Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Helping Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autistic Teens Deal with Their "Disorder"

Teens with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) bring their unique flavor to adolescence, essentially determined by the levels of three principles: avoidance, insight, and interest. Let's look at each in turn:

Level of avoidance— In the social development of AS and HFA teens who show some interest in peer interactions, social anxiety and resultant avoidance play an important role. Some of these teens get very nervous just with the thought of approaching others and may choose to avoid it at all costs. Their avoidance may appear as if they are not interested in others. It’s important to differentiate this since anxiety can be treated much more easily than genuine lack of interest.

Level of insight— Some teens with AS and HFA will not avoid interacting with others younger, older or similar age. Rather, they are eager to communicate, though, often in a clumsy “in-your-face” way. The level of their insight into their social deficit will then become the determining factor of their social success. If they are unaware of their shortcomings in gauging the social atmosphere and reading social cues, they may inadvertently come across as rude, insulting or boring. They may miss subtle criticism, sarcasm or teasing. As they develop better insight, they become more motivated to learn what had previously not come naturally and intuitively. They also have a better chance to work through a sense of loss.

Level of interest— Some teens with AS and HFA will show little or no interest in others. They may seem to be totally unaware of their friends’ presence, or they may appear indifferent when friends try to interact. As the symptoms of this disorder get less severe over time, the level of interest in developing friendships usually increases. For these “special needs” teens, the quality of social interactions mostly depends on the levels of avoidance and insight.

Regardless of the individual developmental route, most teens on the autism spectrum start realizing that they are not quite like others at some point during their teenage years. A few factors seem to facilitate the process: (a) a higher level of interest in others; (b) a higher level insight into difficulties in social interaction; and (c) a higher IQ.

Once the young person realizes that he has significant difficulties in conducting social relationships compared to his peers, he needs to deal with this loss. Understanding the thoughts, feelings and behavior of an adolescent on the spectrum is the necessary first step in helping him. Parents need to consider the following coping process that AS and HFA teens go through when dealing with their losses:
  • Denial (e.g., “I don’t have Asperger’s!”)
  • Anger (e.g., “Why do I have this stupid disorder – it’s not fair.”)
  • Bargaining (e.g., “Maybe there’s a cure or some medication I can take that will make it go away.”)
  • Depression (e.g., “I guess I really do have this disorder. I can’t seem to make friends like everybody else can. Nobody likes me.”)
  • Acceptance (e.g., “O.K. So I have this thing called Asperger’s – so what?! A lot of people have it. I don’t care what others think about me. If they don’t like me, that’s their problem.”)

Most commonly, the young person on the autism spectrum will not go through these stages one after another, but rather display a larger or smaller aspect of each at any given time. This is a painful process for both the teen and his parents. Moms and dads may find themselves trying to avoid addressing their teen’s painful circumstances. We are all tempted to avoid pain – and denial is an excellent painkiller. However, as much as denial is contagious, courage and strength are contagious as well. An AS or HFA teenager seeing his parents dealing with the hard issues calmly and rationally will be encouraged to talk about his anger and frustration. This will in turn help him get closer to acceptance.

Teenagers with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Special Considerations for Parents 

Tips for helping your Asperger’s or HFA teen to deal with his disorder:

1. You don’t have to bring up the subject of “spectrum disorders,” but if your teen does, give him a good listening ear – and be patient. Don’t try to change the subject unless he does so.

2. If your AS or HFA teen seems to be depressed, offer the option of counseling. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger. But try not to push the idea directly, even if you feel that your teen clearly needs professional help.

3. Don’t try to minimize your teen’s difficulties, but also don’t let him exaggerate. Provide gentle reality-testing.

4. Most teens with AS and HFA excel in one or two subjects. They tend to accumulate a lot of information on the subject and love to talk about it a lot. Unfortunately, at some point, parents (and siblings) end up losing interest and start getting bored with this “special interest.” Rather than avoiding the subject, try finding out new ways to engage your teen in the subject. Structure the topic in a different way. Find a way to challenge him. Be creative and let the sky be the limit! Your interest will make your teen feel better about himself, and realizing his mastery on the subject will boost his self-esteem.

5. Consider trying an antidepressant medication if your teen doesn’t seem to be able to move on. Look for the following common symptoms of clinical depression (if 5 or more of these are present week after week, you will need to take action):
  • Withdrawing himself from the rest of the family
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and having difficulty falling back to sleep
  • Refusing to participate in group activities
  • Putting himself down (e.g., saying he is “stupid”)
  • Not being able to fall asleep
  • Needing to take naps during the day
  • Making comments such as he hates life, he hates you, nobody loves him, or he wishes he were dead
  • Losing interest in activities he usually enjoys
  • Eating less - or more - than usual
  • Complaining that he is tired all the time
  • Blaming himself unfairly for anything that goes wrong
  • Becoming irritable and angry with the drop of a hat to the point where parents and siblings start walking on egg shells
  • Appearing sad for most of the time

6. Some teens with AS and HFA resolve their sense of loss by turning the issue upside down. That is, rather than clinging to depression and despair, they find their “identity” in their disorder. For example, they may (a) get in touch with other kids on the spectrum, (b) begin educating their peers about AS and HFA at school, (c) set up web sites, chat rooms, or even write books about the disorder, and (d) explore treatment options.

Encouraging your teen as he takes action in these ways may turn out to be the best antidepressant treatment ever. How can you encourage an AS or HFA teen to be proactive? Consider the following ideas:
  • Get in touch with organizations like Aspergers Society of America or Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the U.S., and contact their local chapters.
  • Leave brochures, leaflets and other information about teen groups around to catch the attention of your teenager.
  • Never get discouraged and keep trying, always letting your teen make the first move in showing interest.
  • Attend support groups for moms and dads of teenagers on the spectrum, and make acquaintances.

7. In contrast with their rather slow social development, teens on the autism spectrum develop physiologically and sexually at the same pace as their peers. As your “special needs” teen grows older and displays sexualized behavior, you may find yourself worrying. For example, worrying that: (a) your teen will get pregnant (if a daughter) or will impregnate someone else (if a son), (b) he will be taken advantage of, (c) he will contract sexually transmitted diseases, (d) he will not have the opportunity of enjoying sexual relationships, or (e) he will be misunderstood by others.

While some moms and dads get concerned that their AS or HFA teens show no interest in sexual matters, others have to deal with behaviors such as touching private parts in public, touching others inappropriately, talking about inappropriate subjects, stripping in public, staring at others inappropriately, or masturbating in public. To address these concerns, consider the following tips:
  • Rather than making a few comments about sexuality after an issue becomes problematic (e.g., right after an incident when everybody feels quite emotional about what has just happened), set up a time with your teen to talk about sexuality.
  • Talk about “normal” behavior as it relates to adolescent sexuality, then begin to set realistic - but firm - limits about inappropriate behavior. Seeing your level of comfort around this sensitive topic, your teen will get the message that it’s OK to have sexual feelings – and it’s OK to talk about them. Getting this message alone will bring the tension around sexuality down a few notches.
  • Ask about your teen’s desires and worries. Ask direct questions about what he already knows about sex.
  • Don’t be shy about asking for help. Consulting other moms and dads with teens on the spectrum is a good starting point. Your teen’s school may also be able to help. You can also inquire about professional help, which should provide (a) behavioral modification techniques to discourage inappropriate sexual behavior and promote appropriate sexual behavior, (b) sex education based on your teen’s specific needs, and (c) an individualized sexuality assessment.
  • The key is addressing these issues – not avoiding them.

