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Overcoming the "EQ Deficit": Help for People with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

While much of what I'm about to talk about applies to both men and women, this post is going to lean more toward addressing the male-version of Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism...

Men with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism suffer from a phenomenon called “mind-blindness,” which is a cognitive condition where the person is unable to attribute mental states to self and others. As a result of this condition, he is often unaware of others' mental states and has difficulty attributing beliefs and desires to others.

Lacking in this ability to develop a mental awareness of what is in the mind of his partner, the Aspergers man is often viewed as emotionally detached.

"Emotional intelligence" is in many ways the opposite of mind-blindness. Emotional intelligence (EQ) matters just as much as intellectual ability (IQ) when it comes to happiness and success in life. Emotional intelligence helps one build stronger relationships, succeed at work, and achieve career and personal goals.



So the “fix” (so to speak) for the Aspergers man would be to replace mind-blindness with emotional intelligence. But is this even possible? The answer is: it depends.

If the man is willing to seek treatment from a therapist (preferably one who specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorders), then chances are he will successfully work around his weaknesses and capitalize on his strengths. On the other hand, if the man refuses to acknowledge his mind-blindness issue (which is easy to do since a blind mind will have trouble seeing itself), then he will likely suffer the negative consequences associated with being out of touch -- and out of step -- with the world around him. Like a bicyclist with two flat tires, the Aspergers man’s progress will be slow and shaky.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Emotional intelligence is:
  • the ability to appreciate complicated relationships among different emotions
  • the ability to comprehend emotion language
  • the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artifacts, including the ability to identify one's own emotions
  • the ability to harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities (e.g., thinking and problem solving)
  • the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups

Perceiving emotions represents a basic aspect of emotional intelligence, as it makes all other processing of emotional information possible. The emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his changing moods in order to best fit the task at hand. Understanding emotions encompasses the ability to be sensitive to slight variations between emotions, and the ability to recognize and describe how emotions evolve over time. The emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve intended goals.

Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:

1. Relationship management: Knowing how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

2. Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and how they affect one’s thoughts and behavior, knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and having self-confidence.

3. Self-management: Being able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, managing emotions in healthy ways, taking initiative, following through on commitments, and adapting to changing circumstances.

4. Social awareness: Understanding the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, picking up on emotional cues, feeling comfortable socially, and recognizing the power dynamics in a group or organization.

The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to relieve stress. Uncontrolled stress impacts the Aspergers man’s mental health, making him vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If he is unable to understand and manage his emotions, he will be open to mood swings, which makes it very difficult for him to form strong relationships, and can leave him feeling lonely and isolated.

Emotional intelligence can help him navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in his career. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.

By understanding his emotions and how to control them, the Aspergers man is better able to express how he feels – and understands how others are feeling. This allows him to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in his personal life.

Emotional intelligence consists of five key skills:
  1. The ability to connect with others through nonverbal communication
  2. The ability to quickly reduce stress
  3. The ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions
  4. The ability to resolve conflicts positively and with confidence
  5. The ability to use humor and play to deal with challenges

These five skills of emotional intelligence can be learned, but there is a difference between learning about emotional intelligence and applying that knowledge to one's life. Just because the Aspergers man knows he “should” do something doesn’t mean he will – especially if he becomes overwhelmed by stress, which can hijack his best intentions.

In order to permanently change behavior in ways that stand up under pressure, he will need to learn how to take advantage of the powerful emotional parts of his brain that remain active and accessible even in times of stress. This means that he can’t simply read about emotional intelligence in order to master it. Rather, he has to experience and practice the skills in his everyday life.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

EQ Skill #1: Paying Attention to Nonverbal Communication—

Often, “what” somebody says is less important than “how” he or she says it or the other nonverbal signals that are sent out (e.g., the gestures a person makes, the way he sits, how fast or how loud he talks, how close he stands to others, how much eye contact he makes, etc). In order to hold the attention of others and build connection and trust, the Aspergers man needs to be aware of – and in control of – this body language. He also needs to be able to accurately read and respond to the nonverbal cues that other people send.

Messages don’t stop when someone stops speaking. Even when a person is silent, he or she is still communicating nonverbally. The Aspergers man needs to think about what he is transmitting as well, and if what he says matches what he feels. Nonverbal messages can produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement, and desire for connection – or they can generate fear, confusion, distrust, and disinterest.

Tips for improving nonverbal communication:

Successful nonverbal communication depends on one’s ability to manage stress, recognize one’s own emotions, and understand the signals one is sending and receiving. When communicating, the Aspergers man needs to:
  • Pay attention to the nonverbal cues he is sending and receiving (e.g., facial expression, tone of voice, posture and gestures, touch, timing and pace of the conversation).
  • Make eye contact, which will communicate interest and maintain the flow of a conversation, and help gauge the other person’s response.
  • Focus on the other person. If the Aspergers man is planning what he is going to say next, daydreaming, or thinking about something else, he is almost certain to miss nonverbal cues and other subtleties in the conversation.

EQ Skill #2: Quickly Reducing Stress—

High levels of stress can overwhelm the mind and body, getting in the way of one’s ability to accurately “read” a situation, to hear what someone else is saying, to be aware of one’s own feelings and needs, and to communicate clearly. Being able to quickly calm down and diffuse stress helps one stay balanced, focused, and in control – no matter what challenges are faced or how stressful a situation becomes.

Tips for reducing stress:
  • The best way to reduce stress quickly is by engaging one or more of the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so the Aspergers man needs to find things that are soothing and/or energizing to him. For example, if he is a visual person, he can relieve stress by surrounding himself with uplifting images. If he responds more to sound, he may find a wind chime, a favorite piece of music, or the sound of a water fountain helps to quickly reduce his stress levels.
  • Everyone reacts differently to stress. If the Aspergers man tends to become angry or agitated under stress, he will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet him down. If he tends to become depressed or withdrawn, he will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating. If he tends to freeze (speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others), he needs stress relief activities that provide both comfort and stimulation.
  • Recognize what stress feels like. How does your body feel when you’re stressed? Are your muscles or stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Being aware of one’s physical response to stress will help regulate tension when it occurs.

EQ Skill #3: Managing Emotions—

Being able to connect to one’s emotions (i.e., having a moment-to-moment awareness of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions) is the key to understanding self and others. Many Aspergers men are disconnected from their emotions – especially strong core emotions like sadness, fear and joy. But although we can distort, deny, or numb our feelings, we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness, we are unable to fully understand our own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.

How in touch are you with your emotions?
  • Are your emotions accompanied by physical sensations that you experience in certain places of your body (e.g., lower back, stomach, chest, etc.)?
  • Can you experience intense feelings that are strong enough to capture both your attention and that of others?
  • Do your emotions factor into your decision making?
  • Do you pay attention to your emotions?
  • Do you experience feelings that flow (i.e., encountering one emotion after another as your experiences change from moment to moment)?
  • Do you experience discrete feelings and emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy), each of which is evident in subtle facial expressions?

If any of these experiences are foreign to you, then your emotions may be turned down or off. In order to be emotionally healthy and emotionally intelligent, you must reconnect to your core emotions, accept them, and become comfortable with them.

EQ Skill #4: Resolving Conflicts Positively--

Disagreements and misunderstandings are to be expected in relationships. Two people can’t possibly have the same needs, beliefs, and expectations at all times. However, that is not a bad thing. Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people. When conflict isn’t perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity, and safety in relationships.

