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High-Functioning Autistic Teens and Oppositional Defiance

“I have a 14-year-old son with high functioning autism who behaves in a way that mystifies me...I cannot do anything right, according to him. I had never heard of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and after reading the symptoms, I think that he should be seeing a doctor about possibly having this disorder. I have noticed symptoms like the ones mentioned in him since he was very young.  I have tried to talk to him about it and he has told me that he feels out of control at times with his temper, especially when it comes to people of authority. I have learned to not talk about anything he might turn on. I e-mail him across the house and have learned to speak to him in his language. Is it possible for a child to have both disorders? What action should parents take in these cases?”

Many parents have difficulty recognizing the difference between a strong-willed, emotional teen with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Aspergers’ (AS) and one with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Clearly, there's a range between the usual independence-seeking behavior of teens and out-of-control defiant behavior. It's normal to exhibit oppositional behaviors at certain stages of an adolescent’s development. However, your teen’s issue may be more serious if his behaviors:
  • Have lasted at least six months
  • Are persistent
  • Are clearly disruptive to the family or school environment

The following are behaviors associated with ODD:
  • Tantrums
  • Spiteful or vindictive behavior
  • Refusal to comply with adults’ requests or rules
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Deliberate annoyance of other people
  • Blaming others for mistakes or misbehavior
  • Argumentativeness with parents, teachers and other authority figures
  • Anger and resentment
  • Aggressiveness toward siblings and peers
  • Acting touchy and easily annoyed
  • Academic problems

Oppositional defiant behavior often occurs along with other behavioral or mental health problems, such as autism spectrum disorders, depression, ADHD, and anxiety. The symptoms of defiant behavior may be difficult to distinguish from those of other behavioral or mental health problems. It's important to diagnose and treat any co-occurring disorders, because they can create or worsen irritability and defiance if left untreated.

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

If your HFA or AS teen has signs and symptoms common to ODD, make an appointment with your physician. After an initial evaluation, the physician may refer you to a mental health professional who can help make a diagnosis and create the right treatment plan for your teen.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Here's some information to help you prepare for an appointment:
  1. Write down your family's key personal information (e.g., factors that you suspect may have contributed to changes in your teen's behavior).
  2. Make a list of stressors that your teen or close family members have recently experienced.
  3. Write down the signs and symptoms your teen has been experiencing – and for how long.
  4. Take a trusted family member or friend with you to the appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed.
  5. Make a list of your teen's key medical information (e.g., any physical or mental health conditions that he has been diagnosed with).
  6. Write down the names of any medications your teen is taking (include any over-the-counter medications).
  7. Write down questions to ask the physician in advance so that you can make the most of your appointment.

Questions to ask the doctor if your HFA or AS teen is referred to a mental health provider include:
  1. What treatment approach do you recommend?
  2. What factors do you think might be contributing to my teenager’s issues?
  3. What else can I and my family do to help my teenager?
  4. Should he be screened for any other mental health problems?
  5. Should I tell his teachers about this diagnosis?
  6. Is this condition likely temporary or chronic?
  7. Is my teen at increased risk of any long-term complications from this condition?
  8. Do you recommend family therapy?
  9. Do you recommend any changes at home or school to encourage my teen’s recovery?
  10. What do you believe is causing his symptoms?
  11. Are there any other possible causes?

Being ready to answer the physician's questions may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth. You should be prepared to answer the following questions from your physician:
  1. What are your teen's symptoms?
  2. When did you first notice these symptoms?
  3. How would you describe your teen's home and family life?
  4. How often over the last six months has your teen been touchy, easily annoyed or deliberately annoying to others?
  5. How often over the last six months has your teen been spiteful or vindictive, or blamed others for his own mistakes?
  6. How often over the last six months has your teen been angry or lost his temper?
  7. How often over the last six months has your teen argued with you or his teachers?
  8. How often has he refused to follow through with your rules or requests?
  9. How have you been handling your teen's disruptive behavior?
  10. How do you typically discipline your teen?
  11. Have your teen's teachers reported similar symptoms?
  12. Has your teen been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
  13. Do any particular situations seem to trigger defiant behavior in your teen?


Treating oppositional defiant behavior (whether or not your teen has a formal diagnosis of ODD) involves several types of psychotherapy and parent-education training. The cornerstones of treatment for oppositional defiance usually include:

1. Social skills training: Your teen may benefit from therapy that will help him learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.

2. Parent training: A mental health provider with experience treating oppositional behavior may help you develop skills that will allow you to parent in a way that's more positive and less frustrating for you and your teen. In some cases, your teen may participate in this type of training with you, so that everyone in your family develops shared goals for how to handle problems. As part of parent training, you may learn how to:
  • Remain calm and unemotional in the face of opposition.
  • Recognize and praise your teen's good behaviors and positive characteristics.
  • Offer acceptable choices to your teen, giving him a certain amount of control.
  • Limit consequences to those that can be consistently reinforced and last for a limited amount of time.
  • Establish a schedule for the family that includes specific meals that will be eaten at home together, and specific activities one or both parents will do with the teen.
  • Avoid power struggles.
3. Individual and family therapy: Individual counseling for your teen may help him learn to manage anger and express his feelings more healthfully. Family counseling may help improve your communication and relationships, and help members of your family learn how to work together.

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

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


Parenting Strategies—

At home, you can begin chipping away at problem behaviors in your HFA or AS teen by practicing the following:
  • Develop a united front. Work with your partner/spouse to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.
  • Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your teen. Asking your teen to help develop that routine can be helpful.
  • Set limits and enforce consistent reasonable consequences.
  • Recognize and praise your teen's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible (e.g., "I really liked the way you helped pick 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 teen to exhibit.
  • Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and teen being together.
  • Assign your teen a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless he does it. Initially, it's important to set your teen up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve, then gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations.
  • Take care of yourself. Counseling can provide an outlet for your own mental health concerns that could interfere with the successful management of your teen's defiant behavior. If you're depressed or anxious, that could lead to disengagement from your teen, which can trigger or worsen oppositional behaviors. Let go of things that you or your teen 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 teen to restore your energy.
  • Remind yourself that your teen’s defiance is most likely a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent catastrophe.

At first, your teen 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. In fact, 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.

