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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Disciplinary Techniques for Kids on the Spectrum: Special Considerations for Parents

“I have an 8 year old son with high functioning autism whose behavior is getting worse and discipline is getting harder. He is refusing to do school work (he is in a special class geared for children like him) so they send it home along with homework resulting in 4 hours of work a night and many, many tantrums. Their corrective approach is to have him write 20 sentences on ‘I will not yell in class’ or an essay on how he can control his anger. I'm not certain this is the best way to correct misbehaving. My husband and I take away his after school TV time or any "fun" time we had planned. We also have a reward chart for him every week with a fun family activity that we do on the weekends if he gets a certain amount of stars for doing what was asked. Nothing seems to be working, his behavior is worse than ever. Any suggestions or tips would be greatly appreciated!”

Disciplining kids displaying behavior associated with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s (AS) will often require an approach that is somewhat different as compared to “typical” kids. Finding the balance between (a) understanding the needs of a youngster on the autism spectrum and (b) discipline that is age appropriate and situationally necessary is achievable when a few effective strategies are applied. These strategies can be implemented both at home and school.

Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with HFA and AS, primarily because these children are often unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Consequently, punitive measures may worsen the type of behavior that they are intended to reduce, while at the same time, creating anxiety in both the youngster and parent.

Behavioral Diary—

Parents and teachers should consider maintaining a diary of the youngster's behavior with the goal of discovering patterns or triggers. Recurring behavior may be indicative of the youngster taking some satisfaction in receiving a desired response from parents, teachers, and even classmates. For instance, the HFA or AS youngster may come to understand that hurting one of his peers will result in his being removed from class. In this case, punishing the youngster for the behavior, or attempting to explain the situation from the perspective of the injured peer, may not provide a solution. Instead, it would be best to address the root cause behind the motivation for the misbehavior. A good question to find the answer to may be, “How can my student be made more comfortable in class so that he will not want to leave it?”

Positive versus Negative Discipline—

One of the ways to address problematic behaviors in autistic kids is to focus on the positive. Praise for good behavior, along with positive reinforcement (e.g., a Reward Book), often helps. Given the autistic youngster’s tendency toward low-frustration tolerance, a verbal cue delivered in a calm manner will elicit a more favorable response than a harsher one. Also, when giving instruction to stop a particular form of misbehavior, it should be expressed as a positive rather than a negative (e.g., rather than telling the youngster to stop hitting his sister with the ruler, the youngster should be directed to put the ruler down – in this way, he is being instructed to DO something positive rather than STOP something negative).

Obsessive or Fixated Behavior—

Almost all kids go through periods of development where they become engrossed in one subject matter or another. But, kids with HFA and AS often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behavior. For instance, if the youngster becomes fixated on reading a particular story each night, she may become distraught if this routine is disrupted, or if the story is interrupted.

As mentioned earlier, the use of a behavioral diary can help in identifying fixations. Once a fixation is identified, it is important to set appropriate boundaries. Providing a structure within which the child can explore the obsession can help keep the obsession within reasonable limits, without the associated anxiety that may otherwise arise through such restrictions (e.g., telling the youngster she can watch her favorite cartoon for 30 minutes after dinner, and making time for that in her daily routine).

It’s acceptable to use the obsession to motivate and reward the youngster for good behavior. However, make sure that any reward associated with positive behavior is granted immediately in order to help her recognize the connection between the two.

A particularly helpful technique to develop social reciprocity is to have the youngster talk for 5 minutes about her favorite subject – but after she has listened to the parent talk about an unrelated topic. This helps the youngster to understand that not everyone shares her enthusiasm for her “special interest.”

Sibling Issues—

For brothers and sisters who are not on the spectrum, the preferential treatment received by an HFA or AS sibling can give rise to feelings of confusion, frustration, and resentment. Oftentimes, siblings will fail to understand why the “special needs” child apparently seems free to behave as he pleases without much in the way of punishment.


Parents set the tone for sibling interactions and attitudes by example and by direct communications. In any family, kids should be treated fairly and valued as individuals, praised as well as disciplined, and each youngster should have special times with parents. Thus, moms and dads should periodically assess the home situation. Although important goals for a youngster with “special needs” are to develop feelings of self-worth and self-trust, to become as independent as possible, to develop trust in others, and to develop to the fullest of his or her abilities, these goals are also important to the “neurotypical” (i.e., non-autistic) siblings.

To every extent possible, parents should require their HFA or AS child to do as much as possible for himself. Moms and dads should provide every opportunity for a normal family life by doing things together (e.g., cleaning the house or yard, going on family outings, etc.). Also, the youngster with the disorder should be allowed to participate as much as possible in family chores, and should have specific chores assigned (as do the other kids).

Sleep Difficulties—

HFA and AS kids are well-known for experiencing sleep problems. They may be more likely to become anxious about sleeping, or may find they become anxious when waking during the night or early in the morning.

Parents can reduce the youngster's anxiety by making her bedroom a place of safety and comfort (e.g., remove or store items that may be prone to injure the youngster if she decides to wander at night). Also, include in a behavioral diary a record of the youngster's sleep patterns. Keep a list of the child’s routine (e.g., dinner, bath, story, bed, etc.) in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of her waking in the morning to help her understand exactly what will happen. In addition, social stories have proven to be a particularly successful method in decreasing a youngster's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of her day is likely to unfold.

At School—

Another autistic trait is that the affected youngster will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day that lack structure. Difficulties with social interaction and self-management during “free time” can result in anxiety. The use of a “buddy system” and the creation of a timetable for recess and lunch times can help provide some structure.

Teachers should explain the concept of free time to the HFA or AS youngster, or consider providing a separate purpose or goal for the youngster during such time (e.g., reading a book, helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks, etc.).

In Public—

Kids with HFA and AS can become overwhelmed to the point of meltdown by even a short exposure to certain public places (e.g., a noisy crowded store). Some parents simply avoid taking their youngster out to such places.

Consider providing the youngster with an iPod, or have the radio on in the car to block out stress-inducing sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list describing the details of a trip (e.g., to the store or doctor). Be sure to include on the list your return home. Also, consider giving the youngster a task to complete during the trip, or having him assist you in some chore (e.g., carrying groceries).

Overprotective Parenting—

Some moms and dads of “special needs” children can become overprotective. They may make frequent excuses for their youngster’s behavior, or they may not discipline where most others agree it to be warranted. When this occurs – regardless of the youngster’s disorder – the balance of authority shifts. The youngster gains more and more control while being protected in a sheltered environment with little or no discipline.

Parents who are overprotective, who do very little in the way of discipline, and who micromanage every aspect of their child’s life are teaching some very artificial life lessons that will significantly hinder their youngster in the real world. Knowing when, how, and how much to discipline the HFA or AS youngster can be very challenging. Parents may be filled with worry for their youngster and her future. But, they still need to find balance in their role as a parent and disciplinarian. There is a fine line between being an effective parent and being perceived as coddling of the “special needs” youngster.

The youngster’s diagnosis is a label that describes just a small fraction of who that person is. He is many other things. His diagnosis does not exclusively define him. In valuing the youngster’s gifts and talents – along with understanding his diagnosis – parents must be cautious about going to extremes. Of course, they have every reason to be a strong advocate on behalf of their youngster and in protection of his rights. But, this does not exempt the child from being disciplined.

Even children with a “disorder” should be permitted to make long- and short-term mistakes (with support and guidance, however). This is a real challenge for parents who are naturally protective of their youngster. But, it is the only way she will be able to learn and prepare for greater independence in the future. Where possible, parents should look for small opportunities to deliberately allow their youngster to make mistakes for which they can set aside discipline-teaching time. It will be a learning process for both the child and parent. Disciplining the youngster should be a teaching and learning opportunity about making choices and decisions. But, when she makes mistakes, assure her that she is still loved and valued.

