HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Personality Types in Asperger's: Fixated, Disruptive, Approach and Avoidant

Fixated Personality--

The fixated personality type can be characterized by a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and the need to control one’s environment (e.g., to have things in a particular order).

Some of the symptoms of the fixated personality type may include:
  • compulsion to make lists and/or schedules
  • feelings of excessive doubt and caution
  • obsessive need for cleanliness
  • perfectionism (that may sometimes interfere with task-completion)
  • preoccupation with order and organization
  • preoccupation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts
  • rigid following of rules and regulations
  • rigidity or inflexibility of beliefs
  • stubbornness
  • unreasonable insistence that others submit to his way of doing things

Some of the specific behavioral manifestations of the fixated personality type among Aspergers children and teenagers may include:
  • repeatedly checking homework
  • cleaning rituals
  • counting rituals
  • grooming rituals (e.g., hand washing, showering, teeth brushing)
  • hoarding and collecting things
  • ordering or arranging objects
  • repeating rituals (e.g., going in and out of doorways, needing to move through spaces in a special way, rereading, erasing, rewriting)
  • rituals to prevent harming self or others
  • rituals to undo contact with a "contaminated" person or object
  • touching rituals

Parents can look for the following possible signs of the fixated personality type:
  • continual expressions of fear that something terrible will happen
  • dramatic increase in laundry
  • persistent expressions of fear of illness
  • sudden drop in test grades
  • exceptionally long amount of time spent getting ready for bed
  • high, unexplained utility bills
  • holes erased through test papers and homework
  • raw, chapped hands from constant washing
  • reluctance to leave the house
  • requests for family members to repeat strange phrases or keep answering the same question
  • unproductive hours spent doing homework
  • unusually high rate of soap or paper towel usage

Environmental and stress factors can trigger fixated personality traits. These can include ordinary developmental transitions (e.g., starting school) as well as significant losses or changes (e.g., death of a loved one, moving to a different home or city).

It can be helpful to keep family routines as normal as possible, and for all family members to learn strategies to help the Aspergers youngster. It is also important to not let the “fixations” be the boss of the house and regular family activities. Giving in to fixations does not make them go away.

“Fixated” Aspies become less fixated at different rates, so try to avoid any day-to-day comparisons and recognize and praise any small improvements. Keep in mind that it's the disorder that is causing the problem, not the child. The more that personal criticism can be avoided, the better.

Treatment for the fixated personality type can involve the following:
  1. Behavior therapy: Discussing with a psychotherapist ways of changing compulsions into healthier, productive behaviors. An effective form of this therapy has been found to be cognitive analytic therapy.
  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy: A systematic approach to changing unwanted thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
  3. Psychopharmacology: A psychiatrist may be able to prescribe medication to facilitate self-management and also enable more productive participation in other therapies.
  4. Psychotherapy: Discussion with a trained counselor or psychotherapist who understands the condition.


 Disruptive Personality--

The disruptive personality is:
  1. a type of cognitive-behavioral style in which the "Aspie's" way of thinking, perceiving situations, and relating to others is sometimes destructive
  2. often comorbid with ADHD and/or ODD
Aspergers children and teens with disruptive personality typically have little regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the rights of others, landing in frequent trouble or conflict. They may lie, behave violently, and have drug and alcohol problems. Also, Aspies with disruptive personality may not be able to fulfill responsibilities to family, school, or work.

Disruptive personality traits may include:
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Agitation
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Intimidation of others
  • Irresponsible school-related or work-related behavior
  • Lack of remorse about harming others
  • Persistent lying or deceit
  • Poor or abusive relationships
  • Recurring difficulties with the parents and teachers
  • Repeatedly violating the rights of others
  • Using charm or wit to manipulate others

There may be a link between an early lack of “empathy” (i.e., understanding the perspectives and problems of others) and later onset of a disruptive personality style. These personality problems may be inherited, and identifying them early may help improve long-term outcomes.

Complications and problems associated with the disruptive personality include:
  • Aggression or violence
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Reckless behavior
  • Relationship difficulties
  • School and work problems
  • Social isolation
  • Strained relationships
  • Suicidal behavior

Psychotherapy is the main way to treat a child or teen with a disruptive personality style. Types of psychotherapy may include:
  • Psycho-education: This education-based therapy teaches coping strategies and problem-solving skills.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This approach aims to raise awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors and — by bringing them to light — change their negative impact.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps to uncover unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.

Psychotherapy may be provided in individual sessions, in group therapy, or in sessions that include family or even friends. The right type of psychotherapy depends on each person's individual situation.

If you have a child or teen with a disruptive personality style, it's critical that you also get help for yourself. Mental health professionals can help teach you skills to protect yourself from the aggression, violence and anger common to this personality type. They can also recommend strategies for coping.

