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Dealing With Your Child's Frustrations: Tips for Parents of Kids on the Spectrum

"I would like ideas on how to deal with my (HFA) son’s frustrations. He will either dig his heels in and refuse to do what he is supposed to do, or he shuts down and then we have a time away so he can get himself together to discuss the problem. It seems he works himself up over things that are not that big a deal."

Children with High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's (AS) overreact to crowds, confusing situations, sensory stimuli, and situations in which they are asked to do things they don’t want to do. Situations or problems that seem minor to most of us are a “big deal” to those with the disorder because they don’t know how to handle them.

Low frustration-tolerance originates from the youngster’s dysfunctional and irrational beliefs. Behaviors are then the result of avoiding frustrating events which, paradoxically, lead to increased frustration and even greater mental stress.

Low frustration-tolerance occurs when the youngster gets upset and has an unwillingness or inability to tolerate the necessary short-term discomfort that is sometimes required for long-term gain. The opposite of this would be HIGH frustration-tolerance. High frustration-tolerance is simply the ability to tolerate or cope with discomfort and hard work in the short-term in order to achieve one's long term goals.

Removing your son from a stressful situation and giving him time to calm down is an excellent idea. Then if he is willing to discuss the problem, you may be able to help him learn how to handle a similar situation in the future. His frustration and stubbornness are due to the anxiety he feels and his inability to handle situations ...he can’t help those feelings.

Generally, there are two therapeutic approaches to working with the anxiety seen in kids on the autism spectrum. The first is cognitive psychology, which is an approach that focuses on the child’s mental processes (e.g., problem solving, memory, language, etc.). A cognitive psychologist will want to know how your son perceives and solves his problems.

A cognitive psychologist will be able to help your son figure out exactly what triggers his anger. The psychologist will help him change the negative environment that fuels his anger and develop various age-appropriate techniques for coping with anxiety.

The psychologist’s recommendations might be simple (e.g., lowering lights and sound levels), or it could be more complex, and therapy might become long term. In addition to cognitive psychology, medication may be recommended for your son. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications that will help reduce your son’s frustrations and reduce his anxieties.

Please note that antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac have been prescribed for HFA and AS kids, but they have also been known to cause serious problems. Ask the psychiatrist to explain all of the behavioral changes and discuss the possible side effects of any medication that is prescribed.

The second approach for helping your son - and one of the most frequently recommended interventions for kids with the disorder - is for you, as a parent, to make his life structured and consistent. If he has chores to do around the house, they can be done on a certain day and at a specified time. He can leave for school at the same time every day, and he can be expected to return home at a certain time every day, also.

Structure can be built into his life for recreational activities, in addition to his school obligations and chores. If he enjoys video games, a time can be set aside that is predictable for the both of you. He can complete school homework and chores while looking forward to the recreational time that he knows will occur at the same time every day.

Your son is becoming easily frustrated over things that he perceives as too challenging. You can provide a “wrap-around” treatment for him by surrounding him with a psychologist that he can talk to, medication he can use to reduce anxiety (if warranted!), and a predictable home environment each day.



Anonymous said...
We have the exact same problem with our 14-years old ASD son. Even the psychologist couldn't get him to talk (AT ALL), and this psychologist is known as an autism expert and well-loved by his clients and peers in our area. We should probably try another doctor, but money is tight and insurance doesn't cover it and we were frustrated with that first attempt which lasted an entire school year. The second piece of advice, to give our son a routine schedule, is what we need to do. His life is quite routine, and it's the disruptions that are so hard because in any life there will be interruptions and disruptions. We will work on being even more consistent, however, and we REALLY need to get better at allowing him screen time as a reward. This Aspergers stuff really makes me work harder at being a better parent!

Anonymous said...
I have a 17 yr old son with HFA/ADHD, His routine now is constant unexpected change and as our life is a struggle to plan anything because something ends up changing. I found this was a struggle in the beginning & a few difficult moments but now that he is older I now realize this turned out to be a benefit because now his routine is kaos & he has learned to work with it. Just in case here is some back ground. My son was quite low functioning in the beginning he started off non verbal and by kindergarten could form 3 word sentences.He was not aloud to attend more than 2.5 hrs of school a day until Grade 6, by grade 9 he was on the honour roll, by grade 11 he was on the high school football team, He now will be graduating with his peers. I am a single mom and have never been able to afford the ABBA therapy or much of anything else his therapy consisted of a neighbors daughter who was beyond a blessing to us who was going to university & grew up with a special needs uncle. Prayers, Love, discipline & learning the language of Autism was what I used.

Anonymous said...
I still though have a son that won't talk about how he is feeling, this became a challenge when my daughter went through medical distress with having to call 911 over 60 times. My son explained when my Nana passed during that time that he new who should feel sad & he would miss her but beyond the moment of being told he didn't have the same response to feelings like we did they were dealt with then gone,

Anonymous said...
I have a pretty structured routine for my son (who will be 15 in a couple of days) and for the most part he does fairly well with small disruptions to the routine. The issue's we are having is when it comes to social functions. If we are able to, we try to find a quiet out of the way place for him to go and sit when he gets over whelmed, but I don't know how to help him with the white noise, or how to help him deal with the crowds of ppl. He is able to handle public school fairly decent, but it's fairly structured in the school setting as well, but at wedding's or charity events, it's chaos and I don't know what do to help.

Anonymous said...
We have a "chill out" list. He helped us make it. Its a list of things for him to do to, well, CHILL OUT! swing, wear his weighted vest, color, play with the cat, run, take a walk, etc. You get the idea. He can help make the list when he's calm and thinking clear. Sometimes we pick from the list, and sometimes we just tell him to go pick from the list. so far so good....

Anonymous said...
We suggest ways for our 13 year old to chill out. Also, before going out like to a restaurant or such, we have him make a "plan B" just in case "plan A" doesn't work out.

Anonymous said...
My daughter does the same thing. I try to talk in a low monotone just to make sure she stays calm. Then I'll pose several solutions and then let her choose...right or wrong. And, as always, just be there for them!! It's frustrating on our end too!

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