Praise and Rewards—

One of the best methods for correcting “bad” behavior is to focus on the child’s acceptable behavior and provide rewards so that he is encouraged to repeat the “good” behavior. To do that, parents must first establish some ground rules. The ground rules must state specifically what is considered acceptable behavior – and what is not. Parents should catch and reward their child when he is well-behaved and following the rules. A reward doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical or expensive reward. It can be genuine praise or a word of encouragement. Most importantly, the reward must be clear and specific. The youngster should be able to know exactly the behavior that earned the reward for (e.g., rather than saying "good job," say "thank you for cleaning up your room").

Inability to Generalize—

Most HFA and AS kids are not able to generalize information. They are usually not able to apply what they learn in one learning context to another. For instance, the child may learn that hitting his friend at school is not acceptable, but he may not necessarily understand that he can’t hit his sister at home. Once the situation changes, it will be a totally a new learning experience for the child. Thus, parents must be consistent and provide many repetitions in disciplining him. A consistent environment and many repetitions will help the youngster to learn and remember the differences between right and wrong.

The Difference Between Discipline and Punishment—

Discipline is: 
  • "Time-outs" that are open-ended and governed by the child's readiness to gain self-control
  • Acknowledging or rewarding efforts and good behavior
  • Consistent, firm guidance
  • Directed at the child's behavior, never the child’s personality
  • Giving children positive alternatives
  • Listening and modeling
  • Logical consequences that are directly related to the misbehavior
  • Physically and verbally non-violent
  • Positive, respectful
  • Re-directing and selectively "ignoring" minor misbehavior
  • Reflection and verbal give-and-take communication
  • Teaching children to internalize self-discipline
  • Teaching empathy and healthy remorse by showing it
  • Understanding individual abilities, needs, circumstances and developmental stages
  • Using mistakes as learning opportunities
  • When children follow rules because they are discussed and agreed upon
  • When children must make restitution when their behavior negatively affects someone else

Punishment is: 
  • "Time-outs" that banish a child for a set amount of time governed by the parent
  • Being told only what NOT to do
  • Children are punished for hurting others, rather than shown how to make restitution
  • Consequences that are unrelated and illogical to the misbehavior
  • Constantly reprimanding children for minor infractions causing them to tune-out
  • Controlling, shaming
  • Criticizing the child, rather than the child's behavior
  • Forcing children to comply with illogical rules "just because you said so"
  • Inappropriate to the child’s developmental stage of life
  • Individual circumstances, abilities and needs not taken into consideration
  • Negative and disrespectful of the child
  • Physically and verbally violent or aggressive
  • Reacting to - rather than responding to - misbehavior
  • Sarcastic
  • Teaching children to be controlled by a source outside of themselves
  • Teaching children to behave only when they will get caught doing otherwise
  • When children follow rules because they are threatened or bribed

Discipline is guidance. When we guide children toward positive behavior and learning, we are promoting a healthy attitude. Positive guidance encourages a child to think before he acts. It also promotes self-control. Punishment, on the other hand, is a type of parental-control behavior. Basically there are 3 kinds of punishment: (1) penalizing the child with consequences that do not fit the crime (e.g., "Because you told a lie, you can't have your allowance"); (2) physical (e.g., slapping, spanking, switching, paddling, using a belt or hair brush, etc.); and (3) with words (e.g., shaming, ridiculing, cussing, etc.).

Punishment is usually used because it vents the parent’s frustration, it's quick and easy, parents don't know other methods, and it asserts adult power. Punishment does not promote self-discipline. It only stops misbehavior for that moment. Punishment may fulfill a short-term goal, but it actually interferes with the accomplishment of the long-term goals of self-control. The outcomes for children who are punished include ideas such as: 
  • “It is okay to hit people who are smaller than you are.”
  • “It is right to hit those you are closest to.”
  • “Those who love you the most are also those who hit you.”
  • “Violence is okay when other things don't work.”

Conclusion—

From the moment parents hear the diagnosis, they know life will be more challenging for their “special needs” youngster than for her siblings. So, when they ask her to do something and it's not done, they may let it go. Or they may fear that what they like her to do, or not do, is impossible for her to achieve. But, if parents feel that their child doesn't deserve discipline, it's like telling her, "I don't believe you have what t takes." And if parents don't believe it, neither will the child.

Behavior management is not about punishing or demoralizing the youngster. Instead, it's a way to lovingly set boundaries and communicate expectations. Discipline is one of the most important ways that moms and dads can show their HFA or AS child that they love and care about him.

