Children on the Autism Spectrum Who Worry Excessively: Tips for Parents

Some kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) worry excessively and are often overly tense and uptight.  Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their fears may interfere with activities. Moms and dads should not discount their youngster’s concerns – even when they seem unrealistic.  

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Parents Talk About Raising An Aspergers Child

Candid talk from parents of children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism:


Aspergers Children and Computer Vision Syndrome

Is your Aspergers child damaging her eyes from excessive computer use?

Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a condition resulting from looking at the computer screen for lengthy, uninterrupted periods of time. And as most parents have discovered, their child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism loves to spend countless hours looking at the computer screen.

Some symptoms of CVS include:
  • blurred vision
  • difficulty refocusing the eyes
  • double vision
  • dry eyes
  • eye strain
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • irritated eyes
  • neck pain
  • polyopia
  • redness in the eyes

These symptoms can be further aggravated by improper lighting conditions (e.g., glare or bright overhead lighting, etc.) or air moving past the eyes (e.g., overhead vents, direct air from a fan, etc.).

As a parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you may be encouraging your youngster to use the computer. A computer is often seen as a visually stimulating aid that will improve the youngster's hand-eye coordination skills and serve as a good learning tool. But parents need to know that their youngster runs the risk of developing CVS if he is allowed unlimited access to computers and video games.

Computer use places too great a visual demand on the focusing muscles of the youngster's eyes, leading to a greater incidence of myopia (short-sightedness). So, parents should be aware that too prolonged computer use can contribute to an eyesight defect that traditionally has been seen as an inherited condition. Nowadays, most kids sit in front of a computer screen at home AND at school – every day! As a result, the good distance vision they were born with is being compromised. Research is discovering that it is a youngster's learning and play environment – not heredity – that is creating the rapid increase in myopia for these children.

Some important factors in preventing or reducing the symptoms of CVS have to do with the computer and how it is used. This includes lighting conditions, chair comfort, location of reference materials, position of the monitor, and the use of rest breaks. 

Here are some things that parents can do to lessen the impact of computer use on their youngster's eyesight:

1. An Aspergers youngster tends to lose track of time when absorbed in activities on the computer. Many parents are guilty, too, of sitting at the computer for long periods. It is more damaging for your youngster's eyes, though, to do so. Monitor the time spent sitting in front of the screen, and make sure frequent breaks are taken.

2. Chairs should be comfortably padded and conform to the body. Chair height should be adjusted so your child’s feet rest flat on the floor. If the chair has arms, they should be adjusted to provide arm support while your child is typing. Wrists shouldn't rest on the keyboard when typing.

3. We’ve looked at the impact of excessive computer use on young eyes, but it isn't just the eyes which are affected. If the workstation area where your youngster works is not ergonomically sound, then problems with the neck, shoulder and back are likely to occur. These problems can be resolved by making sure that (a) your youngster looks down slightly to view the screen from the optimal distance of eighteen inches or so, (b) the keyboard is easily reached, and (c) your youngster's feet rest comfortably on the floor.

4. If there is no way to minimize glare from light sources, consider using a screen glare filter. These filters decrease the amount of light reflected from the screen.

5. Avoid the risk of kids straining their eyes by making sure that the ambient lighting in the room is not too bright. As a rule of thumb, it should be about half that of the computer screen. So, pull down the blinds and avoid harsh lighting in the room itself. Glare from the monitor can also be a problem for young eyes, so it is wise to fit an anti-glare screen for your youngster's comfort. You should also check that there is a strong contrast between the background and the text, as well as making sure that the text size and color do not cause unnecessary eyestrain.

6. Many moms and dads do not realize that eyesight can be tested from a very early age. Every youngster should have an eye examination before starting school, but preferably by the age of three. The eye exam should be thorough, and include testing for near and distance vision.

7. Most computer junkies find it more comfortable to view a computer when the eyes are looking downward. Optimally, the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.

8. Observe your youngster's behavior closely. Even if they are experiencing problems with their vision, kids are less likely to consider it abnormal. Excessive eye rubbing, eye redness and a reluctance to use the computer as much as usual can all point to eye fatigue.

