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Clingy Behavior in Children with Asperger's & High-Functioning Autism

"Any advice on how to deal with separation anxiety in a child with high functioning autism? Dropping him off at school is a nightmare!"

You used to leave your Asperger’s or high-functioning autistic (HFA) child with loved ones or drop him off at school with a kiss on the cheek and a quick wave goodbye. Clingy behavior seemed to be a problem only for other children. But, now your goodbyes trigger tears or tantrums – or both.

If your youngster's clingy behavior seems intense or prolonged (especially if it interferes with school or other daily activities), you will want to address this situation sooner than later, because the longer it goes on, the worse it gets and the tougher it is to treat.

Each youngster handles stress differently, so the causes of clingy behavior will be different for each boy or girl. A parent's job is to play detective and figure out what's causing clingy behavior. Sometimes clinginess may be triggered by situations such as:
  • bullying
  • family stress 
  • new child care situation
  • new home
  • new school
  • new sibling

Keep in mind that the goal here is for your Asperger’s child to learn to cope with life without you, however long it takes. 

Here are a few parenting tips that help make goodbyes less stressful:

1. Ask your child if there is anything worrying him (e.g., bullying, illness, bereavement, etc.). Try to identify what might be causing the clinginess and describe his feelings so he begins to understand it. By describing his feelings and expressing your own feelings of wanting to be there for him, he will feel understood and be less likely to need your physical presence as reassurance.

2. Teach how to "talk to the fear." Help your youngster name the feeling (e.g., "I'm afraid"). Then, teach him how to talk back to the fear so he is in charge of the fear and not the other way around. The trick is to have him practice telling himself he'll be okay to build confidence (e.g., "Go away fear, leave me alone. Mom will come back.").

3. Kids on the autism spectrum (as with all kids) build self-confidence through mastering new tasks and contributing to their environment in a helpful way. Create tasks that your youngster can help you with at home (e.g., setting the table, cooking, cleaning up, etc.). The more confident a youngster feels in her abilities, the more secure she will feel in ANY environment.

4. When kids exhibit clingy behavior, it is generally viewed as a positive sign that they feel close and secure in the parent’s care and go to the parent for comfort when they are feeling distress. Responding to clingy behavior by ignoring or punishing it may make your youngster less likely to come to you when he is feeling afraid or vulnerable.

5. Some moms and dads find it easier to sneak out when their son or daughter has a hard time or throws a tantrum each time they leave. But, this will only increase your youngster’s anxiety and clinginess, because she will be afraid to engage in any activity too long for fear that you may sneak out and disappear at any moment.

6. Find people your child trusts (e.g., neighbor, relative, friend, etc.) who know your youngster's quirks, routines, likes and dislikes. Gradually stretch separation times, and slowly broaden your youngster's "inner security circle."

7. If you're leaving your youngster at home or in another familiar environment, give him a gentle goodbye – then go! Encourage your youngster's caregiver to distract him or engage him in a new activity right away. If you're leaving your youngster in a new environment, you might play with him for a few minutes to ease the transition. When you leave, remind him that you'll be back. Be specific about when you'll return (e.g., "after school").

8. Give your youngster something to look forward to. Discuss something fun that will happen while you're gone.

9. Make things more predictable for your youngster by making the schedule or routine as concrete as possible. Although you know your youngster’s schedule, she may not. Asperger’s and HFA kids don’t have a clear sense of time, live mostly in the here and now, and have shorter memory spans. Using pictures to depict their weekly schedule (especially when it changes every 2 to 3 days), telling them what to expect next, and reminding them when you will be available to spend time with them (e.g., "Remember, our special snack time is after school") will help reduce anxiety by bringing a sense of orderliness and structure to their day.

10. Socializing with kids the same age can help these young people develop attachments to their peers and can build social skills necessary for interacting with people outside of the immediate family. Set up regular play dates with a friend of your youngster’s choice from school, or schedule a class or weekly trips to the park.

11. Keep the crying and tantrums in perspective. Your youngster's tears and anger are an attempt to keep you from leaving. When you're gone, the tears and anger aren't likely to last long (especially once your youngster is engaged in a new activity).