How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA


COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said…  It obviously isn't working. Maybe try positive instead of negative. Be encouraging. Meet him where he is. Use what currency he enjoys to do first/then.
•    Anonymous said… Feel your pain. My daughter acts the same way
•    Anonymous said… Flip all that negative punishment into positive reinforcements. afterschool have a snack, then some sort of big muscle activity to get grounded in his body. Set a goal of working thru one problem, of his choice, with a max time of 20 minutes, then quietly transition to a favored activity. Slowly increase the goal to one problem from each section. School needs to be on board with some positive reinforcement by 'catching him being good.' With the help of a one on one para, start with a very small goal, like no yelling in class for one minute and he gets a smiley face. At home make a big deal out of every goal met.
•    Anonymous said… From reading the initial question, I would infer the school isn't setting four hours of homework each night, rather the behavior is resulting in the small amount of homework TAKING four hours.
•    Anonymous said… get rid of the homework, let him come home and feel he has returned to his safe haven away from all the social anxiety and feeling punished and blamed all the time, that will only serve to fuel his defiance, he needs actual down time, let him do what he wants for a bit after school, warn him 15 mins 10 mins AND 5 mins before he has to switch tasks so he learns that he needs to wind down. But mostly, and please do this one whatever else, remember that is your little boy who needs love and acceptance not discipline and regimentation. Let him be who he is and learn to accept and love him for all his quirks, by taking the pressure of society off his tiny shoulders you'll find your beautiful boy is still there and he might open up and start to trust again.
•    Anonymous said… Go to the school and re-negotiate his work schedule. He cannot be asked to do 4 hours of homework any night, let alone every school night. This is a harmful practice and does not encourage learning. Ask for a review of his classroom environment with a new approach to education for him that accommodates his needs, so he is getting learning done during the day. Make sure that at home he has time for special interests and feels safe and supported. This will help to reduce his anger / stress so that you can reason with him and put him on a reward-based schedule for accomplishing things.
•    Anonymous said… Have you thought of asking for a more mainstream class for him? My son had similar issues (he is almost 8). Being in a regular class has actually been really good for him. He is trying to fit in... which means he is more motivated to do the work and act more appropriately. This is not to say he is without issues... he often refuses to do work(writing is such a challenge). But we have seen a big improvement.
•    Anonymous said… Having a one on one therapeutic support person in a regular classroom may help. They can help him stay on task during regular class time.
•    Anonymous said… He is frustrated and angry - you are right it isn't working. Keep trying to find his currency. I paid my son for every lesson $1 then he also learned about money because he would save this up for what he wanted and then HE had some control over HIS life and things got better. Never say "no" say let me show you how to do that again - I'm not a very good teacher. So they don't feel bad about themselves and you have two choices, you could go to your room OR you can do the right thing and get a good outcome. What do you choose? It takes a bit of practise but it works
•    Anonymous said… I could never get my son to do homework till I hired a high school girl. He does it n 30 minutes when we would fight for two hours for one problem.
•    Anonymous said… I was where you were...way better now! Some recommendations that worked for me but mostly for my son...First...get rid of the homework. Homework is for applying what they learned at school. If it takes too long , it means the teacher needs to do a better job teaching them or they get it and don't need to do the homework . Send it back and tell the teacher to help him understand. Teaching your son is the teacher's job. Not yours. You are only there to support him with homework. Give him his free time and his fun time. He's had a rough day - 8 hours of sensory overload, not being understood, possibly being bullied and made fun of (by students and/or teachers). The kid needs to come home and be himself and be loved and relax. Second, how is making him write 'I will not yell in class' helping him control his anger???? It just keeps him occupied for hours so the teacher can go on with his/her day. Ask why is he yelling? What is the trigger? What can they do to be preventative? For my son reward charts didn't work. A big hug (pressure) and kiss telling him how proud i am of him does wonders!!! All i know is that my son would come home beaten! So i was there to hug and kiss him. Tell him how proud i was of him for getting through another day and then we would sit and watch tv together instead of hours of fighting over homework. I also found a better school for him. The teacher in the regular class is awesome! He is in a regular class with the option to go to the community class if he's having a bad day. It worked for us. Best of luck to you and your son.
•    Anonymous said… I would advise homeschooling too. I took my children of the school after trying a lot of things and different schools and am homeschooling for years now. I have four children in the autism spectrum and school was really hard for them. The homework for sure cause the school itself already costed a lot of energy and having to deal with angry not understanding and not openminded teachers because of not doing the homework or not well enough was really too much. I think homeschool can be a great solution for both your son and you. School should be more fun, a place to feel safe and to grow and learn. To me it seems that your son is so angry at school because it is really too much for him there .. the noise, the things he has to do, the reaction of others etc.
•    Anonymous said… I would start by getting rid of the homework. Tell the school not to send it home because you aren't doing it anymore. Getting through a school day is so hard for these kids that when they get home they should just be able to be kids. If you think about how many hours they are at school everyday plus their bus ride it is just like an adult's work day and then they are expected to do more, NOPE unreasonable for these kids or really for any kd.
•    Anonymous said… I would try a different type of school. Are there any charter schools? My kid couldn't handle regular school. We found a charter school that is project-based, allows him to roam the classroom, no homework, lots of hands on work. You may need to research other educational options.
•    Anonymous said… I would've thought a special ed class would know better than to do that. Are these people properly trained? All encounters I've had with special ed departments, they are so lenient and understanding of the kids. The poor kid's just been at school for what...6 hrs? And then forced to do an additional 4 hrs...that's torture. A lot teachers don't believe in homework and if it weren't for the curriculum put in place by MOE they wouldn't give it. My boy hasn't done homework for approx 3 years now. I used to make him do it but the boy struggled and it was painful for the both of us so I stopped it. Now, after a long day at school, he's able to come home and chill out rather than be forced to do yet more school work. My suggestion is chuck the homework in and spend some fun time with him, give him nice memories to think back on.
•    Anonymous said… If he has four hours of homework he is not being accommodated thru some kind of I EP If he has one then you need to fight to get accommodations so he can even handle this and his behavior would probably change for the better Need to contact Special needs department officials f your school district
•    Anonymous said… If he's done something wrong at school then don't give further punishment at home. He's probably been disciplined at school and he'll get there eventually. Is he in mainstream with support or special education school? It seems like they don't understand his needs..
•    Anonymous said… If you are in Surrey, there is a great group of parents homeschooling their children through a range of amazing activities with very positive results. might be worth considering. T x
•    Anonymous said… If you try and see it differently......Should we punish kids with Down syndrome when they refuse to write 20 sentences in class? Autism is a disability aswell.. The very last thing he needs is punishment.... He needs help. Help to stop all the ting X making him upset and frustrated before he reaches a point of yelling... You can't punish someone for their disability... We have to work at helping them ( autistic kids) ...and finding the reasons they explode with anger... Is the class to loud... Is he eating and drinking enough... Does he understand the work and is able to get help from a teacher.. Could be so many reasons.... The class should be adjusted to his needs and turned into a place he likes to go to.
•    Anonymous said… Ignorant approach on their part! Many ASD kids do not learn from consequences; sounds like you have got one of those. Put it back on them. If the teachers are all ABA oriented, they will want to work out ever more dire sticks and attractive carrots. Challenge them to create ways to interest and inspire him in the work. He won't do it unless it makes sense to him. You have a right to set a limit on his homework time: 30 minutes a day is plenty for an 8 year old. Put it in his IEP and also put that they are to modify the length of his assignments so it does not take so long. Then look at other mainstream classrooms with structured and flexible teachers where he might not be so bored. From a mom and a teacher.
•    Anonymous said… I'm not sure getting rid of the homework is the best idea if they are HFA. More perhaps making it into bite sized easy chunks. If you look at those people in top level scientific and academic careers, the major portion are HFA. Whilst our kids have some issues we see as weakness, they have some massive strengths in their ability to focus on one study area and become the best at that. Means they are Dr, Professor material and it would be better for our education system to realise and focus on that ability, by tailoring work and homework to gradually find and refocus them. Stopping their homework is giving up because it makes your life easier, just like many schools 30 years ago gave up on many plonking them in the dunse class. Don't give up try to work with them and the school to find their natural skills set, and fire them in that direction. And I say that as a parent struggling where you all are, but also as someone with HFA whose parents managed to steer me in the academic direction where I have a PhD and earn well above most others I was schooled with. Thats what I wish for my kids.
•    Anonymous said… NEVER ok to discipline kids like him by making him write. Great book: The Kasdin (or Kasden) method. Worked wonders for us w/ our boys. School should back you on this one. Get it in his IEP paperwork too./
•    Anonymous said… No No No they clearly do not understand these children need to go home and be part of the family! My now 15 year old Aspie once said to me when I asked him why we used to battle over homework - "Because school is for school work & home is to relax and play games and be with you!" When it is interfering with your relationship with the child then it has to stop! I told the school if it gets done great if not so be it!
As for writing lines and reasons I should be good this will confuse him and cause no learning just stress! Find another school!
•    Anonymous said… Our doctor (for autism) recommended he be taken off gluten and all dairy. It has made a huge difference in anger, depression and lashing out. Just a small amount can make things miserable again. Not saying that is IT because he still has small episodes but nothing like what it used to be.
•    Anonymous said… Poor guy. We switched schools and it didn't help, bumped up his therapy and the day he had therapy he was fine..so his therapist wrote a two week note for him to miss school I started home schooling him with the work school sent and two starwars spelling and cursive work book he picked out and in those two weeks he finished ALL his work in 4days and no problems..NONE! That was it for me, we pulled him and he's now doing Easy Peasy all in one on line along with book work we chose together and ABeka..it was his Teacher, the noise, lights and to much moving around of other people he now tells us. 3yrs and still doing great! I would say talk to his therapist and have the school call you after one hour of him not working an go up there if you can if not talk to him and see if that doesn't help, look into getting him a service animal, or he may need a "helper" in class to give him one on one with a reward of like "work :30 and get :05 break or walk outside!" I'll be praying for both of you!! OOo and...YOUR a DARN good mom!!!!
•    Anonymous said… Schools often do nothing but babysit. It is not uncommon for children in regular class to have all their work sent home. Have you thought about home schooling? We have already decided my grandchild will be homeschooled just to avoid these issues.
•    Anonymous said… Sorry I don't believe in homework fullstop let alone using it to correct behaviour. I'm a behavioural therapist. Maybe trying to find out the reason behind the behaviours would be a good start. Hugs.
•    Anonymous said… Stop depriving of what keeps him happy. We would all be miserable if lived in a world with nothing to look forward too
•    Anonymous said… That school needs to be educated about Asperger kids... some schools are not the right fit for your kid & always remember you are the parent, if you don't agree with how they are handling it, speak up... the only person who can fight your battles for your kids is you, something I've learnt from having 2 aspie kids with different needs.. good luck  🙂
•    Anonymous said… The homework is just wrong! No adult wants to go to work for a full day and bring home work that will take up the rest of their day. Doing this to a child is simply cruel. This little guy has to feel like he's in a no-win situation...that's because he is. What is the special class comprised of? If he's refusing to do his work at school, what do they have him doing all day? I have serious doubts about the competency and knowledge of spectrum disorder at your son's school. My HFA son just turned 9, and discipline can be a total nightmare. However, he sees a therapist once a week, which helps a lot. It's slow progress, but it is progress. He actually looks forward to going, especially if he can give her good news about how he handled something that is normally difficult for him. As for rewards, etc., long term goals don't work for us at all. Daily goals seem to help keep his anxiety level down and he feels the reward of accomplishment sooner and more often.
•    Anonymous said… The school has it WRONG! 1) Writing should never be a punishment. 2) Even if he was skilled at controlling his anger, an Aspie boy that age is very unlikely to be able to articulate it, especially in writing, and 3) if the school is aware of this it sounds like they are just shoving pain onto you. Home should offer restorative time, at least part of the evening. He needs a new IEP first of all. I will say that we resisted the notion of medication for my son, but finally after outbursts teetered on danger to others (me, teachers) he started a very low dose of prozac, which simply took the edge off his anxiety What emerges as hostility is often fear, near panic, frustration. My kid is in college now and managing quite well. There's hope-- but get him a better IEP!
•    Anonymous said… There is no singular approach that is globally effective. When a child's parents and teachers share a sense of defeat his behaviors will surely reflect that. A child's world often becomes increasingly extreme as we experience more and more defeat. Of course, extremes typically don't resonate well with kids. Behavioral interventions like those you describe can be helpful- though not in isolation. I might start by exploring those parts of his world that have tended toward the extreme (e.g., homework, fun family time, etc.) and make changes wherever practical. Often at this point our attention is concentrated squarely on the behaviors we don't want to have happen. Unfortunately, we get more of what we pay attention to. To invite new, more preferable ways of being, it is helpful to focus more on nurturing those behaviors we want to have happen rather than punishing unwanted behaviors.
•    Anonymous said… To me it sounds very negative. He could already be feeling like he gets everything wrong then he has to write about it. With the right supports he can be taught how to behave appropriately and when he does he needs to be rewarded and feel good about himself. Self esteem is the number one important thing to nurture in my opinion. Nobody likes to feel bad about themselves especially if he is getting into trouble over behaviours he can't control or even understand why they are inappropriate.
•    Anonymous said… We give our 7 yr old girl with Aspergers and poss adhd (awaiting assessment) a supplement of high omega 3, which really helps take the edge off. She is a lot calmer, and concentration is improved too. X
•    Anonymous said… What's the point of him going to school if he's doing 4 hrs 1-1 at home. And they need their free time to unwind . Poor bugger . It's so hard getting parenting right never mind the added pressure of homework. Big hugsxx
•    Anonymous said… WRONG they are doing it completely wrong and not helping him or themselves. I'd change his school or get in there and nail some butts to the wall. My kid had problems BUT he's at 11/12 grade level now bc teachers got involved and I don't play.

