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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query anger. Sort by date Show all posts

Helping Aspergers Students Deal with Anger: Advice for Teachers

Aspergers (high functioning autistic) kid’s anger presents challenges to educators committed to constructive, ethical, and effective youngster guidance. This post explores what we know about the components of Aspergers kid’s anger, factors contributing to understanding and managing anger, and the ways educators can guide kid’s expressions of anger.

Three Components of Anger—

Anger is believed to have three components (Lewis & Michalson, 1983):

The Emotional State of Anger. The first component is the emotion itself, defined as an affective or arousal state, or a feeling experienced when a goal is blocked or needs are frustrated. Fabes and Eisenberg (1992) describe several types of stress-producing anger provocations that young kids face daily in classroom interactions:
  • Conflict over possessions, which involves someone taking kid’s property or invading their space.
  • Issues of compliance, which often involve asking or insisting that kids do something that they do not want to do--for instance, wash their hands.
  • Physical assault, which involves one youngster doing something to another youngster, such as pushing or hitting.
  • Rejection, which involves a youngster being ignored or not allowed to play with peers.
  • Verbal conflict, for example, a tease or a taunt.

Expression of Anger—

The second component of anger is its expression. Some kids vent or express anger through facial expressions, crying, sulking, or talking, but do little to try to solve a problem or confront the provocateur. Others actively resist by physically or verbally defending their positions, self-esteem, or possessions in non-aggressive ways. Still other kids express anger with aggressive revenge by physically or verbally retaliating against the provocateur. Some kids express dislike by telling the offender that he or she cannot play or is not liked. Other kids express anger through avoidance or attempts to escape from or evade the provocateur. And some kids use adult seeking, looking for comfort or solutions from a teacher, or telling the teacher about an incident.

Educators can use youngster guidance strategies to help Aspergers students express angry feelings in socially constructive ways. Kids develop ideas about how to express emotions (Michalson & Lewis, 1985; Russel, 1989) primarily through social interaction in their families and later by watching television or movies, playing video games, and reading books (Honig & Wittmer, 1992). Some Aspergers students have learned a negative, aggressive approach to expressing anger (Cummings, 1987; Hennessy et al., 1994) and, when confronted with everyday anger conflicts, resort to using aggression in the classroom (Huesmann, 1988). A major challenge for early childhood educators is to encourage Aspergers students to acknowledge angry feelings and to help them learn to express anger in positive and effective ways.

An Understanding of Anger—

The third component of the anger experience is understanding - interpreting and evaluating - the emotion. Because the ability to regulate the expression of anger is linked to an understanding of the emotion (Zeman & Shipman, 1996), and because kid’s ability to reflect on their anger is somewhat limited, Aspergers students need guidance from educators and parents in understanding and managing their feelings of anger.

Understanding and Managing Anger—

The development of basic cognitive processes undergirds kid’s gradual development of the understanding of anger (Lewis & Saarni, 1985).

Self-Referential and Self-Regulatory Behaviors—Self-referential behaviors include viewing the self as separate from others and as an active, independent, causal agent. Self-regulation refers to controlling impulses, tolerating frustration, and postponing immediate gratification. Initial self-regulation in young kids provides a base for early childhood educators who can develop strategies to nurture kid’s emerging ability to regulate the expression of anger.

Memory—Memory improves substantially during early childhood (Perlmutter, 1986), enabling young kids to better remember aspects of anger-arousing interactions. Aspergers students who have developed unhelpful ideas of how to express anger (Miller & Sperry, 1987) may retrieve the early unhelpful strategy even after educators help them gain a more helpful perspective. This finding implies that educators may have to remind some Aspergers students, sometimes more than once or twice, about the less aggressive ways of expressing anger.

Language—Talking about emotions helps young Aspergers students understand their feelings (Brown & Dunn, 1996). The understanding of emotion in preschool kids is predicted by overall language ability (Denham, Zoller, & Couchoud, 1994). Educators can expect individual differences in the ability to identify and label angry feelings because kid’s families model a variety of approaches in talking about emotions.

Guiding Kid’s Expressions of Anger—

Educators can help Aspergers students deal with anger by guiding their understanding and management of this emotion. The practices described here can help Aspergers students understand and manage angry feelings in a direct and non-aggressive way.

Communicate with Moms and Dads—Some of the same strategies employed to talk with moms and dads about other areas of the curriculum can be used to enlist their assistance in helping Aspergers students learn to express emotions. For example, articles about learning to use words to label anger can be included in a newsletter to moms and dads.

Create a Safe Emotional Climate—A healthy early childhood setting permits kids to acknowledge all feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, and does not shame anger. Healthy classroom systems have clear, firm, and flexible boundaries.

Encourage Kids to Label Feelings of Anger—Educators and parents can help young Aspergers students produce a label for their anger by teaching them that they are having a feeling and that they can use a word to describe their angry feeling. A permanent record (a book or chart) can be made of lists of labels for anger (e.g., mad, irritated, annoyed), and the class can refer to it when discussing angry feelings.

Encourage Kids to Talk About Anger-Arousing Interactions—Preschool kids better understand anger and other emotions when adults explain emotions (Denham, Zoller, &Couchoud, 1994). When Aspergers students are embroiled in an anger-arousing interaction, educators can help by listening without judging, evaluating, or ordering them to feel differently.

Help Kids Develop Self-Regulatory Skills—Educators of infants and toddlers do a lot of self-regulation "work," realizing that the Aspergers students in their care have a very limited ability to regulate their own emotions. As Aspergers students get older, adults can gradually transfer control of the self to kids, so that they can develop self-regulatory skills.

Model Responsible Anger Management—Aspergers students have an impaired ability to understand emotion when adults show a lot of anger (Denham, Zoller, & Couchoud, 1994). Adults who are most effective in helping Aspergers students manage anger model responsible management by acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for their own angry feelings and by expressing anger in direct and non-aggressive ways.

Use Books and Stories about Anger to Help Kids Understand and Manage Anger—Well-presented stories about anger and other emotions validate kid’s feelings and give information about anger (Jalongo, 1986; Marion, 1995). It is important to preview all books about anger because some stories teach irresponsible anger management.

Aspergers students guided toward responsible anger management are more likely to understand and manage angry feelings directly and non aggressively and to avoid the stress often accompanying poor anger management (Eisenberg et al., 1991). Educators can take some of the bumps out of understanding and managing anger by adopting positive guidance strategies.


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

Helping Children on the Autism Spectrum to Control Their Anger

"I'm in desperate need of some strategies to deal with my (high-functioning) son's anger. When he starts to stew about something, it's not long before all hell breaks loose. Any suggestions?!"

All of us exhibit some "signs" just as we begin to get angry. Identify the anger signs in your high-functioning autistic (HFA) or Asperger’s son. For example, you may detect a certain "look in the eye," the tone of voice or the tightness in the body. Help your youngster to observe these signs right at the onset of anger.

Once Young people on the autism spectrum can identify the early signs of their anger, they can also learn to diffuse it by such methods as walking away or taking full and vigorous breaths.

Train your youngster to respond to your "signal" like your hand motion to stay calm. Give that signal as soon as your youngster starts "stewing" about something.

If your youngster is too young for such self-control techniques, use distraction as soon as you notice the HFA child exhibiting an anger sign. A distraction, in order to be effective, has to be of interest to the kid. For example suggest to your youngster, "Let's ride a bike" or, "Let's play ball."

Teach your youngsters to talk about how they feel. Give them a language to express their feelings. For example, ask them how they feel. If they are too angry to talk or don't have the vocabulary to express their feelings, ask about the feelings relevant to the specific situation. Examples: "Do you feel embarrassed?" "Humiliated?" "Let down?" or, "Is your pride hurt?"

When your youngster expresses the feeling behind his or her anger, such as embarrassment or humiliation, suggest some other ways to look at the same event that might not be embarrassing or humiliating.

The thought, "It's not fair," is a big anger-arouser for many HFA kids. If that is the case, ask them, "Do you feel you are treated unfairly?" When your youngster answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his or her feelings.


