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Asperger's & High-Functioning Autism: Dispelling the Myths

Moms and dads tend to overwhelm themselves with research, treatments, and general anxiety over their Aspergers kid’s welfare. While this may be a natural thing for a parent to do, it's not particularly good for anyone in the family. And the truth is this: It isn't even necessary!

Anger-Control Strategies for Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum

All children experience anger. But, young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), in particular, have difficulty channeling their strong emotions into acceptable outlets.

Anger is a response to a real or perceived loss or stress. It results when an individual’s body, property, self-esteem, or values are threatened. Anger is often a reaction to feeling frustrated, hurt, misunderstood, or rejected. If your youngster does not learn how to release his or her anger appropriately, it can fester and explode in inappropriate ways, or be internalized and damage his or her sense of self-worth.

As a mother or father, dealing with an angry youngster is inevitable. Many of us have heard our own pre-parenting voice whisper to us, saying something like, “That will never be my child acting-out like that” (famous last words). Anger is learned, but so is composure!

As parents, we hope our kids learn to:
  • communicate angry feelings in a positive way
  • express anger nonviolently
  • learn how to avoid being a victim of someone else's angry actions
  • learn how to control angry impulses
  • learn how to problem solve
  • learn how to remove themselves from a violent or angry situation 
  • learn self-calming techniques
  • recognize angry feelings in themselves and others

Below are several crucial techniques to help teach your AS or HFA youngster calmer, more constructive ways to express anger:

1. Acknowledge strong emotions, helping your youngster control herself and save face (e.g., say, "It must be hard to get a low score after you tried so hard").

2. Be sure to VALUE what your youngster is experiencing. For example, if he is hurt and crying, never say, "Stop crying." Instead, validate your youngster's experience by saying something like, "I’m sure that hurts. That would make me cry too." This makes an ally out of you, rather than a target for free-floating anger. As an ally, your youngster learns to trust you, realizing you are there for him no matter what. If your youngster can trust you, he can learn to trust himself and the outer world.

3. Create a “ways to relax” poster. There are dozens of ways to help AS and HFA kids calm down when they first start to get bent out of shape. Unfortunately, most of these young people have never been given the opportunity to think of those other possibilities. Thus, they keep getting into trouble because the only behavior they know is inappropriate ways to express their frustration. So, talk with your youngster about more acceptable "replacement behaviors.” Make a big poster listing them (e.g., draw pictures, hit a pillow, listen to music, run a lap, shoot baskets, sing a song, talk to someone, think of a peaceful place, walk away, etc.). Once your youngster chooses her replacement behavior, encourage her to use the same strategy each time she starts to get upset.

4. Encourage your youngster to accept responsibility for his anger and to gain control by asking himself the following questions: Did I do or say anything to create the problem? If so, how can I make things better? How can I keep this issue from happening again?

5. Facilitate communication and problem solving with your AS or HFA youngster by asking questions (e.g., How can I help you? What can you do to help yourself? What do you need? Is your behavior helping you solve your problem?).

6. Help your youngster to understand her own emotions by putting her feelings into words (e.g., say, "It looks like it made you angry when they called you names").

7. Help your youngster to understand that anger is a natural emotion that everyone has. Say something like, "It's normal to feel angry. Everyone feels angry from time to time, but it is not O.K. to hurt others."

8. Involve your youngster in making a small list of “house rules” (e.g., we work out differences peacefully, we use self-control, we listen to others, we are kind to each other, etc.). Write them down and post them on the refrigerator. Make the rules clear, and follow through with meaningful consequences that are appropriate for the age of your youngster when the rules are ignored.

9. Listen, reflect and validate (without judgment) the feelings your youngster expresses. After listening, help him identify the true feeling underlying the anger (e.g., hurt, frustration, sadness, disappointment, fear, etc.). Say something like, "That hurt when your friend was mean to you," or “It was scary to have those boys bully you.”

10. Many children on the autism spectrum act-out because they simply don’t know how to express their anger any other way. Kicking, screaming, swearing, hitting or throwing things may be the only way they know how to express their emotions. To help your youngster express her frustrations appropriately, create an “emotion words” poster together (e.g., "Let’s think of all the words we could use that tell others we’re really frustrated"). Then list her ideas (e.g., angry, mad, annoyed, furious, irritated, etc.). Write them on a chart, hang it up, and practice using them often. When your youngster is upset, use the words so she can apply them to real life (e.g., "Looks like you’re really frustrated. Want to talk about it?" …or "You seem really annoyed. Do you need to walk it off?"). Then keep adding new feeling words to the list whenever new ones come up in those "teachable moments" throughout the day.

11. Resist taking your youngster’s angry outbursts personally. Always deal with him in a calm, objective way.

12. Sometimes a child’s anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in his life. Not all anger is misplaced. Occasionally it's a healthy, natural response to the difficulties that the AS or HFA child faces. There is a common belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to parents’ frustration to find out that this isn't always the case with their “special needs” child. The best attitude to bring to such a circumstance, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle the problem as painlessly as possible.

13. Stop any aggressive behaviors. Say something like, "I can't let you hurt each other," or "I can't let you hurt me." Then remove your youngster as gently as possible.

14. Teach your AS or HFA youngster to take a time-out from the difficult situation and have some “alone-time” for a few minutes. During the time-out, your youngster can rethink the situation, calm down, and determine what to do next. The length of the time-out is determined by the intensity of the emotion. A youngster who is simply frustrated may just need to take a deep breath. The youngster who is infuriated probably needs to leave the room and settle down. After your youngster has calmed down, it’s time to decide on a more appropriate response to the situation. There are at least 3 positive choices: talk about it, get help, or slow down. Simplifying the choices makes the decision process easier. Even AS and HFA kids can learn to respond constructively to frustration when they know there are just a few choices.  These choices are skills to be learned. Take time to teach your youngster these skills, and practice them as responses to mad feelings.

