Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Aspergers Teens and Suicide

"Can teens with Aspergers become so depressed that they become a risk for suicide?"

Unfortunately, the answer is ‘yes’. Research reveals a 50 % demonstration of what we call “suicidal ideation” (i.e., talking about killing yourself) with Aspergers (high functioning autistic) sufferers. When we look at the cases of "Aspies" who have attempted suicide or talk about committing suicide, the main issues usually revolve around self-esteem and social isolation. Thus, the family should be as supportive as possible for their Aspergers teenager.

Here are 25 tips to show parents how to be supportive of a suicidal Aspergers teenager:

1. A teenager who you feel is “high risk” for suicide should never be left alone, if even for a moment. Keep talking to that person, and stay with him or her.

2. Ask if he/she is thinking about suicide.

3. Ask if they have a plan. If so, take them seriously and move quickly to get help. Remove anything that would help them carry out their plan – guns, drugs, alcohol, knives, etc.

4. Depression in one youngster can cause stress or anxiety in other family members, so make sure “healthy” kids are not ignored. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation.

5. Don’t act shocked.

6. Don’t ask “why.” This encourages defensiveness.

7. Don’t bait the suicidal. Don’t say, “I think you’re just bluffing. I don’t believe you.”

8. Don’t be afraid to talk with him about suicide. Talking about it does not make it worse, but better. Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide.

9. Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Get support.

10. Don’t give up if your Aspergers adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Be respectful of your youngster’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.

11. Don’t tiptoe around the issue of teen depression in an attempt to “protect” the other kids. Kids know when something is wrong. When left in the dark, their imaginations will often jump to far worse conclusions. Be open about what is going on and invite your kids to ask questions and share their feelings.

12. Don’t try to talk teens out of their depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness they are feeling. If you don’t, they will feel like you don’t take their emotions seriously.

13. Encourage your adolescent to stay active. Exercise can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of depression, so find ways to incorporate it into your adolescent’s day. Something as simple as walking the dog or going on a bike ride can be beneficial.

14. Get the emotional support you need. Reach out to friends, join a support group, or see a therapist of your own. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, helpless, or angry. The important thing is to talk about how your teen’s depression is affecting you, rather than bottling up your emotions.

15. In order to help a depressed teen, you need to stay healthy and positive yourself, so don’t ignore your own needs. The stress of the situation can affect your own moods and emotions, so cultivate your well–being by eating right, getting enough sleep, and making time for things you enjoy.

16. Isolation only makes depression worse, so encourage your adolescent to see friends and praise efforts to socialize. Offer to take your teen out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art class.

17. It can be easy to blame yourself or another family member for your teen’s depression, but it only adds to an already stressful situation. Furthermore, depression is normally caused by a number of factors, so it’s unlikely—except in the case of abuse or neglect—that any loved one is “responsible”.

18. Just like you would if your youngster had a disease you knew very little about, read up on depression so that you can be your own “expert.” The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your depressed teen. Encourage your adolescent to learn more about depression as well. Reading up on their condition can help depressed teens realize that they’re not alone and give them a better understanding of what they’re going through.

19. Let depressed adolescents know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (adolescents don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.

20. Living with a depressed adolescent can be difficult and draining. At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection, despair, aggravation, or any other number of negative emotions. During this trying time, it’s important to remember that your youngster is not being difficult on purpose. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding.

21. Make sure you take any threat of suicide seriously. Of all the people who have committed suicide, 80% have given some kind of warning.

22. Make sure your adolescent is following all treatment instructions and going to therapy. It’s especially important that your youngster takes any prescribed medication as instructed. Track changes in your teen’s condition, and call the doctor if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse.

23. Offer hope that alternatives are available.

24. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your adolescent begins to talk. The important thing is that your youngster is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.

25. You could very well be that voice of hope to someone you love. Most times a suicidal person needs someone close to them to be a voice of hope.

