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

Defiance in Teenagers with High-Functioning Autism

"My son (high functioning autistic) is now 13 ...he was diagnosed at the age of 8. All of a sudden he is acting out, cussing all the time, lying, being disrespectful and verbally abusive, and has an overall grumpy attitude. Are these years the hardest, or is this just the beginning? When he finally hits puberty, will things get better?"

Yes, the teen years are the hardest, whether your son has High Functioning Autism (HFA) or not! He has probably “hit” puberty already, but it’s just beginning.

Raging hormones and frustration with social interactions at school can cause a lot of anger and bad behavior during the teen years, especially for adolescents with "special needs!" Many need counseling to negotiate this time in their lives successfully. Peer-rejection, teasing, bullying, and all other other stressors that your son may have to endure can take a psychological toll, which may in turn influence him to act-out his frustration on a "safe" target at home (i.e., YOU).

Your son is exhibiting rebellious behavior, and this type of behavior fulfills his needs. For example, he may have the need to:
  • Avoid responsibility (e.g., attending school, obeying parents)
  • Get something (e.g., his way in a decision, your attention, control over a situation)
  • Manage pain (e.g., physical and/or emotional stress that must be alleviated)
  • Fulfill sensory needs (e.g., relief from heat, cold, or to satisfy thirst)

Having a developmental disorder such as HFA or Asperger’s is no excuse for being verbally abusive. However, it is important for you to understand that some of the associated symptoms do contribute to defiant behavior. Teens on the autism spectrum may display some - or all - of the following characteristics, many of which contribute to problematic behavior:
  • the teen may be able to talk extensively on a topic of interest, but have difficulty with more practical tasks such as recounting the day’s events, telling a story, or understanding jokes and sarcasm
  • sensitivity to criticism 
  • preference for playing alone or with adults
  • narrow field of interests (e.g., a teen with HFA may focus on learning all there is to know about cars, trains or computers)
  • language may be considered to be very advanced or ‘precocious’ when compared to their peers
  • lack of appreciation that communication involves listening as well as talking (e.g., they may not allow their communication partner an opportunity to engage in the conversation)
  • inability to understand the rules of social behavior or the feelings of others
  • difficulty ‘reading’ body language (e.g., a teen with HFA may not understand that someone is showing that they are unhappy by frowning)
  • having rules and rituals that they insist all family members follow
  • difficulty in forming friendships
  • behavior varies from mildly unusual, eccentric or ‘odd’ to quite aggressive and difficult
  • apparently good language skills, but difficulty with communication
  • anger and aggression when things do not happen as they want

 
Your son is unlikely to identify with your feelings or comprehend others’ objections to his behavior. The only explanation you should use with him is to specifically state that the objectionable behavior is not permitted. Your son needs to follow rules, and following rules can help to focus and modify his rebellious behavior.

Behavior modification is a therapeutic approach that can change your son’s behavior. You need to determine the need that his rebellion/aggression fulfills and teach him an acceptable replacement behavior. For example, your son can be taught to ask for, point to, or show an emotion card to indicate the need that he is trying to fulfill.

Sometimes, self-stimulating behaviors such as rocking or pacing are taught as replacement behaviors, but it will take time for your son to integrate these behaviors into his daily activities. If your son is severely out of control, he needs to be physically removed from the situation. Granted, this may be easier said than done, and you may need someone to help you; yet, behavior modification can be helpful, and it must be started as soon as possible.

For adolescents on the autism spectrum, the importance of maintaining a daily routine can't be stressed enough. A daily routine produces behavioral stability and psychological comfort. Also, it lessens their need to make demands. When you establish a daily routine, you eliminate some of the situations in which your son’s behavior becomes demanding. For example, by building in regular times to give him attention, he may have less need to show aggression to try to get that attention.

Ideally over time, your son will learn to recognize and communicate the causes of his aggression and get his needs met by using communication. Unfortunately, teens who get their needs met due to aggression or violence are very likely to continue and escalate this defiant behavior.

A behavior therapy program may help; however, an individualized program has to be designed specifically for your son because adolescents on the spectrum vary greatly in their challenges and/or family circumstances. Treatment approaches that work well with other diagnoses may not work with HFA. Consult a psychiatrist who can oversee a treatment plan as well as any medication regimen that your son may be need.

In addition to the suggestions listed above, here are a few simple parenting tips that may help:
  • Take care of yourself. Counseling can provide an outlet for your own mental health concerns that could interfere with the successful management of your son's defiant behavior. If you're depressed or anxious, that could lead to disengagement from your son, which can trigger or worsen oppositional behaviors. Let go of things that you or your son did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate. Learn ways to calm yourself, and take time for yourself. Develop outside interests, get some exercise, and spend some time away from your son to restore your energy.
  • Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your son. Asking him to help develop that routine can be helpful.
  • Set limits and enforce consistent reasonable consequences.
  • At first, your son is not likely to be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to his behavior. Setbacks and relapses are normal, so be prepared with a plan to manage those times. 
  • Remind yourself that your son’s defiance is most likely a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent catastrophe.
  • Recognize and praise your son's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible (e.g., "I really liked the way you cleaned up your room tonight").
  • Pick your battles carefully. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.
  • Model the behavior you want your son to exhibit.
  • Develop a united front. Work with your partner/spouse to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.
  • Remember that behavior often temporarily worsens when new limits and expectations are set. However, with persistence and consistency, the initial hard work will pay off with improved behavior.
  • Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and your son being together.
  • Assign your son a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless he does it. Initially, it's important to set him up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve, then gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations.