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Fight, Flight or Pretend: The 3 Anger Styles in High-Functioning Autistic Kids

“My 8 y.o. son Cory has a diagnosis of autism (high functioning) and has uncontrollable outbursts and aggression when things don’t go his way. He often becomes so distraught that his suffering is palpable. The emotions vivid on his face. His little body tense with distress. Sometimes he will meltdown, at other times he shuts down. Is this just par for the course with autism? Is there anything that can help reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of these behaviors?”

RE: “Is this just par for the course with autism?”

Yes! Many moms and dads recognize that their high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s) youngster has a problem with anger-control. Many feel that their youngster needs to develop some anger-control skills, or needs to find some kind of counseling that will help him get along better in life (e.g., at school, with a parent, with siblings and classmates, etc.). In some cases, professionals have diagnosed a highly-aggressive youngster on the spectrum with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Generally, anger falls into three main categories: 1) Fight, 2) Flight, or 3) Pretend to be “Flighting” (while finding indirect ways to Fight). Most high-functioning autistic kids with anger-control problems will go to either extreme of fight or flight. They tend to become aggressive and hostile, or they withdraw into themselves and become extremely quiet, silently stubborn, and depressed (i.e., a shutdown).

“The Fighters”: Child Anger Turned to Aggression—

The Fighters are pretty simple to recognize. They are aggressive. Many times, the characteristics of high-functioning autistic kids with severe anger-control problems are included in the professional diagnosis for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Some of the warning signs in the following list are taken from the criteria for professional diagnosis. Others are additional common signs of anger-control problems for kids that are Fighters.
  • Uncontrollable fits of rage (usually these tantrums are used as threats to get their way)
  • Seriously violates rules (e.g., at home, in school, or society in general)
  • Seems to have “emotional diarrhea” and “lets it all out - all the time”
  • Physically disruptive (e.g., hitting the parent)
  • Openly and often defiant of requests
  • Often feels rules are “stupid” or don’t apply to them
  • Often demeans or swears directly to parent or others in authority positions
  • Makes threats
  • Loud voice and yelling
  • Initiates fights with others
  • Has left holes in walls and doors from violent outbursts
  • Furious temper
  • Frequently vocalizes anger
  • Does not follow rules
  • Difficulty accepting a “no” answer
  • Destroys property

The “Fighters” have anger-control problems when the problems are creating an unsafe situation for themselves, for others, or for property around them. If parents or siblings are the focus of physical aggression, the problem is extremely critical to address. High-functioning autistic teens who have abused others as kids are at a higher risk of becoming a threat to society than those who have not. Where these warning signs seem to be a part of daily life, intervention is strongly suggested. Intervention can be through anger-control counseling, or through a program dedicated and experienced in working with autistic kids with emotional regulation difficulties.

“The Flighters”: Child Anger Turned to Passive Responses—

The Flighters can also be fairly simple to recognize. They are passive. They do not fight back when confronted. Many of their traits may coincide with the diagnosis of depression. Some of the warning signs below are taken from the professional diagnosis for depression, and others are additional common signs of “shutdowns” for Flighters.
  • Tends to spend a lot of time alone
  • Seems withdrawn
  • Seems to hold anger in
  • Seems to have very little emotion
  • Seems depressed
  • Seems “emotionally constipated”
  • Physical problems may include upset stomach, muscle aches, backaches, frequent headaches, or other physical symptoms from “holding it in”
  • May simply “go along” with whatever - even when it is a poor decision
  • May punch holes in walls or kick doors when “the last straw drops”
  • May have few friends
  • May blame self unnecessarily
  • May be seen as a “loner”
  • Holds anger in, then “blows up” suddenly and violently
  • Has difficulty expressing emotions
  • Extremely passive to the point of getting “walked over” by others
  • Does not engage in much conversation
  • Deals with difficult emotions by “cutting” the emotions off

The “Flighters” are in danger of destroying themselves emotionally from within. They are like a balloon being constantly blown into with no release valve. When they explode, their anger may be violent, and may lead to harming themselves, harming others, or destroying property. Internalized anger is potentially as destructive to a youngster as aggressive anger.

“The Pretenders”: Child Anger Silently Planning Revenge—

Perhaps the most difficult to detect, the Pretenders follow an anger style that seems to be calm on the surface, but is raging, scheming, and planning underneath. They are passive-aggressive. These kids do not directly confront the anger as a Fighter would do. They will be passive and appear to accept what is said, and then will disregard what is said to do their own thing. They are sneaky. Often, they may be unnoticed. While they are giving a person a hug, they are also stabbing them in the back (so to speak). They lack the courage to be direct, and perfect the skills to be deceitful. They know where the “back door” to revenge is, and will use it often. They will give the appearance of a Flighter. The list of Flighter traits also applies to them. Some additional traits to look for with Pretenders are as follows:
  • Tends to sabotage
  • Tends to avoid direct conflict while creating problems in other areas
  • Sneaky behaviors
  • Often gets caught in lies
  • May not admit mistakes
  • May be very good at blaming others
  • Inconsistency between what is said and what is done

High-functioning autistic kids who try to manage their anger through the Pretender style are as potentially dangerous to others and themselves as the other styles. Moms and dads tend to underestimate the Pretender style, because the danger does not seem to be as bad as the aggressive Fighter.

The Hostility Cycle—

From an anger-control perspective, an episode of anger can be viewed as consisting of three phases: escalation, explosion, and post-explosion. Together, they make up the hostility cycle. In this process, the escalation phase is characterized by cues that indicate anger is building. These cues can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). If the escalation phase is allowed to continue, the explosion phase will follow. The explosion phase is marked by uncontrollable anger displayed as verbal or physical aggressiveness. The final stage of the hostility cycle is the post-explosion phase, which is characterized by negative consequences resulting from the verbal or physical aggression displayed during the explosion phase.

