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Communication Barriers and How to Overcome Them: Tips for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

As parents, we want our "special needs" kids to respect our rules and expectations. One of the best ways to do this is to listen first - and talk later. Your undivided attention to what your child is saying tells him that he is important to you. It shows that you value him as an individual. You care about him and every part of his life. As a result, your child will be more likely to want to please you (by following your rules and expectations). Also, you will be teaching him to be a good listener by modeling good listening skills. 


Be prepared to drop what you are doing when your child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger's (AS) wants to talk, even when it is not the most convenient time for you. She may finally get up the courage to discuss a tough problem, and you don't want to miss the opportunity to connect with her through active listening.

Here are the steps to active listening:
  • Ask open-ended questions. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
  • Be interested and attentive. Look into your child's eyes while she is speaking. Forget about the telephone, the television, and whatever else you were doing—just listen!
  • Don't interrupt. Sometimes, as moms and dads, we want to jump into the conversation with an opinion or a solution before letting our child finish talking. By being an active listener, we can help him work through an issue on his own instead of solving the problem for him.
  • Don't talk down to your child no matter what his age. You probably know more than he does from experience alone, but don't use this knowledge to discount his opinions. Don't say, for example, "You're only 14. What do you know about…?"
  • Follow-up. Try to remember and ask about issues or events your child talked about a day or two earlier. This shows her that you were listening and are concerned about the outcomes.
  • Give your child active feedback while she is speaking—nodding, giving verbal responses such as "I see," etc. When she has finished speaking, ask clarifying questions or restate what she's said. If she is telling you something she is enthusiastic about, for example, try to respond with similar enthusiasm.
  • Name the feeling You can help your child clarify his feelings through your active feedback by restating his thoughts or asking questions. This can help him deal with a problem or tackle a difficult task. He can clarify, for example, that he's avoiding his homework because he's afraid he can't do the math. Facing this fear will help him overcome it.
  • Watch for nonverbal messages. Posture, eye contact, and energy level—these can all be clues to your child's true feelings. She may tell you school is going okay but her nonverbal messages may tell a different story.


Talking to your child on the autism spectrum sometimes can be a bit difficult. Maybe you start to chat with your child and you get a "look" that immediately stops conversation. Or, maybe she wants to talk to you, but you're focusing on paying the bills and are not giving her your full attention.

Studies show, however, that talking to "special needs" kids does have an impact, so it's important to make the effort to really communicate. Below are some common communication barriers and how to overcome them. Remember, not all of these will work in all situations, and sometimes you'll need to keep trying:
  • Blaming or preaching: Instead of saying things that make your child feel bad ("You're so stupid for doing that," or "I said so, that's why"), try using constructive "I" messages like "So, what I hear you saying is…" Offer advice and suggestions: "Let's consider what your options are and figure out the best solution…"
  • Criticizing: Let your child know that you respect her feelings and that what she has to say and how she feels are important. Even if you think a problem is minor, for example, if your child is upset because his friend wouldn't sit next to him, it's a big deal to him. It's hard to open up sometimes and if you make your child feel uncomfortable, chances are he will simply avoid having honest conversations with you.
  • Interrupting: Let your child talk without interrupting her—you will have your turn to speak. This lets your child know that you are interested in what she is saying.
  • Not creating a comfortable environment in which your child can talk: Select a good time to talk to your child—right after school or basketball practice might not be the best time to start a dialog. Let your child have a snack or take a few minutes to rest, and then start the conversation.
  • Not paying full attention to your child: Turn off the TV or radio. Make eye contact with your child—sit next to him if you need to.

Remember to praise your HFA or AS child when he demonstrates good listening skills. It's just as important to develop these skills in your child as it is in you!

Effective communication (i.e., the sharing of ideas, opinions, and information) helps you to build bonds with your child. Doing this right with your child will encourage positive behaviors in her, help to build trust, and create a more peaceful atmosphere in the home. Not getting this right, however, could cause frustration in your child and stress in the family. Does what you say to your child encourage her to behave in ways that please you? If you don’t like your answer to this question, check your day-to-day dealings with your child.

You may not be getting the response you expect from your child if:
  • You act like a bully toward your child.
  • You allow your child to break rules without consequences.
  • You always answer her question “why do I have to?” with “because I said so.”
  • You ask your child to do more than he is able to for his age.
  • You complain about what your child is doing wrong, but never praise her when she does something well.
  • You give too little instructions.
  • You give too many instructions at a time.
  • You let your child call the shots every time and never take charge.
  • You never admit to being wrong.
  • You never take the time to explain “why.”
  • You use silence to show your disapproval.
  • Your child sees you doing the actions that you tell her not to do.