Hormonal changes, self-identity, and the pressure of being socially acceptable are just a few of the challenges that adolescents have to face. If you add AS or HFA to the equation, then you really have your work cut-out for you as a parent. You can help your “special needs” child, but this begins with becoming knowledgeable about what he must face as a teenager. Learn as much about the disorder as possible and how you can support and help him face his unique challenges during this time.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens


•    Anonymous said... OT can help... Parents just got to know to find the right ones. My OT private practice company has been trying to target adolescents and young adults like this- but nobody really knows because OT is not recognized as a MH provider in the US and the fact that it is done via telehealth. Parents need to know such options EXIST- as OT is not just about sensory integration or handwriting. If parents want to know more, message me. It's such an oxymoron that services do exist, but parents have little or no idea where to look for it. That is why I (as an OT and a self advocate) am trying to educate the autism community about what OT can do beyond what you might know from other parents or advocates. Bottom line- I want to make a difference for the autism community in this regard. I just want parents and other autistic individuals to give me a chance to make an impact. It's going to be a win-win for the autism community... Your teens and young adults get high quality care and you are supporting a fellow self advocate's advocacy efforts to the OT community about autism. Not that I couldn't make an impact at a clinic based job, but supporting my private practice will allow me to make a bigger impact.
•    Anonymous said... I've homeschooled my daughter since she was 13 and compared to when she was younger she is now a joy and easy to parent. We no longer have school related social anxiety and meltdowns. She attends after school clubs and home school get togethers and has made a selection of good friends for the first time in her life. She has a maturity and understanding of things beyond her years and can choose who to share her HFA with and who not. She can find NT girls aobssions with peer conformity amusing or annoying but now has the confidence to be true to herself. She is focused on knowing her limits and finding a place in the world with employment she will cope with and find fulfilling. She has never slept but now is old enough to leave. Compared to my firends and neighbours with NT girls I have no fears concerning alcohol, drugs, underage sex or unwanted pregnancies, and very little in the way of opposition or defiance.

*  Anonymous said... My daughter has been lucky enough to bond with other children on the spectrum in her class. They have formed a peer group that has slowly grown since 6th grade (she is now in 10th) I think the fact that they understand each other and some are better at social skills has really helped them all.

Please post your comment below…

High-Functioning Autism and Genetics

Is There a Link Between GI Problems and High-Functioning Autism?

“Is there a link between GI problems and high-functioning autism? Our son has frequent constipation, and we’re wondering if this has something to do with the disorder.”

Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders do occur in some children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (e.g., chronic constipation, diarrhea, irritable and inflammatory bowel conditions). However, the link between GI issues and autism is up for debate.

One study from the Mayo Clinic found no apparent overall link between the two, although the researchers did find that some individual GI problems are more common in kids on the autism spectrum as compared to their “typical” (i.e., non-autistic) peers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that kids on the autism spectrum are 3.5 times more likely to experience chronic diarrhea or constipation than their typical peers. Some researchers propose that toxins produced by abnormal gut bacteria may trigger or worsen the symptoms associated with the disorder.

Furthermore, researchers report that the GI activity of some young people on the spectrum differs from that of typical children in two major ways: 1) their intestines are home to abnormal amounts of certain digestive bacteria, and 2) their intestinal cells show abnormalities in how they break down and transport carbohydrates. In addition, it has been suggested that some of these children have abnormal levels of certain bacteria. Bacteria play an important role in normal digestion, and abnormal levels have been associated with intestinal inflammation and digestive problems.

We also know that alterations in how intestinal cells break down carbohydrates can affect the amount and type of nutrients that these cells offer to intestinal bacteria. Such alterations may negatively impact the makeup of the intestine’s normal community of digestive bacteria. These findings may explain why some parents of kids on the autism spectrum report that special diets and probiotics improve both their child’s digestion and his or her behavior.

Treating GI Disorders in Kids on the Autism Spectrum—

1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Behavioral modifications include avoiding food near bedtime, eating smaller meals, avoiding foods that tend to trigger symptoms, and elevating the head during sleep. Also, medications can be implemented (e.g., antacids, Pepcid, Zantac, Nexium, Priolosec).

2. Chronic diarrhea: Treatment will depend on the cause. For example, if diarrhea is due to food allergies, lactose intolerance or celiac disease, it’s usually treated with dietary restrictions. Also, medications may be warranted in certain circumstances.

3. Chronic constipation: This condition is often addressed using behavioral management, which includes dietary changes (e.g., increasing fiber, eliminating constipating foods), and management of toileting behaviors (e.g., teaching a child to sit on the toilet after meals). In addition, supplements can be used to alleviate constipation (e.g., soluble fiber, laxatives such as mineral oil, magnesium hydroxide or sorbitol).

4. Casein- and gluten-free diets: Many moms and dads of kids on the spectrum report that behavior improves when their youngster eats a diet free of the proteins gluten (found mostly in wheat, barley and rye) and casein (found in dairy products).

5. Probiotics: In addition to eliminating casein and gluten from their child’s diet, many parents have reported that probiotics (i.e., the "good" bacteria) help lessen gastrointestinal distress.

How Parents Can Help—

You may want to consider consulting with a dietary counselor (e.g., a nutritionist or dietician). If so, bring the counselor a 3 - 5 day “dietary history” by writing down what was eaten and how much. The counselor will review the history to determine whether there is a risk for nutritional deficiency. He or she can then work with you to add foods or supplements that address potential gaps in nutrition.

In addition to providing a history of what was eaten and how much, create a list of the specific symptoms and behaviors that you would like to work on (e.g., your child’s tantrums, meltdowns, shutdowns, inability to sit quietly during class, problems sleeping at night, etc.).

Recruit the assistance of teachers, babysitters, and others outside the family to help you accurately monitor targeted symptoms and behaviors – and verify your awareness of changes. If a consensus is reached that improvements are indeed occurring, then continuing the dietary changes will be worth the cost and effort.

Note that improvements may be due to the removal of just one of the aforementioned proteins (i.e., gluten or casein) from the diet. Some parents report improvement with a gluten-free diet alone, while others report improvements with just a casein-free diet. In addition, improvement may be due to dietary changes other than the removal of casein or gluten (e.g., the new diet replaces processed foods high in sugar and fat with healthier foods like fruits and vegetables).

Also note that a strict casein-gluten free diet requires hard work and can be costly (e.g., parents will be faced with the task of sending or bringing special meals and treats whenever their child eats away from home, it may be difficult to eat from the menus in a restaurant or school cafeteria, birthday parties may present a challenge, etc.).

Marriage Difficulties and Raising Children on the Autism Spectrum

5 Ways to Help Reduce Anxiety in Children with Aspergers

Many advancements have been made in recent years in order to help children with Asperger's Syndrome better manage emotional strife. Because the effects of Asperger’s can range from emotional hypersensitivity to difficulty expressing emotional affect, children diagnosed with Asperger's often require additional support.

Anxiety for children with Aspergers can present a particularly challenging struggle for both the children and their families. Below are some carefully researched suggestions in order to reduce anxiety in children with Asperger’s Syndrome.

First, children with Aspergers often function well with routines and struggle when routines are broken or something unexpected suddenly springs up. Predictable daily schedules will help reduce and prevent anxiety in a child with Asperger's because he or she can understand what to expect on a daily basis out of any situation.

Nonetheless, changes in our routines are inevitable. When changes are anticipated to the child’s routine, it is important to verbalize to him or her what to expect from the situation. If the child is meeting a new person, explain the relationship of this person to the family. If going on vacation or visiting a new place, preview with the child some of the sights, sounds, and experiences he or she can anticipate from the change of scenery.

Allow for the child to begin to process and interpret the new situation beforehand in order to help him or her cope better with the change in routine.

Often, when a child with Asperger's is struggling with anxiety, one of the best solutions to offer include items that help to stimulate the child’s senses. Weighted blankets are a useful tool to include in a child’s bedding.

These blankets are carefully designed to place additional pressure upon the person using them. The intention is for the child to feel an extra tight snuggle. Medical experts support that the added pressure can even simulate the experience and safety and security of the womb.

