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The "Nervous" Child on the Autism Spectrum

There is no doubt that kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are much more prone to nervousness than their neurotypical peers. The nervous child on the autism spectrum is one who:
  • has low self esteem
  • is easily frightened
  • is easily upset by minor inconveniences (e.g., small changes in routine)
  • lacks self-confidence
  • cries a great deal on slight provocation
  • worries about family, school, friends, or activities
  • worries about things before they happen

Nervous kids on the spectrum are often overly bothered or sensitive.  Some may seek a lot of reassurance from parents, and their nervousness may interfere with many of their day-to-day activities. Moms and dads should not discount their youngster’s inability to cope “normally.”  Because nervous kids may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed.  Moms and dads need to be alert to the signs of excessive nervousness in their child so they can intervene early and prevent further complications.

Here are some tips to help your nervous child to learn to relax and be peaceful:

1. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older child helps a younger one learn to read can do wonders for both children. Volunteering and contributing to your local community can have positive effects on self-esteem for everyone involved.

2. Aspergers and HFA kids are generally not helped when moms and dads tell them to stop being afraid of something. What is helpful is an approach in which you acknowledge their fears and at the same time let them know that you will help them overcome these fears.

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

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

4. Be spontaneous and affectionate. Your love will help boost your youngster's self-esteem. Give hugs and tell her you're proud of her when you can see her putting effort toward something or trying something at which she previously failed.

5. Comfort your youngster and let him know that you will work on problems together as they arise. He is never alone.

6. Create a safe, loving home environment. Children who don't feel safe are at greatest risk for developing poor self-esteem. A youngster who is exposed to moms and dads who fight and argue repeatedly may feel they have no control over their environment and become helpless or depressed.

7. Don’t “jump in” too early to help “fix” your youngster’s problems. Remember to give him lots of time to express his negative feelings around worries and problems first where you are just listening and acknowledging feelings before helping him to figure out a solution.

8. Establish a regular bedtime routine consisting of quieter activities that help your youngster to gradually relax.

9. Establish consistent daily routines and structure. Routines reduce nervousness, and regular daily patterns emphasize predictability. A regular routine will give a sense of control to both parent and youngster. Nervous kids do not cope well with a disorganized, spontaneous family life style.

10. Give positive, accurate feedback. Comments like "You always work yourself up into a meltdown" will make Aspergers and HFA children feel like they have no control over their outbursts. A better statement is, "I can see you were very upset with your sister, but it was nice that you were able to talk about it instead of hitting her." This acknowledges the youngster's feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages him or her to make the right choice again next time.

11. Help your youngster to understand that the negative and pessimistic things she says to herself about herself are not helpful and can influence how she feels and behaves.

12. Help your youngster notice different feelings by naming various feelings she or others may experience. Explain how people show their feelings (e.g., through faces, bodies, words) and that showing your feelings is an important way for others to understand how you are feeling. Help your youngster notice how different feelings “feel” in her own body (e.g., tight hands, butterflies in stomach, etc.).

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

13. Help your youngster with their worries and problems by teaching him how to problem-solve by defining the problem, brainstorming all possible solutions and their consequences, and choosing the best solution.

14. Identify and redirect inaccurate beliefs. It's important for moms and dads to identify their child’s irrational beliefs about himself, whether they're about perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping children on the spectrum 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 these children.

15. It is helpful for kids to talk about their feelings; however, talking about feelings is not easy for special needs kids, especially when they are asked directly. It is important for moms and dads to watch and listen carefully for the times when the youngster does express feelings, either directly through words or indirectly through behaviors. At these times, you can help him by acknowledging and accepting his feelings through simply reflecting them back to him and refraining from providing advice or asking questions. When a youngster’s feelings are criticized, disapproved of, or not accepted by the mother or father, his internal sense of self is weakened.

16. It is important for these young people to have limits set and consequences for breaking the limits. Kids feel secure when there are limits setting restrictions on inappropriate behaviors.

