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How can children on the autism spectrum cope with anger and depression?

"I have a 6 y.o. son (high functioning autism). When he gets upset, he throws his head back and hits his head on the floor or anything he is near. I am so worried about him. He also won't play with other children, he throws things at them's so hard! He is starting to have these fits at school as well. He also seems somewhat depressed a lot of the time. We didn't have these issues prior to elementary school. Any helpful advice would be greatly appreciated. I just want my happy child back."

Unfortunately, anger and depression are both issues more common in ASD or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) than in the general population. Part of the problem stems from a conflict between longings for social contact and an inability to be social in ways that attract friendships and relationships.

Even very young kids on the autism spectrum seem to know that they are not the same as other kids, and this gets emphasized in the social arena of the classroom. Many cases of depression, in fact, begin in elementary school (usually due to bullying and being an "outcast"). Anger, too, stems from feeling out of place and being angry at one’s circumstances in life.

Ideally, the focus should be on prevention and on helping HFA children develop communication skills, social skills, and develop a healthy self-esteem. These things can create the ability to develop relationships and friendships, lessening the chances of having issues with anger or depression.

Anger outbursts can also occur when rituals can’t get accomplished or when the child's need for order or symmetry can’t be met. Frustration over what doesn’t usually bother others can lead to anger and violence. This kind of anger is best handled through cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on maintaining control in spite of the frustration of not having one's needs met.

Communication and friendship skills can be taught to HFA children, teenagers, and even grown-ups. Mastering these skills can eliminate much of the social isolation these individuals feel. These skills can also avert - or reverse - depression and anger symptoms. (Click here for more information about helping with friendship skills.)

In worst case scenarios, some kids on the spectrum become so depressed that they may commit suicide (usually in adolescence). Others become angry enough that they get violent and hurt - or kill - others as a result. The challenge becomes recognizing these individuals (who are the exception by the way) before they do harm to self or others and getting them into therapy so that tragedy can be avoided.

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•    Anonymous said...I'm so sorry. I wish there was a special place for our high functioning kiddos because they are more aware of the social stimulation and expectations around them. My son was forever changed by school expectations!! The anxiety and stimulation is just too much....look for options or try medication for anxiety. That is what helped my son. He started hiding in bushes and refusing to return to class in second grade. It is frustrating getting phone calls from school! I feel for you.
•    Anonymous said...Try to get an IEP for him at school ASAP. His stress and depression is likely due to a large amount of forced socialization that didn't occur before Kindergarten. Aspergers children cannot be forced into interaction, they will only melt down if you do. Have your school evaluate your son to see what options are available. If possible, ask his teacher to create a space for him in the classroom that he can retreat to if need be. This will greatly reduce his stress and any risk to other children. My son had similar problems when he started school last year. He had so many suspensions I lost count. He now has a class that he goes to once per week that teaches social skills, and he has improved so much! It is absolutely worth looking into. Contact the school guidance counselor. They will know the appropriate first step in your area.
•    Anonymous said...Well I would have his meds looked at. It gets harder to get them under control but really needed. Some schools aren't much help.

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