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Kids with ASD and Their Problems with Perfectionism

“I'd like to ask you about a very big problem for our autistic (high functioning) son - his perfectionism! Can you give me some advice on what to do about this issue, because I believe it is a major contributing factor to his never-ending anxiety, especially when doing his homework?”

Although it may be hard to completely change a "special needs" youngster’s perfectionist nature, there are many things that parents can do to help their child find a better balance and not be so hard on himself.

Please consider these suggestions:

1. The pressure to be perfect may stem from school (or other areas where perfectionism is exhibited) being the only place from where your son derives self-worth. Try to expand your son’s notion of his identity by finding activities for him to participate in that do not involve scoring or competition (i.e., activities that simply exist to feel good and have fun).

2. Regularly remind your son to “keep it simple” and “make it fun.”

3. Make sure that you are not deriving your own sense of worth only from your son’s accomplishments.

4. Look for books and movies that provide role models of real people or characters who succeeded after a long line of failures.

5. Let your son make mistakes. Offer minor assistance and support if asked, but let him turn in work that is truly his own so he can get comfortable with constructive feedback. Allowing kids to do their own work and make mistakes not only can decrease a sense of pressure on them to always present a perfect front to the outside world, but also gives them the confidence that they can succeed on their own without the parent’s help.

6. Address faulty or unhealthy logic in your son’s thinking. Perfectionists tend to think in terms of “all-or-nothing” (e.g., “If I don’t get 100% on this quiz, then I’m dumb!”).

7. Keep the focus on the importance of learning new material or a new skill, rather than being the best. When your son brings home a perfect test score, you can say something like, “You worked really hard to learn that tough material,” instead of, “Excellent work – another 100%!”

8. If your son is spending too much time on homework, set a time limit so that he has to stop working and relax a bit. Explain the situation to his teacher and ask for help with what you are trying to teach your son.

9. Have a mantra in your house, for example, “Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to have fun learning and enjoy the process.” You may also want to consider finding a different word to use instead of “mistake” (e.g., everyone has “challenges” …or, everyone has to make a “detour” now and then).

10. Find activities for your son where he will not be the best. Help him learn how to handle being in such a circumstance. Do not let him stop the activity because it is too difficult or uncomfortable.

11. Do not discount your son’s school anxiety with statements like, “There’s no need to worry, I know you’ll get 100% on that test – you always do!” Even though your intentions are of the best, your son may interpret statements like that as adding more pressure to maintain his status. Instead, tell him that what matters most is putting forth enough effort to learn the subject matter, regardless of what the grade is.

12. Be careful about over-scheduling, and make sure that your son has time “scheduled” to just relax.

13. Be a good role model yourself by not holding yourself to perfectionist standards and showing your son how you handle mistakes. Point out what you did and how you learned from it.

14. Even though the pressure to be perfect often seems to come from the youngster himself, evaluate the messages that you are giving to your son. Even if you tell him that high grades or first-place trophies do not matter to you, if he hears you bragging about such honors all the time, he may feel a lot of trepidation about continuing to bring them home. Your son needs to understand that your love is unconditional, and not based on how well he does in school. Point out other ways in which he makes you proud (e.g., when he helps you around the house, when he is kind to others, etc.).

15. Lastly, have plenty of patience with your son. Don’t pressure him to relax and be “less than perfect.” It takes a lot of practice to overcome perfectionism!

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Anonymous said… I have come to except that its a packaged deal and is part of the OCD that hangs them up, allow for more time so he can make the corrections he needs to feel good about his work remember he sees flaws where your eyes see nothing but perfection.

Anonymous said… I'm loving this group. It's so helpful! Thanks...

Anonymous said… In fact, it is such that he will avoid doing his homework as much as possible, then the following morning when it is due, he is having a fit "because he needs to get it done....NOW!"

Anonymous said… It may not be a bad thing. I believe I suffered with some of the attributes of asperger when young - still do, getting obsessed with things being one of them. But that allows me to study and learn most trades, I have several degrees including a PhD and I earn a good salary, the only hindrance is saying a development project is finished and ready to go to market which we manage with certain constraining rules. I would be happy if my boys managed a good education that could earn them a decent salary, I don't see why they shouldn't achieve this and I will do everything in my power to make that happen. So I don't feel Perfectionism and the Obsessive nature is a bad factor of Asperger, the tantrums when over whelmed are the nasty attributes. As for the anxiety, I look at what I've managed before and make sure the next time it's better, I make that my satisfaction, which controls the anxiety, Back to what we were told a few days ago, to engineer their lives to succeed even if it's in little steps so taking any failure out of the equation.

Anonymous said… my aspie just wants to get credit for it, but doesn't actually want to do the work on it.

Anonymous said… My daughter is that way, too. Homework we can manage because it's too easy for her (first grade), but at school, she will meltdown if the teacher wants to display the classes work and she sees hers as not perfect enough, even though it's miles better then her classmates.

Anonymous said… tell him everyone messes up and does things wrong everyday. Maybe give him examples in writing and pictures. Tell him its okay and it everything doesn't have to be perfect.

Anonymous said… What I find is that if one part came out wrong, then the whole thing is messed up and sometimes it will get destroyed. The CF/GF diet has helped immensely.

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