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Helping Your Child on the Autism Spectrum to Deal with Stress

"How can I help my little man (high functioning autistic) reduce his stress. He's usually excessively concerned about many things. Currently his main stressor is worrying about a week long summer camp coming up soon (but after that, it will be something else)."

High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) and Asperger's kids and teens tend to experience more anxiety and stress relative to neurotypical children. Issues like school and social life can sometimes create pressures that can feel overwhelming for these children.

As a mother or father, you can't protect your child from all stress, but you can help him develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems.

Here are some important parenting techniques to help your HFA or Asperger's child deal with stress:

1. Be patient. As a mother or father, it hurts to see your child unhappy or stressed. But try to resist the urge to fix every problem. Instead, focus on helping him grow into a good problem-solver. A kid who knows how to roll with life's ups and downs, put feelings into words, calm down when needed, and bounce back to try again, is a child who will be happy and healthy through the adolescent years and on into adulthood.

2. Comment briefly on the feelings you think your child was experiencing. For example, you might say "That must have been upsetting," "No wonder you felt mad when they wouldn't let you in the game," or "That must have seemed unfair to you." Doing this shows that you understand what he felt, why, and that you care. Feeling understood and listened to will help your son or daughter feel supported by you, and that is especially important in times of stress.
 

3. Having “pizza night” (or your child’s favorite food) to discuss the week’s trials and tribulations can be therapeutic for some stressed-out kids.

4. Help your child think of things to do. If there's a specific problem that's causing stress, talk together about what to do. Encourage your youngster to think of a couple of ideas. You can get the brainstorm started if necessary, but don't do all the work. Your youngster's active participation will build confidence. Support the good ideas and add to them as needed. Ask, "How do you think this will work?"

5. Just be there. Children on the autism spectrum don't always feel like talking about what's bothering them. Sometimes that's OK. Let your child know you'll be there when he does feel like talking. Even when children don't want to talk, they usually don't want moms and dads to leave them alone. You can help your youngster feel better just by being there — keeping him company, spending time together. So if you notice that your youngster seems to be down in the dumps, stressed, or having a bad day — but doesn't feel like talking — initiate something you can do together (e.g., take a walk, watch a movie, shoot some hoops, bake some cookies, etc.). Your presence really counts!

6. Limit stress where possible. If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change things. For instance, if too many after-school activities consistently cause homework stress, it might be necessary to limit activities to leave time and energy for homework.

7. Listen and move on. Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that's needed to help an HFA or Asperger's youngster's frustrations begin to melt away. Afterwards, try changing the subject and moving on to something more positive and relaxing. Help your youngster think of something to do to feel better. Don't give the problem more attention than it deserves.

8. Listen to your youngster. Ask him to tell you what's wrong. Listen attentively and calmly — with interest, patience, openness, and caring. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think he should have done instead. The idea is to let your youngster's concerns (and feelings) be heard. Try to get the whole story by asking questions like "And then what happened?" Take your time. And let your son or daughter take his or her time, too.
 

9. Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something's bothering her. If you can, name the feeling you think she is experiencing (e.g., "It seems like you're still mad about what happened at the playground."). This shouldn't sound like an accusation (e.g., "OK, what happened now? Are you still mad about that?"), or put the youngster on the spot. It's just a casual observation that you're interested in hearing more about her concern. Be sympathetic and show you care and want to understand.

10. Put a label on it. Most children on the spectrum do not have words for their feelings. If your youngster seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps these children communicate and develop emotional awareness - the ability to recognize their own emotional states. Kids who can do so are less likely to reach the behavioral boiling point where strong emotions get demonstrated through behaviors rather than communicated with words.

Moms and dads can't solve every problem as their child goes through life. But by teaching healthy coping strategies, you'll prepare him or her to manage the stresses that come in the future.



 COMMENTS:
  • Anonymous said... I don't know if this helps but I am looking into yoga, mindfullnees to help me and my toddler and a professional just mentioned fun village which is activities designed to help children I am hoping use it to destress us both as his stress and aggressive behaviours stress me and then it just escalates, I know it may be different situation but heard yoga really helpful.
  • Anonymous said... my son's teacher definitely could benefit from reading this. 
  • Anonymous said... Reading this has opened my eyes a little,.. maybe the teacher needs to read this?? 
  • Anonymous said... This has been a big issue with my daughter lately. Usually about once a month she will have a meltdown and refuse to go to school. Because of the excessive number of snow days in our area and a change in my husband's work schedule, there have been a huge number of these meltdowns in the last couple of months. 
  • Anonymous said... Working on sensory strategies for heightened sound/ sensory defensiveness with an OT. This should help.

Post your comment below...

Is there a link between school shootings and developmental disorders?

“It has been suggested that Chris Mercer, the shooter in the Oregon community college incident, had a developmental disorder (the same claim was made of Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook incident). Are people with autism more prone to violence than the general population? What can be done to address any potential violent tendencies early before tragedy strikes? What are the pros and cons of medication in these cases? I have so many other questions… We have a teenager with Asperger’s who has exhibited aggression, not only toward us, but with a few of his classmates as well. So, I believe we are justified in our concern at this point. (FYI: We do not have guns in our home!)”

We have to careful about jumping to the conclusion that school shootings by people with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism are caused by their disorder. Violence is seldom an isolated problem and is particularly complex in teens and young adults with a developmental disorder. It is important to understand that violent behavior is not always associated with just one condition and can have highly varied sources.



An array of theoretic models has been proposed to understand violent behavior in people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are promising (a) biologic models that suggest the behavior arises from alterations in dopaminergic reward mechanisms, and (b) cognitive models, suggesting that such acts are an outcome of conditioned learning.

