“I have a 9 year old son with high functioning autism (Asperger syndrome). My main issue with him is that he is sooooo easily annoyed at EVERY THING! Including ME! If I don't hear his question the first time and say, "What did you say?" …I get, "Nothing, never mind" (big huff and rolling eyes). If his 5 year old sister is crying or getting into his stuff, it is MAJOR drama (screaming at her, slamming doors, etc. etc.). If I am not walking around smiling with sunshine shooting out of my butt (sorry for the metaphor), he automatically thinks I'm angry about something and says, “What's wrong?" I say, "Nothing..." and then it is the whole, “Whatever, never mind.” It's not just the rotten attitude, but his being chronically annoyed. He can't find his shoes, and I get, "arrrgghhhh, I can NEVER find my shoes!!!!" (huff, slam door, and more arrrgghhhh). The toys that he has all lined-up in a row don’t look right, the pants he wants to wear are dirty, his sister doesn't want to watch what he wants to watch – anything and everything! Sometimes I think he needs to be on some kind of medication. We've tried counseling... no help there. Is this just his personality? Is it a symptom of autism? He doesn’t behave this way at school – just at home. I am at my wits END!”
Indeed, children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are often easily annoyed by others. They are quickly overwhelmed by minimal change and highly sensitive to environmental stimuli. They like everything to stay the same – even their parent’s mood and their sibling’s behavior (which is obviously an unreasonable expectation)). They are anxious and tend to worry obsessively when they do not know what to expect. Stress, fatigue and sensory-overload can throw them off balance. As a result, they may seem to be upset about “everything.”
In addition, it is not uncommon for AS and HFA children to behave fairly well at school, yet act-out at home. However, just because the acting-out occurs at home does not necessarily mean the “cause” of the behavior lies there. Many AS and HFA students find school very stressful, but they tend to keep their emotions bottled-up until they get home. Most young people on the autism spectrum do not display the body language and facial expressions you would expect to see when a “typical” youngster is feeling a stressed or angry. While kids on the spectrum may appear relatively calm at school, they are often experiencing very different emotions under the surface – and may release those pent-up emotions in the safety of their home.
When your AS or HFA youngster is acting-out due to being annoyed by someone or something, what is your initial response? Do you become anxious and give-in to avoid conflict? Do you say nothing and hope that it will pass? Do you get angry yourself and start shouting? Maybe your answer is, “All three depending on the day!” Welcome to the club! Trying to help an annoyed, angry child to calm down – time after time, day in and day out – is exhausting and stressful.
The adamant expression of annoyance in the form of anger serves a purpose. It lets you know that something is wrong in the same way that burning your finger lets you know that the oven is hot. It hits rapidly, and the reaction is instantaneous. Similarly, for example, your youngster is upset because he can’t watch the TV show he wants to – and BAM – the parent has a fight on her hands. Keeping this in mind, let’s switch gears and get into problem-solving mode…
How can parents help the “easily annoyed” AS or HFA child? Here are some thoughts to ponder:
1. The first step in helping your child overcome this problem is to change your reaction to his behavior. If you give-in, or say nothing, or get angry, then your child will know that he can push your buttons – and that it works. He knows that if he can wear you down by complaining or getting angry, he will get his way in the end. Instead of being held accountable, he has figured out a way to avoid negative consequences. Therefore, parents need to learn to overcome their “knee-jerk” reactions of giving-in, ignoring misbehavior, or getting angry.
2. Do not simply assume that there is nothing to be annoyed about. Your youngster may not be wrong for feeling this way. There may be some justification for her frustration, even if the behavior is not justified. If your youngster can’t be civil in explaining her annoyance, then say something such as, “I understand you feel annoyed. I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then leave it alone until she has calmed down. If she starts acting-out her frustration (e.g., cussing, throwing things, hitting, etc.), then that is when you want to address the behavior. You can’t control the way your youngster feels about things, but you can give her consequences and hold her accountable for acting-out. It’s normal for all children to be annoyed from time to time. It’s not the feeling of frustration that is the problem, it is the resulting behavior. So, don’t punish feelings, only punish misbehavior.
