Search This Site

How To Get Your High-Functioning Autistic Child To Listen To You

You've got something to say to your child, or there is something you want him to do – or stop doing. But, as all children with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's tend to do, he is fixated on a particular object or activity (e.g., television, computer, video game, etc.). But before your message can get through, you have to get his attention.

Capturing your youngster's focus can be easier said than done, especially if it's already aimed at something else. Shouting sometimes seems like the only way to get him to listen, but it can also raise the emotional temperature in the room to the point where he is less able to attend (and if you shout a lot, he has probably learned to tune you out anyway).

Fortunately, there are better ways to get your child’s attention. And you will want to have several strategies at your disposal to keep your approach fresh and “attention-getting.” 

Here are 25 such strategies to add to your parenting toolbox:

1. "Can you focus on the sound of my voice?" I asked my autistic grandson one evening, and sure enough, he did just that. Sometimes, the most direct and obvious method actually works.

2. Ask your youngster to repeat the request back to you. If he can't, it's too long or too complicated.

3. Before giving your youngster directions, squat to his eye level and engage him in eye-to-eye contact to get his attention. Teach him how to focus: "Mark, I need your eyes." ...or "I need your ears." Be sure not to make your eye contact so intense that your youngster perceives it as controlling rather than connecting.

4. Close the discussion. If a matter is really closed to discussion, say so. "I'm not changing my mind about this. Sorry." You'll save wear and tear on both you and your youngster. Reserve your "I mean business" tone of voice for when you do.

5. Doing something silly (e.g., making funny noises, jumping up and down, yodeling, speaking Pig Latin, etc.) will make your youngster take notice, laugh, and focus on your ridiculous self.

6. Don't ask a leading question when a negative answer is not an option. Rather than "Will you please pick up your coat?" Just say, "Pick up your coat, please."

7. Give advance notice. "We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the computer.”

8. If your youngster's off on a tangent, try talking about something completely different. If you can get that train of thought to jump tracks, it may slow down enough to let you on.

9. Keep it simple. Use short sentences with one-syllable words. Listen to how children communicate with each other and take note. When your youngster shows that glazed, disinterested look, you are using words that are too big – and you are no longer being understood.

10. Legs first, mouth second. Instead of yelling, "Turn off the computer, it's time for dinner!" walk into the room where your youngster is using the computer, join in with his interests for a few minutes, and then, during a break in the action, have him turn off the computer. Going to your youngster conveys you're serious about your request. Otherwise kids interpret this as a mere preference.

11. Let your youngster complete the thought. Instead of "Don't leave your mess piled up," try: "Max, think of where you want to store your music CDs." Letting the youngster fill in the blanks is more likely to create a lasting lesson.

12. Make a secret signal with your youngster that means "Listen up!" Tap your ear, tap your mouth, or wave frantically. Visuals can be more attention-getting than audios for children on the autism spectrum.

13. Make physical contact when you want your youngster to pay attention (e.g., a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back, a quick hug, etc.). That makes it clear (better than words from afar) that you need to connect.

14. Offer your youngster a reward if he hears you out (not something expensive). Children will often work for something unbelievably tiny. You could tell your youngster a secret after he's listened to your message, then just whisper "I love you!" in his ear. 

15. Reinforce the desired behaviors positively and give consequences to those who choose not to listen. Be consistent with how you give consequences and always give only one warning. Over time children begin to see this as routine and will predict the outcome of their choices.

16. Settle the listener. Before giving your directive, restore emotional equilibrium, otherwise you are wasting your time. Nothing sinks in when a youngster is an emotional wreck.

17. Shouting is emotionally overwhelming, but raising your voice doesn't have to be. Try addressing your “attention-wandering” son or daughter like you would your “attention-wandering” puppy dog – with a sharp, but friendly, tone.

18. Something that makes your youngster jump (e.g., a clap of the hands, a flicker of lights) can break attention from one thing and focus it on you. You can take it from there.