17. Learning relaxation skills will help kids feel better when they are anxious, worried or scared. It will also help them learn that they have some control over their own bodies rather than being controlled by their nervousness. One way to help your youngster relax is to encourage slow, deep breathing. Another way to relax is to ask her to alternately tense and relax her muscles. You can also help your youngster use her imagination to relax. Help her to imagine a safe and relaxing place and to notice the good relaxing feelings in her body.

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

18. Listen to your youngster and allow him to express his feelings though his fears sound irrational. Let him know he can always talk to you when anything is bothering him.

19. Meet with your youngster’s teacher to find out how he is doing socially and academically and ask for help in getting your youngster to school.

20. Never make fun of, ridicule, scream at, punish, or demean your youngster because of his nervous demeanor. Do not allow family members, or other adults do so either.

21. Provide opportunities for exercise. Exercise is helpful in relieving stress and helping your youngster’s body to relax.

22. Soothing an autistic youngster is a very helpful strategy that moms and dads can use in relieving nervousness. These strategies communicate to the youngster that she is safe and cared for. Verbal reassurances of safety and love, rocking, cuddling, holding, massage, singing, and telling stories are just some of the soothing strategies that moms and dads can use. Moms and dads may be surprised to realize that their kids may sometimes need soothing that seems to the parent to be too “babyish” for the youngster’s age. However, nervous kids DO need extra soothing experiences that relax and relieve the tension in their bodies.

23. Take care of the basic needs of your youngster – especially to prevent fatigue and hunger.

24. Take stock of what is happening at home. Are there stressful situations going on that are worrying your youngster? Are mornings tension-filled as you try to get everyone out the door? Reduce house-hold stress as much as possible.

25. There are many kid’s books available that deal specifically with nervousness, fears and worries. These books can be very helpful for kids as the stories will often model various ways of coping with fears and nervousness.

26. Watch for signs of abuse by others, problems in school, trouble with peers, and other factors that may affect your child’s self-esteem. Encourage your child to talk to you or other trusted adults about solving problems that are too big to solve by himself.

27. When your child is feeling nervous, encourage her to engage in activities she enjoys (e.g., playing with a favorite toy, doing a fun art or craft activity, doing something active outside, playing a game, reading a book, playing with friends, etc.). Aspergers kids will often need the assistance and attention of their moms and dads to engage in these fun activities if they are feeling nervous.

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

28. While these kids are generally not helped when parents demand that they face their fears all at once, they are helped when parents can gently encourage them to approach feared situations. This is because exposure to feared situations leads to desensitization and reduction of the fear and nervousness. However, approaching feared situations can be difficult for nervous kids since they would rather avoid them. One way of helping a youngster approach a feared situation is to go about it in small steps so that each step is achievable and gradually becomes a little more difficult. Another important strategy for moms and dads is to reward the youngster for trying to approach a feared situation. The boy or girl will also find it helpful to be reminded that the fear will get smaller over time. In addition, kids can be reminded of fears and difficult situations that they have overcome in the past.

29. Severe nervousness in these kids can be treated. Early treatment can prevent future difficulties (e.g., loss of friendships, failure to reach social and academic potential, feelings of low self-esteem, etc.). Treatments may include a combination of the following:
  • behavioral treatments
  • consultation to the school
  • family therapy
  • individual psychotherapy

30. As a last resort, if nervousness becomes severe and begins to interfere with your youngster’s usual activities, (e.g., separating from parents, attending school, making friends, etc.), then consider anti-anxiety medications prescribed by your doctor.

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

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

==> 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

==> Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

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

Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism: Early Identification and Intervention

Young people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are often misdiagnosed and under-served in the U.S. The difficulty in understanding and acknowledging the disorder by the medical, psychological, and psychiatric community can lead to misdiagnosis and even failure to provide the services needed for these children.