Sending mixed or unclear messages when you talk with your HFA or AS child could hurt his self-esteem and open the door to problem behavior. Here are some ways to talk with your child more effectively and build a stronger bond: 
  • “Because I say so” is not the best answer—explain the reasons why.
  • Be careful about asking too much—because of age or ability a child may not be able to do some tasks well. Especially for new tasks, give detailed instructions for the chores you want your child to do.
  • Be specific—don’t leave things open to interpretation.
  • Do not ask something of your child you are not willing to do yourself—don’t yell at your child for lying and then ask her to lie to someone for you.
  • Do things together—use these opportunities to talk with and learn about your child.
  • Expect set-backs—but deal with them as soon as they happen. Talk about things that you don’t like about your child’s actions. Find a solution together, even when discipline is involved.
  • Give a little—your child is still learning, and your responsibility is to teach with understanding.
  • It’s o.k. to negotiate sometimes—it teaches your child the benefits of “give and take” which he may find useful later in life.
  • Reward your child for doing well—praise for a job well done will make your child feel good about herself and eager to please you in other things.
  • Some decisions need time—your child will see that you care about what he cares about by giving serious thought to issues that are important to him, before just saying “no.”
  • Talk with your child and not to or through him—this means listening as well as responding.
  • Treat your child with respect—don’t yell at your child and call her names. She will only learn from your example. Speak to your child in the same manner you would like her to speak to you.
  • You’re the grown-up—have the final say about important decisions, but explain to your child the reasons why you have made the decision.

Having adults in the “take charge” role makes kids on the autism spectrum feel secure and adds to their mental well-being. However, children who think they are not being treated fairly by adults could become angry and mistrustful of authority. Such children are more likely to be influenced by peers to be involved in unhealthy behaviors. Good adult-child communication can go a long way in deterring unsafe behaviors and influencing the choices HFA and AS kids make for a lifetime.

I Statements-

Healthy communication is critical to relationships, but is especially important between parent and child. Is your child listening? Does she understand you? Is your message really getting through? Showing your child how to communicate is part of parenting, but it becomes especially difficult in times of conflict.

One way to communicate with your child is by using feeling language or "I" statements—a way of expressing how you feel about a situation without placing blame or drawing a defensive or argumentative response from your child.1 Saying "you did this wrong" or "you did that bad thing" often makes people feel angry and hostile. "I" statements can help you communicate your feelings to your child in a way that makes him likely to respond with respect. "I" statements also provide HFA and AS kids with clear, direct messages and help them understand that their actions have effects on other people. Here are a few examples:
  • When you scream loudly, I feel upset because it hurts my ears.
  • When you try to talk to me when I am on the phone, I feel annoyed because then I have to try to listen to more than one person.

"I" statements also can be used to express positive feelings:
  • When you do your homework, I feel proud because I think that school is important.
  • To begin using "I" statements, follow a basic format of three parts: When…(provide nonjudgmental description of behavior), I feel…(name your feeling), and Because…(give the effect the behavior has on you or others).

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

Effective Anger-Management for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Here are our top 10 picks: Books for Kids with Anger-control Problems

Teens on the Autism Spectrum Who Threaten Suicide

"Do people with Aspergers (or high functioning autism) often take action on the threats they make when they blow up? My sister (who died tragically 5 years ago) has a 18 yr old so with AS. When he gets really worked up, he threatens to kill himself and 'take others with him'. His threats of suicide are often paired with 'if I don't get what I want', not 'I am so depressed I want to die'. These threats seem to be more of a bullying technique instead of a cry for help. I hesitate to call the police because there is no other topic that sets him off more than the police."


Parents, families and teachers need to keep a watchful eye on the emerging teenager who has an autism spectrum disorder. Know the warning signs and learn about the three D's = drugs, depression and dangerous activity.

Some teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can deal with social isolation, but others can't, so that makes them depressed, question the reason for living, and ask themselves if there's any point in carrying on.

Often times, these "special needs" adolescents are discriminated against and outright bullied. They may be harassed to conform and fit into the humdrum “Neuro-Typical” society. Some will take their own lives if the heat gets too high.

Perhaps, if suicide is a problem with this group, it would be due to the fact that it is more difficult for them to connect emotionally with other people. They also don't realize that they will hurt others by taking such drastic action on themselves. It is overwhelming for them because basic things for some take so much effort for this group of people – and it is too easy for them to be disconnected emotionally from people.

