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The Struggles of Adolescence: Help for Young People on the Autism Spectrum

“My 18 y.o. with Asperger syndrome (high functioning) is on my last nerve. He has been on in-school detention all week. Now he’s getting into trouble there too and is about to receive an out-of-school suspension. He simply doesn’t care anymore, and honestly, I think he is trying to get kicked out of school. He comes home and goes straight to his room for the rest of the evening to play online gaming (he will come out occasionally to eat a snack, but won’t eat dinner with the rest of us). He’s rude and hateful to me and his younger brother. I am at my wits end. No idea where I went wrong with this child. He has no friends to speak of, seems depressed and moody all time, and has even said he wished he wasn’t alive. I really have doubts that he will make it in the adult world at this point. He has already said he will not go to college or trade school. And he has never had an interest in working a part-time job so far. Please help!”

First of all, there is much more going on here than simple rebellion or defiance. Your son’s misbehavior is a symptom of some underlying factor(s). For example, many teens spend the entire school day under duress from peer-rejection, teasing and bullying. So, when they return home, some will take their frustration out on a “soft target” (in your case, his younger brother perhaps) as a way to discharge negative emotions. Also, some teens on the autism spectrum would love nothing more than to get kicked out of school due to (a) the mismatch between their educator’s teaching style and their individual learning style (most autistic teens learn visually), or (b) an unfriendly classroom environment that bombards and overloads their senses (most autistic teens have sensory sensitivities, such as sensitivity to excess noise, crowded hallways, smells from the cafeteria, and so on). Thus, the root cause(s) of the “misbehavior” needs to be uncovered before behavioral change can happen.

Adolescence is the most difficult time for teenagers with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS). Young people on the spectrum typically become more isolated socially during a period when they crave friendships and acceptance more than ever. In the harsh world of middle and high school, they often face rejection, isolation and bullying. Meanwhile, school becomes more demanding in a period when they have to compete for college placements. So, who wouldn’t be acting-out under these circumstances?

Most autistic teenagers struggle with social skills, communication, and a limited diet. The causes of these struggles (e.g., social, communication and behavioral problems, sensory issues, etc.) can create the desire for isolation. They can easily drop into a lonely state of depression and/or anxiety, making the original problems much worse. Thus, helping the teen to boost his self-esteem and level of confidence is paramount.

So what can parents do to help their “special needs” adolescent? Below are some crucial tips for helping HFA and AS teens survive - and thrive - during the rough teenage years:

1. With or without an autism spectrum disorder, most teenagers become less willing to take a parent’s word or advice. Therefore, try to hook your teen up with other trustworthy adults. If you want him to learn or try to do something outside of his comfort zone (e.g., something other than playing video games all day), then arrange for the suggestion or information to come from a trusted adult other than you. Look for other good mentors (e.g., an uncle, scout or youth group leader, peer mentor, “Big Brother,” social skills group leader, coach or martial arts teacher, etc.).

2. Teenagers on the autism spectrum need developmentally-appropriate structure, but it requires sensitivity on your part to figure out what is needed when. Watch your teen, not the calendar. Try to get inside his head. Also, be prepared to run out of patience. Create your own back-up plan for when this happens (e.g., YOU take a time-out).

3. View “misbehavior” as a signal of needs. Everything your teen does tells you something about what he needs.

4. There are going to be occasions when negative consequences become necessary (e.g., grounding, taking away privileges, etc.), but they should always be immediate, definite, and relevant. Teens with autism 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.

5. The “transition plan” (which needs to be part of your teen’s IEP) should address the skills that your teen needs to acquire while in high school, in order to be prepared for the kind of independent life he wants to lead after graduation. Many high schools are unfamiliar with transition planning. The more you know as a mom or dad, the more you will be able to ensure that a solid transition plan is written and carried out.

6. Although most teenagers with HFA/AS are more child-like than their “typical” peers, be prepared to tolerate and/or ignore considerable distancing, hostility, or acting-out – knowing that it won’t last forever. At the same time, set some firm limits, and keep a close eye on your teen’s anxiety level and depression.

7. List the behaviors that you 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 autistic teens with sensory processing issues, and they can be easily replaced with more appropriate ones.

8. Teach laundry and other self-care/home-care skills by small steps over time. Also, try to get your teenager to take an elective at school (e.g., cooking, personal finance, etc.).

9. Special interests may change, but whatever the current one is, it remains an important source of motivation, pleasure, relaxation, and reassurance for your teenager.

10. Some teenagers on the spectrum adjust to high school with appropriate supports and accommodations. However, others just can’t handle a large, impersonal academic setting that exists in high school. You may need to hire an advocate to negotiate with the school system to pay for an alternative school placement, tuition, and transportation.

11. Seek out social skills groups designed especially for teenagers with autism. Participating in such a group and being accepted by group leaders and peers is probably the most powerful way to alleviate your teenager’s potential despair at not fitting-in socially and not having any friends. The positive social experiences and new skills he learns will be assets for the rest of his life.

12. Schedule regular monthly educational team meetings to monitor your teenager’s progress, to ensure that the IEP is being faithfully carried out, and to modify it if necessary. Because teenagers on the spectrum can be so volatile or fragile, and because so many important things must be accomplished in 4 short years of high school, these meetings are crucial. If your child is doing very well, the team can agree to skip a month, but be sure to reconvene to plan the transition to the following year.

13. Reading body language and understanding sweeping generalizations can be quite frustrating for autistic teens. Thus, they usually benefit from systematic social training in which they are given the chance to role play, study body cues and language, and practice interpreting new signals that may not have been evident in early childhood.

14. Not all teenagers on the spectrum are ready for a residential college experience right after high school. To decide, use the evidence of how your teen did at sleep-away camp or similar samplings of independence, and look carefully at executive function skills (e.g., organizational skills). As an alternative, community colleges offer a lot of flexibility (e.g., easy admission, low cost, remedial courses if necessary, the option of a light course load, the security of living at home, etc.). Some college disability offices are more successful than others at providing effective, individualized support. However, if your teenager is living at home, you may be able more easily to sense trouble, step in with help, or secure supports he needs to succeed.

15. Make sure thorough neuropsychological re-evaluations are performed every 3 years. This information and documentation may be critical in (a) securing appropriate services, (b) alternative school placements, (c) a good transition plan, (d) choosing an appropriate college or other post-secondary program, and (e) proving eligibility for services and benefits as a grown-up.

16. Look for volunteer activities or part time jobs at the high school or in the community. Be persistent in asking the school to provide help in the areas of career assessment, job readiness skills, and internships or volunteer opportunities. They probably have such services for learning disabled teenagers, but may not realize your high-functioning autistic teen needs that help, too. They may also not know how to adapt existing programs to meet his needs.

17. Look for opportunities for a sheltered, successful overnight stay away from home with no parent (e.g., long weekend visits to relatives, a week or two of a carefully chosen sleep-away camp, taking a course on a college campus, etc.).

18. Instill the essential habit of a daily shower and clean clothes. Peers, teachers, and future potential employers are very put-off by poor hygiene. If possible, put your teenager’s clothes on a well-organized shelf in the bathroom near the clothes hamper.

19. In adolescence, communication becomes complicated as teenagers invent words, signs, and body language to discreetly talk with a friend. For a youngster with HFA/AS who has been struggling just to understand common social cues, this change can be frustrating and incredibly difficult to understand. The best scenario is when language is "concrete and definite." Teenage conversations that use shortened terms or lingo are going to be very difficult for a young person on the spectrum.

20. Impersonal, written communication is easier for the HFA/AS teenager to absorb (e.g., lists of routines and rules, notes, charts, calendars, etc.).

21. If your teenager seems like a good candidate for college, take him to visit colleges during the spring vacation weeks of the junior year of high school, or during the summers before junior and senior year. Visits reveal a lot about what environment your teenager will prefer. Also, purchase a large college guide to browse.

22. If you have not yet made a will and set up a special needs trust, do it now. Ask your lawyer about powers of attorney or other documents you may need once your teenager is no longer a minor. Few moms and dads assume guardianship of a young adult 18 or older, but it may be necessary and appropriate in some situations.

