Thriving in Adolescence and Preparing for Adulthood: Help for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

“I have a 17-year-old son with high functioning autism. A big issue is social. He prefers to be alone rather than be with people. He has acquaintances at school that are nice and friendly with him but really no actual friends. He is perfectly content staying in his room playing video games. He is also very anxious and OCD. He likes things perfectly routine and on schedule. Gets very anxious if things aren't exactly on schedule, if something is out of place, or if doors and windows aren't closed and locked before we leave home or at bedtime. Homework is like dragging a horse to water, and short of drowning it, won't take water! Also, he has poor eating habits and problems with taking showers, combing his hair, and other hygiene-related things. I guess my main question is how can I help him cope better as a teenager – and help him get ready for adulthood? We seem to be so far behind schedule. There are so many things he needs to improve on, but I feel time is running out. Suggestions?”

Adolescents with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) have social, emotional and communication skills deficits. They have a lot of trouble understanding the unspoken rules that govern how they must act around other people in order to get along socially. They often end up with no close friends. In addition, they have a great deal of trouble understanding feelings (including their own), and as a result, they may appear to be detached and uncaring – or at the other extreme, out of control of their feelings.

HFA and AS adolescents also have a hard time reading other’s non-verbal cues (e.g., body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc.), which make up about 70-80% of what we communicate (words only count for about 20%-30% of what we communicate). We need to read non-verbal cues in order to make accurate assessments about what other people are thinking, feeling, and intending. If you can't read non-verbal cues and don’t understand or predict other's thoughts/feelings/intentions, you will repeatedly be “off the page” in interactions with others.

Most teens with HFA and AS experience frequent “social failure” and rejection by peers. Because social encounters are seldom reinforcing (i.e., rewarding), they may avoid social interaction all together. Over time, they can develop a negative attitude about themselves, which fosters poor self-esteem that makes it very difficult to continue attempts to socialize.

So, how can you help your HFA or AS teen to THRIVE during adolescence – as well as prepare for adulthood? Here are some crucial strategies to employ:

1. You and your partner/spouse should have team meetings when your son is absent so you can speak frankly about your concerns without fear that your son may feel a lack of respect for - or faith in - him. Parents should develop and maintain a united front.

2. Most teens become less willing to take a parent’s advice during the adolescent years. So, it would be helpful for you to consider hooking your son up with another trustworthy adult. If you want your son to make better decisions in a certain area (e.g., completing homework in a timely manner), arrange for the encouragement, coaching – or even tutoring – to come from a trusted adult other than you (e.g., a guidance counselor, mentor, uncle, scout leader, youth group leader, a “Big Brother,” social skills group leader, weight room coach, martial arts teacher, etc.).

3. What kind of living situation, employment, and transportation fit your son’s picture of his future at age 18 or 25? Once the goals are set, where can he learn the necessary skills? Consider academic courses, electives, extracurricular activities, and additional services within and outside the high school (e.g. community college, adaptive driving school, etc.).

4. Teach your son when to ask for help, from whom, and how. It’s very helpful to have someone (e.g., a trusted guidance counselor) whose door is always open, and who can coach your son in problem-solving.

5. Teach your son laundry and other self-care or home-care skills by small steps over time. Try to get him to take an elective in some of these areas (e.g., cooking or personal finance) at the high school.

6. Don’t attempt to take your son’s “special interest” away from him. Special interests may change, but whatever the current one is, it remains an important source of motivation, pleasure, relaxation, and reassurance for him.

7. When you need to “have a talk” with your son (perhaps something of a serious nature), side-by-side conversations (e.g., walking, in the car) work best and may be more comfortable for your son than talking face-to-face.

8. Seek out activity-based, practical social skills groups designed especially for “special needs” teens. Participating in such a group, being accepted by group leaders and peers, is probably the most powerful way to alleviate your son’s potential despair at not fitting-in socially and not having any friends. The positive social experiences and new skills he will learn will be assets for the rest of his life.

9. Assuming your son has an IEP, schedule regular monthly team meetings to monitor your son’s progress in order to ensure that the plan is being faithfully carried out. Modify it if necessary. Due to the fact that autistic teens can be so unstable or fragile – and because so many important things must be accomplished in 4 short years of high school – these meetings are very important.

10. Most teens on the spectrum are not ready for a residential college experience right after high school. To decide, use the evidence of how your son did at sleep-away camp or similar samplings of independence, and look carefully at executive function skills (i.e., organizational skills). As an alternative, community colleges offer a lot of flexibility (e.g., easy admission, low cost, remedial courses, the option of a light course load, the security of living at home, etc.). Some college disability offices are more successful than others at providing effective, individualized support. However, if your son continues to live at home while attending college, you may be able to sense trouble, step in with help, or secure supports he needs to succeed.

11. Look for volunteer activities or part-time jobs at the high school or in the community. Be persistent in asking the school to provide help in the areas of career assessment, job readiness skills, and internships or volunteer opportunities. They probably have such services in place for the “typical” teen, but may not realize that your “special needs” teen needs that help, too. They may also not know how to adapt existing programs to meet his unique needs.

12. Instill the essential habit of a daily shower, brushed teeth, combed hair, and clean clothes. Let your son know that teachers, future potential employers, and prospective girlfriends are very put off by poor hygiene. If possible, put your son’s clothes on a well-organized shelf in the bathroom near the clothes hamper.

13. Impersonal, written communication is easier for an HFA or AS teen to absorb (e.g., lists of routines and rules, notes, charts, calendars, etc.).

14. If your son seems like a good candidate for college, take him to visit colleges during the spring vacation weeks of the junior year of high school, or during the summers before junior and senior year. Visits reveal a lot about what environment he will prefer. Purchase a large college guide to browse.

15. Have realistic, modest goals for what your son can accomplish in a given time period. You may need to postpone some plans for career and/or college goals.

16. Multiple stressors during the teen years bring on anxiety and moodiness for all teens (e.g., increased academic pressures, social demands at school, peer pressure, increased social awareness, fears of the future, etc.). A teen on the autism spectrum who doesn’t get the supports he needs during this tumultuous time may be at risk for school failure, acting-out, alcohol and substance abuse, or even suicide attempts. Thus, the more supports that are in place for your son – the better! Build and use any support networks you can (e.g., extended family, close friends, church groups, school staff, therapist, etc.). If you don’t have a good network, consider individual or family therapy for some support during this stormy, demanding life passage.

17. Some parents consider delaying high school graduation in order to ensure that transition services are actually provided under DOE. It may be hard to convince your son to accept this route. However, it may be very helpful if he is going to need a lot of help with independent living skills and employment issues. Services need not be delivered within high school walls. Community college courses, adaptive driving lessons, and employment internships are just a few alternatives to consider.

18. Remember that teens with HFA and AS are relatively immature – both socially and emotionally – as compared to “typical” teens of the same chronological age. Imagine sending a 9-year-old off to high school, or putting a 13-year-old boy behind the wheel of car, or sending that 16-year-old off to college or the army. Adjust your expectations, and make sure your son has appropriate supports.

19. As your teenage son continues to seek independence, be prepared to tolerate and ignore considerable distancing, surliness, or acting out (knowing that it won’t last forever). At the same time, set some firm limits, and pick your battles carefully. Set and enforce only your bottom line rules and expectations (e.g., matters of safety and respect). Write them down. Make sure you and your partner/spouse agree on the rules. Also, give your son choices when possible (but not too many).