If the HFA child refuses to be distracted or engaged in dialoguing about his or her anger and starts yelling, stomping or breaking an object, impose appropriate consequences. It's better to have these consequences in place to serve as a guideline. That means that you have discussed them with your youngsters beforehand and written them out for future reference.

Armed with a list of consequences which preferably consist of withdrawing privileges or charging the HFA child a "penalty," moms and dads should encourage their Young people on the autism spectrum to choose such alternatives as doing something else, walking away, or talking about the anger rather than acting out of anger.

How about your own anger in response to your youngster's anger? You can set an example of anger control for your youngster. No teaching technique is as effective as a parent "modeling" for the HFA kid with his or her own example.

One thing that makes many moms and dads angry is to see their own child challenging their authority and defying them. Sometimes, it may appear so, but that may not be the intention of the HFA kid. For example, an HFA kid may be too unhappy to be told "No.' because he or she wants it so badly. Of course, you shouldn't give in to the wishes of the kid, but try to understand what might really be the intention of your youngster.

Some Young people on the autism spectrum get upset when they know they made a mistake. Instead of admitting their mistake, they act out in anger to deflect the attention off of them. If you realize that that might be the case, it's helpful to say to your youngster, "Everyone makes mistakes. I am okay with it. Don't feel so bad about it."

Young people on the autism spectrum, who in anger lash out at others, should be often reminded of such consequences as going to the Principal's office, being detained and losing privileges at home.

If the anger outbursts occur in relation to the siblings and you didn't observe the whole interaction from the very beginning, it's better to impose penalty on both siblings.

Some Young people on the autism spectrum get angry because they don't have appropriate peer-interaction skills. For example, some HFA youngsters don't know how to join in a conversation or a game. They abruptly try to get in. When resisted or rejected by peers, they explode. Teaching appropriate social skills can go a long way to avoid such negative encounters.
 

We can establish a culture that reduces anger and teaches tolerance. For example, we can set a personal example for HFA kids that "big individuals" do apologize and it's graceful to loose and try again.

Anger is like the mercury in a thermometer. When left unchecked the intensity of the emotion increases from frustration to anger and then to other things like rage and bitterness. As the intensity builds, individuals shut themselves off from others and relationships close down. Having a plan to deal with anger can limit the intensity and prevent much of the destruction anger tends to cause.

Most families don’t have a plan for anger. They somehow just continue on, hoping things will get better. Many families don’t resolve their anger, but just keep trying to start over. Starting over may be helpful at times, but it tends to ignore the problem rather than address it.

Here are some ideas for dealing with anger in your family:

1. Anger is good for identifying problems but not good for solving them. One of the problems individuals face is the guilt they feel after they’ve gotten angry. This further complicates the situation. God created us as emotional beings and emotions are helpful for giving us cues about our environment. Anger, in particular, points out problems. It reveals things that are wrong. Some of those things are inside of us and require adjustments to expectations or demands. Other problems are outside of us and need to be addressed in a constructive way. Helping Young people on the autism spectrum understand that anger is good for identifying problems but not good for solving them is the first step toward a healthy anger management plan.

2. Identify the early warning signs of anger. Young people on the autism spectrum often don’t recognize anger. In fact, many times they act out before they realize what happened. Identifying early warning signs helps HFA youngsters become more aware of their feelings, which in turn gives them more opportunity to control their responses to these feelings. How can you tell when you’re getting frustrated? How can your youngsters identify frustration before it gets out of control?

Here are some common cues in Young people on the autism spectrum which indicate that they are becoming angry and may be about to lose control:
•    clenched teeth
•    increased intensity of speech or behavior
•    noises with the mouth like growls or deep breathing
•    pouting
•    restlessness, withdrawal, unresponsiveness, or being easily provoked
•    squinting, rolling the eyes, or other facial expressions
•    tensed body
•    unkind words or the tone of voice changes to whining or yelling

Learn to recognize the cues that your youngster is beginning to get frustrated. Look for signs that come before the eruption. Once you know the cues, begin to point them out to your youngster. Make observations and teach your youngster to recognize those signs. Eventually HFA kids will be able to see their own frustration and anger and choose appropriate responses before it’s too late. They’ll be able to move from the emotion to the right actions, but first they must be able to recognize the cues that anger is intensifying.
 

3. Step Back. Teach your youngster to take a break from the difficult situation and to get alone for a few minutes. One of the healthiest responses to anger at any of its stages is to step back. During that time the HFA youngster can rethink the situation, calm down and determine what to do next. Frustrations can easily build, rage can be destructive, and bitterness is always damaging to the one who is angry. Stepping back can help the HFA youngster stop the progression and determine to respond differently.

The size of the break is determined by the intensity of the emotion. An HFA youngster who is simply frustrated may just take a deep breath. The kid who is enraged probably needs to leave the room and settle down.

4. Choose a better response. After the HFA kid has stepped back and settled down, then it’s time to decide on a more appropriate response to the situation. But what should they do? Moms and dads who address anger in their HFA youngsters often respond negatively, pointing out the wrong without suggesting alternatives.

There are three positive choices: talk about it, get help, or slow down and persevere. Simplifying the choices makes the decision process easier. Even young HFA kids can learn to respond constructively to frustration when they know there are three choices. These choices are actually skills to be learned. Young people on the autism spectrum often misuse them or overly rely on just one. Take time to teach your youngsters these skills and practice them as responses to angry feelings.

5. Never try to reason with an HFA youngster who is enraged. Sometimes Young people on the autism spectrum become enraged. The primary way to tell when kids are enraged is that they can no longer think rationally and their anger is now controlling them. Unfortunately, many moms and dads try to talk their Young people on the autism spectrum out of anger, often leading to more intensity. The HFA youngster who is enraged has lost control. You may see clenched fists, squinting eyes or a host of venting behaviors. Anger is one of those emotions that can grab you before you know what’s happening. The intensity can build from frustration to anger to rage before anyone realizes it.


Whether it’s the two-year-old temper tantrum or the 14 year-old ranting and raving, don’t get sucked into dialog. It only escalates the problem. Talking about it is important but wait until after the HFA kid has settled down.

6. When emotions get out of control, take a break from the dialog. Sometimes moms and dads and Young people on the autism spectrum are having a discussion about something and tempers flare. Mean words often push buttons which motivate more mean words and anger escalates. Stop the process, take a break and resume the dialog after individuals have settled down.

7. Be proactive in teaching HFA kids about frustration-management, anger-control, rage-reduction and releasing bitterness. Model, discuss, read and teach your youngsters about anger. There are several good books on this subject available, which are written for youngsters at various age levels. Talk about examples of frustration and anger seen in kid’s videos. Talk about appropriate responses. Work together as a family to identify anger and choose constructive solutions.

8. When anger problems seem out of control or you just don’t know what to do, get help. Sometimes a third party can provide the helpful suggestions and guidelines to motivate your family to deal with anger in a more helpful way. Young people on the autism spectrum can begin to develop bitterness and resentment in their lives and may need help to deal with it. Unresolved anger can create problems in relationships later on. HFA kids do not grow out of bitterness, they grow into it. Professional help may be needed.

Creating an Anger Control Plan—

The basic idea in developing an anger control plan for an HFA youngster is to try many different strategies and find the anger control techniques that work best for them.. This is an ongoing process. As working strategies are identified, they can be added to the anger control plans and used the HFA kid starts to feel angry. Some individuals refer to their anger control plans as their toolbox and the specific strategies they use to control their anger as their tools. 

This analogy may be very helpful. You can take this even further by creating a physical box for the youngster to put the strategies in (written on pieces of paper). You could be really creative and have the pieces of paper shaped like various tools. Again, it is important to identify the specific anger control strategies that work best for the youngster.

These strategies should be put down in a formal anger control plan for referral when the child encounters an anger-provoking event. It is also important to explore how different techniques may be used at different times. Referring back to the toolbox, I point out how a screwdriver can be very useful, but not for pounding in nails. Application- An HFA child may feel better after running around in the yard, but this may not be possible when he or she is getting angry at something in the classroom. Strategies need to be in place to handle the different situations that may arise.