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

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said… Absolutely possible! My daughter has High Functioning Autism and ODD. We have found that by changing how we approach certain triggers, we can avoid the ODD eruptions. If she does blow up, we've also learned that it is not the time to push her or try to persuade her unless it is a safety issue. she can only have a learning experience once she has calmed down.
•    Anonymous said… Following. Yes please which meds have been given and which worked best in your situations
•    Anonymous said… I am exhausted! What meds have helped? I have a 17 year old with Aspergers and a suspected ODD diagnosis.
•    Anonymous said… I believe it to be under the umbrella... ocd and add/odd are subcharacteristics of HFA and Aspergers. My son was orignianlly diagnosed ODD/OCD/Major Depression (missing the BIGGER picture for a couple of years until finding a doctor who knew what Aspergers looked like). Once medicated (this took time to find right fit), years of counselling and finding something he enjoyed and was good at, much of the ODD symptomology extinguished. It's understandable how one would be oppositional when his/her life is so "out of control"- anger, fear, frustration all leads to a normal brain to want to gain control over his/her environment; couple that with the angst of teenage years for the neurotypical as well and you have a big mess. Most difficult years for me and mine were ages 11 to 16. Again, medication helped tremendously; in addition to, all of the other components to a comprehensive plan (counselling, family support). I point to the medication because if one is crawling out of his/her own skin...behavior modification will not work. My son is 31 today, still medicated and is successful and happy (gainfully employed, lives on his own, is delightful). It's a long hard road, but worth the pain.
•    Anonymous said… I do think it is unfortunate to label a particular behaviour as a disorder. We have had occasions over the years when my son has dug his heels in and refused to do as expected of him. He quite logically explains that he is unable to comply with our expectations at times when he doesn't feel in control of a situation and feels over-anxious. He is 19 now and recently started playing guitar. A family friend helps run a folk club and invited us to go along. I was amazed the first time that Oliver got up when invited and performed in front of everybody. He attended again on the next meeting and again performed. My friend had arranged to pick up us again a couple of weeks later and I was so looking forward to this but Oliver made it clear that he wan't going to go this time. I was disappointed but nothing would persuade him. AFTER the event when I was able to talk to Oliver calmly he explained that he just hadn't felt ready with his new song but would go again in the future when he felt better prepared. We have been a couple of times since. The real problem over the years was always my own frustration with his decisions when they interfered with my own plans but if I stayed objective and calm we could in due course talk things over together. I could help Oliver understand my disappointment when things didn't go as planned and Oliver would help me see how difficult it was for him to do things if he was over-tired, unprepared, stressed or just having a bad day.
•    Anonymous said… I have looked at PDA and although there are similarities with ODD and PDA, our son is definitely ODD and both of these diagnoses can operate in ASD. We have been on our journey for more than five years and with therapy, medication and great support we've made incredible accomplishments with our son. It is as many have said though...very exhausting.
•    Anonymous said… PDA strategies are ery different to strategies for ODD. Reducing demands and providing an anxiety free environment is ideal. Anxiety free isnt possible but a happier calm child has a better chance of learning strategies to deal with demands.
•    Anonymous said… I was that child...tho they did not have a label for it back then. I would recommend to be respectful and ackowledge his feelings but at the same time dont walk on egg shells. Use "i" statements like "i need u to..." and avoid labels like "youre" this and that etc. At the same time clear boundaries and expectations and a consistant reward and consequence system. Another huge thing is the consequence having something to do with the action and not being a punishment. I know this wouldve helped if my parents had known better. but i got a lot of name calling from my parents and was made fun of by kids at school as well as my parents. It cannot have been easy for them and they mustve gotten some relief out of letting off some steam. A psychiatrist even recommended that they slap me (yes a westwood, ma psychiatrist who is still practising). I would say that has been the most detrimental thing to my aspergers and ODD and would not recommend it.
•    Anonymous said… I've never heard of ODD but it sounds like my daughter might have this. Thanks for mentioning it.
•    Anonymous said… My aspie gas O.D.D. & believe, it's a challenge!!!!
•    Anonymous said… My daughter was dx with ODD 10 years ago and it never sat right with me, after researching PDA I believe she has that
•    Anonymous said… My son has Asperger's and O.D.D. We are also questioning P.D.A. but CAMHS aren't keen on giving it as a diagnosis. Worth reading about it though. My son is 15, not hit puberty yet and it's really hard going most of the time x
•    Anonymous said… My son has both its very difficult and trying  😣
•    Anonymous said… My son is 14 and is diagnosed ODD, Aspergers and Mixed Mood/Anxiety. His first diagnosis was ODD aged 9.
•    Anonymous said… My son is on seraquel, Prozac and trazadone ..he's 18 and doing much much better, hang in there!
•    Anonymous said… My son was diagnosed when he was 4 with ASD ADHD and odd its a real challenge to say the least..
•    Anonymous said… My sons defiance seems to come from anxiety. Wanting to gain/regain control because he frequently feels powerless or vulnerable. Not sure if he has ODD but giving him explanations about why things need to be done and helping him find ways to feel more in control and powerful sometimes has really helped. The more I push the more he pushes back. You have to bend and manoeuvre. Tiring and time consuming but works for us.
•    Anonymous said… Not only possible..very likely, Autism always pairs with another disorder from what I have been told through the many hospitals and psychiatrists we have seen, my son who is 18 now was diagnosed with both way back when, it's a long hard struggle and a lot of work, do the testing for diagnosing ..stay strong friend!
•    Anonymous said… ODD and Aspergers combined have been the most challenging diagnoses I have ever encountered! I am worn out as a parent. Meds have helped but it has been a tough journey.
•    Anonymous said… Our 11 year old is on the Spectrum as high functining (aka Aspergers) with multiple diagnoses, one being ODD. We have him in therapy and he's learning how to manage it. It is definitely exhausting, but very treatable. Hang in there...if you can find a support group for'll find that helps.
•    Anonymous said… Our son was diagnosed at age12 with high function autism. He is now 15 and I strongly feel he also has ODD.
•    Anonymous said… Please research PDA. People with ASD with Demand avoidance behaviours usually have Pathological Demand Avoidance. If they dont have ASD then they probably have ODD. PDA is part of the Autism spectrum.
•    Anonymous said… Ugh, what do you do when this keeps on into adulthood?
•    Anonymous said… Vincent my 4 yr old seems to have ODD. I'm not sure if it is a symptom of Autism or a standing disorder in him. I was told, I needed to verify if he was indeed not Autistic because ODD can be a symptom of Autism. Not sure how I feel about my developmentally delayed child possibly being diagnosed as Autistic when I am not even sure if I believe he is, and know in my heart that he could be due to how he is AND his delays. I'd hate for him to be misdiagnosed whem he very well may just have ODD. So, If I were you I would research and speak to multiple professionals about weather or not this is a symptom of or an actual disorder for your individual child.
•    Anonymous said… We have tried several meds throughout the years (Clonodine, Intuniv, Prozac etc)! What worked the best for my child was Seroquel.
•    Anonymous said… Yes our son was diagnosed with Aspergers and ODD at 15, although he had these symptoms for years...The medicine Lamictal has really helped!
*   Anonymous said...What do you recommend for my 15yo high-functioning ASD with ODD who absolutely refuses anymore counseling or meds? We’ve done both over the years, with no real success. The meds we’ve tried have all had side effects that make him feel horrible. He also hates how they numbed his appetite, and he said they made him super quiet “like a zombie” (teachers confirm this). They didn’t improve his grades (he also has dyslexia & math LD)The counseling, though good advice from the counselors, had no effect on him outside the counseling room, and now he refuses to go anymore. If we try to force it, with consequences and such, we get the out-of-control, angry, horrible behavior nonstop…it’s unbearable. So we’ve been on no meds & no counseling for 6 months now. Behavior is inconsistent, but grades and motivation at school are still bad. Still rude and illogical when the mood hits, but we avoid power struggles and allow for reasonable compromises when he’s trying to exert control. He has good and bad days. It’s like he’s in that gray gap- not bad enough to force meds or professional treatment, but not on the healthy road to success with his choices and behaviors. Any advice? Again, meds and counseling he refuses at this point. Thanks for any advice.
*   Anonymous said...I have a 10 YO Son ASD, ODD, working with the local health food store on supplements, 5 HTP heavy metal detox etc. To help him to be able to control himself. It has worked for tons of friends, I will keep you posted. Also homeopathic remedies are helping too.