Thus, it is critical that parents who suspect their child may have Aspergers or HFA educate themselves about the early signs associated with this disorder and begin the intervention process early.

Moms and dads frequently begin to suspect that there is something wrong before the age of two.  Many kids who are diagnosed at a very young age with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) may in fact have an autism spectrum disorder.

This is not a disease; rather, it is a developmental neurobiological difference in brain functions and is characterized by the following:
  • stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities, and interests
  • qualitative impairment in social interaction
  • no significant delay in cognitive development
  • no general delay in language

In addition, intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis. Symptoms of Aspergers and HFA are usually recognized during the first three years of childhood; however, it is often not recognized until kids are of school age.

1. Parents may notice a lack of eye contact or social smiles, or they may observe too much eye contact and an appearance of the youngster viewing children as interesting to observe, but not necessarily interact with or seek recognition from. These kids may not have an interest in sharing toys and interests, and tend to be viewed as "lost in their own little world" at times. They may have a greater interest in sensory and physical play with others (e.g., tickling, hugging, piggy back, chasing, video games, fantasy play, repetitive watching of movies, reading books to the exclusion of social interaction, etc.).

2. The disorder impacts normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. The disorder makes it hard for children to communicate with others and relate to the social world. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present; however, internal behaviors such as withdrawal, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and social isolation may be just as prevalent.

Communication may not appear to be delayed, but comprehension and social language requiring give and take may be lacking. Also, an unusual tone or quality, rote or repetitive speech may present. Blurting out, excessively asking the same question over and over, echoing or mimicking, large vocabulary, or difficulty listening to another and understanding another perspective can be apparent.

Some children on the spectrum demonstrate extreme abilities in remembering facts, numbers, phone numbers, maps, words, birth dates, or other factual information. They may appear very rigid in their point of view, and unable to accept or understand another's perspective. They may appear to never be able to "let it go," or tend towards appearing argumentative or "splitting hairs." A conversation can lead to tantrums, emotional meltdowns, or withdrawal with seemingly little provocation.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
3. Children with the disorder may exhibit repeated body movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to children or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. They may also experience sensitivities in any or all of the five senses.

4. These kids tend to rely heavily on rigid internal rules and struggle with the unwritten social rules of social interaction. Failure often accompanies autistic kids like a close companion. As a result, they may need much reassurance during stressful periods.

5. Empathy can be defined in numerous ways, and non-verbal communication (e.g., posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expression, tone, etc.), are clues in revealing our emotions, attitude, personality, relationships. This helps guide the interpretation of how another feels leading to an empathetic awareness or understanding of others.  This empathetic understanding can be hindered in a child with Aspergers or HFA.

Given that characteristics of the disorder may include a complete lack of the sense of fear or danger, too little or too much eye contact, which can appear as overly aggressive, threatening, or seductive, combined with a hindrance in the ability to judge another person's feelings or intentions accurately, females on the spectrum may be at increased threat for assault, abuse, violence, or worse. Many girls on the spectrum provide stories of being singled-out or picked on mercilessly due to their odd behaviors or just not fitting in and are literally disabled when it came to surviving the more sophisticated social complexity of adolescent society.

6. These young people have difficulty understanding subtle cues. Misunderstandings, literal interpretation, and/or sensory over stimulation can lead to overreactions, irritability, low frustration tolerance, tantrums, aggressiveness, appearing to have an explosive temperament, self stimulation, anxiety, depression, or self injury. They develop a tendency of distrust towards others due to social failures and negative social experiences over time, which can lead to self-isolation and social phobia. This behavioral reaction can be viewed as "rude" by others, and often children on the spectrum struggle to understand why they are not liked or frequently feel rejected.

7. They may become extremely upset if their routine or ritual is changed in any way, and can become agitated if someone touches their things, moves furniture or toys around, or even takes a different driving route to or from school. They may be very rigid and insist on doing things the same way every time, or demonstrate an extreme aversion or experience tantrums during transitions.

