Children on the Autism Spectrum and "Low-Frustration Tolerance"

"I was just wondering, my daughter who is 9 (diagnosed as asd, as our doctor doesn’t like to put them into one category, but says if she did my child would be high functioning!) doesn't have aggressive meltdowns, it’s more a crying depressive meltdown. Like I just had to ask her to tidy her room, and was explaining that if she picked up her things she wouldn’t have to tidy it this much. While I was telling her (I never shout or swear, i promise) she was crying, whilst putting things away, getting frustrated with drawers and things. I then came back after doing other things in the house, and found her just lying on the floor of her room with her comfort blanket. She is now watching a film in her room, took off her clothes and is in bed with one of the blinds shut. I asked her what was wrong…But she never seems to know how she is feeling, and just says she is ill. She said I had told her to do too many things. (Plus we had just been to the super market half an hour before) does this sound like a meltdown of some sort? She is never aggressive...just emotionally unbalanced, cries easy, often seems depressed. I hope someone can help. I am worried I might be handling things wrong!"

It may seem like they over-react to the small things that happen, but it is a fact that kids with high-functioning autism and Asperger's have little emotional control and get frustrated easily. That's where they need your help and the help of others qualified in the area of emotions.

Ask yourself these questions about your child's frustration: 
  • Does she throw things and hurt people?
  • Does she withdraw to someplace she feels safe?
  • Does she yell and cry?
  • How does your youngster show her frustration?
  • What do you do when she gets frustrated?
  • Do you give her time alone to try to deal with it?
  • Do you take it personally, or do you jump in to soothe her when she is on the brink of crying?
  • Is it best to talk about the issue or let it go?

Kids on the autism spectrum have a low toleration for frustration. This frustration comes from a lack of understanding of their feelings. They are unable to identify and express what they are feeling, so they lump all the 'bad' feelings together. The parents see the overflow of 'bad' feelings come out at once. It's important that we don't take them personally, even when they seem as though they are directed at us. These kids want to tell us what is on their mind, but most of the time they don't know how to say it properly, or they misinterpreted their thoughts altogether.

So what can moms and dads do to help their youngsters with frustrations?

If the youngster is exhibiting threatening behavior and seems unable to control it, then getting her to work with a professional is the best approach if she doesn't already have one. Many times, a therapist can provide coping techniques for the youngster to deal with her feelings. Also, a therapist can provide the parent with valuable insight and tools for helping the youngster deal with her feelings. There are also medications that a doctor can prescribe to help calm these outbursts and let the youngster think it through.

A child who is obviously frustrated but not particularly threatening or violent still needs help, and parents can provide that through on the fly discussions. An older youngster can be reasoned with on what triggered the outburst and how she can deal with it the next time. It's important that these discussions be held calmly and rationally. If the youngster feels accused or threatened, then she will not be receptive to what the mother or father has to say. It may help to have a therapist facilitate these types of conversations.

The bottom line is if your youngster appears to have a low tolerance for frustration and it is happening more frequently, then she needs help understanding what it happening to her. This kind of help can come from a number of places, and the most important players are the parents. Don't take it personally, rather understand that your child is literally brimming over with 'bad' emotions and doesn't fully realize what she is doing.

==> Click here for more advice on helping your child with low-frustration tolerance...

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> 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