Much like weighted blankets, pressurized clothing and fabrics are available. Pressurized clothing stimulates the senses. In many cases, these are items like undergarment vests or leggings that allow for the child to actively connect with his or her body and use sensorial coping strategies in order to alleviate tension.

In addition, parents can purchase full body socks that function much like a sleeping bag or cocoon. These items allow for the child to stretch out but to feel secure with added sensorial pressure. These materials help the child to develop motor skills, promote sensory awareness, and help alleviate anxiety when a child is feeling tense.

Apart from fabrics and materials, there are also manual items and toys that can help a child with Asperger's handle his or her anxiety. Children with Asperger's can benefit from both tactile and visual stimulation. Many hand-held items including toys, fidget spinners, and even putties exist to alleviate anxiety.

Fidget toys and spinners are often multifaceted toys that allow for the child to spin, pull, press, twist, or squeeze a small item manually to help to promote sensory awareness and alleviate immediate tension. Similarly, stress putty, much like silly putty or molding clay, can be used to relieve anxiety, offering the child something small and stimulating to squeeze when he or she is feeling anxious.

The final recommendation is a popular solution in modern alternative medicine. Pure essential oils logically help Asperger's children with anxiety because they stimulate the olfactory senses. According to Mental Health Matters, common fragrances selected for anxiety include lavender, chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, and peppermint extracts.

Pure essential oils can be used aromatically using an essential oil diffuser to produce a light scented mist, or they can be used in sprays and lotions to apply to fabric or even directly onto the body. The effects of pure essential oils can be extremely calming and soothing, especially combined with other relaxation techniques. If curious about essential oils, please follow this link for more information and to purchase: Pure Path Essential Oils

The struggles for children with Asperger's Syndrome are unique in many situations. However, taking these suggestions in mind, it is important for children with Asperger's to be able to process their environment and to feel secure. With the assistance of these techniques, parents of children with Asperger's can best assist their children in any anxiety-provoking situation.

Anxiety Management in Aspergers and HFA: 25 Tips for Parents

Anxiety can't be measured or observed except through its behavioral manifestation, either verbal or nonverbal (e.g., crying, complaining of a stomachache or headache, crawling under the table, becoming argumentative, etc.).

To manage the anxiety in Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) kids, moms and dads are encouraged to do any – or all – of the following:

1. Avoid over-scheduling. Soccer, karate, baseball, music lessons, play-dates the list of extracurricular activities children can take on is endless. But too many activities can easily lead to stress and anxiety in kids. Just as grownups need some downtime after work and on weekends, kids also need some quiet time alone to decompress.

2. Be flexible and try to maintain a normal routine.

3. Consult a counselor or your pediatrician. If you suspect that a change in the family such as a new sibling, a move, divorce, or a death of a family member is behind your youngster's stress and anxiety, seek advice from an expert such as your youngster's school counselor, your pediatrician, or a child therapist.

4. Create an anxiety hierarchy, and put the events in order from easy to hard.

5. Develop, practice, and rehearse new behaviors prior to exposure to the real anxiety-producing situation.

6. Don’t dismiss his feelings. Telling your youngster “not to worry about his fears” may only make him feel like he’s doing something wrong by feeling anxious. Let him know that it’s okay to feel bad about something, and encourage him to share his emotions and thoughts.

7. Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress.

8. Get him/her outside. Exercise can boost mood, so get him moving. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block, fresh air and physical activity may be just what he needs to lift his spirits and give him a new perspective on things.

9. Gradually shift “anxiety control” to your youngster by preparing him for anxiety-producing situations by discussing antecedents, settings, triggers, and actions to take.

10. Help your youngster identify the source of the anxiety if he is old enough to understand this concept.

11. If he is old enough, teach your youngster increasing independence in anticipating and coping with anxiety in a variety of situations.

12. Implement new behaviors in the actual situations where anxiety occurs.

13. Keep your youngster healthy. Make sure he’s eating right and getting enough sleep. Not getting enough rest or eating nutritious meals at regular intervals can contribute to your youngster’s stress. If he feels good, he’ll be better equipped to work through whatever is bothering him.

14. Limit your youngster's exposure to upsetting news or stories. If she sees or hears upsetting images or accounts of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis or sees disturbing accounts of violence or terrorism on the news, talk to her about what's going on. Reassure her that she and the people she loves are not in danger. Talk about the aide that people who are victims of disasters or violence receive from humanitarian groups, and discuss ways that she may help, such as by working with her school to raise money for the victims.

15. Listen carefully to your youngster. You know how enormously comforting it can be just to have someone listen when something’s bothering you. Do the same thing for your youngster. If he doesn’t feel like talking, let him know you are there for him. Just be by his side and remind him that you love him and support him.

16. Make a list of numerous anxiety-producing situations, from easy ones to those that are more difficult (this is called “anxiety mapping”).

17. Modify expectations during stressful periods.

18. Offer comfort and distraction. Try to do something she enjoys, like playing a favorite game or cuddling in your lap and having you read to her, just as you did when she was younger. When the chips are down, even a 10-year-old will appreciate a good dose of parent TLC.

19. Plan for transitions (e.g., allow extra time in the morning if getting to school is difficult).

20. Prevent anxiety by “external control” (i.e., structuring the environment to make it predictable, consistent, and safe).

21. Use psychological, environmental and psychopharmacological treatments as needed (see below).

22. Recognize and praise small accomplishments.

23. Set a calm example. You can set the tone for how stress and anxiety in kids is handled in your house. It's virtually impossible to block out stress from our lives in today's high-tech, 24-hour-news-cycle world, but you can do something about how you handle your own stress. And the more you are able to keep things calm and peaceful at home, the less likely it is that anxiety in kids will be a problem in your household.

24. Stay calm when your youngster becomes anxious about a situation or event.

25. Stick to routines. Balance any changes by trying to maintain as much of her regular routine as possible. Try to stick to her regular bedtime and mealtimes, if possible.

Behavioral Manifestations of Anxiety in Kids on the Autism Spectrum 

Summary of Anxiety Treatments for Children on the Autism Spectrum—

1. Psychological Treatments:
  • Behavioral Therapies: Focus on using techniques such as guided imagery, relaxation training, progressive desensitization, flooding as means to reduce anxiety responses or eliminate specific phobias.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Addresses underlying “automatic” thoughts and feelings that result from thoughts, as well as specific techniques to reduce or replace maladaptive behavior patterns.
  • Psychotherapy: Centers on resolution of conflicts and stresses, as well as the developmental aspects of an anxiety disorders solely through talk therapy.
2. Environmental Treatments:
  • Reduction of stressors. Identify and remove or reduce stressful tasks or situations at home, school and work.
  • Good sleep habits. Getting adequate, restful sleep improves response to interventions to treat anxiety disorders.
  • Avoidance or minimization of stimulants. No caffeine, minimize use of asthma medications if possible (bronchodilators, theophylline), avoid use of nasal decongestants, some cough medications, and diet pills.
3. Psychopharmacological Treatments (used as a last resort only):
  • Antihistamines: Older medications used for mild to moderate anxiety for many years. These, like the benzodiazepines, work fairly quickly (Atarax, Vistaril).
  • Benzodiazepines: Long-acting are best (Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, Librium, Serax) to quickly reduce the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. However, if used long term the result may be that tolerance develops.
  • Buspirone (BuSpar): A new serotonergic combination agonist/antagonist. Is nonaddicting, but may take 2 to 4 weeks for full effect.
  • Combination Serotonin/Norepinephrine Agents: New medications such as Effexor, Serzone, and Remeron, also with excellent tolerability and effectiveness. Takes 4 to 6 weeks for full response.
  • Major Tranquilizers (also called neuroleptics): Medications that act on a variety of neurotransmitter systems (acetylcholine, dopamine, histamine, adrenergic). Most are somewhat sedating, and have been used in situations where anxiety is severe enough to cause disorganization of thoughts and abnormal physical and mental sensations, such as the sense that things around you aren't real (derealization) or that you are disconnected with your body (derealization). Commonly used neuroleptics include: Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, Mellaril, Thorazine, Stelazine, Moban, Navane, Prolixin, and Haldol.
  • Serotonergic Agents: Newer antidepressants act as antianxiety agents as well, with excellent tolerability and effectiveness. Takes 4 to 6 weeks for full response (Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil).
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): Older antidepressants with more side effects typically than the serotonergic agents, but also effective. Takes 4 to 6 weeks for full response (Tofranil, Elavil, Pamelor, Sinequan) 

Teaching Interpersonal Relationship Skills to the "Friendless" Child on the Autism Spectrum

One of the most significant problems for children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) is difficulty in social interaction. AS and HFA also create problems with "mind reading" (i.e., knowing what another person might be thinking or feeling).