9. Position the computer screen to avoid glare, particularly from overhead lighting or windows. Use blinds or drapes on windows and replace the light bulbs in desk lamps with bulbs of lower wattage.

10. Reference materials should be located above the keyboard and below the monitor. If this is not possible, a document holder can be used beside the monitor. The goal is to position the documents so you do not need to move your head to look from the document to the screen.

11. Regular eye examinations and proper viewing habits can help to prevent or reduce the development of the symptoms associated with CVS.

12. Take your youngster to see a specialist trained to recognize the symptoms of CVS in kids. A recent study has shown that one in four kids who use computers require corrective glasses to enable them to work comfortably and safely in front of the screen. Under-developed eyes can experience the same sorts of problems as older (40+) eyes when looking from the computer screen to the keyboard and back again. In both cases, the focusing muscles tire more easily.  This is because the monitor is viewed at an intermediate distance (i.e., neither near nor far), which is a distance we don't use very often. Specially-designed computer glasses compensate for this by incorporating a larger intermediate viewing zone within the lens and so alleviating the strain on the eye muscles. Eyestrain and blurring are eliminated.

13. To minimize your child’s chances of developing dry eye when using a computer, remind him to make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moist.

14. To prevent eyestrain, have your child rest his eyes when using the computer for long periods. Resting for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use is a good policy. Also, for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance for 20 seconds to allow the eyes a chance to refocus.

15. Use timers that automatically shut down the computer after the allotted time has passed for your child to be on the computer

Computer vision syndrome can pose both a short and long-term risk to your youngster's eyesight. If you follow the advice above, you can be sure that you're protecting her precious asset.


Explaining Aspergers To Your Neurotypical Children

How to help your children understand their sibling that has Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism:



The "Rationale-Dependent" Child on the Autism Spectrum

“My daughter has to analyze and argue over every house rule my husband and I come up with before she decides to finally obey that particular rule. Is this common for children with an autism spectrum, and is there any way to get her to be more agreeable without such lengthy explanations and arguments?”

What if I told you that your daughter may be exhibiting noncompliance for a good reason? Some children and teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are simply not comfortable with things that don’t make sense to them.

These children, who are “rationale-dependent,” are largely focused on logic. They need to know the reasons for the rules in order to avoid both confusion and anxiety.

Blindly accepting the rules is not the way the rationale-dependent child functions. She needs to understand the reasons behind others’ actions, why something is done a particular way, and it has to make sense to her. Since this child is over-analytical, she often behaves inappropriately because she never gets past the “analysis stage” to the “action stage.”

If a certain rule seems unreasonable, there is no need to follow it in her mind, and she probably won't listen to the person trying to enforce the rule. Thus, parents and teachers will need to give this child the reasoning behind a decision or action – and make it very convincing!

The rationale-dependent child’s coping strategy is to try to make sense of the world through logic and reasoning. In order to minimize emotional stress, she needs the world to be a place with order and symmetry to it.

Thus, she may ask lots of questions about how a particular thing works. Using her well-developed, analytical brain, she eventually makes sense of things and comes to an acceptable understanding of what is going on.

The child tends to be very bright with a high IQ, and she will usually become more flexible when given a reasonable explanation for a particular rule or regulation. But, she may very well have her own reasons and explanations beforehand. Therefore, simply stating the rule is not enough – it needs to be followed with some clarification, in which case, her “misbehavior” will likely decrease.

Tips for dealing with the "rationale-dependent" child on the autism spectrum:

Parents and teachers will most likely need to explain why something needs to be done - or why it can't be done - before they get compliance. For the rationale-dependent child, understanding precedes cooperation.

If the adults’ explanations provide her with information she didn't have, might have overlooked, or didn't understand, they will have helped her clarify why a desired action is beneficial to her. As this child becomes older, parents and teachers will need to do much more explaining, because rules by themselves will have less impact.

When providing an explanation, always match the explanation to the child’s cognitive and emotional level. Don't overestimate how much she knows, because she probably has a large vocabulary.

