Should You Seek A Formal Diagnosis For High-Functioning Autism?

Diagnosis as an adult can be a mixed blessing. Some people decide they are O.K. with being self-diagnosed and decide not to ask for a formal diagnosis. However, for those who DO want a formal diagnosis, there are a variety of benefits. 



How to Implement the GFCF Diet: Tips for Parents of Autistic Children

A lot has been said about the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet and its use to help kids on the autism spectrum. There is growing interest in the link between autism spectrum disorders and gastrointestinal ailments. 
 
Research studies have revealed the following:
  • autistic kids were more likely to have antibodies to gluten than typically-developing kids, which may point to immune and/or intestinal abnormalities in those kids
  • kids on the autism spectrum were more likely to have abnormal immune responses to wheat, milk, and soy than typically-developing kids
  • kids on the autism spectrum were 7 times more likely to have diarrhea or colitis than children with no disorder



In a different study, researchers used survey information from moms and dads to conclude that the GFCF diet may improve behavior and GI symptoms in some autistic children.

One theory suggests that some autistic children can’t properly digest gluten and casein, which results in the formation of peptides (i.e., substances that act like opiates in the body). The peptides then alter the child's perceptions, behavior, and responses to his or her environment. Also, some researchers now believe that peptides trigger an unusual immune system response in certain children. Studies have found peptides in the urine of a significant number of autistic kids.

A theory behind the use of the GFCF diet in autism is that if a child is having GI responses to gluten and casein, the resulting inflammation can damage the lining of the intestine, thus leading to absorption of molecules that are not normally absorbed by healthy intestines. Evidence suggests that these molecules (or the inflammation they cause) may interact with the child’s brain in ways that cause significant problems (e.g., mood abnormalities, anxiety, mental difficulties) that worsen the behavioral symptoms of autism.

If your youngster has gastrointestinal problems and sensitivity to certain foods that contain gluten or casein, then the GFCF diet is worth considering. If you do decide to embark on a trial of the diet, the first thing you should do is make a list of the benefits you want to see (e.g., better sleeping patterns, less acting-out behaviors, increased ability to focus, etc.). Make this list a week before you start your youngster on the diet.  

Next, keep a diary of the behaviors or other symptoms of concern to you. For instance, if you hope the diet will improve your child’s diarrhea, you need to know exactly where you are starting (e.g., he or she has diarrhea 7 days a week). Then, continue to log relevant information in the diary as your youngster starts the diet. Two weeks later, does he or she still have diarrhea 7 times a week? If not, then the diet may be beneficial.

This procedure is called “establishing a baseline.” The problem with NOT establishing a baseline is that you and your physician are left with uncertainties about the effectiveness of the diet. This makes it difficult to decide whether to continue with the diet or not. So, take the time to establish a baseline.

In addition to establishing a baseline, you may want to discuss the diet with your youngster’s physician.  Some physicians are more familiar than others with the GFCF diet’s popularity in treating the symptoms of autism.  But, most physicians understand the dietary restrictions involved and how they interact with a youngster’s unique nutritional needs and health conditions.

Also, a nutritionist can provide guidance around the GFCF diet. Some parents believe they are providing a GFCF diet, but actually continue to offer their child foods that contain gluten or casein. These proteins can be in some foods that parents don’t suspect.

How long should you continue the GFCF diet with your child? It can take months for your child’s gut to heal with clear improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms.  So, a trial of 3 to 6 months should be enough to see the benefits. If you do continue with the diet beyond the 3 month period, your youngster should take a daily multivitamin supplement to ensure adequate amounts of recommended vitamins and minerals.

Some advocates of the GFCF diet suggest removing one food from the diet at a time so you will know which food was causing a problem. It's often recommended to remove milk first, because your child’s body will clear itself of milk/casein the quickest. Then, gluten can be removed a month or so after eliminating milk. Also, it is helpful to ask other adults (e.g., teachers, babysitters, etc.) who know your child and see him or her frequently – and who do not know about the dietary change – if they see any improvements after a couple months.

Try to find a substitute for milk that your youngster can tolerate (e.g., almond milk, coconut or rice milk). Also, you can find gluten-free flours in many grocery, specialty and health food stores (e.g., waffles, pretzels, pasta made of rice, crackers, cookies, cereal, bread, etc.). Many products are already gluten-free and casein-free (e.g., rice, quinoa, amaranth, potatoes, buckwheat flour, corn, fruits, vegetables, beans, tapioca, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts, eggs, sorghum, etc.).

In addition to gluten and casein, some moms and dads report that removing soy or corn led to equal or greater improvements in their autistic kids. Since soy protein is similar to gluten and casein, some diet advocates suggest removing it if the youngster seems very sensitive or does not improve on the GFCF diet.

Sample GFCF Diet Plan—

Week 1:
  • Monday: Hamburgers, Ore-Ida French Fries
  • Tuesday: Honey Chicken Thighs, Honey Roasted Carrots, Mashed Potatoes
  • Wednesday: Spaghetti Squash Marinara, Salad
  • Thursday: Ham, Pineapple, Green Beans
  • Friday: Catalina Chicken
  • Saturday: Turkey Chili served over Fritos, Fruit Salad
  • Sunday: Franks ‘n’ Beans, Corn

Week 2:
  • Monday: Honey Mustard Fish, Sugar Snap Peas, Rice
  • Tuesday: Tacos, Refried Beans, Mexican Rice
  • Wednesday: Creamy Penne Pasta
  • Thursday: Barbecue Brisket, Potato Salad
  • Friday: Shepherd’s Pie
  • Saturday: Red Honey Chicken Drumsticks, Peas, Mac & Cheese 
  • Sunday: Honey Orange Pork Chops, Butternut Crunch

Week 3:
  • Monday: Chicken Nuggets, Pasta Salad, Mango slices
  • Tuesday: Meatloaf, Roasted New Potatoes, Broccoli
  • Wednesday: Sweet Wine Fish, Edamame, Sushi rice
  • Thursday: Barbecue Chicken, Corn on the cob, Watermelon
  • Friday: Pork Chops with Pears, Mashed potatoes
  • Saturday: Beef Stir Fry
  • Sunday: Pot Roast

Week 4:
  • Monday: Almond-Crusted Chicken, Salad, Cinnamon Apples
  • Tuesday: Greek Wraps with Cucumber Tzatziki
  • Wednesday: Vegetable Soup, Corn Bread 
  • Thursday: Turkey Meatballs, Green beans, GFCF Rolls
  • Friday: Banh Bao, Spring Rolls
  • Saturday: Tandoori Chicken with Potatoes
  • Sunday: Lemon Chicken, Asparagus, Sautéed Mushrooms

