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Dealing with Difficult Aspergers-related Behavior

"I need some advice on how to handle behavior problems in my child with Asperger syndrome, such as how to use the right discipline, dealing with his obsessions, sibling issues, sleep problems, school-related problems, and acting-out behavior in public. Thanks!"

Disciplining kids displaying Aspergers-related behavior will often require an approach which is somewhat unique to that of "typical" kids. Finding the balance between understanding the needs of a youngster with Aspergers - and discipline which is age appropriate and situationally necessary - is achievable when applying some simple, yet effective strategies. These strategies can be implemented both at home and in more public settings.

General Behavior Problems—

Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with Aspergers (now referred to as "high-functioning autism"), primarily because they are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Consequently, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, while at the same time giving rise to distress in both the youngster and the mom or dad.

At all times, the emotional and physical well being of your youngster should take priority. Often this will necessitate removing your youngster from a potentially distressing situation as soon as possible. Consider maintaining a diary of your youngster's behavior with a view to ascertaining patterns or triggers. Recurring behavior may be indicative of a youngster taking some satisfaction in receiving a desired response from peers, moms and dads, or teachers. For example, the youngster may come to understand that hurting another classmate will result in his being removed from class, notwithstanding the associated consequence to his peer. The solution may not be most effectively rooted in punishing the youngster for the behavior, or even attempting to explain the situation from the perspective of their injured peer, but by treating the root cause behind the motivation for the misbehavior (e.g., maybe the Aspergers youngster can be made more comfortable in class so that he will not want to leave).

One of the means to achieve this may be to focus on the positive. Praise for good behavior, and reinforcement by way of something like a Reward Book, can assist. The use of encouraging verbal cues delivered in a calm tone are likely to elicit more beneficial responses than the harsher verbal warnings that might be effective with "typical" kids. If necessary, when giving directions to stop a type of misbehavior, these should be framed as positives rather than negatives (e.g., rather than telling a youngster to stop hitting his brother with the ruler, the youngster should be directed to put the ruler down).

Obsessive or Fixated Behavior—

Almost all kids go through periods of development where they become engrossed in one subject matter or another, but kids with Aspergers often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behavior. For example, if an Aspergers youngster becomes fixated on reading a particular story each night, she may become distressed if this regime is not adhered to, or if the story is interrupted. Again, the use of a behavior diary can assist in identifying fixations for your youngster. Once a fixation is identified, it is important to set appropriate boundaries for your youngster. Providing a structure within which your youngster can explore the obsession can assist in then keeping the obsession within reasonable limits, without the associated angst which might otherwise arise through such limitations (e.g., tell your youngster that she may watch her favorite cartoon for half an hour after dinner, and make time for that in her routine).

It is appropriate to utilize the obsession to motivate and reward your youngster for good behavior. Always ensure any reward associated with positive behavior is granted immediately to assist the youngster recognizing the nexus between the two.

A particularly useful technique to try to develop social reciprocity is to have your youngster talk for five minutes about a particularly favored topic after he has listened to you talk about an unrelated topic. This serves to help your youngster understand that not everyone shares his enthusiasm for his subject matter.

Bridging the Gap between Aspergers and Discipline and Other Siblings—

For siblings without Aspergers, the differential - and what at times no doubt appears to be preferential - treatment received by an Aspergers sibling can give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. Often they will fail to understand why their brother or sister apparently seems free to behave as they please without the normal constraints placed on them.

It is important to explain to siblings of Aspergers kids and encourage open discussion about the disorder itself. Encouragement should extend to the things siblings can do to assist the Aspergers youngster, and this should be positively reinforced through acknowledgement when it occurs.

Sleep Difficulties—

Aspergers kids are known for experiencing sleep problems. Kids with Aspergers may have lesser sleep requirements, and as such are more likely to become anxious about sleeping, or may find they become anxious when waking during the night or early in the morning.

Combat your youngster's anxiety by making her bedroom a place of safety and comfort. Remove or store items which might be prone to injure your youngster if she decides to wander at night. Include in the behavioral diary a record of your youngster's sleep patterns. It may assist your youngster if you keep a list of her routine (e.g., dinner, bath time, story and bed time) in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of her waking in the morning to provide assurance as to what will happen. Social stories have proven to be a particularly successful tactic in decreasing a youngster's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of her day is likely to play out.

At School—

Another Asperger characteristic is that kids will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day which lack structure. If left to their own devices their difficulties with social interaction and self management can result in anxiety. The use of a buddy system can assist in providing direction, as can the creation of a timetable for recess and lunch times. These should be raised with teachers and implemented with their assistance.

Explain the concept of free time to your youngster, or consider providing a separate purpose or goal for your youngster during such time (e.g., reading a book, helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks, etc.).

