HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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How to Prevent Discipline-Related Meltdowns: Tips for Parents of Kids on the Spectrum

“Are there some ways to prevent some of the discipline-related problems encountered with children who have high functioning autism, specifically meltdowns associated with receiving a consequence for misbehavior? I say ‘prevent’ because it seems that once my son knows he is going to be punished, it quickly escalates into meltdown, which by then is much too late to intervene. Is there a way for us to ‘predict’ and thus prevent a potential meltdown?”

Most parents of kids with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's wait until a problem occurs, and then try to deal with it by issuing a consequence. Consequences can be positive (gaining something desirable) or negative (losing something desirable).

Sometimes, consequences are discussed prior to an event, but usually in terms of a motivator: "If you do this, you will gain (or lose) that." Too often, parents use consequences in the middle of a behavior problem (e.g., "If you don't stop that, you’re not going to play your computer game tonight!”).

Statements such as this are made when the behavior is out-of-control. The parent may have given many warnings up to that point - and is now acting out of frustration. But, warnings issued in the heat of the moment rarely lead to positive change in the short or long term.

With children on the autism spectrum, it’s far better to anticipate the occurrence of a behavior - and then plan for it. How? Well, many behavior problems are repetitious, especially in the same situation. Even when they don't occur EVERY time, they may still be frequent enough to make the parent’s “red alert list” (i.e., a list of events that result in problem behaviors that tend to occur frequently).

For example, one mother made note that nearly every time her son was instructed to bathe, he insisted on finishing his video game first (in order to stall). The mounting meltdown had little to do with the video game, rather it was related to avoiding an unwanted task.

A good rule of thumb is if a behavior repeats itself at least 50% of the time, moms and dads need to prepare for it. So, if homework, dinnertime or bedtime have been frequent problems in the past, chances are very good they will continue to be so in the future.

With a “red alert list,” parents can predict the future to a point. They gain the opportunity to forecast what is going to happen in an upcoming situation because of its constant re-occurrence. When parents have a good idea about what is going to happen, they can prepare their youngster for the event prior to its occurrence by discussing what usually occurs and what needs to occur.

For example, let’s say that “going shopping” is often a problem-time. In this case, the parent can talk with her youngster (prior to the event) about what normally happens, how he acts, how she is going to respond, and how he is going change his behavior based on her response. Then the parent can follow that up with a discussion to see if she can get a firm commitment from her youngster that he is going to follow through with these new behaviors. 

If the child responds in a positive way, the parent has an increased likelihood that things will go better when they go shopping – especially if this preparation step is practiced over and over again through the course of several weeks or months.

If parents happen to miss the opportunity to prevent a problem, there is often a small "window of opportunity" in which they can still salvage the situation. In the example above, suppose the parent forgot to say something prior to going shopping. As the child’s behavior begins to deteriorate, the parent has a very brief period of time (only a minute or two) before she will be in a tricky situation. The parent should seize this opportunity, because it may be the last best one in that specific time and place.

In summary, create a list of events that - at least half the time - result in your child acting-out. Prior to each event, discuss (a) what normally happens, and (b) what you expect the new outcome to be. Then try to get your child's approval on the new outcome. Lastly, practice this sequence until it becomes a habit.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with HFA and Asperger's

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