The intensity, frequency, and duration of anger in the hostility cycle varies among children. For example, one high-functioning autistic youngster’s anger may escalate rapidly after a provocative event and, within just a few minutes, reach the explosion phase. Another youngster’s anger may escalate slowly but steadily over several hours before reaching the explosion phase. Similarly, one child may experience more episodes of anger and progress through the hostility cycle more often than the other. Despite differences in how quickly the anger escalates and how frequently anger is expressed, the child will undergo all three phases of the hostility cycle.

The intensity of the high-functioning autistic youngster’s anger also may differ. One child may engage in more violent behavior than the other in the explosion phase (e.g., he may assault someone). Another child may express his anger during the explosion phase by shouting at or threatening parents. Regardless of these individual differences, the explosion phase is synonymous with losing control and becoming verbally or physically aggressive.

RE: “Is there anything that can help reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of these behaviors?”

Absolutely! Here are some crucial strategies to help teach your son more constructive ways to deal with anger and frustration:

1. When Cory 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). Every time he acts-out due to low-frustration tolerance, ALWAYS use that moment as a teaching moment. For example, explain to him 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 Cory 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.).

2. Use books and social stories about anger to help your son understand and manage it. Well-presented stories about anger and other emotions validate a youngster's feelings and give information about anger. It is important to preview all books about anger, because some stories teach irresponsible anger-control.

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

4. Use feeling words to help Cory 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”).

5. Train your son to respond to your "signal" (e.g., a hand motion) to stay calm. Give that signal as soon as he starts "stewing" about something. Alternatively, you can use distraction as soon as you notice him exhibiting an anger sign. If he refuses to be distracted or engaged in dialoguing about his anger and starts yelling, stomping or breaking an object, impose appropriate consequences. But, have these consequences in place ahead of time to serve as a guideline. That means that you have discussed them beforehand and written them out for future reference. Armed with a list of consequences (which preferably consist of withdrawing privileges or charging your son a "penalty"), encourage him to choose such alternatives as doing something else, walking away, or talking about the anger rather than acting it out.

6. Try a "time-in" rather than a "time-out." As a parent, you are Cory's main guide in life. He relies on you to be there with him through his 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 Cory and incorporate other methods mentioned in this post (e.g., work on breathing with him, ask him questions about his feelings, etc.). The important thing is to be fully present with Cory to help him through his emotions. Remember, you are teaching him social skills to be in relationships with others, rather than acting out alone. When some autistic kids 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.

7. The thought "It's not fair" is a big anger-arouser for many high-functioning autistic kids. If that is the case, ask your son, "Do you feel you are being treated unfairly?" When he answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his feelings.

8. Teach Cory to take a time-out from the difficult situation and have some “alone-time” for a few minutes. During the time-out, he 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. An autistic 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 Cory 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 autistic 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 Cory these skills, and practice them as responses to mad feelings.

9. Teach your son to talk about how he feels. Give him a language to express his feelings. If he is too angry to talk or doesn't have the words to express his feelings, ask about the feelings relevant to the specific situation. For example, "Do you feel rejected?" "Hurt?" "Let down?" …etc. When your son expresses the feeling behind his anger (e.g., embarrassment or rejection), suggest some other ways to look at the same event that might not be embarrassing or humiliating.

10. Some high-functioning autistic kids get upset when they know they made a mistake. Instead of admitting their mistake, they act out in anger to deflect the attention off of them. If you realize that this might be the case, it's helpful to say to your son, "Everyone makes mistakes. I am okay with it. Don't feel so bad about it."

11. Stop any and all physically aggressive behaviors! Say something like, "I can't let you hurt each other," or "I can't let you hurt me." Then remove Cory as gently as possible.

12. Sometimes an autistic 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 “special needs” child faces. There is a common belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to the parent’s frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. Thus, the best attitude to bring to such a circumstance is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle the problem as painlessly as possible.

13. Try to establish a home environment that reduces anger and teaches tolerance. For example, you can set a personal example for your son that "big people apologize when they hurt someone” and “it's o.k. to loose and try again.”

14. Simple relaxation tools can help Cory calm down. For example, he can (a) use imagery and visualize a relaxing experience from either his memory or his imagination; (b) slowly repeat a calm word or phrase (e.g., “relax” or “take it easy”) and repeat it to himself; (c) breathe deeply from his diaphragm (however, breathing from the chest won't relax him, so he should picture his breath coming up from the belly).

15. Resist taking Cory’s angry outbursts personally. His motives have more to do with alleviating uncomfortable emotions than with deliberately trying to be “nasty.”

16. One thing that makes many moms and dads angry is to see their youngster challenging their authority and defying them. Sometimes it may appear so, but that may not be the intention of the high-functioning autistic youngster. For example, the child may be too unhappy to be told ‘no’ because he wants something so badly. Of course, you shouldn't give in to your son’s demands, but try to understand what might really be his intention.

17. 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 Cory express his 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 his ideas (e.g., angry, mad, annoyed, furious, irritated, etc.). Write them on a chart, hang it up, and practice using them often. When Cory is upset, use the words so he 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.

18. Listen, reflect and validate (without judgment) the feelings Cory 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.”

19. Involve Cory 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 Cory’s age when the rules are ignored.

20. Model responsible anger-control yourself. High-functioning autistic kids have an impaired ability to understand emotion when their parents show a lot of anger. Parents who are most effective in helping their kids manage anger model responsible management by acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for their own angry feelings, and by expressing anger in direct and non-aggressive ways.

21. Help Cory 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."

22. Help your son develop self-regulatory skills. Parents of kids on the spectrum do a lot of “child-regulation work" (i.e., doing things ‘for’ their child rather than ‘with’ their child). This is because parents know that their child has a very limited ability to regulate emotions. As the high-functioning autistic child gets older, parents can gradually transfer control to their child so that he can develop self-regulatory skills.

23. Facilitate communication and problem solving with Cory 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? …and so on).

24. Encourage Cory 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?

25. Create a “ways to relax” poster. There are dozens of ways to help autistic kids calm down when they first start to get bent out of shape. Unfortunately, most of these “special needs” children 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 Cory 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 he chooses a replacement behavior, encourage him to use the same strategy each time he starts to get upset.

26. Encourage your son to “label” his emotions. For example, a permanent record (book or chart) can be made of lists of labels for “anger” (furious, mad, hot, irritated, annoyed), and he can refer to it when discussing angry feelings.

27. Be sure to VALUE what Cory is experiencing. For example, if he is hurt and crying, never say, "Stop crying." Instead, validate his 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, Cory learns to trust you, realizing you are there for him no matter what. If he can trust you, he can learn to trust himself and the outer world.

28. Acknowledge strong emotions, helping Cory to save face (e.g., say, "It must be hard to get a low score after you tried so hard").

29. All of us exhibit some "signs" just as we begin to get angry. So, it’s actually fairly easy to identify the “anger signs” in a youngster with high-Functioning Autism. For example, you may detect a certain look in the eye, a tone of voice, or a tightness in your child’s body. Thus, your first course of action is to help him observe these signs right at the onset of anger. Once he can identify the early signs of his anger, he can also learn to diffuse it by self-soothing techniques (e.g., walking away, taking full and vigorous breaths, etc.).

30. Lastly, help Cory understand that he can “choose” how to react when he feels angry or frustrated. Teach him self-control and positive ways to cope with negative impulses (e.g., write about feelings, tense body and then relax, tell someone how you feel, play music or sing, look at books or read, hug a pet or a stuffed animal, find a quiet place or sit alone, exercise, draw or play with clay, count slowly, calm self by breathing deeply, etc.).

By using a few of the ideas listed above, you can help strengthen your relationship with your high-functioning autistic youngster and give him the tools he needs to cope effectively with frustration and anger.

How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

COMMENTS & QUESTIONS [for Dec., 2016]

 Do you need some assistance in parenting your Aspergers or HFA child? Click here to use Mark Hutten, M.A. as your personal parent coach.

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My 21 year old son is sure I've been "talking to someone", since my parenting has changed.  I was appalled to hear myself described so clearly when you described an overindulgent parent. He had never been diagnosed, but has demonstrated defiant behavior his entire life. In retrospect, I wish I had recognized the link between his sensory issues and his anxiety. I can't tell you how many school counselors told me that I was doing a good job, he just has a defiant personality, and to hang in there.  Now, after 2 Baker Acts in the past 2 years and multiple psychiatrists, his list includes SPD, GAD, major depressive disorder, and PTSD (from the first Baker Act!).