Physical violence is often a response to a variety of circumstances and occurs in the context of diverse emotions. It has become fashionable to consider violence as clear-cut evidence of bipolar disorder, particularly when ASD individuals are distractible, restless, and have chronically decreased need for sleep. It is increasingly important to consider, however, whether features of bipolar illness appear together and depart from chronic baseline functioning.

It is also relevant if they are associated with pharmacologic (e.g., serotonin reuptake inhibitor) side effects. In addition, it is useful to know the circumstances preceding and following violent outbursts before selecting a medication. For example, when violence is a response to anxiety or frustration, the most helpful interventions target those symptoms and the circumstances that produce them rather than exclusively focusing on violent behavior.

Unfortunately, the request for treatment typically follows a crisis. But the press for a rapid, effective end to the behaviors may not permit the gathering of much data or discussion. Nevertheless, it is NOT appropriate to “always” begin with one medication or another. Moving to a more “surefire” medication too quickly may mean that the person on the autism spectrum takes on cardiovascular, endocrinologic, and cognitive risks that might be otherwise avoided.

There are reports in support of using serotonin reuptake inhibitors, alpha-adrenergic agonists, beta-blocking agents, “mood stabilizers” (or anticonvulsants), and neuroleptics for violent behavior. When a psychiatrist or other professional has the luxury of time, the support of family, and collaboration with staff where the individual is working or attending school, then an agent that is safer (but perhaps takes a longer time to work or is a little less likely to help) can be tried.

It does seem that those agents with a greater likelihood of success pose greater risks. The most evidence supports use of dopamine blocking agents (neuroleptics) for violence, but the side effects and long-term risks from these agents are greater than from most others agents.

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

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

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

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

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


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

COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… Generalising is not helpful in any circumstances. It is however frustrating.
•    Anonymous said… I can understand the difficulties of raising a child who has Aspergers. My son 15, is at times difficult to manage. I have asked him if he would like to home school, but said no. He has only one peer he associates with. He doesn't care to converse with others if they are not interested or can talk on his intellectual level. He is a respectful, God loving child...it does take tough love at times, constant life coaching, Lots of Prayers. It's what we can only do. God Bless you.
•    Anonymous said… I don't think just because someone has a certain disorder makes them automatically prone to violence or school shootings. I don't like how the media just lumps each shooting on "well, he had a mental disorder" and try to place blame. But I do believe if all of these young men would have had better access to professional help and less access to firearms, we may have seen less of these types of shootings. We may never know if certain ones had a disorder they were struggling with but they certainly needed help in dealing with their thought processes & emotions if anything.
•    Anonymous said… my heart aches for you. You are doing your absolute best each and every day. I can hear it. Your actions will make a difference. They will.
•    Anonymous said… My son, who was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger's...is almost 17. As a younger child he was not aggressive but as soon as his hormones kicked in we saw a different side to him. He has had a very hard time in our public school system and now is being home schooled. I fought very hard for him in the system but he still could not conform to what they wanted him to do. With all of this said....Over the years he has felt very rejected by his peers. He has longed to connect with them but despite all of his attempts..and there were many...it has never happened. Recently he made a public post about his school's Homecoming Dance stating he wanted to go so bad but knew he couldn't get in since he didn't go there anymore. He proceeded to be inappropriate with his wording and after it was all over we found him being investigated as a threat. It was one of the worst experiences of our lives. I know that he would truly never hurt anyone however in the world we live in things like this cannot be overlooked. I do worry that the more isolated he is from his peers the more anger he will develop. Parenting an almost 17 year old Asperger's young man is the hardest thing I've ever done.
•    Anonymous said… There are all kinds of personalities with ASD. This is not a cookie-cutter issue. While it is true that aggression can go hand in hand with ASD during volatile meltdowns, it's not always true for everyone. My son has mood swings and meltdowns. Everyone does, even NT folks have breakdowns and their own meltdown versions. It goes deeper that ASD. There are correlating mental disorders at play here with these people that do these things. Some of those cases have been proven. Kids with ASD can be clever at hiding depression and their tendencies and obsessions. I think that's why a lot of these kiddos get past the suspicion of their parents. My son for one, has to be bugged and nagged in order to admit when something is bothering him. He is so lovable, even when upset, that he doesn't want to disappoint or upset us, his parents. I'm sure he's not the only ASD kiddo out there to do that.....
•    Anonymous said… Yeah let's put a stigma on them!
•    Anonymous said… Yes some aspies have anger problems however it is up to the parents to get help for their child. My son is 7 and is an aspie. He is not nor has ever been aggressive to anyone in his life. My son having autism does not make him a mental case. If these boys did have HFA they clearly had not be supervised like they should have been or this would have not happened. It is bad enough my son has to struggle everyday to just fit in and now you are trying to say we need to watch him for violence. I think these boys parents should be responsible for there children. They got the guns from somewhere.
•    Anonymous said… You dont have to have asperges to be angry I see much anger and more in the so called unafected people. Blaming is not on my grandson has asperges and yes he has outbursts like any other person on earth .The out bursts come from frustration he is 8yrs old we find asperges experts a great help .
•    Anonymous said… Bullying and harassing children with Aspergers is a very serious offence. Focus and keep an eye on the Bullies. Not the Aspies. They need to be protected. Bullies and Harassers needs more psychological attention . Bullies should be monitored and supervised in a daily basis and scrutinize their criminal behaviour.
•    Anonymous said… Every time there is a new shooting there I wait to see what condition it will be blamed on. Recently it has been ASD, previously it was ADHD and whatever else journalists and the public can come up with to pretend that the real issue doesn't lie in access to massive amounts of deadly weapons. If you want something/someone to blame, try the gun culture and not our ASD children who don't seem to be mass killers in such places that have stricter gun control laws. Yes, some ASD kids can become angry and aggressive but then again so can many neurotypical kids/people. This obsession to blame those with special needs is a deflection from the real concerns.
•    Anonymous said… I don't think Aspies has nothing to do with this issue when Firearms and other dangerous incidents are involve in recent school shootings.
•    Anonymous said… I think ANYONE who feels they do not BELONG are not HEARD or cared for can snap - if that is the link then we need to do more to be kind to everyone, appreciate the special traits of each individual. I know my son hated himself at school until we felt a school that worked with him and not against him, value his special talents. The anger in him has stopped and he is happy and feels accepted smile emoticon
•    Anonymous said… I think as a parent you do what you need to do for your child. Anger management etc can be useful.......................I do worry though that America will do anything to shift the blame. Your country allows this through allowing anyone to get their hands on a gun. I think we could do a lot by nurturing ALL children rather than arming them. As a mum to a teenager who has Aspergers, yes he gets angry (wouldn't you), yes, the world baffles him (wouldn't it you? ) Do I think he would ever intentionally harm anyone ? Absolutely not.
•    Anonymous said… Id blame medication more than autism.
•    Anonymous said… I'm fairly certain other countries have similar rates of ASD occurring, but not similar rates of mass\school shootings. Seems to be about something else to me!
•    Anonymous said… Like it's not a challenge as is for our kids to be accepted now blame the spectrum really come on !!! Stop finding an excuse for someone and realize that the spectrum isn't at fault for these gunman , hell a hunter is killing animals does he have Aspergers ???!!!! See the stupidity in blame game ?!! What's worse is the media even playing into it , hence kids repeating parents or parents letting kids watch news then turn around and go into school and pick on a child bc of Aspergers and then those children knowing that they have Aspergers coming home second guessing themselves or not wanting to go to school bc they don't want to be called a monster or a murder when they get older !! Our kids have enough issues seriously enough is enough a killer is gonna kill wether on spectrum or off period !
•    Anonymous said… So, are we going to bring on the assumption that because a school shooter "had" Aspergers, that all Aspies will be more prone to violent acts? I don't think so. I think these school shooters get the "autism" label so the media can pat them on the head and try to garner sympathy for them. These school shooters didn't have autism; they had pure evil in their blood.
•    Anonymous said… Thank-you for your kind and encouraging wordsJoanne Gibson and Isa! I know we are trying and doing our best to raise our children on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said… This wasn't just an anger problem, this was a deep deated hatred for Christians. Raise your kids right and your wisdom will not leave them [paraphrase, Proverbs]

