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Amazing Parenting Tricks for Raising Children on the Autism Spectrum

Amazing or not, raising a child with Aspergers or high functioning autism (HFA) will take a few "tricks of the trade" that you wouldn't need to have "up your sleeve" were you raising a "typical" child. If you are at your wits end - and need a few fresh ideas in dealing with behavioral issues, then take notes:

1. When it comes to getting your youngster to do chores, consider the "hiring a substitute" method. Your child may choose to hire someone to do his chore (e.g., by paying a wage of $1.00 he has saved from an allowance), or mutually agree to trade chores with a sibling.

2. Have your child rehearse new behaviors. In addition to telling your child the correct way to do something, have him/her rehearse it (e.g., dealing with bullies, not slamming the door when entering a room, walking through the house rather than running).

3. Ignore behavior that will not harm your son or daughter (e.g., bad habits, bad language, arguing with a sibling). It's hard to do nothing, but this lack of attention takes away the very audience your youngster is seeking.

4. Most children on the autism spectrum have trouble with transitions. Discuss in advance what is expected. Give plenty of warnings. Have the youngster repeat out loud the terms he just agreed to. Some kids need to negotiate for that "can I have one more minute?" A little extra patience on the parent’s part may help avoid a useless meltdown.

5. Parents can be decisive. Some parents have always been indecisive about what course of action to try with their child. They jump from one parenting technique to the other without giving any one technique enough time to be effective, or they try a new parenting technique once and then give up in frustration because it didn’t work. Some parents will say, “We’ve tried everything and nothing works with this kid.” What I usually see is parents floating from one parenting tool to another without sticking with one particular tool for a significant period of time.

6. Parents can practice humility. When you are wrong, quickly admit this to your child. This will model (a) making amends and (b) that it’s safe to make mistakes. “Admitting your mistakes” teaches your child to respect others.

7. Parents can use ‘reverse’ psychology. For example, “That’s not like you …you’re able to do much better.” This line works because your kid will live up – or down – to your expectations.

8. Parents can use humor to deal with family-stress. For example: Instead of reacting to your kid's temper tantrum, start singing, “The hills are alive with sound of music…”

9. Post a list of jobs that need to be done, such as washing the car, weeding the garden, etc. Let your child choose a "work detail" as a way to "make up" for rule violations.

10. Remember that Aspergers and HFA kids want structure. Most of them are actually starved for structure – it helps them feel safe.

11. Sometimes (depending on the child’s temperament), one of the worst things a parent of an autistic child can say is, "If you do that one more time, you'll be disciplined." You may find that your youngster will be irresistibly drawn to do just that, at once -- whether because you've set an impulse in motion, because he can't deal with the stress of waiting for the other shoe to drop, or because he gets stuck on what you've said. Instead of specifying “one more time,” try saying, "I have a number of times in my head, and you're not going to know what that number is. But when you hit that number, you will get a punishment." This gives your youngster a few extra chances if he seems to be trying without going back on a threat, and  it gives him a little comfort zone to know that he can slip-up once or twice. Some children will dislike the uncertainty of this approach, and for them, this might not be the best strategy. But if certainty is more pressure than your youngster can handle, this trick may be helpful in most cases.

12. Tell your youngster your predictions regarding the negative outcomes of his poor choices (use labels when needed). For example: “If you continue to steal, people will call you a ‘thief’, and when things come up missing, they will blame you.” -- or -- "If you continue to lie, people will call you a ‘liar’, and even if you tell them the truth, they won't believe you." When your predictions come true, your child will begin to trust your judgment.

13. The life of a youngster on the spectrum can often be overwhelming. The treatment for his over-reaction is to defuse the situation, not inflame it. When tempers flare, allow everyone to cool off. Remember, the parent may have to cool off as well. Serious discussion can only occur during times of composure. Remember: “bad” behavior usually occurs because the child is spinning out of control, not because he is evil.

14. Think of your youngster as a train with an “anxiety speedometer.” When that speedometer reaches 70 mph, it’s going to take a long time to stop that train. The goal is to keep your child from coming anywhere close to 70 mph. Now, imagine you enter the room when the youngster is at an anxiety level of 50 mph. For your child, the stress of the current situation is getting to him. What can you do to slow that train down before it gathers momentum? Laugh, divert, distract, negotiate, or anything else you can think of – and the speedometer comes down to 30 mph (assuming you have cleverly disguised your intervention).

15. Tie what you 'want' to what he 'needs' (e.g., "When you come home from school on time, then you can have a friend over").

16. When behavior starts turning ugly, redirect to a positive direction rather than criticizing the “misbehavior” (e.g., if your youngster is fighting with a sibling, then suggest a new activity like having a snack, rather than handing out a consequence).