23. If you have not talked to your teenager about his disorder, you or someone else should do so (to the extent that he is ready to hear it). It’s tricky for teenagers on the spectrum – they so much want to be “normal” and strong and successful. A diagnosis can seem threatening or even totally unacceptable. In truth, however, adults on the spectrum who do best are those who know themselves well – both their own strengths (which point them toward finding their niche in the world) and their own blind spots (where they need to learn new skills or seek out specific kinds of help).

24. If both parents can agree about their HFA or AS teenager’s diagnosis, treatment, and rules, it will save a lot of family wear and tear. To get your spouse on the same page, attend autism conferences or classes together. When you hear the same information, you can discuss it and decide what will work best for your teenager and in your family. As you learn more about autism spectrum disorders, you may also come to better appreciate each other’s contributions to your youngster’s welfare. Attend team meetings at the school together, or alternate which parent attends. Also, seeing your teen’s therapist together (possibly without the youngster), or seeing a couples or family therapist may help you weather a tough time together.

25. Have realistic, modest goals for what your teenager or the family can accomplish in a given time period. You may need to postpone some plans for career goals, for example.

26. Go with the flow of your youngster’s nature. Simplify schedules and routines, streamline possessions and furnishings. If your teenager only likes plain T shirts without collars or buttons, buy plain T shirts. If he likes familiar foods, or has a favorite restaurant, indulge him.

27. Multiple stressors during adolescence often bring on anxiety and even depression in teens on the spectrum. Stressors may include increased academic/abstract thinking and social demands at school, peer pressure, increased social awareness, and fears of the future. Anxious teenagers who do not get help may be at risk for school failure, acting-out, alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide attempts.

28. Consider delaying graduation in order to ensure that transition services are actually provided under DOE. It may be hard to convince an academically gifted, college bound student to accept this route. However, it may be very helpful for autistic students who will need a lot of help with independent living skills and employment issues. Services need not be delivered within high school walls. Community college courses, adaptive driving lessons, and employment internships are just a few alternatives to consider.

29. Build and use any support networks you can (e.g., extended family, close friends, church/synagogue groups, an understanding school staff, etc.). If you don’t have a good network, consider individual or family therapy for a little support during a stormy, demanding life passage. When you have a demanding teenager, it’s good to be reminded once a week that your needs and feelings are valid and important, too!

30. Remember that teenagers with HFA/AS are relatively immature - both socially and emotionally - compared to “typical” teens of the same chronological age. Adjust your expectations for your teen, and make sure he has appropriate supports. 

31. Teenagers with HFA/AS are less prepared than “typical” teens for the new challenges of sexuality and romance. Many teens on the spectrum want a girl or boy friend, but are clueless about how to form and maintain a relationship. Autistic males may be at risk for accusations of harassment, and autistic females may be at risk for becoming victims. Teach appropriate rules. Look for supervised activities in which boys and girls can socialize safely together, supervised by a staff person who can coach appropriate social skills.

32. For a teenager with HFA/AS, friendships can be a struggle. Your youngster may not understand social cues, and may not know how to be someone's friend. He may feel the typical feelings of a first crush, but be uncertain on how to act on it. Social training can help these young people to understand social cues, slang, and meet other teens who feel similarly about how to deal with new friends. In these social trainings, teenagers can be taught how to listen, and how listening and reacting appropriately can lead to stronger bonds. Also, you should try to explicitly explain what the act of flirting is (e.g., by pointing it out on a TV show or movie).

33. A regular bed time at a reasonable hour is more important than ever. Regular routines of all kinds (e.g., familiar foods, rituals, vacations, etc.) are reassuring when the autistic teenager’s body, biochemistry, and social scene are changing so fast. Keeping your teen’s routines constant will improve his outlook. He will know what to expect at any given time, lessening the stress he feels.

34. Using your teenager’s special interests - both at home and at school - can generate positive responses in many situations. For instance, a 14-year-old's love of trains can be used to encourage eating at home. Train-themed dinnerware - or even themed foods - can be used to entice the reluctant eater.

In conclusion, young people with HFA and AS bring their special flavor to adolescence. Some will not avoid interacting with others. They are eager to communicate (though often in a clumsy, in-your-face way). The level of their insight into their social skills deficits will then become the determining factor of their social success. If they are unaware of their shortcomings in gauging the social atmosphere and reading social cues, they may inadvertently come across as rude, insulting or boring. They may miss subtle criticism and sarcasm. As they develop better insight, they will become more motivated to learn, which had not come naturally and intuitively.

In the social development of HFA and AS teens who show some interest in peer interactions, social anxiety and resultant avoidance play an important role. Some of these young people get very nervous just with the thought of approaching others and may choose to avoid it at all costs. Their avoidance may appear as if they are not interested in others. It is important to differentiate this since anxiety can be treated much more easily than genuine lack of interest.

Regardless of the individual developmental route, most teens on the spectrum start realizing that they are not quite like others at some point during their adolescence. Once the teenager realizes that he has significant difficulties in conducting social relationships compared to his peers, he needs deal with this loss, just like dealing with any other loss. Understanding the thoughts, feelings and behavior of a teen on the spectrum is the necessary first step in helping him out and being there for him. 

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

The Challenges of Adolescence for Young People on the Autism Spectrum

The years from 12 to 18 are the most difficult time for teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder - Level 1 (ASD). These young people typically become more socially isolated during a period when they crave friendships and inclusion more than ever. In the cruel world of middle and high school, they often face rejection, isolation and bullying.

Meanwhile, school becomes more demanding in a period when they have to compete for college placements. In addition, issues of sexuality and a desire for independence from parents create even more problems.

In the teenage world where everyone feels insecure, adolescents that appear different are voted off the island. ASD teenagers often have odd mannerisms. For example, one adolescent talks in a loud un-modulated voice, avoids eye contact, interrupts others, violates their physical space, and steers the conversation to his favorite odd topic. Another appears willful, selfish and aloof, mostly because he is unable to share his thoughts and feelings with others.

Isolated and alone, many ASD teenagers are too anxious to initiate social contact. Many are stiff and rule-oriented, which is a deadly trait in any teenage popularity contest. Friendship and all its nuances of reciprocity can be exhausting, even though the teen wants it more than anything else.

These adolescents are not privy to street knowledge of sex and dating behaviors that other adolescents pick up naturally. This leaves them clueless about sex. Boys can become obsessed with Internet pornography and masturbation. They can be overly forward with a girl who is merely being kind, and then later face charges of stalking her. The ASD S female may have a fully developed body, but no understanding of flirtation and non-verbal sexual cues, making her susceptible to harassment and even date rape.

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

Many autistic teenagers, with their average to above average IQs, can sail through grammar school, but hit academic problems in middle and high school. They now have to deal with four to six teachers, instead of just one. The likelihood that at least one teacher will be indifferent - or even hostile - toward making special accommodations is certain. The “special needs” student now has to face a series of classroom environments with different classmates, odors, distractions, noise levels, and sets of expectations.

These teens, with their distractibility and difficulty organizing materials, face similar academic problems as students with Attention Deficit Disorder. For example, a high school term paper or a science fair project becomes impossible to manage because no one has taught the “special needs” teen how to break it up into a series of small steps. Even though the academic stress on the adolescent can be overwhelming, school administrators may be reluctant to enroll him in special education at this late point in his educational career.

Teenagers on the spectrum typically do not care about adolescent fads and clothing styles (concerns that obsess everyone else in their peer group). They may neglect their hygiene and wear the same haircut for years. Boys forget to shave. Girls don't comb their hair or follow fashion. Some remain stuck in a grammar school clothes and hobbies (e.g., unicorns and Legos) instead of moving into adolescent concerns like Facebook and dating. Boys on the autism spectrum often have no motor coordination. This leaves them out of high school sports, typically an essential area of male bonding and friendship.