Like all mental conditions which cause people to behave differently from the norm, autism spectrum disorders are associated with depression. Depression can be caused by a number of things including:
  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks
  • Fatigue or Tiredness due either to the condition or to the treatment of the condition
  • Guilt or regret over past actions/outburst/meltdowns
  • Miscommunications
  • Misunderstandings
  • Overwhelming feelings and thoughts
  • Social troubles because you do not seem to fit in

Teenagers on the spectrum need the love and support of family and friends more than the average teenager.

Having said this, your sister's son needs to know that if he makes threats to "take others with him" outside of the home (e.g., at school), his threats will be taken very seriously. So, to let him get away with these threats at home may not be in his best interest, because it is not representative of how the real world operates.

As one parent stated:  

"This is a very touchy subject, coming from former law enforcement. It is so super hard to know the right thing to do because they threaten so often it is almost like the boy that cried wolf thing - BUT IF he were to follow through and hurt a sibling or burn something down or hurt someone else, YOU as the parent will also be charged criminally, and your other children removed from the home because the way the law would see the situation is this: 'You KNEW he was capable of doing it and YOU CHOSE to keep it quiet and keep your other children in the situation, therefore YOU have KNOWINGLY endangered your other children'. I have been faced with this exact scenerio personally. It is so hard to know what the right thing is and the lst thing any of us want to do is feel like we could ever be put in a situation to be forced to chose between our children :( "

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

Finding Which Behavior Problems to Target First: Tips for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Your child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s (AS) seems to have a multitude of behavioral and emotional issues. Which ones should you attempt to address first? With so many problems, where do you start?

A careful analysis of the most problematic symptoms is crucial, because the choice of interventions is influenced by symptom traits. Moreover, the wide array of symptoms results in the tendency of those closest to the HFA or AS youngster to lose sight, over time, of the intervention targets.

When parents (and teachers) turn their attention to a new troubling cluster of symptoms, an intervention that has been effective may be reinterpreted as ineffective. Being attentive to symptom traits allows the parent to measure effects and introduce helpful responses.

The most important traits to consider include the following:
  1. Distribution of the behavior problems
  2. Intensity of the behavior problems
  3. Onset: Time and Location of the behavior problems
  4. Duration of the behavior problems
  5. Ameliorating Factors for the behaviors
  6. Aggravating Factors for the behaviors
  7. Trends of the behavior problems: upward or downward

1. Distribution—

The distribution of behaviors is a term for the frequency of symptoms over time. It may be obvious, but it’s worth underscoring that for most kids on the autism spectrum, the frequency of symptoms changes within days, weeks, and months. Thus, having a good awareness of the course of a symptom is important for monitoring the behavior problem.

The early, short-term effects of a particular behavioral intervention may not be the most reliable ones for predicting the overall effect that intervention delivers. Frequency also is related to settings and circumstances. Aggression or perseverative behaviors often increase or appear under certain circumstances (e.g., when there are many people talking, or when there are crowds). As a result, for behaviors that are periodic, it’s useful to rate the behavior at the time when it’s most frequent or likely to surface, rather than a general rating throughout the day, week, or month.

2. Intensity—

Intensity is a measure of the energy the child uses when engaging in the behavior. It also can be helpful to base this rating on the ease with which the child may be redirected to another, different line of behavior.

3. Onset: Time and Location—

The onset of symptoms is often related to a time and a location. The parent’s ability to know when and where symptoms surface, or under what circumstances they surface, is helpful in rating progress. When symptoms are concentrated to specific times or places, parents should first consider behavioral or educational interventions carefully. It may be that greater direction for certain activities, a break from interaction, or modifying the expectations for the HFA or AS youngster in an activity, will go a long way toward reducing maladaptive behaviors.

If a symptom only occurs in one setting, then this may lead the parent to consider intensive behavioral interventions first. More generalized behaviors can lend themselves more to pharmacologic treatments, because it can be difficult to maintain uniform responses across many different settings for behavioral interventions.

4. Duration—

Duration is self-explanatory.

5. and 6. Ameliorating and aggravating and factors—

These can indicate what triggers a behavior or what sustains it.

7. Trends—

The reason to consider the trend of a behavior (i.e., whether it’s increasing or decreasing) is that an intervention that is introduced as a behavior is winding down may be wrongly considered as having helped. Often, parents seek treatment for their child when a behavior is peaking in severity. For periodic situations, by the time a therapist intervenes, the behavior may be cycling down by itself. Thus, it’s often helpful to wait before intervening in order to learn about the pattern of a behavior.

Obviously, this can’t be considered when the risks to safety or jeopardy to other aspects of the child’s wellbeing prevent the therapist from taking this time. If there is some doubt about whether symptoms may respond to behavioral treatment, or if one is unsure whether things have improved or remained the same, the therapist should wait.