An effective strategy that many Young people on the autism spectrum use, for example, is to talk about their feelings with someone that they can trust, such as a parent or caretaker. By discussing anger, they can begin to identify the primary emotions that underlie it and determine whether the thinking and expectations in response to the anger-provoking event are rational. Often an outsider can see the event from a different point of view, and offer some guiding words of wisdom. HFA kids can sometimes view an event as un-winable, or un-escapable, when there is a very simple solution which can be reached.

The long-term objective of the anger management treatment is to develop a set of strategies that can be used appropriately for specific anger-provoking events.

Timeouts—

The concept of a timeout is especially important to anger-management. It is the basic anger management strategy recommended for inclusion in every kid's anger control plan. Informally, a timeout is defined as leaving the situation that is causing the escalation of anger or simply stopping the discussion that is provoking it.

Formally, a timeout involves relationships with other individuals: it involves an agreement or a prearranged plan. These relationships may involve family members, friends, teachers, and schoolmates.. Any of the parties involved may call a timeout in accordance with rules that have been agreed on by everyone in advance. The person calling the timeout can leave the situation, if necessary. It is agreed, however, that he or she will return to either finish the discussion or postpone it, depending on whether all those involved feel they can successfully resolve the issue.

Timeouts are important because they can be effective in the heat of the moment. Even if your anger is escalating quickly on the anger meter, you can prevent reaching 10 by taking a time out and leaving the situation.

Timeouts are also effective when they are used with other strategies. For example, you can take a timeout and go for a walk. You can also take a timeout and call a trusted friend or family member or write in your journal. These other strategies should help you calm down during the timeout period.

It is important to make sure that everyone understands exactly what a time out means. For example, say an HFA child is asked to clean his room. He gets angry with his moms and dads and asks for a timeout. The kid then goes outside and begins shooting baskets to "calm down". This could be used by the kid to manipulate the situation, he or she doesn't want to clean the room, so he or she just asks for a time out. It is important to ensure that time-outs are used effectively, and with a general set of rules in place. Used effectively and appropriately, timeouts can do wonders!
 

Relaxation Through Breathing—

Another technique which may be used to help reduce child-anger is relaxation through breathing.

An interesting aspect of the nervous system is that everyone has a relaxation response that counteracts the stress response. It is physically impossible to be both agitated and relaxed at the same time. If you can relax successfully, you can counteract the stress or anger response.

Model for your child how breathing can be used to relax. Read them the following (or feel free to put it in your own words).

Take a few moments to settle yourself. Try to clear your mind of all thoughts. If you feel Try and relax every single one of your muscles. Lets relax your body piece by piece. Starting with your feet, relax your toes. Now let's relax your foot, (move up as you instruct them slowly to relax each part of his or her body.)

Now, make yourself aware of your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your body. This can be very relaxing.

Let’s all take a deep breath together. Notice your lungs and chest expanding. Now slowly let air out through your nose. Again, take a deep breath. Fill your lungs and chest. Notice how much air you can take in. Hold it for a second. Now release it and slowly exhale. One more time, inhale slowly and fully. Hold it for a second, and release.

Now on your own, continue breathing in this way for another couple of minutes. Continue to focus on your breathing. With each inhalation and exhalation, feel your body becoming more and more relaxed. Use your breathing to wash away any remaining stress.

(Have your child do this for a few moments.)

Now let’s take another deep breath. Inhale fully, hold it for a second, and release. Inhale again, hold, and release. Continue to be aware of your breath as it fills your lungs. Once more, inhale fully, hold it for a second, and release.

When you feel ready, open your eyes.

After the exercise, talk with the child about how it felt.

This breathing exercise can be shortened to just three deep inhalations and exhalations. Even that much can be effective in helping you relax when your anger is escalating. You can practice this at home, at work, on the bus, while waiting for an appointment, or even while walking. The key to making deep-breathing an effective relaxation technique is to practice it frequently and to apply it in a variety of situations.

This technique may sound dumb to HFA kids, but it really does work. The more they do it, the higher of a chance there is they will use it in a time of crisis.


The Aggression Cycle—

From an anger management perspective, an episode of anger can be viewed as consisting of three phases: escalation, explosion, and post-explosion. Together, they make up the aggression cycle. In this process, the escalation phase is characterized by cues that indicate anger is building. As stated earlier, these cues can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). As you may recall, cues are warning signs, or responses, to anger-provoking events.

Events, on the other hand, are situations that occur every day that may lead to escalations of anger if effective anger management strategies are not used. Red-flag events are types of situations that are unique to you and that you are especially sensitive to because of past events. These events can involve internal processes (e.g., thinking about situations that were anger provoking in the past) or external processes (e.g., experiencing real-life, anger-provoking situations in the here and now).

If the escalation phase is allowed to continue, the explosion phase will follow. The explosion phase is marked by an uncontrollable discharge of anger displayed as verbal or physical aggression. This discharge, in turn, leads to negative consequences; it is synonymous with the number 10 on the anger meter.

The final stage of the aggression cycle is the post-explosion phase. It is characterized by negative consequences resulting from the verbal or physical aggression displayed during the explosion phase. These consequences may include going to jail, making restitution, being terminated from a job or discharged from a drug treatment or social service program, losing family and loved ones, or feelings of guilt, shame, and regret.

The intensity, frequency, and duration of anger in the aggression cycle varies among individuals. For example, one HFA kid’s anger may escalate rapidly after a provocative event and, within just a few minutes, reach the explosion phase. Another kid’s anger may escalate slowly but steadily over several hours before reaching the explosion phase. Similarly, one child may experience more episodes of anger and progress through the aggression cycle more often than the other. However, both kids, despite differences in how quickly their anger escalates and how frequently they experience anger, will undergo all three phases of the aggression cycle.

The intensity of these HFA kid’s anger also may differ. One person may engage in more violent behavior than the other in the explosion phase. For example, he or she may use weapons or assault someone. The other person may express his or her anger during the explosion phase by shouting at or threatening other individuals. Regardless of these individual differences, the explosion phase is synonymous with losing control and becoming verbally or physically aggressive.

Notice that the escalation and explosion phases of the aggression cycle correspond to the levels on the anger meter. The points below 10 on the anger meter represent the escalation phase, the building up of anger. The explosion phase, on the other hand, corresponds to 10 on the anger meter. Again 10 on the anger meter is the point at which one loses control and expresses anger through verbal or physical aggression that leads to negative consequences.

One of the primary objectives of anger management treatment is to keep from reaching the explosion phase. This is accomplished by using the anger meter to monitor changes in your anger, attending to the cues or warning signs that indicate anger is building, and employing the appropriate strategies from your anger control plans to stop the escalation of anger.

If the explosion phase is prevented from occurring, the post-explosion phase will not occur, and the aggression cycle will be broken. If you use your anger control plans effectively, your anger should ideally reach between a 1 and a 9 on the anger meter. This is a reasonable goal to aim for. By preventing the explosion phase (10), you will not experience the negative consequences of the post-explosion phase, and you will break the cycle of aggression.
 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise—

This is an exercise that I use sometimes in therapy to help HFA kids calm down. Modeling it for them and encouraging them to practice it will raise the likelihood that they will do this when feeling upset.

(Use this script or put this in your own words.)

Last week you practiced deep-breathing as a relaxation technique. Today I will introduce progressive muscle relaxation. Start by getting comfortable in your chairs. Close your eyes if you like. Take a moment to really settle in. Now, as you did last week, begin to focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath. Hold it for a second. Now exhale fully and completely. Again, take a deep breath. Fill your lungs and chest. Now release and exhale slowly. Again, one more time, inhale slowly, hold, and release.

Now, while you continue to breathe deeply and fully, bring your awareness to your hands. Clench your fists very tightly. Hold that tension. Now relax your fists, letting your fingers unfold and letting your hands completely relax. Again, clench your fists tightly. Hold and release the tension. Imagine all the tension being released from your hands down to your fingertips. Notice the difference between the tension and complete relaxation.