20. Having a regular bed time at a reasonable hour is more important than ever. Regular routines of all kinds (e.g., familiar foods, rituals, rules, etc.) are reassuring when your teenage son’s body, biochemistry, and social scene are changing so fast.

21.  Last, but perhaps most importantly, foster the development of self-acceptance. The primary aspect of HFA and AS is the problem of human connectedness (i.e., reciprocity). This refers to the teen’s ability to engage others in a way that makes them feel connected or not. Teens on the spectrum not only seem disconnected, but in some cases, uninterested in being in relationships with others. In some cases, the teenager may wish to connect with others, but simply does not know how. The good news is that you can help your son in these challenges by helping him to develop a set of social skills. The most important skill to possess in this endeavor is called “self-acceptance.” With self-acceptance, your son will be able to capitalize on his strengths rather than trying to “fix” his weaknesses, yet he accepts his weaknesses for what they are.

Your son is probably at the age where he is beginning to realize he is not quite like others his same age. Once he realizes he has some extra challenges as a result of his disorder, he will need to deal with this “life test” – just like dealing with any other life test. We are all going to be tested, and we all have our own unique obstacles to overcome. By using some of the tips listed above, you will help your HFA teen to not only survive – but thrive in adolescence. This, in turn, will boost his self-confidence, which can then lead to possessing the skills needed in becoming a productive, happy adult.

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… Cut back the amount of time he spends engaged with technology including gaming.
•    Anonymous said… Everything you've mentioned is fairly typical of HFA teens. ABA can help tremendously with life skills and social skills, so can a good OT who is skilled at working with high functioning kids. Anxiety can also be helped through therapy and meds if you are interested in going that route. Sometimes, as moms, we can't help them as much as others can. With my kids at least, I'm always the one telling them what to do so I've found that they're more open to hearing suggestions and learning from others. Personally, I think the fact that he locks everything up is a great thing! You know you don't have to worry that he will be mindful of his personal security if he's ever alone! My kids always forget to lock the doors and it drives me nuts! You can try putting limits on gaming but if it quells his anxiety you're likely to get more push back than compliance with that, which won't be good for either of you. As far as homework I just told my son that he can goof off as much as he wants to as long as his work is done (school and chores) and once he started middle school he didn't have issues with that for the most part. You may ask an ABA or therapist to see if they can get out of him what he doesn't like about homework, it may be something that they can help gameplay with him. Good luck to you both, I hope some of this is helpful
•    Anonymous said… I know the feeling. My sons addicted to Xbox. He talks to boys only if they have something in common w him, like a boy from his school gave him game cards, a few everyday. I've never even heard him talk about other kids hardly at all. His school made a 6 person classroom n chose others with similar issues. I really think its becoming an epidemic here. Every person I talk to has a similar child, 16 n under. I don't see many adults but that could just be they weren't diagnosed. I am pretty sure my kids dad has asperger like qualities. Both my biological n non biological nephews are fully autistic.
•    Anonymous said… I never write here just read for support but I can truly relate to this. I thought & felt we were alone. My son is 16. He is very immature for his age (He loves to play with stuffed animals) and is definitely does not mentally have the proper age appropriate skills he needs to move forward into the transitions of becoming an adult. He struggles with multi step directions, impulse control, self advocating, will not communicate with adults he doesn't know, has a terrible anxiety when his routine is messed with and has never had a true "friend" besides his younger brother. I do the best I can to encourage him and educate him about the future but he lives in the now. He doesn't want to drive and struggles to get through a 6 hour school day with breaks. I can't see him working full time for a while he will need to work up to it gradually. My hope is he chooses to go to a technical school but school is not easy for him. But it would get him a little bit farther in life with some kind of degree instead of just a High School Diploma. I know we will be helping and caring for him longer than the average child. There are places that help adults with diagnosis's who test them, find their strengths, train them in that job skill and help them get a job. That is our plan for now. ((Hugs)) I thank you for sharing your fears & know you are not alone in those fears.
•    Anonymous said… I relate with nearly all of this.
•    Anonymous said… I suggest that you just allow the teenage years to extend for longer. Adulthood can come later. We realise now, there is no need to rush and conform. Safety and happiness is the best basis for these lovely kids.
•    Anonymous said… Just here to read suggestions my daughter is the same way, she is 17 with autism that has now progressed to having multiple personality disorder.
•    Anonymous said… Let me know if you find solutions. Our 15 year old boy is the same; poor hygiene, disorganised, thinks he doesn't have to revise because he "knows it all already."
Year 10 exams looming and everyday is a battle with both of us at the end of our tethers
•    Anonymous said… Life is but a race time is only running out of you plan to kick him out. Otherwise continue to challenge offer support and ask him what are his goals. Rule for living with me is have therapist who will help you and have a goal u are working on and contribute as much as you can because I'm disabled too and we are in this together
•    Anonymous said… My 12 yo son is like this. Had genetic testing and OATs testing done. Start with testing, get results, follow the regimen. It's a brain gut connection. Once u Defog the brain the rest will follow. Working on this with my son right now.
•    Anonymous said… My almost 15 year old has been like this for years. Doesn't tick enough boxes for ASC diagnosis but Anxiety, lack of social awareness, hygiene issues and is profoundly deaf so sometimes communication is an issue. I try to limit PC time but he then refuses to go to school. Having just got him back there after a year of refusal, it's hard not to bargain with him. I'm following your post for ideas too. Hope you get some new advice. Xx
•    Anonymous said… My son is 15 and very much like that. He takes medication for his anxiety. It has helped so much. His personal hygiene is terrible. He has no real friends and spends a lot of time gaming. He is into music though and is a wonderful musician who taught himself guitar and piano. He has taken trombone lessons and is so good on it as well. He played in the Colorado Youth Wind Ensemble this year. We take him to cognitive behavioral training and that is helping him on the social side of things. I worry about his future too.
•    Anonymous said… Sounds exactly like my 9 year old son. He has huge blow ups if people touch his things or him. Even if they make him take off his jacket which he wore all through may. I know for a fact most of the Dr.s in my area don't specialize in autism at all. They diagnosed him with just oppositional defiance syndrome.
•    Anonymous said… They tend to develop socially much later than peers... ours is 23 and took off socially around age 19 and 20 but still finds it hard to make friends. I have to say that I see peers not responding to him as much as they could because they can tell he is different or uncomfortable. He is doing much better but still struggles socially. Not all his fault. Still not enough awareness in the public. We tried him in tons of different hobby groups until finally 1 clicked.... his interest in history and Renaissance fairs. Keep seeking either groups or classes that focus on his interests. I have decided to be grateful for his acquaintances in the absence of close friends.
•    Anonymous said… This could be my 11 year old son too x
•    Anonymous said… This is a fantastic link and we have implemented a lot of these strategies, as well as, linking my son up with my friends children, not on the spectrum but with similar interests. This was a positive experience for my son. There have been lots of steps forward and backwards, but by knowing when to push the adolescent and young adult through difficult times, as well as, when you should take a step back, will enable them to take control of their life and themselves.

