Reasons for "Rigidity" in Children on the Autism Spectrum

One frequently observed feature of Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) is rigidity in thought and behavior. Rigidity seems to pervade so many areas of the lives of children with the disorder. Novel situations often produce anxiety for them. They may be uncomfortable with change in general. 
This can result in behavior that may be viewed as oppositional and can lead to emotional meltdowns. This general rigidity is what parents, neighbors, and teachers often label as stubbornness.

Children with AS and HFA may have many fears in addition to those related to unexpected changes in schedules. Large groups of people and complex, open environments like school hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, or bus stations tend to overwhelm these young people. They may also be overwhelmed by unexpected academic challenge or by having too many things to remember or too many tasks to perform. 

They often have limited frustration tolerance and may display tantrums when thwarted. Routines and rules are very important to kids on the autism spectrum in providing a sense of needed order and structure, and hence, predictability about the world.

Another form or rigidity is moralism, a kind of self-righteous and inflexible adherence to nonnegotiable moral principles that is often out of context with practical reality. An example might be a youngster who criticizes a parent who has run a yellow traffic light when the parent is on the way to the emergency room for treatment of a severe cut or burn.

Rigidity is also found in the inflexibility over matters that are of little consequence, such as arguing about whether the route to the emergency room was the quickest when it might be the difference between a few hundred yards by choosing to take one turn over another. In the classroom, this may be found when an AS or HFA student fixates on a perception that a teacher has not enforced a rule consistently. Such fixations on moral correctness can escalate and interfere with availability for instruction.

Reasons for Rigidity—

1. A misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the actions of others.

2. A violation of a rule or ritual – changing something from the way it is supposed to be. Someone is violating a rule and this is unacceptable to the ASor HFA youngster. 

3. Anxiety about a current or upcoming event, no matter how trivial it might appear to you. 

4. Immediate gratification of a need. 

5. Lack of knowledge about how something is done. By not knowing how the world works with regard to specific situations and events, the youth will act inappropriately instead. 

6. Other internal issues, such as sensory, inattention (ADHD), oppositional tendency (ODD), or other psychiatric issues may also be causes of behavior. 

7. The need to avoid or escape from a non-preferred activity, often something difficult or undesirable. Often, if your son/daughter cannot be perfect, he/she does not want to engage in an activity.

8. The need to control a situation. 

9. The need to engage in or continue a preferred activity, usually an obsessive action or fantasy. 

10. Transitioning from one activity to another. This is usually a problem because it may mean ending an activity before he is finished with it.

Many children on the spectrum have a hard time with changes. The reason for this behavior can be caused by anxiety, and this anxiety results in rigidity.

  ==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
Here are the reasons AS and HFA kids are so resistant to any kind of change:
  • anxiety about a current or upcoming event (e.g., the start of school)
  • not understanding how the world works
  • not understanding the actions of someone else
  • other issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • reluctant to participate in an activity the child cannot do perfectly or an activity that is difficult for him.
  • someone changing a circumstance or rule that has been established
  • the need for instant satisfaction, the child may not understand delayed gratification
  • the need to control a situation
  • the need to keep doing the activity that the child likes (obsession or fantasy)
  • transitioning to another activity, this is especially hard if the activity is not finished

The cause of anxiety or rigidity in your child has a lot to do with the fact that he or she does not have the ability to understand the world like we do.

Because of this "neuro-cognitive" disorder, the child:
  • does not “take in” what is going on around him or her her
  • does not know how to “read between the lines”
  • does not understand implied directions
  • does not understand social cues
  • needs explicit instructions
  • will have difficulty understanding rules of society

Facts” are what kids with AS and HFA learn and feel less anxious about. Since they have a hard time with all the normal rules of society, having “rules” has a calming effect on them. They think, “This is the rule. I can handle it o.k.” Facts also have to be from someone they think is an “expert” in their eyes. Teachers and doctors may have this leverage with them, but moms and dads are, for the most part, not considered “experts.”

Understanding what causes so much anxiety, tantrums, and out of control behavior helps parents to know where their child is coming from, and with that, they will be able to help him or her become a healthy and happy adult.

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