if he has good social skills. Also, when the AS or HFA child wants to be alone, it is not necessarily a sign of depression, rather it means he either needs to recharge his battery, or simply wants the time to be quietly introspective. Being introspective, though, does not mean that he never has conversations; however, those conversations are generally about facts, ideas and concepts – not about what he considers the trivial matters of social small talk.

Even though children and teens on the autism spectrum feel “drained” by social interaction, they feel “energized” by the conversations in their heads.  They dislike interruptions, like to work on complex projects, need to understand why they are doing something, and require silence to concentrate – all of which makes them seem aloof. These young people are literally physiologically incapable of socializing for extended periods of time, and accordingly, parents should never attempt to “force” their AS or HFA child to be more social (teaching social skills is a constructive manner is certainly necessary though).

When interacting with an AS or HFA child, parents and teachers should consider the following:
  • Work with the child to find a compromise. Forcing her to be more social will backfire. So strike some compromises. Usually, if you give her some down time, she’s good for a couple social events each day (e.g., school, girl scouts, or karate class).
  • Let the child recharge. If you’re dealing with a youngster on the autism spectrum and you’re planning one activity after another – it’s going to be torture (e.g., do homework, then do chores, then go shopping, then...). The AS or HFA child is like that old iPhone you’ve got that needs to be recharged several times per day. In the child’s mind, he’s running a lot of applications.
  • Forget the small talk. Mostly, the AS or HFA child lives in her mind, and she thinks about why things happen, or she daydreams. Shallow conversations (e.g., about what happened at school today) are painful. She doesn’t want to have conversations that aren’t going somewhere. Instead, she wants to talk about her passions. So, if you want to engage your otherwise solitary child, talk about her special interests.
  • Give the child some space. He doesn’t want to be mobbed when he gets to his place of security, or for that matter, anywhere else. He wants to transition and get comfortable and then engage. For example, when an AS or HFA child comes home from a long, stressful day at school and is charged with some responsibility immediately – social or otherwise – it’s tough. Give him 30-45 minutes to transition, and you’ll likely avert a meltdown.
  • When possible, provide one-on-one attention rather than insisting on the child’s participation in groups. The AS or HFA child will generally cope much better if he only has to deal with one person at a time.

In summary, your Asperger’s son is literally taking care of himself when he relieves himself from “social-duty” by sitting at home and on his phone. Make sense? Rethink this issue. Put it in the “don’t fight this battle” category. But at the appropriate times, do teach him some pertinent social skills, because he does need to learn how to function in society.