Always make sure she understands the reasoning behind something before moving to the next step. Also, parents and teachers will have to help this child reduce the amount of analysis by helping her see how “over-analysis” is unproductive.


•    Anonymous said… As my son got older he started to be less argumentative as he had more understanding/knowledge of life. He's 21 & more independent and learning those life answers on his own through his school, jobs, internship and time with friends. But I get to relive it all again with my 8yo ASD son.
•    Anonymous said… Both of my children not on the Spectrum did this. It is generally a kid thing/ human-thing before it is a specifically Autistic behaviour. It is irrational to ask or think that anything is common amongst children presenting on the Spectrum because if you've met one person with Autism or Aspergers you've met only one person In my self contained classroom we hsve the students make the rules and we gently guide them to follow their own rules. They don't argue with themselves
•    Anonymous said… I don't get sucked into such arguments with either my typical or ASD. I'll explain it to you once, hear you out, but once I've made my decision , it's final. After that you get the "Thank you but your request has been denied" line and it is what it is.
•    Anonymous said… My 14 year old daughter did this about everything. She always has. It got worse with puberty
•    Anonymous said… OMG...my eldest was exactly like this and now diagnosed as somewhere on the spectrum..middle child being aspergers
•    Anonymous said… Soooooooo common and it drives us nuts!
•    Anonymous said… Thank goodness for Facebook so we can connect and know we are not the only ones going through this...
•    Anonymous said… the "authority" thing is difficult for them and even more so if you get into a big discussion. "I am an adult; it is my job to job to designate house-rules- God's design- My Home"; "your job is to follow them with a cheerful heart". Once that is stated, it is not to be discussed again; use a simple phrase and extinguish using picture cards for "your role" and "my role"...giving them authority over other situations will curb the desire to argue everything. Build choices within non-choices and be mindful how you phrase things...do not say "DO YOU WANNA ___________?" or "Don't you wanna _______________?"...that is a choice, but rather, these are the chores (chore chart)- do you want to do a or b...but something will be done. To recap, do not negotiate... explain roles and be consistent. Use visuals, use praise and catch them doing what's right-be specific..."I like the way you _________________". Use positive reinforcers and start where the child is at i.e., if the child can help clean up for 5 minutes increase a bit each time. Extinguish unwanted behaviors by a) naming it and b) fading... i.e., it is not time for "discussion" - flip card over and re-direct...other times, it is ok to "discuss", but you will set the limits. Also, make sure sensory issues are not the blame i.e., my son cannot tolerate the feel of clothes so laundry is not going to be a good fit for him...etc... If the child has been running the show, it is going to take a while to undo the negative, unwanted behaviors and everyone (adults) must be on the same page, using the same language and purposefully ignoring as much as possible. 3 weeks to make or break a habit...may get worse before it gets better... tantrums result in going to "calm down" again, no reinforcement (eye contact, discussion, etc) until the child is quiet/calm, count to three and then release from "calm down"...eventually they will self regulate and put themselves in calm down.
•    Anonymous said… with our 11 year old Asperger son (diagnosed at 5), We tell him, "Obey first. If you still don't understand our rational we would be happy to explain AFTER you have obeyed." He was not happy about it at first and we had some meltdowns (followed by the known consequence for a meltdown). Its funny though that 99% of the time he did not request an explanation after he obeyed. He either figured it out by himself or it just didn't seem important to him at that point. It took a long time, but now he is 11 and has made huge progress: excellent behavior with teachers (most of the time) and can't remember the last time he's had a meltdown. He is also obedient most of the time  ;-) and does not feel the need to get an explanation whenever asked to do .

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The "Structure-Dependent" Child on the Autism Spectrum

Having a set of rules to follow on a day-to-day basis is the most important issue for an Aspergers or high-functioning autistic (HFA) child who is “structure-dependent.” Once this child has a list of DOs and DONTs to follow, there tends to be few concerns except in areas where the parent has not yet established rules, in which case the structure-dependent youngster becomes confused.