Most young people can observe others and guess (through a combination of tone and body language) what's "really" going on. But without help and training, AS and HFA children can't.

What comes naturally to “typical” kids does not come naturally to kids on the autism spectrum. The lack of interpersonal relationship skills makes it difficult for these boys and girls to make and keep friends – and often leads to social isolation. Now for the good news: Parents can learn to teach interpersonal relationship skills to their “special needs” youngsters.

Indicators That Your Child Needs Social Skills Training 

Here are some concrete ways to give AS and HFA children the tools they need to interact appropriately in social situations:

1. Practice reciprocal interactions. Some kids with AS and HFA have very one-sided conversations. They often talk only about their favorite subject, fail to ask questions to the peer they converse with, and fail to acknowledge interests of the peer. Thus, teach your youngster how to ask questions during a conversation, and practice taking turns while talking. Let your youngster ask a question, answer it, and let him ask another question. Do this exercise regularly to teach him how to have a conversation.

2. Rehearse social situations through role-play. If your youngster has difficulty in a specific social situation, practice it beforehand. Kids with AS and HFA must be taught what to say and do in specific situations. Engage in role-play with your youngster to physically act-out the situation. Tell him what he is expected to say or do, and then actually have him act it out with you.

3. Consider involving your child in a skills-acquisition group. Relationship skills groups offer an opportunity for children with AS and HFA to practice their interpersonal skills with each other and/or “typical” peers on a regular basis.

4. Teachers can play a crucial role in teaching social skills to students on the autism spectrum. These skills need to be learned and understood well enough by the AS or HFA students to generalize them to outside situations beyond the classroom environment. Thus, to promote “skill generalization,” interventions should focus on orchestrating peer-involvement by prompting students to engage and initiate social interactions with classmates.

Teachers can also work with each individual student to practice new skills learned. Involving outside people (e.g., moms and dads, other family members, other classrooms) to promote different interactions can easily support this. Additionally, field trips can help provide natural and safe settings to practice interpersonal relationship skills outside of the classroom. Lastly, intervention sessions should be used to practice skills (e.g., assigning homework tasks) to increase repetition of training and ensure long-lasting learning.

5. Interpersonal relationship skills should not be a set of hard-and-fast rules. You can’t force AS or HFA kids to memorize them the way they would a set of multiplication tables. Different situations call for dynamic thinking. Thus, teach problem-solving and new ways to approach a particular challenge.

6. Parents can teach their youngsters how to recognize the feelings of others. Many kids with AS and HFA have great difficulty understanding how others feel by reading cues. This greatly impacts their social interactions. Therefore, use picture cards, books and magazines to point out facial expressions to your youngster. Teach her what each facial expression is and what it means. Let her practice by telling you what each facial expression is and what it means.

7. The biggest mistake parents can make is to assume that interpersonal relationship skills can be taught once and remembered forever. Social interaction is fluid, with so many variables that it can be daunting even to a “typical” youngster. For those on the spectrum, the training must continue far longer. Challenges get more and more complex as a youngster ages, bringing more things into the picture. So, be sure to go over the skills your child learned in the beginning on a regular basis, adding in more skills that can help her fine-tune her interactions.

8. Make use of “social skills training” materials. There are many tools and interventions available that involve using videos, software or virtual-reality programs to teach complex interpersonal relationship skills (e.g., recognition of emotions in facial expressions and tone of voice).

9. Make use of social stories. Social stories are simple stories written from the youngster's point of view. Each story describes a specific situation, what other people will do or say in that situation, and what your youngster is expected to do or say in that situation. Information on how to write social stories can be found HERE.

10. Locate resources in your area. Drama therapy, for example, is somewhat unusual, but where it's offered, it has the potential to be both fun and educational. Video modeling, video critiques of interactions, group therapy and other approaches may also be available in your area.

Training an AS or HFA youngster in relationship skills may take months – or even years. You may not see any improvement at first – but over time, it will happen. Stay the course, try new training methods, and be there for your youngster as he matures. Positive results will come if you keep at them.

Take into account the many facets of social interaction. Think about your youngster's strengths and weaknesses. Know his abilities as well as his language skills. With plenty of forethought, you can implement a good social skills training program for your child.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

How to Improve Your Child’s Chances of Finding and Keeping Friends

For most children with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism (HFA), the most important part of a treatment strategy involves the development of communication and social competence.

This emphasis doesn’t reflect a societal pressure for conformity or an attempt to stifle individuality and uniqueness. Rather, it reflects the clinical fact that most children with Asperger’s and HFA are not loners by choice, and that there is a tendency (as these young people develop towards adolescence) for despondency, negativism, and depression as a result of the child's increasing awareness of personal inadequacy in social situations and repeated experiences of failure to make and/or maintain relationships.

The typical limitations of insight and self-reflection experienced by children with Asperger’s and HFA often preclude spontaneous self-adjustment to social and interpersonal demands. The practice of communication and social skills doesn’t imply the eventual acquisition of communicative or social spontaneity and naturalness; however; it does better prepare the child to cope with social and interpersonal expectations, thus enhancing their attractiveness as conversational partners or as potential friends.

The following are suggestions intended to foster relevant skills in this crucial area:

1. The child with Asperger’s and HFA should be taught to monitor her or his own speech style in terms of:
  • adjusting depending on proximity to the listener
  • background noise
  • context and social situation
  • naturalness
  • number of people
  • rhythm
  • volume

2. The child with Asperger’s and HFA should be helped to recognize and use a range of different means to disagree, discuss, interact, mediate, negotiate, and persuade through verbal means. In terms of formal properties of language, the child may benefit from help in thinking about idiomatic language that can only be understood in its own right, and practice in identifying them in both text and conversation.

It’s also important to help the child to develop the ability to anticipate multiple outcomes, to explain motivation, to make inferences, and to predict in order to increase the flexibility with which he or she thinks about - and uses language with - other people.

3. The effort to develop the child's skills with peers in terms of managing social situations should be a priority. This should include:
  • ending topics appropriately
  • feeling comfortable with a range of topics that are typically discussed by same-age peers
  • shifting topics
  • the ability to expand and elaborate on a range of different topics initiated by others
  • topic management

4. Explicit verbal instructions on how to interpret other people's social behavior should be taught and exercised in a rote fashion. Facial and hand gestures, gaze, non-literal communications (e.g., sarcasm, metaphor, humor, figurative language and irony), the meaning of eye contact, tone of voice, and various inflections should all be taught in a fashion not unlike the teaching of a foreign language (i.e., all elements should be made verbally explicit and repeatedly drilled).

5. The same principles as described in #4 should guide the training of the child's expressive skills:
  • Self-monitoring techniques (e.g., practicing in front of a mirror, listening to the recorded speech, watching a video recorded behavior, etc.) should all be incorporated in this program.
  • Social situations contrived in the therapeutic setting that usually require reliance on visual-receptive and other nonverbal skills for interpretation should be used. Also, strategies for deciphering the most salient nonverbal dimensions inherent in these situations should be offered.
  • Encounters with unfamiliar people (e.g., making acquaintances) should be rehearsed until the child is made aware of the impact of her or his behavior on other people's reactions to her or him. 
  • Concrete situations should be exercised in a therapeutic setting and gradually implemented in naturally occurring situations.

