Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Halloween Precautions for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Do you want to avoid trick-or-treat tantrums and meltdowns?

All kids eagerly anticipate Halloween. It is their night out on the town. They may spend hours planning their costumes, mapping out their trick-or-treat routes, and devising new ways to sort and ration their bag of goodies at the end of trick-or-treating.

Children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) might see this special day differently. The bright and colorful costumes become too much for the eyes, or the decorative outfits are too itchy or obstruct movement. The smell of candles might be repulsive. The noises and flashing lights at the local “haunted house” go beyond an innocent scare, causing some AS and HFA children actual physical discomfort.

Halloween can be fun and exciting, but it can also be very frightening. For example, some AS and HFA children see a clown and think it’s the funniest, greatest thing. Others will look at that clown and think that it’s horrifying. Halloween is the same kind of phenomenon – even more so.

Parents will do well to follow these tips on having a positive Halloween experience for their AS and HFA trick-or-treaters:

1. Bobbing for apples is a popular Halloween activity; however, your youngster may not want to bob for apples. Rather than forcing him or berating him, have your child participate in a way that he is comfortable with (e.g., putting the apples in a bucket). This way, he is still part of the activity, but it’s a comfortable fit.

2. Adapt the party activities. Rather than diving into the slimy insides of gourds to carve pumpkins, decorate them with stickers or paint. Many children on the autism spectrum do not like the usual Halloween events. Some of the typical party fare (e.g., “guess what is in this bowl while blindfolded”) can cause sensory overload – so plan accordingly.

3. Avoid lectures and criticism during this special (and perhaps stressful) day. Focus instead on simple, factual statements of any problem behavior and the consequence (e.g., "Michael, don't walk into the road. Stay on the sidewalk, or we will go home."). Be prepared to act on your consequence if your youngster does not comply. It may be inconvenient, but it is important to follow through on consequences to improve your youngster's compliance in the future.

4. Consider time-outs for any misbehavior. This might mean returning home briefly (5 to 10 min.) before attempting another launch into the treat-gathering experience.

5. Keep it fun. Ignore minor inappropriate behaviors and focus on the most important problem behaviors.

6. Monitor your youngster throughout the Halloween festivities, and try to end the holiday celebrations before he has a meltdown. If you notice he is getting cranky or tense, it’s time to head home. Ending on a high note is crucial to AS and HFA kids’ self-confidence and sense that they had a positive experience.

7. Plan a special activity for AFTER trick-or-treating (e.g., a favorite snack or an age-appropriate movie). Before you begin trick-or-treating, tell your youngster about your plans. Remind her when it is time to go home to engage in this fun activity that is waiting. This may reduce the possibility of a tantrum or meltdown.

8. Kids on the autism spectrum do better when they know what to expect. So read a book about trick-or-treating, and practice at home before the big night. Using “pre-task rehearsal” to teach AS and HFA children acceptable behaviors on the trick-or-treat routes, during parties, etc., is smart parenting. Also, make sure to talk about the holiday and how some things are different on Halloween – and why (e.g., taking candy from strangers).

9. Set a time limit for trick-or-treating, and plan your route ahead of time. Tell your youngster what to expect, how long the journey will last, where you are going, and when you plan to return home.

10. Test the costume, and take your child’s sensitivities into account. Have your child try on his costume to make sure the outfits aren’t too itchy, tight or stiff, and that he can move easily in it. If he doesn’t like having things touch his face, don’t include make-up or a mask. If he is physically uncomfortable, he won’t have fun trick-or-treating, and you risk putting him in meltdown-mode.

11. Trick-or-treating simply may not work for some children on the spectrum. In this case, pick what works for your family. If it’s not trick-or-treating, tell your youngster you are celebrating by decorating pumpkins or jumping in the leaves – or make it about celebrating fall with apple-picking and a hayride (last year, we stayed home and made candy apples – the evening worked out just fine!).