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


COMMENTS FROM PARENTS:

•    Anonymous said... Its so good to not feel alone in this. My son emailed the principle and councilor this week with a page of cuss words, then says "he doesn't remember it". He never talks at home like that. Trying to find alternatives for anger, like using a punching bag. But that day I had no idea he was even upset that is what scares me. Praying lots and lots.
•    Anonymous said... My Son doesnt like going outside at all eather!... Not very nice if he's got a little Sis that does want to go and do nice things tho... But tried to take him out today, but it was Far to Busy! Really made him have a Noise overload in his head till now... We'v been back for 10 hours... Must be horrible for him...
•    Anonymous said... my son like that as well. Does not want to go outside because the kids are making poor choices
•    Anonymous said... Not only does the stew of Aspie issues flare up at new situations and new social expectations. But puberty hits and the hormones kick in like they do in non-Aspie kids. So you get a double dose of Teenage attitude.
•    Anonymous said... Puberty makes them begin to resemble something of aliens. lol Seriously though they do become quite difficult. The acting out, cussing, lying, etc., all are magnified x 3 during this time. Counseling and keeping the schedule has helped us. In the end however not much helps lately. Praying a lot. Good luck.
•    Anonymous said... There may be commorbid conditions. Mine has ODD and ADHD. But, yes, teens will always test limits. Be thankful he's a boy; ) Deep breaths. And approach delicately. Never demand, request. Always give him time to respond, and make a consequence that fits the "crime" and stick to it. Consistency is key to any austism spectrum disorder. Hugs.
•    Anonymous said... We have been through hell with my son since he turned 13 and now he is 16. I try to see the silver lining with him having to deal with ASD - one is that he doesn't want to leave the house because of his heightened social anxiety - so I know where he is at all times! At least he is not out hooning around and making bad choices with other idiot teenage boys. I'm hoping that by the time he is happy to engage again with society he will be dealing with other guys whose frontal lobe has developed (him too).
•    Anonymous said... You have to adjust your responses to the outbursts and also reinforce what good choices look like for your child as well as what bad choices look like. The teen years are rough for everyone, but Aspergers and kids in the Autism Spectrum have it even harder. Pick your battles. You do not always have to win an argument. Actively listening and explaining what is going on is the best win for both you and your family.

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Behavioral Interventions for Children with ASD [Level 1]

 "We're trying not to use the same discipline methods with our autistic child (high functioning) that we use with the other two children, but we fall back into old habits and end up using traditional methods that usually backfire. Any suggestions?"

Many kids and teenagers with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are prone to behavior problems, and on occasion, aggression. Even though frequently motivated to be near to – and to socially interact with – peers and grown-ups, young people with HFA are deficient in age-appropriate, reciprocal social interaction skills (e.g., those required to participate in cooperative play and related activities).

A propensity for socially unacceptable behavior and insensitivity to – or unawareness of – verbal and nonverbal social cues makes these “special needs” kids vulnerable to displaying a variety of behavior problems. Accordingly, parents and teachers must provide appropriate instruction and supports for HFA children to progress and experience success at home, school, and in the community.



Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with HFA, mostly because they have difficulty appreciating the consequences of their actions. Therefore, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, while at the same time giving rise to distress in both the parent (or teacher) and child.

The same basic behavior management model that is used with “typical” kids can also be applied when crafting management supports for kids on the autism spectrum. That is, teams of parents and professionals should cooperatively:
  • target socially valid and pivotal responses for change
  • ensure careful measurement of targeted responses selected for change
  • systematically analyze behaviors that are identified for change relative to their functions and environmental and antecedent factors connected to their occurrence
  • select and systematically implement and evaluate appropriate interventions and treatments

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Behavioral interventions entail manipulation of antecedent conditions (i.e., what happens immediately prior to the behavior problem) as well as use of consequences for targeted behaviors. Approaches that seem to work best with these young people give them an opportunity to participate in developing and implementing their own behavior management systems. Thus, whenever possible, HFA kids should be involved in their own program development and implementation.

In order to be successful, behavioral interventions should be applied consistently across all areas of the youngster’s life. Also, the longer a particular problematic behavior has been evident, the longer it will take to change it. Therefore, it may take a while for the chosen strategies to be effective. The job for parents and teachers is to focus on the behavior they would like to increase or decrease.

One specific behavioral intervention that has been found to be useful with many kids on the spectrum is cognitive behavior modification. This is a strategy that teaches the child to monitor his own behavior or performance, and to deliver self-reinforcement at established intervals. In this technique, the locus of behavior control is shifted from an external source (e.g., the parent or teacher) to the child.




Cognitive behavior modification can be used to facilitate a variety of behavior changes, including following various specific house and classroom rules, and attending to assigned tasks at home and school. The following is an example of this technique:

One AS teen was assisted in monitoring and changing his "stalking" behavior at school. The teen had become a concern to school officials and his mother because of his serial interest in attractive girls in his school (none of whom he knew personally). His obsession with any one female student typically lasted less than a week. But during this time, he attempted to walk with these girls from class to class, sit with them at lunch, etc., at every opportunity.

Even though the female students protested loudly and did not encourage the AS teen’s interest in any way, it had no impact on his behavior! Furthermore, negative consequences for this behavior (e.g., detention, suspension) only seemed to exacerbate the problem.