Parents can help their Aspergers child with disruptive personality traits in the following ways:
  1. Always build on the positives, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation.
  2. Take a time‑out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better. This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if he decides to take a time‑out to prevent overreacting.
  3. Pick your battles. Since this particular child has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. If you give your child a time‑out in his room for misbehavior, don't add time for arguing. Say "your time will start when you go to your room."
  4. Set up reasonable, age appropriate limits with consequences that can be enforced consistently.
  5. Maintain interests other than your "disruptive" Aspie so that managing your child doesn't take all your time and energy. Try to work with and obtain support from the other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) in dealing with your child.
  6. Manage your own stress with exercise and relaxation. Use respite care as needed. 
  7. Come up with a specific parenting-plan to address the behavioral problems associated with a disruptive personality.


Approach Personality--

This type usual occurs in the "Aspie" who also has ADHD, although this is not always the case.

The two primary characteristics of the “approach personality” are (a) excessive talking about one’s special (or obsessive) interest, and (b) significant violations of other’s personal space.

Excessive Talking About Special Interests—

Excessive talking in the Aspie can present a number of problems. No one particularly likes to be referred to as a "motor-mouth," but they can be exactly that. While some people have much to say of value, excessive talkers usually do not. They talk either because they can't help it due to “mind-blindness” (i.e., they are unaware that the listener is both bored and annoyed with the one-sided conversation), or because they simply love to tell others about their favorite hobby/activity out of a huge sense of passion about that particular hobby/activity.

Aspies who talk excessively can sometimes get along well with one another, probably because neither is paying much attention to what the other is saying. For those with normal speaking habits however, excessive talking often borders on being socially unacceptable. We are brought up to be attentive to what others are saying, to speak mainly when spoken to, while at the same time hoping that when we do talk, we sound intelligent and say the right things in as few words as possible.

Excessive talking in the Aspie often translates into an inability to understand or follow instructions. The very act of learning can be seriously impeded, and the chattering Aspie may be unable to concentrate on those things where concentration is vital to success.

Those Aspies who persist in excessive talking about their obsessive interest are more apt to be victims of another type of disorder, the Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Not all of those with OCPD are excessive talkers – it is just one of the symptoms. You can usually spot those with OCPD, because they tend to be preoccupied with perfectionism and orderliness, pay excessive attention to detail, and are most comfortable in an environment where there are rules to follow, schedules to meet, and an organizational structure in which they know their place.

The drive for perfectionism often results in such individuals being unable to complete certain assigned tasks, or being unable to follow rules which don't conform to their own strict standards. Some OCPD Aspies are extremely introverted (living in their own carefully regulated and orderly world) while others can be quite extroverted (these are the attention seekers, the ones who violate your personal space, and who often over-dramatize any and every situation). It is from among this group that excessive talking is apt to be one of the more noticeable symptoms.


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Tips for the excessive (obsessive) talker:

1. Appreciate what others have to say. Listening to other person’s viewpoint allows you to permit him or her to express an opinion.

2. Be a good listener. People like to be listened to.

3. Be more conscious of your behavior patterns. Acknowledge that you speak too much and behave accordingly.

4. Do not talk for the sake of talking. Restraint is good.

5. One can take up courses in being a good conversationalist.

6. Seek professional help if excessive talking is a compulsive behavior. Often people speak due to some psychological disorder or problem. A person with a nervous disposition will speak more.

7. One need not express everything on one’s mind. Certain things you must keep to yourself.

8. One should always have something important to contribute. Whatever you say should have an impact on others. They should want to listen to you. Conversation should be interesting.

9. One should avoid being pushy or aggressive while conversing. Try to convey things in fewer words. Be brief in what you say.

10. Think before you speak. It may be difficult if you are nervous. But it is better to be aware of what you are saying. You need not regret later.

11. Try not interrupting another person’s conversation as far as possible.

12. Try to allow the other person to say something. It may be difficult, but one needs to practice self-control. A good conversation is a two-way process. All of those taking part in the conversation have much to contribute. Each person must get a chance to say something.

Violating Personal Space—

Interpersonal space refers to the psychological "bubble" that exists psychologically when one person stands too close to another. There are four different zones of interpersonal space:

1. Intimate distance: ranges from touching to about 18 inches (46 cm) apart, reserve for lovers, children, close family members and friends, and pets.

2. Personal distance: begins about an arm's length away starting around 18 inches (46 cm) from the person and ending about 4 feet (122 cm) away. This space is used in conversations with friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions.

3. Social distance: ranges from 4 to 8 feet (1.2 m - 2.4 m) away from the person and is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances.

4. Public distance: includes anything more than 8 feet (2.4 m) away, and is used for speeches, lectures, and theater. Public distance is essentially that range reserved for larger audiences.

Aspies with approach personality traits tend to be mostly in the “intimate distant” mode (i.e., they will stand within arm’s reach – even with strangers). It goes without saying that most people are taken aback by such behavior.