It is painful, I'm dealing with a lot of "mouth" while cutting the purse strings, and he is truly a manipulative genius!  For the first time, I feel empowered. I have to listen over and over to figure out how to handle him, but I truly thank you!

Believe it or not, it is my daughter who has Aspergers. She is finishing her second year with City Year, which I described to my husband as a two year therapy session, with all of the focus on communication and team building for Corps members. She lived away from home while attending college, (despite roommate problems and deciding she was a lesbian), and is starting applications for her graduate degree in the medical field while back at home. She plans on moving out for school.

Thank you again. I only wish I'd found you before he turned 18!!!

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Mark,
My son is 33 now. Thought we had him on the right path.
I have not been able to find good consequences though.

He was arrested on Wednesday November 30. He is facing a court trial on Tuesday December 6 2016. For mental health issues. It is very serious

I was trying to wait until he could pay for counseling but now this makes it more urgent. He was out of control at the arrest. He now thinks it is something he can win or loose. He does not get that it is about his behavior.

I already realize that I allowed this behavior.

I would like to find someone to help him tomorrow. Just to show the courts we are starting the process. I have contacted you before.

He just started a good job this year and was making progress. In 2013 an evaluation stated: "I am very amazed at the progress Craig has made with all the issues he has"

I believe he needs therapy. I would like to prove faith that we are seriously working on things. I am trying to make an appt with a therapist that we already have had a meeting with here in Spokane but I don't know if he is available. We were trying to have Craig get the money up. He wanted that.

If there was a way to meet with a therapist to address Craig's emotions regarding the trial I believe it would help. 

Do you or do you know someone I could touch bases with tomorrow? On a one time eval maybe. Or what works best. It could be ongoing. Skype would be fine. I can pay.

I guess you could see that I am highly anxious and I need some therapy to learn how to deal with Craig better.

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Well... how to begin... I'm from Brazil and my english may sucks, but I hope you can understand me. I'm in love with an aspie for almost 10 years. We have a long history of relationship and break-ups, but I thought that phase has gone. We was about to complete 2 years of marriage when he come to me saying that he only loved me like a mother or a sister. My world just fell apart. We had such a good relationship... Now I see that I didn't embrace his disability on the totallity, but I did my best at the time. I didn't want to abandon him. I know that you said in your book that sometimes they just need their time... I just want to know, is it common? For how long? Will he ever come back to me so we can work our marriage in a more correct way? I think that maybe I didn't studied enough about him... I can't stop thinking where I did get wrong even when he tells me that there's no one fault. I would be the best I could for him. Maybe I'm just selfish to think that I need him the same way he needed me. He says that I am the love of his life, that he gave me his best years.. even thought, he decided that we couldn't live together anymore. Now I know that he doesn't lie, specially saying things like that. Don't know if he think he isn't enough for me, like he said "he couldn't be the husband I need". Is it about his self steem? I'm sorry for this outflow. I admit that I had a meltdown after all of that, but now I'm recovering. I just need to say that your book helped me so much to understand more of him, but unfortunally just after he leave me. Maybe I'm just still imature, maybe he want to live new things away from me... I just need to understand why...

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Where do I begin. My daughter up until recently was your ideal child she's quiet gets good grades and very soft spoken. However, lately she is acting up in school. Seeking attention in all the wrong avenues and as your video stated I'm lost on what to do. Good ol fashion butt whipping is what my grams said, she needs counseling is what my mother said, I don't believe spanking a kid is the answer and counseling put me in debt and no closer to a solution. Please help I have taken everything from her: electronics, the privilege of wearing regular clothes to school, no extra goodies snacks or otherwise and yet here I stand still with no solution. Un fortunately I don't have any examples to follow in my family. Television is truly what raised me. I'm open to ideas on what I can do to bridge the gap.

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Thank you, Mark.
That helped a lot. I was able to get paperwork together. The trial was postponed to another date due to a conflict of interest. It was the judge that was involved in the incident.

We were able to follow through with an appointment that we started in September. He is a therapist who works with autistic and Asperger people. He diagnosed him today at first with severe trauma. But then it came out that Craig was schizophrenic. Craig is working well with him. He will be doing out patient treatment with a therapy called neuropathways at first. Also he will be going through psychotherapy.

My Question. How do I balance his brothers burnout with Craig? Adult. I think he will come around and support again in time. He had put a lot of time and energy into Craig. But now he is "done". John needs help as much as Craig with his military PTSD. A few months ago, John had to go thru a similar incidence with Craig and a neighbor. That's when we starting working on therapy for Craig.

I will look over your articles. But I wanted to know if you could steer me in the right direction. This is very hard. It's like he is jealous. He needs as much help as Craig does.

I am feeling weary like I really was too late. But maybe this is the right timing.

I need some information on how I can stand strong in setting boundaries. John is shutting craig out. But he is shutting me out too. Because he is burned out and wanting to go on with his own stuff. But his thinking isn't right. I feel like I have 2 sons with the same degree of dysfunction. But in differing and opposing ways. John also has traumatic brain injury.

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Your youtube videos always come up in my search for anything to help me "fix" this marriage. 

My husband was diagnosed with Aspergers in January, although he has not fully accepted this yet.  Our son is 14 and was Dx'd when he was 8.  We also have an NT 16 year old daughter who's caught on the crossfire.  I'm 17 years into this marriage and I'm on my very last leg.  We have seen endless marriage counselors with no success as nothing sticks.   Tomorrow is always a new day for my husband but feels like groundhog day to me. 
Can you help us or refer us to someone?  We are in Dallas.  The one aspie marriage counselor we saw is not reliable as I believe he has cancer and is going through treatments.  Dr. Robinson diagnosed my husband but he does not work with couples.  Any help or referral will be appreciated.

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Dear Mark

I hope you are well. I will try and keep this short. I am a single mom to a 17-year-old daughter and our home is hells kitchen as you describe - for her and me. I related to the video re: the stages - i.e. denial, acceptance and feel I am at the acceptance stage. I had the wool pulled over my eyes for I don't know how long. I got a call to pick my daughter from a so-called study sleep over and she was motherless drunk and vomited in my car. Since that stage, at the end of October 2016, things have gone downhill because I have stopped all sleep outs and am probably seeing with my own eyes what has been going on for a while. Since then I have picked her up once smelling like alcohol (denied it but I had bought an electronic breathalyser). Her Dad and I (who haven't been together for 16 years) decided that she should go away with him to his hometown a week earlier for the school holidays - with the realisation of alcohol use/abuse has come the realisation of a huge amount of lying as well as ducking and diving (I have picked it up as well as her Dad and school). I cannot tell you how much lying I am picking up. I cannot believe anything that comes out of her mouth. She begged and pleading and pulled out all the stops not to go the week early with her Dad, but I stood firm for the 3 hours of pleading/anger. She went out with her friends the night before leaving (with a curfew of 12 midnight) and was motherless drunk again when I picked her up and had been into town (I found out from another mother) at a bar when she knows I don't allow her to be in town.

I have spoken to her counsellor (she hasn't seen her for about 5 months) as I felt a move to her Dad might be what's best for her (more family there to keep an eye on her, there is a school space for her there to do her final year of school 2017). She said I should give her the choice of finishing off school with Dad or coming home and agreeing to no alcohol (for a period until Easter when the situation will be reassessed) and no sleep outs (and weekly sessions with her counsellor). To cut a long story short, my daughter refuses to discuss or agree to these terms but wants to speak about it in person when she gets home (i.e. she will try and get out of the rules). She has been begging and pleading to come home from her Dad, but - again another long story short - we have realised she has a happy face for him and a miserable I'm being damaged here face/messages for me. The counsellor says that she needs to agree to the boundaries set before she comes back.We are having three-hour conversations on the phone and she won't take no for an answer (that the boundaries are not negotiable and she cannot home now but on 27/12 or 28/12 depending on flights).  The counsellor also suggested that should she break the rules of no drinking etc, on the third time (i.e. of drinking) she should have a choice to go back to her Dad or to go into teenage treatment (there is a clinic here in my town with a teenage unit - not just for substance abuse but for behavioural issues too). I should mention that I am a recovering alcoholic and her Dad is a recovering addict so the alcohol use is a huge thing for us due to her predisposition gene-wise. My daughter thinks that she is completely normal and I am blowing everything out of proportion.