However, the AS teen did respond positively to a cognitive behavior management program. His school counselor and homeroom teacher used a videotaped sequence of his stalking behavior to assist him in understanding that his behavior was inappropriate. He then was:
  • instructed to use a self-monitoring system structured by the school's bell system for signaling transitions
  • taught to use a self-recording system related to his contact with his peers
  • taught to use a self-reinforcement system

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

The self-reinforcement he selected was to spend time with classmates who agreed to sit with him at lunch and walk with him during class transitions. Social skill instruction related to his behavior during these peer contacts also proved to be beneficial.

It is crucial that parents and teachers recognize – and plan for – problems related to aggression and violence. Not all HFA children have these problems, and most are not inherently aggressive. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that problems of aggression in some of these young people do arise from time to time.

The social deficits connected with HFA (e.g., difficulty in engaging in age-appropriate reciprocal play) frequently create problems and frustrations that may escalate into aggressive responses and counter-actions. For instance, one youngster with AS had difficulty interacting with friends as a result of not understanding commonly known and accepted social rules, As a result, he gave the appearance of being rude and unwilling to follow generally understood game rules.

With some planning on the part of parents and teachers – and hard work on the part of the HFA child – social skills can be learned and practiced on a daily basis. It may not come naturally, but it is very possible for young people on the autism spectrum to discover the basic ability in socialize in an acceptable manner.


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

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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...

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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…

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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…

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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...

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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...

Symptoms of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism that "Look Like" Misbehavior


As parents of children on the autism spectrum know, there are a multitude of symptoms: 
  • physical (e.g., fine and gross motor skills deficits, sensory sensitivities),
  • mental (e.g., attention difficulties),
  • emotional (e.g., shutdowns, meltdowns, obsessions),
  • and social (e.g., problems reading nonverbal language, difficulty understanding sarcasm).

However, sometimes it becomes extremely difficult for parents to differentiate between (a) behavior problems and (b) symptoms of the disorder that "look like" behavior problems. For example, the Asperger's or high-functioning autistic child who has an allergy or food sensitivity may be cranky during periods of the day. The child who finds it difficult to transition from one activity to the next may experience a meltdown. The child who has difficulty waiting his turn may throw a tantrum. Thus, we need to learn how to adjust our parenting strategies accordingly. 

Sometimes, a consequence for misbehavior is indeed warranted. Other times, the "misbehavior" may be the result of something that stresses the child to the point of acting-out his emotions, because he has not learned any other way to cope with the problem in question (yet).



Any of the following symptoms can result in a behavior pattern that "looks like" intentional misbehavior (or a disrespectful attitude):
  1. Allergies and food sensitivities
  2. Appearance of hearing problems (but hearing has been checked and is fine)
  3. Can become overwhelmed with too much verbal direction
  4. Causes injury to self (e.g., biting, banging head)
  5. Difficulty attending to some tasks
  6. Difficulty changing from one floor surface to another (e.g., carpet to wood, sidewalk to grass)
  7. Difficulty maintaining friendships
  8. Difficulty moving through a space (e.g., bumps into objects or people)
  9. Difficulty reading facial expressions and body language
  10. Difficulty sensing time (e.g., knowing how long 5 minutes is or 3 days or a month)
  11. Difficulty transferring skills from one area to another
  12. Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another
  13. Difficulty understanding directional terms (e.g., front, back, before, after) 
  14. Difficulty understanding group interactions
  15. Difficulty understanding jokes, figures of speech or sarcasm
  16. Difficulty understanding the rules of conversation
  17. Difficulty waiting for their turn (e.g., standing in line)
  18. Difficulty with fine motor activities (e.g., coloring, printing, using scissors, gluing)
  19. Difficulty with reading comprehension (e.g., can quote an answer, but unable to predict, summarize or find symbolism)
  20. Does not generally share observations or experiences with others
  21. Exceptionally high skills in some areas -- and very low in others
  22. Experience sensitivity - or lack of sensitivity - to sounds, textures, tastes, smells or light
  23. Extreme fear for no apparent reason
  24. Feels the need to fix or rearrange things
  25. Fine motor skills are developmentally behind peers (e.g., hand writing, tying shoes, using scissors, etc.)
  26. Gross motor skills are developmentally behind peers (e.g., riding a bike, skating, running)
  27. Has an intolerance to certain food textures, food colors, or the way food is presented on the plate (e.g., one food can’t touch another)
  28. Has an unusually high - or low - pain tolerance
  29. Inability to perceive potentially dangerous situations
  30. Irregular sleep patterns
  31. Makes honest, but inappropriate observations
  32. Makes verbal sounds while listening (i.e., echolalia)
  33. May need to be left alone to release tension and frustration
  34. Meltdowns
  35. Minimal acknowledgement of others
  36. Obsessions with objects, ideas or desires
  37. Odd or unnatural posture (e.g., rigid or floppy)
  38. Often experiences difficulty with loud or sudden sounds
  39. Overly trusting or unable to read the motives behinds peoples’ actions
  40. Perfectionism in certain areas
  41. Play is often repetitive
  42. Prefers to be alone, aloof or overly-friendly
  43. Resistance - or inability - to follow directions
  44. Resistance to being held or touched
  45. Responds to social interactions, but does not initiate them
  46. Ritualistic or compulsive behavior patterns (e.g., sniffing, licking, watching objects fall, flapping arms, spinning, rocking, humming, tapping, sucking, rubbing clothes)
  47. Seems unable to understand another’s feelings
  48. Seizure activity
  49. Short attention span for most lessons
  50. Speech is abnormally loud or quiet
  51. Talks excessively about one or two topics (e.g., dinosaurs, movies, etc.)
  52. Tends to either tune out - or break down - when being reprimanded
  53. Tends to get too close when speaking to someone (i.e., lack of personal space)
  54. Transitioning from one activity to another is difficult
  55. Unaware of/disinterested in what is going on around them
  56. Uses a person’s name excessively when speaking to them
  57. Usually resists change in their environment (e.g., people, places, objects)
  58. Verbal outbursts
  59. Very little or no eye contact

