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How To Write Social Stories

What is a Social Story?

A social story is a simple method that may be used at home, school, or in the community to teach or maintain social skills, daily living skills, or behavior management skills of kids with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism (HFA).

A social story addresses specific situations by teaching the child appropriate behaviors and responses (e.g., how to cope with changes in routine, how to get along with peers, how to work in the classroom) and provides (a) an explanation of detailed social information (e.g., guidelines for waiting a turn in conversation, sharing, or demonstrating good manners), and (b) desired responses instead of problem behaviors.

The purpose of a social story is to:
  • address a wide variety of problem behaviors (i.e., aggression, fear, obsessions)
  • break goals into easy steps
  • correct child responses to a social situation in a nonthreatening manner
  • describe social situations and appropriate responses
  • help the child cope with both expected and unexpected transitions
  • personalize instruction
  • teach routines for better retention and generalization

How to Write a Social Story—

1. Identify the target behavior you wish change or maintain. Focus on writing the social story about the behavior you want the Aspergers or HFA child to learn or increase (e.g., Kyle’s obsession is “trains.” He focuses on trains to the exclusion of doing homework, and his grades are suffering as a result).

2. Define the target behavior and collect data. To make sure that the social story is effective, parents and the child need to have an identical understanding of what behavior is being targeted. This means that specific descriptive and measurable information must be noted (e.g., to measure the number of times Kyle engages in inappropriate conversations about trains, the parent puts a tally mark for each time that he initiates a conversation about trains).

3. To develop an effective social story, (a) gather information about the child’s interests, abilities, impairments, and motivating factors, (b) observe situations that often present problem behaviors, (c) ask the child for his perspective of the specific target behavior, and (d) determine the topics for the social story.

Example questions to determine the target behavior include:
  1. Does it appear as if the child enjoys performing the behavior?
  2. Does the behavior ever occur following a request to perform a difficult task?
  3. Does the behavior ever occur when the child wants to get a toy, food, or activity that he has been told he can’t have?
  4. Does the behavior occur whenever the adult stops paying attention to the child?
  5. Does the behavior occur when the child is calm and unaware of anything else going on around him?
  6. Would the behavior occur repeatedly in the same way for very long periods of time, if no one was around?

Formula for Developing a Social Story—

The three types of sentences in a social story are:

1. Descriptive – tells where situations occur, who is involved, what they are doing, and why (e.g., "During Homework Time, me and my brother are in our separate bedrooms sitting at our desks. We are either reading or writing so we can get our assignments done before T.V. Time).

2. Perspective – describes the reactions and feelings of the child and of others (e.g., "When I talk about trains instead of doing homework, it makes me get poor grades in Math and Spelling, which makes my mom and the teacher unhappy").

3. Directive – tells the child what to do (e.g., "When I want to talk to my mom or brother about trains, I will have to wait until Free Time").

Photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, or pictorial icons can help aid in the child's understanding of the social story (although some children may be distracted by pictures or may have difficulty generalizing from a picture).

Social stories can be written in book format, bound or placed in a notebook. However, they can also be written on poster board, cardboard, laminated paper, or on a chalk-board.

Using the Social Story in a Real Life Situation—

1. Read the story to the child in a location with few distractions.

2. Briefly explain the importance of a social story (e.g., Discuss with Kyle the importance of completing homework).

3. Read through the story once or twice and, when necessary, model the desired behavior (e.g., After reading with Kyle his social story about waiting for Free Time to talk about trains, the parent pretends to be the brother who comes into Kyle’s room. Kyle is encouraged to tell his brother that he is doing homework and will play later).

4. If needed, create a schedule for the child in which the story is read at the same time and in the same way each time.

5. If needed, read the story just prior to a situation in which the problem behavior is likely to occur (e.g., If Kyle’s problem with talking about trains occurs mainly during Homework Time, it may be helpful to read the social story right before Homework Time each day).

6. Consider providing opportunities for the child to read the social story to other children or adults.

How do you know if the Social Story is working?
  • Observe the child’s behavior and comments when the story is presented.
  • Conduct ongoing data collection on the child’s behavior.
  • Compare your observations to those of others.
  • Collect data now that the story has been implemented and compare the data to the previous data.
  • Determine if the child has acquired, generalized, and maintained the new behavior.

What should you do if the Social Story is NOT working?

If the child has not responded to the social story after an appropriate length of time (varies by target behavior and the time each child requires to learn a new skill), review the social story and how it has been used. If modifications are needed, change only one aspect of the social story at a time (e.g., Change when the story is read. Do not change the words of the story or who reads the story. This helps determine what aspect of the social story works and does not work).

What should you do if the Social Story IS working?
  • Let the social story fade away slowly by extending the time between readings or having the child read the story independently.
  • Work with the child to identify new social skills to address.
  • Create new social stories that address other targeted behaviors.
  • Help the child continue to generalize new behaviors (e.g., The parent could help Kyle generalize “staying focused on homework” rather than the “train obsession” in situations outside of the home, such as school or Boy Scouts).
  • Reintroduce the previous story as needed.


A social story helps children with Aspergers and HFA acquire, generalize, and maintain social skills that make them more successful at home, school, and the community.

1. Identify the target behavior.

2. Write the social story taking care that the vocabulary matches the child's age, reading, and functioning level. If possible, write the story with the child.

3. Include any combination of descriptive, perspective, directive, or control sentences.

4. If needed, use pictures, photographs, or icons to aid comprehension.

5. Construct the social story out of materials appropriate for the child’s developmental level using cardboard, poster board, laminated pages, etc.

6. Provide an appropriate routine for the social story to be read.

7. If the child does not appear to be responding to the social story, adjust the content of the story and/or the child's access to the social story.

8. Fade the social story when the desired outcome is maintained and reintroduce if needed (some children may continue to rely on a social story for an extended period of time).

Examples of Social Stories:

The Lunch Room

My school has many rooms. One room is called the lunch room. Usually the children eat lunch in the lunch room. The children hear the lunch bell. The children know the lunch bell tells them to line up at the door. We have a line to be fair to those who have waited the longest. As each person arrives they join the end of the line. When I arrive I will try to join the end of the line. The children are hungry. They want to eat. I will try to stand quietly in the lunch line until it is my turn to buy my lunch. Lunch lines and turtles are both very slow. Sometimes they stop; sometimes they go. My teacher will be pleased that I have waited quietly.

Standing Too Close

Sometimes I talk to the other children in my class. The other children don't like when I stand very close to them. When I stand too closely, it makes my friends feel crowded. If I stand too close, other children sometimes get mad at me. I can back up and stand three feet away from my friends when we talk. It makes my friends happy when I stand three feet away when we talk.

Don't have time to write a social story?  No problem!  We have some for you here in video format. Just sit with your child at the computer and watch them together.