12. Try to reward appropriate behavior and apply consequences to problem behavior as soon as it happens and as consistently as possible. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to keep up with impulsive “special needs” kids, but if you fall behind, your interventions will be less successful and may not help at all.

With a little preparation and planning, AS and HFA children with sensory difficulties can have a positive and memorable Halloween experience. Good luck - and have fun!

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns

Imagine What It's Like To Live With High-Functioning Autism

Many kids with HFA want to have friends, but they simply don't know how to go about it. They may not be able to understand others' emotions, or read facial expressions and body language. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression. And there's more...

  • Anonymous said... Good explanation. 
  • Anonymous said... Nice video of some of the simple basics. I would love to see every school do a performance for the children to explain what autism is, isn't. We all know it's there, bring it out and be proud of being you should be the message taught. If you teach pride, ignorance doesn't hurt you as much. Unfortunately, schools I've dealt with state that parents are more opposed to their children becoming targets and want them to fly under the radar. Have we not noticed sight out of mind didn't
  • Anonymous said... Sometimes I feel like I need to carry a pamphlet on Apraxia so I do not have to explain it over and over again to new people! Lol

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The Lonely Child on the Spectrum

Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are more likely to be lonely than “typical” kids. Research shows that they face considerable challenges in making and keeping friends. When a youngster comes home and says, "no one likes me" or "everyone hates me," it can be hard for a mother or father to tell the difference between "temporary exclusion" versus "ongoing rejection." 

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management: Help for Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Moodiness and Depression in Teens with Asperger's and HFA

“How should I handle my teenage son’s emotional instability? Specifically, how can I tell the difference between 'normal' moodiness that occurs in adolescence and depression? My son seems to have significantly more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’. He’s usually very grouchy and pretty much stays to himself. Is this typical for teens with Asperger syndrome? Should I be concerned? What can I do to help?”

Moodiness and depression are common among teens in general. And young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are at even greater risk for these comorbid conditions. Teens on the autism spectrum have a “developmental disorder,” which means that their emotional age is significantly younger than their chronological age. For example, the teenager may be 16-years-old, but still have the social skills of a 9-year-old. This dilemma causes problems for the teen due to the fact that he or she experiences great difficulty in relating to same-age peers, which in turn may result in rejection from the peer group – and this contributes largely to the AS or HFA teen’s lack of self-esteem and depression.

In addition, cognitive control systems lag behind emotional development making it hard for AS and HFA teens to cope with their emotions. Furthermore, beyond the biological factors, a lot of other changes are occurring during adolescence (e.g., experiencing first loves and breakups, butting heads with parents, start of high school, etc.). No wonder some teens on the spectrum struggle through this time in their life.

Unfortunately, other complicating factors are at play during the teenage years:

Difficulty with transitions— Largely due to the uneasy transition toward adulthood, most teens on the spectrum experience an increase in anxiety. It is during this time that they are dangling between the dependency of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. It can feel intimidating to prepare to leave high school, head off to college, or into the job market. All these factors induce more mood swings and anxiety in AS and HFA teens.

Peer-rejection— Many teens on the spectrum are deliberately excluded from social relationships among their age group. As a result, they often choose to isolate themselves, which makes a bad problem worse. A teenager who feels rejected often spends too much time playing video games and on social networking sites, thus losing touch with peers even more. Teens who are ostracized by their peers also tend to underachieve academically.

Poor social skills— Most young people with AS and HFA experience social skills deficits. As a result, interactions with peers become very unpleasant. The more they “fail” in connecting with peers, the more they isolate. They want to “fit-in” and be accepted, but simply haven’t figured out the social politics needed to find and keep friends.

Low self-esteem— Peer-group rejection results in a decline in their self-image, a state of despair, behavioral difficulties, loneliness and seclusion.