Tips for resolving conflict:
  • Choose your arguments. Arguments take time and energy, especially if you want to resolve them in a positive way. Consider what is worth arguing about and what is not.
  • End conflicts that can't be resolved. It takes two people to keep an argument going. You can choose to disengage from a conflict, even if you still disagree.
  • Forgive. Other people’s hurtful behavior is in the past. To resolve conflict, you need to give up the urge to punish or seek revenge.
  • Stay focused in the present. When you are not holding on to old hurts and resentments, you can recognize the reality of a current situation and view it as a new opportunity for resolving old feelings about conflicts.

EQ Skill #5: Using Humor and Play to Deal with Challenges--

Humor, laughter, and play are natural solutions to life’s problems. They lighten burdens and help keep things in perspective. A good hearty laugh reduces stress, elevates mood, and brings the nervous system back into balance. It’s never too late to develop and embrace your playful, humorous side. The more you joke, play, and laugh – the easier it becomes. Playful communication broadens emotional intelligence and helps the individual:
  • Become more creative. When we loosen up, we free ourselves of rigid ways of thinking and being, allowing us to get creative and see things in new ways.
  • Simultaneously relax and become more energized. Playful communication relieves fatigue and relaxes the body, which allows the person to recharge and accomplish more.
  • Smooth over differences. Using gentle humor often helps us say things that might be otherwise difficult to express without creating an argument.
  • Take hardships in stride. By allowing us to view our frustrations and disappointments from new perspectives, laughter and play enable us to survive annoyances, hard times, and setbacks.

In order to develop playful communication, the Aspergers man needs to:
  • find enjoyable activities that loosen him up and help him embrace his playful nature
  • play with animals, babies, young children, and outgoing people who appreciate playful banter
  • set aside regular, quality playtime

In a nutshell, the Aspergers man can begin to replace mind-blindness with emotional intelligence – with the assistance of a qualified professional – by doing the following:
  1. Acknowledging his negative feelings, looking for their source, and coming up with a way to solve the underlying problem 
  2. Avoiding people who invalidate him or don't respect his feelings 
  3. Being honest with himself
  4. Developing constructive coping skills for specific moods
  5. Examining his feelings rather than the actions or motives of other people
  6. Getting up and moving when he is feeling down
  7. Learning to relax when his emotions are running high
  8. Listening twice as much as he speaks
  9. Looking for the humor or life lesson in a negative situation
  10. Paying attention to non-verbal communication (e.g., watch faces, listen to tone of voice, take note of body language)
  11. Showing respect by respecting other people's feelings
  12. Taking responsibility for his own emotions and happiness

Most of you have heard that “there is no cure for Aspergers Syndrome.” And technically, that’s correct. But, emotional intelligence can be taught. And some people with Aspergers – both male and female – who have received quality treatment from a qualified professional have lost their Aspergers diagnosis after a few years of intensive therapy. That is, after being re-tested, they did not meet the criteria for Aspergers Syndrome any longer. The same can be true for you. So, what are you waiting for?

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA 


==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Affective Education: How to Teach Children on the Autism Spectrum About Emotions


Most children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) lack emotional intelligence to one degree or another. Emotional intelligence is the ability to (a) identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups; (b) harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities (e.g., thinking and problem solving); (c) detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural artifacts, including the ability to identify one's own emotions; (d) comprehend emotion language; and (e) appreciate complicated relationships among different emotions.

Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:
  1. Social awareness: Understanding the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, picking up on emotional cues, feeling comfortable socially, and recognizing the power dynamics in a group.
  2. Self-management: Being able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, managing emotions in healthy ways, taking initiative, following through on commitments, and adapting to changing circumstances.
  3. Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and how they affect one’s thoughts and behavior, knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and having self-confidence.
  4. Relationship management: Knowing how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.



Affective education is basically teaching children with Asperger’s and HFA why they have emotions, their use and misuse, and the identification of different levels of expression. Some of the skills obtained through this form of education include (but are not limited to) the ability to use humor and play to deal with challenges, resolve conflicts positively and with confidence, recognize and manage one’s emotions, quickly reduce stress, and connect with others through nonverbal communication.

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

When parents or teachers begin the process of teaching the Asperger’s or HFA child about emotions, it’s best to explore one emotion at a time as a theme for a project. A useful starting point is happiness or pleasure. A scrapbook can be created that illustrates the emotion. This can include pictures of people expressing the different degrees of happiness or pleasure – and can be extended to pictures of objects and situations that have a personal association with the feeling (e.g., a photograph of a rare lizard for a child with a special interest in reptiles).

Another important component to affective education includes helping the child to identify the relevant cues that indicate a particular level of emotion in facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and context. The face is described as an information center for emotions. The typical errors experienced by children on the autism spectrum include not identifying which cues are relevant or redundant, and misinterpreting cues. Parents and teachers can use a range of games and resources to “spot the message” and explain the multiple meanings (e.g., a furrowed brow can mean anger or bewilderment, or may be a sign of aging skin; a loud voice does not automatically mean that a person is angry, etc.).

Once the key elements that indicate a particular emotion have been identified, it is important to measure the degree of intensity. Parents and teachers can create an “emotion thermometer” and use a range of activities to define the level of expression (e.g., use a selection of pictures of faces, and place each picture at the appropriate point on the “thermometer.”

But, keep in mind that some children on the autism spectrum can use extreme statements such as “I am going to kill myself” to express a level of emotion that would be more moderately expressed by a “typical” child. Therefore, you may need to increase your Asperger’s or HFA child’s vocabulary of emotional expression to ensure precision and accuracy.

Affective education can also include activities to detect specific degrees of emotion in others and in oneself using internal physiological cues, cognitive cues, and behavior. Both the parent and child can create a list of the child’s physiological, cognitive, and behavioral cues that indicate his increase in emotional arousal. The degree of expression can be measured using the “emotion thermometer.” One of the aspects of affective education is to help the child perceive his “early warning signals” that indicate emotional arousal that may need cognitive control.

When a particular emotion and the levels of expression are understood, the next component of affective education is to use the same procedures for a contrasting emotion (e.g., after exploring happiness, the next topic explored would be sadness; feeling relaxed would be explored before a project on feeling anxious, etc.). The child is encouraged to understand that certain thoughts or emotions are “antidotes” to other feelings (e.g., some activities associated with feeling happy may be used to counteract feeling sad).

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

Other activities to be considered in affective education are the creation of a photograph album that includes pictures of the child and family members expressing particular emotions, or video recordings of the child expressing her feelings in real-life situations. This can be particularly valuable to demonstrate the child’s behavior when expressing anger.

Lastly, it’s important to incorporate the child’s special interest in this educational process. For example, one teacher worked with an Asperger’s student whose special interest was the weather, so the teacher suggested that the student’s emotions be expressed as a weather report. A poster was created with a picture of a calm sunny day on the right side (representing happiness) and a picture of a tornado on the left side (representing rage). Various other pictures of weather patterns were place in between these two extremes to illustrate other more moderate emotions often experienced by the student.


In a nutshell, through the use of affective education, children with Asperger’s and HFA can begin the process of developing emotional intelligence. In an ideal world, the child will develop the following skills in the end:
  • Taking responsibility for his own emotions and happiness
  • Showing respect by respecting other people's feelings
  • Paying attention to non-verbal communication (e.g., watch faces, listen to tone of voice, take note of body language)
  • Looking for the humor or life lesson in a negative situation
  • Listening twice as much as she speaks
  • Learning to relax when his emotions are running high
  • Getting up and moving when she is feeling down
  • Examining his feelings rather than the actions or motives of others
  • Developing constructive coping skills for specific moods
  • Being honest with himself or herself
  • Avoiding people who don't respect his feelings 
  • Acknowledging her negative feelings, looking for their source, and coming up with a way to solve the underlying problem

==> Click here for more information on teaching social skills and emotion management...