Please post your comment below…

Marriage Difficulties and Raising Children on the Autism Spectrum

"Is it common for parents of children with autism (high functioning) to have difficulty in their own relationships? My husband and I differ greatly on how to parent our 5-year-old son, and this is causing problems in our marriage. He thinks I'm too soft and over-protective ...I think he's too harsh at times. I am feeling so stressed on multiple levels right now. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated."

Having a child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger's definitely has the potential to place a great deal of strain on a family, and particularly on a couple. Some couples may struggle with issues of blame, how the child should be disciplined, guilt, etc.

Daily routines are a constant challenge. A special needs child often comes with additional financial costs to the family. Dealing with the school can seem like a full-time job. The time that it takes to care for a special needs child can leave other family relationships with no attention. All of this can add up to a number of problems that need to be looked at.

One recent study reported that mothers with children on the autism spectrum have stress levels similar to combat soldiers. Another study showed that 39% of mothers parenting children with challenging behavior are stressed at the clinically significant level, and that this stress negatively impacts a child's outcome.

Many parents of children on the spectrum are aware of this stress and isolation, but they don't know how to combat it, or they put their children's mental health ahead of our own. It is easy to identify the problem, but so much harder to find a solution.

In order to cope with the stress that comes with a child with special needs, it will be necessary to be willing to talk about your feelings with your spouse. Seek the assistance of a therapist if you have the ability and resources to do so. There are also good books out there to help you understand more about supporting one another. Also. try to locate a local support group.


Learn as much as you can about the diagnosis and options that are available to you and your child. Try to maintain a consistent routine within the home to reduce additional stressors in the family.




Here are some crucial resources that will help you in parenting your HFA son:

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

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

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

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


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


Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, know that you are not alone. There's nothing "wrong" with your marriage. Many parents of kids on the spectrum are experiencing the same challenges. Below is some very valuable feedback from other parents who are in the same boat:


COMMENTS FROM PARENTS:

• Anonymous said... Absolutely. It's typical for people to change their minds too.

• Anonymous said... Being aspie I think you will discover over the years that it's here to teach parents to approach their kids, leaning in with their ear first not the rod.  Aggressive behaviour towards people living with ASD only compounds sensory issues. Behaviour that NTs think is behavioural is actually neurological and corrections should not be approached with behavioural techniques.  Over stimulating children at a early age in an aggressive manners will only lead to them shutting down and by shutting Down I mean shutting out the aggressor.  As we don't need the quality and depth of relationships that NTs do its very easy for us to turn our backs on everyone including our family.  So ask your husband what kind of relationship he wants with his child in the future and perhaps he could adapt his technique accordingly.  I hope this helps.

• Anonymous said... I hear you! I have to walk away when husband disciplines. For some reason mommy instinct kicks in. He loves our son and wants him to listen. men just sound different then women when they yell or talk. Funny thing is our son listens better to him then me. Hang in there and try to find a therapist that will teach you how to work together. It worked for us!.

• Anonymous said... I think as mothers sometimes that protective lioness comes out. I am the one who went through life probably undiagnosed so I know it must be stressful on my husband to have two of us like it in the house.

• Anonymous said... It's very tough!!!! Read about it together - maybe that might help!!!

