Anger-Control Strategies for Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum

If your youngster does not learn how to release his or her anger appropriately, it can fester and explode in inappropriate ways, or be internalized and damage his or her sense of self-worth. As a mother or father, dealing with an angry youngster is inevitable. Many of us have heard our own pre-parenting voice whisper to us, saying something like, “That will never be my child acting-out like that” (famous last words). Anger is learned, but so is composure!

In this post, we will discuss the following:
  • communicating angry feelings in a positive way
  • expressing anger nonviolently
  • learning how to avoid being a victim of someone else's angry actions
  • learning how to control angry impulses
  • learning how to problem solve
  • learning how to remove themselves from a violent or angry situation 
  • learning self-calming techniques
  • recognizing angry feelings in themselves and others

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Asperger's Children and Difficulties with Processing Information

Processing is a system that helps a youngster select, prepare, and begin to interpret incoming information. AS and HFA kids who have difficulty with processing may have a range of problems related to regulating the use of incoming information. There are five processing skills, which include (1) satisfaction control, (2) focal maintenance, (3) depth and detail of processing, (4) cognitive activation and (5) saliency determination.

Kids who have a processing disorder have difficulty mixing with peers, reaching developmental milestones, and developing social skills. Processing disorders range from mild to extremely pervasive.  

==> Let’s look at this in greater depth...

"Isolation-Preference" in Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Is it typical for a child with High Functioning Autism to not have any friends? My son prefers to play by himself. Is this normal? Any suggestions on how to help him make some friends? I think he would love to have at least one good friend that understood him :)”

Kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) do indeed experience difficulty developing relationships, responding appropriately, and interacting with others with ease. Certain qualities of human interaction are very difficult for these children.

Typically, people communicate with each other through verbal (e.g., speech) as well as nonverbal (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, gestures, body posture, etc.) communication. While verbal ability is often a strength for children with HFA and AS, nonverbal communication is usually an area of difficulty. They tend to overlook - or don’t recognize - the meaning behind another person’s gestures or facial expressions.

This means that they frequently miss the cues they are given that the other person wants to leave, is getting bored, or wants to say something herself. Professionals refer to this phenomenon as impaired social interaction.

Impaired social interaction means that the HFA or AS child has difficulty making and keeping friends. As can be imagined, interacting with someone who does not understand or use nonverbal communication can be awkward. As a result, some people avoid the HFA or AS child, and relationships do not develop.

When friendships do occur, they are usually built on a shared area of interest. That interest is typically the focus of the intense interest and preoccupation of the child on the autism spectrum. Maintaining such friendships can be difficult because the child can be rigid and inflexible regarding the area of interest. In other words, his conversation rarely addresses other topics, and he tends to be the center of any conversation about the topic (leaving the other person to listen rather than contribute to a discussion).

Because the HFA or AS child is so focused on this interest, he often knows a great deal of detailed information about it. This can often be intimidating to other kids who do not feel as much like an “expert.”

Impaired social interaction also encompasses the disturbing social situations that many kids on the spectrum encounter. The term “playground predator” has often been used to describe kids who intentionally and vindictively single out a “special needs” youngster for teasing and taunting. Bullies often pick on kids who are “easy targets” and vulnerable.

With their difficulties understanding nonverbal cues and having limited social support, young people with HFA and AS are often the targets of bullies. This results in even more “isolation-preference” (i.e., preferring to play alone).

Click here for information on how to help your HFA or AS child to make and keep friends…

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said… yes it is I myself have aspergers and my mother told me even in preschool id be by myself while other children were playing. try finding something that he really loves because people with aspergers form obsesions with things ie electronics, cars, music. For me it was swords and i found a friend who also liked them. try finding an interest he has and see if there are any that share that. i hope this helps.
•    Anonymous said… Social skills classes starting as early as possible and ABA. My child is thriving socially and had a lot of therapy starting at age 3. She's 5 now.
•    Anonymous said… A lot of kids with HFASD desire friends but struggle to make and then keep them. I have a son who is now almost 18 and has made 1 friend who is very similar to him - other people wouldn't recognise their relationship as a friendship as even when they are in the same room they don't talk to each other and they don't organise get togethers etc! However, throughout his whole life my boy has been very comfortable with his own company and so the only person the lack of friends thing bothered was me. Let it be - he will make a friend or two at some stage and his company will probably be much enjoyed by older people including workmates when he gets to that stage as they get on better with older and younger people rather than their peer group.