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


NOTE: Below is a list of common emotions that can be incorporated into an affective education program. Each program should be tailored to the child’s specific needs.

•    Affection
•    Anger
•    Angst
•    Anguish
•    Annoyance
•    Anxiety
•    Apathy
•    Arousal
•    Awe
•    Boredom
•    Confidence
•    Contempt
•    Contentment
•    Courage
•    Curiosity
•    Depression
•    Desire
•    Despair
•    Disappointment
•    Disgust
•    Distrust
•    Dread
•    Ecstasy
•    Embarrassment
•    Envy
•    Euphoria
•    Excitement
•    Fear
•    Frustration
•    Gratitude
•    Grief
•    Guilt
•    Happiness
•    Hatred
•    Hope
•    Horror
•    Hostility
•    Hurt
•    Hysteria
•    Indifference
•    Interest
•    Jealousy
•    Joy
•    Loathing
•    Loneliness
•    Love
•    Lust
•    Outrage
•    Panic
•    Passion
•    Pity
•    Pleasure
•    Pride
•    Rage
•    Regret
•    Relief
•    Remorse
•    Sadness
•    Satisfaction
•    Self-confidence
•    Shame
•    Shock
•    Shyness
•    Sorrow
•    Suffering
•    Surprise
•    Trust
•    Wonder
•    Worry
•    Zeal
•    Zest

Asperger's Kids: Difficulty Labeling Emotions

Question

Tips on teaching black-and-white kids labels for different emotions would be invaluable. With our nine-year-old, everyone is either happy, sad, frustrated or mad. His difficulty labeling emotions compounds problems because by not being able to adequately express what he’s feeling and be understood. This frustration usually ends with a day full of sitting on the couch with his head down, not talking to anyone because he’s so upset. How can I help him better express himself?

Answer

It can be very difficult for some children with Asperger’s Syndrome to understand their own emotions. They have a very hard time reading the emotions of others as well. This can be a very frustrating place for a child to be and helping him to learn how to identify these emotions can be very beneficial for your child.

Understand that it will be difficult for your child to learn how to identify emotions. He’ll first need to have a frame of reference. In her book, “What’s That Look on Your Face? All About Faces and Feelings,” Catherine S. Snodgrass has created a set of pictures of exaggerated facial expressions. These pictures are accompanied by poems that further reinforce the emotion shown in the face to help reinforce the connection in the child’s mind. This is a great way to begin to teach your child how to read and identify emotions.

You can also create activities for you and your child to participate in, depending on the age of your child and his desire to participate. You can photograph yourself and your child making faces that portray different emotions. You can have pictures of happy faces, sad faces, frustrated faces, and mad faces – all sorts of faces. Take a picture of you and take a picture of your child making the same face. You can take those photographs and turn them into flash cards so your child can practice identifying emotions.

Once he has a language and a frame of reference, then you can begin to help your child learn to identify how he is feeling. This can be a time consuming process, but a very important process. When you see your son is happy, have him stop what he’s doing and talk about what it feels like to be happy. He will begin to equate the feeling he’s having with the word. You can do this with many emotions, such as anger and frustration. Once your son begins to connect words with the emotions he is having, he’ll be able to correctly identify the emotions. This will help greatly when you are trying to help him modify some of his behaviors that may surround some of his emotions, especially around anger and frustration issues.

Be patient with your son and try to understand how frustrating and confusing this can be for him. If he begins to understand that you are trying to help him understand this confusing issue, he will be better able to open up to you.


Comprehending Emotions in Others: Help for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"How can I help my 5-year-old AS child (high functioning) to have a better understanding of other people’s feelings? He often seems oblivious to some of the hurtful things he says and does, but I don’t think he does this intentionally."

Recognizing and understanding the feelings and thoughts of self and others is often an area of weakness for kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) – and is essential to successful social interactions.

“Neurotypicals” (i.e., children not on the autism spectrum) continually modify their behavior based on the non-verbal feedback they receive from others. For example, they may elaborate on a story if their friend is smiling, looking on intently, or showing other signs of genuine interest. Conversely, if the other person repeatedly looks at her school book, sighs, or looks otherwise disinterested, most neurotypical children notice this non-verbal cue and stop talking or cut the story short.



Kids with AS and HFA often have difficulty recognizing and understanding these non-verbal cues. Because of this, they are less able to modify their behavior to meet the emotional and cognitive needs of their peers.

When kids with AS and HFA appear rude, aloof or unresponsive, it doesn’t mean that they don’t experience any emotions, or that they don’t have empathy for others. However, they do tend to express their emotions differently than neurotypical kids do. Also, studies have shown that AS and HFA kids do not always recognize facial expressions, which is part of the difficulty in reading the emotional responses of others.

The most basic technique used to teach “feelings skills” involves showing the child pictures of people exhibiting various emotions. Pictures can range from showing basic emotions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, scared) to more complicated ones (e.g., embarrassed, ashamed, nervous). Begin by asking the youngster to point to an emotion (e.g., “point to happy”), then ask the youngster to identify what the character is feeling (e.g., “how is he feeling”).


Most AS and HFA kids will pick up the ability to identify emotions quite easily. When they do, it is time to move on to more advanced instructional techniques, such as teaching them to understand the meaning (or “why”) behind emotions. This requires the youngster to make inferences based on the context and cues provided in the picture (e.g., “based on the information in the picture, why is this little girl sad?”). The pictures should portray characters participating in various social situations and exhibiting various facial expressions or other nonverbal expressions of emotion. You can cut pictures out of magazines, or download and print them from the Internet. You can also use illustrations from kids’ books, which are usually rich in emotional content and contextual cues.

Once mastery is achieved on the pictures, you can move on to television programs or videos of social situations. Many of the programs that air on some of the kids’ channels are excellent resources for this teaching technique since they portray characters in social situations and display clear emotional expressions. You can use the same procedure as for the pictures, only this time the youngster is making inferences based on dynamic social cues. Simply ask the youngster to identify what the characters might be feeling – and why they may be feeling that way. If the scenario moves too quickly for the youngster, press pause, and ask the question with a still frame. 

Other ways to teach “feelings skills” include the following:

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to encourage desired behavior. ABA can also be used to teach an AS or HFA youngster about emotions by generally providing examples of appropriate emotional behavior for her to model, and then rewarding her when she gives the correct emotional responses.

Online Games: Most AS and HFA kids enjoy playing computer games, and these games can be an effective learning tool for teaching about emotions. The Internet has many games and activities to help these kids learn about emotions in a way that engages them.

Play therapy: Play therapy strategies can help AS and HFA kids emotionally connect with their mom, dad and siblings. The simple act of “child-led” play to teach new ideas is quite effective for kids on the spectrum.

Social Stories: Social stories help teach social skills to AS and HFA kids through stories that provide examples of common social situations. The stories outline how to respond to the situation. Stories about feelings and appropriate emotional responses can help the youngster learn how to understand emotions in context.