So as a parent, how do you know when to wait out the moods – and when to worry? The truth is that it's difficult to know, because every teenager is different. Rapid physiological changes are occurring during adolescence. Therefore, a degree of vacillation between "ups" and "downs" can be expected. However, there is big difference between teenage mood swings and genuine depression. The major symptoms of depression may include:
  • changes in appetite
  • episodes of moping and crying
  • fatigue
  • loss of enthusiasm or interest in favorite activities
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • mood swings that seem out of proportion to the circumstances
  • negative self-concept
  • outbursts of anger 
  • painful thoughts that manifest themselves in relentless introspection
  • persistent anxiety
  • persistent sadness
  • poor school performance
  • sense of hopelessness
  • withdrawal and isolation

If an AS or HFA teenager is suffering from depression, parents can expect to see the following symptoms unfold in three successive stages:
  1. Inability to concentrate, withdrawal from friends, impulsive acts, and declining academic performance
  2. Acts of aggression, rapid mood swings, loss of friends, mild rebellion, and sudden changes in personality
  3. Overt rebellion, extreme fatigue, giving away prized possessions, expressions of hopelessness, and suicidal threats or gestures

Other common symptoms of depression in adolescents include: eating or sleeping too much, feeling extremely sensitive, feeling misunderstood, feeling negative and worthless, poor attendance at school, self-harm, and using recreational drugs or alcohol.

Symptoms caused by depression can vary from child to child. To discover the type of depression your AS or HFA teenager has, your physician may add one or more “specifiers.” A specifier simply means that your teen has depression with specific features, for example:
  • Seasonal pattern: depression related to changes in seasons and reduced exposure to sunlight
  • Mixed features: simultaneous depression and mania, which includes elevated self-esteem, talking too much, and increased energy
  • Melancholic features: severe depression with lack of response to something that used to bring pleasure and associated with early morning awakening, major changes in appetite, feelings of guilt, agitation or sluggishness, and worsened mood in the morning 
  • Catatonia: depression that includes motor activity that involves either uncontrollable and purposeless movement or fixed and inflexible posture
  • Atypical features: depression that includes the ability to temporarily be cheered by happy events, increased appetite, sensitivity to rejection, a heavy feeling in the arms or legs, and excessive need for sleep
  • Anxious distress: depression with unusual restlessness or worry about possible events or loss of control


1. Psychotherapy: Different types of psychotherapy can be effective for depression in AS and HFA teens (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy). Psychotherapy can help your teen:
  • regain a sense of satisfaction and control in his or her life
  • ease depression symptoms (e.g., hopelessness and anger)
  • learn to set realistic goals for his or her life
  • identify negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones
  • identify issues that contribute to his or her depression
  • change behaviors that make depression worse
  • find better ways to cope and solve problems
  • explore relationships and experiences
  • develop positive interactions with peers
  • develop the ability to tolerate and accept distress using healthier behaviors
  • adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty

2. Alternative Therapies: Therapies other than face-to-face office sessions are available and can be highly effective for teens on the autism spectrum (e.g., as a computer program, by online sessions, or using videos or workbooks). These can be guided by a therapist or be totally independent.

3. Social Skills Training: Teens on the autism spectrum experience depression largely due to their awkwardness in interpersonal relationships. Thus, social skills training is perhaps the best method for combating depression in these young people. A major goal of social skills training is teaching AS and HFA teens:
  • how to understand verbal and nonverbal behaviors involved in social interactions
  • how to make "small talk" in social settings
  • the importance of good eye contact during a conversation
  • how to "read" the many subtle cues contained in social interactions
  • how to tell when someone wants to change the topic of conversation or shift to another activity
  • how to interpret social signals so that they can determine how to act appropriately in the company of others in a variety of different situations

Social skills training assumes that when “special needs” teens improve their social skills and change selected behaviors, they will raise their self-esteem and increase the likelihood that others will respond favorably to them. The AS or HFA teen learns to change his or her social behavior patterns by practicing selected behaviors in individual or group therapy sessions.

