Poor Academic Performance & Behavioral Problems in Teens on the Autism Spectrum


My son is 13 years old and was diagnosed with Aspergers, ODD and ADHD about three years ago. Everyday seems to be getting worse for him in school. He is so extremely intelligent but he refuses to do anything in class and the last 9 weeks he has seriously dropped his grades, been suspended from school twice and received After School Detention. I am not sure how I can make him see that this is not helping him in the long run or how to change his behaviors so that he and I are not miserable all the time. I have tried talking to him, I have tried taking away his video and computer games and I have tried not speaking and even yelling. We both could use some help finding ways to make it through together. He is in the 8th grade and I am not expecting immediate changes but I am running out of ideas and literally believe I am at the end of my rope. I am a single mom who is studying Psychology, but I am at a loss. I know I’m young and this diagnosis has effected both of us and those around us, but I do not want my son to continue to be miserable day in and day out. Anything you can suggest is greatly appreciated I am willing to try almost anything. Thank you.


First of all, if your son doesn’t have an IEP or a 504 plan, that would be your first step. You didn’t mention anything about that in your email, so assuming he does NOT have one, please type "IEP" in the search box at the top of this page to educate yourself about this.

Regarding the behavioral problems, this is the ODD/ADHD part of his diagnosis that is rearing its ugly head. To help you determine the reasons why your son behaves the way he does, you should ask yourself the following questions:
  • Because a situation was one way the first time, does he feel it has to be that way always?
  • Does he need to be taught a better way to deal with a problem?
  • Does he see only two choices to a situation rather than many options?
  • Has he made a rule that can't be followed?
  • Is he blaming the teacher for something that is beyond the teacher's control?
  • Is he exaggerating the importance of an event?
  • Is he expecting perfection in himself?
  • Is he misunderstanding what is happening and assuming something that isn't true?
  • Is he stuck on an idea and can't let it go?

Here are some ways you can help your son with his behavioral issues:

1. Be a role model for your son in handling your own stress in a healthy way. If your son sees you talking to others about problems, taking time to relax, and living a healthy lifestyle, your example is likely to rub off.

2. Be clear about rules and consequences. Let your son know specifically what is expected and together decide on consequences for misbehavior. Then follow through. Teach ways of handling difficult situations. Talk through and role-play with your son how he can handle a stressful situation.

3. Encourage your son to write about worries in a journal.

4. Give back rubs and hugs. A short back or shoulder rub can help your son relax and show him you care. Gentle physical touch is a powerful stress reliever.

5. Help your son talk about what is bothering him. Don’t force him to talk, but offer opportunities. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong?” ask questions such as, “How are things going at school with your teacher?” Do not criticize what your son says or he will learn not to tell you things that bother him.

6. Maintain family routines. Knowing what to expect helps your son feel grounded and secure, especially during times of transition. Maintain family routines around bedtime, TV, and family meals as much as possible.

7. Make regular use of “social stores” to help your son adjust to changes. You can find more information on social stories on our sister website: www.AspergersSocialStories.com

8. Show your son the positive ways that you handle change. Talk about how you feel during times of change and about what you do to cope. For example, let your son see the lists you make to help you stay organized and focused.

9. Spend special one-to-one time. Find hobbies or other activities that you can do alone with your son. This allows for time to talk as well as time for having fun together.

10. Teach relaxation skills. Show your son how to relax by remembering and imagining pleasant situations like a favorite vacation or happy experience.

11. Teach your son that mistakes are OK. Let him know that all people, including you, make mistakes. Mistakes are for learning.

12. Tell stories about dealing with stress. For example, if your son is afraid of a new situation, tell a story about how you once felt in a similar situation and what you did to cope, or find a library book that shows a child coping successfully with stress.

Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often appear pig-headed, stubborn, and down-right rude when they are faced with change. Let’s be honest: they don’t want to step outside their sandbox. Moms and dads in this situation not only need to understand that their child is “routine-based,” but they need to proactively predict when their child will require a routine. But, never forget that your son doesn’t believe that he is doing something wrong by presenting as stubborn towards change. He is merely trying to protect himself — and he wants you to help him feel secure by allowing him to do things in a sturdy, structured way. Using the tips above should make things run a bit more smoothly.

It would also be a good idea to provide your son’s teacher with some information that will help her to make certain accommodations. This may be the most important part of the solution!

I would get a note from the doctor who diagnosed your child with the disorder so the teachers can verify (this will help establish some credibility). Then you should provide teachers with an information sheet to help educate them about it. Here is a sample information sheet that you can tailor to your individual needs. It should help teachers understand and deal with some of the everyday questions that come up regarding Aspergers and HFA.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and HFA Teens