15. Try a "time-in" rather than a "time-out." As the mother or father, you are your youngster's main guide in life. She relies on you to be there with her through her difficult emotional experiences, whatever that may be. Thus, no time-out and no isolation may be the best option on occasion. Instead, try a "time-in." Sit with your youngster and incorporate other methods mentioned in this article (e.g., work on breathing with her, ask her questions about her feelings, etc.). The important thing is to be fully present with your child to help her through her emotions. Remember, you are teaching her social skills to be in relationships with others, rather than acting out alone. When some boys and girls are isolated, they often ruminate and feel guilty for their behavior. This only serves to create low self-esteem, which often cycles back to creating behavioral problems.

16. Use feeling words to help your AS or HFA youngster understand the emotions of others (e.g., Robbie is sitting alone and looks very sad; he may be lonely," or "When Michael tripped, he looked embarrassed").

17. Use role-playing, puppets, or videos to teach social skills (e.g., how to treat each other, how to work out disagreements, etc.).

18. When your child becomes frustrated, use those incidents as "on-the-spot lessons" to help him learn to calm himself down (rather than always relying on you to calm him down). Let me rephrase this (because this is an important technique): Every time your child acts-out due to low-frustration tolerance, ALWAYS use that moment as a teaching moment. For example, explain to your youngster that we all have little signs that warn us when we’re getting frustrated. We should listen to these signs, because they can help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your youngster recognize what specific warning signs he may have that tells him he is starting to get angry (e.g., I talk louder, my cheeks get hot, I clench my fists, my heart starts pounding, my mouth gets dry, I breathe faster, etc.).

Once your youngster is aware of his unique warning signs, start pointing them out to him whenever he first starts to get upset (e.g., “It looks like you’re starting to get frustrated" …or "Your cheeks are getting red. Do you feel yourself starting to get upset?"). The more you help your AS or HFA child to recognize the signs when his anger is first triggered, the better he will be able to calm himself down. It’s also the time when anger-control techniques are most effective. Anger escalates very quickly, and waiting until your youngster is already in "melt-down" to try to get him back into control is usually too late.

19. Simple relaxation tools can help your child calm down. For example:
  • Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience from either your memory or your imagination.
  • Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase (“relax” or “take it easy”). Repeat it to yourself.
  • Breathe deeply from your diaphragm (breathing from your chest won't relax you, so picture your breath coming up from your belly).

20. Help your youngster understand that she can “choose” how to react when she feels angry. Teach her self-control and positive ways to cope with negative impulses. Here are some choices she can make:
  • Calm self by breathing deeply
  • Count slowly
  • Draw or play with clay
  • Exercise, walk or run
  • Find a quiet place or sit alone
  • Hug someone, a pet or a stuffed animal 
  • Look at books or read
  • Play music or sing
  • Problem solve
  • Rest or take a shower
  • Stop and think
  • Tell someone how you feel
  • Tense body and then relax 
  • Write about feelings

By following the techniques listed above, parents can help strengthen their relationship with their AS and HFA kids and give them the tools they need to cope effectively with frustration and anger.

How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Aspergers and HFA Children

Asperger's Children and Difficulties with Processing Information

Young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often have problems processing information from one or more of their seven sensory systems (i.e., sight, balance, touch, movement, smell, taste, and hearing). These processes take place at an unconscious level, and they work together to help with attention and learning. Each system has specific receptors that pick up information that is relayed to the brain. The sensory characteristics of kids with AS and HFA is often responsible for their processing difficulties, negative behaviors, and unpleasant emotions.

The sensory systems are also involved in what we call “emotional processing.” People use their emotions as a sensory system. Kids, too, use their emotions as sensory antennae. But kids with AS and HFA vary in their ability to process information emotionally, in part because at least one other sense often doesn't work well (e.g., it would be difficult for a youngster with an auditory-processing disorder to figure out whether a person's voice suggests friendliness or meanness). Also, many AS and HFA kids have a hard time using their emotions or desires to process information and act appropriately in interpersonal settings.

Processing is a system that helps a youngster select, prepare, and begin to interpret incoming information. AS and HFA kids who have difficulty with processing may have a range of problems related to regulating the use of incoming information. There are five processing skills, which include (1) satisfaction control, (2) focal maintenance, (3) depth and detail of processing, (4) cognitive activation and (5) saliency determination. Let’s look at each of these in turn:
  1. Satisfaction control involves a youngster's ability to allocate enough attention to activities or topics of moderate or low levels of interest. AS and HFA kids with poor satisfaction control have difficulty concentrating on activities that are not exciting enough.
  2. Focal maintenance allows a youngster to focus on important information for the appropriate period of time. AS and HFA kids may not concentrate long enough on some things, and may concentrate too long on others. 
  3. Depth and detail of processing controls how intensely kids can concentrate on highly specific data. It enables them to focus deeply enough to recognize and remember necessary details. AS and HFA children tend to remember a lot of details that relate to their area of special interest, but may not remember much outside of that interest.
  4. Cognitive activation is a form of “active processing” that connects new information to what has already been learned through prior knowledge and experience. Kids who are “inactive processors” are unable to connect to prior knowledge to assist their understanding of new information. In contrast, “overactive processors” are reminded of too much prior knowledge, making it difficult for them to maintain focus. 
  5. Saliency determination involves selecting which incoming information is the most important. Kids who have difficulty with this control may be distracted by things that are not relevant and miss important information being presented.