Case in point—

A 10-year-old girl with autism (high-functioning) was brought to treatment for picking behaviors that had become a part of her bedtime routine. Each night, she would dig at her arms. After extensive efforts by the parents to learn about the pattern of her behavior, it appeared that it was influenced by the course of interactions at school during the day. 

Although the child herself didn’t make the connection between being teased or having arguments with peers and her self-picking, it was possible to use relaxation techniques to reduce the intensity and duration of this behavior. In addition, the child’s mother and father were able to talk with her in the early evening about specific events from throughout the day that created angst before she went to bed. Overtime, the behaviors were significantly reduced (although they didn’t disappear altogether).

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:

Family Stress and Establishing Intervention Priorities for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

When prioritizing interventions for the child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s, parents should decide which factors contribute to an adverse family environment.

A common mistake made by doctors and therapists who work with families affected by autism spectrum disorders is to treat the HFA or Asperger’s child’s symptoms, when in fact it’s the parent's depression or anxiety that is a major contribution to family strain. (Note: Sibling-conflict may also be a factor contributing to family strain.)

Often, high levels of parental stress lead therapists to prescribe for the “special needs” youngster rather than educate parents and recommend that they obtain therapy. This is not to say that parents and siblings must be infinitely adaptable to the HFA or Asperger’s child’s problematic symptoms, or that family problems are always the result of parental issues. The point is that family distress has many sources.

Using medication in certain cases may reduce the HFA or Asperger’s child’s inflexibility, instability, and anxiety, and therefore improve life at home for everyone. However, if the persistent anxiety of raising a youngster on the autism spectrum has fueled depression or anxiety in his or her parent, or has inflamed conflict in the marriage, usually treating only the “special needs” youngster is not enough. To treat issues in the parent(s), or the tension between partners/spouses, it is most likely that specific treatment is needed.

The quantity, scale, and range of difficulties experienced by children with HFA and Asperger’s can be confusing. Everyone involved, the child, parents, and even teachers, can be swept up in this difficulty. The first challenge is to create the hierarchy of symptoms - and the problems they create. Often, problems fall into a cluster of symptoms. The primary task of the parent is to determine which symptoms should be targeted first. Creating a hierarchy of specific symptoms lends itself to methods for behavioral modification.

Questions and “order of consideration” when approaching this dilemma include symptoms that (a) threaten the safety of the child, family members, or others; (b) create anxiety for the child; (c) are sources of adversity in the family's life; and (d) jeopardize sustained educational progress.

Safety is the most persuasive reason that kids on the autism spectrum are referred for therapy. Aggression and violent outbursts are common in many on these young people, and they may engage in other types of risky behaviors (e.g., throwing or destroying objects). In addition, there are traits of the disorder that make aggression and self-injury harder to control.

Additional factors that may contribute to problematic behavior in the HFA or Asperger’s child include the tendency to engage in repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, rigid adherence to patterns or behaviors, lack of empathy for others, deficits in generalizing from one circumstance to another, and deficits in abilities to soothe and comfort themselves. As a result, the safety to kids on the spectrum - and those around them - are the highest priority.

The child’s emotional distress takes center stage once safety is not a primary worry. Kids on the autism spectrum who are sad, anxious, or continually irritable have great difficulty learning, monitoring themselves, and “reading” their environment. Their emotions override their abilities to recognize events and think through the solutions to everyday problems.

Also, in many cases they can’t respond with the necessary flexibility to the rapidly changing demands of the social world. As a result, emotional distress often destroys opportunities to learn information, increase social relating, and gain new social skills. A child who is constantly upset will not be able to demonstrate his or her actual abilities.

The effects of an HFA or Asperger’s youngster's symptoms on a family are diverse, and some symptoms can be extremely challenging. Adverse effects on a family can be difficult to isolate - and harder still to quantify. Sometimes, the symptoms exhibited by kids on the autism spectrum exceed what parents can manage.

The way parents adapt to the “special needs” youngster grows out of a complex interplay of his or her social skills, deficits, temperament, and the limitations and demands of other family members that must be met. 

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s: A Normal Variant of Personality?

All the traits that describe High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) can be found in varying degrees in the normal population. For example:

  • People differ in their levels of skill in their ability to read nonverbal social cues.
  • The capacity to withdraw into an inner world of one's own special interests is available in a greater or lesser measure to everyone. In fact, this ability has to be present in those who are creative artists, scientists, mathematicians, musicians, etc.
  • A lot of people have outstandingly rote memories - and even retain vivid imagery into adult life.
  • Collecting objects (e.g., stamps, old glass bottles, or railway engine numbers) are socially accepted hobbies. 
  • Many who are capable and independent as grown-ups have special interests that they pursue with marked enthusiasm. 
  • People differ in their levels of skill in social interaction.
  • There is an equally wide distribution in motor skills.
  • Pedantic speech and a tendency to take things literally can also be found in many people.