The teenage years are more emotional for everyone. Yet the hormonal changes of adolescence, coupled with the problems associated with autism, can mean that the adolescent becomes emotionally overwhelmed. Childish tantrums reappear. Boys may act up by physically attacking a teacher or peer. They may experience “meltdowns” at home after another day filled with harassment, bullying, pressure to conform, and rejection. Suicide and drug addiction become real concerns, as the adolescent now has access to a car, drugs and alcohol. The teenage years can overwhelm not only the “special needs” adolescent, but also his or her parents.

Pain, loneliness and despair can lead to problems with drugs, sex and alcohol. In their overwhelming need to fit in and make friends, some ASD teenagers fall into the wrong high school crowds. Adolescents who abuse substances will use the autistic teen’s naivety to get him to buy or carry drugs and liquor for their group. If cornered by a police officer, the autistic teen usually does not have the skills to answer the officer’s questions appropriately. For example, if the officer says, “Do you know how fast you were driving?” the teen may reply bluntly, “Yes,” and thus appears to be a smart-aleck.

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

Here are a few things that parents can do to help their teen through the tough teenage years:

Most of the jobs that a teenager would be able to get (e.g., movie usher, fast food worker, store clerk, grocery sacker, etc.) involve interaction with the public. This means they are not always a good fit for an adolescent with ASD. However, some of these “special needs” teens can find work in their field of special interest, or in jobs that have little interpersonal interaction. Thus, parents should help their teen to find work that it is alignment with these special concerns.

When your child was little, you could arrange play dates for her. Now as an adolescent, you may have to teach her how to initiate contact with others. For example, you could teach her how to leave phone messages and arrange details of social contacts (e.g., transportation), and encourage her to join high school clubs (e.g., chess or drama). Also, many adolescents with ASD are enjoying each other's company through Internet chat rooms, forums and message boards. On a side note, it isn’t necessary to tell your child’s peers that she has an autism spectrum disorder – let her do that herself if she wants to.

You absolutely have to teach your adolescent about sex. You will not be able to “talk around” the issue. Be specific and detailed about safe sex, and teach your adolescent to tell you about inappropriate touching by others. Your child may need remedial “sex education.” For example, a girl needs to understand she is too old to sit on laps or give hugs to strangers. A boy may have to learn to close toilet stall doors or masturbate only in private.

In the school setting, if the pressure on your child to conform is too great, or if she faces constant harassment and rejection, or if the principal and teaching staff do not cooperate with you as the parent, it may be time to find another school. The adolescent years are a time when many moms and dads decide it is in their child’s best interest to enter special education or a therapeutic boarding school. In a boarding school, professionals will guide your child academically and socially on a 24-hour basis. They do not allow boys to isolate themselves with video games – everyone has to participate in social activities. Also, counseling staff helps with college placements.

If you decide to work within a public school system, you may have to hire a lawyer to get needed services. Your child should have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and accommodations for the learning disabled. This may mean placement in small classes, using tutors, and providing special arrangements for gym and lunchtime. Your child should receive extra time for college-board examinations. Also, teach your child to find a “safe place” at school where he can share emotions with a trusted adult. The safe place may be the office of the school nurse, guidance counselor, or psychologist.

If your adolescent is college-bound, you have to prepare her for the experience. You can plan a trip to the campus, show her where to buy books, where the health services are, and so on. Also, teach her how to handle everyday problems (e.g., “Where do you buy deodorant?” … “What if you oversleep and miss a class?” … etc.).

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

As you prepare your adolescent for the workforce, keep in mind that people with ASD often do not understand “office politics.” They have problems with the basics (e.g., handling criticism, controlling emotions, showing up on time, working with the public, etc.). This does not mean they can’t hold down a job. Once they master certain aspects of employment, autistic teenagers are often able to work at high levels as accountants, research scientists, computer programmers, just to name a few.

Alcohol and drugs often react adversely with a child’s prescriptions (if he or she is on any), so you should teach your child about these dangers. Since most ASD teenagers are very rule-oriented, try emphasizing that drugs and alcohol are illegal.

Most teenagers on the spectrum can learn to drive, but their process may take longer because of their poor motor coordination. Once they learn a set of rules, they are likely to follow them to the letter (a trait that helps in driving). However, they may have trouble dealing with unexpected situations on the road. Thus, have your child carry a cell phone and give him a printed card that explains autism. Then teach him to give the card to a police officer and phone you in a crisis.

Because of their sensitivity to textures, ASD teenagers often wear the same clothes day in and day out. This is unacceptable in middle or high school. One idea that has worked for some moms and dads is to find an adolescent of the same age and sex as yours, and then enlist that person to help you choose clothes that will enable your child to blend in with other adolescents. Also, insist that your teen practices good hygiene every day.

In conclusion, parents of an adolescent with ASD face many problems that other parents don’t. The autistic teen is emotionally more immature than his “typical” peers. He may be indifferent - or even hostile - to his parents’ concerns. Like all teenagers, the autistic teen is harder to control and less likely to listen to his mom or dad.

He may be tired of his parents “nagging” him to look people in their eyes, brush his teeth, wake up in time for school, and so on. Also, he may hate school with a passion because he is dealing with social ostracism or academic failure. However, by implementing some of the suggestions listed above, parents can help their “special needs” teen to weather the storm of adolescence, and prepare him or her for the challenges of adulthood.

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

Parenting Teens with Aspergers

Adolescence is full of challenges – especially if a teenager has to deal additionally with the Aspergers condition.

The change is fast, everywhere, and hard to keep up with: The body changes in response to increasing levels of sex hormones; the thinking process changes as the youngster is able to think more broadly and in an abstract way; the social life changes as new people and peers come into scope. Yet the youngster needs to deal with every single one of these changes, all at the same time! With their willingness to help, that’s where the parents come in, who have "been there", with the life experience, maturity and resources. So, how can parents help? Recognizing the complex and sometimes conflicting needs of an adolescent would be a good point to start.

Teenagers yearn to develop a unique and independent identity, separate from their moms and dads. Yes, they love their parents, but they don’t simply want to follow their footsteps. They challenge their parents in any way they can. They disobey their rules; criticize their "old fashioned" values; they discard their suggestions. Experienced moms and dads know that sometimes they have to be very "political" approaching their adolescent kids, if they are going to get their point across. On the other hand, teenagers give a lot of credit to their peers. They yearn to belong to a peer group which would define and support their identity. They may attempt to do things very much out of character just to gain the approval and acceptance of their peers. They tend to hide their weaknesses and exaggerate their strengths. Of course, what teenagers consider as "weakness" or "strength" may sometimes shock their parents.

Young people with Aspergers (high-functioning autism) bring their special flavor to the adolescence, essentially determined by the levels of three ingredients: interest, avoidance and insight.

Level of interest—

Since all forms of Aspergers has an impact on social development by definition, most teenagers with moderate to severe Aspergers will show little or no interest in others. They may seem to be totally unaware of their peers’ presence or they may appear indifferent when peers try to interact. As Aspergers gets less severe, the level of interest in peers usually increases. For these young people, the quality of social interactions mostly depends on the levels of avoidance and insight.

Level of avoidance—

In the social development of teenagers who show some interest in peer interactions, social anxiety and resultant avoidance play an important role. Some young people get very nervous just with the thought of approaching others and may choose to avoid it at all costs. Their avoidance may appear as if they are not interested in others. It is important to differentiate this since anxiety can be treated much more easily than genuine lack of interest.

Anxiety: A Fifteen year-old adolescent with Aspergers was brought by his mother to seek help with his high level of social anxiety. He was refusing to go to school, where he lately had been labeled as "tardy". Their home was in walking distance of school and he would leave home late in the morning to avoid his peers riding or walking to school. He would not go to the school cafeteria to avoid waiting in line. He would avoid classes in which students had to study in groups. Most of his anxiety could be eliminated over a few weeks by the trial of an anti-anxiety medication which he tolerated well and he was able to function better in school.

Most frequently, interaction with peers will create more anxiety than interaction with younger or older people: Younger kids are safer to approach since they would be more likely to accept the dominance of an adolescent with Aspergers and less likely to be critical. Older teenagers and adults are safer because they will be more likely to understand and tolerate. Moms and dads therefore commonly observe that their kids with Aspergers prefer to interact with younger kids or adults over their peers.