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Fostering the Development of Self-Reliance in Children on the Autism Spectrum

For kids with AS and HFA, acquiring skills related to self-reliance is especially important. This is because their ability to express themselves clearly or interact with others may look different than what other kids typically do. Some grown-ups may mistakenly provide more support for a youngster on the autism spectrum than she actually needs. When a youngster is consistently prevented from taking even small risks, she will learn to feel helpless and dependent, rather than self-reliant.

Self-reliance is not about letting the child make every single decision that affects his life (e.g., what time to go to bed, deciding not to wear a coat in the winter time, etc.). Kids need very clear expectations, protection from harm, and loving guidance. Self-reliance is about providing opportunities so that AS and HFA kids develop the skills necessary to become independent, as well as to interact freely and joyfully within their environment.

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Diversion Tactics for Parents of Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Kids

While diversion tactics come in handy with any youngster, it's particularly imperative for kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are often significantly less able to amuse themselves, negotiate transitions, or avoid meltdowns. 

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum


The Female Version of High-Functioning Autism

"Do girls experience high functioning autism differently compared to boys?"

Yes, however far fewer females are diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) than males. Earlier, the ratio was believed to be 1 girl to every 10 boys was diagnosed with HFA. Currently however that ratio is believed to be more in the range of 1 girl to every 4 boys. As professionals become more familiar with the diagnostic criteria, more females appear to be receiving the HFA diagnosis.

Generally, it is believed that females experience a much milder form of the difficulties associated with HFA. American society emphasizes and pushes females to develop strong social skills at an early age. This may benefit females with HFA by helping them learn compensatory skills or address any deficits earlier in life.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that females use different coping strategies when dealing with social situations. Females tend to hide in social situations, and remain on the periphery. This allows them to observe the behaviors of others, and once comfortable with the process, to mimic those behaviors (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice).

Doll play allows younger females to re-experience social situations, replay them, alter them, and learn from them. Females also often have invisible friends (a safe tool to use when practicing social skills). Among females, HFA may express itself more through immaturity. Topics of special interest also may not be as intense as the interests exhibited by males.

Areas of special interest for girls seem to be different from those of boys. Their preoccupations center more on animals and classical literature. The long-term prognosis for females with HFA also seems better than for males, largely because of their ability to hide their difficulties from others over time.

Some very popular books specifically related to girls on the autism spectrum include the following:

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Anonymous said... Thank you for this post. I completely agree with what you are saying. I may very well be a woman with HFA, and reading this was like looking back in time at my childhood. I didn't have an imaginary friend but I had a lot of animal friends and an extreme interest and preoccupation with people and why they acted as they did and what made them who they were. I spent years watching people closely and learning how to mimic their behaviors to fit in a little better. This article brings up some valid and important points. I hope lots of people will read and learn from it.

Anonymous said...My daughter was recently diagnosed with Asperger's at 5 years old. I am a special eduction teacher and know what to look out for. The doctor that tested her for HFA shared girls who present like my daughter are typically diagnosed in high school when social situations become much more complicated. I am so pleased to be getting the additional support now because there are great resources like speech therapy, OT, and social skills groups. These professionals and programs are wonderful and have helped my daughter, my husband and myself become a much happier household! 

What's the Difference Between Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism?

“I'm seriously confused! I have an 8yr old that was recently diagnosed with HFA and has been diagnosed with ADHD since he was 5 1/2yrs old. I've been trying to understand all the diagnoses and changes I've seen in my youngest child, but it's so confusing. Is Asperger Syndrome the same as High Functioning Autism? How are these two different from Autism? Please give me some insight as I'm losing my mind and already suffer from Depression. Thank you, Very concerned mommy.”