In one documented case, a man whose visual memories of objects and events were so vivid and so permanent that they interfered with his comprehension of their significance, appeared to behave like someone with Asperger’s. However, he did not meet enough of the criteria to actually receive the diagnosis of the disorder.

The difference between someone with HFA or AS and the “neurotypical” (i.e., non-autistic person) who has a complex inner world is that the neurotypical does take part appropriately in two-way social interaction most of the time, whereas the HFA or AS person does not.

Also, the neurotypical, however elaborate his or her inner world, is influenced by social experiences, whereas the person on the autism spectrum seems cut off from the effects of outside contacts.

People are usually diagnosed with HFA or AS because they are at the extreme end of the normal continuum on all these characteristics. In a few of these individuals, one particular aspect may be so marked that it affects the whole of their functioning. 

Even though HFA and AS do appear to merge into the normal continuum, there are many cases in whom the problems are so marked that the suggestion of a distinct “disorder” seems a more likely explanation than a “variant of normality.”

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

The Top 5 Social Skills to Teach Children on the Autism Spectrum

Difficulty with social skills is not isolated to kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s. Many of these young people exhibit difficulties with a variety of social skills for numerous reasons.

However, a social skills program developed to address general social impairments doesn’t adequately address the social skills deficits specific to HFA and Asperger’s.

When selecting social goals for intervention, it’s crucial that parents prioritize and address the skill deficits that are most relevant to their child (e.g., eye contact may be a greater priority than negotiation skills, given its significance in social interaction, such as monitoring other’s reactions to indicate interest or engagement).

In addition, it’s important that all instructional activities have an underlying social purpose. Make clear to your child how and why the goals selected are relevant for him or her.

The five broad skills that are particularly relevant to HFA and Asperger’s are: social problem-solving skills, play and friendship skills, emotion-processing skills, conversational skills, and basic interactional skills.

Specific social skills to teach should include the following:

•  Conversation skills need to cover basic elements of how to start, maintain, and end a conversation. The subtler aspects of conversations should be included as well (e.g., asking questions of others, choosing appropriate topics, joining a conversation already underway, making comments, taking turns in conversation, and using nonverbal indicators to express interest).

•  It’s crucial to teach basic friendship and relationship skills. The concept of friendship and the important qualities of being a good friend should be discussed, listed, and practiced (e.g., compromising, following group rules, greeting others, responding to greetings, sharing and taking turns, and joining groups).

•  It’s also important for parents to teach the nonverbal behaviors that are important to social interaction (e.g., appropriate eye contact, social distance, voice volume, facial expression, etc.).

•  Parents should also help their child to understand thoughts and feelings of self and others. You can begin by increasing emotion recognition and vocabulary skills, because most kids on the autism spectrum are not familiar with emotional terms beyond the basics.

•  Perspective-taking and empathy training are two other great skills to teach. Here, you want your child to act out situations in which different people think different things or have different underlying motives.

•  Social problem-solving should be taught (e.g., what to do when your youngster is teased, feels left out, or is told “no”). The focus here is on the development of practical solutions, coping mechanisms, and self-control for difficult interpersonal situations.

•  Make use Social Stories to introduce new social skills. Social Stories are “written illustrations” that present social information. Although they provide some specific guidance about what to do or say in a social situation, they also highlight social cues, the motives or expectations of others, and other information that the child may not have appreciated.

Your youngster should be aware of his or her personal target goal and should be “reinforced” for meeting it throughout the social skills training you implement (e.g., reinforcement charts posted on the wall, goal or point cards, cups in which the goal is affixed and tokens are placed, etc.).

For new or emerging skills, the child can be reinforced the moment the skill is displayed spontaneously. 

For more information on teaching social skills to children with HFA and Asperger's, click on the link below:


Making the Abstract Concrete: Teaching Social Competence to Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Many children on the autism spectrum don’t understand abstract concepts. They have trouble reading between the lines. If a person says, “I’m so angry I could spit,” they may wait and watch for the person to spit. Social competence requires an ability to think abstractly.

If the child has difficulty in this area, he or she may fail to understand facial expressions, have difficulty keeping emotions in check, have problems taking turns, interrupt others while they are speaking, prefer talking to adults rather than other kids, share information in inappropriate ways, talk too much about their favorite topic, or withdraw from conversations with peers entirely.

Similar to teaching many academic skills, teaching social competence involves abstract skills and concepts. Because kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s tend to be concrete and literal, the abstract nature of these interpersonal skills (e.g., kindness, reciprocity, friendships, thoughts, and feelings) makes them especially difficult to master.