3. Consider whether or not a consequence is really necessary. Let’s say a 10-year-old boy is annoyed and frustrated about something, so he mutters something under his breath, walks into his bedroom and slams the door. When you look at it objectively, a youngster who is working on his frustration has actually handled it fairly well – in this case, going to his room to calm down. In a situation like this, you may decide to waive the consequence. While different parents have different rules about what is allowed and what is not, there should be some latitude to allow your youngster to express frustration as long as property is not damaged and no one gets hurt.
4. Sometimes, a child’s frustration is caused by very real and inescapable problems in his life. Not all frustration is misplaced – and often it is a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to the parent’s frustration to find out that this is not always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is NOT to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how the frustrated child handles and faces the problem. Help your child to make a plan for those occasions when he is annoyed and irritated, and help him check his progress along the way. If your child can approach his problems with his best intentions and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, he will be less likely to lose patience and fall into all-or-nothing thinking, even if the problem does not get solved right away.
5. Parents need to understand that the AS or HFA child typically has a very low toleration for frustration. This frustration comes from a lack of understanding of his feelings. He is unable to identify and express what he is feeling, so he lumps all the “bad” feelings together. Moms and dads witness the overflow of “bad” feelings that come out all at once. It's important that you don't take them personally, even when they seem as though they are directed at you. A young person on the autism spectrum wants to tell his parents what is on his mind, but most of the time he does not know how to say it properly, or he misinterpreted his thoughts and feelings altogether.
6. Often times, when a child is easily annoyed, it is because she has poor problem-solving skills. She has not learned to solve her underlying problems in healthy ways, so she yells, throws things, and calls people names. One of your most important jobs is to give your child some problem-solving tools. The development of problem-solving skills should include your AS or HFA youngster as a contributor in planning and execution. Thus, be sure to include her input in all the suggestions listed below. The ideas described are something you are doing WITH your youngster, rather than TO her. In order to help the easily annoyed child, parents need a thorough understanding of their child’s perspective. Any approach to correcting frustration and resultant acting-out behavior that does not include the youngster is not going to have long-term benefits.
Here are some ways to assist your AS or HFA child in learning a few problem-solving skills:
- Enhance sensitivity to verbal and nonverbal social cues through games and role play, teaching your youngster to identify social cues in body language and pitch of voice.
- Have your youngster make a video of his own nonverbal cues, and then have him explain his feelings on the basis of cues demonstrated in the video (e.g., hand gestures, facial expressions, voice intonation, and other indicators of social intent).
- Help your youngster identify his own feeling states through self-report and observation.
- Help your youngster to assess likely outcomes of potential responses and to select a response that can be initiated given the limitations of the situation. Compared to non-frustrated kids, frustrated ones tend to evaluate pro-social responses less favorably. Thus, they are not behaving a certain way to purposely hurt those around them, rather they are simply making decisions based on social skills deficits.
- Help your youngster to assign meaning to social cues. This step is necessary because easily annoyed, frustrated kids commonly interpret neutral interactions as threatening – and then respond defensively. Unlike “typical” kids, AS and HFA kids do not intuitively know how to exhibit socially acceptable behavior, and the level of their required assistance depends on the social supports they have previously encountered.
- Help your youngster to attend to social cues that are often missed or misinterpreted.
- Help your youngster to develop ideas about how to respond to each social circumstance he encounters. This step is necessary because, compared with “typical” kids, AS and HFA kids identify fewer alternatives and seem unaware of the various options that may be open to them when confronted by a social problem. These “special needs” kids need help identifying their options and possible outcomes (this is why constantly telling them what they are doing wrong does not increase the likelihood of improved future performance).
- Your youngster should learn to identify and classify social cues by friendly, neutral, and hostile categories of intent. The youngster can practice by assuming the roles of his siblings and/or peers in disputes.
If the AS or HFA child is exhibiting threatening behavior and seems unable to control it, then getting him to work with a professional is the best approach. A qualified therapist can provide coping techniques for the youngster to deal with his tendency to be annoyed by others and the resultant frustration and acting-out. In addition, the therapist can provide you with valuable insight and tools for helping your youngster deal with his negative feelings.
Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management
• Anonymous said… Almost word for word what I say/do when my Aspie son thinks he can get away with that type of behavior.