==> Click here for the videos...

Behavior Problems in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Parents often have difficulty recognizing the difference between variations in “normal behavior” versus “Aspergers-related behavior.” In reality, the line between ‘normal’ and ‘Aspergers behavior’ is not always clear – usually it is a matter of expectation.

A fine line can often divide normal from Aspergers teen behavior, in part because what is normal depends upon the teen's level of development, which can vary among teens of the same age. Development can be uneven, too, with a teen's social development lagging behind his intellectual growth, or vice versa. In addition, normal teen behavior is in part determined by the particular situation and time, as well as by the teen's own particular family values, expectations, and cultural or social background.

Understanding your Aspergers (high-functioning autistic) teen's developmental progress is necessary in order to interpret, accept or adapt his behavior (as well as your own). Remember, teens have great individual variations of temperament, development and behavior – especially when they have to deal with the Aspergers condition.

Your responses, as a parent, are guided by whether you see the adolescent's behavior as a problem. Frequently, parents over-interpret or over-react to a minor, normal short-term change in the teen’s behavior. At the other extreme, moms and dads may ignore or downplay a serious problem. Also, they may seek quick, simple answers to what are, in fact, complex Aspergers teen problems. All of these responses to teen behavior may create more difficulty or prolong a resolution.

Adolescent behavior that moms and dads tolerate, disregard or consider acceptable differs from one family to another. Some of the differences come from the parent’s unique upbringing. They may have had very strict parents themselves, and the expectations of their kids follow accordingly. Some behavior is considered a problem when parents feel that others are judging them for their teen's behavior. This leads to inconsistent responses from the parent, who may tolerate behavior at home that he/she would not tolerate in public.

Sometimes moms and dads feel so hurt by their Aspergers teen’s behavior that they respond by returning the “disrespect” – which is a mistake. Teens know that they still need their parents even if they can't admit it. The rollercoaster they put the parent on is also the one they're feeling internally. As the parent, you need to stay calm and try to weather this teenage rebellion phase, which usually passes by the time a child is 16 or 17.

But no one's saying your Aspergers teenager should be allowed to be truly nasty or to curse at you, for example. When this happens, you have to enforce basic behavior standards. By letting your teenager know that you're here for him no matter what, you make it more likely that he'll let down his guard and confide in you once in a while.

My Aspergers Teen: Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

Finding Hidden Meaning Behind Problematic Behaviors in Kids with ASD

"Question: How to know what triggers my son's (high functioning autistic) difficult behavior? Thanks in advance!"

Many parents of children with ASD - Level 1 [High-Functioning Autism] have discovered that some of their youngster’s behaviors make no obvious sense and do not serve any clear purpose. But when these children engage in “odd” or confusing behavior, they are also sending the parent hidden clues about things that are important to them. Thus, it’s the parent’s job is to break the code so she can interpret the clues.

By becoming more like a “detective,” parents can begin to notice coded messages they didn’t see before, and as a result, find more effective ways to help their “special needs” youngster. Becoming a good detective also helps parents respond more carefully to peculiar behaviors so they don’t unintentionally reinforce or reward them.

Parents of autistic children can begin to develop “investigator skills” by recording problematic behaviors, similar to how Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees. For example: 
  • Is the child attempting to avoid a demanding task?
  • What activities or interactions take place just prior to the problematic behavior? 
  • Does the same thing often happen first?
  • What time do these events most often happen?
  • Are there any settings where the behavior does not occur?
  • In what settings is the behavior observed? 
  • Is the behavior problem associated with certain social or environmental conditions? 
  • What usually happens immediately after the behavior? 
  • Who is present when the behavior occurs?

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

Most difficult behaviors are triggered by an event. Just as you might suddenly feel thirsty as you walk past a lemonade stand, there are “triggers” in your youngster’s life that elicit certain behaviors. Use a diary to try to identify these triggers for your youngster’s most challenging behaviors. Instead of getting upset with your child when he or she acts-out, look for how the context is out of synch with him or her. View the incident as an opportunity to learn more about your child.

Here is a good example of items to list in your diary:

Behavioral Investigation—

Date: ______
  1. Describe the behavior of concern: _______________
  2. How can I tell the behavior is about to start? _______________
  3. How intense is the behavior? _______________
  4. How long does it last? _______________
  5. How often does the behavior occur? _______________
  6. What behavior(s) might serve the same function for my child that is appropriate within the social/environmental context? _______________
  7. What conditions are most likely to precipitate (“set-off”) the behavior? _______________
  8. What does my child get or avoid? _______________
  9. What is happening when the behavior occurs? _______________
  10. What is the likely function (intent) of the behavior (i.e., why do I think my child behaves this way)? _______________
  11. What usually happens after the behavior? _______________
  12. When/where is the behavior most/least likely to occur? _______________
  13. With whom is the behavior most/least likely to occur? _______________
  14. What other information might contribute to creating an effective behavioral intervention plan (e.g., under what conditions does the behavior not occur)? _______________

Cognitive, Behavioral, and Moral Inflexibility in Kids on the Autism Spectrum 

Here are some crucial things to consider when doing your investigation:

1. As with any child, being hungry, thirsty, or tired can make your youngster grouchy. A chronic illness or low-grade infection can cause behavioral issues as well. Try to discover any – and all – possible sources of pain (e.g., abscesses, broken bones, bruises, cuts and splinters, gut, infections, acid reflux, sprains, teeth, etc.).

2. Consider sensory and emotional regulation. Your youngster’s sensory experiences are very different from the “typical” child. He is likely easily overwhelmed by information coming in through the senses (e.g., loud noises) and isn’t getting enough input from the senses responsible for self-awareness and regulation. We all know about the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. But there are two additional senses that are important to understand: the vestibular sense (controls balance) and proprioception (the sense of one’s body in space). In many autistic children, some of the information from these senses is too little, too much, or distorted –  leading to feelings of anxiety, physical pain, or disengagement. As a result, the child may “act-out” behaviorally as a way to cope.

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

3. Coordination problems can contribute to stress and behavior issues. For example, as anyone who has ever been picked last for a team knows, gym class can be nerve-wracking. If your youngster has trouble undoing zippers or buttons, the short time allotted for bathroom breaks or locker room changes can add tremendous pressure. Also, if the child walks awkwardly, negotiating a crowded hallway between classes is anxiety-producing. These issues often influence “acting-out” behaviors that, unfortunately, may result in the child receiving some form of punishment.

4. Peer-rejection is a big contributor to difficult behaviors. For example, maybe your son realizes he has no friends, so recess time is particularly tough for him. Also, do some investigation to see if bullying or teasing is an issue.

5. Attention-span difficulties can influence behavior, resulting in unwarranted punishment from teachers. For example, your youngster may “tune-out” during class because the teacher or the subject matter isn’t engaging enough. Talk with your child’s teacher if this appears to be an issue.