Post your comment below…

Depressed Aspergers/HFA Teens and Drug/Alcohol Abuse

Parents often assume that their teenager with Asperger's (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) tries alcohol and/or drugs to rebel or to "fit in" with his peer group. However, teens with undiagnosed depression often use drugs and alcohol as a way to relieve their frustrations. A depressed teen on the autism spectrum may self-medicate with alcohol to escape the terrible sense of hopelessness. Unfortunately, alcohol only exacerbates the problem.

Some drugs may even make him feel "normal," when for weeks he has felt miserable. The impact of such drugs on serotonin, dopamine and endorphins (i.e., chemicals in the brain that regulate mood) can be devastating for these teenagers. The damage they do to receptors in the brain can make the road back from depression even harder.

Often parents approach the issue of drug and alcohol use as simply a discipline issue for a teen who is "bad." However, your "special needs" teen may be sick. He may be unable to express to you exactly how he feels. If your adolescent is self-medicating to treat depression, anxiety, or other emotional or behavioral disorders, simply applying more discipline and creating more rules will not impact the underlying problem that led to substance abuse in the first place.

While some teens on the spectrum self-medicate to treat depression, others end up with a serious mental disorder due to abuse of drugs or alcohol. Abusive drinking or drug use can seriously undermine your teen's physical, emotional, and psychological health. Some drugs, such as methamphetamines, can seriously affect the neurotransmitters, which are known as the "messengers of the brain." Recent studies suggest this damage can be long-lasting and even permanent.

Many AS and HFA teens have the mistaken notion that club drugs are benign. In fact, while they might feel "good" while taking them, they can make it difficult for the teenager to feel good naturally for a long time to come. The longer teens use these drugs, the more difficult treatment and the higher rate of relapse due to their inability to "feel good" or even "normal" because of the damage to their neurotransmitters.

Is your teen depressed? Answer these questions to find out:

1. Does your teen have little interest in his future?

2. Does your teen drink alcohol?

3. Does your teen smoke cigarettes?

4. Does your teen use drugs?

5. Has your teen quit activities he used to enjoy?

6. Does your teen seem to cry easily?

7. Does your teen seem like he is filled with guilt and remorse?

8. Has your teen been denying food saying he is not hungry?

9. Has your teen been easily agitated?

10. Has your teen been having a difficult time making decisions?

11. Has your teen seemed to have lost his energy?

12. Has your teen withdrawn from you or other family members?

13. Has your teen had recurrent thoughts of death or suicide?

14. Has your teen been falling asleep in class?

15. Has your teen felt hopeless?

16. Has your teen had problems sleeping at night?

17. Has your teen not been focused on what is going on in front of him, and is he often lost in his own thoughts?

18. Has your teen had a dramatic change in personality such as extreme irritability or sadness?

19. Has your teen had a hard time focusing on homework or reading?

20. Has your teen had an overwhelming feeling of sadness for no known reason?

21. Has your teen often feel fatigued, even when he has gotten enough rest?

22. Has your teen spent too much time in his room alone?

23. Has your teen withdrawn from his friends?

24. Has your teenager been over-eating?

25. Have you heard your teen put himself down, making derogatory comments and being overly critical?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of these, then your teen is likely suffering with depression.

AS and HFA teenagers have a difficult time relating their true feelings to others. The world is quite different today, and these young people face so many obstacles. If your teenager becomes withdrawn and disinterested, it is critical that you intervene in an attempt to see what the trouble may be. Many times a teen will open up to a close friend or family member that they are able to trust. Once a teen gains a comfort level, they will pretty much open up about anything.

Recognizing teen depression can be difficult at times, but it is important to intervene in an attempt to save a life. Teen suicide among teens wth an autism spectrum disorder is nothing new. Sometimes just talking things out will help the teenager immensely. However, sometimes it may take more than just a one on one conversation. In severe cases, the teen may benefit from psychological counseling with a professional.

==> Help for Parents of Teens on the Autism Spectrum

Fostering Self-Acceptance in Teens on the Autism Spectrum

Most teenagers with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) experience frequent social failure and rejection by peers. Because social encounters are seldom reinforcing (rewarding), these young people often avoid social interaction.

Over time, they may develop negative attitudes about themselves and others. The poor self-esteem that may result makes it difficult to continue attempts at social interaction. As a result, the cycle continues. Therefore, social skills interventions are greatly needed – especially in the form of fostering self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance refers to a global affirmation of self. When an AS or HFA teen is self-accepting, he is able to embrace ALL facets of himself – not just the positive parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification. The teen can recognize his weaknesses and limitations, but this awareness in no way interferes with his ability to fully accept himself. Furthermore, behavior clearly reflects feelings of self-acceptance For example, a teenager with high self-acceptance will be able to:
  • tolerate frustration
  • take pride in her accomplishments
  • offer assistance to others
  • handle positive and negative emotions
  • attempt new tasks and challenges
  • assume responsibility
  • act independently
  • accept mistakes as a path to learning and growth

Conversely, a teen with low self-acceptance will:
  • put down her own talents and abilities
  • feel, or pretend to feel, emotionally indifferent
  • feel unloved and unwanted
  • blame others for her own shortcomings
  • be unable to tolerate a normal level of frustration
  • be easily influenced
  • avoid trying new things

Moms and dads – more than anyone else – can promote their AS or HFA teen’s self-acceptance. It isn’t a difficult thing to do. If fact, you probably do it without even realizing that your words and actions have great impact on how your teen feels about herself.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Here are 30 crucial strategies to use that will help your “special needs” teen develop self-acceptance:

1. As much as possible, let your teen settle his own disputes between siblings, friends, and classmates.

2. Be supportive during a conflict. If, for example, your AS or HFA teenager is in the middle of a conflict at school, listen to her side of the story without being judgmental (even if you think she is at fault).  For example, say something such as, “I can understand why you think you’re a better choice for class president, and I’m sorry that you feel you have to point out Courtney’s shortcomings rather than concentrate on what makes you the better candidate.” The conflict may seem trivial to you, but to your teen, it could be a major source of strife in her life.  By developing the habit of supporting your teenager through the good and the bad, you will be laying a strong foundation for open communication when bigger problems arise.  Knowing that she has a parent to lean on who loves and accepts her will help build your teen’s self-acceptance over time.