Week 5:
  • Monday: Cajun Fish
  • Tuesday: Greek Flank Steak, Sautéed Peppers and Onions, Stuffed Tomatoes
  • Wednesday: Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Coleslaw Salad
  • Thursday: Fish Tacos
  • Friday: Green Chicken Curry
  • Saturday: Chicken and Rice Casserole, Sliced Peaches
  • Sunday: Mexican Pizza

More information on diet plans for autistic children can be found here:

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
 


BEST COMMENT:
 
Almost 2 years ago now we were at our wits-end trying to find a medication/treatment that would alleviate my son's constant anger & irritability. He has been taking Risperdal for many years & it has helped, but it wasn't a "miracle" situation that seemed to solve everything. We went GLUTEN-FREE. It is known that gluten, an un-digestable protein found in wheat & other grains, is a "poison" for the brain & body..especially for those with neurological conditions such as Aspergers or ADHD. It was our last-ditch effort. It seemed daunting because there are many things you just can't eat..but nowadays almost every store or restaurant you may go to has gluten-free foods & options. Anyway..It took a few weeks to "kick-in" but my son's anger & irritability literally WENT AWAY! His general mood was happy & at-ease rather than on a constant short fuse. His hyperactivity did not go away..but his antics became more silly & fun in nature instead of mischievous & problematic. He absolutely loves all the food too! So as I mentioned my son has other mental issues that simply going gluten-free will not resolve but as far as his general mood on a day-to-day basis, it has made an amazing difference!

Reversing Autism Through Dietary Changes

There are a number of reasons why kids develop autism. Genetics may play a part, but the vast majority of the causes are not genetic, which means parents can do something about them. Correcting the underlying causes of your youngster's autism  will produce significant improvement in his or her functioning.

The diagnosis of autism is overwhelming and stressful for parents and other family members.  However, contrary to popular belief, with a concerted effort from parents, some of the youngster’s symptoms of autism may be reversed.



A noticeable difference is often seen in a short period of time, with amazing, sometimes miraculous long-term results. One parent eliminated almost all autistic behaviors her son suffered from, and so have many thousands of other parents around the world. You can too!

Note to skeptics: If you believe that reversing the symptoms of autism is an impossibility, do a Google or YouTube search for "reversing autism" and witness for yourself accounts from other parents who have had such good fortune!

Relationships With Partners On The Autism Spectrum

Are you struggling in a relationship with someone who has Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism? Are you at your wits-end?  Have you been having thoughts of separation or divorce? Can you identify with some of the comments in this video from neurotypical (i.e., non-autistic) partners/spouses?



As you can see, a lot of neurotypical partners/spouses are hurt, angry and downright resentful. But, healing can begin today. Join our support group on Facebook: Relationships With Partners On The Autism Spectrum

Also, check out this eBook: Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

"Sensory Diet" for Kids with ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder

Many kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) struggle with sensory processing challenges, and some have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is a condition in which the child’s brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. 

The symptoms of SPD include the following:

Infancy—

•    can’t crawl "on all fours"
•    can’t hold self upright in walker, high chair for more than a few minutes
•    can’t latch on, or suckle to nurse
•    cries when bathed
•    difficulty lifting head when on tummy
•    doesn’t like baby swings, or riding in car
•    doesn’t like to be cuddled, or will not let you put her down
•    extremely active or extremely quiet
•    frequently make fists
•    may only sleep when swinging or riding in car
•    must have absolute quiet to settle down/or must have certain sounds
•    screams hysterically when hungry, wet, cold, or hot
•    seems to never sleep, doesn’t develop sleep patterns
•    struggles when changed
•    takes an unusually long time to nurse or finish bottle
•    tenses, or cries when held in space
•    uses soldier crawl, or scoots rather than use arms to bear weight

Preschool—

•    acts claustrophobic when slightly stuck in clothes
•    acts out aggressively when touched, provoked, or upset
•    afraid no matter what consolation you give
•    afraid of dark
•    afraid of drain in tub
•    afraid of falling in toilet
•    afraid of new places, people
•    always has shoes on, or never leaves them on
•    bites fingers and tongue while eating
•    can’t hold pencil or crayon in correct grip
•    can’t pedal tricycles, bikes, scoot type toys
•    can’t sit through a meal
•    can’t snap, zip, buckle, or tie
•    can’t use scissors
•    can't get comfortable
•    chews with mouth open
•    complains food too hot, or too cold
•    crashes, crashes, crashes
•    cries when fingernails and toenails clipped, or hair cut
•    difficulty doing puzzles, Leggos, stacking blocks
•    difficulty going up or down stairs
•    difficulty guiding utensils to mouth
•    difficulty with push and pull toys
•    dislikes carbonated drinks
•    doesn’t like baths, washing or combing hair
•    doesn’t like belts, or anything snug around waist
•    doesn’t like certain textures; too crunchy, soft, grainy, or slimy
•    doesn’t like feet touched
•    doesn’t like sleeves that hit wrist, or high collars
•    doesn’t like to brush teeth
•    doesn’t recognize need to go potty
•    drops food on floor, all over table, unintentionally
•    easily frustrated, quick to anger
•    falls off of chairs, couches, bed
•    falls out of chairs
•    fidgets and moves around a lot while sitting
•    flits from one activity to another
•    food has no taste, or tastes too strong
•    grabby, hugs too hard, body slams while playing
•    has hard time with spoons and forks
•    has trouble dressing self
•    hates taste of toothpaste
•    hides under furniture
•    jumps, jumps, jumps
•    legs hang, rather than wrap around someone's hips when carried
•    likes certain clothes, usually cotton
•    likes cool or very warm baths
•    likes to be totally covered, or is constantly removing clothing
•    likes very few foods, or will eat anything
•    meltdowns in stores, restaurants, public places
•    messy eater, dribbles food down chin, or can't stand mess on hands
•    over dresses in hot weather, or under dresses in cold weather
•    over stuffs mouth, chokes
•    poor posture
•    potty accidents that go on and on
•    prefers picking/grazing through the day, instead of regular mealtimes
•    prefers unusually hot, or unusually cold food
•    rests head on hands or arms frequently
•    seams in clothing or socks bothersome
•    seems not to listen
•    seems under/over sensitive to pain
•    severe separation anxiety
•    severe temper tantrums, sometimes many per day
•    spills food and drinks frequently
•    spins, spins, spins
•    strong preference for or against playground equipment
•    trouble kicking ball, or catching balloons
•    trouble playing with other children
•    uses sippy cup long after most children have moved on
•    vomits a mouthful when too upset
•    walks into walls, corners, people
•    wants tags removed
•    when excited, over does it, can't calm down
•    withdraws into self, zones out
•    won't carry objects, seem too heavy