Here are some signs that a child has difficult processing information:
  • can't distinguish between what is important and what isn't
  • finishes processing what someone is saying before he/she has even finished expressing his/her idea
  • focuses for too brief a period
  • focuses for too long of a period
  • focuses too superficially or too deeply on information presented
  • has an idea and knowledge of what he wants to say in his mind, but when he attempts to share the idea, it doesn’t comes out right
  • has difficulty connecting new information with information already known
  • has problems shifting focus from one subject or activity to another
  • has trouble picking up the main ideas in conversations with others
  • may have to repeat himself several times before the other person understands what he is saying
  • misses a lot of things that are obvious to others
  • only pays attention to exciting information or highly stimulating activities
  • processes one word that someone says, but then thinks of something completely unrelated to what that person is saying
  • processes too little or too much information
  • tries to understand the meaning of each word someone is saying rather than being able to automatically understand the whole gist and general meaning of the sentence

Some AS and HFA children have a processing disorder. Processing disorders fall into four distinct categories: 
  1. visual (i.e., the youngster may see many different kinds of visual stimuli, but interpret it incorrectly),
  2. sensory (i.e., the youngster has problems processing sensory information),
  3. language (i.e., the child has problems expressing himself correctly or appropriately),
  4. and auditory (i.e., the youngster has difficulty distinguishing sounds, although he does not have a hearing problem).

Kids who have a processing disorder have difficulty mixing with peers, reaching developmental milestones, and developing social skills. Processing disorders range from mild to extremely pervasive. Let’s look at each of these in greater depth:

Processing Disorders

1. Visual Processing Disorder: A youngster with visual processing disorder may have problems with a wide array of issues related to how he processes visual information. This is not to be confused with difficulties with his vision though. Instead, the child’s brain does not correctly interpret what he is seeing. Dyslexia is an example of a visual processing disorder (e.g., the youngster may be looking at a "p" but his mind sees "q"). The child may also have problems sequencing items he sees, or have difficulties distinguishing between what is the foreground of a visual object and what is in the background.

Signs of Visual Input Dysfunction (no diagnosed visual deficit): Hypersensitivity—
  • avoids eye contact
  • easily distracted by other visual stimuli in the room (e.g., movement, decorations, toys, windows, doorways, etc.) 
  • enjoys playing in the dark
  • has difficulty in bright colorful rooms or a dimly lit room 
  • has difficulty keeping eyes focused on a task she is working on for an appropriate amount of time
  • rubs his eyes, has watery eyes, or gets headaches after reading or watching TV 
  • sensitive to bright lights
  • will squint, cover eyes, cry, or get headaches from the light

Signs of Visual Input Dysfunction (no diagnosed visual deficit): Hyposensitivity—
  • complains about "seeing double"
  • confuses left and right 
  • difficulty controlling eye movement to track and follow moving objects 
  • difficulty finding differences in pictures, words, symbols, or objects 
  • difficulty judging spatial relationships in the environment (e.g., bumps into people or trips on curbs and stairs) 
  • difficulty with consistent spacing and size of letters during writing or lining up numbers in math problems 
  • difficulty with jigsaw puzzles, copying shapes, or cutting along a line 
  • fatigues easily with schoolwork
  • has a hard time seeing the "big picture" (i.e., focuses on the details or patterns within the picture)
  • has difficulty locating items among other items (e.g., papers on a desk, clothes in a drawer, items on a grocery shelf, toys in a box, etc.) 
  • has difficulty telling the difference between different colors, shapes, and sizes 
  • has difficulty telling the difference between similar printed letters or figures (e.g., p and q, b and d, + and x, square and rectangle, etc.)
  • makes reversals in words or letters when copying
  • often loses his place while reading or doing math problems 
  • often loses place when copying from a book or the chalkboard 
  • reads words backwards (e.g., "was" for "saw" …"no" for "on")
  • tends to write at a slant on a page

2. Sensory Processing Disorder: This is a disorder in which the central nervous system does not process the information that is fed in by the senses. There is some indication that AS and HFA children may be a form of Sensory Processing Disorder. In addition, kids who are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli may have Sensory Processing Disorder (e.g., sensitive to fabrics against the skin, becomes quickly overly-stimulated by too many distractions such as multicolored bulletin boards in the classroom, complains about loud noises, craves quiet, etc.).

Signs of Sensory Processing Dysfunction: Hypersensitivity—
  •  appears fearful of standing in close proximity to other people 
  • avoids group situations for fear of an unexpected touch
  • avoids seasoned, spicy, sweet, sour or salty foods
  • avoids touching certain textures of material
  • avoids using hands for play
  • becomes aggressive with unexpected touch
  • bothered by household or cooking smells 
  • bothered by rough bed sheets 
  • complains about having hair brushed
  • complains about toothpaste and mouthwash 
  • decides whether she likes someone or some place by the way it smells
  • dislikes "messy play" (e.g., with sand, mud, water, glue, glitter, etc.)
  • dislikes kisses and will "wipe off" place where kissed
  • distressed about having face washed
  • distressed about having hair, toenails, or fingernails cut
  • distressed by clothes rubbing on skin
  • distressed by seams in socks and may refuse to wear them
  • does not like to be held or cuddled
  • excessively ticklish
  • extreme food preferences (e.g., limited repertoire of foods, picky about brands, resistive to trying new foods or restaurants, won't eat at other people's houses, etc.) 
  • has difficulty with sucking, chewing, and swallowing
  • irritated by smell of perfume or cologne 
  • is extremely fearful of the dentist
  • may choke or have a fear of choking 
  • may gag with textured foods 
  • may only eat "soft" or pureed foods 
  • may only eat hot or cold foods 
  • may overreact to minor cuts, scrapes, or bug bites
  • may refuse to play at someone's house because of the way it smells 
  • may refuse to walk barefoot on grass or sand
  • may walk on toes only
  • may want to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants year round to avoid having skin exposed
  • may want to wear shorts and short sleeves year round
  • mixed textures of food tend to be avoided 
  • nauseated by bathroom odors or personal hygiene smells 
  • prefers bland foods 
  • rain, water from the shower, or wind blowing on the skin may feel like torture and produce avoidance reactions
  • refuses to lick envelopes, stamps, or stickers because of their taste 
  • resists affectionate touch from anyone besides parents 
  • tells other people how bad or funny they smell 
  • will be distressed by dirty hands and want to wipe or wash them frequently