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Self-Soothing Techniques for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“I have a 5 year old with high-functioning autism. Whenever he encounters something frustrating, it’s like he ‘flips a switch’. He will go from cheerful and engaged to mad and yelling in one split second. I'm not sure if this happens simply because he encounters something hard, or if it is a buildup of frustration over time that results in a big meltdown when he finally hits his tipping point. Maybe he misses his anger cues throughout the day, and that causes a flood of emotions when he confronts something particularly frustrating. Are there some ways to teach him to calm himself so that he doesn’t get to the point of exploding?”

Most kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) struggle with low-frustration tolerance. Frustration is a powerful emotion, and their reactions can be intense in the moment. “Typical” children usually know when their anger buttons are being pushed. And many of them know what they need to do to work through something frustrating in a fairly appropriate manner. However, children with autism don’t enter this world with a pocket full of frustration-management skills. These skills must be taught.

Apparently your high-functioning autistic son experiences low-frustration tolerance and anger-control issues. Use the strategies below to (a) prevent emotional outbursts and (b) help calm your child down once he has launched into a tantrum or meltdown:

1. Use calming music.

2. Try fish oil. It has a calming effect.

3. The repeated act of chewing and sucking provides agitated kids the necessary oral sensory input that helps them relax. This is why some kids will chew the inside of their mouth when they feel agitated. Replace this destructive habit by giving your son food that requires repeated chewing (e.g., celery, carrots, and other crunchy vegetables). He can also chew gum or taffy to help him settle down. Or give him a smoothie to drink using a straw.

4. Teach your son what calm behavior looks like by showing him you can be calm, too.

5. Taking a mini-vacation with guided imagery. Guided imagery is a powerful relaxation tool for HFA and AS kids that pulls their focus to positive thoughts, all the while encouraging creativity. You can check out books on this technique at your local library if you want further information on the subject.

6. Try aromatherapy!

7. Some parents find that reducing or eliminating certain foods from the diet goes a long way in calming the HFA and AS youngster. If your son is a finicky eater, you will need to supplement the diet to make sure he has the fuels needed for his body to function well. Starting the day out with a healthy breakfast balanced with proteins, fats and carbohydrates is important. Keep your son away from caffeinated drinks and anything with added preservatives, coloring and sugar. Also, get in the habit of offering plain old H2O. With plenty of bottled waters that offer fruit flavors and vitamin enhancements, getting kids hydrated is easier now than ever before.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

8. Remove your son from the stressful situation when possible. Lead him to a quiet room or a secluded spot.

9. Allow your son to play in a warm bath or dig in a sandbox. Agitated kids with autism experience a calming effect from the variety of textures.

10. Take your son for a walk. Not only does walking burn off toxic energy, the repetitive thump, thump, thump of feet hitting pavement brings the mind back into focus.

11. Put together a "Boredom Box" that provides creative outlets for your son. Fill this box or plastic storage bin with paint sets, coloring books, crossword puzzles, modeling clay, jewelry making kits, and other artistic areas of interest. Some HFA and AS kids bore easily, and their fast spinning minds need extra stimulation. In the absence of nothing better to do, they will lean on their own devises. You don't want your son doing that. Better that he draw than set the cat on fire (lol).

12. At the time of the inappropriate behavior, be sure to limit your talking to “stating the rule and consequence.” Lengthy debates, explanations and arguments should be avoided at this time. Also, ignore complaints from your son. Further discussion about the rule and consequence can be done at a later time when things have calmed down.

13. Offer your son verbal alternatives to his angry outbursts. For example, “Maybe you could have said this. Why don’t you try that next time?” If trouble is brewing, remind him by saying, “Use your words” – and be sure to praise him when he does (perhaps via a Reward Chart with a happy face for every day he doesn’t act-out when frustrated).

14. Sometimes it is best to leave a child to work through a tantrum by removing yourself from the situation. However, you should always ensure that your son is in a safe environment and not able to hurt himself.

15. Many HFA and AS kids do not know HOW to calm down or even what “calm” feels like. Explain this to your son and discuss it frequently.

16. Listen to your son’s point of view about a particular rule. When appropriate, consider making changes to the rule based on your son’s reasoning. This doesn’t mean you are “giving in” to his demands, rather it means that (at times) you will negotiate with him on a rule and reach a compromise.

17. If possible, find a space in the house to designate as a relaxation space. It does not have to be a large space, but it does need to be away from high-activity areas. This little corner (or even a portion of a walk-in closet) can have a beanbag chair and a few books, coloring books, or other quiet time activities. Encourage your son to go to this space when he becomes upset (but never make this a place of punishment). This special spot in the house is a positive place where he can go to settle down, sort things out, or just hang out when he needs to be alone.

18. Kids who see aggressive or violent behavior played out on TV or in computer games tend to be more aggressive when they play. If your son is consistently aggressive, limit his exposure to it in the media. If he does see it on TV, explain that hitting isn’t a nice way to act and doesn‘t solve problems. Reinforce the message by choosing storybooks and TV shows that promote kindness.

19. Help your son to identify the warning signs leading up to an outburst. He can even make a list of these warning signs and post them in a visible location. If your son is aware of what these signs are, he can then practice a breathing and counting technique.

20. HFA and AS kids thrive in homes that provide routines, consistency and structure. These kids especially need structure and schedules to feel secure in their surroundings. For them, a more "military" approach to routines works better. Waking up, eating meals, doing homework, and bed times should all occur at about the same time every day.

21. Help your son work out what he’s feeling. After he has calmed down from a tantrum, gently talk him through it. Ask him what was bothering him and why (e.g., “Did you think I wasn’t listening to you?”). Your son needs to be taught how to label and manage his feelings, especially frustration and anger. In order to do this, he needs an emotion vocabulary – and you can provide that by asking questions such as, “Were you upset?” … “Did you feel unhappy?” … “Were you frustrated?”…and so on.

22. When your son is beginning to get upset (assuming he doesn’t mind being touched in those moments), give your son a mini-massage. Touch is very important to most kids. Massaging your son’s temples, giving a shoulder rub, or lightly running your fingers through his hair may calm him quickly.

23. While providing structure and consistency are important skills for you to use with your son, it’s also important to be aware of the importance of allowing him some independence and autonomy. As often as is appropriate, allow your son to have opportunities to make his own choices and decisions, respect his choices and decisions, and allow natural “real-world” consequences to occur (when safety is not an issue, of course).

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

24. Identify the early warning signs that your son’s frustration level is building up. HFA and AS kids often don’t recognize frustration. In fact, many times they act out before they realize what happened. Identifying early warning signs helps these young people become more aware of their feelings, which in turn gives them more opportunity to control their responses to these feelings. Some common cues that indicate a child is getting upset and about to lose control include: unkind words, the tone of voice changes to whining or yelling, tensed body, squinting, rolling the eyes, restlessness, withdrawal, unresponsiveness, being easily provoked, pouting, noises with the mouth such as growls or deep breathing, increased intensity of speech or behavior, and clenched teeth.

25. If your son doesn’t have the verbal skills to assert himself in a non-aggressive way, then teach him. Children love “pretend play,” and you can use that to teach your son how to react to the things that tend to trigger his anger. Role-play a situation that would normally have your son going into meltdown, and work out how he can resolve it without getting mad and screaming.