Now bring your awareness to your arms. Curl your arms as if you are doing a bicep curl. Tense your fists, forearms, and biceps. Hold the tension and release it. Let the tension in your arms unfold and your hands float back to your thighs. Feel the tension drain out of your arms. Again, curl your arms to tighten your biceps. Notice the tension, hold, and release. Let the tension flow out of your arms. Replace it with deep muscle relaxation.

Now raise your shoulders toward your ears. Really tense your shoulders. Hold them up for a second. Gently drop your shoulders, and release all the tension. Again, lift your shoulders, hold the tension, and release. Let the tension flow from your shoulders all the way down your arms to your fingers. Notice how different your muscles feel when they are relaxed.

Now bring your awareness to your neck and face. Tense all those muscles by making a face. Tense your neck, jaw, and forehead. Hold the tension, and release. Let the muscles of your neck and jaw relax. Relax all the lines in your forehead. One final time, tense all the muscles in your neck and face, hold, and release. Be aware of your muscles relaxing at the top of your head and around your eyes. Let your eyes relax in their sockets, almost as if they were sinking into the back of your head. Relax your jaw and your throat. Relax all the muscles around your ears. Feel all the tension in your neck muscles release.

Now just sit for a few moments. Scan your body for any tension and release it. Notice how your body feels when your muscles are completely relaxed.

When you are ready, open your eyes. How was that? Did you notice any new sensations? How does your body feel now? How about your state of mind? Do you notice any difference now from when we started?

The A-B-C-D Model—

Albert Ellis developed a model that is consistent with the way we conceptualize anger management treatment. He calls his model the A-B-C-D or rational-emotive model. In this model, “A” stands for an activating event, what we have been calling the red-flag event. “B” represents the beliefs individuals have about the activating event. Ellis claims that it is not the events themselves that produce feelings such as anger, but our interpretations of and beliefs about the events. “C” stands for the emotional consequences of events. In other words, these are the feelings individuals experience as a result of their interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event.

According to Ellis and other cognitive behavioral theorists, as individuals become angry, they engage in an internal dialog, called “self-talk.” For example, suppose you were waiting for a bus to arrive. As it approaches, several individuals push in front of you to board. In this situation, you may start to get angry.

You may be thinking, “How can individuals be so inconsiderate! They just push me aside to get on the bus. They obviously don’t care about me or other individuals.” Examples of the irrational self-talk that can produce anger escalation are reflected in statements such as “Individuals should be more considerate of my feelings,” “How dare they be so inconsiderate and disrespectful,” and “They obviously don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

Ellis says that individuals do not have to get angry when they encounter such an event. The event itself does not get them upset and angry; rather, it is individual’s interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event that cause the anger. Beliefs underlying anger often take the form of “should” and “must.” Most of us may agree, for example, that respecting others is an admirable quality. Our belief might be, “Individuals should always respect others.”

In reality, however, individuals often do not respect each other in everyday encounters. You can choose to view the situation more realistically as an unfortunate defect of human beings, or you can let your anger escalate every time you witness, or are the recipient of, another person’s disrespect. Unfortunately, your perceived disrespect will keep you angry and push you toward the explosion phase. Ironically, it may even lead you to show disrespect to others, which would violate your own fundamental belief about how individuals should be treated.

Ellis’ approach consists of identifying irrational beliefs and disputing them with more rational or realistic perspectives (in Ellis’ model, “D” stands for dispute). You may get angry, for example, when you start thinking, “I must always be in control. I must control every situation.” It is not possible or appropriate, however, to control every situation. Rather than continue with these beliefs, you can try to dispute them. You might tell yourself, “I have no power over things I cannot control,” or “I have to accept what I cannot change.” These are examples of ways to dispute beliefs that you may have already encountered in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Individuals may have many other irrational beliefs that may lead to anger. Consider an example where a friend of yours disagrees with you. You may start to think, “Everyone must like me and give me approval.” If you hold such a belief, you are likely to get upset and angry when you face rejection. However, if you dispute this irrational belief by saying, “I can’t please everyone; some individuals are not going to approve of everything I do,” you will most likely start to calm down and be able to control your anger more easily.

Another common irrational belief is, “I must be respected and treated fairly by everyone.” This also is likely to lead to frustration and anger. Most folks, for example, live in an urban society where they may, at times, not be given the common courtesy they expect. This is unfortunate, but from an anger management perspective, it is better to accept the unfairness and lack of interpersonal connectedness that can result from living in an urban society. Thus, to dispute this belief, it is helpful to tell yourself, “I can’t be expected to be treated fairly by everyone.”

Other beliefs that may lead to anger include “Everyone should follow the rules,” or “Life should be fair,” or “Good should prevail over evil,” or “Individuals should always do the right thing.” These are beliefs that are not always followed by everyone in society, and, usually, there is little you can do to change that. How might you dispute these beliefs? In other words, what thoughts that are more rational and adaptive and will not lead to anger can be substituted for such beliefs?

For individuals with anger control problems, these irrational beliefs can lead to the explosion phase (10 on the anger meter) and to the negative consequences of the postexplosion phase. It is often better to change your outlook by disputing your beliefs and creating an internal dialog or self-talk that is more rational and adaptive.

The A-B-C-D Model—

A = Activating Situation or Event

B = Belief System
•    What you tell yourself about the event (your self-talk)
•    Your beliefs and expectations of others

C = Consequence
•    How you feel about the event based on your self-talk

D = Dispute
•    Examine your beliefs and expectations
•    Are they unrealistic or irrational?

Thought Stopping—

A second approach to controlling anger is called thought stopping. It provides an immediate and direct alternative to the A-B-C-D Model. In this approach, you simply tell yourself (through a series of self-commands) to stop thinking the thoughts that are getting you angry. For example, you might tell yourself, “I need to stop thinking these thoughts. I will only get into trouble if I keep thinking this way,” or “Don’t buy into this situation,” or “Don’t go there.” In other words, instead of trying to dispute your thoughts and beliefs as outlined in the A-B-C-D Model described above, the goal is to stop your current pattern of angry thoughts before they lead to an escalation of anger and loss of control.

Assertiveness Training—

Even if Young people on the autism spectrum are able to contain their anger, they will still be exposed to situations every day where individuals are acting aggressively towards them. This behavior can include verbal abuse, threats, or violent acts. Often, when another person has violated your rights, your first reaction is to fight back or retaliate. The basic message of aggression is that my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important and that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are unimportant and inconsequential.

One alternative to using aggressive behavior is to act passively or in a nonassertive manner. Acting in a passive or nonassertive way is undesirable because you allow your rights to be violated. You may resent the person who violated your rights, and you may also be angry with yourself for not standing up for your rights. In addition, it is likely that you will become even more angry the next time you encounter this person. The basic message of passivity is that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important, but my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are unimportant and inconsequential. Acting in a passive or nonassertive way may help you avoid the negative consequences associated with aggression, but it may also ultimately lead to negative personal consequences, such as diminished self-esteem, and prevent you from having your needs satisfied.
 

From an anger management perspective, the best way to deal with a person who has violated your rights is to act assertively. Acting assertively involves standing up for your rights in a way that is respectful of other individuals. The basic message of assertiveness is that my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important, and that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are equally important. By acting assertively, you can express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs to the person who violated your rights without suffering the negative consequences associated with aggression or the devaluation of your feelings, which is associated with passivity or non-assertion.

It is important to emphasize that assertive, aggressive, and passive responses are learned behaviors; they are not innate, unchangeable traits. Using the Conflict Resolution Model, you can learn to develop assertive responses that allow you to manage interpersonal conflicts in a more effective way.

In summary, aggression involves expressing feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in a harmful and disrespectful way. Passivity or non-assertiveness involves failing to express feelings, thoughts, and beliefs or expressing them in an apologetic manner that others can easily disregard. Assertiveness involves standing up for your rights and expressing feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in direct, honest, and appropriate ways that do not violate the rights of others or show disrespect.

The concept of assertiveness can be a difficult one for HFA kids to understand and it is recommended that you focus on controlling the anger first!

Conflict Resolution Model—

One method of acting assertively is to use the Conflict Resolution Model, which involves five steps that can easily be memorized.