Signs of Sensory Processing Dysfunction: Hyposensitivity—
  • acts as if all foods taste the same
  • can never get enough condiments or seasonings on food 
  • constantly putting objects in mouth
  •  craves vibrating or strong sensory input
  • does not notice odors that others usually complain about 
  • enjoys trips to the dentist 
  • excessive drooling 
  • frequently chews on hair, shirt, or fingers 
  • frequently hurts other children or pets while playing (unintentionally)
  • ignores unpleasant odors 
  • is not aware of being touched or bumped unless done with extreme force or intensity
  • is not bothered by injuries (e.g., cuts, bruises, etc.) 
  • loves vibrating toothbrushes
  • makes excessive use of smelling when introduced to objects, people, or places 
  • may be self-abusive (e.g., pinching, biting, head banging, etc.)
  • may drink or eat things that are poisonous because he does not notice the noxious smell 
  • may lick, taste, or chew on inedible objects
  • may not be aware that hands or face are dirty or feel her nose running
  • needs to touch everything and everyone
  • seeks out “messy play”
  • seeks out surfaces and textures that provide strong tactile feedback
  • shows no distress with shots from a nurse or doctor
  • unable to identify smells from scratch 'n sniff stickers

3. Language Processing Disorder: This disorder is also known as central auditory processing disorder. Oftentimes, parents and teachers may notice symptoms similar to auditory processing disorder. However, central auditory processing disorder can be distinguished by the way a youngster verbalizes language processing (e.g., may stutter, repeat sounds, break words, pause within words, substitute words, etc.).

Signs of Auditory-Language Processing Dysfunction—
  • bothered by loud, sudden, metallic, or high-pitched sounds
  • difficulty articulating and speaking clearly 
  • difficulty attending to, understanding, and remembering what is said or read
  • difficulty discriminating between sounds or words (e.g., "dare" and "dear")
  • difficulty filtering out other sounds while trying to pay attention to one person talking 
  • difficulty identifying people's voices 
  • difficulty putting ideas into words 
  • difficulty reading, especially out loud
  • if not understood, has difficulty re-phrasing
  • if not understood, may get frustrated, angry, and give up 
  • looks at others for reassurance before answering 
  • may be dyslexic
  • may only be able to understand or follow two sequential directions at a time 
  • often asks for directions to be repeated
  • often talks out of turn or "off topic" 
  • unable to locate the source of a sound

4. Auditory Processing Disorder:
Auditory processing disorder occurs when a youngster hears the sounds of words, but is not able to distinguish specific nuances in the way a sound or word is pronounced. This can cause great difficulty for the youngster when she is learning to speak or in academic settings. Auditory processing disorders are usually present in conjunction with AS and HFA.

Signs of Auditory Dysfunction (no diagnosed hearing problem): Hypersensitivity—
  • bothered by background environmental sounds (e.g., lawn mowing, outside construction, etc.)
  • distracted by sounds not normally noticed by others (e.g., humming of lights or refrigerators, fans, heaters, clocks ticking, etc.) 
  • fearful of the sound of a flushing toilet, hand-dry blower, vacuum, hairdryer, squeaky brakes, dog barking, etc.) 
  • frequently asks people to be quiet (e.g., stop making noise, talking, singing, etc.)
  • may decide whether she likes certain people by the sound of their voice
  • may refuse to go to noisy environments (e.g., movie theaters, parades, skating rinks, musical concerts, etc.) 
  • runs away, cries, or covers ears with loud or unexpected sounds 
  • started by loud or unexpected sounds

Signs of Auditory Dysfunction (no diagnosed hearing problem): Hyposensitivity—
  • appears confused about where a sound is coming from
  • appears oblivious to certain sounds 
  • appears to "make noise for noise's sake" 
  • loves excessively loud music or TV 
  • needs directions repeated often, or will say, "What?" frequently 
  • often does not respond to name being called 
  • often does not respond to verbal cues 
  • seems to have difficulty understanding or remembering what was said 
  • talks self through a task (often out loud)

In summary, processing disorders directly affect the AS or HFA brain’s ability to process information that comes from any of the senses properly. Processing disorders are grouped into one of four categories based on which area of processing has problems (i.e., visual, sensory, language, and auditory). Each of these areas can lead to different processing deficiencies.

Treatment for processing disorders depends on the area affected. Although some types of processing difficulties can’t be completely cured, there are treatments to help reduce problems (e.g., audiologists can help with hearing difficulties, speech therapists can work with language problems). Specialists are able to increase function and help improve the child’s quality of life.

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

"Isolation-Preference" in Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Is it typical for a child with High Functioning Autism to not have any friends? My son prefers to play by himself. Is this normal? Any suggestions on how to help him make some friends?”

Kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) do indeed experience difficulty developing relationships, responding appropriately, and interacting with others with ease. Certain qualities of human interaction are very difficult for these children.

Typically, people communicate with each other through verbal (e.g., speech) as well as nonverbal (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, gestures, body posture, etc.) communication. While verbal ability is often a strength for children with HFA and AS, nonverbal communication is usually an area of difficulty. They tend to overlook - or don’t recognize - the meaning behind another person’s gestures or facial expressions. This means that they frequently miss the cues they are given that the other person wants to leave, is getting bored, or wants to say something herself. Professionals refer to this phenomenon as impaired social interaction.

Impaired social interaction means that the HFA or AS child has difficulty making and keeping friends. As can be imagined, interacting with someone who does not understand or use nonverbal communication can be awkward. As a result, some people avoid the HFA or AS child, and relationships do not develop.

When friendships do occur, they are usually built on a shared area of interest. That interest is typically the focus of the intense interest and preoccupation of the child on the autism spectrum. Maintaining such friendships can be difficult because the child can be rigid and inflexible regarding the area of interest. In other words, his conversation rarely addresses other topics, and he tends to be the center of any conversation about the topic (leaving the other person to listen rather than contribute to a discussion). Because the HFA or AS child is so focused on this interest, he often knows a great deal of detailed information about it. This can often be intimidating to other kids who do not feel as much like an “expert.”

Impaired social interaction also encompasses the disturbing social situations that many kids on the spectrum encounter. The term “playground predator” has often been used to describe kids who intentionally and vindictively single out a “special needs” youngster for teasing and taunting. Bullies often pick on kids who are “easy targets” and vulnerable. With their difficulties understanding nonverbal cues and having limited social support, young people with HFA and AS are often the targets of bullies. This results in even more “isolation-preference” (i.e., preferring to play alone).

Click here for information on how to help your HFA or AS child to make and keep friends…


•    Anonymous said… yes it is I myself have aspergers and my mother told me even in preschool id be by myself while other children were playing. try finding something that he really loves because people with aspergers form obsesions with things ie electronics, cars, music. For me it was swords and i found a friend who also liked them. try finding an interest he has and see if there are any that share that. i hope this helps.
•    Anonymous said… Social skills classes starting as early as possible and ABA. My child is thriving socially and had a lot of therapy starting at age 3. She's 5 now.
•    Anonymous said… A lot of kids with HFASD desire friends but struggle to make and then keep them. I have a son who is now almost 18 and has made 1 friend who is very similar to him - other people wouldn't recognise their relationship as a friendship as even when they are in the same room they don't talk to each other and they don't organise get togethers etc! However, throughout his whole life my boy has been very comfortable with his own company and so the only person the lack of friends thing bothered was me. Let it be - he will make a friend or two at some stage and his company will probably be much enjoyed by older people including workmates when he gets to that stage as they get on better with older and younger people rather than their peer group.

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Fostering the Development of Self-Reliance in Children on the Autism Spectrum

Parents of a child with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often have trouble knowing how much to help out their “suffering” youngster at certain times in his or her life. However, if they have “stepped-in” time and time again to over-protect and over-assist their youngster, it often results is serious problems for that child later in life. Moms and dads are not doing their youngster any favors by over-assisting – in fact, quite the opposite.

Overprotective parents mean well. After all, it's their job to protect their youngster from harm. But unfortunately, some parents of AS and HFA children go too far. They started out by being their child’s advocate – and this is all well and good – but then they progressed way beyond advocacy to an overprotective parenting style. They figured the more hands-on and involved they are in their “special needs” child’s life, the better – but this is definitely not true.

Some early signs of overprotective parenting include the following: 
  • Being quick to punish transgressions
  • Expectations that the youngster understand adult rules of deference and demeanor
  • Having strict rules of neatness, which do not allow the youngster to get dirt on his clothes or on himself
  • Having unnecessarily strict rules (e.g., remaining in the same room with the mother or father at all times, even at age 5 or 6)
  • Highly structured rules that try to cover every phase of the youngster’s life
  • Immediately running to examine the youngster when she has a simple fall that produces no distress; if a whimper is the worst result, the mother or father may have candy or a toy ready for comfort
  • Over-dependence on a system of rewards and punishments
  • Over-emphasis of academic success
  • Protection from all harm whether physical or emotional

What are some of the negative outcomes related to an overprotective parenting style? Here are just a few:

1. A grown-up gains confidence by working hard and mastering whatever it is he or she seeks to accomplish – and a child gains confidence the same way. But if an overprotective parent (who hates to see her AS or HFA youngster struggle) does tasks FOR him, the child is not given the opportunity to develop his own skills. Thus, he risks going through life with little or no confidence. An overprotective parent inadvertently sends the message that her youngster is not capable of doing an adequate job, or that she doesn't trust her youngster to make the right decisions.

2. One of the most important jobs a parent has is to prepare her youngster to be an independent and productive adult. But an overprotective parent can't let go – even after her older teen or young adult has left home to attend college. Some moms and dads negotiate work contracts on behalf of their “special needs” adult child. And the most extreme parents even attend job interviews with their adult child, which rarely impresses any potential employer.

3. An overprotective parenting style can cause the lack of the development of self-esteem in the AS or HFA youngster. This is because he is not allowed to face challenges without parental intervention. Part of the development of self-esteem in kids comes from surmounting challenges on their own, which can be denied to them by an overprotective mother or father.