Your child's behavior is observable and measurable (i.e., any action that can be seen or heard). An effective method of examining his or her behavior is the ABC model:

A=Antecedent: The event occurring before a behavior (the event prompts a certain behavior)

B=Behavior:  Response to the events that can be seen or heard

C=Consequence: The event that follows the behavior, which effects whether the behavior will occur again (when the behavior is followed by an unpleasant consequence, it is less likely to reoccur; when the behavior is followed by a pleasant consequence, it is more likely to reoccur)

Let’s look at a simple example of how the ABC model works:

Your child is throwing a temper tantrum because he wants your attention.  If you respond to the tantrum (whether to comfort or scold), your child's misbehavior is being rewarded by your reaction (even though it’s a negative reaction).  Thus, in this situation, it would be best if you waited for the tantrum to stop, and then reward (i.e., reinforce) the calm behavior verbally (e.g., “I like how quiet you are being right now”).  In this way, your child learns that he can gain the your attention through more appropriate behavior.

When using the ABC model, always remember that your child is not an experiment, rather he is an individual capable of changing unwanted behavior - when offered the correct means to do so. It's your job to focus on the behavior you would like to increase or decrease. The more you learn about behavior modification techniques, the more tools you will possess to help shape and promote the behavior you want to see more often in your child.


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

How to Create an Effective Behavioral Intervention Plan for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

In this post, we will look at how to create an effective behavioral intervention plan for students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism…

Once the IEP team (including the parents) has conducted a functional assessment, the information obtained from that assessment should be used to develop a behavioral intervention plan. The purpose of this intervention plan is to spell out what behaviors are being targeted for change – and how change will be handled.



Certain items in the behavioral intervention plan are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, while others are simply good information to have included:
  • description of how the child’s behavior will be handled should it reach a crisis stage (called a “crisis plan”)
  • definition and description of the behavior being targeted
  • description of how the success of the interventions will be measured
  • description of previously tried interventions and how well they did - or didn’t - work in changing behavior
  • description of the behavior that will replace the inappropriate behavior (called the “replacement behavior”)
  • description of the interventions that will be used (e.g., who will be involved, specific procedures that will be followed, how data will be collected)
  • description of when and how information will be shared between the home and school
  • information about the child that could impact the intervention plan
  • list of the child’s strengths and abilities
  • measurable description of the behavior changes that all parties expect to see
  • schedule for when and how often the plan will be reviewed to determine its effectiveness
  • statement describing the function or purpose of the targeted behavior

When writing the behavioral intervention plan, make sure that everything is spelled out clearly and specifically so that the intervention plan can be used easily by all parties involved with the child. In most circumstances, the intervention plan should be less than 4 pages in length. If it is longer than that, it may be too difficult for all parties to remember and follow.

The IEP team should make sure that the interventions included are ones that they have the resources and ability to implement consistently (e.g., if “time-outs” are included in the plan, but a time-out space is only available 2 days a week, then it will be more effective to choose a different intervention).

Once the IEP team agrees on the behavior intervention plan, all parties involved must agree to implement it consistently. If even one team member thinks that he or she is unable to support the plan, it needs to be revisited. Inconsistent application of any intervention may result in an increase in the targeted inappropriate behavior, or in the appearance of a new inappropriate behavior.

Sample Behavioral Intervention Plan:

Name: Michael Jones
Grade: 5
Age: 10
School: Big City Elementary School
Date Written: 2/4/13

Strengths of the child:
  • enjoys praise and positive, social reinforcement 
  • likes science and hands-on activities
  • usually responds well to educators
  • wants to be in the general education classes
  • usually wants to do the same work as his peers
  • works hard and participates most days

Individualized information about the child:
  • Biological factors, medication interactions, and anxiety can cause child to react to situations/directions differently on some days. Child will have productive days and not so productive days. 
  • has difficulty with tasks necessitating writing
  • often works and moves more slowly than peers
  • Some behaviors associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Tourettes are apparent (e.g., tapping, noises/verbalizations, some scratching/ rubbing hands and face, repetitive movements). These behaviors are made worse when child is anxious.

Previously implemented interventions:
  • Time-outs, negative reinforcement, and positive reinforcement with tangibles were ineffective interventions. There was some success with a token economy using concrete reinforcers.

Problematic behaviors:

Behavior 1— Incomplete assignments

Baseline: averaging 5 incomplete assignments per week for last 5 weeks

Function of the behavior:
  • allows child to express/feel in control of a situation when he’s uncomfortable with something 
  • relieves anxiety by avoiding a task he dislikes or finds frustrating

Replacement behavior:
  • complete assignments in study period or at home 
  • ask for help (e.g., asking for assistance, modifications or breaks)

Interventions:
  • Modify assignments by reducing the number/length of responses required for each concept.  Where possible, reduce the amount of writing required. 
  • Grading: Teacher establishes a minimum for each assignment. If child does more than the minimum number of responses required, he gets credit/extra credit for each extra response that is correct (no penalty for incorrect responses). If child doesn’t complete the minimum, he is counted off for the missing responses.
  • Child will have a scheduled study period each day. If he has all assignments completed, he can participate in other activities.