6. Some problematic behaviors, especially those that seem abrupt or particularly odd, may be due to seizures. If you think this could be an issue, keep a very careful record of what you observe. Also, see if your youngster’s teacher has similar observations.

7. Changes in home-life can contribute to behavior problems (e.g., health crisis, job change, move, new sibling, mom and dad going through a divorce, etc.). Often times, well-meaning parents think their “special needs” child is handling everything fine, so there is no reason to be concerned. But if parents are stressed about something, chances are their youngster will be, too – especially if she is powerless to do anything about it.

8. Try to identify any food sensitivities or allergies that could be troubling your youngster. Look for the signs of a problem in this area (e.g., red/flushed cheeks or ears, diarrhea within a few hours of eating a particular food, etc.). Food sensitivity is often one of the biggest contributors to “mysterious” and sudden changes in behavior.

In summary, rather than viewing your child’s behavior as “misbehavior,” look attentively for the clues that he or she is sending by conducting your own investigation. With a little good detective work, parents can narrow down exactly what initiates certain unwanted behaviors. Then, once the problem has been identified, parents are in a much better position to employ effective prevention and intervention strategies.

Calming Techniques for High-Functioning Autistic Children

"What are some things I can do as a parent of a 6-year-old autistic son (high-functioning) to help him calm down when he has a temper tantrum (which usually results in him hurting himself or destroying something in the house)? He just started the first grade, and his teacher is already having issues with his behavior as well."

In order to understand what calming techniques will work, you will first need to determine what things excite and upset your high-functioning autistic (HFA) son, and have some understanding of the context in which he is throwing a tantrum.

1. Make sure your child knows what the expectations are, and do not confuse the issue with trying to talk to him about things at a time when he is already upset.

2. Try to redirect him to an alternative activity -- something that he enjoys. 

3. If this does not stop the tantrum, tell him to stop. Don't add any extras, just STOP -- calmly and directly.

4. If he still doesn't stop, provide some physical redirection to an area where he can calm down. It can be very effective to call this his SAFE place. It may include a bean-bag chair, where he can sit. But, eliminate any extras in the area, such as toys, or other preferred items. If he doesn't voluntarily go to his SAFE place, physically escort him there.

5. Tell him he must be calm for 5 minutes before he can get up.

This may seem like a overly simple process in order to deal with what may be a challenging behavior. The key is to be consistent, so that he will always know what is coming. If the child is in school, try to provide this program across all environments.

It is amazing how many HFA children will actually learn to go to their SAFE place independently, as a way for them to control themselves. We want them to self-monitor their behavior and show them that we believe they have the ability to calm themselves down.

There are no easy and quick fixes to reduce or eliminate severe behavioral problems (e.g., self-injury, aggressiveness, severe tantrums and destructiveness). There may be, however, a few fixes that may not require an incredible amount of time and effort to implement:

1. One possible reason for behavioral problems may be difficulties in receptive language. HFA kids often have poor auditory processing skills. As a result, they often do not understand what people are saying to them (i.e., they hear the words but they do not understand what the words mean). The child’s lack of understanding can lead to confusion and frustration, which can escalate into behavior problems. Visual communication systems can be useful in teaching and in informing kids of what is planned and what is expected of them.

2. Behavioral problems may also be due to difficulties in expressive language. In fact, many researchers feel strongly that the majority of behavioral problems are simply due to poor expressive communication skills. There are numerous communication strategies, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System and Simultaneous Communication (i.e., using speech and sign language at the same time) which can be used to teach expressive communication skills.

3. Food allergies are an often overlooked cause of behavior problems. Some kids may have red ears, red cheeks, or dark circles under their eyes. These are often signs of food allergies. The most common allergens are dairy and wheat products, food preservatives, and food coloring. Some of the symptoms associated with food allergies are headaches, tantrums, feelings of nausea or spaciness, and stomach aches. As a result, the child is less tolerant of others and he/she may be more likely to strike out at others or have a tantrum.

Since many of these kids have poor communication skills, the parent and/or teacher may not be aware that the child is not feeling well. The child should be tested if food allergies are suspected. If the child tests positive for certain foods, then these products should be eliminated from his/her diet.

4. If the child’s behavior is worse at school but not at home, there are many possible reasons, such as a lack of consistency. There are, however, several physical causes that should be considered. Two possible causes, which are seldom considered, are cleaning solvents and florescent classroom lighting. Janitors often use powerful chemicals to clean the classroom. Although the smell may be gone by the next day, the chemical residue may still be in the air and on surfaces. Breathing these chemicals may affect sensitive people. During the day, students often place their hands and face on the tables and floors, and these chemicals can eventually wind up in the child’s mouth and alter brain functioning and behavior. Many parents and teachers wipe the students’ desks with water or a natural cleaning solution prior to class each morning, and they have reported rather remarkable improvements in the students’ behaviors.

Florescent lighting, which is the most common lighting used in classrooms, may also affect behavior. Many adults with autism report that florescent lights bothered them greatly during their school years. In addition, U.C.L.A. researchers observed more repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors under florescent lighting compared to incandescent lighting. Teachers may want to turn off the florescent lighting in their classroom for a few days to see if there is a decrease in behavioral problems for some or all of the students. During this trial period, the teacher can use natural light from the windows and/or incandescent lights.

5. In many instances, a behavior problem is a reaction to a request or demand made by a caregiver/teacher. The child may have learned that he/she can escape or avoid such situations, such as working on a task, by ‘acting up.’ A functional assessment of the child’s behavior (i.e., antecedents, consequences, context of the behavior) may reveal certain relationships between the behavior and the function the behavior serves. If avoidance is the function the behavior serves, the caregiver/teacher should follow through with all requests and demands he/she makes to the child. If the child is able to escape or avoid such situations, even only some of the time, the behavior problem will likely continue.

6. It is also important to consider the child’s level of arousal when formulating a strategy to treat behavioral problems. Sometimes behavioral problems occur when the child is overly excited. This can occur when the child is anxious and/or when there is too much stimulation in the environment. In these cases, treatment should be aimed at calming the child.

Some popular calming techniques include: vigorous exercise (e.g., a stationary bicycle) which would act as a release of their high excitement level, vestibular stimulation (e.g., slow swinging), and deep pressure (e.g., Temple Grandin’s Hug Machine). In some cases, behavioral problems may be due to a low level of arousal such as when the child is passive or bored. Behaviors such as aggression and destructiveness may be exciting, and thus appealing, to some of these kids. If one suspects behavior problems are due to underarousal, the child should be kept busy or active. Vigorous exercise is another good way to increase arousal level.