4. Medication: Many types of antidepressants are available, including:
  • Atypical antidepressants (Wellbutrin XL, Wellbutrin SR, Aplenzin, Forfivo XL, Remeron, Trintellix)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Parnate, Nardil, Marplan, Emsam)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, Pexeva, Zoloft, Viibryd)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Cymbalta, Effexor XR, Pristiq, Khedezla, Fetzima)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (Tofranil, Pamelor, Surmontil, Norpramin, Vivactil)

Other medications can be added to an antidepressant to enhance antidepressant effects. Your physician may recommend combining two antidepressants or adding medications (e.g., mood stabilizers or antipsychotics). Anti-anxiety and stimulant medications can also be added for short-term use.

Other things that parents can do to combat moodiness and depression in their AS or HFA teenager include: encouraging physical activity; praising the youngster's skills; promoting participation in organized activities; reminding your youngster that you care by listening, showing interest in his or her problems, and respecting his or her feelings; and setting aside time each day to talk to your youngster (this step is crucial in preventing further isolation, withdrawal, and progressive depression).

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

The 6 Most Important Things Parents Can Do for Their Child with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism

“We recently got a diagnosis of high-functioning autism for our 6 y.o. son. After researching all the interventions that are recommended, my husband and I are feeling quite overwhelmed. Our son has so much to work on, and we simply don’t know where to begin. Please give us a starting point so we’ll know if we’re on the right path or not. We desperately want our son to be as happy and ‘functional’ as possible.”

Being a parent of a youngster with Asperger’s (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA) is both exhausting and rewarding. Whenever you feel confused, apprehensive or worried, know that you are not alone. The good news is this: armed with just a few simple “tools,” your course-of-action can run relatively smoothly.

Although there are many techniques parents will need to employ to successfully raise a child on the autism spectrum, here are the 6 most important ones to consider first:

1. Analyze your AS or HFA youngster’s strengths and weaknesses – and find the right tools to help him or her.

Think about what you know about your youngster before selecting any treatment options. Each youngster on the spectrum is different – there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to interventions. What works wonderfully for one child may backfire drastically for another. Count on the fact that there will be some trial-and-error as you search for the right approach to dealing with your child’s challenges. As you stay the course, there will be clues and indicators of what will work best for YOUR child.

Pay close attention to your parental instincts. Just because you heard something worked for someone you know - and their youngster got much better - does NOT mean that the same intervention will work for your child. You will have the most success if you know your youngster’s strengths and weaknesses, and find a combination of techniques that are a good match for him or her.

2. Understand that your youngster will NOT know what to expect in social situations. So, teach him or her what to expect in various situations in a very clear and precise manner.

Imagine how a pajama party might seem to a child who has never been to one (e.g., kids running around laughing and jumping, popcorn all over the place, pillow fights, trying to sleep on the floor rather than in your own bed, and so on). Imagine how it would feel to go to your first day of elementary school when you’re around 30 other kids, you don’t know where the bathroom is, you don’t know how to ask the other kids if you can play with them, you’re not sure how to interact with peers in the unstructured environment of lunch time and recess, and so on.

Kids on the autism spectrum have social skills deficits. Thus, they do best when placed FIRST into social situations that interest them and have plenty of structure. As your child ages, expose him to more social situations, and provide him with information about what to expect and how to behave. For example, if your child is meeting his teacher for the first time, let him know exactly what it involves (e.g., going to the school, walking into the classroom, saying “Hi, my name is Max”, shaking the teacher’s hand, making eye contact, listening to the teacher introduce herself, and answering any questions she may have). Never feel that you are breaking things down too far for your AS or HFA child. The more detailed and concrete your instruction – the better!

3. Find activities that your AS or HFA youngster is highly interested in, and help him cultivate friendships within those activities.