Because of the very real danger of suicide, Aspergers teens who are depressed should be watched closely for any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior. The warning signs include:
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out”
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide

Follow-up Question:

My son Avi is 14 years old. He was diagnosed with Aspergers at age 9 and since then, has been attending a special ed class within a regular school. He’s generally happy in the class, he has a great teacher and a peer group with whom he can identify and feel comfortable. He is the middle of 7 children. Recently, his 16 year old brother, with whom Avi usually has a fairly good relationship, got frustrated with Avi and told him that if he didn’t change (stop talking incessantly about Pokemon, have better attitude to homework, etc) that he’d never get anywhere in life. Avi sometimes has extreme reactions, but this time his reaction had a new and scary aspect. He lay down on the floor, crawl up the stairs towards his bedroom, breathing heavily and growling “I’m no good, I’ll never amount to anything, I might as well be dead”, and then he climbed on his bed and tried to climb out of the window, as if to jump out. I managed to calm him down, it took about an hour, he took a bath, went to bed and never mentioned it again. I’m not sure if he would have jumped, or if he was “play-acting” the role of a suicidal person (he’s very imaginative) but it was very frightening. My question is: Avi is a fragile personality without resources to deal with a simple insult. How can I speak to him about suicide, when he’s calm, and give him the TOOLS he needs to deal with insults, as I’m sure this won't be the last time that someone insults or offends him?


First of all, I’m very sure he was play-acting and has no intention of committing suicide.

Secondly, he obviously looks up to his older brother and values his opinion (otherwise, he wouldn’t have over-reacted like this). So you may want to have a conversation with your older son that he needs to be careful what he says to his younger brother.

Thirdly, what we are dealing with here is a child with very low self-esteem. I think this is the core issue. Children with Aspergers have a much harder time with their self-esteem. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. Expressive and comprehensive communication has a direct impact on a child’s self-esteem. These are areas that do not come easily to children with Aspergers.
2. The expectations of siblings and the all-too-frequent bullying interactions from many peers can leave an Aspergers child feeling devastated.
3. The visits to doctors, or speech therapists, or OTs, the testing, and the stream of interventions that we try with them can easily leave them feeling like they're under the microscope, a specimen that warrants investigation, a person who needs fixing.
4. They often perceive the constant correction of their behaviors and their social interactions as criticism
5. Understanding subtle jokes and participating in human interplay, actions natural to their neurotypical peers, further increase their feelings of 'not fitting in' and erode their self-esteem.

Here's how you can play an important role in promoting healthy self-esteem in your son:

1. As parents, we must believe in our children’s value ourselves before we can ever change their minds. These children know when we're faking our compliments or arbitrarily handing out encouragement because the therapy book says we should give 5 positive comments to each correction. 

2. Be a positive role model. If you're excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your son may eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your son will have a great role model.

3. Be spontaneous and affectionate. Your love will go a long way to boost your son's self-esteem. Give hugs and tell him you're proud of them. Pop a note in your son's lunchbox that reads, "I think you're terrific!" Give praise frequently and honestly, without overdoing it. Children can tell whether something comes from the heart.

4. Believing in your son involves empathy, walking in their shoes, rather than sympathy; no one wants to be felt sorry for. Each child is a gift, with his own special qualities. We just need to look for these special gifts, tune into the child with our hearts, and bring their essence out.

5. Create a safe, loving home environment. Children who don't feel safe or are abused at home will suffer immensely from low self-esteem.

6. Empower your son to be himself, perfectly okay with who and how he is. Do this by loving him for who he is now, today, not who you think he should become someday. 

7. Encourage your son to share his thoughts and feelings; this is so important and often sheds new light on existing situations. 

8. Explain Aspergers to your son when he is able to understand his disorder. Who are we really kidding, other than ourselves, when we pretend a child does not have the Aspergers label, or we try to camouflage it? Who are we hurting? It's the child who is hurt in the long run.

9. Give positive, accurate feedback. Statements like, "You were really mad at your brother. But I appreciate that you didn't yell at him or hit him" acknowledges a child’s feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages him to make the right choice again next time.

10. Go to conferences, read books, research and share information that takes into consideration the many sensory, social, behavioral and communication challenges faced by your child. Armed with this understanding of how the disability affects him, you and others can better find ways to help him fit in. 

11. Help your son become involved in constructive experiences. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older child helps a younger one learn to read can do wonders for both children.

12. Identify and redirect your son's inaccurate beliefs. It's important for you to identify your son’s irrational beliefs about himself, whether they're about perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping children set more accurate standards and be more realistic in evaluating themselves will help them have a healthy self-concept. Inaccurate perceptions of self can take root and become reality to children.

13. Keep your son’s life manageable, refraining from overwhelming him with so many activities that he becomes too challenged physically and mentally to succeed at anything. Like most people, children with Aspergers feel better about themselves when they're balanced physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

14. Provide choices to your son frequently so he understands that he has a say in his own life -- and even let him be in charge sometimes. 