For teenagers with Aspergers who show interest in peers and do not avoid contact, the quality of social interactions will depend on the level of insight.

Level of insight—

Yet some teenagers with Aspergers will not avoid interacting with others; younger, older or similar age. Rather, they are eager to communicate, though, often in a clumsy, in-your-face way. The level of their insight into their social disability will then become the determining factor of their social success. If they are unaware of their shortcomings in gauging the social atmosphere and reading social cues, they may inadvertently come across as rude, insulting or boring. They may miss subtle criticism, sarcasm or tease. As they develop better insight, they become more motivated to learn which had not come naturally and intuitively. They also have a better chance to work through a sense of loss, common to all disabilities.

Coping with the Loss of Normalcy—

Regardless of the individual developmental route, most kids with Aspergers start realizing that they are not quite like others at some point during their adolescence. A few factors seem to facilitate the process:
  • higher IQ
  • higher level insight into difficulties in social interaction
  • higher level of interest in others

Once the adolescent realizes that he has significant difficulties in conducting social relationships compared to his peers, he needs deal with this loss, just like dealing with another loss. Understanding the thoughts, feelings and behavior of an adolescent with Aspergers is the necessary first step in helping him out and being there for him. Considering this coping process in a few stages may make the caregivers’ job easier:
  • Acceptance
  • Adaptation
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Depression

Most commonly, the adolescent will not go through these stages one after another, but rather display a larger or smaller aspect of each at any given time. This is a painful process for not only the adolescent but for others who care for him as well. Moms and dads may find themselves compelled to forget the whole thing and act as if nothing is happening. Well, we are all tempted to avoid pain and denial is an excellent pain killer. The good news is, as much as the denial is contagious, the courage and strength, too, and seeing his parents dealing with the pain calmly and matter-of-factly will encourage the adolescent talk about his anger and frustration. This will in turn help the adolescent get closer to the acceptance and adaptation:
  • You don’t have to bring it up, but when he does, give them a good listening ear and be patient.
  • Don’t try to change the subject, unless your youngster does so.
  • Don’t try to minimize his difficulties, but also don’t let him exaggerate, providing gentle reality testing.
  • Offer the option of counseling, since sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger; however, try not to push the idea directly even if you feel that your youngster clearly needs professional help.

Sometimes you have to be very political trying to sell an idea to a teenager. The mere fact that the idea is coming from his parents may make him refuse it. Let the idea come from a family friend, teacher, or a neighbor he trusts. Give him time to think about it. He may come back to the suggestion when he feels he is ready.

Consider trying an antidepressant medication if he doesn’t seem to be able to move on. Look for the following common symptoms of clinical depression. If five or more of these are present week after week, put your foot down:
  • Appearing sad for most of the time
  • Becoming irritable and angry with the drop of a hat so that family members start walking on egg shells
  • Blaming himself unfairly for anything that goes wrong
  • Complaining that he is tired all the time and wanting to take naps during the day
  • Eating less or more than usual
  • Losing interest in activities he usually enjoys
  • Making remarks like he hates life, he hates you, nobody loves him, or wishing he was dead
  • Not being able to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night and having difficulty falling back to sleep
  • Putting himself down, saying he is stupid
  • Withdrawing himself from the rest of the family, refusing to participate in group activities

Clinical depression is a serious condition which carries a significant risk for self-harming behavior. If you suspect that he may have clinical depression, set up an appointment with a child and adolescent psychiatrist as soon as possible and do not put this as an option. He does not have a veto power on this decision.

Anger, Denial and Depression A young teenager was referred from a clinical study of depression in kids and teenagers to maintain his antidepressant medication. My clinical evaluation revealed Aspergers in addition to his ongoing depression. The diagnosis of Aspergers made very much sense to the moms and dads who had wondered for years what was wrong with their son who, among other things, had difficulty relating to his peers, despite being very bright and able to communicate with adults in a quite sophisticated manner. Since he had responded only partially to the study medication we tried him on another antidepressant. Even though his mother thought that he was happier, more motivated and energetic, he was not able to recognize any improvement.

During his most recent follow-up he was very angry with me and announced that he didn’t think that he had Asperger’s, he wanted to stop his medication and wished everybody leaved him alone. My suggestion for counseling was discarded, too. His mother and I firmly insisted that he continues to take his medication. We didn’t push the diagnosis or the counseling idea. I recommended his mother that if he does not feel like coming next time, she comes by herself so that we can strategize how to continue his treatment.

Most teenagers with Aspergers excel in one or two subjects. They tend to accumulate a lot of information on the subject and love to talk about it over and over. Unfortunately, after one point family members end up losing interest and start getting bored to death. Rather than avoiding the subject, try finding out new ways to engage the young person in the subject. Structure the topic in a different way. Find a way to challenge him. Be creative and let sky be the limit! Your interest will make your youngster feel better about himself, realizing his mastery on the subject will boost his self-esteem.

Many teenagers with Aspergers resolve their sense of loss by turning the issue upside down: Rather than clinging to depression and despair, they find their identity in Aspergers. They get in touch with other youth with Aspergers. They take on themselves educating their peers about Aspergers at school. They set up web sites, chat rooms and even write books about it. They gather support for a better understanding and treatment of Aspergers. Encouraging your youngster, providing him means to this end and removing the obstacles in front of him may turn out to be the best antidepressant treatment ever. All this may seem remote and you may not know where to start.

Consider the following tips:
  • Attend support groups for parents and make acquaintances.
  • Get in touch with the organizations like the Autism Society of America or Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the U.S. and contact their local chapters.
  • If it doesn’t work right away, don’t get discouraged and keep trying, always letting your youngster make the first move in showing interest.
  • Invite your new acquaintances to your house and encourage them to bring their kids.
  • Leave brochures, leaflets and other information about teen groups around to catch the attention of your teenager.

Acknowledging Sexuality—

In contrast with their rather slow social development and maturation, teenagers with Aspergers develop physiologically and sexually at the same pace as their peers. As their sons and daughters with Aspergers grow older and display sexualized behavior, many moms and dads find themselves worrying that their:
  • youngster will be taken advantage of
  • youngster will contract sexually transmitted diseases
  • youngster will not have the opportunity of enjoying sexual relationships
  • youngster’s behavior will be misunderstood
  • daughter will get pregnant or their son will impregnate someone else’s daughter

While some moms and dads get concerned that their kids show no interest in sexual matters, others have to deal with behaviors like:
  • masturbating in public
  • staring at others inappropriately
  • stripping in public
  • talking about inappropriate subjects
  • touching others inappropriately
  • touching their private parts in public

Talking about sex, especially the sexuality of our kids makes us feel uncomfortable. Even though we all wish that our kids have safe and fulfilling sexual lives, we hope the issue just gets resolved by itself, or at least somebody else takes the responsibility of resolving it. We may find ourselves lost trying to imagine our kids, who have significant problems carrying a simple conversation, building relationships that may lead to healthy sexuality. We may find it comforting to believe that our kids don’t have sexual needs and feelings, and avoid bringing up the subject in any shape or form. We may feel uneasy about sex education, believing that ignorance will prevent sexual activity.

How can we make sure that our kids with Aspergers express sexuality in socially acceptable and legally permissible ways, avoiding harm to themselves and others?

The key is making your mind that you will address the issue, rather than avoid it. Set up a time with your youngster to talk about sexuality, rather than making a few comments about it when the issue is hot, right after an incident, when everybody feels quite emotional about what just has happened. Ask direct questions about what your youngster knows about sex. Ask about his desires and worries. Tell him what you think should be his first step. After inquiring and talking about the normal behavior, set realistic but firm limits about inappropriate behavior. Seeing your level of comfort around the issue, your youngster will get the message that it is OK to have sexual feelings and it is OK to talk about them. Getting this message alone will bring the tension around sexuality a few notches down. If this approach fails, please do not be shy about asking for help.