In Public—

Kids with Aspergers can become overwhelmed to the point of distress by even a short visit in public. The result is that many moms and dads with Aspergers kids simply seek to avoid (as much as possible) situations where their youngster is exposed to the public. While expedient, it may not offer the best long-term solution to your youngster, and there are strategies to assist with outings.

Consider providing your youngster with an iPod, or have the radio on in the car to block out other sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list explaining to the youngster a trip to the shops, doctor, etc. Be sure to include on the list your return home. Consider giving your youngster a task to complete during the trip, or having him assist you. At all times, maintaining consistency is a key concern. It pays to ensure that others involved in your youngster's care are familiar with your strategies and techniques and are able to apply them.

Lastly, don't hesitate to seek support networks for parents with Aspergers kids, and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge those who have dealt with the disorder before you have developed. The assistance you can gain from these and other resources can assist you in developing important strategies to deal with problems in a manner most beneficial to your youngster.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums


Anonymous said... Yes, I found that my son used to really freak out when young if he got in trouble, he didn't really know what was up or what he did wrong - he has very little understanding of some of his behaviors and why they are not OK at times. When he was a toddler, I discovered the strong connection between dairy products (even Goldfish crackers) and his wild behaviors, so a dietary change did a lot of good. Then as a teen, when he became extremely aggressive when his testosterone surged with puberty, and they tried many meds to help him calm down a bit. Finally Trileptal (Oxcarbazepine) and a small dose (don't use larger ones, they can cause obsessions) of Abilify, plus Clonidine .1mg at night to sleep was the perfect combo. He has been able to reduce some of these as he got older, but if we take him off the Trileptal he gets really frustrated and explosive, so he may be on it for life, but it's not a really bad drug - it's an antiseizure med that they use to help bipolar patients also. And the cool thing when he took it is the meltdowns cut WAY back and his mind changed where he could actually form expressions about what he liked, didn't like, talk about his day, tell stories, make jokes, laugh, etc. His counselor was thrilled because he usually never said more than a few words during sessions, and suddenly they were having conversations. I also find this interesting because I read a story last year about some children diagnosed with Autism being found to be having small seizures on a constant basis, and when they were given antiseizure meds they were suddenly able to come out of it and begin to function neurologically - amazing. He still is very much an Aspie and quite a handful and has many challenges, but at least we don't have to call the police to try to get him to stop wrecking the house and attacking people and yelling - that was awful. My poor child, I really do try to see what he goes through, too. And as a foot note - the greatest challenge in dealing with the changes and improvements these meds brought about was when he moved on to new teachers, counselors, etc, for whatever reason, and they would get confused about his diagnosis at first because he didn't "appear" as an Aspie nearly as much as he did without the meds, and could make eye contact, talk, etc. - I kept trying to explain to them that it's like someone with say, schizophrenia - they can take their meds and appear quite normal, but take them away and then you can see their diagnosis. Sometimes I wondered if they even had a clue - but I guess they didn't see very many Aspies at all on this treatment my son is on and it was not something they were used to being presented with.

Anonymous said... My son either laughs at us if we try to discipline him or he screams at the top of his lungs at us. Ugh. We've started a reward sticker chart which is working right now, but with everything else, he loses interest in things over time and then we have to come up with a new system.

More comments below...


Adrieanne Pearce said...

all of this info is very helpful considering my son has so much trouble at school and he is only a 1st grader. alot of people jsut dont understand and the discipline methods are an amazing thing. i am printing this off for the principle because he uses the disciplin method for "non aspergers" for my aspergers child and my child just doesnt grasp it and doesnt care. he is constantly getting wrote up and kicked off the bus all for reasons which is mainly things he cant control. Its like things are in 1 ear and out the other with aspergers children and u have to remind and remind and remind them constantly, so the principle just says he has bad behavior and has to learn. so this information is truely helpful for me to print out and leave on his desk. thanks! PROUD MOM OF A VERY SPECIAL BOY!

Anonymous said...

For my son we have come up with a behavioral chart that all of the teachers at school fill out for each class he is in and he has to get at least 12 starts or he loses a priviledge at home. It has worked really well.

Anonymous said...