15. Since children with Aspergers are often very picky eaters and gravitate towards junk food, it's important to try supplementing their diet. Also, provide regular physical activity, when possible, to relieve stress and clear his mind. 

16. Watch for signs of abuse by others, problems in school, trouble with peers, and other factors that may affect your son’s self-esteem. Deal with these issues sensitively - but swiftly. 

17. Watch what you say. Aspergers children are very sensitive to their parent’s words. Remember to praise your son not only for a job well done, but also for effort. But be truthful. For example, if your son doesn't make the soccer team, avoid saying something like, "Well, next time you'll work harder and make it." Instead, try "Well, you didn't make the team, but I'm really proud of the effort you put into it." Reward effort and completion instead of outcome.

18. Lastly, when we say, "You are great!" to your son often enough, he, too, will believe it and feel valued for who he truly is.


Anonymous said...

I have a 15 year old son, Michael, who has been diagnosed with Aspergers. About three years ago my family broke up and Michael’s behavior has gone downhill since. He is extremely defiant, to the point where he does nothing in school or at home, unless it is something he wants to do. He is about 220 lbs and can be very aggressive and violent if he is pushed. He has shown this violence both in school and at home so generally everyone leaves him alone. I am maybe 70 lbs lighter than him and in no way can I control him.

He is addicted to video games and as part of the “Behavior Modification Plan” I removed access to all of his games. He was allowed to keep his other toys. He was given a schedule where he would start to get things back if he had seven consecutive good days. That was about 6 weeks ago and he is yet to get a single “good” day on his record. Usually after school he now goes to some of his friends homes to play games and refuses to come home until he is ready. He has also done absolutely no homework and almost no work in school during this period.

Michael is living with me for most of the time. Life in my house is miserable. Michael is extremely disrespectful. He visits his Mother on weekends and special occasions. She claims not to have much trouble with him and she does not fully support the “Behavior Modification Plan”. I have asked her to be more supportive of my attempts to teach discipline to Michael but she helps only in a very limited way. Because of this my efforts are getting nowhere; in fact the more I try the worst things seem to get. I fear that Michael eventually will learn to hate me. If his behavior does not change soon he will not have any future. He will not complete school, or be able to get a job. It keeps me awake at night but I can only see Michael’s anger, hatred and frustration growing to the point where eventually he will no longer be able to live with me. And eventually he won’t be able to live with his mother either. The future currently holds nothing for Michael and time to change this is running out.

I deal with the local Autism Society and they are very helpful but I need more help. My feeling at this point is that my ex-wife needs to do her part and be more supportive. I’m not sure what her problems is. Maybe she wants to be seen as the “good guy” to Michael, or maybe she doesn’t have what it takes to enforce the discipline required. I was hoping that she would be more supportive since she is probably the one and only person that Michael does listen to. Michael spend part of the last weekend with his mother and when she picked him upon I asked her to have a serious talk to him about his behavior and to also think about expanding the program to try to have more impact on Michael. She did not agree to any changes in the program and did not address his behavior with him at all. I have many battles to deal with!

I have written this letter to you because you may have dealt with the same or similar situation before. I am desperate a now and I need your help. Maybe you have a suggestion to deal with Michael or even words of experience that I can pass on to his mother. We all have to be on the same page or Michael will be lost. As each day passes I feel he is falling deeper and my grip to hold him is slipping.

Anonymous said...

if you really want to help him don't yell or treat him as a child.
show him respect and try to get him too understand why crap happends. perdon me but did you ask about problems at shcool. you said he has aspergers, i have it too and my life is a living hell. if you want to make him do better than you should talk to his teachers about how ohter kids treat him trust me he won't come out and unleash his problems openly. kids treat kids with aspergers like sub-humans. i fear he might have a stress disorder in which case he might be shuting down and lowering his own exspectations so he does not get hurt. if you want to help him figure out if its a social problem with other kids. if his classmates are treeting him like crap then i'd get him a tharapist.don't blame him for the work of others.

Anonymous said...

My son, David Lee Rea (15) appeared normal. He played football and was very popular. As his parents, we knew he was "fragile", but felt this was his inherent personality. We had no idea the extent of his internal struggles.

During a recent 9 day inpatient stay for suicidal thoughts, we (along with many professionals) were searching for answers as to why this seemingly normal adolescent wanted to end his life. During this crisis, I had the epiphany that David is high functioning Aspergers after listening to my husband and I pour over this child's history with doctors and counselors.