A first crucial step is to define the abstract social skill or problem in clear and concrete terms (e.g., knowing when your friend is joking versus being mean). The behavior must be clearly put into action and the youngster taught to identify it and differentiate it from other behaviors (e.g., Is this a friend or not a friend? Is this a quiet or a loud voice? Was I being teased or not? Am I following directions or not?).

Examples of making the abstract concrete include:
  • “If-then” rules can be taught when the social behaviors involved are predictable and consistent (e.g., “If someone says ‘thank you,’ then you say ‘you're welcome’.”).
  • Kids on the autism spectrum who are learning eye contact may respond better to the more concrete “point your eyes” than to “make eye contact” or “look at me.” 
  • Personal space can be defined concretely as “an arm away” or “a ruler away” instead of “too close.”

Short menus of behavior options can be presented for particular social situations for these young people to choose among (e.g., three things you can do to deal with teasing).

Visually-based instruction is another great way to make the abstract concrete. Many kids with HFA and Asperger’s – even those who have considerable verbal skill – demonstrate a visual preference oand learn best with visually-cued instruction. Incorporating visual cues, prompts, and props to augment verbal instruction can make abstract social skills more tangible and easily understood.

Other visually-based instruction may include:
  • A large “Z” made of cardboard can be used to depict the back-and-forth flow of a conversation.
  • Examples of intermediate and finished products can be used to demonstrate steps in activities or projects. 
  • Kids on the spectrum can be taught to look at the eyes of others using a cardboard arrow. They can be instructed to hold the arrow on the side of their face next to their right eye, and point it at the eyes of the person to whom they are speaking. This aligns their face and eyes in the correct direction. Once this skill has been practiced using this concrete visual cue, use of the arrow can be faded out.
  • Pictures can be used to define concepts or clarify definitions.
  • Voice volume or affect intensity can be depicted visually in a thermometer-like format.
  • Written lists can be used to summarize discussion topics.

Such visual prompts can be faded out eventually, and the skill can be practiced in more natural contexts.

For more information on teaching social competence to kids on the autism spectrum, click on the link below:

Meltdown Prevention: Parents’ Quick Reference Sheet

In the initial stage of a meltdown, kids (and teenagers) with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s exhibit specific behavior changes that may not seem to be related directly to a meltdown. The behaviors may seem minor (e.g., may clear their throats, lower their voices, tense their muscles, tap their foot, grimace, or otherwise indicate general discontent). They may also engage in behaviors that are more obvious (e.g., emotionally or physically withdrawing).

During the early stage of a meltdown, it is crucial that parents intervene without becoming part of a struggle. The following interventions can be effective in helping your youngster regain control with minimal adult support:

1.  Ask teachers to create a “home-base,” which is a place in the school where your child can “escape.” The home-base should be quiet with few visual or activity distractions, and activities should be selected carefully to ensure that they are calming rather than alerting. At home, the home-base may be the youngster's room or an isolated area in the house. Regardless of its location, it is important that the home-base is viewed as a positive environment. (Note: The home-base is not “timeout” or an escape from classroom tasks or chores.)

2.  Display a chart or visual schedule of expectations and events, which can provide security to kids on the spectrum who typically need predictability.

3.  Help your youngster to focus on something other than the task or activity that seems to be upsetting.

4.  Inform your child of schedule changes ahead of time, which can prevent anxiety and reduce the likelihood of a meltdown.

5.  Make use of a short diary that lists your child’s meltdown triggers, and what interventions seem to work (most of the time). In this way, you get to really know your child. This is crucial, because the wrong intervention can escalate - rather than deescalate - a behavior problem. Furthermore, although interventions in the early stage of a meltdown do not require extensive time, you must understand the events that precipitate the target behaviors so that you can be ready to intervene early and teach your child strategies to maintain behavior-control.

Of course, you want to “intervene,” but you also want to teach your child to recognize her own frustration and have a means of handling it. You simply can’t be available all the time. There will be occasions when your child will need to use self-control strategies without parental or teacher support.

6.  Move near your youngster whenever he is beginning to “rumble” (i.e., gearing up for a meltdown). Often something as simple as standing next to your child is calming. This can easily be accomplished without interrupting an ongoing activity.

7.  Pay attention to cues from your child. When he begins to exhibit a “precursor behavior” (e.g., throat clearing, pacing), use a nonverbal signal to let him know that you are aware of the situation (e.g., an agreed-upon “secret” signal, such as tapping on a table top, may be used to alert the youngster that he is under stress). A “signal” may be followed by a stress -relief strategy (e.g., squeezing a stress ball).