Older child—

•    acts wild when in a group
•    bumps into people and things
•    can’t complete more than one direction at a time
•    can’t follow directions without constant verbal reminders
•    can’t judge time
•    clumsy, spacey, lazy
•    craves/avoids touching
•    difficulty hearing adult voices over background sounds
•    difficulty with handwriting
•    dislikes changes in plans or routines
•    doesn’t complete tasks
•    doesn’t like loud noises or commotion
•    easily distracted
•    erratic sleep patterns
•    “falls apart” frequently
•    forgets shoes, socks, homework, assignments
•    has trouble making choices
•    hides when anyone comes over
•    immature, baby talk, cries over inconsequential things
•    impulsive
•    inverting/reversing numbers and letters
•    leaves the table during meals
•    misses when placing objects on table
•    overly excited when people come to house
•    poor speech, articulation
•    poor written work
•    reading and math difficulties
•    short attention span
•    speaks unusually loud/ talks too soft to hear
•    stubborn, uncooperative, defiant
•    unusually low/high energy
•    won't join the group

Children whose bodies need particular types of sensory input tend to do exactly what they need to obtain that input, sometimes in ways parents may not particularly like. The AS or HFA youngster may love to chew on nonfood objects, crash into furniture or other children, hang upside down, jump on the furniture, flap his arms, or spin in circles. This is called “self-stimulatory” behaviors. Some “self-stimulatory” behaviors are an attempt to obtain much-needed sensory input that either revs up or slows down a poorly functioning nervous system. At other times these behaviors act as a coping mechanism until the youngster figures out how to ward off or deal with sensory overload.
 
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Three major challenges for parents and teachers who deal with a child who has SPD are (1) recognizing when the youngster is under-reactive or over-reactive in any given moment, (2) calibrating sensory input to meet her where she is, and (3) providing a “just right challenge” to help her move forward into a “just right” state of being. Fortunately, there are proven techniques for reducing under-sensitivities and over-sensitivities, and modifying tasks and environments to support success while the child builds underlying sensory processing skills. Foremost among these techniques is what’s called a “sensory diet.”

Senses that should be included in a sensory diet include the following:

1. Auditory— Auditory input refers to both what you hear and how you listen, and is physiologically connected with the vestibular sense.

2. Proprioception— Proprioceptive input (i.e., sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that lead to body awareness) can be obtained by lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects, including the child’s own weight. He can also stimulate the proprioceptive sense by engaging in activities that push joints together (e.g., pushing something heavy), and pull joints apart (e.g., hanging from monkey bars).

3. Smell— Olfactory input comes through the nose and goes straight to the most primitive, emotional part of the brain. So, if your AS or HFA youngster is upset by something being “stinky” – it’s no wonder. Certain odors can stimulate, calm, or send her into sensory overload.

4. Tactile— The tactile sense detects pain, light touch, deep pressure, texture, temperature, and vibration. This includes both the skin covering your body and the skin lining the inside of your mouth. For the AS or HFA child, oral tactile issues can contribute to picky eating and feeding difficulties.

5. Taste— Taste input is perceived by your tongue, but how you interpret or experience it is strongly influenced by your sense of smell.

6. Vestibular— This is the sense of movement centered in the inner ear. Any type of movement will stimulate the vestibular receptors, but swinging, spinning, and hanging upside down provide the most intense, longest lasting input.

7. Visual— Visual input can often be overstimulating for an AS or HFA youngster with sensory issues.

The goal of a sensory diet is to give your AS or HFA youngster the right kind of sensory input in regular, controlled doses so there’s no need for him to resort to undesirable behaviors. For example, rather than bouncing off the walls during lunch, he can bounce for a few minutes on a mini-trampoline before it’s time to sit down to eat. Rather than chewing on a crayon, he can munch on a “Gummi bear.” Instead of crashing into the furniture to get deep pressure stimulation, he can jump into a safely placed “crash pad” or punching bag.

The starting point in creating a sensory diet that meets your AS or HFA child’s unique needs is to look at her behaviors, especially those that are a bit odd. In general, a youngster whose nervous system is “hyper” needs more calming input, while the youngster who is more “slothful” needs more arousing input. While each child’s likes and dislikes are different, activities that are more rapid and less predictable tend to be more alerting – while slow, rhythmic, and repetitive activities tend to be more soothing.

Finding the perfect activity to achieve that optimal state takes some detective work and creativity on the parent’s part. Few kids are always tired or always wired. The right combination of sensory input is something parents will need to figure out together with the child, and preferably with the assistance of an occupational therapist.
 Below is a sample sensory diet that was created for Andrew, an 8-year-old youngster with Asperger’s and SPD. A separate program was created for Andrew with the school, including an inflatable seat cushion for wiggling while remaining seated, frequent movement breaks, and providing chewy oral comfort snacks during handwriting class.


Sample Sensory Diet--

In the morning:
  • Eat crunchy cereal with fruit and protein
  • Jump on mini-trampoline as directed
  • Listen to recommended therapeutic music
  • Massage back
  • Use vibrating toothbrush

After school:
  • Artwork time (e.g., drawing, clay projects, painting projects, etc.)
  • Do ball exercises as directed
  • Eat crunchy and chewy snacks
  • Go to playground for at least 20 minutes
  • Listen to therapeutic music
  • Massage feet 
  • Mini-trampoline
  • Push grocery cart
  • Spinning as directed

At dinnertime:
  • Provide crunchy and chewy foods
  • Help with dinner preparations (e.g., mixing, chopping, blending, etc.)
  • Help set table

At night: 
  • Warm bath with bubbles and calming essential oil
  • Massage during reading time
  • Burn scented candle prior to falling asleep

Here is a list of 50 activities to consider when creating your child’s unique sensory diet:

1.  Bang on pots and pans.

2. Climb up and down stairs.

3. Create a scrapbook (lots of pasting and working with different textures).

4. Do cartwheels, swim, jumping jacks, and dance.

5. Do jumping jacks, floor pushups or wall pushups.

6. Do wheelbarrow walking, with ankles held.

7. Dress up in fun costumes to get used to the feel of unfamiliar clothing.

8. Drink thick liquids through a straw.

9. Eat chewy or crunchy foods or chew gum.

10. Encourage child to walk barefoot in the grass, sand, or dirt.

11. Encourage play with make-up, face painting, and costumes.

12. Get a firm massage.

13. Get a white noise machine, tabletop rocks-and-water fountain, or aquarium.

14. Go swimming.

15. Go to the beach or sit still and listen to the rain, thunder, etc.

16. Go to the playground and use slides and swings.

17. Have child finger-paint, play with glitter glue, or mix cookie dough and cake batter.

18. Have child hang upside down from playground equipment, do somersaults, or ride a loop-de-loop rollercoaster.

19. Have child play with foamy soap or shaving cream, and add sand for extra texture.

20. Have child vacuum, carry books from one room to another, help wash windows or a tabletop, and transfer wet laundry from the washing machine to the dryer.