David was relieved that he "was not going crazy". Post hospital stay, we were in the process of having David psychologically tested, trying to get psychiatric help, and in the mean time, trying to get him transitioned into high school with friends and activities. We lost the battle with David on September 8, 2011, as he committed suicide in our home before going to school.

We are in the beginning stages of grief. We know that we want to do something to raise the awareness for aspergers for parents, educators, counselors, doctors, friends, family, etc... We had a serious lack of knowledge and so did all of these people around us. Please give us your input as to what we can do for this cause in order to make David's struggle make sense for the future.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to read about your sons suicide and your loss. my son is 13 he recently spent 4 weeks in the children's psych ward, he talks about wanting to be dead., I worry about this. depression in young people is not taken seriously in our communites, it's someing that needs to be brought out into the open.

Anonymous said...

hi my name is kaivon wright im 17 years of age and have been with aspergers sence i was 4. ive seen over the years ive looked at things differently than others and grew up nowing i was gay but couldnt stop the way i felt tword men. as i got older had past incounters wit abuse movein from foster home to foster home and liveing with abusive father have me confused if all life is, is just a lot of bull why live. i live with a year younger sister that treats me like poo and a mom that dosent care. what do i do

Anonymous said...

find what your good at for instance if it's games you might be able to work in a games shop. You will be more likely to meet people you have something in common with and get people around you who get and care for you.

slim cheats said...

I'm very sorry for your son, he was failed by school & many, please look after yourself & continue to raise awareness. I have recently found out my 9 yr old son Joseph has asperger & since he was 5 in & out of school he has been treated as if he was wrong, its so painfully sad, he so loving & just wants friends & to learn, the last few weeks he has been talking about not wanting to be here, this is the worst words you never want your baby to say.

Because the kids, teacher's & school would not understand him or keep him safe from mental & physical abuse iv taken him out of school.

The world can be very cruel, I have a mother who's always had bipolar,and never experianced much public awareness, I also want to help with awareness, I see my son as such a wonderful child & wouldn't want to change him at all, I love the way he talks for hours about the great fire of London or some YouTube thing he's seen, the way I see it everyone else needs to learn and be aware.

Everybody deserves love & friends & there's lots of awareness for many other unseen disabilities ie: deaf/blind.
I'm really sorry for your son, I really do feel for you so much & hope you continue to promote mental awareness.

Take care
Jodie x x x x x

Sheilla Greenburn said...

These kids must be enrolled by their parents to spiritual courses from time to time. The daughter of my cousin has this Aspergers and she is always worried with her daughter’s condition especially when she is at school. I will tell her to read your 25 tips so she can start doing this for her daughter.

Tonja Busch said...

My 13 year old son had Asperger's and recently took his own life on July 24th, 2017.
He was extremely intelligent, wise, artistic, creative, funny, smart, handsome, a million things. Unfortunately he was hurting so very deep inside and never fully shared with us how deep his pain was for us to seek additional help.
Unfortunately, he also dealt with bullying all throughout school (8 years of school) but he never told us until March of this year when he was suspended and placed on probation for breaking a kid's nose who had been bullying him the past 2 years specifically.
We sought help right away and I constantly asked how he was feeling, if the medication was helping, did we need to talk with someone else, etc. - the complete shock has made the entire situation so much worse.

Anonymous said...

Tonja I am so so so sorry to read your post....tears fell as soon as I read your words.

My 12 almost 13 year old Aspie son was just released today from a children's psych hospital. He is generally a very happy, sweet, loving boy just as you described your son. I did not know there was a problem until last week he started talking about wanting to kill himself, he cried and asked me what is the meaning of life, why am I here, what is the point? He scared me badly when he told me he was going to do it when I was asleep...which is why I took him directly to the ER.

I am so worried about my boy and after reading your comment I am going to be 100 times more careful about leaving him alone etc....I sometimes wonder if he is saying these things to get what he wants, or he is looking for attention. But I won't take the chance of not believing him. He is bullied very badly at are constantly calling him gay, pushing and tripping him in the hallway. I will be at the school every day if i have to to stop that behavior and protect my son.

Anne Plaisance said...

My 13 year old daughter is in a psychiatric hospital 3 months now for a major depression disorder.
She keeps trying everyday to kill herself. Fortunately she's under constant control at the hospital, they keep her safe..
I wonder if the medication she receives is adapted. has anyone heard of any specifics regarding treatment of depression for aspies? research? studies? She has many side effects of the medication, but I can't see any improvement regarding her suicidal thoughts and behavior.

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

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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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."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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

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

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content