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



COMMENTS:

  • Anonymous said... He is probably not thinking what he is saying is rude. My son is full of fun truths as he sees them. You have to help teach him what kinds of things are not "appropriate" to say, without making him feel he's done something bad because he probably really hasn't. It's just how he sees it. Just because something may be a fact doesn't make it ok to say to someone's face and that can be hard to manage. Danny has learned a lot but still hasn't gotten it all down yet, plus part of him lives the shock factor of it all.
  • Anonymous said... Just keep talking to him about it. That is what we do with our 8 year old. They do start to at least think about it but its not easy. We are thinking about getting a therapy dog. My son connects with animals and hope to be chosen to get a dog. On the bright side my son was able to form a friendship with a classmate and this year they have become best of friends. Unfortunately they maybe moving to Japan (Military family) in the fall. Secretly hoping orders fall through.

Please post your comment below...

Asperger’s/High-Functioning Autistic Teens and Emotional Dysregulation

“My teenage son with Asperger syndrome (high functioning) is out of control, don't know what to do? I tried every option available to me with the exception of bootcamp. I just can't afford to put him in a bootcamp or military school. But that's the only solution that I see. He’s 17 and is on pot every day. He has a hair trigger and will go off big time whenever he is the least bit irritated over something… fits of rage over little things that most people would just ignore. Has threatened to kill himself when he’s upset. Please help!!!”


Emotional Dysregulation (ED) is often found in young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), and is a term used in the mental health profession to refer to mood swings and emotional reactions that are significantly “out-of-control.” Examples of ED include destroying or throwing objects, angry outbursts, aggression towards self or others, a decreased ability to regulate emotions, an inability to express emotions in a positive way, smoking, drug and/or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and even threats to kill oneself or others.



These reactions usually occur in seconds to minutes – or hours. ED often leads to behavioral problems for the individual, which can interfere with his or her relationships at home, in school, or at place of employment.

ED in AS/HFA teens can be associated with “internalizing” behaviors, for example:
  • becoming avoidant or aggressive when dealing with negative emotions
  • being less able to calm themselves
  • difficulty calming down when upset
  • difficulty decreasing negative emotions
  • difficulty understanding emotional experiences
  • exhibiting emotions too intense for a situation
  • experiencing more negative emotions

ED can also be associated with “externalizing” behaviors, for example:
  • being impulsive
  • difficulty calming down when upset
  • difficulty controlling their attention
  • difficulty decreasing their negative emotions
  • difficulty identifying emotional cues
  • difficulty recognizing their own emotions
  • exhibiting more extreme emotions
  • focusing on the negative

ED in adolescents with AS and HFA can be made worse by difficulty in communicating feelings of annoyance, anxiety, depression, or worry. ED may be a common reaction experienced when coming to terms with problems in relationships, friendships, school, employment, and other areas in life affected by autism spectrum disorders.

There can be an “on-off” quality to these strong emotional reactions, where the affected individual is calm minutes later, while those around are stunned and may feel hurt or shocked for hours – if not days – afterward. Moms and dads struggle to understand the out-of-control behavior of their “special needs” teenager, with disappointment and resentment often building up over time. Once they understand that their teen has trouble controlling his emotions or understanding its effects on others, they can begin to respond in ways that will help manage these flare-ups.

In some cases, AS/HFA adolescents may not acknowledge they have trouble controlling their negative emotions, 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 these adolescents to gradually realize they have a problem with how they express themselves.

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

AS/HFA Teenagers and Their Struggles—


As previously mentioned, many individuals with ED have an autism spectrum disorder. But, when the typical problems associated with adolescence are added to the equation, parents have a real challenge on their hands. Here are just a few of the struggles associated with being a teen on the spectrum:

• The teen years are more emotional for everyone. Yet the hormonal changes of adolescence, coupled with the problems associated with AS and HFA, might mean that the adolescent becomes emotionally overwhelmed. Childish tantrums reappear. Males may act out by physically attacking a peer or teacher. They may experience "meltdowns" at home after another day filled with harassment, bullying, pressure to conform, and rejection. Drug addiction becomes a real concern at this age (most notably, marijuana use).

• Teens with AS and HFA - with their distractibility and difficulty organizing materials - face similar academic problems as students with ADHD. A high school term paper or a science fair project becomes impossible to manage, because no one has taught the AS or HFA teenager how to break it up into a series of small steps. Even though the academic stress on an AS/HFA adolescent can be overwhelming, school administrators may be reluctant to enroll him in special education at this late point in his educational career.

• Some teens with AS and HFA remain stuck in grammar school clothes and hobbies instead of moving into adolescent concerns (e.g., dating). AS/HFA males often have no motor coordination. This leaves them out of high school sports (typically an essential area of male bonding and friendship).

• Many teens with AS and HFA - with their average to above average IQs - can sail through grammar school, and yet hit academic problems in middle and high school. They now have to deal with 4 to 6 teachers, instead of just 1. The likelihood that at least one teacher will be indifferent - or even hostile - toward making special accommodations is certain. The AS/HFA student now has to face a series of classroom environments with different classmates, odors, distractions, noise levels, and sets of expectations.

• Many AS/HFA adolescents are stiff and rule-oriented and act like little adults, which is a deadly trait in any teen popularity contest. Friendship and all its nuances of reciprocity can be exhausting for an AS or HFA teenager, even though she wants it more than anything else.

• In their overwhelming need to fit in and make friends, some teens on the spectrum fall into the wrong high school crowds. Adolescents who abuse substances may use the AS or HFA teen’s naivety to get him to buy or carry drugs and liquor for their group.

• In the teen world where everyone feels insecure, adolescents that appear different are voted off the island. Teens with AS and HFA often have odd mannerisms. One adolescent talks in a loud un-modulated voice, avoids eye contact, interrupts others, violates others’ physical space, and steers the conversation to his favorite odd topic. Another appears willful, selfish and aloof, mostly because he is unable to share his thoughts and feelings with others. Isolated and alone, many autistic teens are too anxious to initiate social contact.

• AS/HFA is characterized by poor social skills. These include a lack of eye contact during conversation and body language that conveys a lack of interest. The teen years revolve around social interaction, and an adolescent on the spectrum may be ostracized and mocked by his class mates because of his lack of social skills.




• AS and HFA adolescents are often more immature than their peers and may be naive when it comes to puberty and sexuality. If they have not been taught about sex, they may pick up information from pornographic material. This can lead to inappropriate behavior and touching that could land them in trouble.

• Fashion is important to “typical” teens (especially girls), but teens with AS and HFA have little dress sense. If they do not attempt to conform to their peers' standards, they will often be mocked and left out of social events.

• Depression often results from the social skills deficits that adolescents with AS and HFA commonly experience. They may feel worthless, and in extreme cases, may consider suicide as an option.

• Bullying is a big challenge in the lives of many autistic teens. Because of their unusual behavior, they tend to attract bullies and are less likely to report this than their peers. In some cases, the AS or HFA teen may respond with violence and end up in trouble at school.

Common causes of ED in autistic adolescents include other people’s behavior (e.g., teasing, bullying, insensitive comments, being ignored, etc.), intolerance of imperfections in others, having routines and order disrupted, difficulties with academics despite being intelligent in many areas, peer-relationship problems, a build-up of stress, and being swamped with sensory stimulation or multiple tasks.

Identifying the cause of ED can be a challenge.  It is important for parents and teachers to consider all possible influences relating to the environment (e.g., too much stimulation, lack of structure, change of routine, etc.), the adolescent’s physical state (e.g., pain, tiredness, etc.), his or her mental state (e.g., existing frustration, confusion, etc.), and how well he or she is treated by peers.