Asperger’s (AS), along with other autism disorders, falls along a “spectrum.” This spectrum has been called the autism spectrum. Whatever it is called, Autistic Disorder (or autism) would fall at one end of the spectrum, while “average” or “neurotypical” functioning would be found at the other end. AS has been conceptualized as a mild, less problematic form of autism that falls between average functioning and autism on this continuum.

This means that kids with autism experience many of the same symptoms as those with AS. However, the symptoms of autistic kids are usually more severe, and their functioning is much more impaired (e.g., while a youngster with AS may have difficulty using language socially, a youngster with autism may be mute). Both AS and Autistic Disorders may involve:
  • difficulties interacting with others
  • difficulty using language socially
  • lack of understanding or interest in others' feelings
  • narrow interests or abilities
  • odd motor behaviors
  • poor nonverbal communication skills
  • social rejection
  • rigidity (as opposed to flexibility) in play

Autism is the more severe form of problems with social interaction, restricted behaviors and areas of interest, and impaired language skills (e.g., while a youngster with AS may have difficulty interacting with others socially and forming friendships, a youngster with autism may often avoid direct eye contact with everybody, dislike physical touch including the experience of hugs or loving touches, and may not develop verbal skills).

According to the present diagnostic criteria, children with autism usually experience significant delay in the acquisition of language skills (e.g., the youngster did not use single words before the age of 2; communicative phrases were not used until after age 3). Cognitive skills are also often impaired. On the other hand, children with AS probably did not experience delay or impairment in cognitive or language skills. Also, while children with autism show little interest in peer interaction, children with AS often seek such companionship.

Re: The difference between AS and HFA—

Many children identified as having High-Functioning Autism (HFA) had more pronounced symptoms of autism when they were younger. As they aged, the development of basic social skills, age appropriate cognitive skills, and verbal ability occurred. HFA is a term that was most often used here in the United States and often applies to kids who qualified for a diagnosis of autism when they were younger. Controversy still exists within the literature about the differences between these diagnoses. Some professionals use the terms interchangeably. At this point, the symptoms associated the two labels (AS and HFA) are considered to be mostly identical.

Re: The dual-diagnosis of ADHD and AS—

To complicate matters even more, there is also a significant overlap between the symptoms of ADHD and AS. More on that topic can be found here: The Aspergers-ADHD Overlap

Kids on the Spectrum and Their 'Pedantic' Style of Speaking

 “I read a lot online that children with Autism have a ‘pedantic’ style of speaking. Can you help me to understand what that means?”

While kids with ASD [High-Functioning Autism] may have begun talking at an appropriate age, they often used a rather long-winded (and sometimes rather concrete or literal) style of speaking.  Pedantic describes speech that is overly-focused on the details of its topic. 
It is speech that appears to list details about a topic one after the other. In a child on the autism spectrum, this type of speech does not appear to be impacted by the environment (e.g., by the nonverbal cues of others), and therefore seems less conversational and more like a monologue.

In addition, kids on the spectrum often understand and use words concretely and literally. For example, a teacher discussed possible consequences for misbehavior with her autistic student. This child heard that if he did not complete his classwork when asked, he would receive detention. 
He became very upset over this perceived injustice. He didn’t understand that the teacher had meant that when she saw a “pattern” of incomplete work, she would provide the consequence of a detention.

With such a concrete way of understanding others, children with ASD can easily misinterpret the intent of others and respond in an unexpected and possibly inappropriate way. 
Thus, when speaking to these young people, it’s important for parents and teachers to be very specific (e.g., instead of saying, “You need to get ready for lunch” …be more detailed by saying, “Hand in your assignment, put your pencil and notebook away, and get in line with the other students”).

Dealing with the "Back-to-School" Blues: Tips for Parents of Asperger's Kids

Being out of school for a couple of weeks during the Christmas break is plenty of time to get children completely off schedule. With shopping, family get-togethers, and the late night on New Year’s Eve, most children have likely forgotten what it means to get up on time and get ready in a timely fashion.

Children of all ages often struggle to get back into the swing of things after being off for several weeks for Christmas break. They may not be ready to resume the frantic pace, start back up with classes, or dive into social activities. Even getting back on normal eating, sleeping and homework schedules can be very difficult. This is especially true for young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). At “back to school time,” these kids may feel concerned about their work-load and keeping up with homework, become physically sick with stress (e.g., headaches or migraines), feel pressured by what their teachers and peers expect of them, and feel sad or upset that the holidays are now over.