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said... I'm reminding myself that when Quinlan has a bay day no matter how frustrated or upset I am, he's 100 times more frustrated and upset. Woosah
•    Anonymous said... I had to do that reminder a few times myself today. Calm usually is easy for me, but not always.
•    Anonymous said... I'm normally calm and laid back. I think yesterday was one of those challenging days. Today has been nice and calm. With the occasional texture panic. ;) Thank you for letting me know, I'm not the only parent reminding themselves.
•    Anonymous said... On days when I'm at my whits end and I'm in my room crying, I remind myself that at least I can take a break. He can't. He always has Asperger's...
•    Anonymous said... Very well said. I'm so glad I finally found other moms who understand our daily struggles and joys.
•    Anonymous said... Thank you. I have selfishly held the attitude that even though others can take a break, I can't because I always have a son with Asperger's.... but what about him? stabbed me right in the gut. I mean it - thank you.
•    Anonymous said… Have the same issues with my son who is 8 with Aspergers - he just can't process so much at once, and gets shut down. Finding the balance is hard but I'm ever hopeful - this year is better than last year, new challenges but we know more too. x Good luck and remember it's a learning curve for both of you. x
•    Anonymous said… I found the Speechie and Ot helped with managing such sensory overload and executive function/organizing issues. Breaking down tasks, visual step by step and lists help to build the habit.
•    Anonymous said… it sound like sensory overload at the store. Lucky you for the meltdowns. Once you understand how the sensory funnel works you will figure how to avoid the overloads
•    Anonymous said… My 13 year old is exactly the same
•    Anonymous said… My adoptive teen is not aggressive but he is more of a quite depressive mode. He does have the capability of deceptive explosive behavior, If he is bullied by others. Otherwise, he shuts down!!!
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is like this as well. Even a statement like tidy your toys is to vague for her. She needs specific put your stuffed animals in the basket or whatever it is. She can't break it down into smaller tasks on her own. I have found that putting pictures on drawers help a little so she can see what goes there. To her it isn't messy and she sees no need to clean it so that's why giving specific tasks helps. At least with her maybe it will help you to. I know of we go out I can't ask anything from her for a minimum of thirty minutes because it is to much for her. Being around people is to demanding and exhausting for her. Hope that this helps at all.
•    Anonymous said… My son can become frozen if I ask him to do more than one thing at a time. He will flop onto his bed and bury himself in his blankets and squeal. Someitmes he paces back and forth not knowing what to do with himself and will scream or grab his hair. He is twelve and this is not always his reaction but if he is trying to concentrate on something like building lego or whatever and I ask him to put his shoes on, feed the chickens, and wash his hands, this is enough to put him out of sorts. Sometimes I ask him to brush his hair and he brushes his teeth smile emoticon He does not always have the headspace to hear what I am saying sometimes because he is always thinking of really intricate and detailed things and it takes time for him to find his way back to the world where people are making demands of him.
•    Anonymous said… My son is 8 and would do something similar in the same situation. Try breaking the job down into much smaller jobs. We give him a list to work through so he can cross of what he has done and see that there is an end to it. Does that make sense?
•    Anonymous said… My son is more this way as well.
•    Anonymous said… My son is the exact same way!! Those are his meltdowns. He just shuts down and cries. He never knows why he has them.
•    Anonymous said… My son is the same way. I will admit though, that my son is pretty manipulating when it comes to doing chores. He can be aggressive and have meltdowns, especially if I ask or tell him to do something like clean his room. He has also developed a depressive attitude with low self esteem which hurts so badly as a patent. Anyway, I've found it goes a lot smoother if I tell him instead specifically what he needs to do one thing at a time. So instead of telling him to clean his room, I'll ask him to put his toys in his closet and also offer to help him with something else, say, put his books away. If I want him to run the vacuum, I'll tell him that I'll dust. It also helps if I plan a room for us to do together. This way it doesn't seem to overwhelm him as much. Hope this helps.
•    Anonymous said… My son started school two weeks ago, he has just turned five. I find we get a mixture of absolute emotional helplessness to extreme anger and aggression. The aggression is always followed by emotional turmoil and upset and the need to feel squeezed. I have realised that his meltdowns vary and I also realise that he also cannot process more than one task at hand. One reason I know this is because he is very intelligent and has always been very 'forward' academically in comparison to his peers, yet, now he is at school I he is not really displaying any real high level of intelligence . His teacher explained to me ( when discussing something else) that gabriel often makes mistakes even when she knows he knows the answer , he also seems eager to please and rushes , this is particularly the case when there are seven or so children taking part in an an activity around a table , once there is only he, or one other child left at the table with the teacher he answers accurately all the time . He often needs to be asked a question twice, the first time to process he is being asked something and to get over the feeling of pressure or stress of being asked and then the second or third time to actually answer the question. Please don't misunderstand me, it is not of great importance that he is seen as being highly intelligent at school, I refer to this point because it has helped me understand how he functions and why he acts in certain ways. I think the difference is that he is completely overloaded and can't process what he is doing whilst at the same time watching and listening to the other children. He also doesn't respond under pressure and can actually look completely vacant as though you aren't even there let alone have asked him something . If I give him a small list of say two or three things to do he will despair. He will demonstrate sheer frustration without even attempting anything. This is true of any direction I give him that follows further instructions . He becomes frustrated so easily too, especially if it's something asked of him that is not within his usual routine. I do find that he responds better with one thing given to him at a time with the next introduced after. I also have to put a real enthusiastic positive emphasis on everything . He also cries so easily , is emotionally all over the place a lotOf the time but particularly when tired or feeling exhausted . He often complains of tired legs a lot which seems to distract him from anything else that I need him to concentrate on . He says they are heavy when he lifts them. His anxiety issues can also be at different levels from one day to the next dependant on other factors such as tiredness and how sensitive he is on a particular day.
•    Anonymous said… My son who is 12 now thrives on structure, written out step by step responsibilities for the day he can check off when completed. Helps him keep a routine and doesn't get overwhelmed. My daughter who I also suspect is on the spectrum deals with emotional anxieties. Cries very easily and can not seem to control it. Anxiety medication has helped both my children with their sensory issues that can change on a day to day basis.
•    Anonymous said… Probably over loaded. Sounds like my son. The shopping was probably enough to overload her-all the sensory overload! Maybe a break after shopping b4 any tasks may help in future...X
•    Anonymous said… The phrase "low frustration tolerance" has always described my 9 yr old Aspie. Emotional and intense follow right behind. We are always teaching strategies for recognizing emotions, identifying those big feelings as they're coming (instead of after they overflow), etc. It's a skill we will always be practicing, I think.
•    Anonymous said… Yes, this is what I would see with my daughter - more of a shutdown than a meltdown. I didn't recognize it for what it was for a long time (because her younger brother was having over the top meltdowns) and only got her diagnosed at sixteen. Good for you for being so attuned to your daughter! And if it helps, my daughter was the same with her room and now it's completely organized and when it gets out of hand she can do it herself.
•    Anonymous said… You are not alone. I have a nineteen yr old on the spectrum who has some of the same issues. Lots of love and patience!! Keep your chin up Momma! Find a good network of parents for support!
•    Anonymous said… Your beautiful girl sounds just like my beautiful girl (also aged 9) who can get overwhelmed at the simplest of tasks or become stressed at the most benign of issues. There is no right or wrong way, as some days she copes better than others. We work hard to support her to become more resilient and confident - she has self esteem issues also - and when she has a "wobble" (our name for those wee episodes) we let the dust settle and then talk it through. The task still gets done, but we often have to break it down into more manageable chunks and explain the reasons why the task must be done. It's a toughie.....we acknowledge and appreciate the challenges that she faces, but we must also do our best to teach her lessons and skills that often come more easier to typical kids. Bad behaviour isn't tolerated and she still has to conform to rules and social norms, but our discipline regime (for want of a better phrase) is a little more gentle than the one we applied with her brother. Good things to note is that there are way more upsides with Maia, as she is sweet, creative, kind, funny, smart and sparkly.....I flippin love her!!!

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