21. Have the child sit very quietly and try to identify the sounds he/she hears (e.g., traffic, people taking, planes, etc.) and where it’s coming from.

22. Help child garden and repot indoor plants.

23. Hold the youngster’s arms and spin in a circle as he/she lifts off the ground.

24. Inhale favored essential oils or other fragrances.

25. Jump on a mini-trampoline, bouncy pad, or mattress placed on the floor.

26. Let child run in circles or ride a carousel.

27. Let the youngster drink plain seltzer or carbonated mineral water to experience bubbles in his/her mouth (flavor it with a little juice).

28. Listen to birds singing and try to identify what direction a given bird is calling from.

29. Listen to favorite music with headphones.

30. Listen to natural sound recordings of rain falling, ocean waves, bird songs, etc.

31. Make a “burrito” by rolling child up in a blanket.

32. Play a musical instrument.

33. Play in a sandbox or use a sensory bin filled with uncooked rice and beans.

34. Provide the youngster with a musical instrument and encourage him/her to play and even take lessons.

35. Provide the youngster with frozen foods (e.g., popsicles, frozen fruit) and mixed temperature foods (e.g., hot fudge sundae, hot taco with cold toppings).

36. Put on a play or making a mini movie with a video camera.

37. Rake leaves, push heavy objects like firewood in a wheelbarrow.

38. Ride a tricycle or bicycle.

39. Rock in a rocking chair, glider, or on a hobby horse.

40. Sculpt, sew, weave, crochet or knit.

41. Sit in a quiet “safe space” with soft lighting.

42. Spin on a Sit N’ Spin, Dizzy Disc Jr., or office chair.

43. Squish between sofa cushions to make a “sandwich.”

44. Swing on a hammock.

45. Take a warm bath or shower.

46. Try Sound Eaze CDs that desensitize autistic kids to everyday sounds (e.g., balloons popping, vacuum cleaners, flushing toilets, thunder, barking dogs, alarms, and other sounds these children find distressing).

47. Use a vibrating item (e.g., Squiggle Wiggle Writer, vibrating pillow, or oral vibrator).

48. Use a weighted blanket, vest, lap pad, or other weighted item.

49. Use sandpaper to smooth a woodworking project, or make things out of clay (try using a potter’s wheel).

50. Wear a heavy knapsack or pull a luggage cart-style backpack, or mow the lawn with a push mower.

In summary, a sensory diet is a term used to describe sensory activities that are used to treat children with SPD. If your AS or HFA youngster has symptoms of SPD, your physician can refer you to an occupational therapist for an evaluation. If it is discovered that your child does have SPD, the therapist will create a “menu” of activities. He or she will have you perform these activities in a particular order to create a sensory “meal.” Just like nutritional diets, the sensory diet is designed for your youngster’s sensory needs. The occupational therapist will create a plan of activities for you to do throughout the day.
 
Note: BrainWorks simplifies the process of creating sensory diets and teaches self-modulation through its use.  Click here to join BrainWorks.
 

Join "Relationships With Partners On The Autism Spectrum"

This is our new support group for people who are married to, or in a relationship with, someone on the autism spectrum (e.g., Asperger's, High-Functioning Autism). Share your challenges, frustrations, hurts, fears, concerns -- and yes, your successes and victories as well. We are here for one another! 

Click ==> Relationships With Partners On The Autism Spectrum

Sensory Diet for Children on the Autism Spectrum

BrainWorks: The Sensory Diet Creator Tool

Just as youngsters with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism need food throughout the day, their need for sensory input must also be met. A “sensory diet” is a personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input “special needs” children must have in order to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Children and teens with mild to severe sensory issues can all benefit from a personalized sensory diet.



Each Asperger’s or HFA youngster has a unique set of sensory needs. Generally, a youngster who is more lethargic or tired needs more arousing input, while a youngster whose nervous system is energetic or hyper needs more calming input. Occupational therapists can use their training and evaluation skills to develop a sensory diet for the youngster on the autism spectrum, but it’s up to parents and the youngster to implement it throughout the day.

Effects of a sensory diet are usually immediate and cumulative. In other words, activities that stimulate the youngster or soothe her are not only effective in the moment – they help to restructure the youngster’s nervous system over time so that she is better able to handle transitions with less stress, limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors, regulate her alertness and increase attention span, and tolerate sensations and situations she finds challenging.

Each Asperger’s and HFA youngster is different and has unique requirements. But if parents take a close look at what their child is doing, he is telling his parents in the only way he knows how (with his behavior) what he needs. Parents can take what their child is already doing and make it safer and more appropriate. That's the beginning of a good sensory diet.

BrainWorks simplifies the process of creating sensory diets and teaches self-modulation through its use.  Click here to join BrainWorks.




Brainworks Is The Premier Sensory Diet Creation Tool. Sensory Diets Are Designed Primarily For Those With Autism And Other Sensory Processing Disorders.

Developing Friendship Skills: Help for Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum

The diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s includes a description of some of the deficits in social interaction, for example, (a) marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors, such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction; (b) lack of social or emotional reciprocity; and (c) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level.

Children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have considerable difficulty with the understanding and expression of social reciprocity and nonverbal behaviors. With respect to peer relationships, when a parent or teacher observes the social play and friendship skills of these young people, he or she often notices a delay in the conceptualization of friendship. Also, these children may have an overall intellectual ability within the normal range, but their understanding of friendship skills resembles much younger kids.



We can only guess what the consequences may be for Asperger’s and HFA children who fail to develop peer relationships that are appropriate for their developmental level. But without a doubt, there will be lasting effects in several aspects of social, cognitive, and emotional development. When interacting with their peers, “typical” (i.e., non-autistic) kids naturally acquire increasingly sophisticated strategies to resolve conflict, as well as interpersonal and team skills. Also, they learn the value of alternative perspectives and solutions in problem solving. Many of the traits valued in a close friend become the traits associated with lasting personal relationships. However, with Asperger’s and HFA children, these skills are not intuitive – they must be taught!