• Anonymous said… Anxiety is also a good thing to learn about. This will probably drive a number of his behaviours. Meditation and mindfulness are great for both of you! Plus he most likely is doing some of these things at school - they just have structure and support staff to manage his needs. It's 100 times harder at home. Like my sister said, moan and chat when not there because then you have the energy to manage when it doesn't go right. Rob long (ed psyc) says "calm when they get it wrong, happy when they get it right"
• Anonymous said… At that age they get a huge testerone increase . Have a Google of it and see if that helps explain his change in behaviour.
• Anonymous said… Brilliant article
• Anonymous said… Find a therapist who specializes in Behaviour Modification Techniques ... PAY THE MONEY TO LEARN It and most importantly ... STICK TO IT! Temple Grandin is th best expert on Aspergers and Autism and she has spoken frequently on the need for manners, rules and good behaviour for children on the spectrum.
• Anonymous said… Firstly, I would remove the bedroom door, and explain that when he can be trusted with it by showing some self-control he may get it back. We have done this at our house. He can choose to control himself, but he is controlling you , as he seems to have you all walking around on eggshells, so the anger is beneficial to him. He needs to lose something, such as a privilege, when he is being obnoxious. As a boy, he is only going to get bigger, stronger, and harder to train. Teach him more acceptable methods of expressing displeasure, such as just telling you he is upset. Then when he does it, thank him for using words instead of anger, and try to reach a compromise. Maybe you could make some house rules and post them for all the kids, such as: No door slamming, Work out problems calmly, Don't touch other people's things without asking permission, etc. And try to get him into the tub two or three times a week and put a cup or two of Epsom salts in there as the water runs. The magnesium helps anxiety tremendously.
• Anonymous said… I can't tell you what a miracle biofeedback was for us. He can control his physical response to stress and anxiety.
• Anonymous said… I get the same thing from my Aspie and she tells me I am screaming when I am not at all it is annoying to hear that stuff all the time
• Anonymous said… I would say anxiety. That's how my husband and oldest son project their anxiety. The right meds for both of them helps with that so so much.
• Anonymous said… I'm really not having a go at all but some of this ( and I mean some not all) can be solved by very strict parenting - not a day without the house rules... Nothing. Hard work but you will get there... It's very hard to differentiate between what is truly aspergers behaviour and what is a naughty child... The latter needs telling. Aspergers isn't a licence for bad behaviour non stop. I have been through it with my son but honestly you will get through to the other side by just sticking to your guns.
• Anonymous said… It is expectation. In their all or nthing thinking, They expect you to be a certain way. Perform to a certain level. Respond immediately. Know everything. Be everything. When you fall short of their expectations, as you invariably will, you get the eye roll and huffing and puffing. Teach them that people don't operate at their level. That they can and will do it their way, in their own time. Just because he expects it does not mean it's going to happen.
• Anonymous said… It is like reading the story of my 12 year old! Sigh.
• Anonymous said… it is the autism, my son has same diagnosis. there are many tricks to helping him. these kids benefit from programs that teach them how to read body language. set s place for his shoes and make sure they are put in same place for him til he gets used to doing it for himself. allow him to have his own tv solves the tv issue. and with my son i just have to do his laundry regular esp. if he has a fave shirt he wants to wear everyday cause it has to get washed after every use, they can be OCD about a lot of things! sometimes you just got to see the humour in it.
• Anonymous said… Keep smiling keep loving him xx have a good moan and chat when he's at school xx surround yourself with positive people! You are not alone in this xx
• Anonymous said… My 14 year old! The constant mumbling "whatever, you don't care" under his breath when I don't hear what he said to me or he doesn't think I'm interested in what he says. Everyday! I think I just expect to hear it now on a daily basis. Some days it's not as easy to tolerate.
• Anonymous said… My 9 year old until I insisted on putting him in lexapro . He's a different person now. The psychiatrist wanted him in mood stabilizers . They didn't work he was angry then at times a zombie and gained weight which caused more problems . Find a good Psychiatrist. Good luck it's a game of trial and error. It's so exhausting and emotionally draining . Mine is also 9
• Anonymous said… My daughter does some of the same things. I do not allow her to continue with the behavior. I tell her yes things are going to agitate her but she can't control other people only herself. If she is agitated I tell her to remove herself from the situation of possible.