Stereotypical movements (e.g., spinning, flapping, lining things up, toe walking, body rocking, grimaces, twirling, pacing, racing around, noise-making, leg bouncing, clearing of the throat, chair rocking) may be more significant or frequent during periods of change or transitions.  An extreme perfectionism or "having to finish" what they have started to the point of meltdowns may be evident especially during unexpected or unwanted transitions.

8. Kids with Aspergers and HFA may display a very narrow or an unusual range of interests, with elaborate or unusual play-based behaviors. They may act-out elaborate rituals, which appear to be creative play, but are actually scripted activities without the variation or creativity of imaginary play. They may demonstrate fixations on things (e.g., Pokémon, television shows, computer games, numbers, trains, cars, etc.), and tend toward lining things up, organizing by color, or even repeating lines verbatim.

9. They may exhibit and excessive desire or intense aversion to sensory input. They may appear hyperactive, and pursue movement to an excessive degree, or they can appear unresponsive or ‘flat’ if overwhelmed hypersensitive to sensory input and movement.  Some may have an unusual or extreme response to sounds and cover their ears in response to vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, crying babies, sirens or other loud or unexpected noise.

Some may be extremely affected by smells, tastes, textures, heat, or commotions. They may have problems falling asleep, or staying asleep. Kids who are overly reactive to crowds and commotion may appear uncomfortable or avoidant of cafeterias, malls, gymnasiums, parties, family gatherings, or even theaters. In reaction, they may feel hot, get a stomach or headache or tantrum, or resist going to such places.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism
10. They may interact very well with grown-ups, but struggle with appropriately initiating peer interaction or maintaining interest.  Sometimes, kids with the disorder do not notice if a playmate loses interest, or even wanders away. The unwritten social rules seem to be confusing, and interpreting social comments, facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language can be similar to trying to interpret a foreign language.

A general lack of fear may be evident, and kids with Aspergers and HFA may talk openly with strangers, hug strangers, invade other's personal space, bump into peers in lines, touch or climb on others inappropriately, or have excessive or a complete lack of separation anxiety from moms and dads.

11. Motor clumsiness or fine motor difficulties may be present, and intuitive physics may be higher than intuitive psycho-social abilities. The youngster may be able to dismantle and recreate elaborate Lego designs, set a clock, reprogram a VCR, match shapes, or display, artistic or musical talents.

12. Social isolation, a limitation in reciprocation or give and take interactions, tending to be self-absorbed or aloof, a lack of social discrimination, and/or difficulties with social skills are also common in children and teens on the spectrum . Social isolation may look like the youngster is withdrawn, avoiding contact or interaction with children, family, or peers, and a preference towards playing alone or with "things" rather than playmates. Kids with Aspergers and HFA may appear to play next to – but not with – others, and establishing friendships with “give and take” interactions may be lacking.

For a professional to meet only briefly in a single setting is not enough to paint a complete portrait of the child's needs and abilities.  Often, the child can appear to have the behaviors of a mentally handicapped, behaviorally disordered, or hearing impaired person. The behaviors noted are sometimes dismissed as immaturity, odd, or shy.

Early identification and intervention are considered key to positive outcomes for kids on the spectrum. In order to reach all children on the autism spectrum, school psychologists, mental health professionals, physicians, and moms and dads should work together to become better informed regarding research, assessment tools, and diagnostic criteria, as well as the best proactive interventions to increase social skills, personal communication, behavior, and peer interaction for Aspergers and HFA children.

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

==> 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

==> Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

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

Teaching The Anxious Aspergers Student

Teaching students with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism who also experience social anxiety in the classroom WILL be challenging. School can be difficult for Aspergers students without the anxiety issue, but it is especially difficult for the anxious “Aspie.” If you are a teacher of an anxious student with Aspergers, knowing how to encourage and foster a good environment for learning is paramount.

Click here for the full article...

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...