The first step involves identifying the problem that is causing the conflict. It is important to be specific when identifying the problem. In this example, the problem causing the conflict is that your friend is late.

The second step involves identifying the feelings associated with the conflict. In this example, you may feel annoyance, frustration, or taken for granted.

The third step involves identifying the specific impact of the problem that is causing the conflict. In this example, the impact or outcome is that you are late for the meeting.

The fourth step involves deciding whether to resolve the conflict or let it go. This may best be phrased by the questions, “Is the conflict important enough to bring up? If I do not try to resolve this issue, will it lead to feelings of anger and resentment?”

If you decide that the conflict is important enough, then the fifth step is necessary. The fifth step is to address and resolve the conflict. This involves checking out the schedule of the other person. The schedule is important because you might bring up the conflict when the other person does not have the time to address it or when he or she may be preoccupied with another issue. Once you have agreed on a time with the person, you can describe the conflict, your feelings, and the impact of the conflict and ask for a resolution.

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 

Anger-Control Problems in Asperger's and HFA Teens

"I need help FAST with what to do about my teenage son with autism - high functioning, and his out of control rage!!! Please I need advice."

Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) may be prone to anger, which can be made worse by difficulty in communicating feelings of disturbance, anxiety or distress.

Anger may be a common reaction experienced when coming to terms with problems in employment, relationships, friendships and other areas in life affected by the disorder.

There can be an ‘on-off’ quality to this anger, where the teenager may be calm minutes later after an angry outburst, while those around are stunned and may feel hurt or shocked for hours, if not days, afterward.

Parents often struggle to understand these angry outbursts, with resentment and bitterness often building up over time. Once they understand that their teen has trouble controlling his anger or understanding its effects on others, they can often begin to respond in ways that will help to manage these outbursts.

In some cases, these teens may not acknowledge they have trouble with their anger, and will blame others for provoking them. Again, this can create enormous conflict within the family. It may take carefully phrased feedback and plenty of time for the them to gradually realize they have a problem with how they express their anger.



The next step is for the teen to learn anger-management skills. A good place to start is identifying a pattern in how the outbursts are related to specific frustrations. Such triggers may originate from the environment, specific individuals or internal thoughts.

==> My Aspergers Teen: Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens 

Common causes of anger in Asperger's and HFA teens:
  • Being swamped by multiple tasks or sensory stimulation
  • Build up of stress
  • Difficulties with employment and relationships despite being intelligent in many areas
  • Having routines and order disrupted
  • Intolerance of imperfections in others
  • Other people’s behavior (e.g., insensitive comments, being ignored)

Identifying the cause of anger can be a challenge.  

It is important to consider all possible influences relating to:
  • How well the teenager is treated by peers
  • The environment (e.g., too much stimulation, lack of structure, change of routine)
  • The teen’s mental state (e.g., existing frustration, confusion)
  • The teen’s physical state (e.g., pain, tiredness)

Steps to successful self-management of anger include:
  • Awareness of situations— The teen becomes more aware of the situations which are associated with them becoming angry. They may like to ask other people who know them to describe situations and behaviors they have noticed.
  • Becoming motivated— The teen identifies why they would like to manage anger more successfully. They identify what benefits they expect in everyday living from improving their anger management.
  • Develop an anger management record— The teen may keep a diary or chart of situations that trigger anger. List the situation, the level of anger on a scale of one to ten and the coping strategies that help to overcome or reduce feelings of anger.
  • Levels of anger and coping strategies— As the teen becomes more aware of situations associated with anger, they can keep a record of events, triggers and associated levels of anger. Different levels of anger can be explored (e.g. mildly annoyed, frustrated, irritated and higher levels of anger).
  • Self-awareness— The teen becomes more aware of personal thoughts, behaviors and physical states which are associated with anger. This awareness is important for the teen in order for them to notice the early signs of becoming angry. They should be encouraged to write down a list of changes they notice as they begin to feel angry.

A simple and effective technique for reducing levels of anger is the “Stop – Think” technique:

As the Asperger's or HFA teen notices the thoughts running through his mind...

1. Stop and think before reacting to the situation (are these thoughts accurate or helpful?)
2. Challenge the inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts
3. Create a new thought

A plan can also be developed to help a teen avoid becoming angry when they plan to enter into a situation that has a history of triggering anger. An example of a personal plan is using the “Stop – Think” technique when approaching a shopping center situation that is known to trigger anger.
  • My goal: To improve my ability to cope with anger when I am waiting in long queues. 
  • Typical angry thoughts: ‘The service here is so slack. Why can’t they hurry it up? I'm going to lose my cool any moment now’. Stop thinking this! 
  •  New calmer and helpful thoughts: ‘Everyone is probably frustrated by the long line – even the person serving us. I could come back another time, or, I can wait here and think about pleasant things such as going to see a movie’.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • Creative destruction or physical activity techniques to reduce anger
  • Find anger management classes in your area
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Self-talk methods
  • Use visual imagery (jumping into a cool stream takes the heat of anger away)

Coping with extreme anger:

It is hoped that teens with Asperger's and HFA can make use of these strategies when they notice themselves becoming angry and therefore avoid feeling extreme anger. However, this is clearly not always possible. For situations where teens feel they cannot control their anger, they can have a personal safety plan.

Possible steps in a personal safety plan:
  1. Avoid situations which are associated with a high risk of becoming angry
  2. Explain to another person how they can be of help to solve the problem
  3. Explore the benefits of using medication with a doctor or psychiatrist
  4. Leave the situation if possible
  5. Make changes to routines and surroundings (e.g., avoid driving in peak hour traffic)
  6. Phone a friend, or a crisis center to talk about the cause of anger
  7. Plan ways to become distracted from the stressful situation (e.g., carry a magazine)



Aspergers and HFA Children with Anger Problems

Many moms and dads recognize that their Aspergers or high functioning autistic (HFA) child has a problem with anger management. They feel their child needs to develop anger management skills, or needs to find some kind of anger management counseling that will help them get along better in life -- in school, at work, with a parent, with siblings, and others. In some cases, professionals may have diagnosed the Aspergers or HFA child with a “conduct disorder”, or “oppositional defiant disorder”.

Types of Anger—

The natural response to fear is to fight it or avoid it. When confronted with fear, animals and humans both go into “fight or flight”, “violence or silence”, or “gun or run”. They engage in the conflict, or they withdraw. Though many moms and dads may equate “child anger management” with the “fight-violence-gun,” uncontrollable rage, parents must also recognize that anger may be “turned inwards” in the “flight-silence-run” mode, which can often times be as dangerous, if not more so, than expressed anger.

Generally, anger falls into three main categories: 1) Fight, 2) Flight, or 3) Pretend to be “Flighting”, while finding indirect ways to Fight. Most children on the autism spectrum who have anger management problems will go to either extreme of fight or flight. They tend to become aggressive, mean, and hostile, or they withdraw into themselves and become extremely silent, silently stubborn, and depressed.

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

“The Fighters”: Child Anger Turned to Aggression—

“The fighters” are pretty simple to recognize. They are aggressive. Many times, the characteristics of Aspergers and HFA children with anger management problems are included in the professional diagnosis for “Conduct Disorder” or an “Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)”. Some of the warning signs in the following list are taken from the criteria for professional diagnosis. Others are additional common signs of anger management problems for children that are “fighters”.
  • Destroys property
  • Difficulty accepting a “No” answer
  • Does not follow rules
  • Frequently vocalizes anger
  • Furious temper
  • Has left holes in walls and doors from violent outbursts
  • Initiates fights with others
  • Loud and yelling
  • Makes threats
  • Often demeans or swears directly to parent or others in authority positions
  • Often feels rules are “stupid”, or don’t apply
  • Openly and often defiant of requests
  • Physically cruel to animals
  • Physically cruel to people
  • Seems to have “emotional diarrhea”, and “lets it all out, all the time”
  • Seriously violates rules (at home, in school, or society in general)
  • Uncontrollable fits of rage (usually these “temper tantrums” are used as threats to get their way)

This list does not list every possible warning sign for the “fighters”. The child “Fighters” have anger management problems when the problems are creating an unsafe situation for themselves, for others, or for property around them. If animals and/or people are the focus of the anger and aggression, the problem is extremely critical to address. Aspergers and HFA teenagers who have abused animals or people as kids are at a higher risk of becoming a threat to society than those who have not. Where these warning signs seem to be a part of daily life, intervention is strongly suggested. Intervention can be through anger management counseling, an anger management program, or a program dedicated and experienced in working with special needs children with anger management problems.