The good news is that getting your AS or HFA child back on track isn’t as stressful as doing the same after the much longer summer break. Below are some ideas that can help smooth the transition from school to home - and back to school - over Christmas break. Sufficient planning, reliable rituals, participation in school events, and a positive outlook can make the transition less difficult.

1. Help your AS or HFA child to avoid feeling frustrated or depressed about returning to school by making a short list of things he likes about school. Focusing on positive aspects of school will improve his mood and attitude. Your child can make note of classes, teachers, and extracurricular activities he likes, or meaningful friendships and experiences he values. Start working on the list a day or two before Christmas break ends, so the good memories are fresh in his mind when he returns to school.

2. Help your child ease back into school by reestablishing daily schedules and following them as closely as possible. Rituals promote a sense of security and stability. Consistent morning routines, regular meal times, homework study hours, designated recreation times, and bedtime schedules can help your child get back on track. Place a calendar on the refrigerator or in a central location so you can keep track of weekly activities (e.g., sports practices, music lessons, doctor's appointments, etc.).

3. Help your child to find ways to get involved outside of the classroom, explore her interests, and meet new people. She could join an academic club, attend a school-sponsored dance, go to a sporting event, try out for a school play, or join student council. Active involvement will help your child build strong connections with classmates, teachers and coaches. It's easier to get back into the routine after the holidays if your child has engaging and exciting activities to look forward to.

4. Adjust your child’s sleep schedule. Get started a couple days before he is scheduled to go back to school. You don't want your child to be falling asleep during class on the first day back. Start waking your child up at his normal school-time several days before he goes back – even if he stayed up late the night before. He will likely have no trouble going to bed on time on days when he woke up early.

5. Help your child to pack up his book bag the night before, and lunch if needed. Make sure she has packed everything. She wouldn't want to walk into math class on the first day, only to find that she has forgotten her calculator.

6. As part of New Year’s resolutions, encourage your youngster to set some school-related goals (e.g., raising a math grade by five points, making one new friend, etc.). As a parent, set your own goals as well (e.g., getting up a few minutes earlier each morning to have lunches packed before waking your child, giving yourself 30 minutes to meditate or exercise, etc.).

7. If your youngster is crying or throwing a temper tantrum because she has to go back to school, prolonging the return only makes the problem worse. No one likes to go to school, just like no one likes to go to work. Explain this to your youngster. There are just some things you have to do, or you get into trouble for not doing them. Ask your youngster if she wants you to get in trouble for her not going to school. Also, explain truancy (if you think that will work).

8. Earmark one of your youngster’s Christmas presents as a special one for the first day back to school (e.g., new shirt, new shoes, new backpack, locker decoration, etc.). Your youngster will be eager to get back to school to show the new item to his friends.

9. Keep school at the forefront of your youngster’s mind by talking about it each day of the holiday break. Ask her which friends she is looking forward to seeing when she goes back, which classes are her favorites, and so on. Read books off your child’s reading list, then ask her questions about the books. If your child brings her lunch to school, make a calendar with different food options for the first week when she goes back.

10. Help your child to avoid letting the post-holiday blues keep him from meeting his goals. A lack of motivation in the first couple weeks after returning to school can lead to a backlog of undone homework and an ugly list of incomplete assignments. Teach your child to start projects early, finish homework ahead of schedule, and prepare for tests and quizzes several days before testing dates. Reward him with treats (e.g., a special outing), and remind him of all the free time he has accrued since he didn’t procrastinate.

The end of the Christmas break is a time of mixed emotions (e.g., sad to be losing the freedom of sleeping in, playing all day and staying up late at sleepovers, family get-togethers, and the excitement that always prevails this time of year). Getting back to school after the break doesn’t have to be stressful though. Remember to stick as close as you can to the normal wake-up and bedtime routines during the break, but don’t worry about the times when the holidays keep family members out late – just get back on schedule the next day. Routinely engage your child in positive conversations about the return to school while he or she is still enjoying the break.

Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2014

Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2014

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...