7. Many families are giving their children safe nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin B6 with magnesium and Di-methyl-glycine (DMG). Nearly half have reported a reduction in behavioral problems as well as improvements in the child’s general well-being. Sometimes powerful drugs are prescribed to autistic kids to treat their behavior. Interestingly, the most commonly prescribed drug for autistic children is Ritalin. A survey conducted by the Autism Research Institute in San Diego revealed that 45% of 2,788 parents felt that Ritalin made their child’s behavior worse and only 20% reported improvement (27% of parents of autistic children felt that Ritalin made no difference).

8. Occasionally a child may exhibit a behavior problem at school but not at home, or vice versa. For example, the parent may have already developed a strategy to stop the behavior at home, but the teacher is unaware of this strategy. It is important that the parent and teacher discuss the child’s behavioral problems since one of them may have already discovered a solution to handle the behavior.

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... A weighted blanket. Or a calm room at school.
•    Anonymous said... At home, we started with a lycra style sensory swing. Then once he sort of brought it down a notch we started sending him to his room (most of our meltdowns were also correlated with bad behavior), in his room we have a heavy comforter, a bean bag, a DVD player with story DVDs and we recently added a lycra sheet on his bed. We set the timer based on his offense and willingness to go to his room, he usually first goes right under his bean bag then he will usually lay on the bean bag with the heavy comforter and watch a story, or read a book. At school, we had to change programs.
•    Anonymous said... change is very difficult for them,does he have a therapy aid at school?
•    Anonymous said... Failing that a tent in the corner of the classroom?
•    Anonymous said... For my son, "tantrums or meltdowns" were usually the result of some anxiety that he didn't know how to handle. Figuring out what the problem was and teaching him to deal with it was helpful but was a process. My son needed to be able to leave the classroom which was very stimulating. Sometimes the hallway or even the OT room. We found that a certain book that played music worked to calm him at home and as he got older he started using it in his own. Sometimes I would Just hold him tight. If you pay close attention you will be able to figure out what works for him. Listen to your gut and remember that no one knows and loves him like you. It was very hard for our family at that age. He is 13 now and things have gotten so much better. There is hope!
•    Anonymous said... Get the best professional help while he is a little boy.
•    Anonymous said... Most meltdowns are a result of anxiety/stress/upsets. Fix the cause (whatis upsetting the child) and the meltdowns will ease off. Significantly.
•    Anonymous said... My 7yr just finished a 10 session program with his OT called the Alert Program - How Does Your Engine Run. It was awesome and he is sooo much better now for it. It helps the kids to recognise how their body is feeling and what types of things help them to get their 'engine' running just right. I can't say enough about it - absolutely amazing!!! My son would yell, throw things, hurt kids, bang and slam furniture/doors etc. We get the occasional growl or stomping feet when he is REALLY worked up, but the majority of the time we can nip it in the bud with what we both learnt at these sessions
•    Anonymous said... My son's teachers allowed him to pick a place in the classroom that he could go to when he felt upset. It seemed like it helped a lot. One year it was under the row of "cubbies" and coat hooks. It was usually only for a few minutes, but seemed to help him. Now that he is a little older they have a resource room between the classrooms and he can sit in there until he calms himself.
•    Anonymous said... Needs a good routine at school, talk to teacher and tell her parts of your routine at home, All about routine and prompts. I always use the clock, when change occur, always a quick 10 minute reminder, AS children love knowing what's set out for them in the day, as you know they don't really like change. Sleep is another important issue. I hope this has helped you.
•    Anonymous said... Prevention.
•    Anonymous said... Rescue Remedy!!!!

Post your comment below…

Early Childhood Intervention for Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism

“What are the most important treatment strategies or program goals for treating younger children with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism?”

Although treatment programs may differ in philosophy and emphasis on particular treatment strategies, they share many common goals. There is a growing consensus that important components of effective early childhood intervention for Asperger’s and HFA include the following:
  • entry into treatment as soon as a diagnosis is “seriously considered” rather than deferring until a “definitive” diagnosis is made
  • functional adaptive skills that prepare the youngster for increased responsibility and independence
  • functional, spontaneous communication skills
  • implementation of techniques to apply learned skills to new environments and situations (i.e., generalization) and to maintain functional use of these skills
  • in the educational setting, low student-to-teacher ratio to allow sufficient amounts of one-on-one time and small-group instruction to meet specific individualized goals
  • inclusion of a family component, including parent training
  • incorporation of a high degree of structure (e.g., predictable routine, visual activity schedules, clear physical boundaries to minimize distractions, etc.)
  • ongoing measurement and documentation of the youngster's progress toward educational objectives, resulting in adjustments in programming when needed
  • promotion of opportunities for interaction with “typically developing” peers to the extent that these opportunities are helpful in addressing specified educational goals
  • provision of intensive intervention with active engagement of the youngster at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year
  • provision of developmentally appropriate educational activities designed to address identified objectives
  • reduction of disruptive or maladaptive behavior by using empirically supported strategies, including functional assessment (see below)
  • social skills (e.g., joint attention, imitation, reciprocal interaction, initiation, self-management, etc.)
  • traditional readiness skills and academic skills as developmentally needed
  • use of assessment-based curricula that address cognitive skills (e.g., symbolic play, perspective taking, etc.)

Applied Behavior Analysis—

One of the most important methods for treating younger children with Asperger’s and HFA is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is a process used to systematically change behavior and to demonstrate that the interventions used are responsible for the observable improvement in behavior. ABA techniques are used to:
  • generalize behaviors to new environments and situations
  • increase and maintain desirable adaptive behaviors
  • narrow the conditions under which maladaptive behaviors occur
  • reduce interfering maladaptive behaviors
  • teach new skills

ABA focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior within relevant settings (e.g., home, school, community, etc.). The effectiveness of ABA in treating children with Asperger’s and HFA has been well documented through five decades of research by using single-subject methodology and in controlled studies of comprehensive early behavioral intervention programs in university and community settings. Kids on the spectrum who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make significant and sustained gains in academic performance, adaptive behavior, IQ, language, and social behavior. Also, outcomes have been significantly better than those of kids in control groups.

Discrete Trial Training—

Comprehensive early intervention programs for kids on the autism spectrum (e.g., Young Autism Project) rely heavily on Discrete Trial Training (DTT) methodology, but this is only one of many techniques used within the field of ABA. DTT methods are useful in establishing learning readiness by teaching foundation skills (e.g., attention, compliance, imitation, discrimination learning, etc.). This methodology has been criticized because (a) there have been problems with generalization of learned behaviors to spontaneous use in natural environments, and (b) the highly structured teaching environment is not representative of natural adult-child interactions. However, traditional ABA techniques have been modified to address these issues. Thus, DTT is still a very useful tool in the therapist’s toolbox.