17. Do not shield your youngster from the results of her choices unless it puts her in danger. For example:
  • Child doesn’t go to bed on time >>> she gets up and goes to school anyway even though she’s tired and sleepy
  • Child doesn’t study for her math test >>> she fails
  • Child doesn’t maintain her bicycle >>> it falls apart and she walks thereafter

18. Consequences can be by parental design. For example:
  • Child leaves her toiletries in disarray throughout the bathroom each school morning >>> after forewarning is ignored, parent confiscates all items for a period of time (technique works with clothes and toys as well)

19. Parents can rearrange space. Try creative solutions. For example:
  •  If school notes and homework are misplaced, assign a special table or counter for materials
  • If chores are forgotten, post a chart with who does what when

20. Parents can use adjustment. Here are several ways to adjust:
  • Realize the same discipline may not work in all situations because of the unique features of the disorder.
  • Try to blend a combination of several parenting tools to create a more effective discipline.
  • Don’t believe it when your child seems unaffected by discipline. Kids on the spectrum often pretend discipline doesn’t bother them. Continue to be persistent with your planned discipline, and consider yourself successful by keeping your parenting plan in place. When a child pretends a discipline doesn’t bother him, parents often give up on a discipline, which reinforces the child’s disobedience. Remember, you can only control your actions, not your child’s reactions.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading and consulting experts for over 2 years now, and I've never tried your suggestion #11. I'm going to add it to my repertoire - thanks!

Anonymous said...

I receive your newsletter on raising aspergers children. I find it a fascinating and a reassuring read. I have a little girl who is about to turn 4 next month. Since she was about 16 months of age we have had difficulty with her behaviour. After being told for two years that her behaviour is normal we ended up at a psychologist because I couldn't take it anymore. The psychologist tested her for giftedness and the result was she tested at the high end of giftedness. We have since been back to the psychologist about her behaviour and she has told us that she is too young to be identified with aspergers. My understanding is that many of the traits that gifted children have are similar to that of children with aspergers, except that children who are gifted are highly sensitive, and children with aspergers are not. My little girl told me the other day that she consciously chooses to be sensitive or not (not her words my interpretation of the conversation).

Anonymous said...

thanks! a lot we are doing and lisa i found 11 helpful from his therapist... he will do it if i count to 3 or 5 right up to the number then go ohhh nooo i wont do it again. i have to say ignoring bad behavior does NOT work.. and should not. our son has to have the structure. if i let him argue with his siblings ect someone is going to get hurt we have tried that and fights broke out. hes the oldest so this is one that we wont do... its a start for some! we use the therapist as much as possible to reinforce the RULES helps hearing someone else agrees with the rules lol for him its a matter of needing a reall structured enviroment or meltdowns will happen.

ND said...

I have a 17 year old who has Aspergers. He was misdiagnosed as bipolar and schizo-affective for years prior, so I feel I am catching up on learning how to manage his behaviours. A lot of what you suggest is what I discovered works over time. However, I find there are still things I do that are completely ineffective - like addressing swearing even though this just escalates rudeness. I am trying your tips as I come across them and some are really helpful. This is a great and useful resource and I appreciate it tremendously!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dr. H...somedays, I do a lot of these things and in my head I know they are the exact opposite of what my AS daughter NEEDS. The reminders are fantastic. I like the advice about "not saying, if you do that one more time then..." I do that ALOT. Now, I can use the "I have a number of times in my head that you don't know, but when you get to that number, there will be a consequence." Thank you for being here EVERYDAY for me through your newsletters. I have a good husband, but he is ADD and that does not help with stability and consistency in our AS girls life.
Also, I have cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle tone disorder (looks like a hard fainting episode) and my other child, a twin 10 year old to my AS girl, has a disorder too: Encopresis which is the inability to feel a bowel movement start or happen or even be able to smell it himself.
We certainly put the "FUN" in dysfunctional some days.

Anonymous said...

I find using a gentle tone and asking her helps. If she hasn't done the chore before, I tell her I will help her and guide her. We might have to do this once or twice but after that a routine has been created in her head.

Anonymous said...

We use a reward system for my son. He earns pennies for good behavior and loses them for breaking the rules. He earns one penny for each good behavior and loses two for each bad one. He has the opportunity to earn a penny back when he misbehaves by making the right choice to amend his actions, like saying sorry, or picking up the toy he threw. We keep the pennies in a see thru mason jar on the kitchen table. He counts and collects his pennies daily so he can make a trip to the Dollar Tree to spend them. Having a visual and constant reminder helps him. One of the many tricks in my arsenal of tools for helping my Aspie. Hope this helps someone else.

Anonymous said...

I have a 15 year old son that is spiralling to a black hole.We started
having problems a year and a half ago which resulted in him being
expelled from his school last September. This was an extremely
difficult time as he had shown no remorse and when we moved him to
another school we were hoping things would change.He used to be a good
student with great grades, a swimmer and active in sports.Now all he
does is stay on his Iphone all day ( I could not confiscate it either
as he bought it with his own money doing part time work).

