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Aspergers and Violence

The fatal stabbing of James Alenson – allegedly by a teen living with Aspergers (high-functioning autism) – raises the issue of whether this tragedy is related to Aspergers. Those of us who work with kids with Aspergers worry that fingers will be pointed at people with the diagnosis. No two kids with this diagnosis are alike, and generally speaking this is not a dangerously violent group.

Current prevalence estimates suggest that 1 in 166 kids will have a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder, with four times more boys than girls being diagnosed. These kids have different learning styles and ways of social interaction. More than half have difficulty responding to sensory input, which may manifest as extreme sensitivity to sounds, touch, smells, and textures of food. They frequently overreact to common inconveniences, such as being bumped in the hallway at school, and may not understand the appropriate distance from others in social situations.

Most take much longer to develop "theory of mind" (i.e., the ability to understand another person's perspective). They can misinterpret nonverbal cues or body language in conversation. All need to learn aspects of communication that come intuitively to their typically developing peers. Some do beautifully with early intervention and continued help with their social skills as they grow up. Most are of average or above average intelligence, and some are brilliant. All are quirky, sometimes in delightful ways, but often in ways that isolate them from their peers.

Children with Aspergers typically have intense "special interests" about which they collect voluminous information and talk repetitively without self-consciousness. For some kids with the disorder, these are harmless obsessions about obscure topics such as the Civil War, the Titanic or magic cards. Like many teens, they can spend hours playing violent video games, but a boy with Aspergers may become more fixated upon and have less perspective about the games.

Today's teenagers with Aspergers are the first to reach the high school years with this diagnosis. They are the first to have reaped the benefits of the many therapies and interventions, including medications designed to foster their development or alleviate disturbing symptoms.

I hear many stories of "overwhelming rage" at the memories of isolation and victimization by bullies during the middle and high school years. Research shows that 3 out of 5 teens with Aspergers report being bullied at school, while 90 percent of their moms and dads report that their kids have been teased. Twenty percent of those studied changed schools because of bullying and a majority of moms and dads report that no action was taken by school staff against the bully.

Teens with Aspergers may have additional, co-morbid psychiatric diagnoses such as Tourette's syndrome, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression or eating disorders.

While aggression and physical violence have not been considered hallmarks of Aspergers, we often hear from moms and dads about stubbornness, rigidity, and high levels of anxiety. A typical American high school can be a stressful environment for someone with Aspergers. Many teens are hostile or indifferent to odd, eccentric peers.

The social demands of high school, such as flirting and dating, are often too much for adolescents with Aspergers because they are frequently trying to figure out what a simple friendship is about. The intrusive sensory properties of large high schools, such as the public address system, the chaos of locker rooms and bathrooms, hallways, and cafeterias can completely overwhelm a youngster.

When their senses are overloaded, teens with Aspergers can sometimes be quite reactive, even disruptive, though hardly ever dangerous. Unfortunately, they often do not understand the impact of their behaviors on others.

What do we learn from such tragedy and loss of life? We learn that we cannot control everything despite the absolute best of intentions, that no matter how intelligent a youngster with Aspergers is, he or she will need more support than a typical youngster for a much longer period of time. The stress on families is enormous.

One of the lessons we should learn from the Lincoln-Sudbury tragedy is that we should avoid the temptation to draw conclusions and stereotypes about kids with Aspergers. And we can grieve the losses suffered by the Alensons, the Odgrens, and the Lincoln-Sudbury community.

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Super Important Tips for Parents of Aspergers Children

Understanding the implication of Aspergers (high-functioning autism) can bring a greater level of tolerance and acceptance for those with the condition. 

Aggression in Aspergers Teens

Adolescents with Aspergers (high-functioning autism) are often not found to be physically aggressive unless they feel threatened in some manner. For some kids with Aspergers, aggression may become quite common when reaching adolescence, and this may be clearly influenced by the parenting styles of the youngster's mother and/or father. 
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School-related Anxiety in ASD Children

"My 15 year old son has just had a meltdown over exams at school today and I'm at home with him - afraid to leave him alone and go to work in case he does something silly to himself. When he loses control, he bashes walls, rants, raves and finally curls up and hides somewhere (what I consider to be the danger period where he beats up on himself). He’s a very intelligent boy …places extreme expectations on himself. I try my best to reason, but with little success."

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My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

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

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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

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

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

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