19. Stay brief by using the “one-sentence rule.” Put the main directive in the opening sentence. The longer you ramble, the more likely your youngster is to become “parent-deaf.” Too much talking is a very common mistake when dialoging about an issue. It gives the youngster the feeling that you're not quite sure what it is you want to say. If he can keep you talking, he can get you sidetracked. 

20. Talk the youngster down. The louder your youngster yells, the softer you respond. Let your youngster ventilate while you interject timely comments: "I understand" or "Can I help?" Sometimes just having a caring listener available will wind down the tantrum. If you come in at his level, you have two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for him.

21. Threats and judgmental openers are likely to put the youngster on the defensive. "You" messages make a youngster clam up. "I" messages are non-accusing. Instead of "You'd better do this..." or "You must...," try "I would like...." or "I am so pleased when you..." Instead of "You need to clear the table," say "I need you to clear the table."

22. Try whispering. Your youngster may be intrigued enough by this hard-to-hear approach that he'll turn his attention to it. Saves your voice, too.

23. Use rhyme rules. "If you hit, you must sit." Get your youngster to repeat them.

24. When your youngster's fixated on something (television, computer, video game), step right in front of that object of affection and insert yourself into the line of vision.

25. Write it. Reminders can evolve into nagging so easily, especially for kids and teens who feel being told things puts them in the slave category. Without saying a word, you can communicate anything you need said. Talk with a pad and pencil. Leave humorous notes for your youngster. Then sit back and watch it happen.

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

Best Comment:

Hey Mark, Our son was just diagnosed with Aspy in his 27th year of life! All the years of wondering WHAT was causing him to act like he did...differant from the other kids, yet as bright as a star! He also has 99% ADHD!!! So, it has been extremely difficult until the Aspy dx. Now I realize WHY he acts like he does and I can now respond accordingly...with love, compassion and patience! From a rebellious life on the streets in his younger years, he dropped out of school in 9th grade! And is now in his 2nd year of tech college, on the Dean's list and excelling in Electronics! we are pleased to see your links on here! What a relief to know that we, as parents, are not alone! Robin 

Building High Self-Esteem in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Healthy self-esteem is a youngster's armor against the challenges of the world. Children who feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They tend to smile more readily and enjoy life. These children are realistic and generally optimistic.

In contrast, children with low self-esteem can find challenges to be sources of major anxiety and frustration. Those who think poorly of themselves have a hard time finding solutions to problems. If given to self-critical thoughts such as "I'm no good" or "I can't do anything right," they may become passive, withdrawn, or depressed. Faced with a new challenge, their immediate response is "I can't."

Kids with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have a much harder time with their self-esteem. Here are just a few reasons why:
  1. Expressive and comprehensive communication has a direct impact on a youngster's self-esteem. These are areas that do not come easily to kids or grow-ups with the disorder.
  2. The expectations of siblings and the all-too-frequent bullying interactions from many peers can leave a child on the autism spectrum feeling devastated.
  3. The visits to doctors, or speech therapists, or OTs, the testing, and the stream of interventions that we try with them can easily leave them feeling like they're under the microscope, a specimen that warrants investigation, a person who needs fixing.
  4. They often perceive the constant correction of their behaviors and their social interactions as criticism
  5. Understanding subtle jokes and participating in human interplay, actions natural to their neuro-typical peers, further increase their feelings of 'not fitting in' and erode their self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the collection of beliefs or feelings we have about ourselves, our "self-perceptions." How we define ourselves influences our motivations, attitudes, and behaviors and affects our emotional adjustment. Self-esteem development starts very early. For example, a young child who reaches a milestone experiences a sense of accomplishment that bolsters self-esteem. Learning to roll over after dozens of unsuccessful attempts teaches a baby a "can-do" attitude.

The concept of success following persistence starts early. As children try, fail, try again, fail again, and then finally succeed, they develop ideas about their own capabilities. At the same time, they're creating a self-concept based on interactions with other people. This is why parental involvement is tantamount to helping children form accurate, healthy self-perceptions.

Self-esteem also can be defined as feelings of capability combined with feelings of being loved. A youngster who is happy with an achievement, but does not feel loved, may eventually experience low self-esteem. Likewise, a youngster who feels loved, but is hesitant about his or her own abilities, can also end up with low self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem comes when the right balance is reached.

