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Misbehavior versus Aspergers-Related Behavior


How can I tell the difference between “aspergers behavior” and pure “disobedience” …I’m not sure what should be punished – and what should not?


Many moms and dads have a difficult time distinguishing between “disobedience” and “misunderstanding” in their Aspergers (high functioning autism) youngster. Because he may not interpret social cues correctly, it may be difficult for an Aspergers youngster to understand what is expected of him, and he may not understand the impact his behavior has on other family members.

So, how can parents tell the difference between “Aspergers behavior” versus “misbehavior”?

Most Aspergers-related behavior (sometimes misinterpreted by parents as “misbehavior”) tends to revolve around the child’s resistance to any kind of change. An Aspergers child is resistant to change for the following reasons:
  • Has anxiety about a current or upcoming event (e.g., the start of school)
  • Does not understanding how the world works
  • Does not understanding the actions of someone else
  • Has other issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Is reluctance to participate in an activity he cannot do perfectly or an activity that is difficult
  • Parent or teacher changes a circumstance or rule that has been established
  • Has the need for instant satisfaction and may not understand delayed gratification
  • Has the need to control a situation
  • Has the need to keep doing the activity that he likes (obsession or fantasy)
  • Has difficulty transitioning to another activity (this is especially hard if the activity is not finished)

Any or all of these triggers can result in certain behavioral patterns that “look like” misbehavior (e.g., arguing, tantruming, refusing to listen, etc.). However, his responses to these triggers have more to do with anxiety and rigidity than his need to defy authority. He simply does not have the ability to understand the world like we do.

The Aspergers child:
  • does not “take in” what is going on around him
  • does not know how to “read between the lines”
  • does not understand implied directions
  • does not understand social cues
  • needs explicit instructions
  • will have difficulty understanding rules of society

Uncovering triggers for negative behavior is important. Keep a behavior diary, noting any events surrounding negative behaviors, the details of your youngster's responses, and any unintentional reinforcement your youngster receives that may be encouraging repeat behavior. The motivation behind negative behavior in Aspergers kids is often very different from other kids, which makes identifying the cause of those behaviors and developing a behavior treatment plan very difficult.

Many negative behaviors exhibited by Aspergers kids are a direct result of the condition. Parents, teachers, and professionals must consider this when developing behavior treatments.

  • Aspergers kids may be unable to resist giving in to their obsessions and compulsions, and this is not a sign of disobedience.
  • Because Aspergers kids have difficulty interpreting social cues and tend to be egocentric, they cannot fully appreciate what impact their behaviors have on others.
  • Due to trouble handling changes in routine, a simple variation in schedules may be enough to cause a meltdown.
  • Odd behaviors are not reflective of defiance and are not meant to irritate or annoy.
  • Aspergers kids may exhibit a lack of common sense.

Moms and dads with an Aspergers youngster should receive professional training so that they can continue working with their child at home. Behavioral techniques are best when adapted to suit the home environment, and they should focus on issues directly related to home life and self-help skills while continuing with the goals established in school.

So when is the Aspergers child actually “misbehaving”?

Children misbehave for the following reasons (you can be pretty sure that the behavior is not Aspergers-related here):

1. To get attention. It is frequently noticed that when children feel a lack of attention, they get themselves noticed by their parents by resorting to misbehavior.

2. When they are disappointed. Sometimes, children get irritated and frustrated when things do not happen as per their wish. It is during these times that they usually misbehave.

3. When they test their parent's discipline. To check that their parents truly mean what they say, sometimes children misbehave. They check to see if their parent's will really enforce a rule or not.

4. When they want to assert their independence. Almost all the children hate being called a 'child'. To assert their independence, they often end up misbehaving.

5. When they have been previously “rewarded” for their misbehavior. No parent would ever think of purposefully rewarding bad behavior, but it subtly happens quite often.

6. When they copy the actions of their parents. The best teacher of how to misbehave or act and speak inappropriately is by watching mom or dad misbehave or act and speak inappropriately. Remember, what children see and experience in the home is what their normal is. So, if they see mom and dad yelling, they will yell. If they get spanked, they will likely use hitting to express their anger or frustration. If they hear, “What?” instead of “Pardon?” that is what they will use.

==> Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns in Aspergers and HFA Children


Anonymous said...

we are still in the diagnosing phase..a private counselor has advised that she suspects mild aspergers and a school psychologist has said she suspects it as well.

Maggie said...

Such an awesome article.
My son is out of control much of the time and extremely disrespectful. I'm often at a loss for how to respond to his tantrums. I try to remember that he's simply emotionally and developmentally delayed, but it's still hard to know how to discipline... or when to discipline. We have so much to learn as parents.

Anonymous said...

Discipline is probably one of THE toughest issues we face as parents with a child with Aspergers. Even after reading the article, it is STILL difficult to figure out if her behavior is intentional and whether or not there should be consequences.

We have had a rule in place for YEARS that all technology is done at dinner time. We thought our daughter's consistent ignoring of this rule was disobedience and would take her technology privileges away for the next day. It took us awhile to realize that because her game system was an obsession, she couldn't see beyond it. Now, we realize that we need to tell her to shut it down before she washes her hands and remind her that it is off-limits the rest of the night.

I don't know if we are just blessed, but she doesn't melt-down - she just does it.

For awhile I was very discouraged that she could not remember well established rules, but I guess that is just how it is going to be. Rather than try to train her to do something she most likely will never be able to do, I need to train myself to constantly remind her. As she matures I will help her find ways to remind herself and make sure they are established before she sets out on her own. Maybe it will be post-it notes all over the house or maybe with maturity comes a better memory of established rules?

Again, discipline is such a mystery. I just never quite know what my expectations should be.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mark...

This has been something that my husband and I have stuggled with for a long time. It had become even more difficult for us to determine whether is was blatant disobedience of just aspergers behavior when my son his his teens. Thankfully our relationship w/my son has gotten much better over the years. :)
Thanks for the informative newsletters! :)


kane said...

My son as aspergers he's been kicked out of college due to his bad behaviour and attitude. Can anyone help .?

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.

Click here
to read the full article...

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.

Click here for the full article...