Functional Behavior Analysis—

Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) is an important aspect of behaviorally-based treatment of unwanted behaviors in children with Asperger’s and HFA. Most problem behaviors serve an adaptive function of some type and are reinforced by their consequences (e.g., attainment of adult attention; attainment of a desired object, activity, or sensation; escape from an undesired situation or demand). FBA is an empirically-based method of gathering information that can be used to maximize the effectiveness of behavioral support interventions. It includes:
  • formulating a clear description of the problem behavior
  • identifying the frequency and intensity of the problem behavior
  • identifying the antecedents, consequences, and other environmental factors that maintain the behavior
  • developing hypotheses that specify the motivating function of the behavior
  • collecting direct observational data to test the hypothesis

FBA also is helpful in identifying antecedents and consequences that are associated with increased frequency of desirable behaviors so that they can be used to evoke new adaptive behaviors.

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

Managing Disruptive Behavior in Children with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

“We've been going in circles with our high functioning (autistic) 8 y.o. and his disruptive behavior – hitting, kicking, throwing things, just to name a few. We have tried all that we know to try. It's been difficult when he acts out, not respecting us or his siblings. It impacts the entire family! Do you have any ideas of how to handle disruptive behavior of this kind?”

One of the biggest obstacles a parent faces is managing disruptive behavior in the child with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Whether the child is refusing to eat what was prepared, or throwing tantrum on the way to school, the parent can find herself at a loss for an effective way to respond.

If you are at your wits end, the ABC method can provide a roadmap to a calmer, more reliable way to manage problematic behaviors. This method also offers a chance to help the AS or HFA child to gain the developmental skills he needs to regulate his own behavior.

The ABC Method of Behavior Management

To understand and respond successfully to misbehavior, parents have to think about what came before it – and what comes after it. Here are the 3 crucial features to any given behavior:
  • Antecedent: This is the preceding factor (or trigger) that makes a behavior more or less likely to occur. Learning and anticipating the antecedent is a very helpful tool in preventing problematic behavior.
  • Behavior: This, of course, is the specific action the parent is trying to discourage - or encourage - as the case may be.
  • Consequence: This refers to the result that logically and naturally follows a behavior. The consequence affects the likelihood of a behavior recurring, whether it’s positive or negative. Also, the more immediate the consequence, the more influential it is.

Identifying “target behaviors” is the first step in a good behavior-management plan. These behaviors need to be (a) specific (so both parent and child are clear on what is expected), (b) observable, and (c) measurable (so parent and child can agree whether or not the behavior happened). An example of poorly defined behavior is “acting-out,” or “being mean.” An example of well-defined behavior is “completing homework” (good) “pushing your sister” (bad).

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


Antecedents come in many forms. Some are wonderful tools that assist the parent in managing misbehavior before it begins as well as bolstering appropriate behavior, while others facilitate misbehavior. Let’s look at each of these in turn…

Antecedents that bolster appropriate behavior:

1. Providing countdowns for transitions: As often as possible, the parent should prepare her AS or HFA child for an upcoming transition. For example, let the child know when there are 15 minutes remaining …then 10 minutes …then 5 before he must come to dinner or start his homework. Note: Making the transition at the stated time is just as important as issuing the countdown.

2. Making expectations clear: Parents will get better cooperation if they and their youngster are clear on what is expected. Its best to sit down with the child and present the information verbally – and then put it in writing and post it in a prominent location. Even the child “should know” what is expected, explaining expectations at the outset of a task will help avoid misunderstandings down the line.

3. Letting children have a choice: As the child grows up, it’s crucial she has a say in her own scheduling. Giving a structured choice can help her feel empowered and encourage her to become more self-regulating (e.g., “Do you want to pick up your dirty clothes before or after dinner?”).

4. Being aware of the situation: Parents need to consider and manage both emotional and environmental factors. For example, anxiety, hunger, fatigue, or distractions can all make it much more difficult for the youngster to effectively manage his behavior.

5. Adjusting the environment: Examples of adjusting the environment are (a) removing distractions such as video screens and toys when it’s time to do homework, (b) providing a snack, (c) establishing an organized space for the child to work, and (d) making sure to schedule some breaks.

Antecedents that facilitate misbehavior:

1. Initiating transitions without warnings: A transition is hard for a child with AS or HFA – especially in the middle of something he is enjoying. Providing a warning gives the youngster the opportunity to find a good stopping place for an activity and makes the transition less stressful.

2. Shouting instructions out from a distance: It’s helpful to give the child important instructions face-to-face. A parent’s request that is yelled from a distance is less likely to be understood and remembered.

3. Assuming expectations are comprehended: Parents should not assume that their child automatically knows what is expected of him. The expectation needs to be spelled out! Demands change from circumstance to circumstance, and when the youngster is unsure of what he is supposed to be doing, he’s more likely to engage in problematic behavior.

4. Giving too many instructions at once: If parents deliver a series of instructions or ask a lot of questions, it limits the likelihood that the child will hear, answer questions, remember the tasks, and do what she has been instructed to do.

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


Not all consequences are created equal. Some have the potential to do more harm than good, while others are an exceptional way to create structure and help AS and HFA children understand the difference between unacceptable and acceptable behaviors. As a mother or father, having a good understanding of how to consistently and intelligently employ consequences can make a huge difference in outcomes.

Consequences that bolster appropriate behavior:

1. Being clear and concrete when using time-outs: Parents should establish which behaviors will result in a time-out. When the AS or HFA youngster exhibits that behavior, the corresponding time-out needs to be relatively brief and immediately follow the misbehavior. If a time-out was delivered for not complying with a task, once it ends, the youngster needs to be instructed to complete the original task. In this way, he or she won’t begin to see time-outs as an escape method. During the time-out, parents should not talk to their youngster until he or she is ending the time-out. It should end once the youngster has been calm and quiet for a brief amount of time so that he or she learns to associate the end of time-out with this desired behavior.

2. Staying consistent: If parents arbitrarily issue time-outs when they are feeling aggravated, it will undermine the behavior-management system and make it harder for the youngster to connect behaviors to consequences.

3. Using active ignoring: Ignoring is used for minor misbehaviors and involves the deliberate withdrawal of attention when the youngster starts to misbehave. With this method, parents pick their battles carefully and save their energy for the larger issues that need to be addressed (e.g., verbal or physical aggression). As parents ignore, they wait for appropriate behavior to resume. Then they should give positive attention as soon as the desired behavior starts. By withholding attention until positive behavior is exhibited, parents are teaching their youngster what behavior gets acknowledged and praised.

4. Using positive attention for positive behaviors: When parents give their youngster positive reinforcement for behaving appropriately, it helps maintain that ongoing good behavior. Positive attention improves self-esteem and enhances the quality of the parent-child relationship. Positive attention to “brave behavior” can also help alleviate anxiety, as well as help the child become more receptive to instructions and limit-setting.