4. When a parent does too much “safeguarding” in an effort to make her youngster’s life stress-free, it usually has the opposite effect. The overly-protected youngster eventually becomes depressed and suffers anxiety that he attributes to the obsessed parent. Instead of creating a happy and stress-free environment, the overprotective parent often accomplishes the opposite.

5. An overly protected child may feel that if his parents don’t trust him with the freedom to make mistakes and tackle problems on his own, then he may not have the ability to succeed in life without continued guidance.

So, what can parents do if they have been overly protective down through the years?

They should begin to foster the development of self-reliance in their child, rather than parental-reliance. For kids with AS and HFA, acquiring skills related to self-reliance is especially important. This is because their ability to express themselves clearly or interact with others may look different than what other kids typically do. Some grown-ups may mistakenly provide more support for a youngster on the autism spectrum than she actually needs. When a youngster is consistently prevented from taking even small risks, she will learn to feel helpless and dependent, rather than self-reliant.

Self-reliance is not about letting the child make every single decision that affects his life (e.g., what time to go to bed, deciding not to wear a coat in the winter time, etc.). Kids need very clear expectations, protection from harm, and loving guidance. Self-reliance is about providing opportunities so that AS and HFA kids develop the skills necessary to become independent, as well as to interact freely and joyfully within their environment.

When kids on the autism spectrum grow up, parents want them to have the necessary survival skills (e.g., speaking up and voicing opinions). Self-advocacy (i.e., the ability to speak on one’s own behalf) is an important and powerful outcome for kids with AS and HFA. By learning skills that promote self-reliance as a youngster, parents begin paving the way for her to effectively use her voice or other means to speak up on her own behalf.

Just like a child needs to practice the violin to become proficient, AS and HFA kids need on-going practice to gain skills related to self-reliance. When these young people have numerous opportunities to practice making basic choices or solving simple problems, they build confidence and trust in their own abilities. They also build the competence and ability to master new skills that can last a lifetime.

Below are a few important suggestions for promoting early self-reliance in your child. You can choose the ones that work for you, or adapt some of the suggestions so they match the preferences of your youngster and the rest of the family:

1. Create opportunities for your AS or HFA youngster to see his work, drawings or other art displayed (e.g., proudly show “found treasures,” artwork or other creations on a bulletin board or the refrigerator).

2. Develop routines WITH your youngster. Morning and bedtime are obvious times to come up with predictable routines. Have your child involved in the planning. For example, sit her down and ask, "What can we do to make our mornings go more smoothly?" Chances are your youngster will come up with the same ideas you might have – and since she came up with the idea (rather than you), she will be more likely to follow it. She may even pose some ideas you wouldn't have considered (e.g., having a granola bar for breakfast instead of pancakes). Beyond the morning and night, look for other times that you can come up with a flexible schedule. For example, when your youngster gets home from school, he can be in charge of getting his own snack instead of relying on you.

3. Provide a lot of regular acknowledgement and praise. When your youngster is trying something new, you can nearly guarantee his success by praising his efforts. Kids on the autism spectrum can get easily frustrated, but by cheering on their efforts, they learn that obstacles can be overcome. They need to learn patience as they learn to do something new, and moms and dads need to be patient as they encourage their kids. For example, it may take longer for your child to tie his shoes, so give him plenty of time and don't rush him. In the end, your child will not only learn to do more on his own, but he will become more self-reliant – and grateful that his mom and dad have confidence in his abilities.

4. Help your youngster to become a goal-setter. Autonomy often goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence. When your youngster feels like she has the ability to accomplish something small (e.g., making her own bed), she will then feel more able to do more difficult tasks (e.g., washing dishes, figuring out fractions, etc.). Help along her “sense of self” by teaching her to set goals. These goals don't have to be large tasks, or even for lengthy time periods. And the reward for her efforts should be her own sense of accomplishment. Chores are a good place to start with goal-setting. So, identify with your youngster specific tasks that she can do around the house and in her bedroom. Work with her to develop a chart to mark off each day or week that she gets her tasks done.

5. Of course, supervision is important to ensure that your youngster is safe. But to help her really learn a new skill, it's also important not to hover. Finding that balance can be tricky. That's why taking simple steps toward acquiring a new skill is crucial. Potentially dangerous or messy tasks (e.g., cutting, vacuuming, working with blenders, etc.) require supervision. But make sure that with other tasks (e.g., making beds, fixing simple meals, etc.), you step back and let your child show off her skills.

6. Let your youngster go alone. Are you the first to volunteer to chaperone the school fieldtrip? After all, what if your son forgets his sack lunch …or your daughter leaves her umbrella on the bus? Moms and dads should definitely sign up for one fieldtrip or a couple of classroom volunteer assignments each school year – but should not go to every activity. These activities serve as opportunities for kids to exert their independence while still being under adult supervision. After the activity, ask your youngster about the event. You may notice that he enjoyed going on the fieldtrip, not just because of the horses at the farm, but also because he felt responsible enough to take care of himself outside of school without his mom or dad around.

7. Let your AS or HFA child make mistakes, but be there to boost her spirits so she will keep trying. For example, if your youngster wants to learn how to make a home-made pizza, show her how. Then set up the ingredients and let her give it a try. True, you're likely in for a bit of a mess, but your youngster can help clean up (however imperfectly) after she is done crafting her pizza. Instead of pointing out that she added entirely too much mozzarella cheese, make an attempt to avoid any criticism that could discourage her from trying again. If parents step-in to assist, their youngster may get discouraged and never try it again.

8. Offer choices and solicit your youngster’s preferences for objects and activities (e.g., ask him which book of two books he wants, and ask if he wants to sit up or lie down to hear the story).