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

The social isolation of an Asperger’s or HFA student in the lunch room or on the school playground can increase his or her vulnerability to being bullied and teased. Also, a lack of close friendships can be a contributory factor in the development of childhood depression. Furthermore, a delay in social knowledge can lead to anxiety in social situations that may develop into school refusal, social phobia, and even agoraphobia. “Typical” children achieve cognitive and affective growth within their circle of friends. So, it is not surprising that impaired peer relationship skills often result in significant emotional and social problems for the “outcast” (i.e., the child who doesn’t fit in).

Before considering strategies to improve specific friendship skills, it is important to determine the Asperger’s or HFA youngster's stage of friendship development. Unfortunately, there are no standardized tests to measure friendship skills as there are for cognitive abilities, language skills, and motor development. However, assessments can be made by analysis of the child’s answers to specific questions and observation of his or her interactions with peers. Questions might include: What makes you a good friend? Who are your friends at school? Why do we have friends? Why is (name) your friend? How do you make friends? What do friends do? What makes a good friend?

How parents and teachers can foster the development of friendship skills in children and teens on the autism spectrum:

3 to 6 years of age—

In this age group, the Asperger’s or HFA youngster needs to identify relevant social cues and appropriate responses to those cues. For instance, the youngster can learn the cues to join a group of peers without causing disruption or annoyance. An activity can be to brainstorm with the youngster the “entry cues” (e.g., someone giving a welcoming gesture or facial expression, or a pause in the activity or conversation). These “acts of the social play” can be rehearsed by identifying a few kids who are willing to help with the friendship skills of the Asperger’s or HFA youngster. They can be informed that he or she is learning the rules for joining in their play.

The procedure of identifying the cues in planned settings and practicing appropriate responses can be used for many friendship skills. The parent or teacher can act as a mentor or stage director, giving guidance and encouragement. It is important that the attitude from the adult is one of discovery and guidance so that the Asperger’s or HFA youngster does not perceive the activity as being critical of his or her ability and a public recognition of his or her social errors.

Due to their developmental delay, kids on the autism spectrum often demonstrate more mature interaction skills with grown-ups than with their same-age peers. It is important that parents and teachers observe the natural play of the Asperger’s or HFA youngster's peers (e.g., noting the games, equipment, rules, language, etc.). They can then practice the same play with the youngster, but with the adult “acting” as a peer. This includes “child speak” (i.e., using the speech of kids rather than adults), role-playing examples of being a good friend, and role-playing situations that illustrate unfriendly acts (e.g., disagreements and teasing). Appropriate and inappropriate responses can be performed to provide the youngster with a range of responses.

Parents and teachers can borrow (or buy) duplicate equipment that is used at school or is popular with the Asperger’s or HFA youngster’s peers. Once the youngster has rehearsed with grown-ups who can easily modify the pace of play and amount of instruction, he can have a “dress rehearsal” with another youngster (e.g., an older sibling or mature student in his class) who can act as a friend to provide further practice before the skills are used openly with the youngster’s peer group.

Another strategy to learn the relevant cues, thoughts, and behavioral script is to write Social Stories that can be used by the youngster to improve her social understanding and abilities.

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

6 to 9 years or age—

In this age group, “typical” kids develop greater cooperation skills when playing with their peers and develop more constructive means of dealing with conflict. It is important that young people with Asperger’s and HFA experience more cooperative than competitive games. In competitive games, there are winners and losers and strict rules. Kids on the autism spectrum often require considerable instruction using Social Stories to understand the concepts of being fair and gracious in defeat. Specific aspects of cooperative play that need to be recognized are (a) accepting suggestions rather than being autocratic or indifferent, (b) giving guidance and encouragement, and (c) identifying and contributing to the common goal.

Kids of the spectrum can learn that, when functioning as a cooperative and cohesive group, many activities and goals are easier and quicker to achieve. Parents and teachers can use role play games to illustrate appropriate and inappropriate actions with some time taken to explain why (in a logical and empathic sense) certain actions are considered friendly or not friendly. The unfriendly actions that are particularly relevant for kids with Asperger’s and HFA are (a) coping with mistakes, (b) failure to recognize personal body space, (c) inappropriate touch, and (d) interruptions.

Children on the spectrum can benefit greatly from published training programs designed to improve “Theory of Mind” skills. Programs on Theory of Mind skills also can help these children distinguish between accidental and intentional acts. They may consider only the act from their perspective and not consider the cues that would indicate it was not deliberate. In addition, educational programs on emotions can help them identify the cues that indicate the emotional state of their friends and themselves. The intention is to develop their empathy skills so that they can be recognized as caring friends.

On a side note, there can be different coping mechanisms used by girls with Asperger’s and HFA in comparison with boys. Girls on the autism spectrum are more likely to be interested observers of the social play of their peers and to imitate their play at home using dolls, imaginary friends, and by adopting the persona of a socially adept girl. This solitary practice of the social play of their friends can be a valuable opportunity to analyze and rehearse friendship skills. Some girls on the spectrum can develop a special interest in reading classic literature or fiction that is age-appropriate. This also provides an insight into thoughts, emotions, and social relationships. Girls tend to be more maternal than boys and can facilitate the inclusion of a girl with Asperger’s or HFA within an established peer group. The autistic girl’s social difficulties can be accommodated and guided by peers who value the role of mother or educator. The girl also may be popular because she is honest and consistent and less likely to be spiteful.

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

9 to 13 years of age—

In this age group, there is usually a clear gender preference in the choice of friends. The activities and interests of boys (who may be playing team games or sports) may be considered of little value to the boy with Asperger’s or HFA. Also, he is likely to be less capable than his peers in team games and ball skills, which may lead to teasing and bullying by boys who can be notoriously intolerant of someone who is different. When the boy on the autism spectrum approaches girls, he can be more readily included in their activities, because girls can be more patient, maternal and supportive. However, one of the consequences of being more welcomed by girls than by boys – and spending more time playing with girls than boys – is that the boy on the spectrum can imitate the prosody and body language of his female friends. This can result in further isolation and torment from male peers. The youngster needs a balance of same and opposite gender friends. Some social engineering may be necessary to ensure acceptance by both groups.

During this stage, there is a strong desire for companionship rather than functional play. The youngster with Asperger’s or HFA can feel lonely and sad if her attempts at friendship are unsuccessful. She needs instruction and guidance, and this may be achieved by discussion with supportive friends and grown-ups. Individual peers who have a natural rapport with a youngster on the spectrum can be guided and encouraged to be mentors in the classroom, playground, and in social situations. Their advice may be accepted as having greater value than that of parents and teachers. It is also important to encourage the “special needs” child’s peers to help her regulate her mood, stepping in and helping her calm down if she is becoming agitated or tormented. Peers may need to provide reassurance if she is anxious and to cheer her up when sad. The youngster on the spectrum also needs advice and encouragement to be reciprocal with regard to emotional support, and must be taught how to recognize the signs of distress or agitation in her friends and how to respond.

