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The "Rationale-Dependent" Child on the Autism Spectrum

“My daughter has to analyze and argue over every house rule my husband and I come up with before she decides to finally obey that particular rule. Is this common for children with an autism spectrum, and is there any way to get her to be more agreeable without such lengthy explanations and arguments?”

What if I told you that your daughter may be exhibiting noncompliance for a good reason? Some children and teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are simply not comfortable with things that don’t make sense to them.

These children, who are “rationale-dependent,” are largely focused on logic. They need to know the reasons for the rules in order to avoid both confusion and anxiety.

Blindly accepting the rules is not the way the rationale-dependent child functions. She needs to understand the reasons behind others’ actions, why something is done a particular way, and it has to make sense to her. Since this child is over-analytical, she often behaves inappropriately because she never gets past the “analysis stage” to the “action stage.”



If a certain rule seems unreasonable, there is no need to follow it in her mind, and she probably won't listen to the person trying to enforce the rule. Thus, parents and teachers will need to give this child the reasoning behind a decision or action – and make it very convincing!

The rationale-dependent child’s coping strategy is to try to make sense of the world through logic and reasoning. In order to minimize emotional stress, she needs the world to be a place with order and symmetry to it.

Thus, she may ask lots of questions about how a particular thing works. Using her well-developed, analytical brain, she eventually makes sense of things and comes to an acceptable understanding of what is going on.

The child tends to be very bright with a high IQ, and she will usually become more flexible when given a reasonable explanation for a particular rule or regulation. But, she may very well have her own reasons and explanations beforehand. Therefore, simply stating the rule is not enough – it needs to be followed with some clarification, in which case, her “misbehavior” will likely decrease.

Tips for dealing with the "rationale-dependent" child on the autism spectrum:


Parents and teachers will most likely need to explain why something needs to be done - or why it can't be done - before they get compliance. For the rationale-dependent child, understanding precedes cooperation.

If the adults’ explanations provide her with information she didn't have, might have overlooked, or didn't understand, they will have helped her clarify why a desired action is beneficial to her. As this child becomes older, parents and teachers will need to do much more explaining, because rules by themselves will have less impact.

When providing an explanation, always match the explanation to the child’s cognitive and emotional level. Don't overestimate how much she knows, because she probably has a large vocabulary.

Always make sure she understands the reasoning behind something before moving to the next step. Also, parents and teachers will have to help this child reduce the amount of analysis by helping her see how “over-analysis” is unproductive.




COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… As my son got older he started to be less argumentative as he had more understanding/knowledge of life. He's 21 & more independent and learning those life answers on his own through his school, jobs, internship and time with friends. But I get to relive it all again with my 8yo ASD son.
•    Anonymous said… Both of my children not on the Spectrum did this. It is generally a kid thing/ human-thing before it is a specifically Autistic behaviour. It is irrational to ask or think that anything is common amongst children presenting on the Spectrum because if you've met one person with Autism or Aspergers you've met only one person In my self contained classroom we hsve the students make the rules and we gently guide them to follow their own rules. They don't argue with themselves
•    Anonymous said… I don't get sucked into such arguments with either my typical or ASD. I'll explain it to you once, hear you out, but once I've made my decision , it's final. After that you get the "Thank you but your request has been denied" line and it is what it is.
•    Anonymous said… My 14 year old daughter did this about everything. She always has. It got worse with puberty
•    Anonymous said… OMG...my eldest was exactly like this and now diagnosed as somewhere on the spectrum..middle child being aspergers
•    Anonymous said… Soooooooo common and it drives us nuts!
•    Anonymous said… Thank goodness for Facebook so we can connect and know we are not the only ones going through this...
•    Anonymous said… the "authority" thing is difficult for them and even more so if you get into a big discussion. "I am an adult; it is my job to job to designate house-rules- God's design- My Home"; "your job is to follow them with a cheerful heart". Once that is stated, it is not to be discussed again; use a simple phrase and extinguish using picture cards for "your role" and "my role"...giving them authority over other situations will curb the desire to argue everything. Build choices within non-choices and be mindful how you phrase things...do not say "DO YOU WANNA ___________?" or "Don't you wanna _______________?"...that is a choice, but rather, these are the chores (chore chart)- do you want to do a or b...but something will be done. To recap, do not negotiate... explain roles and be consistent. Use visuals, use praise and catch them doing what's right-be specific..."I like the way you _________________". Use positive reinforcers and start where the child is at i.e., if the child can help clean up for 5 minutes increase a bit each time. Extinguish unwanted behaviors by a) naming it and b) fading... i.e., it is not time for "discussion" - flip card over and re-direct...other times, it is ok to "discuss", but you will set the limits. Also, make sure sensory issues are not the blame i.e., my son cannot tolerate the feel of clothes so laundry is not going to be a good fit for him...etc... If the child has been running the show, it is going to take a while to undo the negative, unwanted behaviors and everyone (adults) must be on the same page, using the same language and purposefully ignoring as much as possible. 3 weeks to make or break a habit...may get worse before it gets better... tantrums result in going to "calm down" again, no reinforcement (eye contact, discussion, etc) until the child is quiet/calm, count to three and then release from "calm down"...eventually they will self regulate and put themselves in calm down.
•    Anonymous said… with our 11 year old Asperger son (diagnosed at 5), We tell him, "Obey first. If you still don't understand our rational we would be happy to explain AFTER you have obeyed." He was not happy about it at first and we had some meltdowns (followed by the known consequence for a meltdown). Its funny though that 99% of the time he did not request an explanation after he obeyed. He either figured it out by himself or it just didn't seem important to him at that point. It took a long time, but now he is 11 and has made huge progress: excellent behavior with teachers (most of the time) and can't remember the last time he's had a meltdown. He is also obedient most of the time  ;-) and does not feel the need to get an explanation whenever asked to do .

