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How to Reduce School Anxiety in Aspergers Children

For some Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children, school can be a tense and fearsome place. Kids with special needs in particular may have problems understanding what is expected of them. They may (a) face painful social exclusion, and (b) find the work confusing and stressful.

As a mother or father, your instinct is to charge in on a white horse and slay those dragons. But often, a listening ear, a sympathetic word, and a reassuring pat on the back will be a bigger help.

10 Tips for Reducing School Anxiety—

1. Understand the value of tears. Crying can be a great stress reliever. It flushes out bad feelings and eases tension. It's hard to see your Aspergers youngster crying, and your first instinct may be to help him stop as soon as possible. But after the tears have all come out, your youngster may be in a particularly open and receptive mood for talking and sharing. Provide a soothing and sympathetic presence, but let the crying run its course.

2. Set a regular time and place for talking with your youngster, whether in the car, on a walk, during mealtimes, or just before bed. Some children will feel most comfortable in a cozy private space with your undivided attention, but others might welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of sharing their feelings.

3. Resist the urge to fix everything. There are some instances in which moms and dads do have to take action. If your Aspergers youngster is in a class that's too challenging, or is having trouble because an IEP isn't being followed, there are steps you can take. If an educator or peer is truly harassing your youngster, you will want to follow up with that. But you'll also want to teach him that some things in life just have to be dealt with, even though they stink. Fix only what's really badly broken.

4. Know when to get help. Most Aspergers kids experience school anxiety to some extent, and some feel it more deeply and disruptively. When does it become a big enough problem to require professional help? Some signs to look for are major changes in friendships, style of clothing, music preferences, sleeping and eating habits, attitude and behavior. If you've established a good rapport with your youngster and he suddenly doesn't want to talk, that's a sign of trouble as well.

5. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your Aspergers youngster know that he can always talk to you, no matter what. It's not always necessary even to have solutions to his problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted grown-up makes them seem less threatening. And if the situation does become overwhelming for your youngster, you want to be the first to know about it.

6. Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your youngster figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and play the part of your youngster in some role-playing exercises, letting him play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Model appropriate and realistic responses and coping techniques for your youngster.

7. Be aware that nearly all Aspergers children feel anxiety about school, even the ones who seem successful and carefree. Knowing this won't lessen your youngster's anxiety, but it may lessen yours.

8. Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Making your request specific can help your youngster start to sort through a bewildering array of fears and feelings. If he's unable to name the things that are most worrisome, have him tell you any three things, or the most recent three things.

9. Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most children can think of something good, even if it's just going home at the end of the day. But, chances are your youngster does have things he really enjoys about school that simply get drowned-out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light.

10. Acknowledge the problem. Does hearing, "Don't worry!" help when you're anxious about something? It probably doesn't comfort your Aspergers youngster much, either. The most important thing you can do for an "Aspie" student experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that his fears are real to him. If nothing else, you'll ensure that he won't be afraid to talk to you about them.

Kids on the Autism Spectrum and Their "Special Interests": A Good or Bad Trait?

Your Aspergers or high-functioning autistic (HFA) youngster is naturally - and very heavily - drawn to very select topics or subject areas. As a mother or father, it will be important for you to recognize your youngster's areas of specialty and understand how to build upon them. Doing so will make your youngster feel tremendously valued, because you are communicating that you “get” the importance of the Special Interests (i.e., areas of passion and intrigue). Special Interests may be used as links to life-defining opportunities in learning, relationships, and employment.

One of the diagnostic criteria for the disorder is “unusually intense preoccupation with one or more stereotyped interests.” This sets a negative precedent in how your youngster's interests are perceived. The use of words like “preoccupation,” “fixation,” and “obsession” are not helpful in everyday life. They imply that such special interests are socially inappropriate, inappropriate to one's chronological age, or a hindrance with no real value or purpose. But why are “normal” kids allowed to have hobbies while those with differences are deemed “obsessive-compulsive”?

Aspergers and HFA children have an absolute fascination with certain subject or topic areas and have become expert in their knowledge. The world's most advanced thinkers, talented artists, and brilliant inventors propelled whole cultures with their astounding expertise. As an advocate for your youngster you will want to dispel “obsessive-compulsive” stereotypes and promote acceptance of his Special Interests in just this manner.

Identifying your youngster's Special Interests isn’t difficult. His Special Interests are those things that — more than anything else — he really enjoys doing. He may love to:
  • Create models or other three-dimensional replicas of it
  • Draw it
  • Read about it
  • Re-enact or personify it
  • Research it at the library or on the Internet
  • Sing about it or create musical interpretations of it
  • Take copious notes about it
  • Talk about it
  • Watch it on television
  • Write about it

Your youngster's area of intrigue may correlate directly to an academic area of school in which he excels (e.g., math, physics, music, etc.). He may also indulge his Special Interest through extracurricular classes or clubs, or after-school or weekend activities. He may “set you up” with questions in which he grills you for answers that only he may know, and then feign disbelief that you don't provide the very complex, intricate correct response.

