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Aspergers and the “Disruptive Personality” Type

In previous posts, we talked about the “avoidant personality” and the “approach personality” in Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children, teens and adults. In this post, we will examine the “disruptive personality,” which unfortunately presents the most challenges to parents and teachers.

The disruptive personality is:
  1. a type of cognitive-behavioral style in which the "Aspie's" way of thinking, perceiving situations, and relating to others is sometimes destructive
  2. often comorbid with ADHD and/or ODD

Aspergers children and teens with disruptive personality typically have little regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the rights of others, landing in frequent trouble or conflict. They may lie, behave violently, and have drug and alcohol problems. Also, Aspies with disruptive personality may not be able to fulfill responsibilities to family, school, or work.

Disruptive personality traits may include:
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Agitation
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Intimidation of others
  • Irresponsible school-related or work-related behavior
  • Lack of remorse about harming others
  • Persistent lying or deceit
  • Poor or abusive relationships
  • Recurring difficulties with the parents and teachers
  • Repeatedly violating the rights of others
  • Using charm or wit to manipulate others

There may be a link between an early lack of “empathy” (i.e., understanding the perspectives and problems of others) and later onset of a disruptive personality style. These personality problems may be inherited, and identifying them early may help improve long-term outcomes.

Complications and problems associated with the disruptive personality include:
  • Aggression or violence
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Reckless behavior
  • Relationship difficulties
  • School and work problems
  • Social isolation
  • Strained relationships
  • Suicidal behavior

Psychotherapy is the main way to treat a child or teen with a disruptive personality style. Types of psychotherapy may include:
  • Psycho-education: This education-based therapy teaches coping strategies and problem-solving skills.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This approach aims to raise awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors and — by bringing them to light — change their negative impact.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps to uncover unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.

Psychotherapy may be provided in individual sessions, in group therapy, or in sessions that include family or even friends. The right type of psychotherapy depends on each person's individual situation.

If you have a child or teen with a disruptive personality style, it's critical that you also get help for yourself. Mental health professionals can help teach you skills to protect yourself from the aggression, violence and anger common to this personality type. They can also recommend strategies for coping.

Parents can help their Aspergers child with disruptive personality traits in the following ways:
  1. Always build on the positives, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation.
  2. Take a time‑out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better. This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if he decides to take a time‑out to prevent overreacting.
  3. Pick your battles. Since this particular child has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. If you give your child a time‑out in his room for misbehavior, don't add time for arguing. Say "your time will start when you go to your room."
  4. Set up reasonable, age appropriate limits with consequences that can be enforced consistently.
  5. Maintain interests other than your "disruptive" Aspie so that managing your child doesn't take all your time and energy. Try to work with and obtain support from the other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) in dealing with your child.
  6. Manage your own stress with exercise and relaxation. Use respite care as needed. 
  7. Come up with a specific parenting-plan to address the behavioral problems associated with a disruptive personality.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Hutten,

I have a question…formally, when I was given the parent/teacher form letter you so graciously provided on your site last month, it stated that a child with AS is incapable of manipulation. In today’s newsletter entitled “The Disruptive Personality” it states that symptoms can include manipulation or charm to obtain what the child wants. My 9 ½ year old daughter (who also has a twin brother with a disability along with myself as their mom) shows many if not all of the symptoms of a disruptive child. She is being seeing by a psychiatrist who has her on Zoloft for anxiety, a S/T, a O/T, her school is supportive in SE and her IEP. I also have been a stay home mom all her life.

My question, is: Is my daughter who has AS and borderline ADHD capable of manipulation? Conscientiously any way? How might I tell the difference?

Thank you so much for your daily coaching e letters, I have been educated so much through them and your knowledge!

With Gratitude


Mark said...

Re: I have a question…formally, when I was given the parent/teacher form letter you so graciously provided on your site last month, it stated that a child with AS is incapable of manipulation. In today’s newsletter entitled “The Disruptive Personality” it states that symptoms can include manipulation or charm to obtain what the child wants.

Answer: The child with a single diagnosis of Aspergers is disinclined to manipulate - in fact, quite the opposite - he will tend to be brutally honest. With the Disruptive Personality though, the child is likely to have a dual diagnosis - namely Aspergers plus ODD and/or ADHD.

Re: Is my daughter who has AS and borderline ADHD capable of manipulation? Conscientiously any way?

Answer: If she has ADHD - yes.

Re: How might I tell the difference?

Answer: Assuming you mean the difference between intention versus unintentional manipulation...

There is no such thing as an unintentional manipulation. A true manipulation is always a conscious effort (i.e., there is always, by definition, an ulterior motive that has been thought-out ahead of time).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this link! We have an Aspie adult friend who claimed last night violence is NOT part of an Aspie yet he convinced our son has Aspergers too! However there been so much stress in house over years he blames his behaviour on mine and my hubbies mental health (which although possible DOES not explain his obvious hatred at times for younger siblings-and their behaviour on whole is very different)
With Thanks again Lucy

Anonymous said...

Dr. Hutten,

Thank you for sharing your expertise with us. I am a 5th grade teacher with many spectrum and Aspergers students. This year I have five of 25- and they are keeping me very challenged. Your site has been a great resource.


Anonymous said...

I needed to thanks for this wonderful study!! I certainly taking pleasure in each minor little bit of it I've you bookmarked to check out out new things you post…

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...