“The Flighters”: Child Anger Turned to Passive Responses—

The “Flighters” can also be fairly simple to recognize. They are passive. They do not fight back when confronted. Many of their characteristics may coincide with the diagnosis of depression. Some of these warning signs are taken from the professional diagnosis for depression, and others are taken from learning, observations and experience.
  • Deals with difficult emotions by “cutting” the emotions off
  • Does not engage in much conversation
  • Extremely passive, to the point of getting “walked over” by others
  • Has difficulty expressing emotions
  • Holds anger in, then “blows up” suddenly and violently
  • May blame self unnecessarily
  • May have few friends
  • May punch holes in walls or kick doors, when “the last straw drops”
  • May be seen as a “loner”
  • May simply “go along” with whatever, even when it is a poor decision
  • Physical problems may include upset stomach, muscle aches, backaches, frequent headaches, or other physical symptoms from “holding it in”.
  • Seems “emotionally constipated”
  • Seems depressed
  • Seems to have very little emotion
  • Seems to hold anger in
  • Seems withdrawn
  • Tends to spend a lot of time alone
The “flighters” are in danger of destroying themselves emotionally from within. The “flighters” are like a balloon being constantly blown into, with no release valve. When they explode, their anger may be violent, and may lead to harming themselves, harming others, or destroying property. Internalized anger is potentially as destructive to a child as aggressive anger.

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

“The Pretenders”: Child Anger Silently Planning Revenge—

Perhaps the most difficult to detect, the “Pretenders” follow an anger style that seems to be calm on the surface, but is raging, scheming, and planning underneath. They are passive-aggressive. These children do not directly confront the anger as a “Fighter” would do. They will be passive and appear to accept what is said, and then will disregard what is said to do their own thing. They are sneaky. Often, they may be unnoticed. While they are giving a person a hug, they are also stabbing them in the back (so to speak). They lack the courage to be direct, and perfect the skills to be deceitful. They know where the “back door” to revenge is, and will use it often.

They will give the appearance of a “Flighter”. The list of “flighter” characteristics also applies to them. Additional items to look for with “Pretenders” are on the following list.
  • Inconsistency between what is said and what is done
  • May be very good at blaming others
  • May not admit mistakes
  • Often gets caught in lies
  • Sneaky behaviors
  • Tends to avoid direct conflict, while creating problems in other areas
  • Tends to sabotage

These warning signs are a few to look for the “Pretenders”. Aspergers and HFA children who try to manage their anger through the “Pretender” style are as potentially dangerous to others and themselves as the other style. Moms and dads cannot underestimate the “Pretender” style because the danger does not seem to be that of the aggressive “Fighter”.

As has been shown, anger comes in three main styles -- Fighter, Flighter, and Pretender -- and each style has the potential to create big problems for the Aspergers or HFA child, families, and society in general. This post has offered specific warning signs that may indicate if a child on the spectrum has an anger management problem more significant than what is to normally be expected. When necessary, professional and competent intervention is recommended.

==> More parenting strategies for dealing with tantrums and anger control problems can be found here...


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

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

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10 comments:


Anonymous said...

    I have a question, is a child with asperger's able to kill an animal, such as a cat????
    he was asked if it bothered him and he laughed and said, it made it little sister cry. And would they do these things because of jealousy of the sibling?
    Thank you for your response.

Anonymous said...

    if this were my child I would bring him in to his psychologist. I don't think its typical for any child of any ability to be harming animals...without a proper evaluation there is no way anyone here can answer this question...we would all be speculating. Ask a professional.

Anonymous said...

    RUN to a professional, and if you don't think you found the right one for your child and family, keep looking. Abuse to animals is very serious, and often does not stop there. At this point, you might not know if your child did this out of frustration, anger, etc, or if he enjoys watching reactions (without any real malintent). Whatever the case, intervention is needed ASAP. If you are truly unsure he did it, you are at least acknowledging the possibility, so please don't get scared and back off. Even if he is not the culprit here, his reaction to the situation is not one you should be comfortable with. Blessings and good luck.

Anonymous said...

    I agree with the above comments. I have an Asperger's son who has plenty of anger/aggressiveness issues, but he is always kind and loving to animals. He also gets very irritated with his younger siblings but is never cruel (he might yell at them, etc. if they are "bugging" him). I can't imagine him purposely doing something to make someone cry (unintentionally maybe). I think your child might have something going on besides Asperger's. Early intervention can help--I'd get started quickly!

Anonymous said...

    I certainly wouldn't call this typical aspie behavior... I agree with Megan, RUN to a professional.

    Anonymous said...

    I found that although my daughter does not appear to connect with people emotionally, inherently she displays a lot of compassion for others. It might be an “Aspie like” trait to say something to a person unwittingly hurting the person’s feelings however I also found that strong emotional responses such as crying, laughing or yelling make an immediate impression on my daughter. If your son is displaying pleasure in seeing such a negative response that is something entirely different. Trait’s of Asperger’s is that the person does not identify with others feelings and/or does not know how to respond. Your son had a pleasurable response. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

    cruelty to animals is a MAJOR red flag, part of the homicidal triad. RUN to a psychologist!!!
 
Anonymous said...

    Did any of you even read the article that proceeds the comments? Hostility toward animals is a common problem with Aspie's, especially those who are "fighters". If you have an Aspie child, you should already be seeing a professional, so that's not the issue. The issue is understanding -- REALLY understanding -- the challenges your child is facing so that you can help him respond appropriately. To the OP: Whether your child killed the cat or not doesn't have to be determined. If he is a Pretender, he may pretend he did it even if he didn't. If he is a Fighter, maybe he did. Whatever. The point now is to give him every possible advantage by educating yourself and then teaching him HOW to better respond to his complex emotions. He doesn't feel or think the way you feel or think; don't expect him to. Ever. But DO expect him to LEARN appropriate, safe modes of expression. It takes time, patience, and persistence. In the meantime, don't add pets to your household. Your child needs CONSTANT supervision, and may always need it. My son turned 21 today, and I still spend 99% of my time "dealing" with the issues that result from being the parent of an Aspie. It's a commitment unlike anything you could ever even imagine, so buck up, educate yourself, and get down to the hard job of teaching this child what he needs to learn to survive in our cruel world. And DON'T rely on message boards as your source of information. Rely on the experts.

   Anonymous said...

    I actually am the one with AS and I was just looking at websites to better understand myself and my behaviors especially when I was little. I am a girl with AS who is now in her teenage years but when I was younger I was defiantly both a "fighter" and a " pretender". I still am in some ways but I have found that my temper is getting better as I am getting older.

    Anonymous said...

    I have a 15 year old with aspirers and lately he has been very fascinated with poronography. He ordered over $500 with of porno on his cell phone ( which has since been taken away) and ordered $600 of porno movies on my tv. Last night we got home and he had tries to rent another porno and he I told him no that is no acceptable and he hit me in the cheat very hard and left a bruise. I don't know what to do for him.

Fight, Flight or Pretend: The 3 Anger Styles in High-Functioning Autistic Kids

“My 8 y.o. son Cory has a diagnosis of autism (high functioning) and has uncontrollable outbursts and aggression when things don’t go his way. He often becomes so distraught that his suffering is palpable. The emotions vivid on his face. His little body tense with distress. Sometimes he will meltdown, at other times he shuts down. Is this just par for the course with autism? Is there anything that can help reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of these behaviors?”

RE: “Is this just par for the course with autism?”