26. When your son gets to the age where he can write proficiently, have him try journaling. This is an excellent way to untangle his frazzled mind and get things off his chest. It will allow him to spill his internal stresses outside himself and onto paper. When the timing is right, develop a daily habit of having your son write a paragraph or two about anything that comes to mind. Eventually, he will get to the guts of what is going on inside of him. Then he can rumple or tear the paper up and throw it away. These private internal thoughts are not for you or anyone else to read, however. So, respect your son’s privacy and let him know he can write anything down without fear of reprimand.

27. Allow your son to perform some heavy chores (e.g., vacuuming, moving objects, cleaning windows and cabinet doors, etc.). This helps him focus on completing a necessary task while using his energy in a constructive way. Heavy chores or intense exercises allow kids to experience sensory input to different muscles and joints.

28. Eliminate clutter in your son's environment to help structure and focus his energies to prevent repeated outbursts.

29. Teach your son to take a break from the difficult situation and to get alone for a few minutes. One of the healthiest responses to frustration at any of its stages is to step back. During that time the child can rethink the situation, calm down, and determine what to do next. Stepping back can help your son stop the progression and determine to respond differently. The length of the break is determined by the intensity of the emotion. A child who is simply annoyed may just take a deep breath. The child who is enraged probably needs to leave the room and settle down.

30. Do not speak in an agitated or annoyed voice to a frustrated child, because this aggravates the problem. Keep your voice calm while instructing your son in concise sentences on what he can do to calm down. Also, you can dim the lights so he receives less sensory input from surroundings that he may feel are harsh and which may further distract him.

31. HFA and AS kids often pay little mind to the effect their behavior can have on everyone else. If your son hits, bites or kicks, get down to his level and calmly ask him how he would feel if someone did that to him. Prompt him to give it some thought by saying things like, “If your sister kicked you like that, it would hurt you and make you cry.”

32. Do not tolerate aggressive behavior in any way, shape or form. As with every other aspect of parenting, consistency is paramount. The only way to stop your son from being aggressive is to make a House Rule that aggression is not acceptable.

33. Deep breathing is an easy technique autistic kids can use to defuse anger. Show your son what to do by placing your hand on your belly and getting him to do the same while taking in three deep breaths. The hand on the belly serves as a handy visual cue that you can use to remind your son to take a step back from what’s bothering him.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

34. HFA and AS kids have difficulty remaining calm in a hectic environment. Clearing the clutter and taking a "less is more" approach to decorating can reduce the sensory overload. Your son’s bedroom especially should be free of clutter. Use plastic bins to organize and store all those little plastic treasures (that we parents commonly refer to as "junk") and small toys. Open the curtains to provide natural lighting. Keep posters and wall hangings to a minimum. Paint your son's bedroom in calming muted colors instead of bright primary colors.

35. Check your own stress levels, because most kids are often emotional barometers for their parents. Before you can calm down your son’s anxiety, you must first learn to calm down your own first. Lead by example, because you can’t put out a fire with another fire.

36. Allow your son to use his negative energy in a fun way (e.g., jumping, spinning, running, climbing, swinging, play-wrestling with pillows, punching a punching bag, etc.).

37. Your son will learn to manage anger and frustration by watching the way you manage yours. The irony is that an aggressive youngster can often be a major trigger for parents to explode. Deal with this situation as soon as possible, using a calm voice to express how you feel rather than yelling. And just as you expect your son to apologize for bad behavior, get into the habit of apologizing to him if you lose your temper inappropriately.

38. Lastly, if your son’s aggressive behavior is disrupting your home and putting family members or others at risk, and he reacts explosively to even the mildest discipline techniques, see your doctor. He or she may be able to refer you to a child psychologist or counselor (preferably one who specializes in autism spectrum disorders) who can teach you new ways of interacting with your son that will help you manage his anger and frustration more effectively.

The goal of self-soothing techniques is to reduce both the emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that frustration causes. Your son can't get rid of - or avoid - the things or the people that upset him, nor can you change them, but he can learn to control his reactions.


Sensory Diet for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

A sensory diet is the strategic use of sensory tasks. Most of us use sensory strategies without thinking about it (e.g., drinking coffee to stay alert, listening to soothing music to relax, jogging to reduce stress, etc.). However, most kids on the autism spectrum have sensory needs that require a more intentional approach. A sensory diet is a method for meeting the needs of kids with sensory processing disorders so they will be able to engage in social interactions, sustain attention to task more effectively, focus on their academic progress, and self-soothe.

==> Click here for more information...


High-Functioning Autistic Teens and Oppositional Defiance

“I have a 14-year-old son with high functioning autism who behaves in a way that mystifies me...I cannot do anything right, according to him. I had never heard of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and after reading the symptoms, I think that he should be seeing a doctor about possibly having this disorder. I have noticed symptoms like the ones mentioned in him since he was very young.  I have tried to talk to him about it and he has told me that he feels out of control at times with his temper, especially when it comes to people of authority. I have learned to not talk about anything he might turn on. I e-mail him across the house and have learned to speak to him in his language. Is it possible for a child to have both disorders? What action should parents take in these cases?”

Many parents have difficulty recognizing the difference between a strong-willed, emotional teen with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Aspergers’ (AS) and one with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Clearly, there's a range between the usual independence-seeking behavior of teens and out-of-control defiant behavior. It's normal to exhibit oppositional behaviors at certain stages of an adolescent’s development. However, your teen’s issue may be more serious if his behaviors:
  • Have lasted at least six months
  • Are persistent
  • Are clearly disruptive to the family or school environment

The following are behaviors associated with ODD:
  • Tantrums
  • Spiteful or vindictive behavior
  • Refusal to comply with adults’ requests or rules
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Deliberate annoyance of other people
  • Blaming others for mistakes or misbehavior
  • Argumentativeness with parents, teachers and other authority figures
  • Anger and resentment
  • Aggressiveness toward siblings and peers
  • Acting touchy and easily annoyed
  • Academic problems

Oppositional defiant behavior often occurs along with other behavioral or mental health problems, such as autism spectrum disorders, depression, ADHD, and anxiety. The symptoms of defiant behavior may be difficult to distinguish from those of other behavioral or mental health problems. It's important to diagnose and treat any co-occurring disorders, because they can create or worsen irritability and defiance if left untreated.

Stressful changes that disrupt an HFA or AS teen's sense of consistency increase the risk of disruptive behavior. However, though these changes may help explain disrespectful or oppositional behavior, they don't excuse it.

If your HFA or AS teen has signs and symptoms common to ODD, make an appointment with your physician. After an initial evaluation, the physician may refer you to a mental health professional who can help make a diagnosis and create the right treatment plan for your teen.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Here's some information to help you prepare for an appointment:
  1. Write down your family's key personal information (e.g., factors that you suspect may have contributed to changes in your teen's behavior).
  2. Make a list of stressors that your teen or close family members have recently experienced.
  3. Write down the signs and symptoms your teen has been experiencing – and for how long.
  4. Take a trusted family member or friend with you to the appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed.
  5. Make a list of your teen's key medical information (e.g., any physical or mental health conditions that he has been diagnosed with).
  6. Write down the names of any medications your teen is taking (include any over-the-counter medications).
  7. Write down questions to ask the physician in advance so that you can make the most of your appointment.