We were seeing a psychologist who has practically given up too! He
thinks my son Ivan's choices will lead him to drug or alchohol or some
other criminal activity.
Last Friday, I called the police (first time) as he threathened me and
I did not feel safe alone with him and my younger daughter. After the
police left, he told me how much he hated me & called me vulgar names
& said I will regret doing so. Sure enough on Saturday I got a call
from the Police where he was caught shoplifting. This is the first
time he has got into trouble with the law and he shows no remorse. He
told me that things will get worse everyweek & this Saturday will be
He used to be a great kid and no one can believe how changed he is. He
has piercings, does not bother about homework, violent, abusive and
told me that he can arrange people to "take me out" and he is going to
show me who is in control at home & he can do whatever he
wants/likes. He has repeatedly threathen to leave home & force me to
give him his passport (which I refused). We are migrants in Australia
and I told him being underaged he cannot travel overseas without a
valid visa or parental consent. He does not care & has many time
threatened to punch me or hurt me.

I am at my wits end and I am also a single mum, my resources
previously on his counselling etc have practically drained me. At
times I honestly feel like giving up as I am concerned about my
younger daughter and she is the total opposite. He bullies her all the
time too.

Anonymous said...

My 15-year old sister has recently been diagnosed with Aspergers. She's high functioning, gets good grades, but has always quirky and socially awkward. However, she enjoys being babied and will crawl into our mother's or her father's [my stepfather's] lap in a way that littler kids do. Though my stepfather seems annoyed or embarrassed when she does this, my mother encourages this behavior and seems to enjoy treating her like the child she behaves like. It looks inappropriate to most of the people who've seen this happen and it's awkward for everyone but my mother and sister when it happens. My mother makes her sandwiches for her, spreading peanut butter and jelly on the bread and like she did for my other siblings and I when we were seven. She rarely has my sister help with any household chores, aside from bringing her plate to the sink after she finishes supper. And it's not that my sister can't ma!
nage to do these things for herself--I've had her make her own sandwiches and help me with household chores when babysitting and she does fine. But when my mother is around, my sister reverts back to being the baby and my mother happily obliges. My stepfather even gets annoyed. Now with the Asperger's diagnosis, it's gotten even worse, as my mother feels this is even more justification for babying her. My 15-year old sister has never done laundry, never cooked, never vacuumed, never even taken out the trash--before or after the diagnosis! And again, it's not that she can't, she just says she doesn't know how or "Mom doesn't make me do that" and my mother doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with that and doesn't try to teach her. I feel that this is not good behavior to foster and that it will ultimately keep my sister from being independent and having the confidence she needs. Should this behavior be allowed? Is it !
okay for my mother to be so unconcerned with giving my sister the life skills that she did the rest of us and that my sister will one day need? I am afraid that the Asperger's diagnosis will be an excuse for allowing my sister to remain so immature and helpless, when I feel that it should be all the more reason to start helping her be self reliant and develop age-appropriate behavior.

Thy Unveiling said...

My aunt had to put her oldest (he's autistic) in a home by the time he was 16. He'll likely be there for the rest of his life. Its a sad future for him, but she could no longer handle him. She had three other kids to think of. He was violent, abusive, he hospitalized her a few times (not sure if it was intentional) and her shoulders have permanant damage from the extreme struggle of physically trying to separate him (at pretty much a man size. My aunt is a tiny woman) from attacking his siblings. He was out of control.

A voice in my head suggests teenage boys with forms of autism can't handle the hormones and the strange balance of being almost an adult yet still being "treated like a kid". Its hard on any teenager. Studies have shown that kids literally lose a piece of their brain (it shifts from the front to the back) when puberty kicks in. It typically slides back into place when they're in their mid-20s. Which explains why some teens act the way they do. With already having differently wired brains, this must be more than some aspie teens can handle.

That doesn't solve your sons scary behavior, and as its been a few years I hope he's mellowed out. I'd love to read an update. Perhaps your experience can help someone out who's having similar problems. I'm just here getting ideas on how to help my friends 4 y/o aspie girl who is, at times, impossible. I babysit during the week while my friend is at work. She doesn't have anyone else who can help. But I'm not sure how much more I can take, as the girl is often hateful towards my 15 m/o.

Unknown said...

6 year old with aspergers here. I feel it's an ability and not a disability. He just started a school in Ohio that includes kids on the non-spectrum side. The only one in the country.
Oakstone academy. We decided we were Never going to isolate our kid. We wanted to include him with his peers. What a difference it has made. Thank you for reading

Sarah Todd said...

Our Asperger/ADHD son is now 12. He seems to have friends at school who are as quirky as he is and he gets excellent grades. After years of constant never-ending and painfully consistent parenting in the trenches he is generally obedient, polite, helps when asked, is faithful with chores and household jobs, and pretty capable around the house and yard. He is sweet with the dog and with young children and loves his family. HOWEVER . . . we still have a long way to go with social skills and annoying verbal behaviors (such as talking constantly about minecraft, rubiks cubes, or his pretend country he's inventing that he is the benevolent dictator of). Best parenting books ever: Boundaries with Kids, From Chaos to Calm, The Total Transformation, and The Nurtured Heart Approach. Now we need something to help us not go INSANE with the annoying and/or argumentative verbage. Any books for that?? ;-)

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...