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

How Parents and Teachers Can Help—

The first step is for the AS or HFA adolescent to learn emotion-management skills. A good place to start is identifying a pattern in how the strong reactions are related to specific frustrations. Such triggers may originate from the environment, specific individuals, or internal thoughts.

Steps to successful emotion-management include the following:

• Self-awareness— The AS/HFA adolescent can be instructed to become more aware of personal thoughts, behaviors, and physical states which are associated with ED. This awareness is important for the adolescent in order for him to notice the early signs of losing control of his emotions. He should be encouraged to write down a list of changes he notices as he begins to feel the need to over-react to something.

• Levels of anger and coping strategies— As the adolescent becomes more aware of situations associated with ED, she can be instructed to keep a record of events, triggers, and associated levels of frustration. Different levels of disturbance can be explored (e.g. mildly annoyed, irritated, very frustrated, angry, a sense of rage).

• Develop an emotion-management record— The adolescent may keep a diary or chart of situations that trigger strong reactions. List the situation, the level of frustration on a scale of 1 to 10, and the coping strategies that help to overcome or reduce feelings of frustration.

• Becoming motivated— Parents and teachers can help the AS or HFA adolescent to identify why he would like to manage his emotions more successfully. He identifies what benefits he expects in everyday living from improving his coping skills.

• Awareness of situations— The adolescent is taught to become more aware of the situations that are associated with outbursts. She may want to ask other people who know her to describe situations and behaviors they have noticed.

Self-Help Strategies—

The “stop – think” technique:

As the adolescent notices the troubling thoughts running through his mind, he can learn to (a)  stop and think before reacting to the situation (e.g., “Are these thoughts accurate or helpful?”), (b) challenge the inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts, and (c) create a new thought.

The personal safety plan:

A personal safety plan can also be developed to help the adolescent avoid becoming upset when she plans to enter into a situation that has a history of triggering strong reactions. Here is a real life example of a plan used by a 17-year-old girl with Asperger’s for using the “stop – think” technique when approaching a shopping center situation that is known to trigger frustration:
  • My goal: To improve my ability to cope with frustration when I am waiting in long lines.
  • Typical angry thoughts: “The service here is so slow. Why can’t they hurry it up? I'm going to lose my mind 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.”

Possible steps in a personal plan can include the following:
  • Plan ways to become distracted from the stressful situation (e.g., watch a YouTube video or read an e-book on my cell phone, carry a magazine)
  • Phone my friend to talk about the cause of frustration
  • Make changes to routines and surroundings (e.g., avoid certain people that are prone to teasing me)
  • Leave the situation if possible
  • Explain to another person how he or she can help me solve the problem
  • Avoid situations that are associated with a high risk of becoming frustrated

Other possible components to a personal plan can include the following:
  • Use visual imagery (e.g., jumping into a cool stream takes the heat of anger away)
  • Self-talk methods
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Anger-control classes in my area
  • Creative destruction or physical activity techniques to reduce anger

Dealing with the emotional problems in teens with AS and HFA is not easy for parents, and it can be hard to trace back the original causes of problematic behaviors. If parents are concerned about their child’s anger, rage or aggression, they should seek advice from a professional. Oftentimes, young people on the autism spectrum who demonstrate emotional problems simply need help developing some coping, social and communicating skills.

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

Affective Education: Teaching Children on the Autism Spectrum About Emotions


Does your child have difficulty expressing troubling emotions using his or her words rather than acting-out? Does your child seem to lack an understanding about the emotions of other people? If so, here are some ways to educate your child on the subject:

The main goal of Affective Education is to teach children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s why they have emotions, their use and misuse, and the identification of different levels of expression. A basic principle is to explore one emotion at a time as a theme for a project.

The choice of which emotion to start with is decided by the parent (or teacher), but a useful starting point is happiness or pleasure. A scrapbook can be created that illustrates the emotion. This can include pictures of people expressing the different degrees of happiness, but can be extended to pictures of objects and situations that have a personal association with the feeling (e.g., a photograph of a rare lizard for a child with a special interest in reptiles).

The content of the scrapbook also can include sensations that may elicit the feeling of happiness or pleasure (e.g., aromas and textures), and/or can be used as a diary to include compliments, and records of achievement (e.g., certificates and memorabilia).
 
==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Affective Education includes the parent describing - and the child discovering - the relevant cues that indicate a particular level of emotional expression in facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and context. The face can be described as an “information center” for emotions.

The typical errors that children with HFA and Asperger’s make when trying to comprehend emotions include not identifying which cues are relevant or redundant, and misinterpreting cues. The parent can use a range of games to “spot the message” and explain the multiple meanings (e.g., a furrowed brow can mean anger or bewilderment, or may be a sign of aging skin; a loud voice does not automatically mean that an individual is angry).

Once the key elements that indicate a particular emotion have been identified, it’s important to use an “instrument” to measure the degree of intensity. The parent can construct a model “thermometer,” “gauge,” or volume control, and can use a range of activities to define the level of expression (e.g., the parent can create a selection of pictures of happy faces and place each picture at the appropriate point on the instrument).

Some kids on the spectrum can use extreme statements (e.g., “I am going to kill myself”) to express a level of emotion that would be more moderately expressed by a “non-autistic” child. During a program of Affective Education, the parent often has to increase the child’s vocabulary of emotional expression to ensure precision and accuracy.

Affective Education not only includes activities to detect specific degrees of emotion in others - but also in oneself. The child (and those who know him well) can create a list of his physical, cognitive, and behavioral cues that indicate his increase in emotional arousal. The degree of expression can be measured using one of the special instruments mentioned earlier (e.g., an emotion thermometer). One of the aspects of Affective Education is to help the child perceive his “early warning signals” that indicate emotional arousal that may need cognitive control.
 
==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

When a particular emotion and the levels of expression are understood, the next part of Affective Education can be to use the same procedures for a contrasting emotion. For example, after exploring happiness, the next emotion explored might be sadness. Feeling relaxed would be explored before a project on feeling anxious. In addition, the child should be encouraged to understand that certain thoughts or emotions are “antidotes” to other feelings (e.g., some strategies or activities associated with feeling happy may be used to counteract feeling sad).

Many children with HFA and Asperger’s have considerable difficulty translating their feelings into conversational words. The parent can create “comic strip conversations” that use figures with speech and thought bubbles (e.g., a cartoon of an angry boy who is thinking to himself, “I’m really upset right now”).

Other activities to be considered in Affective Education are the creation of a photograph album that includes pictures of the child and family members expressing particular emotions, or video recordings of the child expressing her feelings in real-life situations. This can be particularly valuable to demonstrate the child’s behavior when expressing anger.

Another activity called “Guess the Message” can include the presentation of specific cues to indicate doubt (e.g., a raised eyebrow), surprise (e.g., wide-opened mouth and eyes), disgust (e.g., crinkled nose with tongue sticking out), and so on.

Lastly, it’s important to incorporate the child’s special interest in the program (e.g., a child whose special interest is the weather and has suggested that his emotions are expressed as a weather report). 

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

Help for Emotionally Hypersensitive Children on the Autism Spectrum

"Any help here for parenting a super super sensitive child with autism - especially when he is given a (mild) consequence for throwing a wild tantrum?"

Has your child with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) ever been labeled as "highly emotional" or “melodramatic” by others? Does he enjoy quiet play more than big and noisy groups? Does he ask lots of questions? Is he incredibly perceptive, noticing most of the minor details of life?  Does your youngster want all the tags pulled out from his shirts?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be raising an emotionally hypersensitive youngster – but that’s not a bad thing!