Questions to ask the doctor if your HFA or AS teen is referred to a mental health provider include:
  1. What treatment approach do you recommend?
  2. What factors do you think might be contributing to my teenager’s issues?
  3. What else can I and my family do to help my teenager?
  4. Should he be screened for any other mental health problems?
  5. Should I tell his teachers about this diagnosis?
  6. Is this condition likely temporary or chronic?
  7. Is my teen at increased risk of any long-term complications from this condition?
  8. Do you recommend family therapy?
  9. Do you recommend any changes at home or school to encourage my teen’s recovery?
  10. What do you believe is causing his symptoms?
  11. Are there any other possible causes?

Being ready to answer the physician's questions may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth. You should be prepared to answer the following questions from your physician:
  1. What are your teen's symptoms?
  2. When did you first notice these symptoms?
  3. How would you describe your teen's home and family life?
  4. How often over the last six months has your teen been touchy, easily annoyed or deliberately annoying to others?
  5. How often over the last six months has your teen been spiteful or vindictive, or blamed others for his own mistakes?
  6. How often over the last six months has your teen been angry or lost his temper?
  7. How often over the last six months has your teen argued with you or his teachers?
  8. How often has he refused to follow through with your rules or requests?
  9. How have you been handling your teen's disruptive behavior?
  10. How do you typically discipline your teen?
  11. Have your teen's teachers reported similar symptoms?
  12. Has your teen been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
  13. Do any particular situations seem to trigger defiant behavior in your teen?


Treating oppositional defiant behavior (whether or not your teen has a formal diagnosis of ODD) involves several types of psychotherapy and parent-education training. The cornerstones of treatment for oppositional defiance usually include:

1. Social skills training: Your teen may benefit from therapy that will help him learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.

2. Parent training: A mental health provider with experience treating oppositional behavior may help you develop skills that will allow you to parent in a way that's more positive and less frustrating for you and your teen. In some cases, your teen may participate in this type of training with you, so that everyone in your family develops shared goals for how to handle problems. As part of parent training, you may learn how to:
  • Remain calm and unemotional in the face of opposition.
  • Recognize and praise your teen's good behaviors and positive characteristics.
  • Offer acceptable choices to your teen, giving him a certain amount of control.
  • Limit consequences to those that can be consistently reinforced and last for a limited amount of time.
  • Establish a schedule for the family that includes specific meals that will be eaten at home together, and specific activities one or both parents will do with the teen.
  • Avoid power struggles.
3. Individual and family therapy: Individual counseling for your teen may help him learn to manage anger and express his feelings more healthfully. Family counseling may help improve your communication and relationships, and help members of your family learn how to work together.

4. Cognitive problem solving training: This type of therapy is aimed at helping your teen identify and change through patterns that are leading to behavior problems. Research shows that an approach called collaborative problem solving — in which you and your teen work together to come up with solutions that work for both of you — is highly effective at improving oppositional-related problems.

Although some parent-management techniques may seem like common sense, learning to use them in the face of opposition isn't easy, especially if there are other stressors at home. Learning these skills will require consistent practice and patience. Most important in treatment is for you to show consistent, unconditional love and acceptance of your HFA or AS teen — even during difficult and disruptive situations. Don't be too hard on yourself. This process can be tough for even the most patient mom or dad.


Parenting Strategies—

At home, you can begin chipping away at problem behaviors in your HFA or AS teen by practicing the following:
  • Develop a united front. Work with your partner/spouse to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.
  • Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your teen. Asking your teen to help develop that routine can be helpful.
  • Set limits and enforce consistent reasonable consequences.
  • Recognize and praise your teen's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible (e.g., "I really liked the way you helped pick up your room tonight").
  • Pick your battles carefully. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.
  • Model the behavior you want your teen to exhibit.
  • Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and teen being together.
  • Assign your teen a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless he does it. Initially, it's important to set your teen up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve, then gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations.
  • Take care of yourself. Counseling can provide an outlet for your own mental health concerns that could interfere with the successful management of your teen's defiant behavior. If you're depressed or anxious, that could lead to disengagement from your teen, which can trigger or worsen oppositional behaviors. Let go of things that you or your teen did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate. Learn ways to calm yourself, and take time for yourself. Develop outside interests, get some exercise, and spend some time away from your teen to restore your energy.
  • Remind yourself that your teen’s defiance is most likely a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent catastrophe.

At first, your teen is not likely to be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to his behavior. Setbacks and relapses are normal, so be prepared with a plan to manage those times. In fact, behavior often temporarily worsens when new limits and expectations are set. However, with persistence and consistency, the initial hard work will pay off with improved behavior.