•    Anonymous said... I could type for hours how we struggled with the same. We found help with the right school and doctor and things changed a ton.
•    Anonymous said... I forgot to add we removed our boy from school for. 3 years & home schooled him also got a tutor in for maths & English until he got back on his feet as the bullies put him in a dark place & affected his confidence but long term we never felt that this was a good option as we thought he would never learn to cope or learn how to deal with situations x
•    Anonymous said... My son is 14 and in 10th grade. We've had these same struggles with the school system. I could spend hours writing about all the horror stories, but they are probably pretty similar to yours. In 6th grade we pulled him out of middle school except for band and had him doing online school. Over the years we've integrated him back into public school, and now we're down to full time public school again. I must say that was the best decision we ever made! He couldn't function around the other kids, the noises, the lights, long days ect. It was just too much for him to handle. It was a sensory overload. When he was able to do his school work in a quiet familiar place at his own pace it made all the difference. We still struggle with the school system, and with teachers following the 504 to collect his homework from him, and make sure it's written down in his planner. I've gotten teachers that have said, well that's not age appropriate. HA! We pulled him out of that class. Just like childhood, there are teachers that don't know how to follow the rules and play nice. Look around for other alternatives. Main stream school isn't always a good fit for kids like ours, but there are so many alternatives. Just keep looking around until you find something that works for him. Good luck!
•    Anonymous said... My son is also 13 & has asperger syndrome we have had the same struggles iv he's gone through 2 mainstream primary schools that where rubbish & had no understanding or help for him but the 3rd one we put him to was fantastic he got so much help & support he is now in 2nd year of high school & still gets a lot of help & support they have a time out card for him if things get to much & a support unit within school if he's not coping & our doctor is great these things I have found have made a huge difference for him best of luck I'm here if you want a chat I know how hard it is x
•    Anonymous said... This is a response from an unacceptable situation for the child. It sounds like there is no adaptions for him at all in school, and in that case I'm not surprised at all that he acts the way he does. He is burnt out from trying so hard to be like others, but see he is NOT like others. Every sound, every energy flowing around, all the studies will eventually burn both ends of the candle. He needs a huge break, adapted school days(half school days, half weeks, private teaching. He should have had this long time ago. He is crying out for help. You need to be his biggest protector, his attorney, his supporter. Help him before he hits a deep depression. Schools and parents often expect aspies to adapt into the school system, but the school system have to be adapted to the aspie. He is a good kid, but right now he needs a break, a big one. Help him before he gets too hurt inside.
•    Anonymous said… Honestly believe those years are the toughest. Hopefully with a little more time and maturity things will get better. It has for us. Hang in there, Wish I could offer some other advice.
•    Anonymous said… I don't know what it's like where you live, but round here there's a lot of bullying, and most of the secondary schools seem to turn a blind eye to the bullying and punish the kids who retaliate, this made school impossible for my son who has an enormous sense of justice
•    Anonymous said… I empathize with your pain. Get an advocate and don't quit insisting that he needs additional services.
•    Anonymous said… Im sorry to hear your son is having a hard time at school. That is so stressful for us parents as well as him. Does his school have a learning suport department or a 'go to ' person that offrs him support at school?? My middle son 13 ASD. We have been really fortunate to have a fantastic learning support department at the secondary school which had extra orientation for the learning support kids on transitioning to highschool and who is his 'go to'people for any issues and also run special groups for the 'ls' kids on socialising/puberty/basically challenges in growing up. This does not mean all the teachers on class understand ASD. This can still be a huge challenge but have found open communication with email/school diary and the ls teachers helps try to bridge the gap. Don't get me wrong, we still have challenging weeks but They have been a great support for both our son and us as parents.
•    Anonymous said… My 5 yo is going through the same thing , I don't think they get the encouragement at school they need it always negative attention ! Once the teacher labels the child the class follows her lead , why not include my child why not welcome my child ?
•    Anonymous said… My 6yo told me yesterday night that he lashed out because of anxiety and fear. Sit down and talk to them. They trust you enough to tell you their true feeling.
•    Anonymous said… My child just got re-diagnosed with the exact same thing. 2 years ago thy said he was High functioning autistic, then we got him reevaluated and he has the same thing your son has as Aspergers, ODD AND ADHD. He has been getting in trouble in school everyday but his grades are good it's just he doesn't listen and gets aggressive with the children.
•    Anonymous said… My son is 15 (ASD high-functioning) very intelligent. Enroll in a private school from next year as classes are too big. He is on a light anti-depressant to help with the stress and anxiety. He was bullied last year, but we found out and dealt with it. I also know that some kids are very cruel and calling them names which hurt very much. Please find out if he's been bullying...does the school have a psychologist on premises? Do your kid use medication? Make sure that he taking his meds. Watch out for meltdowns...our kids are special, have the right to be here. They're minors and us parents must stand up for them, be their voice!!!! Speak to the psychologist, principal, but make noise. Don't allow your child to be targeted. Strongs!!!
•    Anonymous said… My son now is 11 is struggling in school all the time it is a challenge for kids now and days with stress and anxiety that they have he does good one week and bad the next you just need to find things to help him out in school small brakes , rewards , and a ton of patience I know it's frustrating but he is smart once he gets his mind to it and learns very fast. You have the right to have iep meeting ne time you need a behavior plan to take place as well ;)))