5. Using reward menus: A reward is a tangible way to give your youngster positive feedback for desired behaviors. It’s something that is earned, an acknowledgement that the child is doing something that’s difficult for him. A reward is most effective as a motivator when the youngster can choose from a variety of things (e.g., a special treat, extra time on the computer, etc.). This reduces the possibility of a reward losing its allure over time. Also, the reward needs to be linked to specific behaviors – and always delivered consistently.

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

Consequences that facilitate misbehavior:

1. Using positive consequences for negative behaviors: This reinforces the behavior you are trying to eliminate. For example, if your youngster procrastinates instead of putting on her shoes or pouring milk for her cereal, in frustration, you do it for her, you have just increased the likelihood that she will procrastinate again in the future.

2. Giving negative attention: Negative attention actually increases bad behavior over time (e.g., raising your voice, threatening to issue a consequence, etc.). Also, reacting to misbehavior with criticism or yelling negatively affects your youngster’s self-esteem. Kids value attention from their parents so much that any attention — negative or positive — is better than none.

3. Using disproportionate consequences: As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you understandably get perturbed from time to time. You may even have become so frustrated at a particular behavior that you said or did something that you felt guilty about later. This is normal and to be expected.  But, keep in mind that issuing a massive consequence – especially out of anger – that is not in proportion to the misbehavior is demoralizing for kids, and they may even give up trying to behave well.

4. Delaying consequences: Effective consequences are immediate. Every minute that passes after a behavior, your youngster is less likely to link his misbehavior to the consequence. As a result, you end up punishing for the sake of punishing, which makes it much less likely that the misbehavior will change.

Though kids with AS and HFA are found to have neurologically and developmental related symptoms over time, the primary problem is behavior. Moms and dads need an arsenal of coping methods to reduce the behavioral problems at home. By utilizing the suggestions listed above, such problems can be reduced to a more manageable - and livable - level.

==> More parenting strategies for dealing with behavioral problems in children and teens on the autism spectrum...

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

"Emotionally Fragile" Children with Asperger's & High-Functioning Autism

"Any tips for dealing with a very fragile and overly sensitive child on the autism spectrum ...he's a chronic worrier to say the least and will go back and forth between being extremely shy or very aggressive?"

As some parents may have discovered, many young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are “emotionally fragile” (to coin a term). In other words, these individuals have great difficulty coping with day-to-day stressors, and exhibit unusually withdrawn or aggressive behaviors as a defense mechanism.

Emotional fragility is most prevalent in school-age AS and HFA kids. It can manifest itself in many ways, all of which are challenging for the youngster, parents, and teachers. These young people often exhibit a variety of symptoms that cause school psychologists to misdiagnose them with depression, bipolar disorder, or some other disorder. A wrong diagnosis can often lead to the youngster being placed in inappropriate special education classes, or even being treated with the wrong medication.

Traits of Emotional Fragility —

1. An emotionally fragile AS or HFA youngster may become socially anxious and withdrawn in public. When faced with risks or decisions, however trivial, he may become tense and fearful. He may have extremely poor self-esteem, and may seem to have a distorted sense of reality, usually preferring to live in his own fantasy world. These kids will often internalize their feelings and emotions, and have difficulty talking about them when asked. Occasionally they may act out and hurt others out of fear and a desire to be left alone.

2. Emotional fragility often causes AS and HFA kids to regress developmentally. They may behave as though they were much younger, even to the point of seeming overly dependent on others. As these kids become older, they may be at risk for substance abuse, although due to their lack of social skills, they may be less likely to use drugs in a peer-group context.

3. An AS or HFA child with emotional fragility usually has some degree of difficulty at school. A “typical” child will be able to follow a teacher's instructions independently, and will have no problem asking for help if needed. The emotionally fragile youngster will have difficulty carrying out these same age-appropriate instructions, and may be fearful of asking for help. This can create an inability to learn on the same level as other peers of the same age, which causes the youngster to view school as a source of misery and confusion. This often leads to poor grades and excessive absences.

4. Emotional fragility can have detrimental effects on a youngster's ability to make friends and interact with others. A “typical” youngster will be able to approach a group of his peers, converse, and join in their activities. The emotionally fragile youngster will be consistently rejected or ignored by these peers due to a lack of appropriate social skills, and may even be taunted or called names. This youngster may be viewed as immature or "weird" by his peer group.

Warning Signs—

Some of the most common warning signs of emotional fragility are a loss of interest in school, depression, social withdrawal, hyperactivity, sleep problems or fatigue. However, these are just a few of the most common warning signs. It is also important to keep in mind that just because a youngster has some of these behaviors doesn't necessarily mean that she is emotionally fragile. All kids experience these things at different points in their lives. Parents should only be concerned if their youngster is displaying any of the associated behaviors over a prolonged period of time.

The most difficult part of determining eligibility for special education services is deciding if the child is emotionally fragile, or has a behavior disorder (one can often look like the other).

Let’s draw a distinction between the two along the following domains:
  1. Affective Reactions— Emotional Fragility: disproportionate reactions, but not under child’s control. Behavior Disorder: intentional with features of anger and rage; explosive.
  2. Aggression— Emotional Fragility: hurts self and others as an end. Behavior Disorder: hurts others as a means to an end.
  3. Anxiety— Emotional Fragility: tense; fearful. Behavior Disorder: appears relaxed; cool.
  4. Attitude toward School— Emotional Fragility: school is a source of confusion or angst; does much better with structure. Behavior Disorder: dislikes school, except as a social outlet; rebels against rules and structure.
  5. Conscience— Emotional Fragility: remorseful; self-critical; overly serious. Behavior Disorder: little remorse; blaming; non-empathetic.
  6. Developmental Appropriateness— Emotional Fragility: immature; regressive. Behavior Disorder: age appropriate or above.
  7. Educational Performance— Emotional Fragility: uneven achievement; impaired by anxiety, depression, or emotions. Behavior Disorder: achievement influenced by truancy, negative attitude toward school, avoidance.
  8. Interpersonal Dynamics— Emotional Fragility: poor self-concept; overly dependent; anxious; fearful; mood swings; distorts reality. Behavior Disorder: inflated self-concept; independent; underdeveloped conscience; blames others; excessive bravado.
  9. Interpersonal Relations— Emotional Fragility: inability to establish or maintain relationships; withdrawn; social anxiety. Behavior Disorder: many relations within select peer group; manipulative; lack of honesty in relationships.
  10. Locus of Disorder— Emotional Fragility: affective disorder; internalizing. Behavior Disorder: conduct disorder, externalizing.
  11. Peer Relations and Friendships— Emotional Fragility: difficulty making friends; ignored or rejected. Behavior Disorder: accepted by a same delinquent or socio-cultural subgroup.
  12. Perceptions of Peers— Emotional Fragility: perceived as bizarre or odd; often ridiculed. Behavior Disorder: perceived as cool, tough, charismatic.
  13. Risk Taking— Emotional Fragility: avoids risks; resists making choices. Behavior Disorder: risk-taker; daredevil.
  14. School Attendance— Emotional Fragility: misses school due to emotional or psychosomatic issues. Behavior Disorder: misses school due to choice.
  15. School Behavior— Emotional Fragility: unable to comply with teacher requests; needy or has difficulty asking for help. Behavior Disorder: unwilling to comply with teacher requests; truancy; rejects help.
  16. Sense of Reality— Emotional Fragility: fantasy; na├»ve; gullible; thought disorders. Behavior Disorder: street-wise; manipulates facts and rules for own benefit.
  17. Social Skills— Emotional Fragility: poorly developed; immature; difficulty reading social cues; difficulty entering groups. Behavior Disorder: well developed; well attuned to social cues.
  18. Substance Abuse— Emotional Fragility: less likely; may use individually. Behavior Disorder: more likely; peer involvement.