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

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


•    Anonymous said… Absolutely possible! My daughter has High Functioning Autism and ODD. We have found that by changing how we approach certain triggers, we can avoid the ODD eruptions. If she does blow up, we've also learned that it is not the time to push her or try to persuade her unless it is a safety issue. she can only have a learning experience once she has calmed down.
•    Anonymous said… Following. Yes please which meds have been given and which worked best in your situations
•    Anonymous said… I am exhausted! What meds have helped? I have a 17 year old with Aspergers and a suspected ODD diagnosis.
•    Anonymous said… I believe it to be under the umbrella... ocd and add/odd are subcharacteristics of HFA and Aspergers. My son was orignianlly diagnosed ODD/OCD/Major Depression (missing the BIGGER picture for a couple of years until finding a doctor who knew what Aspergers looked like). Once medicated (this took time to find right fit), years of counselling and finding something he enjoyed and was good at, much of the ODD symptomology extinguished. It's understandable how one would be oppositional when his/her life is so "out of control"- anger, fear, frustration all leads to a normal brain to want to gain control over his/her environment; couple that with the angst of teenage years for the neurotypical as well and you have a big mess. Most difficult years for me and mine were ages 11 to 16. Again, medication helped tremendously; in addition to, all of the other components to a comprehensive plan (counselling, family support). I point to the medication because if one is crawling out of his/her own skin...behavior modification will not work. My son is 31 today, still medicated and is successful and happy (gainfully employed, lives on his own, is delightful). It's a long hard road, but worth the pain.
•    Anonymous said… I do think it is unfortunate to label a particular behaviour as a disorder. We have had occasions over the years when my son has dug his heels in and refused to do as expected of him. He quite logically explains that he is unable to comply with our expectations at times when he doesn't feel in control of a situation and feels over-anxious. He is 19 now and recently started playing guitar. A family friend helps run a folk club and invited us to go along. I was amazed the first time that Oliver got up when invited and performed in front of everybody. He attended again on the next meeting and again performed. My friend had arranged to pick up us again a couple of weeks later and I was so looking forward to this but Oliver made it clear that he wan't going to go this time. I was disappointed but nothing would persuade him. AFTER the event when I was able to talk to Oliver calmly he explained that he just hadn't felt ready with his new song but would go again in the future when he felt better prepared. We have been a couple of times since. The real problem over the years was always my own frustration with his decisions when they interfered with my own plans but if I stayed objective and calm we could in due course talk things over together. I could help Oliver understand my disappointment when things didn't go as planned and Oliver would help me see how difficult it was for him to do things if he was over-tired, unprepared, stressed or just having a bad day.
•    Anonymous said… I have looked at PDA and although there are similarities with ODD and PDA, our son is definitely ODD and both of these diagnoses can operate in ASD. We have been on our journey for more than five years and with therapy, medication and great support we've made incredible accomplishments with our son. It is as many have said though...very exhausting.
•    Anonymous said… PDA strategies are ery different to strategies for ODD. Reducing demands and providing an anxiety free environment is ideal. Anxiety free isnt possible but a happier calm child has a better chance of learning strategies to deal with demands.
•    Anonymous said… I was that child...tho they did not have a label for it back then. I would recommend to be respectful and ackowledge his feelings but at the same time dont walk on egg shells. Use "i" statements like "i need u to..." and avoid labels like "youre" this and that etc. At the same time clear boundaries and expectations and a consistant reward and consequence system. Another huge thing is the consequence having something to do with the action and not being a punishment. I know this wouldve helped if my parents had known better. but i got a lot of name calling from my parents and was made fun of by kids at school as well as my parents. It cannot have been easy for them and they mustve gotten some relief out of letting off some steam. A psychiatrist even recommended that they slap me (yes a westwood, ma psychiatrist who is still practising). I would say that has been the most detrimental thing to my aspergers and ODD and would not recommend it.
•    Anonymous said… I've never heard of ODD but it sounds like my daughter might have this. Thanks for mentioning it.
•    Anonymous said… My aspie gas O.D.D. & believe, it's a challenge!!!!
•    Anonymous said… My daughter was dx with ODD 10 years ago and it never sat right with me, after researching PDA I believe she has that
•    Anonymous said… My son has Asperger's and O.D.D. We are also questioning P.D.A. but CAMHS aren't keen on giving it as a diagnosis. Worth reading about it though. My son is 15, not hit puberty yet and it's really hard going most of the time x
•    Anonymous said… My son has both its very difficult and trying  😣
•    Anonymous said… My son is 14 and is diagnosed ODD, Aspergers and Mixed Mood/Anxiety. His first diagnosis was ODD aged 9.
•    Anonymous said… My son is on seraquel, Prozac and trazadone ..he's 18 and doing much much better, hang in there!
•    Anonymous said… My son was diagnosed when he was 4 with ASD ADHD and odd its a real challenge to say the least..
•    Anonymous said… My sons defiance seems to come from anxiety. Wanting to gain/regain control because he frequently feels powerless or vulnerable. Not sure if he has ODD but giving him explanations about why things need to be done and helping him find ways to feel more in control and powerful sometimes has really helped. The more I push the more he pushes back. You have to bend and manoeuvre. Tiring and time consuming but works for us.
•    Anonymous said… Not only possible..very likely, Autism always pairs with another disorder from what I have been told through the many hospitals and psychiatrists we have seen, my son who is 18 now was diagnosed with both way back when, it's a long hard struggle and a lot of work, do the testing for diagnosing ..stay strong friend!
•    Anonymous said… ODD and Aspergers combined have been the most challenging diagnoses I have ever encountered! I am worn out as a parent. Meds have helped but it has been a tough journey.
•    Anonymous said… Our 11 year old is on the Spectrum as high functining (aka Aspergers) with multiple diagnoses, one being ODD. We have him in therapy and he's learning how to manage it. It is definitely exhausting, but very treatable. Hang in there...if you can find a support group for yourself...you'll find that helps.
•    Anonymous said… Our son was diagnosed at age12 with high function autism. He is now 15 and I strongly feel he also has ODD.
•    Anonymous said… Please research PDA. People with ASD with Demand avoidance behaviours usually have Pathological Demand Avoidance. If they dont have ASD then they probably have ODD. PDA is part of the Autism spectrum.
•    Anonymous said… Ugh, what do you do when this keeps on into adulthood?
•    Anonymous said… Vincent my 4 yr old seems to have ODD. I'm not sure if it is a symptom of Autism or a standing disorder in him. I was told, I needed to verify if he was indeed not Autistic because ODD can be a symptom of Autism. Not sure how I feel about my developmentally delayed child possibly being diagnosed as Autistic when I am not even sure if I believe he is, and know in my heart that he could be due to how he is AND his delays. I'd hate for him to be misdiagnosed whem he very well may just have ODD. So, If I were you I would research and speak to multiple professionals about weather or not this is a symptom of or an actual disorder for your individual child.
•    Anonymous said… We have tried several meds throughout the years (Clonodine, Intuniv, Prozac etc)! What worked the best for my child was Seroquel.
•    Anonymous said… Yes our son was diagnosed with Aspergers and ODD at 15, although he had these symptoms for years...The medicine Lamictal has really helped!
*   Anonymous said...What do you recommend for my 15yo high-functioning ASD with ODD who absolutely refuses anymore counseling or meds? We’ve done both over the years, with no real success. The meds we’ve tried have all had side effects that make him feel horrible. He also hates how they numbed his appetite, and he said they made him super quiet “like a zombie” (teachers confirm this). They didn’t improve his grades (he also has dyslexia & math LD)The counseling, though good advice from the counselors, had no effect on him outside the counseling room, and now he refuses to go anymore. If we try to force it, with consequences and such, we get the out-of-control, angry, horrible behavior nonstop…it’s unbearable. So we’ve been on no meds & no counseling for 6 months now. Behavior is inconsistent, but grades and motivation at school are still bad. Still rude and illogical when the mood hits, but we avoid power struggles and allow for reasonable compromises when he’s trying to exert control. He has good and bad days. It’s like he’s in that gray gap- not bad enough to force meds or professional treatment, but not on the healthy road to success with his choices and behaviors. Any advice? Again, meds and counseling he refuses at this point. Thanks for any advice.
*   Anonymous said...I have a 10 YO Son ASD, ODD, working with the local health food store on supplements, 5 HTP heavy metal detox etc. To help him to be able to control himself. It has worked for tons of friends, I will keep you posted. Also homeopathic remedies are helping too.

Post your comment below…

COMMENTS & QUESTIONS [for May, 2017]

Do you need some assistance in parenting your Aspergers or HFA child? Click here to use Mark Hutten, M.A. as your personal parent coach.


Hi Mark, all the way from little old New Zealand.. We have just recently come across your online support group and so many things ring true to what we are going through at the moment with our Miss 14 ( we've been in a living nightmare for the last year and a half )
And no light at the end if the tunnel. we have almost given up.  I get called a f***ing whore, s**t, b**ch on a daily basis, get food thrown over me, over walls, floors etc telling me how disgusting the food  I make is. That stuff is only the start of it.   She has currently decided that we, her parents, are the worst people in the world and has run away to stay with her also 14 year old boyfriend and his family.  We have told her we love her, but this time it is her choice to make. She either wants to be here, or she doesn't.  That this time, we won't stop her, no police etc, and that she can come home when she is ready.  As long as she's ready to to start making a change and also making an effort. It's been almost 2 weeks.




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Basically, my son is non-violent, very lovely, smiley, very well-behaved [loves to co-operate & collaborate] & we can see how he tries hard to be calm & open to correction. All the adults invariably love him for his behaviour & purity of thought. Even his carer said she absolutely loves him & he won role model of the year because he is caring, kind & self-controlled from intensive 1 on 1 training. Yet, he has no social skills & always tell the truth 100% of the time however tactless.