It may be easy to become annoyed or distracted by your youngster's focus or to fall victim to the idea that it represents “strange” behavior. It will be important for you to learn that your youngster's Special Interests are an amazing strength to be recognized and validated.

Examples of the Special Interests of some Aspergers and HFA kids include:
  • Architecture, including churches and cathedrals
  • Astronomy, planets, and constellations
  • Cartoon animation and comics
  • Dinosaurs
  • Music, especially classical music
  • Oceanography and specific marine life species
  • Specific famous people such as prominent scientists and researchers, actors and comedians, or religious figures
  • Specific movies such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or The Wizard of Oz
  • The animal kingdom, including specific creatures such as horses, reptiles, and insects
  • The human body and how it works
  • Wheels or other parts of automobiles, trains, trucks, tractors, and planes

At every opportunity, you can find your youngster steeped in his Special Interest — it's what he wants as gifts for birthdays and holidays or what he enjoys talking about with visiting relatives. You may be astounded at the depth of detail with which your child can conjure up information at will and without effort. He could spend hours absorbed in his most fervent interests, to the point where you might have to insist he take periodic breaks.

You must understand that your youngster's personality - his entire identity - is defined by his Special Interests – the two are that closely aligned. How you receive and accept his Special Interests will directly affect the quality of your parent-child relationship. You may demonstrate that you value your youngster’s passion by:
  • Suggesting ways your youngster may introduce family and friends to his special interest
  • Partnering with your youngster to research facets of his special interest
  • Participating in out-of-house opportunities you or your youngster arranges that involve his special interest
  • Making time, wherever possible, to interact with your youngster (looking and listening) about his special interest
  • Asking probing questions so that you may learn more
  • Asking probing questions designed to get your youngster thinking and imagining possibilities related to his special interest
  • Acknowledging that it is a communication
  • Acknowledging its importance to your youngster
  • Acknowledging it as a good thing

One father routinely dismissed his daughter's “ramblings” about the anatomy of tropical plants until he understood about Special Interests. He decided to ask her questions about her passion for these plants and – for the first time ever – they enjoyed a 15-minute conversation they otherwise never would have had. At the conclusion of the “plant anatomy lesson,” his daughter asked her dad for a kiss, and a new beginning occurred in their parent-child relationship. How’s that for bonding?!

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

Parent's Letter to Teachers: Assisting My Aspergers Child in the Academic Setting

Are you getting complaints from school regarding your Aspergers (high functioning autistic) child's behavior? Do the teachers seem to have a hard time finding ways to cope with him or her? If so, then copy and paste the following letter, then send it in an email to your child's teacher(s):

Dear Teacher,

I am the parent of _____ (child’s name). As you know, he has Aspergers. Here are some things that will help you to help him in the classroom environment:

1. Please allow him to "move about" periodically …sitting still for long periods of time can be very difficult (even a 2 minute 'walk around' with a friend or aide can help a lot).

2. Allowing our youngster to write down questions or thoughts and providing a response in writing may be very helpful at times.

3. Although his vocabulary and use of language may seem high, Aspergers kids may not know the meaning of what they are saying even though the words sound correct.

4. At times, it looks as if my youngster is not listening to you when he really is. Don't assume that because he is not looking at you that he is not hearing you.

5. At times, it may take more than few seconds for my youngster to respond to questions. He needs to stop what he's thinking, put that somewhere, formulate an answer and then respond. Please wait patiently for the answer and encourage others to do the same. Otherwise, he will have to start over again.

6. At times, our youngster may experience "meltdowns" when nothing may help behavior. At times like this, please allow a "safe and quiet spot" where our youngster will be allowed to "cool off." Try to take note of what occurred before the meltdown (was it an unexpected change in routine, for example), and it's best to talk "after" the situation has calmed down.

7. At times, some of my youngster's behaviors may be aggravating and annoying to you and to members of his class. Please know that this is normal and expected. Try not to let the difficult days color the fact that YOU are a wonderful teacher with a challenging situation and that nothing works all of the time (and some things don't even work most of the time). You will also be treated to a new and very unique view of the world that will entertain and fascinate you at times.