Any environment (e.g., home, classroom) where there is lax structure will be a difficult one for the structured-dependent youngster. This child needs rules in order to function and will probably create his own set of rules if parents and teachers don't provide them, which may create problems since the child’s rules will probably not match the adult’s expectations.

The structure-dependent youngster respects authority figures and does well when it is very clear who makes the rules and enforces them. This youngster often does very well in school, but may have behavioral problems at home if the rules are not as clear as they are in the classroom. It is not unusual for moms and dads of this child to be quite surprised to hear how well behaved she is at school.

There are two types of structure-dependent children with ASD:
  1. The “acting-out” type
  2. The “acting-in” type

The “Acting-out” Type--

The acting-out youngster is often seen as a teacher's delight because he is rarely a discipline problem, but at home, this child’s behavior can be totally out of control (e.g., bossy, controlling, tantrums, meltdowns, yelling, arguing etc.). The key to recognizing this type of child is the behavior differences between school and home. If he experiences behavioral problems at school AND at home, then he is not a structure-dependent youngster.

The "acting-out" structure-dependent youngster:
  • can be somewhat naive and taken advantage of since he doesn’t stand up for himself
  • can become distressed by peers who do not follow the rules
  • doesn't want anyone to be upset with him
  • is often very cooperative with authority figures, sometimes to a fault
  • likes to please others
  • often becomes the "rule cop" in the classroom
  • tends to monitor other peers’ and will "tell on them" in they break a rule
  • tries to "fly under the radar"

This child has some anxiety issues, but not to the point where it is overwhelming for him. He manages his anxiety by following the rules – and making sure others do as well. Problems only occur for this child when rules are absent or vague, or when the adult in charge lacks authority in his opinion.

How parents and teachers can help the “acting-out” child:

Written rules, routines and schedules are some of the techniques used to create proper structure for this youngster – no matter how small the issue might be. There is no such thing as a situation that is too small to have rule. Even the “little things” need rules (e.g., going to a store, taking a bath, sharpening a pencil, raising your hand, etc.). Parents and teachers should supply a set of rules regarding appropriate behaviors to be demonstrated in each situation. Also, be sure to explain why there is a rule for such and such. This will help the child to generalize these skills later on.

Teachers who run highly structured classrooms may not need to do much of this. Instead, they may want to help the structure-dependent youngster be less rule-bound and have a greater tolerance for ambiguity.

The “Acting-in” Type--

This type of structure-dependent youngster is similar to the one above, except his behavior is good at home AND at school. He is also rule-bound with rules for everything, but unlike the acting-out child, this child has learned to control tantrums and anger – sometimes too much – in all situations. He views his parent, who has created many rules for him to follow at home, as an authority figure just like his teacher. There are very few situations that don't have rules for him to abide by. However, this child can be obedient to a fault, perfectionistic, obsessive-compulsive, and/or depressed. Thus, he needs to become more flexible.

How parents and teachers can help the “acting-in” child:

The adults need not worry about rules with this child; rather, a crash course in expressing emotions, as well as flexibility to help her see the world as less black-and-white would be helpful. This child needs to learn more about the “reasons behind actions” and how the world works, with less emphasis on unwavering compliance. Without throwing out the rules altogether, help this child to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills so that she can become a more independent thinker.


When Your Aspergers Child Can't Make Friends

If your Aspergers child doesn't ever talk about anyone in his class, doesn’t ask to bring a friend home, never gets invited to any of his peers' homes, and seems to be a loner in general preferring to play by himself, then he might be having trouble in the friendship department (his teacher may be able to confirm your suspicions).

Aspergers and HFA children need to understand when to reach out, pull back, blend in, speak up and let go. So, how can parents help their Aspergers child make and keep friends?

Click here for strategies that you can use to help your child make - and keep - friends!


Helping Family & Friends To Understand Aspergers and HFA

"Any advice on how to approach our friends and family to tell them about our son's recent diagnosis of high functioning autism ...or would it be better to say nothing?"