Documentation:
  • number of incomplete/missing assignments in each class 
  • assignment grades

Amount of improvement expected:
  • no more than 2 incomplete assignments per week for 3 consecutive weeks

Behavior 2— Unable/unwilling to work in class

Baseline: 20% of assignments completed and 35% completed in class

Function of the Behavior:
  • allows child to express/feel in control of a situation when he’s uncomfortable with something 
  • relieves anxiety by avoiding a task he dislikes or finds frustrating

Replacement Behavior:
  • at least attempt each assignment 
  • verbalize frustration and/or need for modification

Intervention:
  • Child is given 1 prompt to start assignment. After that, refusal is ignored (any behavior disturbing others will be dealt with according to classroom rules and consequences and child earns a 0 on that assignment). 
  • Child receives 2 points for every assignment he attempts (e.g., does at least 1/4th of the assigned task) and 5 points for every completed assignment. Points can be spent before lunch and before child goes home on items/activities on his reinforcement menu (child must have input on what’s on the menu).
  • Child will be given the option of completing an assignment in the resource room for full credit.
  • Child will receive instruction/guidance in how to express needs from the school counselor. Child will earn 5 points for appropriately (according to the guidelines taught by the school counselor) expressing frustration and/or need for help/modifications.

Documentation:
  • record % of assignments attempted and % of assignments completed 
  • record frequency and duration of time in the resource room for this behavior

Amount of improvement expected:
  • at least 60% completed and 75% attempted in class for at least 3 of 4 weeks

Behavior 3— Using profanity around peers

Baseline: average of 8 incidents per week for last 5 weeks

Function of the behavior:
  • vent anger/frustration in a situation less threatening than with teachers/peers 
  • relieving feeling of anxiety due to Tourettes or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • attention-getting

Replacement behavior:
  • recognize anxiety or anger/frustration and get help to vent appropriately (e.g., cool down time, removing self from situation, talking with teachers/peers) 
  • get attention by interacting appropriately with peers

Intervention:
  • when child is verbally inappropriate, he is directed to remove himself to a different location and is not allowed to participate in the activity (e.g., recess) for 5 minutes 
  • provide opportunities for child to practice interacting appropriately with peers (e.g., reading with them)
  • praise for appropriate verbal interaction

Documentation:
  • record number of times child asks for help with anxiety or anger/frustration
  •  record number of times child is verbally inappropriate with peers

Amount of improvement expected:
  • no more than an average of 4 incidents per week for 3 consecutive weeks

Schedule for review:
  • documentation review at least each nine weeks when grade cards are distributed

Provisions for home coordination:
  • On Fridays, a note will be sent home with weekly grade for each class number of inappropriate verbalizations toward peers and number of times child requested resource room and/or cool down. 
  • Assignment notebook sent home daily. Assignments will be marked as attempted, completed or not attempted.

Crisis management plan:
  • If an injury or property damage occurs as a result of Michael’s behavior, a police report will be made and he will be suspended according to district policy. The IEP team will meet as soon as possible within 10 days to review the behavior intervention plan and make modifications where necessary. 
  • If Michael endangers himself or others while in isolation, physical restraint will be used by staff members trained in Mandt procedures.
  • If Michael is not able to demonstrate compliance within 30 minutes, or if he has had more than 3 timeouts, he will be seen by support staff as soon as possible.
  • If Michael endangers himself or others, he will be isolated from his peers and mother or her designee will be called. Michael will remain in isolation until it is determined that he is no longer in imminent danger of hurting himself or others. He will finish his school day in the resource room.
  • Michael will be given a cue that he can use with staff to indicate that he is getting upset and needs to cool down. Once he gives the cue, he can choose from the following options: (a) ask to see a support staff member, (b) go to the resource room, (c) walk in the hall or outside (a staff member will accompany child, but will not talk to child). 
  • If staff sees that Michael is becoming upset and is not using his cue for help, staff will say, “You’re getting upset. I need you to see a support staff member, or go to the resource room, or take a walk in the hall or outside with a staff member.” If Michael is unable to cool down, he will be directed to go to time-out where he will remain until he can demonstrate compliance. 

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.

Services—

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

Dealing with Destructive Behavior in Children with Asperger's and HFA

"I need some immediate ideas about how to deal with my son's behavior problems. He has Asperger syndrome (high functioning), ADHD and ODD. His behavior is completely out of control and I am at my wits end. Please help! He also has a lot of problems at school. His favorite thing to do when he's upset is to throw and break things."

There are no easy, quick fixes to reduce or eliminate severe behavioral issues in children with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) (e.g., self-injury, aggressiveness, meltdowns, tantrums, destructiveness, etc.). However, I have a few suggestions that may not require a tremendous amount of time and effort to implement. Let’s look at a few…



1. One reason for behavioral issues may be difficulties in receptive language. Kids on the autism spectrum often have poor auditory processing skills. As a result, they often don’t understand what others are saying to them; they hear the words, but they don’t understand what the words mean. The child’s lack of understanding can lead to confusion and frustration, which can escalate into a behavioral issue. Visual communication systems can be useful in teaching and in informing these children of what is planned and what is expected of them.