• Anonymous said... Me and hubby pretty quickly got on the same page re our son's condition and decided to use RDI to help our son become more flexible. We agreed in principle but struggled and disagreed sometimes with putting the theory into practice. We have acknowledged the strain this has put on our relationship and have worked hard to be mindful of the other's feelings, concerns and ideas when discussing anything to do with management of our son's condition. I think you have to find common ground and work from there.....be prepared to meet in the middle. We were lucky in that we agreed in principle with the theory of how best to manage the condition. Perhaps that is the place to start? Plus to explore some of the underlying assumptions you may both be making about why he behaves in a particular way and how best to manage this. Perhaps you need a mediator to help you work on this? It can be hard to work it out when you're so emotionally enmeshed in it.

• Anonymous said... My AS son is now 19 and I am married 31 years to an AS husband. It has not been easy and I learned a great deal about being patient. I too struggled greatly in the discipline area because it is so difficult to know where to draw the line with AS kids... Having an AS hubby makes it even more complicated because of the 'police' aspect of Aspergers. My strength to deal with all of this comes from the LORD. I am thankful to have Christ in my life... or I don't think I would have made it this far.

• Anonymous said... My son has Aspergers too. He is now 11 and my husband and I argue when disciplining him. My husband has to accept our son see"s things differently. He is going to the same destination we are ' he just takes a different route:-) My husband has been in denial and is slowly been coming around. Our son was diagnosed when he was 4 and we have experienced a lot of amazing moments. Our son is amazing and I am sure yours is too:-) Enjoy the journey with your son...I know your husband will come around too

• Anonymous said... sometimes you gotta let things go!what has worked for me is to discuss about the kids when they are sleeping or not in the room. communication is KEY! find out what he expects or wants for your child and tell him the same.you need to find a middle ground for you both. its vital for your childs future. and do what i do...take a break every know and then, take turns doing it! go for a car drive, meet up with friends or go for a walk, think of something to do alone. otherwise you will burn out!

• Anonymous said... We did for a little while until he started coming to therapy sessions. We also spend sometime reading together at night about aspergers. It's very helpful and now he understands a lot more. We have agreed on more things now and if we don't we discuss it before anyone hands out a time out Good luck!

• Anonymous said... When partner is disciplining walk out of earshot. If you confront them at the time they get worse. Harder on the child rather than easier. Have a chat while child is not around.

• Anonymous said... Yes, yes and yes! Daily here! My daughter is an Aspie (so am I for the record) and I know her and I both "Live in the moment" a lot. When my daughter was younger, she would meltdown so bad that I would have to hold her til she was calm so she wouldn't hurt herself. Now that she is older, she doesn't tantrum as bad, but I also know that what comes out of her mouth in the midst of being at a 10 on the emotional scale is not what she thinks overall. Aspies can be at a 10 emotionally and then a bit later be at a 2 acting as if nothing happened. My husband will then want punishments and some kind of closure to his feelings on the issue and his outrage at what happened a bit ago, and he wants something done to show that it wasn't okay for her to act out. The thing is.. I understand that she acted out because of frustration, being at a 10 emotionally and was having a meltdown (I still have them to this day sometimes myself), and if I punish her for those meltdowns, it's either going to key her up again or make her feel worse. I know she didn't mean to do those things but those emotions have to run their course because she will think clearly again. My husband just doesn't get it but I remind him over and over again "It's an Aspie thing" trust me on this.. please? She will be okay." That doesn't mean she gets away with the typical kid back talking and misbehaving, but when its emotions and frustration boiling over.. in our house, she should feel it is safe to let those out as long as she doesn't hurt anyone else or herself.

• Anonymous said... yes. you have to agree and balance the rules. Stick to them no matter what. Its the only way. Aspergers alone is confusing. makes it worse when you get two people one telling you one thing the other something else. Its not thinking of the child, forget about how you feel, the kids always go first. That is the beginning of figuring it out. Good luck.

•    Anonymous said... Absolutely...we were exactly the same way. We had to learn to compromise ...listen to each others valid points and make a plan. Its actually made our marriage stronger because we learned the reason why we felt the way we did had to do with our own upbringing. Having a common goal..helping our child..was important.

•    Anonymous said... My husband and I have a son that is now 25 - he has Aspbergers and other special needs. We had the exact same issue. To this day, we still struggle at times. So here are the two great pieces of advice that were shared through the years - and became more and more important and valuable: 1) Be the very best parent you can be at that moment. NEVER look back! Just know you did your best. Otherwise you will drive yourself insane with the 20/20 hindsight and guilt. 2) Never stop challenging your child to be all he/she can be. But!!! Be prepared to accept it when you know in your heart you've uncovered another limit in his/her life -don't try to force something that just isn't going to happen. You will only frustrate both of you and lose some of his/her trust in your safety...and you will regret it forever (I say that from experience. ) And just advice from our experience: Aspbergers was not a thing 20 years ago. GET HELP...YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE NOW. It doesn't get easier...you have to work as a couple...just go get help together...even if it's just a support group. Don't forget to give your other children time to talk about their feelings and frustrations -they may need help dealing with things sometimes...don't get so busy with your 5 - yr - old that you forget to make time for the others.  Last of all...remember that your husband knows exactly how little boys feel. Some things kids with Aspbergers do are not because of their exceptionality, but because he/she is just being a kid. They start figuring out how to work you and use their unique siuation. Listen and respect each other as a couple. You will be ok! If you all can learn to look at your child's situation as he/she lived in an exceptional world. He/she will never completely adjust to your world...you can learn to adjust to theirs. You will be shocked at how your child reacts and what you really begin to learn.

Post your comment below...

Aspergers and HFA Children Who Refuse To Go To School

Question

"My son J___ has been "playing hooky" since he suddenly became afraid of going to school. Before then he attended grammar school (pre-university). He was very young when he went there (11, skipped one class) and failed the 1st year, passed the next 1st year and then failed the 2nd year. He had to leave school. The next 2 efforts at other (lower level) schools failed miserably. I think his self-confidence was shot.