Emotionally hypersensitive kids may not have all the traits listed below – and they may have the traits to differing degrees – but they all require special parenting techniques to enable them to function effectively:
  • Above average ability in one or more areas, even if not evident in schoolwork
  • Bedwetting beyond typical age
  • Can be easily overwhelmed
  • Cries easily
  • Detailed oriented
  • Doesn’t learn “social rules” as fast as other kids
  • Doesn’t like change
  • Doesn’t like conflict
  • Doesn’t like to be in crowds
  • Doesn’t like to be over-stimulated
  • Either excels at math or has math dyscalculia
  • Feels responsible for others’ emotions
  • Feels the emotions of others as if these emotions were their own
  • Good memory, may have photographic memory
  • Has a greater need to resolve emotional conflicts because of over-sensitivity towards others’ emotions
  • Has a strong sense of justice and unfairness
  • Loses sense of time
  • May be exceptionally intelligent
  • May be perceived as a slow learner only because he needs to understand the breadth and depth of something first
  • May experience audio-motor incoordination
  • May have learning disabilities
  • May have a sense of global injustice, but not have empathy for an individual
  • May leave a room full of family members and withdraw to their room to be alone for a while
  • Needs more structure and instructions than is typically required for kids to learn
  • Often so direct that they can be viewed as being rude
  • Participates in group activities only after getting to know the other kids, the environment, and the dynamics
  • Precocious (e.g., uses words, phrasing and complete sentences beyond age level; assumes an authority of an adult; asks thought provoking questions; is introspective, etc.)
  • Prefers to be alone or with only one peer
  • Quiet, shy, introverted, withdrawn
  • Reacts quickly to environmental toxins (e.g., cleaning products) and may have multiple chemical sensitivities
  • Refuses to go near a particular person, room or building
  • Self-absorbed and self-focused
  • Sensitive to noise, taste of certain foods, smells, certain colors or color combinations, touch, etc.
  • Skin sensitivity (e.g., clothes may itch, labels in clothes are uncomfortable, seams in socks are irritating, doesn’t like the beach because of the grittiness of sand, doesn’t like to walk barefoot on wood floors, etc.)
  • Slow to connect with others
  • Stares at what seems empty space and points, smiles or talks with that empty space
  • Talks with things in nature
  • Thinks outside the box putting together seemingly mutually exclusive “boxes” of knowledge (i.e., creative and innovative)
  • Walking dictionary
  • Wants to “right” wrongs

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

Parenting a hypersensitive youngster on the autism spectrum can be extremely rewarding. However, some moms and dads admittedly find it exhausting. Raising a happy and well-adjusted hypersensitive youngster is possible, but it takes a set of special parenting skills to succeed. If you follow the simple strategies below, you’ll be helping your special needs youngster develop emotional strength and a sense of confidence in her ability to handle her own life.

1. Don’t be afraid to use age-appropriate discipline. Just because your youngster is hypersensitive doesn't mean she doesn't need rules, structure and boundaries in her life. Giving your youngster structure and clear boundaries (with respect) goes a long way.

2. Attempt to understand what’s behind your child’s hypersensitivity. Moms and dads often believe that their overly sensitive youngster is simply being “melodramatic” and making a fuss over nothing. While some kids on the autism spectrum have a flair for the dramatic, that does not diminish the intensity of their feelings. Many of these special needs kids have what psychologists refer to as “emotional super-sensitivity” or “over-excitability.” This means that they actually do experience feelings more intensely than others.

3. Don’t rescue your youngster. When he has a tantrum (as opposed to a meltdown) AND it is part of his pattern, simply allow him to whine, cry and have the tantrum. Don’t get angry, and don’t get into a conversation about whatever is causing him to act-out. Just be patient and let him handle it. As soon as he calms down, have a normal conversation about other events or activities. Don’t talk about whatever it was that he was tantrumming about. If he starts to get angry again, disengage. Remember that what you consistently give your attention to GROWS.

4. Ease transitions as much as possible. Give your child as much information as you can (e.g., “We will be leaving in 15 minutes to go the store. This is what we will be doing there. This is about how long it will take to finish our shopping. This is what we will do when we get home.”).

5. Explain to your youngster that she can handle her emotions. When things are calm, talk to her about the things that upset her. Offer some solutions and help solve her issues. After you have a few of these conversations, tell her that you’ve given her the information and coping strategies she needs to handle her own emotions. Let your youngster know that you’re not going to run to her rescue anymore when she is having a temper tantrum. Tell her that the emotions she has may be painful, but they always go away sooner rather than later. Also, let her know that you have confidence in her ability to calm herself down.

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

6. Help your youngster create an “emotional response scale.” Emotionally hypersensitive kids often respond to every negative experience as though it were the end of the world. They can’t help how they feel, but they can learn to put these uncomfortable situations into a helpful perspective, which can help them cope with their strong emotions. Here’s how to do this:

Take a sheet of paper and write the numbers 1 to 10 in a vertical list. Ask your youngster what he thinks would be the very worst thing that could happen (e.g., the house being destroyed during a tornado). Write this answer down next to the number 10. Then, ask your youngster what he thinks would be the most minor thing that could happen (e.g., having to go to bed 15 minutes early). Write this incident next to the number 1. Next, find a negative incident to write in the number 5 spot. Help your youngster come up with an incident that is not really bad and not really minor, but right in between the two extremes. Finally, fill in the rest of the numbers in the list. You and your youngster need to see the progression from the least to the worst thing that could happen.

Keep the emotional response scale handy so that you and your youngster can refer to it when needed. Whenever your youngster has a tantrum over something that didn’t go his way, you can then ask him to rate it according to the scale (he may act as though it's a number 10 incident, but then ask if he really believes the incident is the same as the number 10 incident on the scale – he will see that it's not). Eventually, your child will be better able to manage his emotional responses to various negative incidents in his life.

7. Have confidence in your youngster’s ability to manage his own life. Even though he may have a developmental disorder, there’s no reason to teach him that his life is in any way “less than” what it should be. If you view his life as sad or unfortunate, he will too. If you feel this way, you may adopt an over-protective parenting style. A child who is over-protected lacks the confidence to handle his own emotions or deal with difficult situations.

8. Hypersensitive kids are majorly impacted by their home and school environments. So, take the time to create spaces that match their temperament. For example, create a “relaxation corner” at home with just the right lighting, colors, sounds and surroundings where your child can relax with his headphones, favorite toys, books, etc., to feel peaceful. Hypersensitive kids crave this kind of serenity.

9. Recruit your youngster as a “partner in problem solving.” Hypersensitive kids respond far better to being requested to do something and “partnering” with their parents. Harsh discipline can provoke the exact behavior you are trying to avoid (e.g., tantrums, meltdowns, shutdowns, etc.). Partnering with your youngster means learning her triggers (e.g., sensory sensitivities), avoiding them as much as possible, and giving her tools when she feels frustrated and overwhelmed (e.g., breathing exercises).




10. The hypersensitive youngster tends to burst into tears any time she experiences a strong emotion (e.g., anger, frustration, etc.). For example, if you tell your daughter that her friend can't stay for dinner, she may suddenly become tearful. You can help by giving her the words for how she's feeling (e.g., “I know you're upset that Jenny can't stay for dinner"). Oftentimes, it can stop a child in her tracks to hear someone express her emotions. Even if it doesn't work in the moment, when your youngster hears you talking about her feelings again and again, she will eventually start noticing how she feels on her own instead of crying. Later, you can talk to your youngster about other ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions (e.g., taking a time-out, breathing exercises, etc.).