9. Provide your youngster ways to be independent in dressing and personal care.

10. Teach “life skills” to your child. Start simple with teaching day-to-day tasks. For example, have your youngster help you sort out clothes for the laundry. After the clothes are dried, give her a basket with her clothes folded inside. Once she is comfortable and confident putting away her own clothes, let her handle the folding, too. Introducing your youngster gradually to new skills will help her to feel confident to handle more demanding tasks.

These are just a few ideas to help you start thinking about ways to promote self-reliance at home. The key is to create opportunities where your youngster can feel happy, safe, and free within the world around him or her.

CLICK HERE for a 4-week online program designed to help parents promote self-reliance in their children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism.

Diversion Tactics for Parents of Aspergers Kids

While diversion tactics come in handy with any youngster, it's particularly imperative for kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are often significantly less able to amuse themselves, negotiate transitions, or avoid meltdowns. 

How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Aspergers Children

The Female Version of High-Functioning Autism

"Do girls experience high functioning autism (or aspergers) differently compared to boys?"

Yes, however far fewer females are diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) than males. Earlier, the ratio was believed to be one girl to every ten boys was diagnosed with HFA. Currently however that ratio is believed to be more in the range of one girl to every four boys. As professionals become more familiar with the diagnostic criteria, more females appear to be receiving the HFA diagnosis.

Generally, it is believed that females experience a much milder form of the difficulties associated with HFA. American society emphasizes and pushes females to develop strong social skills at an early age. This may benefit females with HFA by helping them learn compensatory skills or address any deficits earlier in life. Alternatively, it has been suggested that females use different coping strategies when dealing with social situations. Females tend to hide in social situations, and remain on the periphery. This allows them to observe the behaviors of others, and once comfortable with the process, to mimic those behaviors (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice).

Doll play allows younger females to re-experience social situations, replay them, alter them, and learn from them. Females also often have invisible friends (a safe tool to use when practicing social skills). Among females, HFA may express itself more through immaturity. Topics of special interest also may not be as intense as the interests exhibited by males. Areas of special interest for girls seem to be different from those of boys. Their preoccupations center more on animals and classical literature. The long-term prognosis for females with HFA also seems better than for males, largely because of their ability to hide their difficulties from others over time. 

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

What's the Difference Between Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism?

“I'm seriously confused! I have an 8yr old that was recently diagnosed with HFA and has been diagnosed with ADHD since he was 5 1/2yrs old. I've been trying to understand all the diagnoses and changes I've seen in my youngest child, but it's so confusing. Is Asperger Syndrome the same as High Functioning Autism? How are these two different from Autism? Please give me some insight as I'm losing my mind and already suffer from Depression. Thank you, Very concerned mommy.”

Asperger’s (AS), along with other autism disorders, falls along a “spectrum.” This spectrum has been called the autism spectrum. Whatever it is called, Autistic Disorder (or autism) would fall at one end of the spectrum, while “average” or “neurotypical” functioning would be found at the other end. AS has been conceptualized as a mild, less problematic form of autism that falls between average functioning and autism on this continuum.

This means that kids with autism experience many of the same symptoms as those with AS. However, the symptoms of autistic kids are usually more severe, and their functioning is much more impaired (e.g., while a youngster with AS may have difficulty using language socially, a youngster with autism may be mute). Both AS and Autistic Disorders may involve:
  • difficulties interacting with others
  • difficulty using language socially
  • lack of understanding or interest in others' feelings
  • narrow interests or abilities
  • odd motor behaviors
  • poor nonverbal communication skills
  • social rejection
  • rigidity (as opposed to flexibility) in play

Autism is the more severe form of problems with social interaction, restricted behaviors and areas of interest, and impaired language skills (e.g., while a youngster with AS may have difficulty interacting with others socially and forming friendships, a youngster with autism may often avoid direct eye contact with everybody, dislike physical touch including the experience of hugs or loving touches, and may not develop verbal skills).

According to the present diagnostic criteria, children with autism usually experience significant delay in the acquisition of language skills (e.g., the youngster did not use single words before the age of 2; communicative phrases were not used until after age 3). Cognitive skills are also often impaired. On the other hand, children with AS probably did not experience delay or impairment in cognitive or language skills. Also, while children with autism show little interest in peer interaction, children with AS often seek such companionship.

Re: The difference between AS and HFA—

Many children identified as having High-Functioning Autism (HFA) had more pronounced symptoms of autism when they were younger. As they aged, the development of basic social skills, age appropriate cognitive skills, and verbal ability occurred. HFA is a term that was most often used here in the United States and often applies to kids who qualified for a diagnosis of autism when they were younger. Controversy still exists within the literature about the differences between these diagnoses. Some professionals use the terms interchangeably. At this point, the symptoms associated the two labels (AS and HFA) are considered to be mostly identical.

Re: The dual-diagnosis of ADHD and AS—

To complicate matters even more, there is also a significant overlap between the symptoms of ADHD and AS. More on that topic can be found here: The Aspergers-ADHD Overlap

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

Asperger's Kids and Their 'Pedantic' Style of Speaking

“I read a lot online that children with Asperger syndrome have a ‘pedantic’ style of speaking. Can you help me to understand what that means?”

While kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) may have begun talking at an appropriate age, they often used a rather long-winded (and sometimes rather concrete or literal) style of speaking. Pedantic describes speech that is overly focused on the details of its topic. It is speech that appears to list details about a topic one after the other. In a child on the autism spectrum, this type of speech does not appear to be impacted by the environment (e.g., by the nonverbal cues of others), and therefore seems less conversational and more like a monologue.