My Aspergers Teen: Help for Parents with Teens on the Autism Spectrum

 
COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… A lot of people, neutotypical or otherwise, are introverted and actually need time to be alone and relax and recoup energy, whereas extroverted people need more time with other people to get energized. High school is stressful enough without extra-curricular activities, especially for introverts. Kids don't need to have every minute of every day planned out for them. Doing so creates adults who can't function when they are alone because they need someone or something to constantly entertain them. Some activities are good if they provide fun and joy, but you have to be aware that adding more activities leaves less time for him to study and will likely just stress him out more.
•    Anonymous said… Be careful what you wish for. I hoped for more friends then wished I hadn't as they were all terrible 'friends' but he couldn't see it.
•    Anonymous said… I have a 15 y.o boy who is exactly the same. He says he spends all week with school friends & weekends is his down time, his family time. I have come to understand that it's ok as long as he is ok. Home is where he is comfortable & where he recharges. This is so perfectly spot on!
•    Anonymous said… I have a 34-year-old niece with Aspergers. Unfortunately her mother had her head in the sand when she was young and now paying a heavy price . The girl now stays on FB looking for men. Won't come out of the bedroom. Parents, take your head out of the sand.
•    Anonymous said… I live in Cyprus and we are very limited in activities. I'm trying to get my 15 yr old interested in something. .especially as the school summer here is 3 months. .such a long time to be stuck to his laptop/pc
•    Anonymous said… If he is happy being by himself, then let him. NT's seem to think that socialising is the be all and end all, and for a lot of people on the spectrum, it's not. They don't need or crave it, like NT's do, and that's just fine. If on the other hand he wants to socialise, but finds it hard, try and find out how to help him acheive that. Maybe join some groups so he can meet people with simular interests. This doesn't have to be your regular, go out of the house and meet people, kind of group. It could be online, (of course teach the dangers about meeting people online, obviously, but it's not all bad). Some of the people I consider my closest friends, I have never met, and only chatted to via FB. And I have also made some great friends playing online games, such as world of warcraft, and from there got talking to people via skype, and some I met IRL. I even met my daughters father playing this game. I am not diagnosed, but highly suspect I have aspergers. I do feel there is lot less pressure in making friends online. My eldest son has aspergers, and he's made a lot of friends gaming, and also finds it lot less pressure to socialise via skype and gaming. A lot of his friends also have aspergers, so maybe look into getting your son to meet with other aspies. As for sport, god, I couldn't think of a worse nightmare for people with autism. I have never been interested in it at all. My eldest son and my younger son, who also has high functioning autism, both hate sports too. But it makes sense. Take football for example. Loads of people on a field. You have to predict what each persons next move is going to be, to know what your next move should be. As a person with autism, one of the problems encountered is predicting what other people are going to do. You have several people running towards you if you have the ball. This can be traumatic if you, like myself, HATE anyone invading your personal space. Or if, like my younger son, all your senses regarding touch, are messed up, so that a slight little bump, can feel like a really had knock. Then there is all the noise that comes with people on the pitch, and people at the sidelines shouting, cheering and clapping. Hell for anyone who is sound sensative. I know my younger son really hates football, and sometimes it saddens me, as most of his class play in the local team. But at the same time, I understand why and never mention it to him, He was offered the chance to play when he first started school, and when he's mentioned his friends playing, I have offered him the opportunity again, but he's not interested and that's fine. Some sports can be fun. I like Swimming, as I can just be in my own world and relax whilst swimming. My younger son likes ping pong, bowling and used to go to a club shooting pellet rifles, for which he won a trophy. So maybe look for the less popular kinds of sports as an option, ones that you don't have to play in a team, and therefor have far less social demands.
•    Anonymous said… I'm probably neurotypical and was bought up in the 1960s/70s, but...wouldn't play school sport, didn't volunteer, didn't join clubs. Spent most of my time on my short wave radio (or building more of same) or playing wargames and doing geek stuff. All at home. For some kids it's just what they want to do!
•    Anonymous said… Mine son is the same. School friends are school friends. Is not sporty. Will go for bike rides and walks, but most of the time is on computer or his phone. He's happy with this. We just do activities as a family so he comes along.
•    Anonymous said… my son does this. he is 14. I have no problem with it. I know one thing many parents today don't: where he is, who he is with,what he is doing, drug choice(none),alcohol intake (none). he had school friends and a brother here. he is interacting with people. just because he isn't highly social doesn't mean he isn't getting the just. He knows how to act. and does so with everyone... but me lol
•    Anonymous said… My son has aspergers 22 now. struggled socialising as they do because of ignorant society.he has no friends only Internet friends. Ido worry allot about him as all parents do.but I've had so called friends in the past and turned out to be not so nice friends.iam 50 now and idont worry about having friends I have a couple that I call true friends.i get on in life just fine on my own two feet.so Iam sure my lad will be fine as gets more older.long as you can teach them to be independent.
•    Anonymous said… My son is the same. I tried everything and now don't bother..I reckon they gave enough to to deal with and process during the day. This is their down time perhaps?
•    Anonymous said… no friends is better than bad friends. My son only had bad friends as he isn't social and couldn't interact well at school. He is now 21 and has had a very hard few years with drinking etc. and being in a bad crowd. It has changed him and he finds it hard to find work. Definitely better off staying at home with family than interacting with the wrong friends I feel very sad for his life now. He is undiagnosed Asperger's I'm sure of it.
•    Anonymous said… Sounds like my 14 try Olde son with Aspergers. But I homeschooling him abs he has a brother who us 13 an acts more mature then him so sometimes I think he's the older one but he gets along great with his brother but he never wants to go anywhere with us and never wants to do anything outside the home unless it's like a theme park or the pool but at least he's social with his brother
•    Anonymous said… Teaching the children to be independent is really important so they can take care of themselves throughout adulthood. I have supported children with aspergers through school and it is such a hard time for them, far too much in some cases. I have also counselled adults and children with aspergers and a lot of the time they talked about feeling anxious, feeling different, being bullied, not understanding the reactions or interactions of others in social situations, feeling depressed and suicidal, the majority have prefered their own company. Once some of the pressure is taken off the children have been more able to manage themselves. I have also worked with and counselled parents and the frustration and pressure to 'get it right' and be 'a good parent' is tremendous. Take the pressure off.
•    Anonymous said… This sounds like most teenagers these days. I have 3 teens, 1 Aspie, 2 non, they all do the same thing.
•    Anonymous said… What many neurotypical people don't seem to be able to understand is that they WANT to be alone, or at least in a quiet or safe place such as home. Stop imposing YOUR ideas of what is normal on your children and just try to love and support their choices.