11. Train yourself to focus on your youngster's strengths (e.g., his incredible creativity, perceptiveness, keen intellect, etc.) rather than his weaknesses (e.g., being highly emotional, introverted, picky, over-reactive, etc.).

12. When your child is frustrated, make eye contact. Get down to her level (i.e., physically bend down to make eye contact), and acknowledge how she is feeling. Keep your voice calm and help her solve her problem. If she launches into a temper tantrum, say something like, “Throwing a tantrum is not going to solve your problem. What else can we do to solve this problem?” 

Helping hypersensitive kids on the autism spectrum distinguish between emotions and actions is an important step in emotional development. All feelings are, in essence, impulses to act. It is important to teach your child that all of her emotions are okay. Even moms and dads feel sad, angry, worried, frustrated, etc., from time to time. Grown-ups can help special needs kids manage their behavior by helping them to identify acceptable ways to express feelings. This task can be accomplished by using some of the techniques listed above.

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


COMMENTS:

•    Prudence Arcadia said... Thank you, this fits my child to a "T" and I hope to read more on this, it is immensely appreciated!
•    jyr5017 said... So helpful and informative. This describes my 9 year old son with Asperger's. He finds it especially difficult to regulate his emotions in a school environment when he feels constantly overwhelmed and becomes frustrated. After a long battle, I finally got him into an high functioning ASD classroom and he is doing great. The school district couldn't understand this idea of being "emotionally hypersensitive" and wanted to brand him emotionally disturbed. My son would frequently (up to 3 times a week) have meltdowns over the noise level in the classroom. He would begin by covering his ears and insisting that he needed quiet, this would turn to him crying and howling, and end with either him in the principal's office or the class being evacuated because he would start throwing stuff. The IEP team's solution was ear plugs. Are you kidding me? I flat out asked them "how bad does it have to get before you guys will move him to the ASD classroom?" and I was told "well he hasn't hit anyone yet." The final episode prior to being moved was a complete emotional outcry that I pray my son will soon forget. Third grade was a nightmare for my son.
•    Unknown said... This fits me perfectly. Thank you for sharing. I'm looking forward to trying to implement some of the things mentioned into my own life.
•    Unknown said... It's extremely frustrating when professionals, tasked with providing a free and appropriate education for every child, are ignorant, dismissive of the parents, arrogant, and often fail to properly execute the law and educational codes. These same people would be the first to demand their own children's needs be met. When one is in pain, of any sort, and others don't believe it, it compounds the suffering. There's the primary pain itself that's overlaid with the pain of feeling very alone, angry, ashamed, self-doubt, confusion, helplessness, exhaustion, rage, withdrawal... when I was in middle school, I began experiencing unusual pain, which came in crippling waves every few weeks. Because I felt fine, otherwise, and seemed perfectly healthy, people thought I was a hypochondriac and just had these episodes to avoid pe or chores at home. It was horrible that no one seemed to validate my pain. I wondered if I was crazy. I was told i was being being "histrionic" and just "throwing a tantrum" for attention. This went on for about 6 months, until I passed out and was rushed to the hospital, where I had emergency surgery, a hysterectomy, because I had a huge malignant tumor and cancer throughout my uterus. I was only 12 but I remember thinking, "I will always give people the benefit of the doubt until I have proof otherwise." Years later, I had a 6th grader in my class, who had borderline personality disorder and often told fantastic stories with no distinction between fact and fiction. At one point, he suddenly started limping and hopping whenever we did anything physical. The other kids bullied him for being a faker. Some wondered if it was an avoidant behavior because he didn't feel comfortable in pe. Most people just assumed it was not authentic. I thought most likely it was a mental health issue but that we needed to validate him, teach the other kids to give him the benefit of the doubt, absolutely shut down teasing and bullying, let him rest or sit out, give him rides around campus, e.t.c. Some staff thought I was just naive and being totally manipulated by a 12 year old. For unrelated reasons, the family moved at the end of the school year. The following year, I got a card from the mom thanking me for supporting and protecting her son. She said he had been diagnosed with a rare cancer in his hip joints, which the drs said is extremely painful from inflammation caused by movement of the hips. He had to have surgeries to remove parts of the bone. It was awful but he survived, with permanent damage. You just don't know how much someone may be suffering. It is shameful when the responsible professionals dismiss and argue with you and continue to subject your child to torture. No one should have to battle with the school personnel to get free and appropriate services, guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But parents routinely face opposition and ignorance, even at the highest levels, from the dept of ed. It's maddening! Your son is fortunate to have a mom who is a warrior and advocate.
•    XSS202 said... I wish my parents had access to this when I was a kid. I've only recently diagnosed and as someone who's nearly 40, i reckon this would have been quite helpful :P Thanks for the write up.

Dealing with Severe Mood Swings in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“My son has autism (high functioning, age 11) and is referred by his doctor with the chief complaint of “severe mood swings, rule out bipolar disorder (BD).” In the past, he was treated for ADHD with stimulants with mixed results. I’m concerned about his “flipping out” whenever he is asked to do something he does not want to do. I have a history of depression and anxiety, and his dad had a drinking problem. There is no history of BD in his first- or second-degree relatives. Are my son’s rapid mood swings a sign of ADHD, autism, BD, or another disorder?”

It’s not uncommon for a child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s (AS) to experience frequent mood swings (i.e., an emotional response that is poorly modulated and does not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive response). Overwhelming emotions can take over, and the child will use some type of coping mechanism (at an unconscious level) to deal with them.

The trigger for a mood swing might be the result of a very minor incident (e.g., sensory sensitivity) or something much more upsetting (e.g., withdrawal of a privilege). Also, many mood swings last until the youngster is completely drained of his negative emotions.



The child’s mood swing may result in behavioral outbursts, destroying or throwing objects, aggression, anger and rage, self-injury, and problems that interfere with the child’s social interactions and relationships at home and school. These responses can occur in seconds to minutes or hours.

In my practice, the most frequently asked question by moms and dads is: “What do I do when my child can’t control his emotions?” When severe mood swings occur, the first response is to ensure the safety of all concerned.

Of course, mood swings are not planned, but instead are most often caused by elusive and puzzling environmental triggers. When the “shift in mood” happens, everyone in its path feels pain – especially the “special needs” boy or girl.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
 
Parents can expect their HFA or AS child to experience both minor and major mood swings over incidents that are part of daily life. Many parents have a hard time knowing how their child is going to react about certain situations. However, there are many ways to help your child learn to control his emotions. Let’s look at just a few…

When Your HFA or AS Child Experiences Severe Mood Swings:

1. Put safety first: Attempt to softly hold your son physically, unless he is one of those youngster that doesn’t like touch. Each HFA and AS youngster reacts to mood swings differently. Some will like to be held, others will want to be left alone. So, try holding your son gently if he will let you. If he becomes agitated, let go as long as no one will get hurt.

2. Don’t throw gas on the fire: Avoid threats in the heat of the moment. The moment you make unreasonable threats of punishments in hopes of scaring your son into compliance, you are not talking about the topic anymore. For example, if the parent says something like, “If you throw that again – you’re going to go to bed early tonight,” then the youngster may start to fight the early bedtime, and the original problem doesn’t get resolved – instead, now there are two problems.

3. Give a signal: Teach your son to respond to your "signal" (e.g., a hand motion) to stay composed. Give that signal as soon as he starts "fussing " about something.