3. Encourage your teen to exercise! Being active and fit helps him feel good about himself. He will relieve stress, and be healthier, too!

4. Encourage your teen to try new things, and to give herself credit. Urge her to experiment with different activities to help her get in touch with her talents. Then tell her that she should take pride in her new skills. One Asperger’s teenager signed up for track and found out that he was pretty fast! The positive thoughts associated with this discovery became good opinions of himself, and added up to high self-acceptance.

5. Encourage your teenager to ask for what she wants assertively, pointing out that there is no guarantee that she will get it. Reinforce her for asking – and avoid anticipating her wants.

6. Encourage your teenager to behave toward himself the way he would like his friends to behave toward him.

7. Encourage your teenager to develop hobbies and interests which give her pleasure and which she can pursue independently.

8. Help your AS or HFA teenager develop “tease tolerance” by pointing out that some teasing can’t hurt. Help him learn to cope with teasing by ignoring it while using positive self-talk (e.g., “names can never hurt me” … “teasing has no power over me” … “if I can avoid reacting to this teasing, then I’m building emotional muscles”).

9. Help your teen learn to focus on her strengths by pointing out to her all the things she can do well.

10. Help your teen to aim for effort rather than perfection. Some AS and HFA teens – especially those with OCD – get held back by their own pressure to be perfect. They lose out because they don't try (“If I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all”).

11. Help your teen to edit those thoughts that make him feel inferior (e.g., "That guy is so much better at basketball. I should just stop playing.”). Does your teen often compare himself with others and come up feeling less accomplished or less talented? Teach him to notice his negative, self-destructive thoughts.

12. Help your teen to focus on what goes well for her. Is she so used to focusing on her problems that they are all she can see? Say to her, “The next time you catch yourself dwelling on problems or complaints about yourself, find something positive to counter it.” Also, have your teen write down three good things about herself each day, or three things that went well that day because of her effort.

13. Help your teen to notice the critical things he says to himself. A harsh inner voice just tears you down. If your teen is in the habit of thinking self-critically, help him to re-train himself by re-wording negative, unkind thoughts into more helpful feedback.

14. Help your teen to recognize what she can change – and what she can't. If she realizes that she is unhappy with something about herself that she CAN change (e.g., getting to a healthy weight), help her to start today. If it's something she CANNOT change (e.g., her height), help her to work on accepting it. Obsessing about her "flaws" will skew her opinion of herself and lower her self-acceptance.

15. Help your teen to set goals. Ask him to think about what he would like to accomplish. Then help him make a plan for how to do it. Encourage him to stick with the plan and keep track of the progress. Urge your teen to train his inner voice to remind him of what he is accomplishing (e.g., I've been following my workout plan every day for 30 minutes. I feel good that I have kept my promise to myself. I know I can keep it up.").

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

16. Help your teen to view mistakes as learning opportunities. Teach her to accept that she will make mistakes. We all do. It’s part of learning. If, for example, your teen has the thought, "I always screw things up," remind her that she doesn’t ALWAYS make mistakes, just in this specific situation. What can she do differently next time?

17. Help your teenager to think in terms of alternative options and possibilities rather than depending on only one option for satisfaction. Whenever your teen thinks there is only one thing which can satisfy her, she limits her potential for being satisfied! The more you help your teenager realize that there are many options in every situation, the more you increase her potential for satisfaction.

18. Include your teen in everyday family decisions, and implement some of her suggestions. For example, what does she think about the new chairs you’re considering for the dining room table? AS and HFA teens love nothing better than to be treated like competent adults, and they’re usually flattered anytime that you invite them into the adult world.

19. Laugh with your teenager – and encourage her to laugh at herself. A young person who takes herself too seriously is undoubtedly decreasing her enjoyment in life. A good sense of humor and the ability to make light of life are important ingredients for increasing self-acceptance and overall enjoyment.

20. Let your teen know that he creates – and is responsible for – any feeling he experiences. Similarly, he is not responsible for others’ feelings.

21. Let your teen know that you are still interested in what is going on in his life, even though he’s a “big boy” now. Teens like to be self-sufficient and want their parent to believe that they have everything under control. But that doesn’t mean that the parent doesn’t need to keep the lines of communication open and flowing. So, when the parent asks questions, he or she should try to formulate them so that they require more than a “yes” or “no” answer (e.g., instead of asking, “How is history class going?” … ask, “What are you currently studying in history?”).

22. Sometimes it’s necessary to constructively criticize your teen’s behavior and choices. However, when the criticism is directed to him as a person, it can easily deteriorate into ridicule or shame. Therefore, learn to use “I statements” rather than “You statements” when giving criticism (e.g., “I would like you to keep your clothes in your closet – not lying all over the bedroom floor” … rather than saying, “Why are you such a slob? Can’t you get more organized?”).

23. Teach your teen the importance of helping others. For example, he can help clean up the neighborhood, participate in a walkathon for a good cause, tutor a classmate who's having trouble, or volunteer his time in some other way. When your teen can see that what he does makes a difference, it builds his positive opinion of himself and makes him feel good. That's self-acceptance.

24. Teach your teen to accept compliments. When self-acceptance is low, it's easy for young people to overlook the good things others say about them. They don't believe it when someone says a nice thing. Instead, they may think something like, “Yeah, but I'm not all that great…” and then brush off the compliment. Instead, encourage your teen to accept a compliment, appreciate it, and take it seriously. Also, teach her to give sincere compliments to others.

25. Teach your teen to change his “demands” to “preferences.” Point out that there is no reason he must get everything he wants – and that he need not feel angry either. Encourage him to work against anger by setting a good example and by reinforcing him when he displays “appropriate irritation” rather than “anger.”

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

26. Teach your teen to remind himself that everyone excels at different things. Help her to focus on what she does well, and cheer on others for their success. Self-talk such as, "He's a great football player, but I'm a better chess player” helps your teen accept himself and make the best of the situation.

27. Teach your teen to take pride in her opinions and ideas. Tell her that she need not be afraid to voice them. If someone disagrees with her, it's not a reflection on her worth or her intelligence. That person just sees things differently.

28. Teens remember positive statements that their parent says to them. They store them up and “replay” these statements to themselves. Thus, practice giving your teen words of encouragement throughout each day.