Yes! Many moms and dads recognize that their high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s) youngster has a problem with anger-control. Many feel that their youngster needs to develop some anger-control skills, or needs to find some kind of counseling that will help him get along better in life (e.g., at school, with a parent, with siblings and classmates, etc.). In some cases, professionals have diagnosed a highly-aggressive youngster on the spectrum with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Generally, anger falls into three main categories: 1) Fight, 2) Flight, or 3) Pretend to be “Flighting” (while finding indirect ways to Fight). Most high-functioning autistic kids with anger-control problems will go to either extreme of fight or flight. They tend to become aggressive and hostile, or they withdraw into themselves and become extremely quiet, silently stubborn, and depressed (i.e., a shutdown).

“The Fighters”: Child Anger Turned to Aggression—



The Fighters are pretty simple to recognize. They are aggressive. Many times, the characteristics of high-functioning autistic kids with severe anger-control problems are included in the professional diagnosis for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Some of the warning signs in the following list are taken from the criteria for professional diagnosis. Others are additional common signs of anger-control problems for kids that are Fighters.
  • Uncontrollable fits of rage (usually these tantrums are used as threats to get their way)
  • Seriously violates rules (e.g., at home, in school, or society in general)
  • Seems to have “emotional diarrhea” and “lets it all out - all the time”
  • Physically disruptive (e.g., hitting the parent)
  • Openly and often defiant of requests
  • Often feels rules are “stupid” or don’t apply to them
  • Often demeans or swears directly to parent or others in authority positions
  • Makes threats
  • Loud voice and yelling
  • Initiates fights with others
  • Has left holes in walls and doors from violent outbursts
  • Furious temper
  • Frequently vocalizes anger
  • Does not follow rules
  • Difficulty accepting a “no” answer
  • Destroys property

The “Fighters” have anger-control problems when the problems are creating an unsafe situation for themselves, for others, or for property around them. If parents or siblings are the focus of physical aggression, the problem is extremely critical to address. High-functioning autistic teens who have abused others as kids are at a higher risk of becoming a threat to society than those who have not. Where these warning signs seem to be a part of daily life, intervention is strongly suggested. Intervention can be through anger-control counseling, or through a program dedicated and experienced in working with autistic kids with emotional regulation difficulties.
 

“The Flighters”: Child Anger Turned to Passive Responses—

The Flighters can also be fairly simple to recognize. They are passive. They do not fight back when confronted. Many of their traits may coincide with the diagnosis of depression. Some of the warning signs below are taken from the professional diagnosis for depression, and others are additional common signs of “shutdowns” for Flighters.
  • Tends to spend a lot of time alone
  • Seems withdrawn
  • Seems to hold anger in
  • Seems to have very little emotion
  • Seems depressed
  • Seems “emotionally constipated”
  • Physical problems may include upset stomach, muscle aches, backaches, frequent headaches, or other physical symptoms from “holding it in”
  • May simply “go along” with whatever - even when it is a poor decision
  • May punch holes in walls or kick doors when “the last straw drops”
  • May have few friends
  • May blame self unnecessarily
  • May be seen as a “loner”
  • Holds anger in, then “blows up” suddenly and violently
  • Has difficulty expressing emotions
  • Extremely passive to the point of getting “walked over” by others
  • Does not engage in much conversation
  • Deals with difficult emotions by “cutting” the emotions off

The “Flighters” are in danger of destroying themselves emotionally from within. They are like a balloon being constantly blown into with no release valve. When they explode, their anger may be violent, and may lead to harming themselves, harming others, or destroying property. Internalized anger is potentially as destructive to a youngster as aggressive anger.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
 
“The Pretenders”: Child Anger Silently Planning Revenge—

Perhaps the most difficult to detect, the Pretenders follow an anger style that seems to be calm on the surface, but is raging, scheming, and planning underneath. They are passive-aggressive. These kids do not directly confront the anger as a Fighter would do. They will be passive and appear to accept what is said, and then will disregard what is said to do their own thing. They are sneaky. Often, they may be unnoticed. While they are giving a person a hug, they are also stabbing them in the back (so to speak). They lack the courage to be direct, and perfect the skills to be deceitful. They know where the “back door” to revenge is, and will use it often. They will give the appearance of a Flighter. The list of Flighter traits also applies to them. Some additional traits to look for with Pretenders are as follows:
  • Tends to sabotage
  • Tends to avoid direct conflict while creating problems in other areas
  • Sneaky behaviors
  • Often gets caught in lies
  • May not admit mistakes
  • May be very good at blaming others
  • Inconsistency between what is said and what is done

High-functioning autistic kids who try to manage their anger through the Pretender style are as potentially dangerous to others and themselves as the other styles. Moms and dads tend to underestimate the Pretender style, because the danger does not seem to be as bad as the aggressive Fighter.

The Hostility Cycle—

From an anger-control perspective, an episode of anger can be viewed as consisting of three phases: escalation, explosion, and post-explosion. Together, they make up the hostility cycle. In this process, the escalation phase is characterized by cues that indicate anger is building. These cues can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). If the escalation phase is allowed to continue, the explosion phase will follow. The explosion phase is marked by uncontrollable anger displayed as verbal or physical aggressiveness. The final stage of the hostility cycle is the post-explosion phase, which is characterized by negative consequences resulting from the verbal or physical aggression displayed during the explosion phase.

The intensity, frequency, and duration of anger in the hostility cycle varies among children. For example, one high-functioning autistic youngster’s anger may escalate rapidly after a provocative event and, within just a few minutes, reach the explosion phase. Another youngster’s anger may escalate slowly but steadily over several hours before reaching the explosion phase. Similarly, one child may experience more episodes of anger and progress through the hostility cycle more often than the other. Despite differences in how quickly the anger escalates and how frequently anger is expressed, the child will undergo all three phases of the hostility cycle.
 

The intensity of the high-functioning autistic youngster’s anger also may differ. One child may engage in more violent behavior than the other in the explosion phase (e.g., he may assault someone). Another child may express his anger during the explosion phase by shouting at or threatening parents. Regardless of these individual differences, the explosion phase is synonymous with losing control and becoming verbally or physically aggressive.




RE: “Is there anything that can help reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of these behaviors?”

Absolutely! Here are some crucial strategies to help teach your son more constructive ways to deal with anger and frustration:

1. When Cory becomes frustrated, use those incidents as "on-the-spot lessons" to help him learn to calm himself down (rather than always relying on you to calm him down). Every time he acts-out due to low-frustration tolerance, ALWAYS use that moment as a teaching moment. For example, explain to him that we all have little signs that warn us when we’re getting frustrated. We should listen to these signs, because they can help us stay out of trouble. Next, help Cory recognize what specific warning signs he may have that tells him he is starting to get angry (e.g., I talk louder, my cheeks get hot, I clench my fists, my heart starts pounding, my mouth gets dry, I breathe faster, etc.).

2. Use books and social stories about anger to help your son understand and manage it. Well-presented stories about anger and other emotions validate a youngster's feelings and give information about anger. It is important to preview all books about anger, because some stories teach irresponsible anger-control.

3. Use role-playing, puppets, or videos to teach social skills (e.g., how to treat each other, how to work out disagreements, etc.).

4. Use feeling words to help Cory understand the emotions of others (e.g., “Robbie is sitting alone and looks very sad; he may be lonely” …or “When Michael tripped, he looked embarrassed”).

5. Train your son to respond to your "signal" (e.g., a hand motion) to stay calm. Give that signal as soon as he starts "stewing" about something. Alternatively, you can use distraction as soon as you notice him exhibiting an anger sign. If he refuses to be distracted or engaged in dialoguing about his anger and starts yelling, stomping or breaking an object, impose appropriate consequences. But, have these consequences in place ahead of time to serve as a guideline. That means that you have discussed them beforehand and written them out for future reference. Armed with a list of consequences (which preferably consist of withdrawing privileges or charging your son a "penalty"), encourage him to choose such alternatives as doing something else, walking away, or talking about the anger rather than acting it out.
 

6. Try a "time-in" rather than a "time-out." As a parent, you are Cory's main guide in life. He relies on you to be there with him through his difficult emotional experiences, whatever that may be. Thus, no time-out and no isolation may be the best option on occasion. Instead, try a "time-in." Sit with Cory and incorporate other methods mentioned in this post (e.g., work on breathing with him, ask him questions about his feelings, etc.). The important thing is to be fully present with Cory to help him through his emotions. Remember, you are teaching him social skills to be in relationships with others, rather than acting out alone. When some autistic kids are isolated, they often ruminate and feel guilty for their behavior. This only serves to create low self-esteem, which often cycles back to creating behavioral problems.