In addition, kids on the spectrum often understand and use words concretely and literally. For example, a teacher discussed possible consequences for misbehavior with her Asperger’s student. This child heard that if he did not complete his classwork when asked, he would receive detention. He became very upset over this perceived injustice. He didn’t understand that the teacher had meant that when she saw a “pattern” of incomplete work, she would provide the consequence of a detention.

With such a concrete way of understanding others, children with AS or HFA can easily misinterpret the intent of others and respond in an unexpected and possibly inappropriate way. Thus, when speaking to these young people, it’s important for parents and teachers to be very specific (e.g., instead of saying, “You need to get ready for lunch” …be more detailed by saying, “Hand in your assignment, put your pencil and notebook away, and get in line with the other students”).

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

Dealing with the "Back-to-School" Blues: Tips for Parents of Asperger's Kids

Being out of school for a couple of weeks during the Christmas break is plenty of time to get children completely off schedule. With shopping, family get-togethers, and the late night on New Year’s Eve, most children have likely forgotten what it means to get up on time and get ready in a timely fashion.

Children of all ages often struggle to get back into the swing of things after being off for several weeks for Christmas break. They may not be ready to resume the frantic pace, start back up with classes, or dive into social activities. Even getting back on normal eating, sleeping and homework schedules can be very difficult. This is especially true for young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). At “back to school time,” these kids may feel concerned about their work-load and keeping up with homework, become physically sick with stress (e.g., headaches or migraines), feel pressured by what their teachers and peers expect of them, and feel sad or upset that the holidays are now over.

The good news is that getting your AS or HFA child back on track isn’t as stressful as doing the same after the much longer summer break. Below are some ideas that can help smooth the transition from school to home - and back to school - over Christmas break. Sufficient planning, reliable rituals, participation in school events, and a positive outlook can make the transition less difficult.

1. Help your AS or HFA child to avoid feeling frustrated or depressed about returning to school by making a short list of things he likes about school. Focusing on positive aspects of school will improve his mood and attitude. Your child can make note of classes, teachers, and extracurricular activities he likes, or meaningful friendships and experiences he values. Start working on the list a day or two before Christmas break ends, so the good memories are fresh in his mind when he returns to school.

2. Help your child ease back into school by reestablishing daily schedules and following them as closely as possible. Rituals promote a sense of security and stability. Consistent morning routines, regular meal times, homework study hours, designated recreation times, and bedtime schedules can help your child get back on track. Place a calendar on the refrigerator or in a central location so you can keep track of weekly activities (e.g., sports practices, music lessons, doctor's appointments, etc.).

3. Help your child to find ways to get involved outside of the classroom, explore her interests, and meet new people. She could join an academic club, attend a school-sponsored dance, go to a sporting event, try out for a school play, or join student council. Active involvement will help your child build strong connections with classmates, teachers and coaches. It's easier to get back into the routine after the holidays if your child has engaging and exciting activities to look forward to.

4. Adjust your child’s sleep schedule. Get started a couple days before he is scheduled to go back to school. You don't want your child to be falling asleep during class on the first day back. Start waking your child up at his normal school-time several days before he goes back – even if he stayed up late the night before. He will likely have no trouble going to bed on time on days when he woke up early.

5. Help your child to pack up his book bag the night before, and lunch if needed. Make sure she has packed everything. She wouldn't want to walk into math class on the first day, only to find that she has forgotten her calculator.

6. As part of New Year’s resolutions, encourage your youngster to set some school-related goals (e.g., raising a math grade by five points, making one new friend, etc.). As a parent, set your own goals as well (e.g., getting up a few minutes earlier each morning to have lunches packed before waking your child, giving yourself 30 minutes to meditate or exercise, etc.).

7. If your youngster is crying or throwing a temper tantrum because she has to go back to school, prolonging the return only makes the problem worse. No one likes to go to school, just like no one likes to go to work. Explain this to your youngster. There are just some things you have to do, or you get into trouble for not doing them. Ask your youngster if she wants you to get in trouble for her not going to school. Also, explain truancy (if you think that will work).

8. Earmark one of your youngster’s Christmas presents as a special one for the first day back to school (e.g., new shirt, new shoes, new backpack, locker decoration, etc.). Your youngster will be eager to get back to school to show the new item to his friends.

9. Keep school at the forefront of your youngster’s mind by talking about it each day of the holiday break. Ask her which friends she is looking forward to seeing when she goes back, which classes are her favorites, and so on. Read books off your child’s reading list, then ask her questions about the books. If your child brings her lunch to school, make a calendar with different food options for the first week when she goes back.

10. Help your child to avoid letting the post-holiday blues keep him from meeting his goals. A lack of motivation in the first couple weeks after returning to school can lead to a backlog of undone homework and an ugly list of incomplete assignments. Teach your child to start projects early, finish homework ahead of schedule, and prepare for tests and quizzes several days before testing dates. Reward him with treats (e.g., a special outing), and remind him of all the free time he has accrued since he didn’t procrastinate.

The end of the Christmas break is a time of mixed emotions (e.g., sad to be losing the freedom of sleeping in, playing all day and staying up late at sleepovers, family get-togethers, and the excitement that always prevails this time of year). Getting back to school after the break doesn’t have to be stressful though. Remember to stick as close as you can to the normal wake-up and bedtime routines during the break, but don’t worry about the times when the holidays keep family members out late – just get back on schedule the next day. Routinely engage your child in positive conversations about the return to school while he or she is still enjoying the break.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2014

Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2014

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

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

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

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

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

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

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.

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Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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

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to read the full article...

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

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

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