29. Use what is called “descriptive praise” to let your teen know when he is doing something well. Develop the habit of looking for situations in which your teen is doing a good job or displaying a skill (e.g., “I really like the way you straightened up the garage. You put each thing in its place”).

30. What you think determines how you feel – and how you feel determines how you behave. Thus, it’s important to teach your teen to be positive about how she “talks to herself” (e.g., “I can get this problem if I just keep trying” … “It’s OK that I didn’t get an ‘A’ on the test today” … “I tried my best, I can’t win them all”).

The primary aspect of AS and HFA that characterizes it as autistic is the problem of human connectedness. The term most commonly used to describe this core weakness of human connection is “reciprocity.” This refers to the teenager’s ability to engage other people in a way that makes others feel connected or not. In social conversation with a teenager with AS and HFA, eye contact is often poor, fleeting, or absent. These “special needs” teenagers may not be able to read subtle gestures and facial changes or to interpret subtleties in language (e.g., irony or sarcasm). They do not read or respond as most people do to small changes in body posture or to gestures. They seem either distant, stiff, or in other ways unconnected.

AS and HFA teenagers not only seem disconnected, but in some cases uninterested in being in relationships with others. They may generally have very little interest in the feelings, experiences, other human qualities, or possibilities of others and, hence, lack demonstrated empathy. They do not seem to derive pleasure from engaging others, learning about them, talking with them, or sharing experiences. In the many cases where the symptoms are milder, the teen may wish to connect with others, but simply does not know how. She may have feelings for others, but can’t seem to mobilize the demonstration of those feelings.

The good news is that parents (and teachers) can assist in these challenges by helping their AS or HFA teen to develop a set of social skills. And as mentioned above, the most important skill to possess in this endeavor is called “self-acceptance.” With self-acceptance, the teen capitalizes on his strengths rather than trying to “fix” his weaknesses, yet he accepts his weaknesses for what they are.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Helping Your Teenager with ASD to Eliminate Thinking Errors

"How can I help my teen with autism (high functioning) to not be so negative? He tends to view everything EVERYTHING through the lens of defeat. His self esteem is a big fat ZERO... no confidence whatsoever!!!"

Many children and teens with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) experience “thinking errors,” largely due to a phenomenon called “mind-blindness.” 
Mind-blindness can be described as a cognitive disorder where the child is unable to attribute mental states (e.g., emotions, beliefs, desires, motives) to himself or others. This ability to develop a mental awareness of what is in the mind of another person is known as the “Theory of Mind.”

Generally speaking, the “Mind-blindness Theory” asserts that young people on the autism spectrum are delayed in developing a Theory of Mind, which normally allows developing kids to “put themselves into someone else's shoes” (i.e., empathy) and to imagine their thoughts and feelings.

Children and teens with AS and HFA often can’t conceptualize, understand, or predict emotional states in other people. When this happens, they tend to fill-in the blank with their own interpretation, which is usually inaccurate – and we call this a “thinking error.”

Thinking errors are irrational patterns of cognition that can cause your AS or HFA teen to feel bad and sometimes act in self-defeating ways. If she becomes more upset the more she thinks about a troubling circumstance, she may want to consider the possibility of thinking in a different way. And you, as the parent, can help with this.


First, let’s look at the main thinking errors so you can get a glimpse into how your AS or HFA teen may be misinterpreting the world:

1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING – Thinking of things in absolute terms (e.g., “always”, “every”, “never”). For instance, if your teenager makes an ‘F’ on her book report, she views herself as a total failure.

2. CATASTROPHIZING – Focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable.

3. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary, impromptu reasons. In this way, your teen can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by his everyday experiences (e.g., “The fact that I am an excellent artist doesn’t count because everything else about my life sucks!”).

4. EMOTIONAL REASONING – Your teen makes decisions and arguments based on how she “feels” rather than objective reality.

5. FORTUNE TELLING – Anticipating that things will turn out badly, your teen feels convinced that her prediction is an already established fact (e.g., “Because I ‘think’ that I will fail to make the cheerleading squad, I most certainly WILL fail!”).

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

6. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS – Assuming something negative where there is actually no evidence to support it (e.g., “Nobody wants to be my friend!”).

7. LABELLING – This involves “explaining by naming.” Rather than describing the specific behavior, your teen assigns a label to someone (or herself) that puts the other person (or herself) in absolute and unalterable negative terms (e.g., “My friend won’t talk to me; therefore, she is a jerk!”).

8. MAGNIFICATION – This involves exaggerating the negatives.

9. MENTAL FILTER – Focusing exclusively on certain (and usually negative or upsetting) aspects of something while ignoring the rest. For instance, your teen selectively hears the one tiny negative thing surrounded by all the BIG POSITIVE things (your teen’s teacher makes 9 positive comments about his science project, and only one negative comment – but your teen obsesses about the one negative comment).

10. MIND READING – This involves assuming the intentions of others. For example, your teen arbitrarily concludes that a peer is thinking negatively of him, but your teen doesn’t bother to check it out.

11. MINIMIZATION – This involves understating the positives.

12. OVERGENERALIZATION – Taking isolated cases and using them to make sweeping generalizations. For instance, you teen views a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat (e.g., “My teacher just yelled at me. She’s always yelling at me. She must not like me.”).

13. PERSONALIZATION – This occurs when your teen holds himself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under his control (e.g., “My parents are getting divorced. It must be because I’m a bad son!”).

14. SHOULDING – Your teen focuses on what he can’t control. For instance, he concentrates on what he thinks “should” or “ought to be” rather than the actual situation he is faced with.

Helping your AS or HFA teenager to identify negative self-talk is tricky because it's so automatic, she may not even be aware of what’s going on in her own mind. However, if your teen is feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, this is a signal that she needs to reflect on her thinking. A good way to test the accuracy of her perceptions is to ask herself some challenging questions. These questions will help your teen check out her self-talk and see whether her current interpretation is reasonable. It can also help her discover other ways of thinking about the situation.

Should Asperger's and HFA Teens Try To Be "Normal"? 

Helping your teen to recognize that his current way of thinking may be self-defeating (and preventing him from getting what he wants out of life) can sometimes motivate him to look at things from a different perspective.   

Here’s how:
  1. Alternative explanations: What else could the situation mean? If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation? Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?
  2. Goal-directed thinking: What can I do that will help me solve the problem? Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals? Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future? Is there anything good about this situation? Is this situation as bad as I’m making it out to be?
  3. Perspective change: Will this matter in a year from now? What’s the worst thing that could happen? What’s the best thing that could happen? What’s most likely to happen?
  4. Reality testing: Am I jumping to negative conclusions? Are my thoughts based on facts, or my interpretation of the situation? How can I find out if my thoughts are true? What evidence supports my thinking?

