Helping Your Irrational Child on the Autism Spectrum to Be More Rational


Children with ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism, are known to misinterpret other people’s feelings, motives, behaviors, etc. “Cognitive restructuring” is a fancy term that simply means helping these young people to correct their distorted conceptualizations and dysfunctional beliefs. The process, which parents can implement, involves challenging their current thinking with logical evidence and ensuring the rationalization and cognitive control of their emotions.

The first stage is to establish the evidence for a particular belief. Kids on the autism spectrum can make false assumptions of their circumstances and the intentions of others. They have a tendency to make a literal interpretation (e.g., a casual comment may be taken out of context or may be taken to the extreme).

For instance, a teenage male with ASD was once told his voice was “breaking.” He became extremely anxious that his voice was becoming faulty and decided to consciously alter the pitch of his voice to repair it. The result was an artificial falsetto voice that was incongruous in a young man.

In another case, an adolescent female with Asperger’s overheard a conversation at school that implied that girls MUST BE slim to be popular. She then achieved a dramatic weight loss in an attempt to be accepted by her peers.

We’re all vulnerable to distorted thoughts and beliefs, but children with autism are less able to put things in perspective, seek clarification, and consider alternative explanations or responses. Thus, it’s important for parents to encourage their child to be more flexible in his or her thinking and to seek clarification using questions or comments (e.g., “Are you kidding?” or “I'm puzzled about what you just said.”).

Such comments also can be used when misinterpreting someone's intentions (e.g., “Did you mean to do that?”) and to rescue the situation after the child has made an inappropriate response with a comment such as, “I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to offended you,” or “My mistake. What should I have done?”

To explain a new perspective or to correct errors or assumptions, comic strip conversations can help the ASD child to determine the thoughts, beliefs, and intentions of the other person(s) in a given situation. This technique involves drawing an event or sequence of events in storyboard form with stick figures to represent each participant, and speech and thought bubbles to represent their words and thoughts.

You and your child can use an assortment of fibro-tipped colored pens, with each color representing an emotion. As you write in the speech or thought bubbles, the child’s choice of color indicates his or her perception of the emotion conveyed or intended. 
This can clarify the child’s interpretation of events and the rationale for his or her thoughts and response, and can also help to identify and correct any misperception and determine how alternative responses might affect others’ thoughts and feelings.
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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