Other moms and dads with adolescent kids would be a good starting point. Your youngster’s school may also be able to help. Finally, you may inquire about professional help which should provide an individualized sexuality assessment and sex education based on individual needs, while utilizing behavioral modification techniques to discourage inappropriate sexual behavior and promote appropriate sexual behavior.

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

Problems Experienced by Teens with Aspergers and HFA

Adolescents that have Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often experience difficulty in several areas, one of which is socialization.  

Some AS and HFA adolescents are very social, though sometimes they may interact in inappropriate ways. Their peers may not understand their methods of communication and avoid them whenever possible. These very social adolescents often do not understand the word "tact". They blurt out statements that are offensive, believing them to be funny. They may act in an embarrassing manner to gain attention, and they may be uncomfortably blunt in their opinions about people or subjects.

On the other end of the spectrum are those adolescents who avoid socialization with others. They would rather sit alone, and they may be quite standoffish to the point of appearing rude as well. These adolescents may be extremely smart in specific areas, such as writing, math, or some form of the arts. Their extreme intelligence may make them act superior to those who are less accomplished in these areas, and this can create tension and destroy relationships. These adolescents may actually crave the friendship and peer interaction that the rest of their classmates have, but they don't know how to go about getting it.

Symptoms of the disorder that occur during the teen years:

Most symptoms persist through the teenage years. And although teenagers with AS and HFA can begin to learn those social skills they lack, communication often remains difficult. They will probably continue to have difficulty "reading" others' behavior.

Your "special needs" teenager (like other teenagers) will want friends, but may feel shy or intimidated when approaching other teenagers. He may feel "different" from others. Although most teenagers place emphasis on being and looking "cool," teenagers on the autism spectrum may find it frustrating and emotionally draining to try to fit in. They may be immature for their age and be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying. All of these difficulties can cause these teens become withdrawn and socially isolated and to have depression or anxiety.

But some teenagers on the spectrum are able to make and keep a few close friends through the school years. Some of the classic autistic traits may also work to the benefit of your teenager. These young people are typically uninterested in following social norms, fads, or conventional thinking, allowing creative thinking and the pursuit of original interests and goals. Their preference for rules and honesty may lead them to excel in the classroom and as citizens.

Coping Methods for AS and HFA Adolescents--

There are several coping methods that should be considered:

Social Networking: There are many social networking sites available on the Internet for adolescents with AS and HFA. A social networking site can be a great coping method. Many of these sites offer support groups where adolescents can interact with others who also have an autism spectrum disorder. There are drawbacks to these sites, however. Adolescents sometimes become so dependent on their virtual friends that they become obsessed with their time on the computer and refuse to interact with those around them. Risks could also include encounters with cyber-bullies and pedophiles, so parents should monitor their youngster's Internet activities carefully.

SPELL: The Structure-Positive-Empathy-Low Arousal-Links method focuses more on intervention methods to help adolescents with AS and HFA cope. Structure emphasizes order in an adolescent's world. Using positive reinforcement build's an adolescent's self-esteem, enabling him to cope more easily with changes in his daily schedule and with social encounters as well. Those who come in contact with an AS or HFA adolescent must be educated in order to gain empathy for his or her situation. Low arousal refers to controlling the environment around the adolescent as much as possible by limiting undue noise and confusion and using relaxation methods, such as massage and music to calm him. The word "links" refers to the connection between all of those involved in the youngster's life.

TEACCH: The Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Kids/Adults focuses on the visual aspects of communication. This is particularly important for those who have little or no verbal skills. One of the simplest methods associated with this plan is to show photos or pictures of whatever behavior or activity is expected while verbalizing that expectation as well. This method can help calm an adolescent with Aspergers and help him cope with any confusion he might be encountering.

Should an adolescent with AS or HFA try to be "normal?"

How do you let your child be who they are while still protecting them so they don't emerge traumatized? I feel what is most important is not to let your child feel ashamed of who they are. If they've got a spark to them, they've got things they're interested in, don't kill it by making them conform. Most people lose that spark naturally when they get older; there's no reason to do it prematurely. Don't take away one of best things your teen has going for herself: her passion for living life, even if it's living life on her own terms. If she wants to fit in, she'll ask you how to fit. It'll come, but let it be when she's ready for it rather than force her into a cookie cutter existence.

Some AS and HFA teens go through middle school so excited about their passions that they barely notice they're the odd ones out, or if they notice, they don't care (probably not a lot, but some). Others are unfortunately bullied quite a bit. There are a few things you can do to try to either prevent this from happening or minimize the effects if it does. First, use her talents and passions to find her a niche in the school where she can succeed. The drama club is a natural place. Many quirky children find refuge in drama clubs; and if she can succeed in school plays, then she has one place where she belongs and can be accorded respect.

If there's a particular subject she's interested in, see if she can start a club and find other children interested in the same thing. Or find if you can a group outside of school interested in that kind of thing. Buffer her so if she does encounter some rejection she will already belong to and have found success in enough other activities that it won't really matter so much. Perhaps you could encourage her to take interest in a particular teacher, especially in a subject she enjoys, so she could have an ally at the school. Teachers were always invaluable support people to me when I was in school.

If she does encounter problems, try to find ways around some of the biggest trouble spots. For example, she could eat lunch in a classroom instead of the lunchroom if the lunchroom is problematic. If bullying does occur, hopefully you can work with her and the school to minimize the amount of places that it occurs. Keep reminding her of how great she is, and let her cry to you if she needs to.

But the most important thing you can do, it seems, is continue to let her be who she is because it's not worth losing yourself for a bunch of junior high children, and give her outlets where she can succeed so she's not as bothered by the junior high children. Also, if she's into it and they're available, a support group for autistic teens may be valuable.

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

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

Aspergers Syndrome: A Comprehensive Summary

Aspergers Behavior—

Aspergers behavior has many faces and especially its variability makes it impossible to describe a stereotype Aspergers youngster or grown-up. This stereotype does not exist. Individuals with Aspergers are all different and all individuals so their behavior may differ too.

Society today judges someone mostly on how they look, behave and communicate. An individual with Aspergers does not look different from others but does show different behavior and communication. The Aspergers behavior might strike us as odd.

They appear to be insensitive towards other people’s feelings and unable to read between the lines. They don’t seem to be willing in sharing experiences or interests with individuals close to them. This is even present in young kids.

They don’t pick up on non verbal communication and they lack a sense of what is socially appropriate to do. They avoid eye contact and mostly don’t like to be touched.

This may all seem like the unwillingness in responding to others however their behavior is characterized by an inability to understand how to interact socially. I emphasize the word inability because they sometimes want to socialize but just don’t know how to do it.

Their Aspergers behavior appears to lack empathy and may seem selfish to the untrained eye. One-sided conversations are common as well as long speeches about their own favorite subjects. They are unable to pick up on any signs of the other person losing interest or wanting to change the subject. Internal thoughts are often verbalized out loud without warning. Their honesty may result in remarks that offend others because the rule never to lie is taken too strict. Also their inflexibility and fear of change can cause anxiety which can lead to behavioral problems.

All these typical behaviors will affect the way they relate to the individuals around them.


Starting and maintaining a relationship is a difficult thing to do for those with Aspergers. It requires good communication, the ability to interact socially and be interested in others. In order to have a relationship it is necessary to be able to understand the emotions and feelings of the other person and handle those feelings well. Most of the time, these qualities do not come natural to individuals with Aspergers, since they exhibit typical characteristics that affect their ability to relate to others in a meaningful way. It can be hard for them to even relate to their own family members.


There are different roles in relationships individuals are engaged in. All those different roles for the relationship require different skills.

Individuals with Aspergers have trouble recognizing their own emotions and especially expressing them in a proper way. This can cause anger tantrums; they have an inability to be emphatic towards others. In order to be emphatic they have to be able to understand the impact their own behavior has on other people's feelings. Most of the time, those with Aspergers are not aware of the impact their behavior is causing. This makes relationships challenging for them.


Especially in an intimate relationship, feelings must be expressed. This can be very hard for those with Aspergers. In a relationship, self-disclosure is key… it’s part of creating that special bond between individuals. To get in touch with their own feelings and be able to express them on the right moment and in the right way can be extremely difficult for Aspergers spouses.