Here’s how to help your teen apply different perspective-taking strategies as outlined above: Have him think of a situation in the last week when he found himself feeling rotten. He may have been upset, stressed, angry, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. Help him to apply some of the above strategies based on his particular situation.  

For example:
  • “I totally screwed-up that book report. I'm a loser and I'll never get good grades” …changes to, “I didn't do as well on that book report as I would have liked, but that doesn't mean I'm going to fail all my classes.”
  • “I tried on those jeans, and I looked so fat and ugly” …changes to, “I tried on those jeans, and they were too small.”
  • “Michael, the boy I have a crush on, said ‘hi’ to me and I made a total idiot of myself” …changes to, “Michael said ‘hi’ to me and I blushed and looked away. It's ok to be shy.”

Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying – and then disputing – irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing ideas, events, emotions and concepts to find more positive alternatives. The ability to reframe is a crucial skill for young people on the autism spectrum, especially in light of their mind-blindness issues. Parents can assist in teaching such skills.  

Here’s how:

1. Help your AS or HFA teen to accept that frustration is a normal part of life. Most young people on the autism spectrum get intolerant when they have to do things they don’t enjoy. They tell themselves that they “can’t stand” certain things instead of acknowledging that they simply don’t enjoy them. Thus, they easily become angry and frustrated. The reframe: “This is a hassle, and that’s O.K.! Life is full of hassles. I don’t enjoy it, but I can stand it.”

2. Help your teen to be specific. Over-generalizing is a lot like exaggeration. When your teen over-generalizes, she exaggerates the frequency of negative things in her life (e.g., mistakes, disapproval, failures, etc.). Typically, your teen may think to herself, “I always make mistakes,” or “Everyone thinks I’m dumb.” The reframe: “What are the facts? What are my interpretations? Am I over-generalizing?”

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

3. Help your teen to consider the whole picture. When he “filters,” first he hones-in on the negative aspects of his circumstances. Then he ignores or dismisses all the positive aspects. The reframe: “Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation? Am I looking at the negatives while ignoring the positives?”

4. Help your teen to understand that she shouldn’t just assume she knows what others are thinking. Your teen may be assuming that others are focused on her faults and weaknesses – but this is almost always incorrect! Her worst critic is probably herself. The reframe: “Just because I assume something, does that mean I’m right? What is the evidence? How do I know what other people are thinking?”

5. Help your teen to find all the causes. When he personalizes, he blames himself for anything that goes wrong – even when it’s not his fault or responsibility. The reframe: “What other explanations might there be for this situation? Am I really to blame? Is this all about me?”

6. Teach your teen to judge the situation – not the person. When she uses labels, she may call herself or other people names. Instead of being specific (e.g., “That was a silly thing to do”), your teen may make negative generalizations about herself or other people by saying things such as, “I’m fat and ugly,” or “He’s an asshole.” The reframe: “Just because there is something that I’m not happy with, does that mean that it’s totally no good? What are the facts and what are my interpretations?”

7. Help your teen to look for shades of gray. It’s important for him to avoid thinking about things in terms of extremes. Most things aren’t black-and-white, but somewhere in-between. Just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it’s a catastrophe. The reframe: “Am I taking an extreme view? How else can I think about the situation? Is it really so bad, or am I seeing things in black-and-white terms?”

8. Help your teen to put things in proper perspective. When things go wrong, he may have a tendency to exaggerate the consequences and imagine that the results will be catastrophic. The reframe: “Is there any way to fix the situation? Is there anything good about the situation? What’s most likely to happen? What’s the best that can happen? What’s the worst that can happen? Will this matter in a year from now?”

9. Encourage your teen to stick to the facts. Sometimes she may confuse her thoughts or feelings with reality. She may assume that her perceptions are correct. The reframe: “Am I thinking this way just because I’m feeling bad right now? Am I confusing my feelings with the facts? Just because I’m feeling this way, does that mean my perceptions are correct?”

10. Help your teen to stop making unfair comparisons. Another common thinking error that your teen may be using is to make unfair comparisons between certain people and himself. When he does this, he compares himself with others who have a specific advantage in some area. Making unfair comparisons can leave him feeling inadequate. The reframe: “Am I making fair comparisons? Am I comparing myself with people who have a particular advantage?”

Thinking errors are simply ways that your AS or HFA teen’s mind convinces him of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions (e.g., telling yourself things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep you feeling bad about yourself).

Thinking errors are at the core of what many therapists try and help a client learn to change in psychotherapy. By learning to correctly identify this kind of faulty cognition, the client can then answer the negative thinking back – and refute it. By refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it slowly diminishes overtime and is automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking. You, as the parent, can begin to take on the role of psychotherapist (in a manner of speaking) by utilizing the strategies listed above.

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

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Poor "People Skills" in Teens on the Autism Spectrum

"Any tips for helping my depressed teenager with ASD to develop some people skills in order to find a few friends that he can relate to?"

The rules of social engagement are unwritten. If an adult makes a “social mistake” (e.g., saying “thank you sir” to a woman who happens to look like a man), it may result in an awkward moment or some embarrassment.

For teens though, social mistakes can have profound and disastrous consequences. If they “fail” socially, they can be ostracized from their peer-group, have difficulty making new friends, and feel a sense of general isolation from everybody.

Many teens with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) do not know how to engage with their friends and classmates. They are simply not interested in the current fads or topics of conversation among their peer-group. As a result, they may experience teasing, bullying, and rejection from peers – and may feel isolated to the point of experiencing anxiety and/or depression.

Here are some symptoms to look for in your HFA or AS youngster’s behavior when he or she is “failing” socially:
  • Behaviors are causing the teen to get into conflicts at school
  • Disengagement from friends and classmates
  • Increase in anger and/or frustration
  • Is so socially anxious that the teen starts refusing to go to school or skips classes
  • Poor academic performance
  • Preference for isolation at home and school
  • Seems genuinely depressed
  • Sickness (e.g., frequent stomach aches, headaches, etc.)

The HFA or AS teen needs to decide for himself when he will work on his poor people skills. It can be tough for parents to sit back and watch their “special needs” teen struggle in the social arena, but they should try to let things play out on their own time. To charge-in and assert to the autistic teen that he “needs to work harder on developing some friendship skills” will only add to his low self-esteem and sense of being an “odd ball.”