We also experienced an extremely turbulent family life. All sorts of governmental institutions became involved, and after oodles of interviews and tests they concluded that a) I'm a threat to my son, b) he has to be placed outside the home and c) he has to go back to school at all costs. This also included reporting him for a court appearance.

J___ has indicated he only feels safe at home and has recently been diagnosed with Asperger/PDD-NOS. He has, in any case, trouble with adhering to the rules of society. I'm afraid I might be at fault there, as I don't really fit in either.

He wants to learn, I ordered a home school study for him and he went through it like a hot knife through butter until he reached the mandatory literature part. He can't do it, he says. They now want him to go through a day treatment plan and place him in a special school. J___ has indicated he will run away as he doesn't want to be treated as a retard (his words).

Why am I reaching out to you? English is my dominant language and I tend to think in it. I'm also looking for a neutral, objective second opinion as well as support in helping my son. Because despite what the Dutch organisations say, I do want to help my son, just not by making him march to the music and be miserable.

Last week I asked a child psychologist what she would have done with a young Einstein and she told me I was a 'smart allic' (OK, she might have a point there). Basically the intention is to medicate J___ up the kazoo, place him outside the home and take parental rights away from me because I'm the threat. I view this differently (obviously) as I have managed to steer him through 'normal' schools for nearly his complete school period. In my opinion this has benefitted him more, and has exposed him to more opportunities and information then if he had been secluded in special education from an early age. No, I'm not bashing the special education system, but it's just not for J___.

What would I like from you? Maybe some ideas and thoughts on how to teach J___ to deal with his problems and get a handle on things. My partner and I don't think it's a problem if he 'hangs around' for several more years, we always tend to look after vulnerable and defenseless critters (my partner works at a sheltered workshop, and he himself has dyslexia; we know about so-called hurdles).

This will sound very jumbled and it's a lot of information. Sorry about that. Think you might be able to help? At least think along on how to approach matters in order to help J___? I'd appreciate any feedback (and please don't say you can't help me because I'm in The Netherlands)."


Answer

Re: “afraid of going to school…”

There is a big difference between truancy (skipping school to have fun doing other things) and school refusal (fear of circumstances at school). I think you were blamed for your son being “truant” …but he’s not a truant.

Most Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) children, at some time in their school career, are challenged by anxiety. School phobia (known to professionals as school refusal), a complex and extreme form of anxiety about going to school (but not of the school itself as the name suggests), can have many causes and can include related anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia and selective mutism.

Symptoms include:

• a racing heart
• fatigue
• frequent trips to the toilet
• nausea
• shaking
• stomachaches

Young children on the autism spectrum (up to age 7 or 8) with school phobia experience separation anxiety and cannot easily contemplate being parted from their parents, whereas older kids (8 plus) are more likely to have it take the form of social phobia where they are anxious about their performance in school (such as in games or in having to read aloud or answer questions in class).

Aspergers and HFA children with anxieties about going to school may suffer a panic attack if forced which then makes them fear having another panic attack and there is an increasing spiral of worry with which parents often do not know how to deal.

Going to school for the first time is a period of great anxiety for very young kids. Many will be separated from their parents for the first time, or will be separated all day for the first time. This sudden change can make them anxious and they may suffer from separation anxiety. They are also probably unused to having the entire day organized for them and may be very tired by the end of the day – causing further stress and making them feel very vulnerable.

For older children on the spectrum who are not new to the school, who have had a long summer break or have had time off because of illness, returning to school can be quite traumatic. They may no longer feel at home there. Their friendships might have changed. Their teacher and classroom might have changed. They may have got used to being at home and closely looked after by a parent, suddenly feeling insecure when all this attention is removed; and suddenly they are under the scrutiny of their teachers again.

Other children on the spectrum may have felt unwell on the school bus or in school and associate these places with further illness and symptoms of panic, and so want to avoid them in order to avoid panicky symptoms and panic attacks fearing, for example, vomiting, fainting or having diarrhea. Other kids may have experienced stressful events.

Possible triggers for school phobia include:
  1. Being bullied.
  2. Being off school for a long time through illness or because of a holiday.
  3. Being unpopular, being chosen last for teams and feeling a physical failure (in games and gymnastics).
  4. Bereavement (of a person or pet).
  5. Fearing panic attacks when traveling to school or while in school.
  6. Feeling an academic failure.
  7. Feeling threatened by the arrival of a new baby.
  8. Having a traumatic experience such as being abused, being raped, having witnessed a tragic event.
  9. Moving to a new area and having to start at a new school and make new friends or just changing schools.
  10. Not having good friends (or any friends at all).
  11. Problems at home such as a member of the family being very ill.
  12. Problems at home such as marital rows, separation and divorce.
  13. Starting school for the first time.
  14. Violence in the home or any kind of abuse; of the youngster or of another parent.

Children with Asperger Syndrome need to be dealt with differently to kids without the syndrome as, for example, teaching them relaxation techniques can actually make them more anxious.

A common strategy in dealing with school refusal in Aspergers and HFA children is to switch to a home school environment. However, home schooling a child with the disorder is completely different than educating a non-autistic child. 

Here is a summary plan:

The child can only grow to be fully functioning if he first experiences a fully functional home life. Fighting, crying and meltdowns do not positively contribute to a functional home. The child functions best when conflict is removed, so ALWAYS remove conflict and remain flexible.

• Meltdowns are worse for the child than they are for you. Remain calm and use the child's logic, obsessive compulsiveness and anger as a learning experience. Shutting your ears is tantamount to saying you know everything and are a superior person.

• Nobody can accuse you of being a bad mother. By designing education around the need of your child you are being the best mother you can be. Most people will be grateful that their children do not have the disorder.