8.  Remove your youngster (in a non-punitive fashion) from the environment in which she is experiencing difficulty. At school, the youngster may be sent on an errand. At home, she may be asked to retrieve an object for a you. During this time, the youngster has an opportunity to regain a sense of calm. When she returns, the problem will typically be diminished in magnitude - and you are on hand for support, if needed.

9.  Walk with your youngster without talking. Silence on your part is important, because a child on the autism spectrum who is beginning to “meltdown” will likely react emotionally to any adult statement, misinterpreting it or rephrasing it beyond recognition. On this walk, your child can say whatever she wishes without fear of discipline or reprimand. In the meantime, you should be calm, show as little reaction as possible, and never be confrontational.

10.  When your child is in the initial stage of a meltdown because of a difficult task - and you think that he can complete the task with your support - offer a brief acknowledgement that validates your child’s frustration and help him complete the task. For example, when working on a math problem, your youngster says, “This is too hard.” Knowing he can complete the problem, you can refocus his attention by saying, “Yes, the problem is difficult. Let's start with number one.”

* You may want to print this article and keep it with you, or post it on the fridge.

==> Parenting System That Stops Meltdowns Before They Start

Our Top 10 Picks for Teaching Children on the Spectrum About Emotions

Social-emotional learning is a key component in educating younger kids with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's. Help your child learn how to recognize, manage, and express his or her feelings.

Students on the Autism Spectrum: Classroom Solutions for Teachers to Employ

It’s important to educate students with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs (no two of these “special needs” children are alike). Preferably, the educational process involves the individually-planned and systematically-monitored arrangement of teaching methods, adapted equipment and materials, and accessible settings.

Protection from Bullies—

Most kids with HFA and AS are very bright, and may even excel academically in one or more subjects. However, they often need protection from other students who bully or take advantage of them. Kids on the autism spectrum may not know which students to avoid (e.g., if an HFA youngster makes a friend, that "friend" may make him do assignments for him, break rules, take the blame, and otherwise put the HFA youngster in jeopardy).

Training in Social and Emotional Competency—

Young people on the autism spectrum usually don’t understand the "hidden rules" of school, but take all rules at face value. For example, they may memorize the rule (e.g., "don't cuss at school”), yet don't realize that most students cuss, but you don't use cuss words in front of school staff.

These “special needs” kids also don’t understand "hidden social agendas." If an HFA or AS child participates on a high school debate team that meets in a sandwich shop, he comes prepared like a little professor to talk about the subject at hand, but doesn’t understand that the other students are there to socialize as well as practice for the team.

For this reason, kids on the spectrum require individualized training in social and emotional competency. There are many promising teaching techniques that can be used. On the elementary school level, some educators are using "social stories" with special cartoons illustrated with "emo faces" to help HFA and AS kids recognize facial expressions. Acting classes also help these children better understand emotional reactions.

Special Education versus Mainstream Classroom—

Special ed classrooms usually have a small number of kids with a variety of special needs. The teacher may have extra training in special education and receive help from one or more aides. Therefore, the big advantage of a special ed classroom is extra individual attention. However, there are several disadvantages to these classrooms as well:
  • Academics may be "watered down" in a special ed situation.
  • Kids on the spectrum don’t do well with emotionally disturbed kids who are often streetwise and aggressive. If these two groups are together in the classroom, there is the risk of producing a combination of the perfect victim and perfect victimizer.
  • Kids with HFA and AS often gain more knowledge about social interactions and how the "normal" world operates in a mainstream classroom.

Sometimes a youngster on the autism spectrum may start out in a special ed classroom and gradually transition to a mainstream one. This usually has to be done slowly, and takes an average of two months to two years. It may begin with just a half-hour at a time in the regular classroom for elementary school students, and perhaps an hour at a time in the student's strongest subject on the high school level. Some experts recommend seating the HFA or AS child next to a successful student who can help him or her with organization and provide class notes, when necessary.

Predictability and Structure—

In general, HFA and AS students do better in classrooms that are predictable and structured with as few transitions as possible. Teaching with an emphasis on visual presentation plays to the child's strength of visual acuity. During "unstructured" periods (e.g., lunch, physical education, recess, and passing to classes), the “special needs” child may need certain accommodations.

Special accommodations that teachers should employ:
  • model “staying calm” in the face of conflict
  • be a sensitive person so that if the HFA or AS child rages at school, he does not experience complete humiliation in front of his classmates
  • develop a special "cue" (e.g., tapping the youngster's shoulder) to help him pay attention when his mind is wandering
  • help with transitions
  • learn how to deal with "meltdowns" (e.g., intervene in the "rumbling" or beginning stage)
  • understand that after a meltdown, the youngster may be exhausted, or deny that it happened
  • let the youngster know in advance when he will have to recite in front of the class, or have a quiz/test
  • use drama to help the youngster understand other people's emotions

These interventions are designed to help students on the autism spectrum achieve a higher level of personal self-reliance and achievement in school, which may not happen if they were not given the classroom solutions listed above.

