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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The Most Difficult Trait that Children with Asperger’s and HFA Must Endure

Neurocognitive disorders affect cognitive abilities (e.g., learning, memory, perception, and problem solving). The DSM-5 defines six key domains of cognitive function: social cognition, perceptual-motor function, learning and memory, language, executive function, and complex attention.

Mind-blindness, the opposite of empathy, is a cognitive disorder in which the child with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) is unable to predict the mental states of others (i.e., their thoughts, beliefs, emotions, desires, behaviors, intentions, and so on). It’s not necessarily caused by an inability to imagine an answer, but is often due to an inability to gather enough information to decipher which of the many possible answers is correct. This is referred to as an empathetic cognitive deficit.

Empathy is usually divided into two major components: (1) cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another's perspective or mental state, and (2) affective empathy is the ability to respond with an appropriate emotion to another's mental states. Cognitive and affective empathy are also independent from one another (e.g., you may not be very good at understanding another person’s perspective, but you may be very good at empathizing with others). Children on the autism spectrum have deficits in both cognitive and affective empathy.

Cognitive empathy can be subdivided into three categories: (1) tactical or strategic empathy, which is the deliberate use of perspective-taking to achieve certain desired ends; (2) perspective-taking, which is the tendency to spontaneously adopt another person’s psychological perspectives; and (3) fantasy, which is the tendency to identify with fictional characters.

Affective empathy can be subdivided into two categories: (1) personal distress, which is possessing feelings of discomfort and anxiety in response to another's suffering; and (2) empathic concern, which is having compassion for others in response to their suffering.

Mind-blindness is a state where the ability to make automatic interpretations of events taking into consideration the mental states of people, their desires and beliefs has not been developed or lost in the AS or HFA child. Imagine living with a disorder in which you can’t perceive or interpret the behavior of others – the needs, desires, feelings, beliefs, goals, purposes, and reasons of other people are a total mystery for you. No wonder why a child on the autism spectrum often views the world as a very confusing and frightening place.

The social and cognitive impairments seen in AS and HFA children can be attributed to mind-blindness. The abnormal behavior of these young people includes a lack of reciprocity, difficulty empathizing with others, being totally withdrawn from social settings, not being able to make eye contact, and having no desire to interact with other people (i.e., social detachment).

Behavioral manifestations that can occur in children with AS and HFA due to mind-blindness include the following:
  • lack of empathy for others and their emotions
  • difficulty with inferential thinking and problem solving (e.g., completing a multi-step task that is novel)
  • impaired reading comprehension (e.g., difficulty understanding characters in stories, why they do or do not do something)
  • lack of awareness that they can say something that will hurt someone's feelings or that an apology would make the person feel better
  • lack of awareness that others have intentions or viewpoints different from their own
  • when engaging in off-topic conversation, they don’t realize the listener is having great difficulty following the conversation
  • lack of awareness that others have thoughts, beliefs, and desires that influence their behavior
  • preference for factual reading materials rather than fiction
  • tendency to view the world in black-and-white terms

Children without an Autism Spectrum Disorder (i.e., neurotypicals) naturally have the ability to make automatic interpretations of events taking into consideration the mental states of people, their desires and beliefs. This is called mentalizing. Neurotypical kids can explain and predict others' behavior in terms of their presumed thoughts and feelings.

For example, you may observe me in my woodshop bent over a tool chest pulling out and putting back tools. You would make sense of this behavior by mentalizing (i.e., automatically recognizing that I am looking for a particular tool that I believe is in one of the drawers of my tool chest). Without mentalizing, you may come up with an odd interpretation of what I was doing (e.g., perhaps sorting my tools by size, weight or color – or enjoying the sound of clanking tools, etc.).

Mind-blindness theory suggests that the milestones of the normal development of mentalizing are absent in kids on the spectrum. Specifically, they fail to understand make-believe play, fail to point at or show objects of interest (both signs of shared attention), and fail to follow another person's gaze.

To simplify, think of mind-blindness as a condition in which you can’t imagine what another person may be thinking of feeling. Possibly, the most difficult aspect of AS and HFA is this subtle but devastating deficit in human social insight.


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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.

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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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