As a final note, all those in close contact with the Asperger’s or HFA child should be made aware of the program so that consistency, monitoring and contingent reinforcement are maximized.

Simple Ways To Teach Social Skills to Your Child 

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management


•    Anonymous said... I have a 16 yr old son with aspergers. He has really come out of his shell this year. I attribute it a lot to the fact that we have talked alot about the positive aspects of aspergers, showing him all the greatly successful people with aspergers and we also got him a book for teens written by a women who has it. If you ever want to talk I'd be happy to share with you what has worked for us
•    Anonymous said... My son has aspergers and I have had such a hard time finding a therapist who has made a connection with him to help in any real way if you have any suggestions would love input.
•    Anonymous said... My son is almost 13 & we could use it here too!!!
•    Anonymous said... Our son has recently been diagnosed with HFA and this is exactly the sort of training he needs but have no idea where to turn to get him it. We try at home but it's difficult as he feels it more as a criticism of his current lack of skills rather than we're trying to help. I'm sure professional help would be so much better. As I say, I just don't know where to turn to access such support?
•    Anonymous said... would love to hear what's worked for your family! I have 14yr old boy in denial so can't mention it without him getting very defensive. He shows all the traits mentioned in the post! I have bought an ebook for teenage AS and I'm waiting for the next melt down. I will then open the bedroom door, throw it in, and take cover!!

Please post your comment below…

Behavior-Management Techniques for Children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism

Children with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism (HFA) often exhibit different forms of challenging behavior. It is imperative that these behaviors are not seen as willful or malicious; more accurately, they should be viewed as connected to the child’s disorder and treated as such by means of insightful, therapeutic and educational strategies, rather than by inconsistent punishment or other disciplinary measures that imply the assumption of deliberate misbehavior.

Parents and teachers need to recognize the difficulties that the youngster with Asperger’s or HFA brings to each situation as a result of his or her neurologically-based disorder. Among the common traits of this “special needs” child include the following:
  • A need for predictability and routine
  • A tendency to respond based on association and memory, which leads the youngster to repeat familiar behaviors even when they produce consistently negative results
  • An overly reactive sensory system that makes ordinary noise, smell or touch irritating or intolerable
  • Considerable difficulty organizing himself to do something productive in undirected play activities, in stimulating public situations, or when waiting
  • Emotional responses that are apt to be extreme and are often based on immediate events, leading to rapid changes (e.g., from laughing to screaming)
  • Lack of embarrassment or concern about other people's impressions of them
  • Limited ability to recognize another person's perspective or opinion or to empathize with others
  • Poor recognition of public versus private behavior
  • Problems shifting attention
  • Problems transitioning from one activity to another
  • Recovery from emotional upset is often immediate once the problem is removed, but for some kids on the spectrum, irritability and secondary upsets can continue for hours
  • Significant difficulties with understanding language, especially in group situations
Note: These traits are not the result of poor parenting or teaching. Also, they are not deliberate, willful or manipulative behaviors. They are simply common traits of kids with Asperger’s and HFA.

Symptoms of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism that Cause Behavioral Problems

Specific problem-solving strategies can be taught for handling the requirements of frequently occurring, problematic situations (e.g., involving novelty, intense social demands, frustration, etc.). Training is usually necessary for recognizing situations as problematic and for selecting the best available learned strategy to use in such situations.

The following steps will help parents and teachers implement behavioral management techniques for children and teens on the higher end of the autism spectrum:

Step #1: Prepare a list of frequent and challenging behaviors (e.g., perseverations, obsessions, interrupting, or any other disruptive behaviors). When listing these behaviors, it is important that they are specified in a hierarchy of priorities so that both parent and child can concentrate on a small number of truly troublesome behaviors.

Step #2: Create some specific interventions that help with the challenging behaviors whenever the behaviors arise. Here are just a few examples of appropriate interventions:

Instructional intervention is used with a child who already wants to change his behavior, but simply doesn't know how. This is one of the easier behavior intervention strategies, because you simply need to tell the child what to do and how to do it. Once he has this information, he can change his behavior on his own.

Positive reinforcement is a good behavior intervention technique, because it doesn't even recognize the negative behavior. To positively reinforce a child, you just tell her that she is doing a great job or otherwise reward her whenever she does the right thing. This creates a situation where she associates the right thing with a good outcome and has no such association with the wrong thing. This helps to positively change behavior without having to punish, yell or otherwise negatively reinforce behaviors.

Negative reinforcement is the opposite of positive reinforcement. Rather than positively reinforce the correct behaviors, negative reinforcement reinforces the incorrect behaviors. This is good for more serious issues (e.g., if the youngster consistently climbs on the counter next to a pot of boiling water, you need to negatively reinforce that behavior immediately, because the consequences of knocking over the pot are so dire). Examples of negative reinforcement include stern words, loss of privileges and other forms of discipline.

Supportive intervention is when the child needs help reinforcing a behavior. She may know it theoretically, but she may not always apply it as it is not yet internalized. So, supportive intervention is when the child is gently guided through positive and negative feedback. It is different from other forms of behavior intervention, because it has a specific spot in the behavior management cycle – specifically, after the behavior has been learned, but before it is consistently applied.

Step #3: Make sure that the interventions listed above are discussed with the Asperger’s or HFA child in an explicit, rule-governed fashion so that clear expectations are set and consistency across adults, settings and situations is maintained.

Step #4: Help the child to make choices. Do not assume that he makes informed decisions based on his own set of elaborate likes and dislikes. Rather he should be helped to consider alternatives of action or choices, as well as their consequences (e.g., rewards and unhappiness) and associated emotions. The need for such an artificial set of guidelines is a result of the Asperger’s or HFA child’s typical poor intuition and knowledge of self.

Additional behavior management strategies that are critical to the success of the Asperger’s or HFA child include the following:

Stick to a routine: This is necessary for both the youngster and the parent. A youngster with Asperger’s or HFA thrives on routine. Being able to anticipate what comes next is soothing and satisfying. Routine lessens anxiety, and a less anxious youngster has fewer outbursts. Adhering to a schedule is a necessary behavior management tool. If the youngster is complacent with her schedule, it eliminates some behavior issues. Behavior management for kids on the autism spectrum is about anticipating what will cause unwanted behavior and eradicating those situations. Because of insufficient social skills, the youngster often has to memorize the rules of situational norms (e.g., eating in a restaurant, waiting in line, sharing with friends, etc.). Routine-based behavioral management techniques focus on the prevention of the negative behaviors that accompany an unstructured or weak routine.

Encourage the child’s special interest: The Asperger’s or HFA youngster will often have a very specific interest and obsess about it. Some moms and dads are apprehensive about encouraging this peculiar behavior, but it is actually a helpful coping technique. The youngster’s special interest can be used to encourage positive behavior (e.g., “If you share with your friend, we will go to the library and check out another book about dinosaurs”). However, don’t use the special interest as a disciplinary tool. Taking away the youngster’s “go-to coping skill” is denying him a form of self-imposed therapy.

Issue rewards for positive behavior immediately: Kids on the autism spectrum are often unable to relate cause and effect, especially if a lot of time exists between the two. Thus, reinforcements should be given immediately. The youngster can’t relate a reward received at the end of the day to a behavior exhibited earlier in the afternoon. Also, rewards should be chosen carefully, and moms and dads need to follow through with the incentive (e.g., if stickers or other tokens are being used to encourage successful behavior, be sure that these rewards are readily available at all times – and in all settings).

Use visual schedules: Kids on the autism spectrum crave structure, and visual schedules are helpful in creating order, clear choices and expectations. A visual schedule is a series of pictures that lists the day’s activities and choices (e.g., a morning schedule posted on the bathroom mirror can have pictures depicting the youngster brushing her teeth, washing her face, and getting dressed …or at breakfast, there may be a visual schedule showing meal options). Depending on the needs of the youngster, the schedule can illustrate more detail.

