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.

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