2. Behavioral issues may be due to difficulties in expressive language. Some researchers suggest that many behavioral issues in kids on the autism spectrum are simply due to poor expressive communication skills. There are numerous communication strategies (e.g., Picture Exchange Communication System, Simultaneous Communication), which can be used to teach expressive communication skills.

3. Food allergies can be a cause of behavior issues (e.g., dairy and wheat products, food preservatives, food coloring). Some AS and HFA children have red ears, red cheeks or dark circles under their eyes, which are often signs of food allergies. Some of the symptoms associated with food allergies include feelings of nausea, headaches, fuzzy thinking, stomach aches, meltdowns and tantrums. Due to these allergic reactions, the youngster may be less tolerant of others and more likely to act out. Since some of these “special needs” kids have poor communication skills, moms and dads may not be aware that their youngster is not feeling well. Have your son or daughter tested if food allergies are suspected.

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

4. In some cases, a behavior problem is a reaction to a request or demand made by the parent or educator. The AS or HFA child may have learned that he can escape or avoid certain undesirable situations (e.g., doing homework) by acting out. A functional assessment of the child’s behavior (i.e., antecedents, consequences, context of the behavior) can divulge certain relationships between the behavior and the function the behavior serves. If avoidance is the function the behavior serves, parents and educators should follow through with all requests and demands made to the child. If the child is able to escape or avoid such requests – even only some of the time – the behavior problem will continue.

5. Behavioral issues may be due to a low level of arousal (e.g., when the child is bored). Certain behaviors (e.g., aggression, destructiveness) may be exciting – and thus appealing – to the child. If it is suspected that behavioral issues are due to under-arousal, the AS or HFA child can be kept busy and active (e.g., with vigorous exercise).

6. Occasionally a youngster with AS or HFA may exhibit a behavior problem at school but not at home, or vice versa (e.g., the mom or dad may have already created a technique to stop a behavioral problem at home, but the educator is unaware of this technique). Parents and educators should discuss the youngster’s behavioral issues since one of them may have already discovered a solution to handle a particular problem.

7. Often times, powerful medications are prescribed to children on the autism spectrum to treat their behavior problems (the most common one being Ritalin). A survey conducted by the Autism Research Institute revealed that 45% of over 2,000 moms and dads felt that Ritalin made their youngster’s behavior worse.

8. Some moms and dads are giving their AS and HFA kids safe nutritional supplements (e.g., Vitamin B6 with magnesium, DMG). Nearly half have reported a reduction in behavioral issues as well as improvements in the youngster’s general well-being.

9. The AS or HFA child’s level of arousal should be considered when developing a technique to deal with behavioral issues. Sometimes “bad” behavior occurs when the child is overly-excited. This can occur when she is anxious or when there is too much stimulation in the environment. In this case, interventions should be aimed at calming the child (e.g., with vigorous exercise, vestibular stimulation, deep pressure, etc.).

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

10. If the AS or HFA youngster’s behavior is worse at school but not at home, there are many possible reasons. For example:
  • Cleaning solvents: Custodians use powerful chemicals when cleaning the school environment. Even though the smell may be gone in a few hours, chemical residue is still in the air and on surfaces. Breathing these chemicals often affects children with sensitivities in this area. Children often place their hands and face on the tables and floors, thus cleaning solvents may end up in the youngster’s mouth and can alter brain functioning as well as behavior. Many educators who have wiped the desks with water or a natural cleaning solution prior to class each morning have reported significant improvements in their “special needs” students.
  • Florescent lighting: Many kids on the autism spectrum report that florescent lights bother and distract them during classroom activities. Also, researchers have observed more repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors under florescent lighting compared to incandescent lighting. When possible, educators may want to turn off the florescent lighting in their classroom for a few days to see if there is a decrease in behavioral issues for some of their “special needs” children. During this experiment, the educator can use natural light from the windows or incandescent lights.
  • Lack of consistency, routine, or structure: Children on the autism spectrum crave structure. It helps them feel safe, and facilitates the ability to concentrate.



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

==> 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

Obsessions in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"Why is my 6-year-old son (high functioning autistic) so engrossed in Minecraft, and how can I tell if it is an unhealthy obsession rather than just a fun time activity for him?"

The intensity and duration of the child’s interest in a particular topic, object or collection is what determines whether or not it has become an “obsession.” Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) will often learn a lot about a thing they are obsessed with, be intensely interested in it for a long time, and feel strongly about it. There are several reasons why these kids may develop obsessions, including:
  • they can get a lot of enjoyment from learning about a particular subject or gathering together items of interest
  • those who find social interaction difficult might use their special interests as a way to start conversations and feel more self-assured in social situations
  • obsessions may help children cope with the uncertainties of daily life
  • obsessions may help children to relax and feel happy
  • obsessions may provide order and predictability
  • obsessions may provide structure
 
Many children with Aspergers and HFA have sensory sensitivity and may be over- or under-sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch. This sensitivity can also affect children’s balance ('vestibular' system) and body awareness ('proprioception' or knowing where our bodies are and how they are moving). Obsessions and repetitive behavior can be a way to deal with sensory sensitivity.