At this stage, existing remedial programs use strategies to develop teamwork rather than friendship skills. Attending a program on teamwork skills (e.g., sports or employment) may be considered more acceptable to the Asperger’s or HFA teen who may be sensitive to any suggestion that she needs remedial programs to have friends. Another strategy to help the teenager who is sensitive to being publicly identified as having few friends is to adapt speech and drama classes.

The teen on the autism spectrum can learn and practice tone of voice for particular situations, self-disclosure, facial expression, conversational scripts, body language, as well as role-play people she knows who are socially successful. The “special needs” teen sometimes uses this strategy naturally, but it is important to ensure that she chooses good role models to portray.

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

13 years of age to adulthood—


When the individual with Asperger’s or HFA reaches this stage, he usually seeks friends through recreational pursuits and work. Attempts to change a relationship from friend to work mate can present some challenges to the young adult on the autism spectrum. A mentor at work who understands his unusual profile of friendship skills can provide guidance and act as a confidante and advocate. The mentor also can help determine the degree of genuine interest in friendships from the coworkers.

Sometimes adults on the spectrum assume that a friendly smile, act or gesture has greater implications than was intended. There can be a tendency to develop an intense interest or infatuation with a particular person. This “special interest” may dominate their time and conversation and can lead to inappropriate behavior (e.g., stalking). On the other hand, the individual with Asperger’s or HFA can be desperate to have a friend and may become the recipient of abuse (e.g., physical, financial, sexual) through failing to recognize that the other person's intentions are dishonorable. The two-way misinterpretation of signals and intentions can lead to mutual confusion.

Relationship counseling is helpful, but most counselors today have limited knowledge and experience with Autism Spectrum Disorders. An interesting development in recent years is young adults on the spectrum providing guidance through group counseling sessions organized by support groups. These groups are often formed by people with Asperger’s and HFA who want to meet like-minded people. They meet on a regular basis to discuss topics that range from personal relationships to employment issues.

The Internet has become the modern equivalent of the dance hall in terms of an opportunity for young adults to meet. The great advantage of this form of communication to the individual on the spectrum is that she often has a greater eloquence to disclose and express her inner self and feelings through typing rather than conversation. In face-to-face social gatherings, she is expected to be able to listen to and process the other person's speech (often against a background of other conversations), to immediately reply, and simultaneously analyze nonverbal cues (e.g., gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, etc.). However, when using the computer, the individual on the spectrum can concentrate on social exchange using a visual rather than auditory medium.

As in many other situations, people with Asperger’s and HFA may be vulnerable to others taking advantage of their social naivety and desire to have a friend. Young adults on the autism spectrum need to be taught caution and to not provide personal information until they have discussed the Internet friendship with someone they trust. Genuine and long-lasting friendships can develop over the Internet based on shared experiences, interests, and mutual support. It is an opportunity to meet like-minded people who accept individuals on the spectrum because of their knowledge rather than their social persona. People on the spectrum can be somewhat self-centered and peculiar – but can prove to be honest, loyal, and knowledgeable friends.

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

Conclusion—

At any age, having friends provides support and promotes mental health and well-being. Friendships are also very important for social and emotional development. Through friendships, kids learn how to relate to others. They develop social skills as they teach each other how to be good friends. Most kids with Asperger’s and HFA want to have friends, but don’t have the skills to acquire them. Kids on the spectrum who have friends are more likely to be self-confident and perform better academically at school. When these “special needs” kids have difficulty in making friends or in keeping them, it often leads to feeling lonely and unhappy with themselves. Feeling rejected by others often leads to significant distress, too.

Parents and teachers have important roles to play in helping the Asperger’s or HFA youngster develop friendship skills. They set examples for how the youngster can manage relationships. They can also act as coaches, teaching the child helpful social skills and talking through friendship issues to help with problem solving. 

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

==> 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 


SHARE WITH YOUR CHILD:


Is there a link between school shootings and ASD?

“It has been suggested that Chris Mercer, the shooter in the Oregon community college incident, had a developmental disorder (the same claim was made of Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook incident). Are people with autism more prone to violence than the general population? What can be done to address any potential violent tendencies early before tragedy strikes? What are the pros and cons of medication in these cases? I have so many other questions… We have a teenager with Asperger’s who has exhibited aggression, not only toward us, but with a few of his classmates as well. So, I believe we are justified in our concern at this point. (FYI: We do not have guns in our home!)”

We have to careful about jumping to the conclusion that school shootings by people with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism are caused by their disorder. Violence is seldom an isolated problem and is particularly complex in teens and young adults with a developmental disorder. It is important to understand that violent behavior is not always associated with just one condition and can have highly varied sources.

An array of theoretic models has been proposed to understand violent behavior in people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are promising (a) biologic models that suggest the behavior arises from alterations in dopaminergic reward mechanisms, and (b) cognitive models, suggesting that such acts are an outcome of conditioned learning.

Physical violence is often a response to a variety of circumstances and occurs in the context of diverse emotions. It has become fashionable to consider violence as clear-cut evidence of bipolar disorder, particularly when ASD individuals are distractible, restless, and have chronically decreased need for sleep. It is increasingly important to consider, however, whether features of bipolar illness appear together and depart from chronic baseline functioning.

It is also relevant if they are associated with pharmacologic (e.g., serotonin reuptake inhibitor) side effects. In addition, it is useful to know the circumstances preceding and following violent outbursts before selecting a medication. For example, when violence is a response to anxiety or frustration, the most helpful interventions target those symptoms and the circumstances that produce them rather than exclusively focusing on violent behavior.

Unfortunately, the request for treatment typically follows a crisis. But the press for a rapid, effective end to the behaviors may not permit the gathering of much data or discussion. Nevertheless, it is NOT appropriate to “always” begin with one medication or another. Moving to a more “surefire” medication too quickly may mean that the person on the autism spectrum takes on cardiovascular, endocrinologic, and cognitive risks that might be otherwise avoided.

There are reports in support of using serotonin reuptake inhibitors, alpha-adrenergic agonists, beta-blocking agents, “mood stabilizers” (or anticonvulsants), and neuroleptics for violent behavior. When a psychiatrist or other professional has the luxury of time, the support of family, and collaboration with staff where the individual is working or attending school, then an agent that is safer (but perhaps takes a longer time to work or is a little less likely to help) can be tried.

It does seem that those agents with a greater likelihood of success pose greater risks. The most evidence supports use of dopamine blocking agents (neuroleptics) for violence, but the side effects and long-term risks from these agents are greater than from most others agents.