Some kids without Aspergers learn a lot from the relationship they have with their Aspergers Siblings It can take siblings with Aspergers a lot longer to learn how to share or take turns in their joint play. Many older brothers or sisters with Aspergers will try to control their younger siblings by dominating the play or laying down the rules. The lack of imaginative play and flexible thinking as well as their love for rituals and sameness will produce typical behavior which can be hard to deal with.


In order to be able to interact with others, it is necessary for everybody to be able to make friends Young kids do this from an early age and get a lot of practice in school. Kids with Aspergers are sometimes unable to play the subtle game of becoming friends with their peers. It will take more time for them in order to understand what being friends means.

The Aspergers behavior is affecting the ability to form long lasting relationships such as having friends. However if they find someone they connect to, it can last forever!

Aspergers Diagnosis—

Aspergers is an autistic disorder named after Hans Asperger a child psychiatrist from Austria.

According to Tony Attwood, a specialist in the field of Aspergers, the average age in which kids are diagnosed with Aspergers, is eight years old. This average number means that some individuals get a diagnosis later on in life, as grown-ups and others might get it in early childhood. The Aspergers diagnosis appears to be given later in life than diagnosis of other autistic disorders.

For moms and dads, finding out your youngster has Aspergers can be a shock. Read my personal story on what happened to me after I got the diagnosis off my oldest son.

Signs and Symptoms—

Aspergers is a mild form of autism that can be easily overlooked in young kids. The signs and symptoms are not always that clear to parents and educators and may become more obvious when the youngster gets older.

A lot of research has been done into the typical criteria for Aspergers. Which signs or what typical behavior do you need to see in order to get a diagnosis for Aspergers? The list of criteria according to Szatmari and his colleagues is worth looking at because it gives a complete picture of the behavior kids with Aspergers can display.

Up until now there is no consensus or agreement on which diagnostic criteria will define the Aspergers in total. There are several lists of criteria researchers can choose from. Apart from the list made by Szatmari as mentioned above, there is another list circulating which also gives a clear picture of what to look for in a youngster’s behavior.


The importance of getting a diagnosis cannot be emphasized enough. If it's unknown what causes the youngster or grown-up to behave so strangely you can never get them the help they need and are entitled to. And they do need help!

Their behavior can be so off tune and be offensive towards individuals without them even realizing it. They don’t mean to hurt anybody with their remarks but simply cannot grasp the fact that their remarks might be painful or rude. This is caused by their lack of imagination which makes it hard for them to show empathy towards others.

The most important book used to diagnose autism is: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-IV. This book sees Aspergers as a separate category.

The following list shows there is a specific combination of behavioral indicators which are used by professionals to diagnose autistic disorders such as Aspergers:

1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction
2. The presence of restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors and interests
3. Significant impairment in important areas of functioning
4. No significant delay in language
5. No significant delay in cognitive development, self-help skills, or adaptive behavior (other than social interaction)
6. The symptoms must not be better accounted for by another specific pervasive developmental disorder or schizophrenia.

The DSM IV handbook has his own list of diagnostic criteria and so does the World Health Organization (WHO).

What is considered normal?

Individuals with Aspergers see the world from a different point of view. They think “normal” people speak in riddles. Why don’t they say what they mean? How come they are not interested in details like me? Why are relationships so complicated? Why use non verbal signs like body language instead of just telling something like it is!

Individuals with Aspergers think their world is more logical then ours. The majority of individuals however think differently so that majority is considered normal. Individuals with autism have to adjust to our “strange” way of relating to each other and our ways of communication. It’s very hard for them to adjust to something so far off from logic. Most of the time, they are truly unable to do so.

The individuals around them need to understand and relate to their different way of thinking. In order to be able to do that, a diagnosis is important. If you don’t know what is wrong how can you help or reach out?

Aspergers Symptoms—

Aspergers symptoms are not the same for every youngster or grown-up with this diagnosis. Aspergers individuals are all different individuals with their own unique set of characteristics. However they do have some of them in common.

Some Aspergers symptoms are:

1. Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements
2. Fear of changes; sameness in daily routines
3. Inflexibility or rigid thinking
4. Lack of empathy
5. Limited interests or preoccupation with a subject
6. Peculiarities in speech and language
7. Problems with nonverbal communication
8. Repetitive behaviors or rituals
9. Socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior

Triad of impairments—

A researcher named Lorna Wing has established a breakthrough in the search for typical Aspergers characteristics. Together with her colleagues, she found out all the kids in her research group had each of the following three typical Aspergers symptoms:

1. Impairment in communication; both verbal as well as non-verbal
2. Impairment in social imagination; combined with inflexible thinking and repetitive behavior
3. Impairment in social interaction; such as being unable to make friends in your peer group

So in other words, individuals with Aspergers have a lack in social interaction, they have poor communication and lack of imagination. These are the most obvious Aspergers symptoms. Not one of them or two out of three: they always come together. There is no random combination possible… one cannot be there without the others.

This is why it is called the triad of impairments. This triad has a huge impact on every aspect of life when you are diagnosed with Aspergers.

Limited interests or preoccupation—

One of the Aspergers signs can be the limitation or preoccupation with subjects or interest can be obsessive as well as intense. Of course being all individuals there are different subjects of interest but some common interests are trains, planes, space craft, dinosaurs, astronomy, science fiction, math or computers. Normal kids may have these interests too but kids with Aspergers have a very unusual intensity that goes with it. They seem to be focused on memorizing facts rather than understanding the real issue they love so much. Their outstanding memory and focus on details and their inability to see the bigger picture helps them to be seen as “little professors” in their field of interest.

Delayed Motor movements—

Kids with Aspergers may have a delay in their development of motor skills. Tying shoelaces, learning how to swim, catching a ball or ride a bike without the training wheels can be very hard for them to do. Sometimes they show a strange way of walking or display compulsive movements of their hands, fingers or legs such as tics.

Aspergers and Kids--

Aspergers is an autistic disorder. However unlike other forms of autism Aspergers is not marked by severe delay in language acquisition before the age of three. The cognitive development of Aspergers kids before that same age is not delayed either. In fact most of them have advanced language and intellectual development. This is why most kids can attend mainstream schools. They might need some preparations prior to their school entry.

Due to their relatively good behavior kids with Aspergers are not easily qualified for supportive services. However they are too impaired to go without support and I strongly believe they are entitled to it. Teaching kids with Aspergers has to be taken seriously by parents, educators and schools. Most moms and dads wonder how to tell their youngster it has been diagnosed with Aspergers. This can be a hard thing to do but it's very important to be as open as possible on this to the youngster involved. The sooner the better! His or her self esteem will benefit from knowing it has Aspergers instead of wondering what is wrong with them all the time or blaming himself for not being able to make friends in school.

Symptoms of Aspergers in Kids—

Even though this disorder may be hard to diagnose, in many cases there are very clear Aspergers symptoms in kids. Kids as young as toddlers can show signs of autism. A strong indication can be when they arrange their toys in lines (or other patterns) instead of really playing with it.

The following characteristics are considered symptoms of Aspergers:

Social interaction—

• A dislike to any change in their routine
• Lack of initiating joint attention
• Lack of interest in other individuals
• Preoccupations for one particular subject or interest
• Social withdrawal
• They lack empathy so feelings of other individuals go unnoticed
• Try to avoid eye contact


• Advanced formal style of speaking
• At young age: echolalia (the repetition of phrases and words)
• No pick up on non verbal signs such as body language
• One-sided conversations
• Social clues go unnoticed
• Subtle differences in speech tone go unnoticed
• Their own speech can be flat because it lacks accents, pitch and tone
• Trouble in maintaining a conversation or starting one
• Unable to take turns talking
• Verbalization of their internal thoughts

Motor skills—

• Clumsiness
• Repetitive movements of body parts such as arms, hands or fingers.
• Their facial expressions and posture may be unusual
• Their motor development is delayed
• Uncoordinated motor movements

When their motor development is delayed this means kids with Aspergers have trouble learning how to swim or ride a bike without training wheels. Some of them have trouble tying their shoelaces, catching a ball or using a fork and spoon during dinner.