Although repetitive behavior varies from child to child, the reasons behind it may be the same:
  •  a source of enjoyment and occupation
  • a way to deal with stress and anxiety and to block out uncertainty
  • an attempt to gain sensory input (e.g., rocking may be a way to stimulate the balance or vestibular system; hand-flapping may provide visual stimulation)
  • an attempt to reduce sensory input (e.g., focusing on one particular sound may reduce the impact of a loud, distressing environment; this may particularly be seen in social situations)
  • some adolescents may revert to old repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking if anxious or stressed)

Reality to a child on the autism spectrum is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. Set routines, times, particular routes and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. Trying to keep everything the same reduces some of the terrible fear.

Many children with the disorder have a strong preference for routines and sameness. Routines often serve an important function. For example, they introduce order, structure and predictability and help to manage anxiety. Because of this, it can be very distressing if the child’s routine is disrupted.
 
Sometimes minor changes (e.g., moving between two activities) can be distressing. For others, big events (e.g., holidays, birthdays, Christmas, etc.), which create change and upheaval, can cause anxiety. Unexpected changes are often most difficult to deal with. 

Some children on the spectrum have daily timetables so that they know what is going to happen, when. However, the need for routine and sameness can extend beyond this. You might see:
  •  a need for routine around daily activities such as meals or bedtime
  • changes to the physical environment (e.g., the layout of furniture in a room), or the presence of new people or absence of familiar ones, being difficult to manage
  • compulsive behavior (e.g., the child might be constantly washing his hands or checking locks)
  • rigid preferences about things like food (e.g., only eating food of a certain color), clothing (e.g., only wearing clothes made from specific fabrics), or everyday objects (e.g., only using particular types of soap or brands of toilet paper)
  • routines can become almost ritualistic in nature, having to be followed precisely with attention paid to the tiniest details
  • verbal rituals, with a child repeatedly asking the same questions and needing a specific answer

Children's dependence on routines can increase during times of change, stress or illness and may even become more dominant or elaborate at these times. Dependence on routines may increase or re-emerge during adolescence. Routines can have a profound effect on the lives of children with Aspergers and HFA, their family and care-takers, but it is possible to make a child less reliant on them.

Obsessions versus Hobbies—

Most of us have hobbies, interests and a preference for routine. Here are five questions that can help us distinguish between hobbies/interests versus obsessive behavior:
  1. Can the child stop the behavior independently?
  2. Does the child appear distressed when engaging in the behavior or does the child give signs that he is trying to resist the behavior (e.g., someone who flaps their hands may try to sit on their hands to prevent the behavior)?
  3. Is the behavior causing significant disruption to others (e.g., moms and dads, care-takers, peers, siblings)?
  4. Is the behavior impacting on the child’s learning?
  5. Is the behavior limiting the child’s social opportunities?

If your answer to any of the questions above is 'yes', it may be appropriate to look at ways of helping your youngster to reduce obsessive or repetitive behavior. Think about whether, by setting limits around a particular behavior, you are really helping your youngster. Is the behavior actually a real issue for him, for you, or for other people in his life?

Focus on developing skills that your youngster can use instead of repetitive or obsessive behavior. Try to understand the function of the behavior, then make small, gradual changes and be consistent. Here are some ideas to help you:

1.     Coping with change: If unexpected changes occur, and your youngster is finding it hard to cope, try re-directing them to a calming activity, or encourage them to use simple relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises. You could use praise or other rewards for coping with change. In the long term, this may help make your youngster more tolerant of change.

2.     Explore alternative activities: One way to interrupt repetitive behavior is for a youngster to do another enjoyable activity that has the same function (e.g., a youngster who flicks their fingers for visual stimulation could play with a kaleidoscope or a bubble gun;  a youngster who puts inedible objects in their mouth could have a bag with edible alternatives that provide similar sensory experiences such as raw pasta or spaghetti, or seeds and nuts; a youngster who rocks to get sensory input could go on a swing; a youngster who smears their poop could have a bag with play dough in it to use instead).

3.     Intervene early: Repetitive behaviors, obsessions and routines are generally harder to change the longer they continue.  A behavior that is perhaps acceptable in a young child may not be appropriate as they get older and may, by this time, be very difficult to change. For example, a youngster who is obsessed with shoes and tries to touch people's feet might not present too much of a problem, but a teenager doing the same thing - especially to strangers - will obviously be problematic. It will help if you can set limits around repetitive behaviors from an early age and look out for any new behavior that emerges as your youngster gets older. Making your youngster's environment and surroundings more structured can help them to feel more in control and may reduce anxiety. If anxiety is reduced, the need to engage in repetitive behavior and adhere strictly to routines may also, in time, be reduced.

4.     Pre-planning: You may be able to help your youngster to cope with change, or activities and events that could be stressful, by planning for them in advance.  Change is unavoidable, but it can be really difficult for many children with the disorder. You may not always be able to prepare for change a long time in advance, but try to give your youngster as much warning as possible. Gradually introducing the idea of a new person, place, object or circumstance can help them cope with the change. Try to talk about the event or activity when everyone is fairly relaxed and happy.  Presenting information visually can be a good idea, as your youngster can refer to it as often as they need to. You could try using calendars so that your youngster knows how many days it is before an event (e.g., Christmas) happens. This can help them feel prepared. 
 
 
Your youngster might also like to see photos of places or objects in advance so they know what to expect (e.g., a picture of their Christmas present) or a photo of the building they are going to for an appointment. Using social stories could also be helpful. These are short stories, often with pictures, that describe different situations and activities so that children with Aspergers and HFA know what to expect.  Pre-planning can also involve structuring the environment. 
 