Dyspraxia in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“My son with high functioning autism is nearly 5 years old and the problem is his clumsiness. I was always clumsy as a kid, which was blamed on my left-handedness, but his is extreme. Today he has dropped two drinks and spilt milk down himself. He is also left handed, but he is grown up for his age, seems very intelligent, and has no other health worries. Is this part of having AS …is it just a phase for his age …or could there be a neurological problem?”

Most children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have a history of delayed acquisition of motor skills (e.g., hand writing, pedaling a bike, tying shoe laces, catching a ball, opening jars, climbing monkey-bars, etc.), which is called “motor clumsiness.” These young people are often visibly awkward, exhibiting rigid gait patterns, odd posture, poor manipulative skills, and significant deficits in visual-motor coordination. Although this presentation contrasts with the pattern of motor development in autistic kids (for whom the area of motor skills is often a relative strength), it is similar in some respects to what is observed in older people with autism.

Dyspraxia is a disorder that affects motor skill development. AS and HFA children with Dyspraxia have trouble planning and completing fine motor tasks. This can vary from simple motor tasks (e.g., waving goodbye) to more complex tasks (e.g., brushing teeth). Dyspraxia is a lifelong disorder, and its severity and symptoms can vary from child to child. Also, it can affect individuals differently at different stages of life. Dyspraxia can affect many basic functions required for daily living, and is often broken down into the following categories: 
  • Constructional Dyspraxia (i.e., establishing spatial relationships, being able to accurately position or move objects from one place to another)
  • Ideational Dyspraxia (i.e., multi-step tasks such as brushing teeth, making a bed, putting clothes on in order, buttoning and buckling)
  • Ideomotor Dyspraxia (i.e., completing single-step motor tasks like combing hair and waving goodbye)
  • Oromotor Dyspraxia (i.e., coordinating the muscle movements needed to pronounce words)

Dyspraxia often exists along with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and other conditions that impact learning). Weaknesses in comprehension, information processing and listening can contribute to the difficulties experienced by children with Dyspraxia. These young people may also have low self-esteem, depression and other emotional and behavioral issues.

AS and HFA kids with Dyspraxia may experience several difficulties.

Younger kids have problems with:
  • Being sensitive to touch (e.g., being irritated by clothing on skin, hair brushing, nail-cutting, or teeth-brushing)
  • Bumping into things
  • Establishing left- or right- handedness
  • Learning to walk, jump, hop, skip and throw or catch a ball
  • Moving the eyes—instead, moving the whole head
  • Pronouncing words and being understood

School-aged kids have problems with:
  • Doing activities that require fine motor skills (e.g., holding a pencil, buttoning, cutting with scissors)
  • Making social connections due to speech challenges
  • Phobias and obsessive behavior
  • Playing sports, riding a bike and other activities requiring coordination
  • Poor pencil grip and letter formation and slow handwriting
  • Sensing direction
  • Speaking at a normal rate or in way that can be easily understood

Teens have problems with:
  • Clumsiness
  • Cooking or other household chores
  • Driving
  • Over- or under- sensitivity to light, touch, space, taste, or smells
  • Personal grooming and other self-help activities
  • Speech control (i.e., volume, pitch, articulation)
  • Writing and typing

Early identification and intervention can greatly help an AS or HFA child with Dyspraxia. Depending on the severity of the disorder, therapy from occupational, speech and physical therapists can improve the child's ability to function and succeed independently. The following therapies most commonly help these young people:
  • Speech and language therapy: The speech and language therapist will first carry out an assessment of the youngster's speech, and then help him communicate more effectively.
  • Perceptual motor training: This involves improving the youngster's language, visual, movement, and auditory skills. A series of tasks, which gradually becoming more advanced, are set. The goal is to challenge the youngster so that she improves, but not so much that it becomes frustrating or stressful.
  • Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist will first observe how the youngster manages with everyday functions both at home and at school. The therapist will then help the youngster develop skills specific to activities which may be troublesome.
  • Active play: Experts say that “active play” (i.e., any play that involves physical activity), which can be outdoors or inside the home, gets the motor activity going in AS and HFA kids. Play is a way these young people learn about the environment and about themselves (particularly for those aged 3 to 5). Active play is where the youngster's physical and emotional learning, the development of language, special awareness, the development of what his senses are, all come together. The more these kids are involved in active play, the better they will become at interacting with others successfully.
  • Equine therapy: A team researchers evaluated the effects of equine therapy (i.e., therapeutic horse-riding) on a group of 40 kids aged 6 to 15 years with Dyspraxia. These young people participated in six horse-riding sessions lasting 30 minutes each, as well as two 30-minute audiovisual screening sessions. The researchers found that riding therapy stimulated and improved the child’s cognition, mood and gait parameters. The data also pointed to the potential value of an audiovisual approach to equine therapy.

Problems with Handwriting in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

AS and HFA children with Dyspraxia need help practicing simple tasks. Beginning at an early age, it is vital that moms and dads offer patience, encouragement, help and support. These young people often benefit from step-by-step progress into more complex activities. You can start with easy physical activities that develop coordination, and then move on to the more complicated tasks.

Here are just a few ideas that will help you make daily life easier for your AS or HFA youngster:
  • Avoid tight neck holes
  • Baggy t-shirts and shorts are easy and comfortable
  • Buy trousers with an elasticated waist to save dealing with buttons and zips
  • Don't fill cups too full
  • Keep keys and purses on a long chain which clips to clothing
  • Keep to a daily routine
  • Lay out clothing layer by layer, underwear on top
  • Post-it notes stuck at eye-level on doors are useful reminders
  • Shirt collars one size larger are easier to fasten
  • Sit down to eat
  • Transparent purses and pencil cases are good for being able to see contents easily
  • Trousers with a pleat at the front make identifying the 'right way around' easier
  • Use a damp towel under plates to stop them moving
  • Use a flexible straw when drinking to prevent spills

Here are a few activities designed to help your AS or HFA child practice and develop “fine” motor skills:
  • Artwork like drawing, painting, pasting, and cutting are wonderful motor skill exercises.
  • Cut out animal shapes, then punch holes around the edges and have your youngster thread yarn. 
  • Cutting skills should be practiced (e.g., cutting forward on a line and moving the paper with the guiding or non-cutting hand). 
  • Even scribbling will encourage handwriting later.
  • Fill an egg carton with little snacks (e.g., goldfish crackers, Hershey Kisses). 
  • Help your child develop the ability to color within the lines. 
  • Help her develop the ability to copy lines, circles and crosses, and trace diamonds or triangles. Help develop a tripod grasp or a mature pencil grip, taking the pencil between thumb and index finger and resting on the middle finger. 
  • Jigsaw puzzles and light brite help greatly with fine motor skills.
  • Legos! As far as simple fine motor skills activities go, they are very popular!
  • More advanced skills such as adept use of silverware or tying shoelaces should be practiced. 
  • Peel stickers off of a cookie sheet and stick them onto paper.
  • Picking up and laying down pennies is a great exercise.
  • Picking up and sorting beads with clothespins is a good challenge.
  • Play “Scatterpillar Scramble” (a game you can buy at Target or Walmart).
  • Play dough provides four different types of motor skill fundamentals: cutting, rolling, squeezing and stamping.
  • Practice skills such as tying shoes, fastening buttons, zipping and snapping clothing. 
  • Put thin dowels into Styrofoam and put beads on them! 
  • Stringing beads, or even better - cereal with holes is another wonderful exercise.
  • Tape paper under a coffee table or other low surface and have your child lay on his back and draw on the paper.
  • Teach increasingly sophisticated finger motor tasks like playing video games, completing puzzles, playing instruments, and typing on a computer keyboard.
  • Tongs are fun to grab pompoms and sort into different color bowls.
  • Try tearing strips of paper from old phone books (the paper is thin and generally tears in a straight line).
  • Using short pieces of chubby crayon encourages a natural grasp.
  • Using simple hand movements while listening to songs helps kids build fine motor skills.
  • Water play using eye droppers and colored water to explore with is fun.
  • Writing and drawing on vertical surfaces strengthens core and arm muscles as well as fingers.