Apart from all this kids with disorders in the autistic spectrum can be very sensitive. Their senses are developed so well and they seem unable to filter sounds and other stimuli. They can become over stimulated by loud noises such as singing on a birthday party, strong lights, sudden movements, strong taste and textures. Go to sensory overload for more information.

The good news is: from all the individuals with autism disorders, kids with Aspergers typically take more action into making friends and make more effort in engaging themselves in activities with others.

Aspergers in School—

Teaching kids with Aspergers is a difficult task to handle specially when there are so many other kids in the same class who are also entitled to the undivided attention of the teacher.

The best way to understand how kids with Aspergers feel in school is by reading the book: Martian in the playground. It's written by a woman who has Aspergers herself and who describes how this challenged her during her time in school. It gave me a much better understanding of both my sons and their behavior in school. I can really recommend this book to all parents and educators out there who are dealing with those who have Aspergers on a daily basis.

Some kids benefit from preparations at home or in school.

Most kids with Aspergers are smart and sometimes even gifted, however in order to perform in regular schools it will take a teacher who understands the unique Aspergers traits that come along with this disorder.

Those symptoms or characteristics can be hard to deal with, especially within the school setting but understanding the complexity of Aspergers and finding it interesting and challenging to work with these pupils is a must for everyone who is teaching kids with Aspergers.

Teaching Kids with Aspergers—

When teaching kids with Aspergers one must be aware of the educators and classroom influences and the way those influences affect the students.

Research of Stipek (1996) has shown that virtually everything a teacher does has a potential motivational impact on students. There is increasing recognition of the reciprocal influence between educators and students. Not only do educators influence students by their planning and instructional activities, but students influence teacher’s thoughts and behavior by their reaction to classroom activities. A controversial but classic study conducted in 1968 concluded that teacher expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies because the achievements students have reflect the expectations of their educators.

All kids with Aspergers are different and will have unique characteristics and behavior. The Aspergers will be displayed differently in every one diagnosed with the disorder. This can make it hard for schools to adjust their program or restructure the environment in the classroom. Read more on how to cope with Aspergers in class. Sometimes it can be as simple as to add a few clocks, create a special workplace, buy earplugs, make schedules and visualize everything. Breaking up the task they need to learn into small steps can be a great help. Repeat those steps over and over again and they will get it eventually. Copy worksheets and give those Aspergers students more space to write, give them longer and wider lines! Use of a lap-top in school or headsets can turn out to be great ways of helping kids with Aspergers. The best help however may come from a different angle.

Moms and dads are a reliable source of good information about the youngster. It is my belief most parents of kids with autism disorders such as Aspergers are very much in tune with their youngster. Some moms and dads even say it comes natural to them and they know exactly how to respond in the right way. It may take others months to figure out how to deal with some of the Aspergers traits and characteristics since every youngster has its own unique personality.

If only moms and dads were take seriously and turned to for advice more. It is vital for all educators to co-operate with parents. Let’s try to get as much information out of those information resources as you can, it will benefit the youngster and maybe even your classroom atmosphere. Do whatever it takes to make your own job easier and reach out to create that safe space for every student!

Aspergers Teenagers—

Unlike a lot of other teenagers with autism spectrum disorders, most Aspergers teenagers want to interact socially and have friends. The lack of social skills can be learned by these teenagers but their inability to pick up nonverbal signs, “read “ others behavior and poor communication skills makes it hard for them to be successful.

They may feel different and can experience anxiety when approaching other teenagers, always wondering why they have such a hard time fitting in. Trying to fit in can be a frustrating process and teenagers with Aspergers can be drained emotionally from this. It can cause anxiety or depression and may lead to social withdrawal. They may also be immature for their age, too naive and too trusting, which makes them an easy target for teasing and bullying.

Some teenagers may be shy or intimidated, talk too little and are extremely sensitive to criticism and need continual reassurance. They may think that the things that others do accidentally (such as bumping into them) are done deliberately to upset them.

Other Aspergers individuals can be blunt, interrupt their peers and take over a conversation to talk about their area of personal interest.

If they have been diagnosed earlier it is possible for them to learn social skills if they feel accepted within their peer group. Most Aspergers teenagers are able to develop friendships.

Challenges in school—

Aspergers Teenagers develop their thinking and learning skills at an unusual age or in an unusual way because their brain processes information differently. This means they can excel in some abilities like language, vocabulary, math or music but are delayed in other areas. They may have problems with authority figures such as educators. The ins and outs of Aspergers from an authentic point of view are described in the book by Luke Jackson. I can highly recommend this book for every teenager with Aspergers of parents with Aspergers teenagers. It is fun to read and to find out how the mind of an Aspergers teenager works in a different way. It will make you understand your teenager better!

Teenagers with Aspergers need an intellectual challenge and show low tolerance for ordinary homework or mediocre tasks. It can be frustrated for them to be regarded by educators as poor performers or arrogant only because they do not feel challenged in school. Sometimes their delay in motor skills will affect their handwriting so much they resent written assignments.

Most teenagers are able to overcome their lack in social skills and learn these skills intellectually rather than intuitively. I believe many Aspergers Teenagers have much going for them:


Aspergers teenagers are typically uninterested in following social norms, fads, or conventional thinking. They are original and creative thinkers and are in pursuit for original interests and goals. Their preference for rules and honesty may lead them to excel in the classroom since many of their advanced abilities are in the gifted range. Their narrow area of interest can make them experts in their field. They can be talented and enjoy academic success. Their dedication and commitment makes them driven to perform well in school.

Many great scientists, writers and artists are thought to have had Aspergers, including many Nobel Prize winners.

Aspergers Symptoms in Adults—

Classified as one of the pervasive development disorders Aspergers is also seen in many grown-ups. The brain of individuals with Adult Aspergers works in a different way, especially when it comes down to processing information. Their focus is on details and mostly these grown-ups have specialized in one field of interest. Aspergers symptoms in adults can stabilize over time and this provides them with opportunities to improve their social skills and behavior.

Aspergers symptoms in grown-ups are impairments in social interaction like maintaining friendships or feeling the need to engage in activities with others. There are also impairments in communication such as taken whatever is said literally and being unable to read between the lines. A good way to communicate with Aspergers Adults is to use Socratic Communication.

There could be an inability to listen to others and pick up on non verbal signs such as body language or facial expressions.

Lifelong Condition—

It’s a lifelong condition without cure or treatment but because grown-ups have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses they can develop coping skills. There are programs which offer social trainings to improve social skills and learn how to read social cues. Many grown-ups lead a fulfilling life professionally as well as personally. Most adults with adult Aspergers marry and have kids. Read more on what it means to have Aspergers yourself: got to the site of Kate Goldfield for a crash course on how to accept your Aspergers!

Aspergers in adults has some common characteristics such as:

• Anger management problems
• Controlling feelings such as depression, fear or anxiety
• High intelligence
• Inability to listen to others
• Inability to think in abstract ways
• Inflexible thinking
• Lack of empathy
• Lack of managing appropriate social conduct
• Repetitive routines provides feelings of security
• Specialized fields of interest
• Stress when their routine suddenly changes
• Visual thinking

Unfair labeling—

Due to misunderstanding their behavior, grown-ups with Aspergers can be seen as selfish by their peer group members. Other unfair labels can be: egoistic, cold, ridged or uncaring. Their behavior might appear to be unkind or callous. This kind of labeling is unfair and has nothing to do with behaving inappropriately on purpose. Adults with Aspergers are neurologically unable to see things from the other person’s point of view. They are frequently told by their peers or partners that their actions or remarks are considered painful or rude which comes as a shock to them since they were never aware of this in the first place. It’s therefore important to get a diagnosis so individuals around them understand their behavior better.


Many adults with Aspergers are able to work in mainstream jobs successfully. Their focus and knowledge on specific topics as well as their good eye for detail can help them succeed in their field of science. In pursuit of their preoccupations grown-ups with Asperger can develop sophisticated reasoning and an almost obsessive focus on their subject of interest, turning them into specialists in their line of work.