Accommodations for Emotionally Fragile AS and HFA Children: Tips for Parents and Teachers—

1. AS and HFA kids with emotional fragility are often achieving academically below their “typical” peers in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Accommodation: early detection and intervention is the best strategy; set up personalized goals and strategies so that the youngster can find success.

2. Kids with emotional fragility may appear easily distracted, less attentive, and have poor concentration. Accommodation: by setting up an environment and materials that are stimulating, these kids can stay more engaged and interested; set clear rules and expectations with visual stimulating material.

3. Some young people with emotional fragility may be blame others, manipulate situations, and even bully others. Accommodation: use behavior contracts; use a highly structured environment; stay consistent in expectations; set limits and boundaries; develop a cue word for the youngster to note inappropriate behavior; clearly post rules.

4. AS and HFA kids who are emotionally fragile often have skewed views of their long term possibilities and desires. Accommodation: include these children in the planning process and IEP so they can visualize and voice their goals; it can also be helpful for them to note the goals it will take to get there.

5. Youngsters with emotional fragility may present extra challenges to parents in the form of outbursts and disobedience. Accommodation: parents should not give into this as it only validates the youngster’s behavior; instead parents need to challenge their child to keep him learning new skills.

6. Children with emotional fragility may have difficulty establishing a variety of relationships. Accommodation: use seating arrangement to encourage social interaction; use role-playing situations; set up goals aimed at social interactions.

7. Children with emotional fragility often have low self-esteem, high stress points, and may engage in self-injurious behaviors. Accommodation: be aware of your speech and non-verbal cues when talking to the child; establish a quiet cool off area; provide time for relaxation techniques; teach and put in place self-monitoring and self-control techniques; teach self-talk to relieve stress and anxiety.

8. AS and HFA children with emotional fragility are often truant from school and disruptive when present. Accommodation: communicate with moms and dads so similar strategies and expectations are used at home.

Additional Strategies to Assist Emotionally Fragile AS and HFA Children—

1. Create a new behavior to replace the behavior you want to change. If the AS/HFA youngster is aggressive toward others while working in a group, you may want him to take turns or talk in a quiet tone of voice while in a group. Remember to create an alternative behavior that is directly observable.

2. Establish rewards and/or consequences for behaviors. Overall, it's more effective to reward the positive behavior that you are trying to increase than to punish the behavior you are trying to decrease. If the behavior does not pose an immediate threat to you, the AS/HFA youngster or other kids, or does not disrupt the entire group lesson, try to ignore the disruptive behavior while rewarding the positive behavior.

3. Identify the behavior you want to change. Keep a written record of the behaviors the AS/HFA youngster exhibits during social and independent play and academic activity (e.g., "I want Julie to play without pushing other kids …or to remain quiet during a test …or to stay seated during a lesson"). Once you describe the youngster's behavior in terms of observable actions, you will be able to monitor and mediate the behavior.

4. Provide plenty of opportunities to practice new behaviors. AS and HFA children with emotional fragility usually have difficulty working with others whether they are aggressive or withdrawn. You will want to set up social situations where the youngster can practice taking turns in a group or with a partner, and sharing and talking appropriately.

5. Role-play and hold conflict-resolution meetings so the AS/HFA youngster can practice and discuss alternative responses to social situations.

6. Teach the youngster to monitor progress independently. Have charts in folders, in a locker, or at home where she can document progress in achieving a particular behavioral goal. Have her write or verbally explain why a certain behavior is unacceptable and what behavior she can do to change it.


Children with emotional fragility often have an early diagnosis among school districts. This is because educators initiate the referral process among concerns over behavior in class. Often, the DSM is used by a school psychologist, whom may conduct interviews and distribute surveys as part of the social-emotional evaluation.

When it is determined that the child is emotionally fragile, he should receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Children can also receive specific behavioral plans such as a 504 in the state of California. This often includes goals towards appropriate behavior, productive coping strategies and academic skills. Effective services should focus on these, and can mandate an educational assistant for support in regular education classes, access to a resource room for individualized instruction, medication management provided by a mental health professional, as well as individual counseling.

Emotionally fragile children are often considered at-risk for dropping out of school, suicide, criminal activity, as well as being diagnosed with a learning disability. Nonetheless, with the appropriate supports in place, these young people have been shown to have enormous potential to succeed.

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

Oppositional Defiant Behavior in Children on the Autism Spectrum

"My 8 y.o. has been diagnosed with autism (high functioning) recently, and before that was diagnosed with ODD. When we have behavior problems with him, it's hard to know if the particular 'misbehavior' is driven by autism or by ODD. How do we tell the difference, and how do we approach the multitude of behavior issues we are having with him?"

It may be tough at times to recognize the difference between a strong-willed or emotional autistic youngster and one with oppositional defiant behavior. Clearly, there's a range between the usual independence-seeking behavior of kids and defiant behavior. It's normal to exhibit oppositional behaviors at certain stages of development. However, your youngster's issue may be more serious if his behaviors:
  • Are clearly disruptive to the family and home or school environment
  • Are persistent
  • Have lasted at least six months

The following are behaviors associated with oppositional defiance:
  • Academic problems
  • Acting touchy and easily annoyed
  • Aggressiveness toward peers
  • Anger and resentment
  • Argumentativeness with grown-ups
  • Blaming others for mistakes or misbehavior
  • Deliberate annoyance of other people
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Refusal to comply with adult requests or rules
  • Spiteful or vindictive behavior
  • Temper tantrums

Oppositional defiant behavior often occurs along with other behavioral or mental health problems such as:
  • Anxiety
  • Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Depression

The symptoms of defiant behavior may be difficult to distinguish from those of other behavioral or mental health problems. It's important to diagnose and treat any co-occurring disorders, because they can create or worsen irritability and defiance if left untreated.