The absence of strong emotional responses to personal space violation is, again, the result of the Aspie’s “mind-blindness” (i.e., an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of the other person). If you, as a neurotypical, did an experiment in which you purposely stood excessively close to a stranger to read his/her reaction, you would readily notice a pained expression on the other person’s face, sending you a very clear non-verbal message that he/she is alarmed. The mind-blind Aspie with approach personality traits does not receive this non-verbal cue – even though the cue was indeed sent.

Tips for the personal space violator:

1. Understand that (a) people have certain expectations about verbal and nonverbal communication behavior from other people, and (b) violations of these expectations cause arousal and distraction in them.

2. Only stand or sit within arm’s reach of close family members and romantic partners.

3. With your friends, stand or sit no closer than arm’s length.

4. With all others, stay at least 4 feet away.

5. Pay attention to the facial expressions of those you stand or sit close to. Are they grimacing, for example? If so, then you may be too close.

6. Pay attention to whether or not the other person moves away, creating addition distance between the two of you. Does he/she seem to be taking steps backwards during the conversation? If so, you may be too close.

7. If you are uncertain, ask the other person “Am I violating your personal space?” Most people will respect that question and answer honestly.

Some of the behaviors exhibited in the “approach personality” have a good side to them when these behaviors can be correctly channeled. There are many activities in which paying greater than normal attention to detail can be a definite plus, and those with a short attention span often find a place in activities demanding creativity and thinking outside the box. As far as excessive talking is concerned, it is best that it be treated with counseling (usually in the form of “social skills training”), although there are occasional openings for stand up comics and radio talk show hosts. As far as personal space violations are concerned, it is best to reserve close proximity for those who enjoy being close to you (e.g., your mother, girlfriend, cat, etc.).


Avoidant Personality--

Avoidant personality is characterized by a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation. This type of "Aspie" is often described as being extremely shy, inhibited in new situations, and fearful of disapproval and social rejection. Avoidant personality becomes a major component of an Aspie’s overall character and a central theme in how he relates to others.

Aspies with avoidant personality tend to do some of the following:
  • Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
  • Stays quiet or hides in the background in order to escape notice
  • Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  • Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
  • Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing
  • Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
  • Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
  • Drinks before social situations in order to soothe nerves
  • Avoids social situations to a degree that limits activities or disrupts life
  • Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection

The following situations are often stressful for Aspies with avoidant personality:

• Attending parties or other social gatherings
• Being called on in class
• Being teased or criticized
• Being the center of attention
• Being watched while doing something
• Eating or drinking in public
• Going on a date
• Making phone calls
• Making small talk
• Meeting new people
• Performing on stage
• Public speaking
• Speaking up in a meeting
• Taking exams
• Talking with “important” people or authority figures
• Using public bathrooms

Emotional symptoms of avoidant personality include:
  • Excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
  • Extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially people you don’t know
  • Fear that others will notice that you’re nervous
  • Fear that you’ll act in ways that that will embarrass or humiliate yourself
  • Intense worry for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation

Physical symptoms of avoidant personality include:

• Feeling dizzy or faint
• Racing heart or tightness in chest
• Red face, or blushing
• Shortness of breath
• Sweating or hot flashes
• Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice)
• Upset stomach, nausea (i.e. butterflies)

For Aspies with avoidant personality, evaluating for the presence of psychiatric disorders, particularly major depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders, is extremely important. Because “social anxiety tendencies” are often found in other family members, a family psychiatric history is beneficial.

Help for Aspies with Avoidant Personality—

1. Avoid or limit caffeine. Coffee, tea, caffeinated soda, energy drinks, and chocolate act as stimulants that increase anxiety symptoms.

2. Challenge negative, unhelpful thoughts that trigger and fuel social anxiety, replacing them with more balanced views.

3. Drink only in moderation. You may be tempted to drink before a party or other social situation in order to calm your nerves, but alcohol actually increases your anxiety in the long run.

4. Face the social situations you fear in a gradual, systematic way, rather than avoiding them.

5. Get adequate sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more vulnerable to anxiety. Being well rested will help you stay calm in social situations.

6. Learn how to control the physical symptoms of social anxiety through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.

7. Quit smoking. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Smoking leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.

8. Take a social skills class or an assertiveness training class. These classes are often offered at local adult education centers or community colleges.

9. Volunteer doing something you enjoy, such as walking dogs in a shelter, or stuffing envelopes for a campaign — anything that will give you an activity to focus on while you are also engaging with a small number of like-minded people.

10. Work on your communication skills. Good relationships depend on clear, emotionally-intelligent communication. If you find that you have trouble connecting to others, learning the basic skills of emotional intelligence can help.


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

How do we manage when my daughter seems to have multiple of these personality types combined? No wonder we can hardly manage each day!

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