• Nobody can read your mind. Think abusive thoughts but NEVER say them because they will destroy the child's confidence and reinforce further unacceptable behavior and school refusal.

• Short term goals are not time specific. They can be revisited and strengthened at any stage. Know that the goals can be re-met if you do things differently.

• Teachable moments are everywhere. School does not have to represent that which we know as beneficial for us. School is everywhere and learning occurs best without stress.

• What I value as important is not important to the child or his development. Allow him to explore that which he is highly interested in, even if it has no recognizable educational value to you.

• When you reign in and block outsiders from coming to your home and adding over stimulus, remember that it will only be for a short time while the child reaches emotional and social equilibrium again. Email and on-line support groups produce no over stimulus to the child and are there 24 hours per day. Use them.

• Work through obsessions. On days when the child is focused on issues not included in the home school learning areas, it is acceptable to investigate the child's obsessions. These are teachable moments that will otherwise be lost.

• You are a team, a package, a caring parent. Team work means working together to get the best result. Work with the child, not against him.

• You can only recognize a bad day because you have first had good days to measure against. Things do improve. Hasten improvement by reducing conflict and grabbing whatever teachable moments you can.

The Potential Dangers Associated with the “Aspergers” Label

Many parents who have struggled with a child for several years feel a sense of relief when their child gets a “diagnosis.” The parent may say things like, “It was such a weight off my shoulders to finally understand why my child behaved the way he did. I thought it was my parenting, but now I see it was his disorder instead.”

Many adults who have had emotional problems and/or social difficulties over the years find it comforting to one day discover, “Oh, I have Aspergers! No wonder I haven’t been able to hold a job or find a girlfriend/boyfriend.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be), finding solace in having a “disability” or “disorder” comes with a price – a much bigger price than most realize they have paid.

1. All ‘unwanted’ diagnostic features can be helped with therapy.

True, there are some potentially problematic cognitive and behavioral patterns associated with Aspergers that come with the “Aspergers-package” (e.g., insistence on routine, narrow range of interest, etc.). However, most – if not all – “problems” associated with Aspergers can be helped with therapy (e.g., social skills training for those who lack such skills, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for those who suffer with Aspergers-related anxiety, etc.).

2. A self-fulfilling prophecy will manifest itself – either positively or negatively – when it comes to labels.

When one “buys in” to a label (e.g., Aspergers), the labeled individual begins to view her “self” in a different light. She “reframes” her identity such that her “diagnosis” becomes a part of who she is. The reframe, in and of itself, doesn’t come with any serious ramifications. However, with the new reframe comes a different way of thinking about “self” and others. This cognitive change results in a different way of feeling about “self” and others, which in turn results in a different way of behaving (or conducting one’s life). In other words, she begins to “live up to” her diagnosis, displaying more and more of the symptoms that are in alignment with the diagnostic features of her “disorder.” This is a self-fulfilling prophecy working toward “disability” rather than ability.

Conversely, many parents of Aspergers children who have sought counseling have been advised (by therapists who have experience with the Aspergers condition) to “reframe” Aspergers in a positive light, thus setting-up a self-fulfilling prophecy that works toward “ability” rather than disability. For example, when disclosing to her child that “there is this thing called Aspergers,” the parent may be instructed to do the following:

Lead with strengths. All children with Aspergers have significant areas of strength (even if this has not been translatable into tangible success yet). Bring up areas of strength with the child who is suspected of having Aspergers. Next, tactfully point out the areas in which he is struggling. Then, suggest to him that “there is this thing called Aspergers,” which is a confusing combination of strengths and challenges.

Think like a counseling psychologist for just a moment…

Words are important. Words change the way you think, feel and behave. Notice in the “reframes” above that there was never any mention of a “disability” or “disorder.” Also notice the statement “there is this thing called Aspergers.” This statement separates the ‘label’ from the ‘child’. Your child is not “an Asperger” – he is a “human being” who has a certain set of strengths and challenges.

In reframing, Aspergers is thought of as a “condition” replete with possibilities, strengths, and challenges that are able to be addressed sufficiently. In this state of mind, the child tends to view his “self” as “able” (and maybe even better off than the general population). With this mindset, the child – as an adult – may very well “set the world on fire” with his area of expertise (e.g., engineering, computer programming, etc.).

3. Labels tend to help the individual relinquish a level of responsibility.

If I receive the label of Aspergers, I can say to myself and others, “See, this is why I can’t - or don’t - do certain things. It’s not my fault – it’s my disability.” When others are in agreement that I am “not able,” I am free from meeting certain expectations from parents, teachers, employees, etc. I can safely lower my standards, settling for the “comfort zone” that comes with the assistance (or over-assistance) from others.

I have counseled hundreds of families who, for example, have a 26-year-old adult child with Aspergers who is still living at home playing video games all day. Why? The entire family “bought into” the “disability reframe” years ago. As a result, the child (now an adult) behaves in accordance with his label, even though - WITH THERAPY - this Aspie could be employed, happily married, and living in his own home.

Does all this mean we shouldn’t have any labels? Of course not! Without labels, we wouldn’t be able to conceptualize ‘clusters of characteristics’ (a set of symptoms that defines a particular mental/emotional/behavioral state). However, it is important to “reframe” the label as an ‘opportunity’ to ‘capitalize on strengths’ and ‘work on the areas that present challenges’. This use or words is empowering rather than debilitating, ability-based rather than disability-based, all of which helps the labeled individual to be all that he/she can be rather than settling for a life of mediocrity – or worse yet – hopelessness.

For those who want to hold onto the label “disability” – you should know exactly what you are settling for. As define by Wikipedia: “A disability is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.”

Notice the ‘words’ above: impairments, limitations, restrictions.

Warning: Be careful about the words you use to describe your condition. Your words become your reality!