I have a 10 yr old step son who we strongly suspect has Aspergers. I have known him since he was 3 yrs old, and to be honest I have always suspected he was not a " normal" little boy ( please excuse the term)
He has always been extremely hard work, but more recently this has been much worse. My husband now works away so I have full care of him for 50% of the time. Both myself and his mother have problems with his behaviour, and I have always described him as "getting in his downward spiral" meaning he misbehaves but no amount of shouting, punishment, reasoning and explanation can pull him out of his worsening behaviour. He is self loathing, and recently has talked about suicide when he is in one of his spirals ( you refer to this as a meltdown)
I always carry out my threats of punishment, however I am a little confused what I should do when I say;
" If you continue with this attitude, you will be grounded. Your bike, scooter iPod and all the things you like will be removed"
He will often reply ( usually muttering so that sometimes I can only half hear him)
" So, see if I am bothered. I will find something else to do anyway, you can't take everything off me. So what, big deal)
Should I then carry out my threat at that point because of his response? I normally do.....
I then make him put his pyjamas on once he has eaten his dinner, and I only allow him to read or draw until his grounding is complete.
He will not say sorry, and if he is forced to say it by his dad, it is said without any feeling or remorse.
I have come to the point where I have little feeling for him, other than resentment. In fact I would say that I dislike him intently because of his spiteful, selfish, greedy behaviour. He has little concern or care for anyone only himself.
I have read what you have said and he fits exactly. We are now starting the ball rolling with our G.P.
I don't know if I will ever like him though. He has turned into a horrible little boy who is a know it all, big head, however a complete coward!!!!
As you have said, I have shouted, screamed, ranted and raved at him. I am left shaking with anger, whilst two minutes later I can hear him singing or humming away to himself. All is forgotten in his world!!!
Sorry if this is a long rambling email. I just need some advice..

Concened Mum said...

Dear Anonymous. Your 10 year old step son is not selfish. He has a disorder!

Yelling will not help (as you say) and will only frustrate you (as you say). You say he is rude and out of control, but as the adult, if you want him to be "in control" of himself, you have to model that behaviour yourself (but you say here you yell at him a lot ... so he is really only responding in the same way he sees you communicate).

With my son (9 years old), I have chatted with him in calmer times. He says he does not like his meltdown/spiral behaviour. We agreed on some hand-signals to use when things are getting bad. So rather than things spiraling into a yelling match, when I show him the pre-agreed hand signal for "backchat" (meaning the conversation is going no where and you are starting to get rude), we both stop the conversation. If it is important, we might talk about it again later. This has worked very well for us and helps keep our environment much calmer. But I have to recognise early on what is happening and give him the hand signal in enough time before the meltdown is in full flight.

Unknown said...

Hi my daughter is 9 really finding it hard to get her diagnosed, u feal the doctors just don't listen. She gets so angry all the time with everyone and to see her not get the recognision she needs of doctors and health professions is heartbreaking. I ding it hard to punish her also because no matter what I take off her it don't bother her. She pushed her brother really hard to the floor for no reason, she had no empathy for his fealings and when I banned her from her I pad for a week I really didn't bother her. I just need some help

Unknown said...

I get this, I'm dealing with it seems harder to diagnose girls but I wonder if it's because society expects women to be irrational?
Reward seems to only work a short time and no warning seems cruel but it really helps me. And when she freaks like what are you doing, don't respond.when they ask why..ask them what happened? have them explain it several times until they figure out what happened and why. They have to do it.

Unknown said...

I agree completely. Calling a special needs child selfish is absurd...sounds like someone is jealous of their stepchild...

Unknown said...

I agree completely. Calling a special needs child selfish is absurd...sounds like someone is jealous of their stepchild...

anonymous said...

I understand where u are coming from. This disorder is very hard to understand and not one child has it the same as another; it's not a cookie cutter type of diagnosis. I wish I had advice for u as I am in need myself! Just thought I would say u aren't alone in your feelings. It's very hard to grasp. What's even harder is knowing ours wasn't this way less than 3 years ago and that on top of his adhd and aspergers, he is also very manipulative. We don't understand how he can have all these things wrapped into one package? Some days I'm at my witt's end especially seeing the plan on my husband's eyes knowing his little buddy seemingly doesn't love anyone around us. Its just hard to understand..

Unknown said...

Wow.... That poor child don't need someone in his life like that.... Sounds like wicked stepmother has some serious issues.

Unknown said...

You guys are being awfully judgmental and harsh on a lady who is taking care of child that is not hers biologically. She is at her wits ed show some sympathy.
I can tell you I understand completely and it is normal to have these feelings these children are very difficult and you can not excape from them. Use your resources get in home ABA therapy, respite care and know that some time these kids are just two smart for their own good. They are looked at as very dispespectful. They need to learn the skills and have the support to work through and hopefully eventually understand why their behavior causes them not to be liked and given the skills that they lack and take time to develop. I am sure this child is much like mine and yes their are days you wonder how the heck they are yours you do not act like this. Just remember without the skills they can not control it any better than a child with seizures can control their shaking without help and support. I will your pain and will have your family in my thoughts and prayers. Their is not easy answer and it is tough

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

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD 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 Children on the Spectrum

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 or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your 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 Teens on the Spectrum

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

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD 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 ASD 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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