Self-esteem fluctuates as children grow. It's frequently changed and fine-tuned, because it is affected by a youngster's experiences and new perceptions. So it helps to be aware of the signs of both healthy and unhealthy self-esteem.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem—

Children with low self-esteem may not want to try new things, and may frequently speak negatively about themselves: "I'm stupid," "I'll never learn how to do this," or "What's the point? Nobody cares about me anyway." They may exhibit a low tolerance for frustration, giving up easily or waiting for somebody else to take over. They tend to be overly critical of and easily disappointed in themselves. Children with low self-esteem see temporary setbacks as permanent, intolerable conditions, and a sense of pessimism predominates.

Signs of Healthy Self-Esteem—

Children with healthy self-esteem tend to enjoy interacting with others. They're comfortable in social settings and enjoy group activities as well as independent pursuits. When challenges arise, they can work toward finding solutions and voice discontent without belittling themselves or others. For example, rather than saying, "I'm an idiot," a youngster with healthy self-esteem says, "I don't understand this." They know their strengths and weaknesses, and accept them. A sense of optimism prevails.

How Moms and Dads Can Help—

Here's how you can play an important role in promoting healthy self-esteem in your Asperger's or HFA youngster:

1. As parents, we must believe in our children’s value ourselves before we can ever change their minds. These children know when we're faking our compliments or arbitrarily handing out encouragement because the therapy book says we should give 5 positive comments to each correction.

2. Be a positive role model. If you're excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your youngster may eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your youngster will have a great role model.

3. Be spontaneous and affectionate. Your love will go a long way to boost your youngster's self-esteem. Give hugs and tell children you're proud of them. Pop a note in your youngster's lunchbox that reads, "I think you're terrific!" Give praise frequently and honestly, without overdoing it. Children can tell whether something comes from the heart.

4. Believing in your youngster involves empathy, walking in their shoes, rather than sympathy; no one wants to be felt sorry for. Each youngster is a gift, with his or her own special qualities. We just need to look for these special gifts, tune into the youngster with our hearts, and bring their essence out.

5. Bridge the interactions between peers and the youngster with Asperger's or HFA. Visually and verbally interpret what you think they both are thinking and/or feeling based on your own experiences when you were their age, and your understanding of autism spectrum disorders.

6. Children on the autism spectrum are masters at copying what others say, so make sure they're hearing things that are good for them to copy!

7. Consider that kids on the spectrum are wonderful beings here to teach us empathy, compassion, understanding and most importantly, how to love.

8. Create a safe, loving home environment. Children who don't feel safe or are abused at home will suffer immensely from low self-esteem. A youngster who is exposed to moms and dads who fight and argue repeatedly may become depressed and withdrawn.

9. Do whatever it takes to include them in life rather than merely integrate their presence.

10. Empower them to be themselves, perfectly okay with who and how they are. Do this by loving them for who they are now, today, not who you think they should become, after ABA, or speech therapy or learning 'appropriate' social skills.

11. Encourage kids to share their thoughts and feelings; this is so important and often sheds new light on existing situations.

12. Explain autism to the youngster when he is able to understand his condition. Who are we really kidding, other than ourselves, when we pretend a youngster does not have the "autism" label, or we try to camouflage it? Who are we hurting? It's the youngster on the spectrum who is hurt in the long run.

13. Give positive, accurate feedback. Statements like, "You were really mad at your brother. But I appreciate that you didn't yell at him or hit him" acknowledges a youngster's feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages the youngster to make the right choice again next time.

14. Go to conferences, read books, research and share information that takes into consideration the many sensory, social, behavioral and communication challenges faced by the youngster at his/her functioning level. Armed with this understanding of how the disability affects the youngster, you and others can better find ways to help her fit in.

15. Having a positive mental attitude, especially when advocating, helps others want to cooperate with us. After all, who wants to deal with anyone who is bitchy?

16. Help children become involved in constructive experiences. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older youngster helps a younger one learn to read can do wonders for both children.