I find coaching him social skills very difficult as he's only an enthusiastic listener at his own familiar home. Outside of what is thoroughly familiar like being comfortable at home & with adults, he days dreams & fails to listen when youngsters talk about anything that is not within his sphere of obsessive interest - he zones out... another world. This zone-out inability to listen to a turn-taking conversation frustratingly for all but himself happens almost all the time. If you play/talk snooker/music with him, he would take turns, easily, no problem. He would not zone out but how many youths love snooker as obsessively or plays as much music as he does? None. He has not met any. Not even one - his age.


We are looking for a therapist for our son to also help him as we go through the process. We live in Alpharetta GA in case you know of anyone. We have a very high functioning son and somehow we have forgotten in the process that he has Aspergers. He is now 16 and after two years of fighting with him, we are just now realizing that while he has grown so much,  he still has areas that we need to focus. I feel terribly that we did not realize this before.

He is in a college prep program and really doing extremely well, but here is my question. The environment he in at 16 is stressful, he is making friends and doing well in classes. But home life is full of melt downs and challenges. He hides out in his room and will not talk to us about any issues or conversations so we cannot help him. He truly dislikes being told he is different and hates it when we tell him he has any social or emotional challenges. Do we continue to push him to understand his limitations  - so he understands he still needs to partner with us? He doesn’t want to be considered different and thinks that HFA means he is not smart or able. I have not been able to change this perception for him at all. Thoughts? Advice?


Hello Mark,

I am a single mom with a 15 years old son.  I had triplets which are 22 all scholar and athletic. I home school them for several years and had never had an issue.  My  younger son on the other hand always been an issue with school, social and activities.  He was diagnose with ADHD at 9 years old.  I have been able to help him with school until this year.  He just started high school and struggle to get a "d" he is failing 9th grade.  I am getting lots of pressure from
My ex and the other children. They are telling me I am too soft not disciplinary enough.  I see my son with so
Much anxiety that I don't want to add to it.  I don't know what else to do with him.  We had several session with a counselor and she mention to have him
Tested for asperger.  I have to wait until August for insurance to pay for it but when I read the symptom, He has at least 75% of it.  So now I do see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I thought I was going crazy for a while. He doesn't do  anything that I tell him. He doesn't want any of my help.  I just need a little direction since this is new to me.  I will buy your audio book tonight.  If you have any other advise, it would be awesome.


My friend teen daughter is way out of control.  Besides trying blackmail to get what she want now she is cutting and uses the excuse that she is being abused at home.. I know that she is not being abused. Example last week she came home drunk after her curfew.  Her mother scolded her for drinking so she went to her room and cut her wrists if her mother had not heard her fall to the floor she would have bleed to death.  When the police questioned her she told them that she was being abused now the mother faces losing not only one child but her youngest daughter also.  The teen refuses to go to any consoling.   It appears that the police only believe the teen on what is going on.  I have even talked to them and they do not seem to listen to anyone but the teen.


Dear Mark:
I have been following your website for months now hoping that someone would ask about helping their child through retirement. My wife and I are "late in life" parents to a beautiful 12 year old aspie daughter. My wife is a teacher and I a hospital chaplain. Our daughter has, according to her specialist, abilities with communication, empathy, compassion and the arts that are not often seen. She still struggles socially but is better than most.

My wife within the last week has been told by a neurosurgeon that she must have a complex cervical fusion surgery that will likely impact her voice and so he recommends retirement due to that and the recovery time necessary. She has decided to retire early to give herself the best chance at a good recovery. However, our daughter is transitioning from the private elementary school across town to the middle school where my wife used to teach and she expects that her mother is going to be there next year.

Question - how do you tell a pre-teen aspie that the dream that they have had is now not going to happen and that it is nobody's fault? My daughter has never been the type to be ultra angry or violent but I can see that this is going to be a real difficult situation for all of us with a possibility of huge fall out. what are your suggestions?


Once again I am reaching out to a discrete group of clinicians with experience in evaluating or treating young men with ASD who were charged criminally for engaging in inappropriate  behavior, typically online viewing of child pornography. I am a criminal defense lawyer.  Over the past decade, I have become increasingly involved, directly or indirectly, in defending these young men.   

 I need to get the benefit of collective experiences on a question, hopefully in a way that only puts a small burden on you, but which may provide enormous help to a present clients.  I am only asking around in the belief that it may be possible to provide what I need without spending a great deal of time. 

I am currently working on a cases initially involving a young men with ASD who was arrested for  viewing child pornography.  However when being interrogated he volunteered that several years earlier he had touched a much younger niece under her underwear.  That is difficult enough to deal with.  But see what happened at the time and how it affected the cop: 

During this interview as he would recall the specific details he would smile uncontrollably and giggle. It was only during the time he was talking about the actual sexual assaults of the child. It was actually disturbing even to me as he went over the two assaults. What was disturbing specifically was the smile and laughter, the apparent satisfaction while in the moment of the assault. It was clear that he was reliving the moment and it was bringing him satisfaction while explaining it to me . . . He said ‘even going over what I’ve done I don’t consider myself what the TV calls sexual predators. I’m not going after kids.’ I then said ‘yeah you’re not ripping kids out of your neighborhood and tying them up in your basement.’ When I said that he got really excited and giggled with a huge smile from ear to ear and said ‘no.’ This actually was so disturbing to me that I had to move my chair away from him and stand up. . .  .  I then asked him what would prevent him from touching any other children in the future, he just again smiled and giggled . . . At this point I confronted him and told him that it was disturbing to me that he giggled and appeared excited when we were talking about assaulting little girls. He agreed that he could ‘see how it would be disturbing.’ I then explained that it was disturbing and scary to me that when I talked about touching other little girls that he was smiling and giggling, clearly excited. He responded ‘yeah that’s bad.’”   

This is a perfect and catastrophic example of misinterpreting someone with ASD because of their inappropriate facial expressions. Of course the clinical and family history confirms that smirking, etc. is the way he reacts under stress or when being criticized, a very common experience. However, if not explained to the satisfaction of the prosecutor and judge, I see no chance of avoiding a criminal conviction and sex offender registration and substantial jail time. 

I would like to provide as many examples as I can this kind of misunderstanding.  So I am looking for examples in literature, or from clinical practices of individuals who have had similar problems, especially with the police,  that I can use as examples.  And whatever useful information I get I will try to make it available to other defense lawyers seeking to help the same population. 

As you can see from the attached, I am relying on fairly general stuff, in literature and individual reports from individuals on web sites like Wrong Planet.  I need something more.  Any technical additions or references you can think of for me to add, I would appreciate greatly. 


My 10 year old daughter was abused in fostercare before i adopted her. I have had her most of her life but by age 5 her behavior was more than tipical 5 year old behavior. By age 10 she was diagnosed as having RAD. She is having trouble at home, school and any place that she is not allowed to be totally in control. Is there help for her to ever be able to cope with the rules of living in the real world? Since there is no medicine that will help her the psychiatrist discharged her and in her DC comment she let me know there is alternate housing when and if it becomes more than i can handle.  
I'm not looking for an alternative I'm  looking for perminant help for my child.