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum to Develop Their Own “Emotional Toolbox”

Perhaps one of the best techniques we as parents of kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s can employ is the creation of an “emotional toolbox” designed to help the child to “repair” his or her feelings.

Most kids know that a toolbox usually includes a variety of tools to repair a machine, for example. So, parents can begin discussion and activities that are used to identify different types of “tools” for specific problems associated with feelings.

For example:
  • One type of “emotional repair tool” can be a paintbrush, which can be used to represent relaxation tools that lower the heart rate (e.g., drawing, reading, listening to calming music, etc.).
  • A picture of a manual can be used to represent thinking tools that are designed to improve cognitive processes (e.g., phrases that encourage reflection before reaction). James, a young man with HFA, developed his “antidote to toxic thoughts” through the use of this tool. He developed a “stop and think first” technique whenever he was upset and about to lash-out at someone.
  • A two-handle saw can be used to represent social activities or people who can help repair feelings (e.g., communication with someone who is known to be sympathetic and able to alleviate negative feelings). This can be by spoken word or typed communication, enabling the child to gain a new perspective on the problem and providing some practical advice. 
  • Another type of emotional repair tool can be represented by a hammer, which signifies physical “tools” for calming down (e.g., going for a walk, bouncing on a trampoline, crushing empty cans for recycling, etc.). The goal here is to repair emotions constructively by a safe physical act that increases the heart rate. One child with Asperger’s explained how running around the yard “takes the fight out of me.”

The idea is to provide a “repair statement” (i.e., self-talk) for the HFA or Asperger’s child that counteracts his or her negative thoughts. For instance, “I can't deal with this (a toxic or negative thought), but I can do this with mom’s help (positive thought or antidote).”

The child can also be taught that becoming overly-emotional often inhibits his or her intellectual abilities in a particular situation that requires good problem-solving skills. The self-talk here might be, “When I’m angry and frustrated, I need to cool down so I can think about how to solve this problem.”

The concept of a toolbox can be extremely helpful in enabling the youngster with HFA or Asperger’s not only to repair her own feelings, but also to repair the feelings of others. Kids on the spectrum often benefit from instruction in learning what tools to use to help friends and family - and which tools others use - so that they may borrow tools to add to their own emotional repair kit.

Humor and imagination can be used as “thinking tools.” Contrary to popular myths, young people with HFA and Asperger’s greatly benefit from laughter, can enjoy jokes typical of their developmental level, and can be very creative with puns and jokes.

Parents should also have a discussion of “inappropriate tools” (e.g., one would not use a hammer to fix a wrist watch) to explain how some actions (e.g., violence) are not appropriate emotional repair mechanisms. For instance, one child with Asperger’s would slap himself to stop negative thoughts and feelings, which only had a very temporary effect and did not solve the problem.

Another tool that could become inappropriate is for the child to repeatedly retreat into his fantasy world (e.g., imagining he is a superhero), or to plan retaliation. The use of escape into fantasy literature and games can be a typical tool for ordinary children. But for kids on the autism spectrum, escape is of concern when it becomes the exclusive coping mechanism (e.g., the fine line between fantasy and reality may be unclear to the child).

Another concern is when daydreams of retaliation to teasing/bullying are expressed in drawings, writing, and threats. Although this may be a typical means of emotional expression, there is a concern that the expression is misinterpreted as an intention to carry out the fantasy – or may be a precursor to retaliation using weapons.

Talking to pets as a “social tool” in preference to talking to friends or developing relationships with people is another inappropriate tool in some cases.

“Unusual tools” should also be discussed. For instance, one teenage girl with Asperger’s explained that, “Crying doesn't work for me, so I get mad.” In this case, tears were a rare response to feeling sad, with a more common response to sadness being anger, which caused others to misinterpret her behavior.

Another unusual tool is that of being quick at resolving grief and serious tragedies (e.g., death of a loved one). This trait can be of concern to the child’s parents, who expect the classic signs of prolonged and intense grieving. Parents may view the child as uncaring, yet the rapid recovery is simply a characteristic of the disorder.

Developing an emotional toolbox to “fix” feelings is a way to improve a child’s self-esteem, train her to be able to relate to others effectively, and help her develop a sense of how she learns best in the area of social skills and emotional control.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here for the full article...

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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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."

Click here to read the full article…

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