17. Identify and redirect your youngster's inaccurate beliefs. It's important for moms and dads to identify children' irrational beliefs about themselves, whether they're about perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping children set more accurate standards and be more realistic in evaluating themselves will help them have a healthy self-concept. Inaccurate perceptions of self can take root and become reality to children.

18. Keep their life manageable, refraining from overwhelming them with so many activities that they become too challenged physically and mentally to succeed at anything.

19. Like most people, children with Asperger's or HFA feel better about themselves when they're balanced physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

20. Model a mental attitude of "things are great". Express yourself in the positive, rather than the negative.

21. Provide choices to them frequently so they understand they have a say in their own lives and even let them be in charge sometimes.

22. Remember to teach extended family, educators, other parents and professionals all you can to help integration and provide a deeper understanding when trying to teach particular skills.

23. Set the stage for success by acknowledging their achievements - however small - and reminding them of their past accomplishments.

24. Show your confidence in his abilities by telling him that you believe he can succeed.

25. Since they are often very picky eaters and gravitate towards junk food, it's important to try supplementing their diet. Also, provide regular physical activity, when possible, to relieve stress and clear their mind.

26. Stress the good effort your youngster is making, if he hasn't yet achieved a goal.

27. Stress the positives! Look for the good in every youngster, even if you don't see it at first. Pretending to be Pollyanna can only help, but make sure you're genuine in what you say.

28. Watch for signs of abuse by others, problems in school, trouble with peers, and other factors that may affect children' self-esteem. Deal with these issues sensitively but swiftly.

29. Watch what you say. Children are very sensitive to their moms and dads' words. Remember to praise your youngster not only for a job well done, but also for effort. But be truthful. For example, if your youngster doesn't make the soccer team, avoid saying something like, "Well, next time you'll work harder and make it." Instead, try "Well, you didn't make the team, but I'm really proud of the effort you put into it." Reward effort and completion instead of outcome.

30. When we say, "You are great!" to a youngster often enough, he, too, will believe it and feel valued for who he truly is.

More resources for parents:

Developing Social Skills at Home and School

Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children usually want to fit in and have relationships with other people – they just don’t know how to do so properly. They lack an understanding of conventional social rules and often “appear” to lack empathy. In order to improve socialization, Aspergers kids need to learn and focus on socialization from an “intellectual” standpoint. What may come naturally for those without Aspergers needs concentration by those with it.

Perhaps the best socialization tips for Aspergers children come from practice. The only way for the youngster to learn how to be social is to participate in numerous events and outings.

How to Help Aspergers Children Develop Social Skills—

Tips for Parents:

1. Communicate with pictures. To teach Aspergers children to be social, incorporate picture stories into their daily lives. This is important for difficult subjects such as sharing and communicating feelings. The stories should communicate how to handle the situation.

2. During the teenage years, dating is often difficult. Encourage adolescents to go out with friends and to date. It may take practice, but they will learn social skills with each outing.

3. Education is an important part of Aspergers socialization. Kids may be unable to grasp socialization skills initially, but as they get older, they can learn what gestures mean and how to interact with peers.

4. Encourage socialization from a young age by bringing other kids into the home. With supervision, allow play dates to be teaching moments. A mother or father might say, "See how Michael has his hand outstretched? That means he wants to say hello with a handshake. Shake his hand."

5. Help them get involved in sports and extracurricular activities. Through practice, kids and teens can learn to be socially positive.

6. Help them make friends. In school and other social situations, Aspergers children will perform best with a parent's aid. Find a friend for your child at school that he knows and can work with. Your youngster may eventually learn from the friend how to interact.

7. Reduce anxiety for your child whenever possible. Keep the rest of his life structured and organized and ensure that the environment is a positive and rewarding one. This allows him to focus on social interactions without concern about other difficulties.

8. Utilize role-play at home prior to any type of excursion. Role-play allows the child to image all of the various scenarios that could happen. Then, teach strategies for dealing with situations that are difficult.

9. Work with a psychologist and counselor to teach and improve social skills. Therapies often teach children with Aspergers to recognize potential problem situations. In addition, these professionals teach and practice strategies with children so they can handle most situations.