For example, a student with HFA might go to use a computer in the library at lunchtime if they find being in the playground too stressful – or if a youngster has sensory sensitivity, minimizing the impact of things like noises (e.g., school bells) or smells (e.g., perfumes or soaps) can help them to cope better.  It is possible that more structured environments may reduce boredom, which is sometimes a reason for repetitive behavior. You might prepare a range of enjoyable or calming activities to re-direct your youngster to if they seem bored or stressed.

5.     Self-regulation skills: Self-regulation skills are any activities that help your youngster to manage their own behavior and emotions.  If you can help your youngster to identify when they are feeling stressed or anxious and use an alternative response (e.g., relaxation techniques or asking for help), you may, in time, see less repetitive or ritualistic behavior.  Research has also shown that increasing a child’s insight into an obsession or repetitive behavior can significantly reduce it. This includes children with quite severe learning disabilities.

6.     Set limits: Setting limits around repetitive behavior, routines and obsessions is an important and often essential way to minimize their impact on your youngster's life. You could set limits in a number of ways depending which behavior concerns you. For example, you can ration objects (e.g., can only carry five pebbles in pocket), ration places (e.g., spinning only allowed at home), and ration times (e.g., can watch his favorite DVD for 20 minutes twice a day). Everyone involved with your youngster should take the same consistent approach to setting limits. Have clear rules about where, when, with whom and for how long a behavior is allowed. You could present this information visually, with a focus on when your youngster can engage in the behavior. This may help if they feel anxious about restricted access to an obsession or activity.

7.     Social skills training: Teaching social skills (e.g.,  how to start and end a conversation, appropriate things to talk about, how to read other people's 'cues') may mean someone with Aspergers or HFA feels more confident and doesn't need to rely on talking about particular subjects (e.g., a special interest). 

8.     Understand the function of the behavior: Obsessions, repetitive behavior and routines are frequently important and meaningful to children on the  spectrum, helping them to manage anxiety and have some measure of control over a confusing and chaotic world. For others, the behavior may help with sensory issues. Take a careful look at what you think might be causing the behavior and what purpose it might serve.  For example, does your youngster always seem to find a particular environment (e.g., a classroom) hard to cope with? Is it too bright? Could you turn off strip lighting and rely on natural daylight instead?

9.     Visual supports: Visual supports (e.g., photos, symbols, written lists or physical objects) can really help children with Aspergers and HFA.  A visual timetable could help your youngster to see what is going to happen next. This makes things more predictable and helps them to feel prepared. It may lessen their reliance on strict routines of their own making. 
 
 
Visual supports like egg timers or 'time timers' can help some children with an autism spectrum disorder to understand abstract concepts like time, plan what they need to do, when in order to complete a task, and understand the concept of waiting.  Visual supports can also be useful if your youngster asks the same question repeatedly. One parent wrote down the answer to a question, put it on the fridge and, whenever her son asked the question, told him to go to the fridge and find the answer. For kids who can't read, you could use pictures instead of words.

10.   Make use of obsessions: Obsessions can be used to increase your youngster's skills and areas of interest, promote self-esteem, and encourage socializing. You may find you can look at a particular obsession and think of ways to develop it into something more functional. Here are some examples:
  • A child with a special interest in historical dates could join a history group and meet others with similar interests.
  • A child with knowledge of sport or music would be a valuable member of a pub quiz team.
  • A strong preference for ordering or lining up objects could be developed into housework skills.
  • An interest in particular sounds could be channeled into learning a musical instrument.
  • An obsession with rubbish could be used to develop an interest in recycling, and the youngster given the job of sorting items for recycling.

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… Mine is 17 and still obsessed. I think we have every game, plus the cards, and watch the cartoon. HELP!
•    Anonymous said… My 14 year old- obsessed with Pokemon. Sets him noticeably apart from his peers, and is definitely an issue. frown emoticon
•    Anonymous said… my 25 year old son with ASPERGERS is obsessed with stunt riding.. he is getting good at it. came 12th in the british stunt championships last year. wink emoticon
•    Anonymous said… My Aspie son was too at that age. Rest assured, he will move on to other things but with just as much obsession! Whatever makes them happy.....
•    Anonymous said… My lad of 21 now he has aspergers.was mad on pokemon and digimon.
•    Anonymous said… My son is obsessed with this too!
•    Anonymous said… My teenager( Aspergers) at age 6 was obessed with Spongebob. We would turn the Television and he could repeat the episode without pictures or words. I think that they just love different things and have a likeable interest. My normal 6 year old is obsessed with Sonic. He is at the top of his class and this is the 2nd 9weeks weeks of report cards. He wants every character. At least it is a good thing and not something bad.
•    Anonymous said… Pokemon was created by an autistic man, so I can see why they can become an interest.
•    Anonymous said… Sounds familiar our 12 year old loves pokemon magic the gathering mine craft and Spider-Man
•    Anonymous said… This is an excellent article! Our 7-year-old grandson is obsessed with Minecraft. We have to curb his enthusiasm for discussing Minecraft every single minute of the day, or we would go completely batty! We tell him that although he loves Minecraft, not everyone shares his interest, and it's important to find out what other people's interests are, and not to monopolize conversations talking about his interests only.
•    Anonymous said… When our Aspergers son got into Pokemon it was actually a HUGE help for him socially. Since all the kids were into it, he actually had common interests and they could all talk Pokemon. We saw a lot of social growth during this phase so the obsession was actually very healthy for him.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content