Children on the spectrum have difficulty finding and keeping friends. For instance, Michael (a 6-year-old) is friends with James (also 6 years old). Michael has HFA and does not like to be in large groups of people. Michael likes soccer, but James likes to talk to his friends. Michael often becomes frustrated and is not sure what to say when James is around. Michael doesn’t read social cues, doesn’t know how to get into the conversation, and doesn’t like to talk about what James and his friends are talking about.

Because Michael enjoys soccer, finding a soccer team or class that he can attend regularly, and then role-playing and coaching him to help with social skills related to those relationships could evolve into people who know Michael and share an interest with him. In the future, those relationships will turn into friendships and into a network of advocates who will share Michael’s interests.

4. Become your child’s advocate.

As a mother or father, you’re the one who has spent the most time with your child, and you may have already figured out what works and what doesn’t (or are coming close to figuring it out). As an expert on your child, you may find yourself being his advocate all the time.

Much of this advocacy happens in the classroom. You’ll need to tell your child’s teacher what techniques work best, what triggers him, and what calms him down. If you find that the school system is just dragging your child along without actually educating him, you’ll need to advocate by talking to the principal, superintendent, or even a lawyer. It may take all of these people to get the school system to take your child’s education seriously.
5. Appreciate the benefits of consistency and routines.

Example: Shelley wakes up one morning and eats a bowl of cereal, brushes her teeth, gets dressed, then gets on the bus. The next morning, she wakes up and is surprised to find that she has to take a shower before getting dressed. She becomes agitated and has a meltdown. She starts slapping the wall and knocking stuff off of the counter on to the floor. Now all the kids are late to school – and stressed out!

By building in predictability when possible, your AS or HFA child does not have to find other ways to cope (e.g., meltdowns, tantrums, shutdowns, aggression, etc.). Of course, you can’t predict every situation in life, but having a core routine within the family, and preparing your “special needs” child for any upcoming change in routine, will cut down on family stress ten-fold.

In Shelley’s case, maybe she got extremely dirty the night before, but it was too late for her to take a shower. So, you had her get the shower the next morning before school. In this scenario, it would be important to tell her the night before what to expect the next morning. Preferably, you would make a schedule (written or with pictures) so she could visually see what to expect the next day.

Visual schedules are very important when changes in routines are necessary. However, be careful not to over-schedule the routine. Some kids on the spectrum become so dependent on their routines that it can be very upsetting to alter them when “life” happens. Thus, try to build adaptations and variations into your child’s regular routines. This will teach him to cope with the many changes in routines that happen all the time.

6. Take action as soon as possible.

Some therapists have reported working with kids 2 to 3 years old who were diagnosed very early with an autism spectrum disorder that looked like classic Autism (e.g., screaming, banging head into the wall, flapping arms all day with no initiation of communication, etc.) – but with early intervention and treatment, their symptoms fell more in line with high-functioning autism or mild Asperger’s by the time they were 5.

Kids who are already in elementary school and have never had services because the parents thought they were simply late talkers have missed the optimal time for intervention. Thus, the prognosis for improvement is less than ideal.

Parents must catch their child when he is very young and provide treatment. It’s better to help a child who would have been fine either way than to overlook him because you think he will “grow out of it.” Many therapists report working with children who are 5 years old, and the parent knew something was not coming together right for years. Getting help early works. Step through the fear and advocate for the services your youngster needs.


The initial period of learning about AS or HFA - and all of the necessary therapies and treatments - can be isolating. You may even feel sad at first, or angry that your life with a child on the spectrum is different than the one you dreamed of and different than the lives of most of those around you. Your ideal world will be very different from the world you actually live in. Still, there are many ways to work towards making your life more of how you want it to be.

As you begin to get more involved in the Autism community, there will be more activity and company of others. This involvement will help your situation feel more “normal” as it provides more chances for typical activity and interaction with others. Over time, life and ideals change, and you will begin to dream new dreams for your real world. 

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

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

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

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

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

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

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

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

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes.

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

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

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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

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Click here for your single parent discount ==> Parenting Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content