Here are a few activities designed to help your AS or HFA child practice and develop “gross” motor skills:
  • Balancing (e.g., on a low beam or plank at the playground, or a homemade balance beam)
  • Building and navigating obstacle courses indoors (e.g., with furniture, pillows, boxes, blankets, etc.) or outdoors (e.g., with rocks, logs, playground equipment, etc.
  • Cooking (includes pouring, shaking, sprinkling, kneading, tearing, cutting with butter knife, etc.)
  • Dancing (e.g., freestyle or through songs with movements)
  • Finger plays (e.g., songs like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider")
  • Large-scale arts and crafts activities
  • Manipulative toys like blocks, puzzles, or dolls with clothes to take on and off
  • Marching, jogging, skipping, and hopping, or musical instruments to form a parade
  • Playing pretend (e.g., the child uses her body to become a waddling duck, stiff-legged robot, galloping horse, or a soaring plane) 
  • Playing tag or other classic backyard games (e.g., Follow the Leader, Red Light/Green Light, Tails, Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose, Musical Chairs, etc.)
  • Pulling or pushing wagons, large trucks, doll strollers, or shopping carts
  • Puppet shows
  • Riding tricycles, scooters, and other ride-on toys
  • Sand play
  • Sidewalk chalk or any art project
  • Swimming and other water play 
  • Swinging, sliding, and climbing at a playground or indoor play space
  • Throwing, catching, and rolling large lightweight soft balls

From the first days of life, kids begin using their bodies to learn about the world around them. Motor experiences are the basis for all intellectual functioning for approximately the first 2 years of life. As young people continue to mature, their reliance on physical interactions with people and objects remains strong. Motor skills are an essential component of development for all children.

Tantrums Versus Meltdowns - And How to Manage Both

 ~ Tantrums Versus Meltdowns

One of the most misunderstood Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) behaviors is the meltdown. Frequently, it is the result of some sort of overwhelming stimulation of which cause is often a mystery to moms and dads and teachers. They can come on suddenly and catch everyone by surprise. Aspergers and HFA kids tend to suffer from sensory overload issues that can create meltdowns. Kids who have neurological disorders other than autism spectrum disorders can suffer from meltdowns, too. Unlike tantrums, these kids are expressing a need to withdraw and slowly collect themselves at their own pace.

Kids who have tantrums are looking for attention. They have the ability to understand that they are trying to manipulate the behavior of the others, caregivers and/or peers. This perspective taking or "theory of mind" is totally foreign to the Aspergers or HFA youngster who has NO clue that others cannot "read" their mind or feelings innately. This inability to understand other human beings think different thoughts and have different perspectives from them is an eternal cause of frustration.


A tantrum is very straightforward. A youngster does not get his or her own way and, as grandma would say, "pitches a fit." This is not to discount the tantrum. They are not fun for anyone. Tantrums have several qualities that distinguish them from meltdowns.
  • A youngster having a tantrum will look occasionally to see if his or her behavior is getting a reaction.
  • A youngster in the middle of a tantrum will take precautions to be sure they won't get hurt.
  • A youngster who throws a tantrum will attempt to use the social situation to his or her benefit.
  • A tantrum is thrown to achieve a specific goal and once the goal is met, things return to normal.
  • A tantrum will give you the feeling that the youngster is in control, although he would like you to think he is not.
  • When the situation is resolved, the tantrum will end as suddenly as it began.


If you feel like you are being manipulated by a tantrum, you are right. You are. A tantrum is nothing more than a power play by a person not mature enough to play a subtle game of internal politics. Hold your ground and remember who is in charge.

A tantrum in a youngster who is not on the autism spectrum is simple to handle. Moms and dads simply ignore the behavior and refuse to give the youngster what he is demanding. Tantrums usually result when a youngster makes a request to have or do something that the parent denies. Upon hearing the parent's "no," the tantrum is used as a last-ditch effort.

The qualities of a tantrum vary from child to child When kids decide this is the way they are going to handle a given situation, each youngster's style will dictate how the tantrum appears. Some kids will throw themselves on the floor, screaming and kicking. Others will hold their breath, thinking that his "threat" on their life will cause moms and dads to bend. Some kids will be extremely vocal and repeatedly yell, "I hate you," for the world to hear. A few kids will attempt bribery or blackmail, and although these are quieter methods, this is just as much of a tantrum as screaming. Of course, there are the very few kids who pull out all the stops and use all the methods in a tantrum.

Effective parenting -- whether a youngster has an autism spectrum disorder or not -- is learning that you are in control, not the youngster. This is not a popularity contest. You are not there to wait on your youngster and indulge her every whim. Buying her every toy she wants isn't going to make her any happier than if you say no. There is no easy way out of this parenting experience. Sometimes you just have to dig in and let the tantrum roar.


If the tantrum is straightforward, the meltdown is every known form of manipulation, anger, and loss of control that the youngster can muster up to demonstrate. The problem is that the loss of control soon overtakes the youngster. He needs you to recognize this behavior and rein him back in, as he is unable to do so. A youngster in the middle of a meltdown desperately needs help to gain control.
  • A youngster in a meltdown has no interest or involvement in the social situation.
  • A youngster in the middle of a meltdown does not consider her own safety.
  • A meltdown conveys the feeling that no one is in control.
  • A meltdown usually occurs because a specific want has not been permitted and after that point has been reached, nothing can satisfy the youngster until the situation is over.
  • During a meltdown, a youngster on the spectrum does not look, nor care, if those around him are reacting to his behavior.
  • Meltdowns will usually continue as though they are moving under their own power and wind down slowly.

Unlike tantrums, meltdowns can leave even experienced moms and dads at their wit's end, unsure of what to do. When you think of a tantrum, the classic image of a youngster lying on the floor with kicking feet, swinging arms, and a lot of screaming is probably what comes to mind. This is not even close to a meltdown. A meltdown is best defined by saying it is a total loss of behavioral control. It is loud, risky at times, frustrating, and exhausting.

Meltdowns may be preceded by "silent seizures." This is not always the case, so don't panic, but observe your youngster after she begins experiencing meltdowns. Does the meltdown have a brief period before onset where your youngster "spaces out"? Does she seem like she had a few minutes of time when she was totally uninvolved with her environment? If you notice this trend, speak to your physician. This may be the only manifestation of a seizure that you will be aware of.

When your youngster launches into a meltdown, remove him from any areas that could harm him or he could harm. Glass shelving and doors may become the target of an angry foot, and avoiding injury is the top priority during a meltdown.

Another cause of a meltdown can be other health issues. One example is a youngster who suffers from migraines. A migraine may hit a youngster suddenly, and the pain is so totally debilitating that his behavior may spiral downward quickly, resulting in a meltdown. Watch for telltale signs such as sensitivity to light, holding the head, and being unusually sensitive to sound. If a youngster has other health conditions, and having Aspergers of HFA does not preclude this possibility, behavior will be affected.

Behaviors That Should Not Be Punished Because They Are Part of the Disorder

~ Managing Tantrums

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. Aspergers and HFA kid's temperaments vary dramatically, so some  may experience regular temper tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They're a normal part of development and don't have to be seen as something negative. However, unlike “typical” children, kids on the autism spectrum don't have the same inhibitions or control.

Imagine how it feels when you're determined to program your DVD player and aren't able to do it no matter how hard you try, because you can't understand how. It's very frustrating! Do you swear, throw the manual, walk away and slam the door on your way out? That's the grown-up version of a temper tantrum. Young people on the autism spectrum are also trying to master their world, and when they aren't able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a temper tantrum.