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
 

COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… Generalising is not helpful in any circumstances. It is however frustrating.
•    Anonymous said… I can understand the difficulties of raising a child who has Aspergers. My son 15, is at times difficult to manage. I have asked him if he would like to home school, but said no. He has only one peer he associates with. He doesn't care to converse with others if they are not interested or can talk on his intellectual level. He is a respectful, God loving child...it does take tough love at times, constant life coaching, Lots of Prayers. It's what we can only do. God Bless you.
•    Anonymous said… I don't think just because someone has a certain disorder makes them automatically prone to violence or school shootings. I don't like how the media just lumps each shooting on "well, he had a mental disorder" and try to place blame. But I do believe if all of these young men would have had better access to professional help and less access to firearms, we may have seen less of these types of shootings. We may never know if certain ones had a disorder they were struggling with but they certainly needed help in dealing with their thought processes & emotions if anything.
•    Anonymous said… my heart aches for you. You are doing your absolute best each and every day. I can hear it. Your actions will make a difference. They will.
•    Anonymous said… My son, who was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger's...is almost 17. As a younger child he was not aggressive but as soon as his hormones kicked in we saw a different side to him. He has had a very hard time in our public school system and now is being home schooled. I fought very hard for him in the system but he still could not conform to what they wanted him to do. With all of this said....Over the years he has felt very rejected by his peers. He has longed to connect with them but despite all of his attempts..and there were many...it has never happened. Recently he made a public post about his school's Homecoming Dance stating he wanted to go so bad but knew he couldn't get in since he didn't go there anymore. He proceeded to be inappropriate with his wording and after it was all over we found him being investigated as a threat. It was one of the worst experiences of our lives. I know that he would truly never hurt anyone however in the world we live in things like this cannot be overlooked. I do worry that the more isolated he is from his peers the more anger he will develop. Parenting an almost 17 year old Asperger's young man is the hardest thing I've ever done.
•    Anonymous said… There are all kinds of personalities with ASD. This is not a cookie-cutter issue. While it is true that aggression can go hand in hand with ASD during volatile meltdowns, it's not always true for everyone. My son has mood swings and meltdowns. Everyone does, even NT folks have breakdowns and their own meltdown versions. It goes deeper that ASD. There are correlating mental disorders at play here with these people that do these things. Some of those cases have been proven. Kids with ASD can be clever at hiding depression and their tendencies and obsessions. I think that's why a lot of these kiddos get past the suspicion of their parents. My son for one, has to be bugged and nagged in order to admit when something is bothering him. He is so lovable, even when upset, that he doesn't want to disappoint or upset us, his parents. I'm sure he's not the only ASD kiddo out there to do that.....
•    Anonymous said… Yeah let's put a stigma on them!
•    Anonymous said… Yes some aspies have anger problems however it is up to the parents to get help for their child. My son is 7 and is an aspie. He is not nor has ever been aggressive to anyone in his life. My son having autism does not make him a mental case. If these boys did have HFA they clearly had not be supervised like they should have been or this would have not happened. It is bad enough my son has to struggle everyday to just fit in and now you are trying to say we need to watch him for violence. I think these boys parents should be responsible for there children. They got the guns from somewhere.
•    Anonymous said… You dont have to have asperges to be angry I see much anger and more in the so called unafected people. Blaming is not on my grandson has asperges and yes he has outbursts like any other person on earth .The out bursts come from frustration he is 8yrs old we find asperges experts a great help .
•    Anonymous said… Bullying and harassing children with Aspergers is a very serious offence. Focus and keep an eye on the Bullies. Not the Aspies. They need to be protected. Bullies and Harassers needs more psychological attention . Bullies should be monitored and supervised in a daily basis and scrutinize their criminal behaviour.
•    Anonymous said… Every time there is a new shooting there I wait to see what condition it will be blamed on. Recently it has been ASD, previously it was ADHD and whatever else journalists and the public can come up with to pretend that the real issue doesn't lie in access to massive amounts of deadly weapons. If you want something/someone to blame, try the gun culture and not our ASD children who don't seem to be mass killers in such places that have stricter gun control laws. Yes, some ASD kids can become angry and aggressive but then again so can many neurotypical kids/people. This obsession to blame those with special needs is a deflection from the real concerns.
•    Anonymous said… I don't think Aspies has nothing to do with this issue when Firearms and other dangerous incidents are involve in recent school shootings.
•    Anonymous said… I think ANYONE who feels they do not BELONG are not HEARD or cared for can snap - if that is the link then we need to do more to be kind to everyone, appreciate the special traits of each individual. I know my son hated himself at school until we felt a school that worked with him and not against him, value his special talents. The anger in him has stopped and he is happy and feels accepted smile emoticon
•    Anonymous said… I think as a parent you do what you need to do for your child. Anger management etc can be useful.......................I do worry though that America will do anything to shift the blame. Your country allows this through allowing anyone to get their hands on a gun. I think we could do a lot by nurturing ALL children rather than arming them. As a mum to a teenager who has Aspergers, yes he gets angry (wouldn't you), yes, the world baffles him (wouldn't it you? ) Do I think he would ever intentionally harm anyone ? Absolutely not.
•    Anonymous said… Id blame medication more than autism.
•    Anonymous said… I'm fairly certain other countries have similar rates of ASD occurring, but not similar rates of mass\school shootings. Seems to be about something else to me!
•    Anonymous said… Like it's not a challenge as is for our kids to be accepted now blame the spectrum really come on !!! Stop finding an excuse for someone and realize that the spectrum isn't at fault for these gunman , hell a hunter is killing animals does he have Aspergers ???!!!! See the stupidity in blame game ?!! What's worse is the media even playing into it , hence kids repeating parents or parents letting kids watch news then turn around and go into school and pick on a child bc of Aspergers and then those children knowing that they have Aspergers coming home second guessing themselves or not wanting to go to school bc they don't want to be called a monster or a murder when they get older !! Our kids have enough issues seriously enough is enough a killer is gonna kill wether on spectrum or off period !
•    Anonymous said… So, are we going to bring on the assumption that because a school shooter "had" Aspergers, that all Aspies will be more prone to violent acts? I don't think so. I think these school shooters get the "autism" label so the media can pat them on the head and try to garner sympathy for them. These school shooters didn't have autism; they had pure evil in their blood.
•    Anonymous said… Thank-you for your kind and encouraging wordsJoanne Gibson and Isa! I know we are trying and doing our best to raise our children on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said… This wasn't just an anger problem, this was a deep deated hatred for Christians. Raise your kids right and your wisdom will not leave them [paraphrase, Proverbs]

Please post your comment below…

Help for ASD Kids Who Are Overwhelmed by Social Situations

"Question: How to help a child with ASD to have enough confidence to engage in activities and with people that are outside his comfort zone?"