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Oftentimes, teens on the autism spectrum are not in a headspace where they are ready to make changes (but when they get older, many of them start to feel differently). Here are some reasons why your HFA or AS teen may not be up for addressing his social skills deficits:
  • He may recognize he has some social problems, but is ashamed of them. He would rather try to hide them and save face even if that means losing out in the present.
  • He may realize he has some things he needs to work on, but doesn't feel they are a priority at the moment. Plus, “trying to change” would be too much work.
  • He may not see himself as awkward, just different. At the moment, he doesn't think there is anything wrong.
  • He may fully believe the messages that his insecurities are telling him, and he may not think there is any hope of improving (e.g., “You either have it or you don't.” “There's no way I can just talk to other people and then ask them to hang out.” “I'm just bad with people.”)
  • So far in life, his lack of social skills may not have cost him enough (e.g., a 16-year-old boy who doesn't need a lot of friends and who is content to spend his free time on the computer is not losing much by being ostracized from his peer-group). As a young adult, he may realize he needs better people skills in order to get a job or find a girlfriend, and then be motivated to do something about it.
  • Many HFA and AS teenagers – and even young adults – are somewhat unaware of the fact that they have social issues. They know on some level, but for the most part, they are perfectly content to stay at home all the time and play video games.
  • Like most teenagers, the teen on the autism spectrum may have the attitude that his mom and dad don't really know what they're talking about – especially when it comes to his social life. He may think his mom and dad simply don't understand what he is going through. Even if parents tell him they went through the exact same thing at his age, he may still think they are clueless. 
  • Most teenagers, autistic or not, don't like to think that they fail to measure-up in their parents’ eyes. Even if they have no problem with their poor people skills, they may still feel like they are disappointing their parents and be reluctant to bring the topic into the open or accept the parents’ help.
  • As with most teens, the autistic teen may be particularly unenthused about the idea of accepting help or criticism from his mom or dad. Also, if the teen views his mom or dad as the authoritarian, “impossible-to-please” parent, he will be even less likely to welcome parental assistance.

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

In any event, what can parents do to help their socially awkward HFA or AS teen? Here are some tips:

1. Don't give your HFA or AS teen the impression that your opinion of him is conditional on how socially successful he is.

2. Encourage your teen to hang out with peers outside of school or through extracurricular activities (e.g., sports, music, etc.).

3. Encourage your teen to engage in online support groups and chat sites for young people on the autism spectrum. Here’s is a good place to start:

4. Engage your youngster in an activity or program where there are adult mentors to help him increase his self-esteem and build self-confidence. Research reveals that having just one activity in a youngster’s life where he feels successful will result in a higher sense of self-esteem and a greater ability to negotiate a variety of social situations.

5. If it is painfully obvious that your teen is really suffering due to his social skills deficits (e.g., feels lonely, depressed, suicidal, etc.), you don’t have to sit back and stay completely silent. Bring up the topic once. Odds are good he won't be very open to accepting help. If he isn’t, don't take it personally. That is his choice. In any event, don't keep bringing it up in an attempt to nag him into addressing the issue.

Pick a moment when you have time to speak, and your teen is in a decent mood. Tactfully mention that you've noticed that he seems to be having some trouble with __________ (fill in the blank with the problem in question), and that if there is anything you can do to help, you are there for him. Again, he may deny that there is a problem or want the conversation to be over. But even if he gives that response, you can still lay out some options for him.

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

6. If there is a relative or family friend your teen may be more open to talking to, mention that person’s name. Maybe your teen will be more open to chatting with his uncle who he looks up to, for example.

7. If your HFA or AS teen agrees to see a therapist, it's important to be patient and let things play-out between them. A common mistake many moms and dads make is they expect the professional to quickly and cost-effectively “fix” their youngster.

8. Let your teen know that if he ever wants to brainstorm some ideas or hear some suggestions, you are there to help.

9. Parents should not feel that they have “failed” somehow because their “special needs” youngster is awkward, or because they didn't step in earlier. You may be prone to feeling guilty or blaming yourself if your teenager is going through a tough time. The fact is that most HFA and AS teens are simply emotionally immature compared to their “typical” peers. After all, they have a “developmental disorder.”

10. Point your teen to some resources (e.g., books, videos, CDs, etc.) that discuss self-help strategies for people looking to develop interpersonal skills.

11. Reduce ambiguity in your youngster’s life by addressing his concerns and helping him understand what to expect on a daily basis so you can help lessen his anxiety.

12. Tell your teen that if he ever just wants to vent to someone about some social problems he is having, you are more than willing to listen in a non-judgmental way and be his sounding board and/or advocate.

13. Tell your teen that if he ever wants to talk to a therapist or look into a social skills training group, you will help make that happen. Also, point out that you don't view professional help as a big deal, just an option people have if they want some outside advice and support.

14. While the HFA or AS youngster may have some real social weaknesses, in other ways he may be different from the norm in a way that is perfectly valid. Those differences may be tied to social skills deficits, but parents need to distinguish between true deficits and normal variations in personality. For instance, there's nothing wrong with being a bit reserved, being uncomfortable in certain social situations, having a unique hobby, having an odd sense of humor, preferring to spend time alone, etc. Thus, parents should not come across like they are rejecting their teen’s core self.

15. With older teenagers on the autism spectrum, parents don't have a lot of ability to further influence their social development – they are almost adults. However, with younger teens, parents still have the authority to enroll them in a social skills training group or insist they see a counselor. A 13-year-old may not like it, but he still recognizes his mom and dad are allowed to make him go to things. But, if parents try to do that with a 19-year-old, he will likely resist any form of treatment or intervention.

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

We have just talked about some things that parents can do to help their socially awkward HFA or AS teen. Next, let’s look a few things to avoid doing:
  • If you have already tried to help your youngster with his social awkwardness, but he shot you down, try to avoid feeling slighted or resentful. Don’t take it personally. He will take a hard look at himself and the changes that may need to happen when the timing is right.
  • If you were socially awkward as a teen, some of your own baggage may come up as you witness your teen struggling. You may frantically want to help him avoid some of the social blunders you made. But, he will need to learn from his own mistakes rather than from yours.
  • Avoid the urge to “force” your teenager to try to improve his social skills, even if his deficits are making him unhappy. 
  • Try to avoid feeling disappointed in your youngster. Maybe you were somewhat popular in school and can't really understand how your teen seems to be having the opposite experience you did. Maybe you always hoped he would be a great trumpet player or football player, and you can't help but roll your eyes when he spends a Sunday afternoon playing “childish” video games in his bedroom (i.e., games that much younger children might play).
  • Don’t fall into the trap of feeling sorry for your HFA or AS teen. It's only natural that you want to make his pain go away, but that attitude often results in over-protective parenting that tends to make a bad problem worse (e.g., doing too much for your teen to the point where he never learns to do things for himself).
  • Try not to get angry with your teen for not realizing he has a problem, or not wanting to do anything about it. True, the problem seems so obvious to you, but your teen doesn’t see things the same way. For instance, he may tell you that it is impossible for him to make friends. His logic and explanations may not make sense to you, but he still seems to believe them.

It takes time for teens on the spectrum to improve their social skills. If your teen does start working through his issues, don't feel like he is dragging his feet or not working hard enough if he doesn't transform over a period of a few weeks. In addition, give him space to change at his own pace. Maybe he will be eager about making some changes for a few months, but then get distracted by other things for a while.