8. Breaking directions down into simple steps is quite helpful.

9. Directions are more easily understood if they are repeated clearly, simply and in a variety of ways.

10. Please foster a classroom atmosphere that supports the acceptance of differences and diversity.

11. Generally speaking, an adult speaking in a calm voice will reap many benefits.

12. Giving one or two warnings before a change of activity or schedule may be helpful.

13. Hand signals may be helpful, especially to reinforce certain messages, such as "wait your turn", "stop talking" (out of turn), or "speak more slowly or softly".

14. He may get over-stimulated by loud noises, lights, strong tastes or textures, because of the heightened sensitivity to these things.

15. One of the biggest challenges for Aspergers kids is that they may want to make friends very badly, yet have no clue as to how to go about it.

16. Identifying 1 or 2 empathetic students who can serve as "buddies" will help the youngster feel as though the world is a friendlier place.

17. If necessary, allow our child to copy the notes of other students. Many Aspergers kids are also dysgraphic, and they are unable to listen to you talk, read the board, and take notes all at the same time.

18. It is important to remember that just because the youngster learns something in one situation, this doesn't automatically mean that they remember or are able to generalize the learning to new situations.

19. It may be helpful to develop schedules (picture or written) for him.

20. Let him know, if possible, when there will be a substitute teacher or a field trip occurring during regular school hours.

21. Please note his strengths often - and visually. This will give our youngster the courage to keep on plugging.

22. Our youngster has difficulty understanding a string of directions or too many words at one time.

23. Our youngster lacks the ability of remember a lot of information or how to retrieve that information for its use.

24. Our youngster may act in a very clumsy way.

25. Our child may react very strongly to certain tastes, textures, smells and sounds.

26. Our youngster may have a great deal of difficulty with transitions. Having a picture or word schedule may be helpful.

27. Our youngster may have vocal outbursts or shriek. Be prepared for them, especially when having a difficult time. Also, please let the other kids know that this is a way of dealing with stress or fear.

28. Our youngster may need help with problem-solving situations. Please be willing to take the time to help with this.

29. Our youngster may repeat the same thing over and over again, and you may find this increases as stress increases.

30. Our youngster reacts well to positive and patient styles of teaching.

31. Please feel free to share with us whatever you would like. We have heard it before. It will not shock us or make us think poorly of you.

32. Please let our youngster know of any anticipated changes as soon as you know them, especially with picture or word schedules.

33. Please post schedules and homework assignments on the board and make a copy for him. Also, please make sure that these assignments get put into his backpack, because he can't always be counted on to get everything home without some help.

34. Please try to give as much advance notice as possible if there is going to be a change or disruption in the schedule.

35. Sarcasm and some forums of humor are often not understood by my youngster. Even explanations of what is meant may not clarify, because the perspectives of Aspergers youngster can be unique and, at times, immovable.

36. He may actually hear and understand you better if not forced to look directly at your eyes.

37. Some Aspergers kids learn best with visual aides, such as picture schedules, written directions or drawings (other kids may do better with verbal instruction).

38. Speaking slower and in smaller phrases can help.

39. Students with Aspergers may be at greater risk for becoming "victims" of bullying behavior by other students. This is caused by a couple of factors: (1) there is a great likelihood that the response or "rise" that the "bully" gets from the Asperger youngster reinforces this kind of behavior, and (2) Asperger students want to be included and/or liked so badly that they are reluctant to "tell" on the bully, fearing rejection from the perpetrator or other students.

40. This disorder is characterized by a sort of "swiss cheese" type of development (i.e., some things are learned age-appropriately, while other things may lag behind or be absent).

41. Aspergers kids may have skills years ahead of normal development (e.g., a youngster may understand complex mathematics principles, yet not be able to remember to bring their homework home).

42. Unlike most of us, sometimes forcing eye contact BREAKS his concentration.

43. Unstructured times (e.g., lunch, break and PE) may prove to be the most difficult for him. Please try to help provide some guidance and extra adults help during these more difficult times.

44. Using picture cues or directions are very helpful in a multitude of situations since he is a visual learner.

45. When dividing up assignments, please ASSIGN teams rather than have the other kids "choose members", because this increases the chances that our youngster will be left out or teased.

46. When it reaches a point that things in the classroom are going well, it means that we've gotten it RIGHT. It doesn't mean that our youngster is "cured", "never had a problem" or that "it's time to remove support". Please increase demands gradually.

47. When someone tries to help by finishing his sentences or interrupting, he often has to go back and start over to get the train of thought back.

48. When you see anger or other outbursts, our youngster is not being deliberately difficult. Instead, this is in a "fight/fright/flight" reaction. Think of this as an “electrical circuit overload.”

49. Prevention methods can sometimes head-off impending meltdowns if you see the warning signs coming.

50. If there is a lot of chaos and noise, please try to help our child find a quiet spot to which he can go for some "relief".

Thanks in advance,

Mrs. _______ (parent’s name).

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.

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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