We polled a group of Aspergers teens and asked the question: Is Aspergers a “disability” or just a “difference”? Here are some of the initial responses:

I think it's only a disability because the world is not suited for us. Consider: What if all humans were born with crippled legs? We would all be on wheelchairs, and there would be no stairs, so what if a small portion of a population were born with functioning legs - they would have to adapt to a world not meant for legs but for wheels, no stairs, just ramps, they would obviously have some trouble with a lot of this, these fully functioning individuals are disabled, but only in the same way all humans are disabled and handicapped and an atmosphere without air, it doesn't mean there’s something inherently wrong with them. I certainly can't think of any of my issues that couldn't be solved by simply being an in more AS friendly world, no more bright lights and loud noises or eye contact.

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My version is just a difference. I am high functioning despite my issues and am not "disabled" in any part of my life that matters to me.

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Maybe - like being tall? Standing alone, being tall is just a deviation, and therefore a difference from the average. You could even have a population of tall-only people in which they wouldn't stick out. However, being tall in a society of people who are shorter or even considerably shorter than you have a high potential of leading to problems, maybe even to the extent of being a disability. So, maybe like 'being tall' but perhaps in two or three different ways and the problems these features cause to the individual may augment each other.

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Difference, I'm glad that I'm not NT. I would kill myself if I had to be one of those "gangster" people who have sex all day, get bad grades and graffiti everything in sight like they do. I like the way I am even if it is difficult to live with.

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A difference for me (but I'm very high functioning Aspie): I can do what other people do but with more effort, but NT can't do what I do, so... I win.

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I continually find myself disagreeing with people on this, often labeling us because of their own situations.... i.e... when children often have an associated condition with autism which courses a disability, they insist autism is the disability. I feel a more general positive use of how we are all described is vital to help phase out the old stereo type of what autism often is seen as by many.... as most of us know here those of us on the autism spectrum are as diverse and different as those that are not. The word disorder is often used and some are starting to use the word condition, my preference is still difference, as feel until our differences are fully understood, accepted and allowed, many will continue to feel they have a right to want us to conform to a stereo type imagine to suit them, not necessarily us!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think it's a condition with both disabilities and things that are mere differences. So I think it can be misleading to say that it's all mere disability.

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I have no problem with the word disability, but unfortunately it tends to stereo type us even more than others already do, and gives a false misconception to many that we are all disabled, when many of us are not, many function extremely well, it’s just often as I see it anyway our difference so misunderstood.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To me it’s nothing. I don't want anyone to know about my Aspergers and I don't want to be referred to by it at all.

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For some reason the people I talk to genuinely stumble over the "right" politically correct word. In that case, I'll accept just about any word they use because I know they're trying to courteous...

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It’s always seems to be the D "disease", "disability", "disorder", "disadvantaged" my "D" has to be different, we are simply different and feel it’s about time people focus on how able we are, as everyone has strengths and weakness, and can all be able or disabled in many ways... ignorance disables other not on the spectrum seeing what able individuals we really are, after all some of the best minds on the planet are on the autism spectrum, but guess while there continues to be no fact we are mysteries as the universe to some.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think that it's a difference, and what can be different can be beautiful.

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As I see it, difference (neurodiversity) is more descriptive, while disability is more relational. In other words, disability can be socially defined as a lack of enablement by those in power.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I can't help being irritated sometimes by the constant identity construction work done by people who identify with the Aspergers label. Whatever they think, or say or do, they always, always view it through the prism of AS. It is also clear that many carefully adjust their behavior to fit the predictions of the diagnosis. It is as if the diagnosis had become a full time job for them.
 

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

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

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

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

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum Using Visual Imagery

"What would be the most important teaching strategy to use with my students who are on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum?" 

The short answer is: capitalize on the child's natural visual-thinking skills...

Children with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often think differently than other children. They often have what is known as 'visual thinking'. While many of us think in words or abstractly, kids on the autism spectrum think in pictures and films playing in their head.

They have a difficult time seeing a generic representation of, say, a cat, and instead recall exact images of cats they have seen. Some researchers believe that the way AS and HFA people think is a good way of compensating for losses in 'language thinking'. This is what often makes these kids good at building things and seeing the end product of something before it is done.

Using this visual thinking to an advantage can help parents and teachers educate Aspergers students better. Teaching them through videos, pictures and other visual aids can help them learn while getting around the areas they have trouble with.

One AS student stated, “I think totally in pictures. It is like playing different DVDs in a DVD player in my imagination.” Many AS and HFA children and teens can manipulate the pictures in their imagination, which helps them to learn different things. To access spoken information, they can be taught to replay a “video image” of the person talking to them. In some cases, this represents a slower way of thinking, but it generally gets the job done.

Visual thinking often puts people with AS and HFA in jobs that involve architecture or design. Not only is their visual learning superior, but their learning memory is more intact than other ways of remembering things.

Many individuals on the spectrum can create elaborate visual images of things as complex as computer programs and musical pieces, and then can fill in the rest of their knowledge around that. The thinking is often non-sequential so that pieces of knowledge are filled in like jigsaw puzzle pieces in no particular order.

When parents and teachers catch on to this method of thinking, it becomes easier to see the strengths the "special needs" student has -- and it becomes easier to find ways of using the visual imagery to teach concepts.



 

==> Teaching Students with Aspergers and HFA

Aspergers Children and Lack of Eye Contact

A child or teenager with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism may exhibit less eye contact with you and others than expected, and he or she may not read faces for cues about feelings or consequences. This lack of connectivity is often felt in an intangible way, especially by caregivers. We anticipate with open hearts the child who will “give back” our attention. However, in children with Aspergers, there may be very little variation in expressions of emotions and little joy in playing interactive baby games. The arrival of the youngster’s social smile may occur later and infrequently.