However there are some work related issues that will not benefit the Aspergers employee.

A common career option in grown-ups with Aspergers is engineering since they can be fascinated with technology. Adult Aspergers is more common in males than females which could be another explanation for the relatively high percentage of Adult Aspergers within the engineering profession.

Personally I would recommend all grown-ups with Aspergers to focus their energy on their strengths rather than on their weaknesses. Do what you are good at and organize the rest!

Aspergers Complications—

Due to Aspergers complications there is no sharp image of the stereotype behavior of an Aspergers youngster or adult. They will all face problems in social interaction, communication and imagination but these problems will vary from person to person. Of course, each individual also has his or her own personality and intelligence and may come from a totally different environment or background. All these factors play their own part in how this person is affected by Aspergers. But there are more Aspergers complications.

Aspergers hardly ever comes alone. Most of the time, it is just one of the problems a youngster or adult has. This is what we mean by Aspergers complications. Factors that make it more difficult to see and recognize the Aspergers symptoms or traits. There are several other conditions or disorders known to appear together with Aspergers such as:

• Anger tantrums
• Anxiety
• Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
• Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
• Delayed Motor Skills
• Depression
• Dyscalculia
• Dyslexia
• Epilepsy
• Fear of failure
• Giftedness
• Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD)
• Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
• Perfectionism
• Sensory overload
• Tics
• Tourette’s Syndrome

The signs and symptoms of these Aspergers complications can get in the way of recognizing the symptoms of Aspergers and dealing with those symptoms. The presence of co-occurring conditions may delay the Aspergers diagnosis or get parents, spouses and educators sidetracked. For moms and dads it means more issues to deal with and more problems to solve. To guide a youngster with Aspergers towards adulthood is not an easy task at all and the last thing you need as a parent is more complications.

The scientific term for other disorders to appear together with Aspergers is comorbidity. It's a definition that pops up on a regular basis in books and literature on Aspergers or any of the other autistic disorders. The list above may not be complete but will give you a good impression of what you can expect on top of the Aspergers diagnosis.

Theory of Mind—

The solitary lack of engagement with others may develop to some degree into what can be described as a lifelong egocentrism or apparent selfishness. Your youngster may seem narcissistically concerned only with his or her own needs. What it reflects is a delay in the development of the idea that the self is equal in importance to that of others. This connects to an idea referred to in the research literature as theory of mind, or the ability to understand that others have minds, a point of view, feelings, and priorities. Theory of mind involves the ability to attribute mental states to others or to be able to describe what others might be feeling in a given situation.

Some researchers believe that the ability to guess others’ states of mind is related to one’s ability to effectively practice introspection on one’s own. Some of these things can be acquired late in life and learned. The inability to guess others’ mental states can result not only in faux pas but also in paranoia, by attributing negative intentions in others that aren’t there. Blackshaw, Kinderman, Hare, and Hatton (2001) found that the lack of developed private self-consciousness was a predictor of paranoia. This suggests, again, that the ability to know one’s self in some way may relate to our skill in attributing feelings and motivations to others. More severely autistic individuals may lack these facilities.

Because of these deficits, persons with Aspergers generally will take statements by others in a more concrete and literal fashion (Kaland et al., 2002). Williams (2004) suggests that, at the very least, people with Aspergers must work harder at theorizing what others are experiencing than most persons. Educationally, this means that children with Aspergers need more prompt questions and more time than others to understand social subtleties in language, such as irony, sarcasm, and some forms of humor.

Theory of mind is the capacity we have to understand mental states such as: believes feelings, desires, hope and intentions. It’s the way we imagine other people’s feelings or thoughts. We can create a mental picture of our own emotions or other people’s feelings. This theory of mind enables us to understand the behavior individuals display is caused by their inner feelings, believes or intensions. We can predict some of those behaviors and anticipate on them. Whatever goes on in the mind of other individuals is not visible so it will remain a “theory” we create for ourselves.

But what if you are not able to link behavior of individuals to their inner feelings? This way you can’t understand or predict some-ones behavior due to a lack in theory of mind. How can you make sense of the behavior of others around you if you don’t understand somebody is sad and angry with you because you tore up her favorite dress? For individuals with Aspergers that type of behavior might come out of the blue. They also can’t link their own behavior to the feelings of others so they can be unable to anticipate or predict such a response.

The absence of the ability to understand what individuals know, think or feel might be the root of most difficulties individuals with Aspergers have in communication and social interaction. To test Theory of Mind in kids, researchers can use a simple test made in (1996) by Uta Frith.


In the ability of Theory of Mind is a lot of unconscious knowledge of how others might think or feel. Recognizing emotions of others by correctly interpreting nonverbal cues can make communication much more effective. If you don’t have the ability to sense the level of interest of your listener you cannot see from his body language or facial expression he wants to change the subject of conversation. This means kids and grown-ups with Aspergers are not aware their long monologue can be boring to others. The painful or rude remarks they are known to make come from the inability to anticipate how their comments will affect other individuals. There is reason to believe the absence of Theory of Mind might be causing this as well.

Another theory that is used to explain some of the Aspergers symptoms is Executive Function.

Those with Aspergers have a very good eye for details but are most of the time are unable to see the "big picture". The Central Coherence Theory explains why.

Social Interaction—

Theory of mind is based on empathy, the ability to feel for others and put yourself in their situation. Being able to do so will make interacting socially much easier. Understanding the emotions individuals go through will give you the ability to predict their behavior which will effect social interaction. Knowing what to expect will help you know how to respond to the situation. To kids who are unable to take into consideration how others might feel, think, or respond – the world can be a terrifying place to be.

Nutrition and Aspergers—

We all know there are good and bad foods in this world and most individuals have a pretty good idea what nutrition can do for your health. But are those with Aspergers more at risk? If you eat too much sugar you are at risk for diabetes, when you eat too much fat we get problems with our weight or cholesterol and too much salt can make your blood pressure go up. Most of us have a pretty good idea what foods are good and what foods are bad for us. But are we always aware of allergies or food intolerance? Probably not…

What you can do to help right now—

We all know some individuals have allergic reaction towards nutrition or can be lactose intolerant. There has been a connection made between food intolerance and autism spectrum disorders such as Aspergers. The theory is that some individuals with autism and PDD disorders such as Aspergers cannot properly digest gluten and casein. It seems there are many moms and dads worldwide who reported results between mild and dramatic after putting their kids with autism on a diet.

Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet—

It’s also known as the GF/CF diet meaning gluten-free and casein-free. Casein is a protein found in milk and all sorts of dairy products and gluten is a wheat protein which can be found in wheat, oats rye and barley. Some moms and dads report some astonishing results in their kids’s behavior and skills such as: improvement in verbal skills, communication and eye contact as well as fewer tantrums, more interaction and less mood swings or aggressiveness. It seems so easy and can be done in no time by every parent. For more information on the GF/CF diet

Anti-yeast diet—

Another theory out there has to do with yeast. What on earth is that you wonder? Let me explain in plain language. Candida albicans is a normal resident inside of our intestinal tract and is known as yeast. This yeast can sometimes be found in the mouth or in the vagina. When this yeast overgrows you end up going to the doctor who will tell you it’s a yeast infection known as thrush. Even though yeast is a part of our body it’s makes some chemical compounds which have a bad effect on the nervous system of your body and are known to slow down the functioning of the brain. This can cause behavioral problems, difficulty to concentrate or focus and inattention.

Food supplements—

Apart from adjusting the food intake and eliminating specific foods one can also think about food supplements. Research has shown a positive effect on language development and learning skills in kids with autism or Aspergers after being given fish oil supplements. Fish oil is also known as omega3 and together with omega 6 are the most essential fats individuals need in order to function normally. Fish oil provides essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are critical for brain health. Kids with attention deficit, autistic, and related disorders have been shown to have significantly lower levels of EFAs in their red blood cells. Moms and dads can start their kids on this food supplement, known as Omega 3 fish oil and are likely to see major results in concentration, less anger tantrums and mood swings.

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

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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