Parenting Kids with High-Functioning Autism PLUS Attention Deficit Disorder


"My 12 year old was recently diagnosed with having high functioning autism. He doesn't fit the typical mold that I read about, and the neuro-psychologist agreed that he is an unusual case. He is extremely likable, has a good many friends, very polite and well mannered. He does however have the obsessive personality and hyper-focusing that is typical with this disorder as well as fascination with collecting things, bottle caps, shark teeth...which he can look for hours at a time for. He is very smart and has always made great grades and has never had behavior issues at home or at school, which is probably why he flew under the radar until now.

Our struggles have to do with his if he is ADD (tested negative three times). He literally cannot stay on task and is so easily distracted. After a "pep" talk stating that he "owns" his brain and he can control the urges if he puts his mind to it...he can produce. I know its short term but he doesn’t and he feels great when he knocks out something. Remember, we just found we've always treated him as "normal" as the others, why wouldn't we? And again, he's always risen to the challenge of most anything...with a great attitude. I'm desperately looking for ways to help him stay on task with schoolwork and staying on task? Is there anyone there that might know of something, tips, tricks, etc.? Please let me know."


Most kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's (AS) do not receive that diagnosis until after age 6. Usually, they are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder as toddlers. Part of the reason is that doctors routinely screen kids for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - but not for autism.

Another reason is that an HFA child's social impairment becomes more evident once he hits school. Finally, doctors are reluctant to label a youngster "autistic." It is okay - and even a badge of honor - to have a "hyperactive youngster," but it is another thing whatsoever to have an "autistic youngster."

Doctors make their diagnoses based on kid's behaviors. Since kids with Attention Deficit Disorder and HFA share similar behaviors, the two can appear to overlap. However, there is a fundamental difference between Attention Deficit Disorder and HFA. Children on the autism spectrum lack what doctors call "social reciprocity" or Theory of Mind.

Theory of Mind is "the capacity to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings, motivations and desires that are different from our own." Kids with ADD have a Theory of Mind and understand other people's motives and expectations. They make appropriate eye contact and understand social cues, body language and hidden agendas in social interactions. HFA children can't.

One author put it this way: kids with Attention Deficit Disorder respond to behavioral modification. With Aspergers (HFA), the syndrome is the behavior.

Both kinds of kids can tantrum, talk too loud and too much and have problems modulating their behaviors and making friends. Both are social failures but for different reasons.

The youngster with Attention Deficit Disorder knows what to do but forgets to do it. HFA children do not know what to do. They do not understand that relationships are two-sided. If a child on the spectrum talks on and on in an un-modulated voice about his particular interest, he simply does not understand that he is boring his friend and showing disinterest in his friend's side of the conversation. On the other hand, the youngster with ADD cannot control himself from dominating the conversation.
An HFA youngster can appear unfocused, forgetful and disorganized like a youngster with Attention Deficit Disorder, but there is a difference. The ADD youngster is easily distracted; the HFA child has no "filter." The child on the spectrum sees everything in her environment as equally important. Her teacher's dangling earring is as important as what she writes on the blackboard. The HFA child does not understand that she does not have to memorize the entire textbook for the next test. She does not "get" such rules.

Children on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum tend to get anxious and stuck about small things and cannot see the "big picture." Kids with Attention Deficit Disorder are not detailed-oriented. The ADD youngster understands the rules but lacks the self-control to follow them. The HFA child does not understand the rules.

If the unfocused HFA child is "nowhere," the obsessive-compulsive and "Fantasy" HFA child is somewhere else. "Fantasy kids" retreat into a world of their own making - a world where everything goes the way they want it to. They play video games for hours or retreat into books and music. Their daydreaming and fantasizing resembles the behaviors of non-hyperactive kids with ADD.

Obsessive-compulsive children with HFA live a world they create from rules and rituals. Like ADD kids, they appear preoccupied and distracted but for different reasons. They appear distracted because they are always thinking about their "rules." Did I tie my shoelaces right? Did I brush my teeth for 120 seconds?

Some authors estimate that 60% to 70% of children with HFA and AS also have Attention Deficit Disorder, which they consider a common comorbidity of the disorder. Other authors say that the two cannot exist together. Still others insist doctors have it all wrong and that the two disorders are the same. The real problem is that there is no hard science. No one knows exactly how slight imperfections in brain structure and chemistry cause such problems.

For this reason, getting the right diagnosis for a youngster who exhibits behavior problems may take years of trial and error. Diagnosis is based on observation of behaviors that are similar for a myriad of disorders. The tragedy is that the youngster often does not receive the correct medications, educational strategies, and behavioral modification techniques that could help him function on a higher level. He falls farther behind his peer group and loses ground when he could be getting appropriate treatments.

==> CLICK HERE for some specific tips to help your child with school work...

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

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