A common experience among children with ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), is being overwhelmed in social situations. A child with social anxiety faces sensory overload as well as extreme feelings of nervousness around people. As a result, he or she feels uncomfortable participating in many everyday social situations.

Children with social anxiety usually interact easily with parents, siblings, and a few close friends. But noisy crowds, meeting new people, going to new places, or engaging in new and unfamiliar activities can be highly stressful. Instead of enjoying social activities, children with social anxiety dread them — and avoid some of them altogether.



Social anxiety can affect an HFA child’s life in many ways. For example, it can keep him or her from reading aloud in class, volunteering an answer in class, or giving a presentation. He or she may feel too nervous to ask a question in class or go to the teacher for help. Social anxiety not only prevents these “special needs” children from trying new things, it also prevents them from making the normal, everyday mistakes that help them improve their social skills still further.  Social anxiety may also prevent the HFA child from chatting with classmates in the lunchroom or on the playground, joining an after-school club, or going to a party.

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

What can parents do to assist their HFA child in expanding his or her social circle?

Many moms and dads report that they simply wish it was easier for their youngster to make friends and to be less inhibited in social situations. If your youngster is experiencing social anxiety that is interfering in his life, there are several strategies you can employ to address this problem.

Here are 20 ways to help your HFA child feel more comfortable in social situations: 

1. Most kids enjoy sleepovers as a special activity with their friends. However, some children on the autism spectrum report feeling afraid of going to others' homes for sleepovers. Many feel this way due to social anxiety and fears of separating from the parent. Parents can start to help their child feel more comfortable by encouraging sleepovers at a relative's house (e.g., grandparent, aunt, etc.). The youngster should be encouraged to talk about her specific fears about sleepovers so that mom and dad can help her deal with each of these fears directly. Also, moms and dads can encourage their HFA youngster to invite friends to their house first for a sleepover so that she can become used to the activity.

2. Allow your youngster to feel and express his emotions – including anxiety – without the fear of reprisals.

3. If your child’s social anxiety is extreme, you may want to ask your physician about medication. This may be given for just a short time as your child learns ways to get comfortable in situations that have been difficult.

4. Build your youngster’s personal strength through praise and finding things at which he excels. Also have him do jobs around the house so he knows he is contributing to the household.

5. Parents can encourage their youngster to set up "play dates" with other children. Before the youngster leaves school for summer vacation, mom or dad can encourage her to get a list of all her classmates' phone numbers. The youngster can have a special address book or small notebook where her classmates can sign-in their name and phone number. During those summer days when there are no activities scheduled, she can refer back to the list of school friends' numbers to invite a friend over to play.

6. Don't continually reassure your anxious youngster. Let her learn by doing things on her own. Teach her to answer her own questions, and show you believe in her.

7. Exposure therapy is a good method for overcoming excessive anxiety around people. Starting with situations that are not too threatening, you might arrange for your child to practice surviving social encounters (e.g., asking a cashier how much something costs, saying ‘hi’ to the greeter at Walmart, reading a poem to everyone at the dinner table, etc.).

8. Keep your own fears to yourself, and let you youngster know it's safe to explore the world around him.

9. Dance, Boy/Girl Scouts, sports and other clubs are excellent places for HFA kids to meet peers with similar interests. Parents should engage their youngster in a discussion of his interests and help him join a club to develop a hobby (e.g., music, art, model building, karate, etc.). (As a side note, it has been my experience that a lot of kids on the spectrum tend to love karate!)

10. You may want to ask your child to keep a diary of her thoughts as she goes through the day. Sometimes recording your thoughts about uncomfortable social encounters – and what you imagine other people may be doing or saying at the time – will help you develop a new perspective.

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

11. Set expectations for the anxious youngster the same way you would for any other kid; however, understand the pace may be slower, and it may require more work to get there.

12. HFA kids are better able to enter a feared situation – and are less likely to avoid it – when they have a skill to help them relax before entering the feared situation. There are many relaxation CDs for autistic kids to help them learn the skill of progressive muscle relaxation using positive imagery. Through the use of the CDs, these kids can learn to relax themselves in numerous situations that cause them fear.

13. Host a neighborhood get-together, a cookout, a playgroup with both parents and kids, or a music group. These are ways to help HFA kids practice being around peers and other grown-ups.

14. Set consequences for inappropriate behavior, but don't confuse anxiety-related behaviors with “misbehavior.”

15. Scripting is another method to help alleviate social anxiety. Your child can prepare, in advance, a script or some responses to use when placed in an awkward situation. This will help make those situations less threatening.

16. Work together with the other adults (e.g., spouse, teacher, coach, etc.) in your child’s life so he gets a consistent message across settings.

17. Let your youngster know that it is perfectly normal to feel a little hesitant about certain social situations, or meeting new people for the first time. Also, it is natural to feel a bit nervous about raising your hand in class to ask the teacher for help, giving an oral report to the class, or talking to a total stranger. This anxiety is normal, and it will go away the more your youngster practices the situations that he is most anxious about.

18. Role play social situations that have been difficult. For example, some anxious children refuse to call their friends due to fears that they will not know what to say. Role play these and other situations with your youngster (e.g., your youngster can be taught to say something like, "It would be great if you could come over to my house sometime next week! Do you want to get together to play, go swimming, or have dinner?").

19. Acknowledge and praise successes in social situations. Tell your youngster how proud you are of her specific successes. Let her know that you enjoy watching her have so much fun with her peers. Applaud her achievements in trying new things (e.g., making a phone call to order pizza for the first time, ordering for herself in a restaurant for the first time, etc.). Tell your youngster exactly what you like about her behavior, and you will likely see this behavior increase. Also, acknowledge “attempts” at social successes, whether the attempt was successful or not (e.g., “I noticed you tried to talk to your friend, but she was preoccupied with something else and didn’t hear you. Good job. Maybe try again later.”).

20. I’ve saved the best for last: Social skills training may be the greatest method for dealing with social anxiety. Your child can take classes or receive specific training to help him overcome certain fears (e.g., making good eye contact, walking in the school hallways between classes, coping with unstructured time such as lunch, etc.). Assertiveness training and learning positive body language can also be taught in social skills classes.

Over time, the coping methods listed above can help your AS or HFA child control the symptoms of social anxiety – and prevent a relapse. Remind your child that she can get through anxious moments, that her anxiety is short-lived, and that the negative consequences she worries about so much rarely come to pass.


Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD
 
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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...