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Hi Mark

Thank you so much for your wonderful website!
I wonder if you can advise me please, I have a 12 year old Aspie daughter who seems to be getting worse the older she gets:
She is very depressed and anxious and on medication under the care of a psychiatrist, she refuses to see a psychologist
She won’t go out to the shops at all anymore, the only place she goes to is the movies occasionally
She now prefers to have the curtains drawn and live in a low light environment
She’s not interested in food
She only has 1 good friend at school but she doesn’t always play with my daughter
Academically she’s doing very well but hates school

How can I help her with her anxiety and get her to push past these boundaries she’s built around herself?

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Hi there I've just come across your page whilst looking for some help with my 11yr old son.
Really need some help with getting my son understanding and accepting social situations with his peers, he becoming increasingly ostrisised by his peers for being annoying ,however he doesn't understand what he's doing wrong.
I've tried working on social stories with him but I really need some help, as a parent and an educator in the special needs sector myself I'm worried I'm not seeing the bigger picture and I'm bereft that I can't help him.
He hasn't got a diagnosis as I've always felt it not necessary to label him , but I'm devastated that he's so unhappy at school and I need to help him
Please can you help ?

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Mark,

Just a quick message to follow up on my call.  I am the "perfect example -
ticks (or should that by styms) every box" high functioning aspie.

The UK psych decided that he had never met such a perfect case.  I have 3
aspie children, and a long suffering NT wife.

One of the principle advantages of getting a diagnosis, at least outside the
US, is the fact that once a formal diagnosis is present, the child / adult is
far more likely to qualify for benefits.

I have never managed to hold down employment.  I have thrown in the towel on
well paid contracts repeatedly, because I was unable to put up with travel on
the tube / suburban trains.  I fly to see clients - and get escorted through
the airport. I'm still a damn fine lawyer - albeit one who must work in private
practice.  There have been suggestions that I am John Cage from Ally Macbeal
(possibly the odd in-court outburst).

Those not on the spectrum have substantial issues understanding why someone is
"a little odd", why an AS individual (as an adult) is more likely to be the
victim of violent confrontations - has a much lower chance of being in full
time employment.

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Dear Mark Hutten,

My son Aaron is a 23 year old high school graduate with an Aspergers diagnosis accompanied by high levels of anxiety and impulsivity.  This afternoon I am reading yourblog entry:  Fight, Flight or Pretend:  The 3 Anger Styles in High-Functioning Autistic Kids.  Of course I am recognizing my son Aaron who falls into the first camp most of the time, and sometimes the second or third, depending on the circumstances.

More broadly Aaron is supposed to receive support from a psychologist / social worker as part of his employment readiness program, however this has been intermittent and unreliable. At this point we have given up on addressing Aaron’s needs through the DC system and would like to find a private psychologist or social worker.  We did that for many years before Aaron finished high school and it was helpful. So now we are looking for a practitioner who has experience focusing on high functioning young adults with like Aaron.  

Please advise if you have any colleagues you may be able to recommend here in the Washington DC area.
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Hello ,
 I am married to an Aspie. We have been married for just 10 months , after dating for about 3 years. This is a second marriage for both of us. I always knew something was different with my now husband, but thought it was because we have different cultural backgrounds ( he is American and I am Cuban ). I finally had him tested and definitely meets the criteria to be in the Spectrum  as an Asperger. Just yesterday I ran into your blog about Living with an Asperger partner and all you describe there is so going on in my relationship. The grieve cycle, I have been calling " the crazy cycle", because I think we will get out of it when he says he will try , but then we get pull back in again and it has truly destroyed all hope in me. We live in Cincinnati , Ohio and as I was checking your website I realize you are not that far from us. I was wondering if you offer workshops, conferences, office visits, small groups, that we could go to in order to avoid divorce that is what truly is in my mind at this point.


Can you please let us know how you could help us keep our marriage ?


Thanks so much and many blessings to you and your practice.

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i have learnt about your coaching after googling THERAPY FOR PARENTS OF ASPERGERS. Before i register, i would like to know if you could help me in our situation. My son is high functioning aspergers, is 22 yrs old , but is not living with us. He is abroad, lives with a  kind family, works in a special needs place as a leader in the mornings, and has study partners in afternoons and evenings. He is having CBT therapy twice a week, and is on  medication. He suffers a  lot from anxiety and is very obssessive in his thoughts. I speak to him almost every day and my husband around 2 or 3 times a week.  If we have the right tools , perhaps we can pass them on to whoever interacts with him. Please advise me, ty in advance,

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With regards to a 3 day grounding with, for instance no cell phone, PC, I-pad etc – I have tried on a number of occasions before to get my daughter’s cell phone off her, but it gets physical where she will not give it to and I try and get it and it ends up in a tug of war with the phone. I’ve always therefore given up because I don’t like to get physical with my daughter. What do I do ?

She also has excuses for why she needs her phone such as her school work is on there (they are a very technological school so it could be true) or she has group chats re: homework. If I take just her phone away, she will then just use her i-pad and PC for chatting. Again the excuse is she needs it for homework/school. She is 17.

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Dear Mr. Hutten,

As you know, I've contacted you before about what a fan I am of your work.  I would like to work something out with you wherein I might occasionally reprint one of your articles and then provide a link to your website.  I can also put in the credits whatever you want about the for-pay services you provide and how to contact you.   I'm asking on behalf of my webpage OASIS @MAAP.  If you are interested, I may be reached at the number below at anytime during business hours. 

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I've done an online diagnosis and all of my children have is well, and all agree that my husband has Aspergers. He admitted it at first until he felt like he was the " problem". Then he backtracked and  his anger toward me wad too much and I went back into denial. I ordered the book and and am absolutely going to follow it is closely as I can. But would it not help if he could at least admit he has Aspergers? How can I help him do that?

I am a special needs teacher and work with autistic children every day. I have all of my course work done in for my PhD in psychology. I have been working on my dissertation in combative relationships for 20 years, and have not been able to complete it, because just about the time I feel I have answers, more big fights throw me into despair. We both love each other and have a beautiful family and are very committed, even after all of the fights over the last 42 years. But I am emotionally broken and desperate and don't know how much longer I can go on.

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Dear Mr. Mark Hutton,

We are in the process of downloading your book TEACHING SOCIAL SKILLS AND EMOTIONAL  MANAGEMENT.  My daughter is 31 years old, by profession a teacher and fully employed. She is an Aspie, not identified but we know.  We’d like to keep it “hidden” because the school board would take it as a convenient excuse should anything occur that is unusual.  Her students (Gr. 7) love her as she has unending patience and this has been the greatest gift.  On top of it, she has a big heart and feels for them all.  So far so good. 

Our concern is her lack of social skills with her peers. She is wonderful with kids, even better with the older generation but any “budding” friendship dies within a couple of months.  Thankfully, the professional group that she works with has been professional in every aspect.  I am just concerned this might not always be the case.  In fact it was not.  In her previous school, it reminded her of the horrible years in high school where she had a tough time.  There she was totally ostracized.  I am dreading this could occur again.

For this reason, we are trying desperately to find ways of rectifying the problem.  We know, Asperger cannot be cured but what we are looking for are skills that help to cope with “it” and the world.  Most advice and help is geared to children and teenagers.  Our daughter was always a good student (except in math), did well in university and did well in job interviews.  She found all her high school jobs on her own and this one right out of university so we did not think “the social aspect” could cause a problem though we knew it was there.  Now, as an adult this seem to have intensified.

Any thought or advice would be very much appreciated.  Thank you.

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I am having trouble with my daughter and have been for a while. She has been in therapy, but it was inconsistent, at best, and ineffectual.