What can moms and dads do to help their kids with Aspergers?
  • Be understanding when we don't feel like looking - we're not being rude, just feeling insecure.
  • Encourage "looking at my face" but don't push it - it's really uncomfortable for us.
  • Explain how some folks need to see you looking in their direction before they think you're listening.
  • Give your children a few options for controlling gaze avoidance (suggest looking at cheeks) or higher.
  • Place less emphasis on eye contact and more on "participation in conversation".

 Eye contact is a form of communication in American culture; we assume a person is giving us their attention if they look at us. The Aspergers child experiences difficulty with eye contact; it is extremely hard for them to focus their eyes on a person for any extended period of time. Limited eye contact is a part of the disability. Don't demand an Aspergers child look you in the eye as you are talking to them--this is extremely difficult for them to do.

One of the key signs of Aspergers in folks is a difference in their use of eye contact in communication. This seemingly trivial variation can cause huge conflicts and misunderstandings when trying to deal with the non-Aspergers world. When to look someone in the eye, when to look away, does lack of eye contact indicate unfriendliness or dishonesty, does eye contact that too lengthy indicate a threat or a seduction? A lot gets expressed and read into a seemingly simple gaze. The confusion gets compounded by the fact that different cultures have different rules for eye contact, and the rules within families can be different than those for friends, acquaintances or strangers. What’s praised as “paying attention” for some cultures is then criticized in others as “not being respectful.”

There are reasons the non-Aspergers world uses eye contact: as an indication of openness, interest, paying attention, as well as to convey less friendly messages such as boredom or dominance. Checking in with the listener's eye contact is a way to verify that you're still getting your point across and not confusing, boring, or offending the listener. While it may be considered impolite to interrupt when confused, a simple squint conveys the message clearly.

For those with Aspergers, eye contact may be very uncomfortable. Just go online and read some of the blogs from adults with Aspergers and you’ll find great discussions about how eye contact can feel threatening, distracting, or overwhelming.

So, what can be done about problems with eye contact? It would be great if everyone acknowledged that eye contact is a trivial matter, and folks were judged by their words and actions instead. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon. Unless they're clearly affected by Aspergers or autism, most folks probably don't even know what it is. I don’t think individuals without Aspergers are being deliberately bigoted or judgmental, but reading nonverbal messages is an instinctive and lifelong, although mostly unconscious, behavior.

I think the solution comes down to compromise and careful consideration of the situation. Adults should find a way to explain to others why their eye contact is different. I suggest stating that looking away helps the speaker concentrate, or asking the listener to let them know if they’re getting bored. These direct methods are probably most useful for those folks you know fairly well and those you’re going to be interacting with a lot.

Some online sites suggest faking eye contact by looking just above the eyes, at the forehead, or the eyebrows. I think this is an intriguing idea, but you’d need to practice first. Find a non-Aspergers friend and see how this works. Most people without Aspergers get an uncomfortable feeling when body language is different, even though they may not be able to explain precisely what is wrong. Don’t try faking eye contact for the first time on a job interview or a first date.

A final option is to try to learn non-Aspergers eye gaze behaviors. This is a big, time consuming project and will probably require training from some sort of professional and lots of practice. I’d suggest finding a qualified therapist, speech professional, or coach to figure out all the technical details and then a close non-Aspergers friend to practice.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to the matter of eye contact, just a lot of compromises. In the end, the folks who matter most to you will probably get your message, whether or not you look them in the eye.

An Aspies Point of View—

“Eye contact hurts... no, not in the painful sense, but it's quite uncomfortable. I always feel that I'm revealing more than I want to with eye contact, and that I'm receiving more information than I want to know. Of course, I know that eye contact is critical to spoken communication, so often I'll compromise by either of two methods:

Method 1: Making brief eye contact every few seconds:

This is the "roving eye" technique whereby you make eye contact at the very start of each sentence and then drift away as soon as the individual you're talking to is reassured that you're listening. There are a few problems with this method. First of all, folks often assume that your concentration is wandering. I'll often get told, "well, I know you're quite busy..." or "I'm probably boring you..." or "I can tell you're not interested..." as a response to using this technique when I really am interested in the conversation. When that happens, I usually have to switch to the other technique.

Method 2: Making eye contact for half of the conversation:

A two-way conversation is made up of two halves (person 1 speaking while Person 2 listens and vice versa). As a general rule, folks like to know that they're being listened to but aren't as worried if you don't make a lot of eye contact while you're talking. The plan with this method is to make reasonably constant eye contact (though you'll probably need to "flit" your eyes away several times during longer diatribes to ease the tension) while they talk to you and rest your eyes while you talk back.

As a partially deaf person I was encouraged to look at lips and I've become quite good at lip-reading. Unfortunately, as an adult, the lips are just too close to breasts and I often find that my female subjects will try to cover themselves during conversations. This is as embarrassing for me as it is for them.

I guess the best rule is to either stare at the face or (cheeks are a good idea) or slightly above and/or to the left or right of their head - never downwards or they'll assume the worst.

Overall, this is a more effective method than the "roving-eye" method but it doesn't work with everybody. In particular, you need to watch out for folks who start turning around mid-conversation to see what you're staring at. If this happens, you need to either make more regular eye contact or switch to the other method.

One way of overcoming uncomfortable situations is to be seated at a desk and work during the conversation. I know that this is rude, but if you're doing related work or even turning to take the occasional note on a computer, it can give you a welcome break.

My background is in computers, so I use this to great advantage, often changing screens or adjusting code as the changes are discussed. This gives the impression that I'm just "raring to go" or that I'm prototyping systems (providing examples) to help the conversation, rather than just being rude.”

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

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

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

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

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


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

Poor "People Skills" in Teens on the Autism Spectrum

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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

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

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

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content