10. Work with a speech pathologist that will evaluate and offer help with language. Even though your youngster may speak perfectly, learning social language is often necessary. Learning eye contact from a speech pathologist, for example, is an important skill.

Tips for Teachers:

1. A clarity and explicitness of rules in the classroom to minimize uncertainty and to provide the basis for tangible rewards should be implemented.

2. Agree to a later time and place for responding to the Aspergers child’s repeated questioning about a particular topic of interest.

3. Agree with the Aspergers child and his classmates a signal to be used by those classmates when they are tired of listening to the Aspergers child talk about his topic of interest.

4. Allow some practice of talking at a reasonable volume with an agreed signal to be given if it is too loud – or tape-record his speech so that the child can evaluate the volume himself.

5. Encourage participation in school clubs or organized/structured activities during the lunchtime.

6. Have a regular time slot for support from an adult in terms of feedback concerning (social) behavior, discussing what is going well and less well, and why – and enabling the child to express concerns or versions of events.

7. Have the child’s peers model social skills. A “buddy” might also be encouraged to be the partner of the child in games, showing how to play, and offering or seeking help if the child is teased.

8. Help the child to recognize his symptoms of stress or distress with a "script" by which to try relaxation strategies – or have in place a system where it is acceptable for the child briefly to remove himself from the class as necessary.

9. Identify particular skills in the target child and invite him to offer some help to another child who is less advanced (e.g., with the use of the computer).

10. If obsessive talking appears to mask some anxiety, seek to identify its source, or teach general relaxation techniques.

11. In a group setting, adopt the “circle-time” strategy of limiting verbal contributions to whomsoever is in possession of some object (while ensuring that the object circulates fairly among the whole group).

12. In the classroom setting, instructions should be very precise with no opportunity to misunderstand what is expected. It may be necessary to follow up group instructions with individual instructions rather than assuming that the target child has understood what is needed or can learn "incidentally" from watching what other children do.

13. Make it clear that one will respond to the question only when a given task has been completed.

14. Make use of the "Circles of Friends" approach designed to identify (social) difficulties, and to set targets and strategies by which other children in the class can be helpful and supportive, with the long term aim of increasing social integration and reducing anxiety.

15. Model social skills for the target child to observe – or view and discus a video-tape of two people talking or playing, including reference to any non-verbal messages which can be discerned.

16. Provide a visual timetable plus bulletins of any innovations so there is no uncertainty about the day's routine.

17. Provide direct advice about when and for how long the child may go on about a favorite topic, perhaps with the use of a signal by which to indicate when to stop (or not to start).

18. Provide direct teaching about social situations such as how to recognize when someone is joking or how to recognize how someone else is feeling. Begin with a series of cartoon faces with clearly drawn expressions indicating anger, amusement, etc. Then have the target child identify the various feelings and guess what caused them.

19. Provide direct teaching of social rules or conventions which guide interactions and which most children learn without direct input. These might include how to greet somebody, how to initiate a conversation, taking turns in a conversation, and maintaining appropriate eye contact.

20. Provide direct teaching of what to do (or what not to do) in certain situations, such as when the teacher is irritated either with the individual child or with the whole group.

21. Provide specific and structured activities which are to be shared with one or two selected classmate(s). These might range from some jobs to be completed in the school during break or lunch time, games involving turn-taking, or tasks or mini-projects to be completed on the computer.

22. Provide time, attention, and positive feedback when the child is not talking about the given topic of interest.

23. The establishment of a "buddy" system or a system where the child in question is encouraged to observe how other children behave in particular situations is helpful.

24. Use a video of a situation to illustrate behavior that is inappropriate in, for example, causing irritation to other children. Then discuss why. Also, make a video of the target child himself and discus where there are incidents of good social behaviors.

25. Use games or role-play to focus on the viewpoint of another person. This might include simply looking at pictures of children or adults interacting or working together or sharing some activity, and asking what is happening or what a given individual is doing, and what he might be thinking.

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here for the full article...

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.

Click here to read the full article…

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."

Click here to read the full article…

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.

Click here
to read the full article...

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.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content