Helping Your Child on the Autism Spectrum to Cope with Frustration

"If things are not the way my son (high functioning) wants/needs them, we often hear swearing or he will just ignore me when i ask what is wrong (like he expects me to mind read)....i think he finds it difficult to put his feelings into words, so it often pours out in yelling and abusive names. Any suggestions?!"

Does your high-functioning autistic (HFA) or Asperger's child seem to experience more than his fair share of frustration? And does he often slip into a meltdown once he’s frustrated? If so, then read on…

Most kids on the autism spectrum go through peaks of frustration throughout their childhood. Younger ones often express their frustration in tantrums. At that point, many of them learn the word “frustrated,” and moms and dads and teachers help them to find compromises and alternatives and to develop at least some degree of “frustration tolerance.”

In the preschool years, further triggers for frustration emerge (e.g., comparisons with peers, new expectations, observations of older kids - especially siblings - and grown-ups, etc.). A youngster may be prone to frustration if he has minor delays in some developmental area, if he has easily succeeded at many things and does not remember the process of learning them, or if he is developing a somewhat perfectionistic personality style.

How your child deals with frustration is influenced by how you react to it. If you model an unhealthy response to the frustration you experience in your life (e.g., with impatience, anger, etc.), your child may learn that this is an appropriate way to deal with frustration. If you are calm, positive, and look for solutions when you get frustrated, your child will likely adopt this approach to frustration.

Here's how parents can help HFA and Asperger's kids cope with frustration:

1. Explain that everyone, including grown-ups, feels frustrated sometimes. Talk about the process people go through of not being able to do something and then practicing and getting better at it.

2. Give lots of encouragement for small accomplishments. If a youngster reaches a plateau with a new task, celebrate how far he has come. Reassure him that, in his own time, frustration will diminish, reappearing occasionally as a signal of his hard work.

3. Help them develop a strategy of taking one small step at a time in approaching new things.

4. Identify how your child expresses frustration and the activities (or social situations) that tend to elicit it.

5. Instead of recognizing that failure is temporary, an youngster on he autism spectrum often concludes, “I’ll never succeed.” That’s why encouragement is by far the most important gift you can give your frustrated youngster. Take his dejection seriously, but help him look at his challenge differently: “Never,” you might reply, “is an awfully long time.” Eventually, he’ll learn from your encouraging words to talk himself out of giving up.

6. One of the first mistakes that many kids on the spectrum make – and that moms and dads often encourage – when faced with frustration is to just increase their effort (i.e., do whatever they are doing - more and harder). But then they are violating the Law of Insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results. When frustration first arises, rather than plowing ahead, your youngster should do just the opposite (i.e., step back from the situation that is causing the frustration). For example, if your youngster can't solve a math problem or learn a new sports skill that he is practicing, he should set it aside and take a break. Stopping the activity creates emotional distance from the frustration, thus easing its grip on them.

7. Provide alternatives to unacceptable expressions of frustration. Since frustration is a form of pent-up energy, doing something physical to burn-off the negative energy often works quite well. Going for a brief - but brisk - walk, jumping up and down for a minute or two, or some other physical activity helps to semi-exhaust the child so that little energy is left over for tantrum-behavior (e.g., throwing things, yelling, hitting, etc.).

8. You can help your child learn to soothe himself by demonstrating patience and self-control, and by suggesting self-calming strategies (e.g., cuddling with a favorite stuffed animal, singing a favorite song, taking a break and doing something fun, beginning the task again with a smaller step so that there is a first success to build on, etc.). Your long-term goal is for him to learn to recognize when he’s frustrated and what he can do about it on his own.

9. You can help your youngster hold on to his sense of self-worth by helping him remember his past successes – and the struggles that preceded them. Put his current struggle into perspective by recalling other times that he thought he’d never succeed, until he did. Help him learn to notice the strengths that he can count on to help him triumph — guts, determination, endurance, careful observation (no matter how fledgling some of these qualities may still be).

10. You can help your youngster recognize that learning involves trial and error. Mastering a new skill takes patience, perseverance, practice, and the confidence that success will come. To a young person, achieving success, whether it’s writing his name or hitting a baseball for the first time, can seem monumental.





==> My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums

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