4. This is not about you (the parent): As difficult as it may be in the heat of the moment, don’t take your son’s strong feelings personally. A parent may feel aggravated and personally attacked when the youngster explodes. Statements such as “I hate you” is not actually a personal statement. What your son is really saying is “I hate being out of control of my emotions.”

5.  Use distraction: As soon as you notice your son exhibiting the signs that his mood is about to take a turn for the worse, try to distract him. In order to be effective, the distraction has to be of interest to him (e.g., suggest to him "let's take a walk" or "let's play Pictionary").




6. Provide a “feelings vocabulary”: Teach your son to talk about how he feels. Give him a language to express his emotions. If he is too upset to talk or doesn't have the vocabulary to express his emotions, ask about the feelings relevant to the specific situation (e.g., "Do you feel angry… let down… afraid?"). When your son expresses the feelings behind his distress (e.g., anger, anxiety), suggest some other ways to look at the same event that may not be so anger- or anxiety-provoking. The thought "It's not fair" is a big anger-arouser for many young people on the spectrum. If that is the case with your son, ask him, "Do you feel you are being treated unfairly?" When he answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his feelings.

7. Catch the mood swing in its early phase: Slow down the process by saying, "O.K. We need a minute to think about this." If your son is gearing-up for an emotional vomit, you can slow things down by giving him some feedback (e.g., "I can see you're starting to get upset. Can we talk about it first?").

8. Think in terms of “limits” rather than “punishment”: Set limits that your son will find reassuring. A limit is not a punishment. Limits may help your son learn how to slow himself down. HFA and AS kids find the “setting of limits” very soothing. They need to know that the parent is in control – because they feel so out of control!

9. Pretend you are a mirror: Reflect your son’s emotional state. You could say something like, "I can see how annoyed you are. Can you tell me what made you feel this way?" (Note: "What" is always more important than "Why," because it asks for specifics. Your son will probably never know “why” he gets upset. And if you ask, he is likely to say, “I don’t know!!”).

10. Establish a “judge-free” zone: Let your son express his negative feelings without judging him. What would you do if every time you were angry or hurt, some tall scowling adult looked down on you and said, "Stop feeling that way," or "Don’t talk to me like that." Rather than calming down, you may decide to act-out your anger even more.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
 
11. Issue appropriate consequences: If your son refuses to be distracted or engaged in dialoguing about his distress and starts shouting or getting aggressive, impose appropriate consequences. Have these consequences in place to serve as a guideline (i.e., you have discussed them with your son beforehand and written them out for future reference). Armed with a list of consequences (which preferably consist of withdrawing privileges), you should encourage your son to choose such alternatives as doing something else, walking away, or talking about his feelings rather than acting-out.

12. Don’t try to put a lid on it: As long as no one is going to get hurt, let the mood swing run its course. This is hard for parents to do – but it’s very crucial. An HFA or AS youngster who is full of raw emotions will not know how to manage them. But he may feel somewhat soothed by your calmer presence. Then, you get back to the business of “talking it out.” Talking things out (after things have calmed down a bit) teaches your son to use his words to deal with negative emotions rather than using physical aggression. However, don't extend your son’s emotional state with too much discussion. If he is feeling out of control or in a rage, too much talking will not help – in fact, it may prolong the problem.

13. YOU take a time-out (if safety is not an issue): Keep your emotions separate from your son’s behavior. While there are occasions when it is important to tell your son how you feel, entering into his emotional state with your own negative emotions will only worsen the problem. Take a deep breath, speak calmly, leave the room, and give yourself a few minutes to gather your thoughts.

14. Acknowledge the effect your son’s mood swings have on you: Many HFA and AS kids will calm down if the parent acknowledges their impact. For example, you can stop and say, "I've stopped the car (or "I’m off the phone"), and you have my full attention. What don't I understand?" Sometimes kids just need to vent to a listening ear.

15. Seek professional help: If you see a repeated, chronic pattern that you can't figure out, seek the help of a therapist. If your son’s destructive behavior escalates and becomes increasingly difficult to deal with, and if nothing works over a period of weeks or months, there may be an underlying issue that needs professional assistance.

HFA and AS kids guided toward responsible emotion-management are more likely to understand and manage unpredictable mood swings directly and non-aggressively and to avoid the stress often accompanying them. You can take some of the bumps out of understanding and managing severe mood swings by adopting some of the parenting techniques listed above.

==> Learn the "Behavioral Modification" SECRETS Used by Therapists Who Work in the Field of Autism Spectrum Disorders




COMMENTS:

Anonymous said… Bipolar is over diagnosed in the Autistic population due to a severe overlap in symptoms/tendencies, and an adolescents' inability to self manage the hormones and sensory issues associated with Autism will not make this any easier. It is already a tumultuous time. I agree with the above, seek out care from someone with a Biomedical background before simply medicating (this is coming from Mama of a teen Aspie - but myself have been diagnosed with BD which is now being reassessed)
Anonymous said… Have him assessed for OCD. It had many traits and sub traits. I had no idea how to communicate with my sin for years without him"blowing up" , turns out the OCD thoughts were literally driving him crazy.
Anonymous said… In this article and many others it says to seek professional counseling. We have tried many counselors who claim to "specialize in autism, Asperger's," but really have no clue. How do you find a counselor that really deals with autism?
Anonymous said… WOW my son is 9 and he is getting angrier when I ask him to do things, homework. Chores sounds like you found such great help!!!!
Anonymous said… Your describing my son his 10. We've got our first appointment in three weeks with CD. Is your son like this at school aswell? Or is it mainly only directed at you?
Anonymous said… Don't let docs put him on SEI's though. Contact a company called Neuroscience. (I went through my chiropractor) and they will do a brain chemistry test to determine which levels are "off". Then they recommend supplements for him to take to correct it. My son had been on them for almost 2 years now. He is a completely different, confident and mostly calm teenager. I'm so grateful.
Anonymous said… It probably bores him and he doesn't see the point. That is what my son said to me once. Or he could be worried he won't do it right? Also at 9/10 hormones start kicking in. My son's OCD started flaring at 10.
Anonymous said… My son is 9 he gets so angry at me when I ask him nicely to do chores, homework, rinse off his plate, etc. I just don't understand it - it's getting worse. Aspergers is so challenging!!!  ❤ Your not alone!!!
Anonymous said… Sounds like PDA, my son has it too. Also 11yrs old. It's VERY tricky but try to get ways to work around the "order" you are giving. For example, if it's bath time, I wouldn't tell my son to go and bath... I wil give him an option so that it looks like it was "his choice" and he feels in control of the decision... I would just ask him...."what would it be tonight... bath or shower?" (I'm blessed to have both) Then he would choose, and that's what he sticks too. I sometimes do it with food as well. I will give him 2 options, and I would make sure one of the options is actually less desireable so that he unknowingly chooses what I actually wanted to give him. I will add that this method does not ALWAYS work... but then I would just improvise and use a reward technique or something. Good luck! Xoxoxo
* oh my, great timing for this article! Our 11 year-old had major meltdown, precipitated by our not using the right words, ie. notebook instead of binder, and more. He said, he was feeling physical pain over it, as stomach pain, then frustration grew until he was pulling his hair, screaming, and then head-butted wall. He ran to his room and cried it out for 5 minutes. I waited another 10 and knocked, He was all over it-- completely calm, open to discussing and compliant. As tho it never happened. Amazing. (I, on the other hand, am still upset!) We'll talk more today, about tips in this article to implement in hopes of avoiding another self injurious explosion. Thank you, Mark


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