I have read articles about the various symptoms, but she has so many, She has a lot of combinations and no, single, article seems to address this complexity.  I don't know where to begin.

Going back several years, my daughter was having health issues. Her weight was high and she was being treated for precocious puberty and pre-diabetes. Soon after, she was being treated for ADHD. To make things worse, for some reason, she breaks REALLY easy. I mean physically. She has had over 60 fractures. Most have occurred in the growth plates near the ankles and many are avulsion; however, she has also fractured her fibula, femur, hip, and scaphoid. the vast majority have happened at school before you jump to the conclusion that there is some sort of abuse. Honestly, that's probably the ONLY reason we haven't been investigated by child services. Less that 20% of her injuries have happened in the home.

As far as symptoms, here's the list in no particular order:
* She has difficulty making and maintaining friendships. This has been exacerbated by our recent move from Pittsburgh, PA to Buford, GA. Before the move she never had more than 1-3 friends and even those relationship varied.

* She compulsively lies to family and friends. I recently found out that she concocted a very elaborate set of lies to her "best friend" that included a fake boyfriend, pretending to get high, sexually active, arrested and tazed, lost in the woods, etc. These were so elaborate, that she actually had whole conversions with this "friend" in the persona of her "boyfriend." The "boyfriend" complained to the friend that my daughter was sending inappropriate texts to another guy and sent screenshots. This friend described to me that the personality was SO different than my daughter's that she never suspected and even developed a friendship with "him," My daughter sent texts to this friend while "high." It was very convincing as it contained constant typographical errors, meandering focus, stupid jokes, memory lapses, etc. Amazingly detailed. When I later put the timeline together, she was sitting in the dining room playing board games with myself and her younger brother. 

* She continually engages in inappropriate relationships. These become very illicit including the exchange of pornographic photos and videos. Some of the contacts were her age, others were much older. At one point, last year, the police were involved. Her phone and online accounts, which included social media and dating sites like "bangbudies.com," were examined and the police are attempting to make cases against these predators. Luckily, the police were not interested in incarcerating her. She was 14 at the time and some of this had gone back almost 2 years. We have gradually been trying to rebuild a trust relationship by allowing her to return to the "social" world, but limiting her to Facebook. We have her account password and watch her phone. Unfortunately, I just discovered that she has returned to these behaviors and have suspended her access to internet and texts.

* Along those lines, while I don't believe that she has been sexually active, she has declared herself bisexual. Unless she is sneaking off to the restroom during school to have sex, she doesn't go anywhere or do anything outside the house except school and occasionally babysit. I've tried to supportive while trying to explain to her that it is no one else's business. She can fall in love with who she wants, but doesn't need a "label" to define it. She doesn't need to post on Facebook that she is bi and certainly doesn't need to run out an buy a rainbow flag. Just love who you want, just like anyone else gay or hetero. Change your status to "In a Relationship" like anyone else. Tag who you are in a relationship with, just like anyone else. Don't hide it, but don't flaunt it. She posted that she was bi. Gay people jumped all over it to rally their support, others had criticisms. It was overwhelming and upsetting. I told her, 3 dangerous topics to post about are religion, politics, and sexuality. Don't post about it unless you are prepared for a lot of responses, good, bad, and otherwise.

* She is obviously depressed at times and at one point was cutting. The meme's she posts and the music she likes reflect this, but also a whole range of other emotions. She deeply into romance movies and music as well. I think she feels isolated and has low self-esteem despite the fact that she has lost the weight, we've gotten her very stylish hair coloring, etc. I know that these are only superficial, but a feeling of self worth has to start somewhere. If she looks in the mirror and feels pretty, maybe she'll start to believe it.

* She has no motivation. She is very bright, but is doing a great job of failing a lot of classes. She, in a letter to us, blamed it on moving to a new school, but she barely made it out of 8th grade 4 months before there was any kind of job offer and moving plans. Her last quarter of eighth grade includes several "F"s. Her letter went on to state, that she is not even trying to study or do her homework and she will do better if we send her back to Pittsburgh to finish high school. I pointed out that her grades weren't ANY better in Pittsburgh and she's only been in high school for less than 2 full months before we moved. My interview for this job was October 7th. We moved to Georgia October 30th. I rushed thinking the quicker I got her into the new school, the less chance of her sticking out as the "new" kid. It's new to everyone there despite that fact that they were there a few weeks ahead of her.

* She has a really bad rivalry with her younger brother. They fight constantly. I've tried to step back and observe and what I see is she is bored. So for something fun to do, she "pushes one of his buttons" and the fights begin. I had a sister, I know they do that. This is at a higher level, but, I also have to admit, this is the very least of our problems.

* She has a troubled relationship with her mother. This too, I am aware, is not altogether uncommon; however, it is really hard to watch. Having said that, everyone in the house has a troubled relationship with her mother, myself included.

About her mother...
Her mother is disabled due to back issues, but also is nearly legally blind, has severe digestive issues, has trouble maintaining a healthy weight. She suffers from depression and anger issues. She is not physically abusing, but she can be mean. She had a troubled youth with uncaring parents, she was molested by a neighbor as a pre-teen, cruelly beaten and verbally abused (her mom went so far as to pay some kids to beat her up after she told her father about her mother's affair). She did manage to build somewhat of a relationship with her father, who in my experience did not resemble the monster of her youth that she described. Unfortunately, he is since deceased and she refuses any contact with the rest of her immediate family. The dysfunction in their relationship with her was clearly evident to me prior to her breaking off contact with them.
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Dear Mark,

I had a long talk with my 21 year old yesterday.  It varied from my telling him  that if he refused to leave my bedroom I’d call the police and have him trespassed from our home, to real tears about things that he remembered from his childhood.  He feels that we should apologize to him for “making him the way that he is”, and for being such lousy parents.  The manipulative part of him wants to “sue somebody” for putting him on Vyvanse for focus during his school years, (about 6th grade on).  He thinks I should have researched more, and never put my kid on medication.  He thinks the medication changed his brain, and made him less capable than he should be, (and its all our fault).   He also thinks that we “owe” him because we are the cause of his problems; that we should’ve recognized his SPD and put him into a public school for treatment.  (Psychiatric testing in 3rd grade gave him an IQ in the 80’s; brother and sister were 150 and 140).

There is no way he would’ve agreed to that at that time.  My husband and I have Master’s degrees, mine in physical therapy.  I stopped seeing patients due to an illness when he was in preschool, and stayed at the school teaching middle school until he left after 8th grade, (for him, but now he says it was a big mistake.  He says I should’ve stayed home and home-schooled him, even though we couldn’t afford it and was advised against it).  We paid for him to go to Catholic school, meeting with teachers and counselors all along the way.  He always refused to go to a professional counselor, and I didn’t put up the fight to make it happen.  He has been defiant all of his life.  He is the youngest of 3, with his oldest brother successfully working and living independently at 26 yrs. old, and his 24 yr old sister with high functioning Asperger’s finishing her second year of City Year and looking towards graduate school.

HIs IQ is definitely better than what it was tested.  We definitely over indulged, and we definitely lowered our expectations of what he would achieve in life compared to his siblings.  He said two things:  1) he feels like he was being carried, and is now being dropped; and 2) we held him back.  This kid who couldn’t sleep over at other people’s houses, (even a favorite cousin—he would drive home at 4-5 am when everyone else fell asleep), resents us because we didn’t encourage him to go hundreds of miles away for college.

Yes, we paid for his car and insurance.  He is living at home, and has been “looking for a job” for weeks/months.  The faucet has been turned off.  He has to earn everything.

He wants an apology from us for “making him” the way that he is.  He dislikes us.  He even said he’d go away to college now, (he failed freshman English and placed in remedial math that he refused to take at a local community college after graduation from high school), as long as we paid for it like we did for his siblings.  He feels he’s “getting less than they did” because we did pay for their college.

Ugh. He needs a job.

I’m not sure how to turn off the money, yet treat him fairly compared to his siblings.

Thank you again for your guidance.


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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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here for the full article...

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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."

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here to read the full article...

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...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content