• Anonymous said… My daughter is on a natural supplement called GABA recommended by her therapist. It is amazing and helps with the anxiety.
• Anonymous said… my poor lad spent quite a lot of his time in bedroom when younger. It's v tricky to know what's right but my boy is 14 now and just fabulous!
• Anonymous said… My sentiments exactly. My son (not an aspie) has been in therapy since he was 8 years old (he's 18 now) and it did help some.. but since he has been on Paxil he is just feeling so much better.. we are getting to see the real kid
• Anonymous said… My son has always reminded me of an old curmudgeon. LOL! Part of it is from anxiety.
• Anonymous said… Not saying this is the case in every family, BUT kids do mirror how their parents act in any given situation. How the parent reacts in a stressful or bad situation is important. Are Mom and Dad yelling and screaming at eachother or the kids or they acting like the adult and staying calm ? I think all kids will see how far they can push you,but with our kids in the spectrum it may be other triggers setting them off 9 times out of 10 and it's your job as their parent to help them through it.
• Anonymous said… Now if you try to hold his hand he digs his nails in you, if you hold his arm he yells your hurting him which we are not. Prior to him moving in my home last year I never had issues with him.
• Anonymous said… Pathological demand avoidance after all these years my daughter is finally diagnosed she is now 40 years old!!!
• Anonymous said… Sounds like A 7 old i know saying "Life is horrible" etc for any "good" reason
• Anonymous said… Sounds like my 5 yr old grandson who hasn't be diagnosed but is being evaluated for it, he doesn't act like this at school either. His 2 yr old sister shares the same attitude so I'm questioning why do they share the same type behavior? My grandson growls to express his anger a lot. I discipline him as if he is a just a normal child but with a slight difference bcz he needs to learn it's not ok to hurt people and the fact I don't know if he's autistic or not. He scratches the paint off my wall in time out. I figure if he can behave at school, he can behave here or at home.
• Anonymous said… Sounds like my 6 nearly 7 year old son
• Anonymous said… Sounds like my hubby and daughter LOL!
• Anonymous said… That's like the majority of 14 year olds!... It's up to you to decide whether you accept it or not...not much to do with aspergers imho
• Anonymous said… The therapy recommended for my daughter was cognitive behavioral therapy. In one year her tantrums and anxiety have decreased dramatically.
• Anonymous said… This sounds exactly like my 8 year old daughter.
• Anonymous said… Took him to an air show yesterday and spent most of the time disciplining him. to stay side by side as we walked, disturbing other people, asking for food or to buy him stuff bcz I wasn't paying the high prices. He makes up his own jibberish language (which I used to do and a young child), he is impulsive(what comes to mind he does-something I used to do).
• Anonymous said… Very difficult when this is your everyday, my easily upset one is an adult now and manages himself better , he really didn`t know anyone else was upset by his actions or why they would be. Empathy is not his big thing I have had to learn to love him in spite of his behavior.
• Anonymous said… We are living this nightmare now with our son. He is 15. Oddly enough when he was younger he rarely got upset. It wasn't until the end of 7th grade that the anger issues began to show and now its a common occurrence. Just dealing with a teen is hard enough but then compound that with Aspergers. It's exhausting! We recently turned to a psychiatrist and counseling. Too early to tell if it has helped...he is more aware and is trying to make a conscious effort to not get angry. Its a start (:
• Anonymous said… Wow I thought I was reading my own story. I have a 8 year old high functioning Aspergers who is exactly this story. Yesterday he totally lost control and became violent. Later he broke down crying and asked for a cuddle. He revealed that all his friends for dumping him and he felt different confused and that no one understood him. As devastating and heartbreaking as that was for us to hear at least I know he trusts me enough to have those tough conversations. Even at 8 he loves his cuddles. I don't think anyway has the right I think we just work it out along the way as every child is different there sensory needs are different and the way the my respond is obviously different. Hang in there stay calm and take a breath
• Anonymous said… You pick and choose your battles and keep moving forward
• Anonymous said…Oh you just wrote about my son. He is 19 now. But still. Cracked it yesterday cause one of his computer leads got tangled - they seem to have a very short fuse.
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