Post your comment below…

9 comments:

Bonalyn said...

This article is spot on!

My Aspie daughter couldn't be happier than when she is alone. I'll hear her laughing out loud and very engaged in research or anime and just as happy as can be while doing her own thing. I've learned to let my worry go.

She can handle school, but isn't interested in socializing. She likes yoga, but I've learned not to ask too much about a class. If I ask about her research, I am guaranteed to learn something fabulous and see her come alive with excitement when she can share what she knows.

My daughter may not be the most social, but she is by far one of the most interesting/fascinating/entertaining people I have ever met!

Keep up these great articles. I love sharing them with family members.

forsythia said...

This described our 11-year-old grandson perfectly. He's on the more sociable end of the spectrum, but he still needs time alone. Interestingly enough, his dad is like this and so am I, even though his dad and I are related only as in-laws.

Eli said...


Thanks for sharing that Bonalyn...it is helpful to those of us who parent those on the spectrum and for self introspection (I also recharge in the quiet/ alone times) :)

ThamesArt said...

Thank you for another very interesting article.

Kjell O.S. said...

Thank you so much,Mark Hutton! This article gave me an insight into the Aspie childs internal world!
Kjell

Doll Party said...

All I can say is wow. We just talked to our son about this Sunday and I received this article yesturday morning. We have been battling with our son and yes trying to force him out of his room.I have worried that he would totally isolate himself.Thank you so much Dr.I will be ordering your material for parents of Aspie teens.You seem to be on point about everything we are going through right now!Thank you so much for the free newsletter!It is truly priceless!

anita thomson said...

Please beware of letting your aspie offspring spend all of their free time alone. Of course some alone time is needed for recharging one's batteries. Our son has found friends with like interests periodically in his life. Now it is LARPing and tabletop RPG's. Google them if you don't know what they are. The LARPers found my son and I will be forever grateful.

Nancy Dynes said...

My 20 year old Aspergers son is now a sophomore in college 4 hours away from home. He has an eidetic memory for numbers and is already a graduate student in mathematics. He is also majoring in computer engineering. He works as a TA and is a member of a service fraternity. He has a perfect GPA and has adjusted well to living in a college dorm. He's been accepted into one of the most prestigious mathematic research programs this summer. Next year he will be studying math in Russia for a semester. He has even connected some wonderful friends.
Despite his academic and social success he still needs his alone time to "re-charge" his battery. If he becomes overwhelmed or frustrated he will still do some head banging or hit himself in the head. I have also noticed when he comes home for holiday breaks he has difficulty adjusting to being at home, but when it is time to leave he has trouble dealing with the transition of going back to college.
He is already worried about how he will deal with life when he finishes his doctorate and has to function in the 'real' world. He feels he can never be comfortable outside of academia. He worries about it almost obsessively. He recognizes his intellectual gifts almost to the point of arrogance, yet he verbalizes that he will never be successful in life. When I try to reason with him and boost his self esteem he becomes agitated. I am wondering if this is common for a YA with Aspergers.
I have only just found this blog. I wish it would have been a resource during my son's younger years. I am delighted to be following now!
Sincerely,
Nancy

Doll Party said...

Nancy...It was very inspiring to read about your sons progress and success in school.My son is 18 and still has a year of hs left. I had ruled out staying on campus because I was fearful of him being bullied and or harrassed because he sometimes talks outloud to himself when he thinks he's alone.It would be nice to allow him to experience college like any other young man..this gives me a bit of confidence.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

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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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