7. The thought "It's not fair" is a big anger-arouser for many high-functioning autistic kids. If that is the case, ask your son, "Do you feel you are being treated unfairly?" When he answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his feelings.

8. Teach Cory to take a time-out from the difficult situation and have some “alone-time” for a few minutes. During the time-out, he can rethink the situation, calm down, and determine what to do next. The length of the time-out is determined by the intensity of the emotion. An autistic youngster who is simply frustrated may just need to take a deep breath. The youngster who is infuriated probably needs to leave the room and settle down. After Cory has calmed down, it’s time to decide on a more appropriate response to the situation. There are at least 3 positive choices: talk about it, get help, or slow down. Simplifying the choices makes the decision process easier. Even autistic kids can learn to respond constructively to frustration when they know there are just a few choices.  These choices are skills to be learned. Take time to teach Cory these skills, and practice them as responses to mad feelings.

9. Teach your son to talk about how he feels. Give him a language to express his feelings. If he is too angry to talk or doesn't have the words to express his feelings, ask about the feelings relevant to the specific situation. For example, "Do you feel rejected?" "Hurt?" "Let down?" …etc. When your son expresses the feeling behind his anger (e.g., embarrassment or rejection), suggest some other ways to look at the same event that might not be embarrassing or humiliating.

10. Some high-functioning autistic kids get upset when they know they made a mistake. Instead of admitting their mistake, they act out in anger to deflect the attention off of them. If you realize that this might be the case, it's helpful to say to your son, "Everyone makes mistakes. I am okay with it. Don't feel so bad about it."

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

11. Stop any and all physically aggressive behaviors! Say something like, "I can't let you hurt each other," or "I can't let you hurt me." Then remove Cory as gently as possible.

12. Sometimes an autistic child’s anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in his life. Not all anger is misplaced. Occasionally it's a healthy, natural response to the difficulties that the “special needs” child faces. There is a common belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to the parent’s frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. Thus, the best attitude to bring to such a circumstance is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle the problem as painlessly as possible.

13. Try to establish a home environment that reduces anger and teaches tolerance. For example, you can set a personal example for your son that "big people apologize when they hurt someone” and “it's o.k. to loose and try again.”

14. Simple relaxation tools can help Cory calm down. For example, he can (a) use imagery and visualize a relaxing experience from either his memory or his imagination; (b) slowly repeat a calm word or phrase (e.g., “relax” or “take it easy”) and repeat it to himself; (c) breathe deeply from his diaphragm (however, breathing from the chest won't relax him, so he should picture his breath coming up from the belly).

15. Resist taking Cory’s angry outbursts personally. His motives have more to do with alleviating uncomfortable emotions than with deliberately trying to be “nasty.”

16. One thing that makes many moms and dads angry is to see their youngster challenging their authority and defying them. Sometimes it may appear so, but that may not be the intention of the high-functioning autistic youngster. For example, the child may be too unhappy to be told ‘no’ because he wants something so badly. Of course, you shouldn't give in to your son’s demands, but try to understand what might really be his intention.

17. Many children on the autism spectrum act-out because they simply don’t know how to express their anger any other way. Kicking, screaming, swearing, hitting or throwing things may be the only way they know how to express their emotions. To help Cory express his frustrations appropriately, create an “emotion words” poster together (e.g., "Let’s think of all the words we could use that tell others we’re really frustrated"). Then list his ideas (e.g., angry, mad, annoyed, furious, irritated, etc.). Write them on a chart, hang it up, and practice using them often. When Cory is upset, use the words so he can apply them to real life (e.g., "Looks like you’re really frustrated. Want to talk about it?" …or "You seem really annoyed. Do you need to walk it off?"). Then keep adding new feeling words to the list whenever new ones come up in those "teachable moments" throughout the day.

18. Listen, reflect and validate (without judgment) the feelings Cory expresses. After listening, help him identify the true feeling underlying the anger (e.g., hurt, frustration, sadness, disappointment, fear, etc.). Say something like, "That hurt when your friend was mean to you," or “It was scary to have those boys bully you.”

19. Involve Cory in making a small list of “house rules” (e.g., we work out differences peacefully, we use self-control, we listen to others, we are kind to each other, etc.). Write them down and post them on the refrigerator. Make the rules clear, and follow through with meaningful consequences that are appropriate for Cory’s age when the rules are ignored.

20. Model responsible anger-control yourself. High-functioning autistic kids have an impaired ability to understand emotion when their parents show a lot of anger. Parents who are most effective in helping their kids manage anger model responsible management by acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for their own angry feelings, and by expressing anger in direct and non-aggressive ways.
 

21. Help Cory to understand that anger is a natural emotion that everyone has. Say something like, "It's normal to feel angry. Everyone feels angry from time to time, but it is not O.K. to hurt others."

22. Help your son develop self-regulatory skills. Parents of kids on the spectrum do a lot of “child-regulation work" (i.e., doing things ‘for’ their child rather than ‘with’ their child). This is because parents know that their child has a very limited ability to regulate emotions. As the high-functioning autistic child gets older, parents can gradually transfer control to their child so that he can develop self-regulatory skills.

23. Facilitate communication and problem solving with Cory by asking questions (e.g., How can I help you? What can you do to help yourself? What do you need? Is your behavior helping you solve your problem? …and so on).

24. Encourage Cory to accept responsibility for his anger and to gain control by asking himself the following questions: Did I do or say anything to create the problem? If so, how can I make things better? How can I keep this issue from happening again?

25. Create a “ways to relax” poster. There are dozens of ways to help autistic kids calm down when they first start to get bent out of shape. Unfortunately, most of these “special needs” children have never been given the opportunity to think of those other possibilities. Thus, they keep getting into trouble because the only behavior they know is inappropriate ways to express their frustration. So, talk with Cory about more acceptable "replacement behaviors.” Make a big poster listing them (e.g., draw pictures, hit a pillow, listen to music, run a lap, shoot baskets, sing a song, talk to someone, think of a peaceful place, walk away, etc.). Once he chooses a replacement behavior, encourage him to use the same strategy each time he starts to get upset.

26. Encourage your son to “label” his emotions. For example, a permanent record (book or chart) can be made of lists of labels for “anger” (furious, mad, hot, irritated, annoyed), and he can refer to it when discussing angry feelings.

27. Be sure to VALUE what Cory is experiencing. For example, if he is hurt and crying, never say, "Stop crying." Instead, validate his experience by saying something like, "I’m sure that hurts. That would make me cry too." This makes an ally out of you, rather than a target for free-floating anger. As an ally, Cory learns to trust you, realizing you are there for him no matter what. If he can trust you, he can learn to trust himself and the outer world.

28. Acknowledge strong emotions, helping Cory to save face (e.g., say, "It must be hard to get a low score after you tried so hard").

29. All of us exhibit some "signs" just as we begin to get angry. So, it’s actually fairly easy to identify the “anger signs” in a youngster with high-Functioning Autism. For example, you may detect a certain look in the eye, a tone of voice, or a tightness in your child’s body. Thus, your first course of action is to help him observe these signs right at the onset of anger. Once he can identify the early signs of his anger, he can also learn to diffuse it by self-soothing techniques (e.g., walking away, taking full and vigorous breaths, etc.).

30. Lastly, help Cory understand that he can “choose” how to react when he feels angry or frustrated. Teach him self-control and positive ways to cope with negative impulses (e.g., write about feelings, tense body and then relax, tell someone how you feel, play music or sing, look at books or read, hug a pet or a stuffed animal, find a quiet place or sit alone, exercise, draw or play with clay, count slowly, calm self by breathing deeply, etc.).

By using a few of the ideas listed above, you can help strengthen your relationship with your high-functioning autistic youngster and give him the tools he needs to cope effectively with frustration and anger.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
 
 
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