In any event, don't make your teen feel monitored, or that your approval is connected to his rate of progress. For instance, you go to a family cookout and your teen doesn’t feel like mingling with other family members, but you watch him to see if his ability to socialize has improved. As mentioned before, give your HFA or AS teen the impression that you accept him for who he is – unconditionally! Of course, you will be delighted for him and share in his success if he makes some positive changes. But if he doesn't, you're O.K. with that too.

How To Discipline Rebellious Aspergers and HFA Teens

"Nothing we have done to get our ASD teen to avoid the ups and downs of his behavior and mood swings has helped. We need help now!"

Disciplining a teenager with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) is likely to bring out the best and the worst in a parent. Moms and dads try to help their “special needs” teenager make up for what's missing by increasing their love and attention, but he or she often triggers special frustrations in parents.

Most teens go through predictable stages of development in adolescence. You know about when to expect what behavior and how long it will last. Knowing you don't have to weather this “difficult behavior” indefinitely helps you cope. But with many teens on the autism spectrum, stages seem to go on forever, as do the frustrations in both the teenager and the parent.

Parenting an Aspergers or HFA son or daughter is a tough job. The ups and downs and joys and sorrows are magnified. You rejoice at each accomplishment, and you worry about each new challenge.

Here are some important tips for disciplining the special needs teen:

1. Aspergers and HFA teenagers need developmentally-appropriate structure, but it requires sensitivity on your part to figure out what is needed when. Watch the teen, not the calendar. Try to get inside his head.

2. Be prepared to run out of patience.

3. Be sure to change your standards. Before a child is even born, moms and dads imagine what his life will be like (e.g., piano lessons, baseball, graduating from college, marriage, etc.). Even with a “typical” teen, you have to reconcile these dreams with reality as he grows up. With a teen on the autism spectrum, this is a bigger task. You learn to live in the present. The milestones of your teen's life are less defined and the future less predictable (though he may surprise you). In the meantime, set your standards for your teen at an appropriate level.

4. Don't compare your “special needs” child to other “typical” children. Your Aspergers or HFA teen is special. Comparing her to others of the same age is not fair.

5. Don't focus on the disorder. Instead, practice positive parenting to the highest degree that you can without shortchanging other members of the family. Feeling loved and valued from positive parenting helps a teen cope with the lack of a particular skill.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

6. Visual aids may help your teenager see the reason for the consequence.  Make an “if/then chart” or a “discipline chart” that shows exactly what will happen if the teenager engages in a particular behavior.  Another visual aid that comes in handy is a “rewards chart.”  Equal importance should be placed on good behavior, including lots of praise and tangible rewards, to balance out the negativity.

7. View “misbehavior” as a signal of needs. Everything teenagers do tells you something about what they need. This principle is particularly true with Aspergers and HFA teenagers.


8. There are occasions when negative consequences become necessary (e.g., grounding, taking away privileges, etc.), but they should always be immediate, definite, and relevant. Teens on the spectrum tend not to perceive cause and effect and are likely to have short memories, so prolonged consequences not only lose their impact, but also their effectiveness. Taking away the teen’s favorite activity for being rude to his mother or father, for example, is not relevant to the infraction. The focus for the teen, then, becomes the lost privilege and his anger at his mom or dad – not what he did to incur the consequence in the first place. A more appropriate consequence might be for the mother or father to respond, "I won't listen to that kind of talk," and walk away.

9. Teens with Aspergers and HFA thrive on structure and clear rules. Thus, posting a list of unacceptable behaviors and their consequences can be very helpful.

10. These young people tend to enjoy being isolated, because it is less stressful for them and they do not have to socialize with others. For these teens, being sent to their bedrooms for a time-out can actually be a positive experience unless modified slightly (e.g., being sent to the bedroom with no computer privileges).

11. Reset your anger buttons. Your "special needs" teen will do some things that exasperate you.

12. Remember that discipline literally means "teach" – not "punish." Negative punishments rarely change unwanted behavior permanently. They only stop the behavior in that particular time and setting. Positive consequences, on the other hand, have been shown to be far more effective in changing inappropriate behavior patterns. Aspergers and HFA teens respond well to praise, encouragement, and positive reinforcement. Complimenting the teenager for a responsible, cooperative, or compassionate act will tend to promote that behavior.

13. Moms and dads should list the behaviors that they feel are most deserving of attention. This is an important step because some behaviors may need intervention or therapy in order to be eliminated rather than simple disciplinary tactics. Odd self-soothing behaviors are common in young people with sensory processing issues, and they can be easily replaced with more appropriate ones.

14. Give your teen choices. Initially, you may have to guide your teen into making a choice, but just the ability to make a choice helps the teen feel important. Present the choices in the teen's language. The more you use this tip, the more you will learn about your teen's abilities and preferences.

15. Help your teen build a sense of responsibility. There is a natural tendency to want to rush in and do things for a “special needs” teen. For these teenagers, the principle of "show them how to fish rather than give them a fish" applies all the more. The sense of accomplishment that accompanies being given responsibility gives the teen a sense of value and raises his self-esteem.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

16. Know that “different” doesn't mean “lesser.” In a teenager's mind, being different means being substandard. This feeling may be more of a problem for “typical” teens than for Aspergers and HFA teens. Most teenagers measure their self-worth by how they believe others perceive them. Be sure your teen's siblings don't fall into this "different equals inferior" trap. This is why the term "special needs" is not only socially correct, but it's a positive term, not a value judgment. In reality, all teenagers could wear this label.

17. Know that “different” doesn't mean “unable.” While it is true you have to change your expectations of an Aspergers or HFA teen, you don't have to lower your standards of discipline. It's tempting to get lax and let your teenager get by with behaviors you wouldn't tolerate from your other kids. Your teen needs to know, early on, what behavior you expect. Many moms and dads wait too long to start behavior training. It's much harder to redirect a 130 pound young man than a 50 pound boy. Like all teenagers, the Aspergers or HFA teen must be taught to adjust to family routines, to obey, and to manage his behavior.

18. Moms and dads need to be in agreement when applying discipline to any teenager, but especially for teens on the spectrum. If one parent thinks grounding is the appropriate punishment, while the other feels that time-outs will be more effective, this will be confusing for the teenager.

The Struggles in Adolescence for Teens on the Autism Spectrum 

Disciplining a teenager with Aspergers or HFA is not an easy task, particularly in light of some of the characteristics commonly associated with the disorder (e.g., a short memory for misdeeds but not for the consequences, the inability to perceive cause and effect and to generalize from one situation to another, the tendency to blame others rather than assume responsibility for behavior, etc.). Nonetheless, with patience, humor, and a sense of perspective, moms and dads can become their teen's ally, even in their role of authority.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

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