RE: "...would it be better to say nothing?" It would be good for your friends and family to understand High-Functioning Autism (HFA), otherwise they will come to their own conclusions about your son's behavior, which will undoubtedly be way off base.

Aspergers and HFA are often mentioned in the newspapers or on television, but the truth is that, besides remembering Dustin Hoffman's performance in the movie "Rain Man" as an Autistic savant, most people have no clue about what an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is.

If you’re an “old pro” at parenting a child with Aspergers or HFA, then you probably have had a lot of explaining to do to family and friends through the years. For those of you who are just now starting this journey, here are some things you can do to help family members with their understanding of the disorder:

1. Allow family members to attend Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings. In addition, family members should establish a relationship with teachers and be perceived as part of the “treatment team.” Collaboration in this way is critical to school success.

2. Assure others that even though there is no single known cause or cure, HFA is treatable. Although it is a life-long disorder, studies show that early diagnosis and intervention can lead to significantly improved outcomes for kids. With the support and love of family and friends, along with appropriate services, kids with HFA can live full, healthy and meaningful lives.

3. Different circumstances call for different parenting. Explain that while you are trying to give your youngster as normal an environment as possible, there may be things you will do (or not do) for your “special needs” child than you would for other children in the family. For example, there may be different rules and consequences, sleeping arrangements, dietary or safety concerns. If necessary, gently explain that this doesn't mean that you're playing favorites or "babying" your HFA youngster -- you are simply addressing his unique needs and protecting him from unnecessary stress.

4. Don't be offended. Assure family members that your youngster's lack of social interactions with them (e.g., how he may avoid looking them in the eye or be uncomfortable with the usual hugs or other physical contact) is simply par for the course and not a personal affront. The same goes for a lack of other social graces, and how he often says whatever is on his mind. An HFA kid might bluntly say, "Aunt Rosie is fat" or, when given a gift, "I don’t play this game." He doesn't mean to be offensive -- he is just reporting what he observes.

5. Encourage family members to discuss their fears, disappointment, confusion and concerns. Remember the feelings you, the parent, experienced upon hearing the diagnosis, and realize that other family members will most likely experience similar emotions. In addition to the concern they have for their grandson or granddaughter, niece, nephew, sibling, etc., they also will have concerns for you.

6. Encourage others to expect the best from your youngster. Focus on the youngster's special abilities. Treat him as you would any other youngster or family member to the extent possible. Realize he is more “like” other kids than he is “different.”

7. Give information about HFA on a need-to-know basis. A bombardment of information may cause confusion or undue alarm. For instance, you might want to skip the nitty-gritty details of a GFCF diet and postpone telling stories about HFA children who run away or who still aren't potty-trained by age 8.

8. Offer friends and family a short list of Internet resources. That way they can explore the world of HFA at their own pace. That said, you might want to ask that they not forward you every report they read about Aspergers and HFA, or start a debate about ASD causes and "cures."

9. Provide some tips regarding purchasing gifts, toys or planning outings. Gently remind family members of your youngster's specific sensory issues, phobias or environmental triggers to avoid unpleasant scenes or meltdowns while in their care.

10. Remind everyone the importance of accepting your youngster for who he is, not who they hope him to be. Children with HFA may need more space, more understanding and more patience. Family members may need to interact with your youngster on his own terms. For example, don't insist on hugs or other physical contact, don't tease (even good-natured joking), and unless told otherwise, defer to mom and dad for any concerns, problems or discipline issues.

11. Teach family the necessary skills to assist your youngster in your absence, even if this care would only be needed on an emergency basis. Require family members to maintain and stick to schedules, special diets and routines. Also leave a list of service providers who can be contacted if the family caregiver has concerns or questions regarding your youngster's behaviors or actions while you're unavailable.

12. If one or more family members simply don’t “get it,” then suggest a support group. If your extended family has difficulty understanding or accepting the diagnosis, then they should consider getting in touch with a support group in order to hear other families' stories, which can help your family members gain a better understanding of the disorder. They can also attend special events or training opportunities, and if necessary, seek family counseling services.

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...