•    Anonymous said… Seems like there is another issue that is going on that he is not telling you about. My oldest (who just turned 18 today) would lash out and act out and I finally caught on that there was something wrong (this has always been her way but didn't realize why til recently) found out it was as simple as a life skill class scared her. She doesn't want to grow up and doesn't want to do things that most people do daily. Once we understood and got her to talk to us she has improved. Good luck
•    Anonymous said… The more that you spend time doing what he likes the more your son will open up to you. Don't give up. smile emoticon
•    Anonymous said… We went thru the same thing, now he is in a private school and doing awesome, mellowed out and it did get better like others are saying.
•    Anonymous said… Have you tried changing his diet? The Feingold diet was literally a life changer for us. Good luck x
•    Anonymous said… Hi there we went through the same thing with our son. Please hang in there it does get better. Our son is now in his second year of college and doing well. Most important for our son was being consistent with our expectations. Maturity was a definite factor for our son too. By senior year he had a B average. Good luck to you and know that you aren't alone and neither is he.
•    Anonymous said… Home school is not always the answer. More work with the school and the iep. Have to keep going until they understand what is making his day so difficult.
•    Anonymous said… homeschooling did it for us, best thing I've ever done for my boy
•    Anonymous said… I am going through the same thing ...I am so tired and stressed and drained ...14 year old son , diagnosed aspergers/adhd/ and now we have anxiety from not being treated correctly . We are on school # 3 right now ...and i cannot get him to attend ... i am ready for meds for him which i have fought for years but i cant take much more
•    Anonymous said… I can see you have already had the same advice but I can't stress enough how much happier my son is now he has moved into a special needs school. He has high functioning autism, ADHD, dysbraxia and hypermobility. I was worried about his education being over looked because he is highly intelligent. The school is fantastic they are able to meet his academic ability but at the same time provide the therapy and understanding he really needs just to get through a day. I only wish I had moved him earlier. He was 10yrs when he changed. He will stay at this school now until he is 19.
•    Anonymous said… I had all these problems and some, but I am lucky enough to be able to quit my job and home school my 10yr old son, he has improved in all areas since, it's been 2yrs now
•    Anonymous said… I have the same experience. A 13 year old who pretty much all of his school life has been on some kind of behavior plan and has had frequent discipline issues. Always because he talks over the teacher, argues and generally does not follow class rules. This is a way of life for us and I make sure to work closely with teachers to establish a relationship so we are all on the same page and try to work together. At the end of the day though, my son is not scared of detention, MIP, getting an MIR so discipline really has no effect on him. He does not have control of his responses because he does not think like his peers, he is like a toddler, thinking only about himself with low self control. I just accept that school will always be a battle, we just take each day as it comes and remember the other side of things, that he is incredibly smart and capable and an adorable child when he is not arguing or defiant! We have to accept the whole picture not just focus on the bad things. Kids like him are not meant to fit into the cookie cutter schools we have and forcing them to do so just creates even more problems. One day our schools will be tailored to our children, for not we just have to make it through and support as much as we can from all sides.
•    Anonymous said… I read a about cannabis and autism where it's used in the states a lot with great success. I'd recommend everyone look into this as a form of treatment...
•    Anonymous said… i would reccommend homeschooling if its possible. It sounds like your son might be rebelling against the box these poor kids are forced into called school. Lots of luck and love.
•    Anonymous said… I would recommend an IEP tailered to your son's situation. There may be accommodations the school can make which would help him. Once he finds a subject in school that really interests him, that high IQ will come in handy and he will thrive!
•    Anonymous said… If you live near the coast, take him surfing. It won't help for school but do wonders for him. Sorry I can't help with the school part.
•    Anonymous said… My 15 year old daughter is thriving in internet based school. It takes a way all of annoyances and allows her to focus on the education. I do worry sometimes about the socializing, but the positves outweigh the negatives. Good luck to you
•    Anonymous said… Our DS14 fled from school. The admin changed for Jr. High and things were just unbearable. We've been homeschooling since. He is so much happier. We go to Language Therapy weekly, but do the rest of education with apps and videos.
•    Anonymous said… The best thing that we did for my son was to put him in a new school. He is at a therapeutic school and doing fantastic! Check your state laws....and alternative schools in your area. The school system you are in should pay for your child to go there and transportation to and from. It was a long process for us but my son got in trouble so that made the process speed up a little. Each child is entitled to an education and learning environment they can succeed in... Hopefully these resources are available in your area. If they aren't...even if they are... Social skills groups will help a lot!
•    Anonymous said… We had moved to a different state and my 15 year old son was miserable. He begged for two years to move back. We moved back for him to do high school and boy am I glad. He has an autism support teacher who talks with all the other teachers and arranges for his accommodations written in his IEP. It is so nice that we don't have to keep calling parent/ teacher meetings. These kids know what they need we just have to listen!
•    Anonymous said… We have two sons with AS, ADHD, ODD & MD.....now 18 & 20. Both lost the plot in Yr8/9 and we never thought we'd get through it. We did! Older son is in 2nd year of a civil construction traineeship & loves it. Younger son is about to re-enrol in University. Even NT kids have "phases".....try making him part of any decision making process & encourage him to seek advice/support from a favourite teacher or aide. You will get through this.
•    Anonymous said… with adhd he probably can't perceive the 'future' it's more in the moment, he's probably too stressed to 'behave' I'd see if it's possible to go down the route Maura suggested

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