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The "Structure-Dependent" Child on the Autism Spectrum

Having a set of rules to follow on a day-to-day basis is the most important issue for an Aspergers or high-functioning autistic (HFA) child who is “structure-dependent.” Once this child has a list of DOs and DONTs to follow, there tends to be few concerns except in areas where the parent has not yet established rules, in which case the structure-dependent youngster becomes confused.

Any environment (e.g., home, classroom) where there is lax structure will be a difficult one for the structured-dependent youngster. This child needs rules in order to function and will probably create his own set of rules if parents and teachers don't provide them, which may create problems since the child’s rules will probably not match the adult’s expectations.

The structure-dependent youngster respects authority figures and does well when it is very clear who makes the rules and enforces them. This youngster often does very well in school, but may have behavioral problems at home if the rules are not as clear as they are in the classroom. It is not unusual for moms and dads of this child to be quite surprised to hear how well behaved she is at school.



There are two types of structure-dependent children with ASD:
  1. The “acting-out” type
  2. The “acting-in” type

The “Acting-out” Type--

The acting-out youngster is often seen as a teacher's delight because he is rarely a discipline problem, but at home, this child’s behavior can be totally out of control (e.g., bossy, controlling, tantrums, meltdowns, yelling, arguing etc.). The key to recognizing this type of child is the behavior differences between school and home. If he experiences behavioral problems at school AND at home, then he is not a structure-dependent youngster.

The "acting-out" structure-dependent youngster:
  • can be somewhat naive and taken advantage of since he doesn’t stand up for himself
  • can become distressed by peers who do not follow the rules
  • doesn't want anyone to be upset with him
  • is often very cooperative with authority figures, sometimes to a fault
  • likes to please others
  • often becomes the "rule cop" in the classroom
  • tends to monitor other peers’ and will "tell on them" in they break a rule
  • tries to "fly under the radar"

This child has some anxiety issues, but not to the point where it is overwhelming for him. He manages his anxiety by following the rules – and making sure others do as well. Problems only occur for this child when rules are absent or vague, or when the adult in charge lacks authority in his opinion.

How parents and teachers can help the “acting-out” child:

Written rules, routines and schedules are some of the techniques used to create proper structure for this youngster – no matter how small the issue might be. There is no such thing as a situation that is too small to have rule. Even the “little things” need rules (e.g., going to a store, taking a bath, sharpening a pencil, raising your hand, etc.). Parents and teachers should supply a set of rules regarding appropriate behaviors to be demonstrated in each situation. Also, be sure to explain why there is a rule for such and such. This will help the child to generalize these skills later on.

Teachers who run highly structured classrooms may not need to do much of this. Instead, they may want to help the structure-dependent youngster be less rule-bound and have a greater tolerance for ambiguity.

The “Acting-in” Type--

This type of structure-dependent youngster is similar to the one above, except his behavior is good at home AND at school. He is also rule-bound with rules for everything, but unlike the acting-out child, this child has learned to control tantrums and anger – sometimes too much – in all situations. He views his parent, who has created many rules for him to follow at home, as an authority figure just like his teacher. There are very few situations that don't have rules for him to abide by. However, this child can be obedient to a fault, perfectionistic, obsessive-compulsive, and/or depressed. Thus, he needs to become more flexible.

How parents and teachers can help the “acting-in” child:


The adults need not worry about rules with this child; rather, a crash course in expressing emotions, as well as flexibility to help her see the world as less black-and-white would be helpful. This child needs to learn more about the “reasons behind actions” and how the world works, with less emphasis on unwavering compliance. Without throwing out the rules altogether, help this child to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills so that she can become a more independent thinker.


When Your Aspergers Child Can't Make Friends

If your Aspergers child doesn't ever talk about anyone in his class, doesn’t ask to bring a friend home, never gets invited to any of his peers' homes, and seems to be a loner in general preferring to play by himself, then he might be having trouble in the friendship department (his teacher may be able to confirm your suspicions).

Aspergers and HFA children need to understand when to reach out, pull back, blend in, speak up and let go. So, how can parents help their Aspergers child make and keep friends?

Click here for strategies that you can use to help your child make - and keep - friends!



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