Several basic causes of temper tantrums are familiar to mothers and fathers everywhere: The youngster is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, temper tantrums are often the result of the child's frustration with the world. They can't get something (e.g., an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Temper tantrums are common during the second year of life for all kids. This is a time when kids are acquiring language. However, children with Aspergers and HFA generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone. That would be a frustrating experience that may precipitate a temper tantrum. As language skills improve, temper tantrums tend to decrease.

Another task that all kids are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. However, even though Aspergers and HFA kids want a sense of independence and control over the environment, this may be more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as the youngster thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me." When these "special needs" children discover that they can't do it or can't have everything they want, the stage is set for a temper tantrum.

Avoiding Temper Tantrums—

The best way to deal with temper tantrums is to avoid them in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some strategies that may help:

1. Aspergers and HFA kids are more likely to use temper tantrums to get their way if they've learned that this behavior works. Once the young people are school age, it's appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off. Rather than setting a specific time limit, mothers and fathers can tell them to stay in the room “until they've regained control.” This option is empowering, because these kids can affect the outcome by their own actions, thereby gaining a sense of control that was lost during the temper tantrum.

2. Young people on the spectrum have fairly rudimentary reasoning skills, so you aren't likely to get very far with explanations. If the temper tantrum poses no threat to your youngster or others, then ignoring the outburst may be the best way to handle it.  Continue your activities, and pay no attention to your youngster – but remain within sight. Don't leave him or her alone, otherwise he or she may feel abandoned on top of all of the other uncontrollable emotions.

3. They may be especially vulnerable AFTER a temper tantrum when they know they've been less than adorable. Now is the time for a hug and reassurance that your youngster is loved, no matter what.

4. Those who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a temper tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to temper tantrums in public places.

5. Consider the request carefully when your youngster wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn't. Choose your battles carefully, and accommodate when you can.

6. Distract your youngster. Take advantage of your child's short attention span by offering a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Also, you can simply change the environment. Take your youngster outside or inside or move to a different room.

7. If a safety issue is involved, and the youngster repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the youngster firmly for several minutes. Be consistent. Aspergers and HFA kids must understand that you are inflexible on safety issues.

8. Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach to make struggles less likely to develop over them. Obviously, this isn't always possible, especially outside of the home where the environment can't be controlled.

9. Know your youngster's limits. If you know he or she is tired, it's not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.

10. Make sure your youngster isn't acting-out simply because he or she isn't getting enough attention. To an youngster with an autism spectrum disorder, negative attention (a parent's response to a temper tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your youngster being good ("time in"), which means rewarding him or her with attention for positive behavior.

11. Occasionally, an autistic youngster will have a hard time stopping a temper tantrum. In these cases, it might help to say to say, "I'll help you settle down now." But, do not reward your youngster after a temper tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to him or her that the temper tantrum was effective. Instead, verbally praise the youngster for regaining control.

12. Set the stage for success when your son or daughter is playing or trying to master a new task. Offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks.

13. Temper tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause. Try to understand where your youngster is coming from. For example, if he or she has just had a great disappointment, you may need to provide comfort. If he or she is simply a sore loser at games and hits a playmate, then you may to provide a consequence.

14. The most important thing to keep in mind when you're faced with a boy or girl in the throes of a temper tantrum – no matter what the cause – is simple yet very important: Keep your cool. Don't complicate the problem with your own frustration. Young people on the spectrum can sense when mothers and fathers are becoming frustrated. This can just make their frustration worse, and you may have a more exaggerated temper tantrum on your hands. Instead, take deep breaths and try to think clearly.

15. Try to give your "special needs" child some control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off temper tantrums. Offer minor choices, for example, "Do you want orange juice or apple juice?" or "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?" This way, you aren't asking "Do you want to brush your teeth now?" …which inevitably will be answered "no."

16. Your youngster relies on you to be the example. Smacking and spanking don't help. Physical tactics send the message that using force and physical punishment is acceptable. Instead, have enough self-control for both of you.

17. You should consult your child’s pediatrician if any of the following occur:
  • tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings
  • tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration
  • you keep giving into your child’s demands
  • he displays mood issues (e.g., negativity, low self-esteem, extreme dependence)
  • your youngster frequently hurts himself/herself or others
  • she is destructive
  • you're uncomfortable with your responses to the child's tantrums

Your doctor can also check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums (e.g., hearing or vision problems, chronic illness, language delays, learning disability, etc.).

Remember, temper tantrums usually aren't cause for concern and generally diminish on their own. As Aspergers and HFA kids mature developmentally, and their grasp of themselves and the world increases, their frustration levels decrease. Less frustration and more control mean fewer temper tantrums — and happier mothers and fathers.

The Top 20 Triggers for Meltdowns in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

~ Managing Meltdowns

When it comes to parenting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are a few scenarios that are fertile ground for meltdowns. Some examples include (but are definitely not limited to):
  • all afternoon shopping trips
  • an endless car ride
  • long wait at the doctor's office
  • slow service at a restaurant
  • too many homework problems

These are moments where a meltdown is coming on fast, but can still be diverted. These are the times when moms and dads need “diversion tactics” (i.e., a supply of items and ideas that can fill a moment or turn a head).

While diversion tactics come in handy with any youngster, it's particularly imperative for kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are often significantly less able to amuse themselves, negotiate transitions, or avoid meltdowns. A parent needs to be quick, versatile, creative, and resourceful to keep things running smoothly. Planning ahead can help.

Here's how to make sure you always have plenty of tricks in your bag:

1. Your diversion tactics should do one of these (and preferably more than one): Soothe, Entertain, and Distract. They must be deployable at a moment's notice, especially in stressful situations. The space of time between the need for soothing, entertainment and distraction, and the onset of complete disaster can be brutally short.

2. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be actual items (i.e., things you keep in your purse or pockets for emergencies). It doesn't hurt to have some on hand at all times (that's why most of these are small) and then to load up with extras when you know you might need them. Some possibilities (depending on the age of your ASD child) include:

• Animal crackers
• Coins
• Crayons/coloring book
• Deck of cards
• Dice
• Doll
• Fidget toys
• Finger puppets
• Flash cards
• Hard candy
• iPad
• iPhone
• iPod
• Keys
• Little notepad and pen
• Magnetic travel game
• Photos
• Pretzels
• Puzzle book
• Raisins
• Small storybook
• Stickers
• Toy cars

3. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be ideas that you can implement without any need for props. You may have to go through a few before you find one your ASD youngster will run with, so keep a list if you can't keep them all in your head. Some possibilities include:
  • 20 Questions
  • A is for ..., B is for ...
  • Blowing a raspberry on his or her arm
  • Clapping games
  • Getting a drink from a water fountain
  • Hide something in fist -- guess which hand?
  • I Spy
  • Let youngster choose what to do next
  • Looking out window
  • Math facts
  • Play with youngster's hair
  • Pushing hard against each other's hands
  • Rock-paper-scissors
  • Saying something silly
  • Taking a walk
  • Tell me three things you did today
  • Tickling
  • What color am I looking at?
  • Whispering secrets
  • Word games where each person adds an item, alphabetically, and the next person must remember the whole string of words

Putting together a good list of diversion tactics is one thing, maintaining it is another. As your ASD youngster gets older, changes interests, gets bored with some things and taken by others, you'll want to keep changing and replenishing the tactics in your "diversion kit." Remember, the objects don't have to be big, they don't have to be fancy, and they only have to be able to run your youngster past a bit of boredom, anxiety, or a little rough behavioral spot. But they do have to soothe, entertain, and distract.

Note: If you only have a couple diversion tactics, they can fade with overuse. The more tactics you've got in your “bag of tricks,” the better.

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

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

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

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content