Dear Mark,
              I have sought out help throughout the web and you seem to be the only one that can offer me advice. For that i am thankful. My 15 year old son seems to think that his physical motions upon me is the only manner inwhich he can gain control of me. Recently, he picked up a pair of scissors and began marking up my wife's dresser. I asked him to stop but he refused to do so. I then took his hands and raised them. Upon doing so, he managed to strike me with the scissors in his hand to my right eye. I went to emergency and was taken care of. Afterwards, he muttered death threats against me. I am 57 and i was raised properly. I have always leaned on what was right. I now know that my son smokes pot. Weather or not he has done other drugs i am uncertain. We currently have CAS involved but they do not help me despite me asking. I also have called the police yet again, without assistance. How or where do i proceed?


Good morning. I am now re-reading your ebook as my marriage has hit a downswing again. My husband and I have tried therapy in the past and it was a complete nightmare, and then for several years he refused to go. When our one son (he is 5 now) became diagnosed with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Sensory Processing, it became very clear to me that my husband is also likely on the spectrum. Additionally, my husband's ex-wife who is still close to our family (mainly through our children and sharing blended family holidays) sent me an article a few years ago on living with a partner with Aspergers and told me that her marriage to my husband now makes perfect sense to her. After reading that article and literature afterward that I so closely identified with, it was as if I could have written the article myself. Anyway, back in July of 2016 after threatening to separate from my husband and actually meaning it, my husband agreed to go back to a therapist with me to work on our communication issues (is as if we speak completely different languages and live on different planets). I brought up autism spectrum to my husband as possible reasoning for our communication difficulties and my opinion of this was not taken well at all, so I put that to rest as long as we were still progressing toward getting some professional help with or without a diagnosis. I did however chose a marriage and family therapist that was on my son's treatment recommendation list hoping he might be better equipped to bridge communication difficulties of couples both on and off spectrum better than a traditional therapist. The therapist is a Gottman therapist (John Gottman Model). So far we have made quite a bit of progress in how we communicate and relate to one another (going every two weeks or so) and have read the major Gottman text, but even still we get into cycles of arguments where the downswings are almost unbearable. I love my husband and don't want to separate, but we also need to be able to apply the tools we have been given consistently to maintain more peace in our home than not and have an emotionally stable environment for ourselves and our kids. When I am asked to share my feelings by him and do, my feelings are met with much resistance and I'm accused of criticizing him and trying to hurt him. He will act like he cares and shows concern until I tel him my actual feelings and then he gets angry and tells me that he is unaffected by me and what I think of him and tells me he doesn't feel empathy for me. I do not understand my husband. We were high school sweethearts too (didn't understand him then and don't now either). I find myself getting very offended by my husband and how he talks to me (or doesn't speak to me) and I don't want to be offended and anxious so much of the time, but I just am. 

So, my questions to you are- 1.) in your professional opinion as a therapist and expert on couples on and off spectrum- Can couples make substantial progress without a diagnosis because it is not likely my husband will ever be professionally diagnosed, as "I am the one with the problem that needs to change, not him." He seems to think that being labeled with ASD is some sort of character flaw that he couldn't bear and I'm awful and abusive to even mention it as a possibility. I willingly go to my psychiatrist for my ADHD meds and go to my own personal therapist as needed or in times of situational crisis. He is perfectly supportive of my son's diagnosis, but even mentioning a possible diagnosis for him appears to be out of the question. So, I want to know if we are wasting our time in therapy without a diagnosis? Please, please, please advise. Thank you so much.


Hello Mark
Do you have suggestions for helping parents in the launching process of  a 36 yo individual dx with Asperger’s who has a team around him of professional supports but he refuses to share information with the parents.  The parents see the same behavior in the home and wonders why he is not working and not moving out?  He appears capable but complains of anxiety and says he is getting support for 15 years?  How can the parent differentiate between narcissim, entitlement, or ordinary fears of adulating  -- between the challenges of Asperger’s? They are frustrated acting on their own without being kept in the loop.  They have fears if they ask their son to leave the family home they may find him lying in the streets.  I can’t imagine why they would leave the parents out of the loop of care plan, unless the son is  happily living the life he has chosen without having to take the responsibility of moving forward.
We recently attended a conference with Temple Grandin and other then saying “tell him to go work”, I didn’t find her suggestions very helpful.  This is a more complex question.   The parents often encourage him to go get work work and have found him many jobs but he says the jobs are just too stressful.  They feel unsafe or fearful for him when they consider pushing him.  They don’t know enough about his experiences to make a rational decision towards launching.  Nor do they have support.  Unfortunately, there is no support for parents here for adults dx with Asperger’s.   Just thought you might have some suggestions.


My brother, a minister, and his wife adopted a baby 13 years ago
Joshua's mother was on drugs and drank
He was born 3 months premature and no one knew what could happen

He has Asbergers
Is very smart with electronics
Reads well but has no comprehension skills

He doesn't listen well to his parents
He explodes and has no control
He has no social skills

My sister-in-law has been taking him to Massachusetts to an organization that works with brain waves ... it is costly and I have not seen much progress

Can he have a normal life
He has been home schooled along with going to christian schools but neither has been too helpful - he doesn't listen to his mother and gets frustrated at school which makes him explode at home

My brother doesn't make a lot of money
my sister-in-law won't send Joshua to a public school in Bethlehem as they live in the inner city ... therefore he has not been getting much interaction with other kids or school

Are there public schools that can be helpful and how do you find them

Do you know anything about organizations that say they can help readjust the brain through various lessons ... if might be something for the future but now I think it is just taking money from parents who are desperate

I worry that Joshua will get worse as he gets older and though he has a loving family, he doesn't respond well ... he knows he is adopted and wishes a rich family had adopted him

I wish there was something that can help these kids ... more so with the anger issues

I don't know if you have any suggestions, but anything you say would be appreciated.


Hi Mark:
I am actually not a parent!  I am a defense attorney representing a client in federal court with documented diagnoses of Aspergers and PTSD, and I turned to your resource manual for some insight.  My client definitely demonstrates the Weak Central Coherence and Executive Dysfunction you describe.  And the problem for him is that his probation officer and federal judge ascribe a level of malice and criminality to his thinking that I believe is far better explained by aspects of his Aspergers, which were never really addressed at home by his mother, who falls squarely into your “Indulgent” category of parenting.

I can see how my client drives the court and probation department crazy.  But I fear they are simply locked in an unnecessary and punitive power struggle with him, instead of being willing to tailor his conditions of probation to his disorder.

I would really love to chat with you informally about this, just so I can incorporate some of these concepts into the presentation of my client’s case at his probation revocation hearing, which is coming up.  If there is a time when you could schedule a 20 min. call that would be terrific.

Thanks for your work in this area.  You are, no doubt, preventing more youngsters with spectrum disorders from entering into the criminal justice system.

We have a very difficult teen, I have some areas to improve and now understand why some things I do are working.
My husband who works away is going to read this and hopefully be consistent in applying this as well.

This is one of our problems we parent different. Mike disaplines  in anger but hopefully we can work together now and be consistent to bring change.

My big question is.
The three areas my
Son has his down falls in is
1. Speaking disrespectly to other kids and other adults.
2. Lying and being so convincing it hard to find the truth ( some times he is very honest and other times very dishonest)
3. Eats junk food and lying he is only having a bit when it's more ( so lying)

I have trying many things but find it hard when I don't have solid evident he is lying.

What and what do I deal with first 
The disrespect or the lying.

He is on the brink of getting kick out the only school I think he could cope with and being a single parent 7 months of the year ( husband works away)
I don't think I could handle homeschooling him


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