Stressful changes that disrupt an Aspergers or HFA youngster's sense of consistency increase the risk of disruptive behavior. However, though these changes may help explain disrespectful or oppositional behavior, they don't excuse it.

Many kids with oppositional defiant behavior have other treatable conditions, such as:
  • Learning and communication disorders
  • Developmental disorders
  • Depression
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety

If these conditions are left untreated, managing defiant behavior can be very difficult for moms and dads – and frustrating for the affected youngster. Young people on the autism spectrum with oppositional defiant behavior may have trouble in school with teachers and other authority figures and may struggle to make and keep friends.

If your Aspergers or HFA youngster has signs and symptoms common to oppositional defiant behavior, make an appointment with your youngster's physician. After an initial evaluation, your physician may refer you to a mental health professional, who can help make a diagnosis and create the right treatment plan for your youngster.
 Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and what to expect from your physician:

• Make a list of your youngster's key medical information, including other physical or mental health conditions with which your youngster has been diagnosed. Also write down the names of any medications, including over-the-counter medications, your youngster is taking.

• Take a trusted family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to soak up all the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.

• Write down questions to ask your physician in advance so that you can make the most of your appointment.

• Write down the signs and symptoms your youngster has been experiencing, and for how long.

• Write down your family's key personal information, including factors that you suspect may have contributed to changes in your youngster's behavior. Make a list of stressors that your youngster or close family members have recently experienced and share it with the physician.

Questions to ask the physician at your youngster's initial appointment include:
  • Are there any other possible causes?
  • How will you determine the diagnosis?
  • Should my son/daughter see a mental health provider?
  • What do you believe is causing my son/daughter's symptoms?

Questions to ask if your youngster is referred to a mental health provider include:
  • Do you recommend any changes at home or school to encourage my son/daughter's recovery?
  • Do you recommend family therapy?
  • Does my son/daughter have oppositional defiant behavior?
  • Is my son/daughter at increased risk of any long-term complications from this condition?
  • Is this condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • Should I tell my son/daughter's teachers about this diagnosis?
  • Should my son/daughter be screened for any other mental health problems?
  • What else can I and my family do to help my son/daughter?
  • What factors do you think might be contributing to my son/daughter's problem?
  • What treatment approach do you recommend?

What to expect from your physician:

Being ready to answer your physician's questions may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth. You should be prepared to answer the following questions from your physician:
  • Do any particular situations seem to trigger negative or defiant behavior in your youngster?
  • Has your youngster been diagnosed with any other medical conditions, including mental health conditions?
  • Have your youngster's teachers or other caregivers reported similar symptoms in your youngster?
  • How do you typically discipline your youngster?
  • How have you been handling your youngster's disruptive behavior?
  • How often over the last six months has your youngster argued with grown-ups or defied or refused grown-ups' requests?
  • How often over the last six months has your youngster been angry or lost his or her temper?
  • How often over the last six months has your youngster been spiteful or vindictive, or blamed others for his or her own mistakes?
  • How often over the last six months has your youngster been touchy, easily annoyed or deliberately annoying to others?
  • How would you describe your youngster's home and family life?
  • What are your youngster's symptoms?
  • When did you first notice these symptoms?

Treating oppositional defiant behavior generally involves several types of psychotherapy and training for your youngster — as well as for you and your co-parent. If your youngster has co-existing conditions, medications may help significantly improve symptoms.

The cornerstones of treatment for oppositional defiance usually include:

• Cognitive problem solving training. This type of therapy is aimed at helping your youngster identify and change through patterns that are leading to behavior problems. Research shows that an approach called collaborative problem solving — in which you and your youngster work together to come up with solutions that work for both of you — is highly effective at improving oppositional-related problems.

• Individual and family therapy. Individual counseling for your youngster may help him or her learn to manage anger and express his or her feelings more healthfully. Family counseling may help improve your communication and relationships, and help members of your family learn how to work together.

• Parent training. A mental health provider with experience treating oppositional behavior may help you develop skills that will allow you to parent in a way that's more positive and less frustrating for you and your youngster. In some cases, your youngster may participate in this type of training with you, so that everyone in your family develops shared goals for how to handle problems.

• Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT). During PCIT, therapists coach moms and dads while they interact with their kids. In one approach, the therapist sits behind a one-way mirror and, using an "ear bug" audio device, guides moms and dads through strategies that reinforce their kid's positive behavior. Research has shown that as a result of PCIT, moms and dads learn more-effective parenting techniques, the behavior problems of kids decrease, and the quality of the parent-youngster relationship improves.

• Social skills training. Your youngster also might benefit from therapy that will help him or her learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.

As part of parent training, you may learn how to:
  • Avoid power struggles.
  • Establish a schedule for the family that includes specific meals that will be eaten at home together, and specific activities one or both moms and dads will do with the youngster.
  • Give effective timeouts.
  • Limit consequences to those that can be consistently reinforced and if possible, last for a limited amount of time.
  • Offer acceptable choices to your youngster, giving him or her a certain amount of control.
  • Recognize and praise your youngster's good behaviors and positive characteristics.
  • Remain calm and unemotional in the face of opposition.

Although some parent management techniques may seem like common sense, learning to use them in the face of opposition isn't easy, especially if there are other stressors at home. Learning these skills will require consistent practice and patience. Most important in treatment is for you to show consistent, unconditional love and acceptance of your Aspergers or HFA youngster — even during difficult and disruptive situations. Don't be too hard on yourself. This process can be tough for even the most patient moms and dads.

At home, you can begin chipping away at problem behaviors by practicing the following:

• Assign your youngster a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless the youngster does it. Initially, it's important to set your youngster up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve and gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations.

• Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves moms and dads and youngster being together.

• Model the behavior you want your youngster to have.

• Pick your battles. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.

• Recognize and praise your youngster's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible, such as, "I really liked the way you helped pick up your toys tonight."

• Set limits and enforce consistent reasonable consequences.

• Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your youngster. Asking your youngster to help develop that routine may be beneficial.

• Work with your partner or others in your household to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.

At first, your youngster is not likely to be cooperative or to appreciate your changed response to his or her behavior. Expect that you'll have setbacks and relapses, and be prepared with a plan to manage those times. In fact, behavior often temporarily worsens when new limits and expectations are set. However, with perseverance and consistency, the initial hard work often pays off with improved behavior and relationships.

For yourself, counseling can provide an outlet for your own mental health concerns that could interfere with the successful treatment of your youngster's symptoms. If you're depressed or anxious, that could lead to disengagement from your youngster — and that can trigger or worsen oppositional behaviors. Here are some tips:
  • Be forgiving. Let go of things that you or your youngster did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate.
  • Learn ways to calm yourself. Keeping your own cool models the behavior you want from your youngster.
  • Take time for yourself. Develop outside interests, get some exercise and spend some time away from your youngster to restore your energy.

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

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content