12. Studies reveal that kids whose mom or dad prepared them for a separation were able to leave the parent far easier and protested far less than those not prepared. So, for example, drive by the birthday party in advance, go meet the new teacher before the first school day, take an online tour of the school before the move, and so on.

13. Leave a special reminder. Offer a blanket, stuffed animal or other comforting object for your youngster to hold while you're gone.

14. Practice saying goodbye. Do some role-playing. Eventually your youngster will learn that he can count on you to return, just as you did in the role-play.

15. Create "goodbye" rituals. Create a special kiss, or provide a special pebble or keychain to put in his pants pocket, then explain that when he touches the item, it means you're thinking of him.

16. Praise your youngster for tasks or activities that she is able to do independently (e.g., household chores, playing nicely on her own or with friends, etc.). Praising your youngster for doing things independently sends the message that she is capable of doing things for herself and should feel confident without your close supervision and guidance.

17. Some kids on the spectrum feel a constant need for affection because they are not sure when or if the attention will be available. Schedule 5 to 10 minutes every day when you can provide your youngster with undivided attention (i.e., no computer, T.V., cell phones, etc.).

18. Use a consistent phrase when saying goodbye (e.g., “I’ll see you again shortly”). Be brief, don’t linger, and don’t overreact if your youngster gets upset after saying goodbye. Overreacting will only feed into his anxiety and make it worse, while lingering will increase the likelihood that he will continue to sulk or seek your attention to prolong your stay each time.

19. Occasionally, you may need to stay with your youngster during social activities. Play with her and her peers until she is comfortable playing on her own. Be available during play dates to teach and model social skills, respond to conflict, and monitor situations that may cause stress or anxiety.

20. Use social stories, drawings, and other creative approaches appropriate to your youngster’s age to explain what he is thinking and feeling when you leave him somewhere.

21. Parental anxiety feeds into your youngster’s anxiety, so curb your anxiety and watch how you react. Kids can catch our fears.

22. Time your departure carefully. Your youngster may be more likely to have a tantrum when you leave if she is tired, hungry or restless. When possible, leave when your youngster is fed and rested.

23. Recruit one of your child’s peers to support him (e.g., peer comes to your house and walks with your child to school).

24. Develop a plan for gradual separation whereby you gradually shorten the period of time you spend saying goodbye – and increase the amount of time apart.

25. Avoid over-protection and too much reassurance. Always rescuing or being overprotective robs your youngster of confidence. The key is to find the balance between pushing and protecting. 

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Best Treatment Options for Asperger’s & High-Functioning Autism

 "What are the best treatments for children on the autism spectrum (those that are high functioning)?"

The core traits of Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can't be cured. But, many kids on the autism spectrum grow into happy, well-adjusted grown-ups. Most of these young people will benefit from early specialized interventions that focus on behavior management and social skills training. Certain medications and supplements can also help with associated symptoms (e.g., anxiety, sleep problems, etc.). Your physician can help identify resources in your area that may work for your “special needs” son or daughter.

AS and HFA treatment options include the following:

1. Applied behavior analysis: Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the applied research field of the science of behavior analysis and supports a wide range of treatment strategies. ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for kids on the autism spectrum. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health. ABA principles and techniques can promote basic skills (e.g., looking, listening, imitating), as well as complex skills (e.g., reading, conversing, understanding another person’s perspective).

2. Aripiprazole (Abilify): This drug may be effective for treating irritability related to AS and HFA. Side effects may include weight gain and an increase in blood sugar levels.

3. Avoidance diets: Some moms and dads have turned to gluten-free and/or casein-free diets to treat autism spectrum disorders. Many parents assert that these diets work, but anyone attempting such a diet needs guidance from a registered dietitian to ensure the youngster's nutritional requirements are met.

4. Cognitive behavioral therapy: This general term encompasses many techniques aimed at curbing problem behaviors (e.g., interrupting, obsessions, meltdowns, angry outbursts), as well as developing certain social skills (e.g., recognizing feelings, coping with anxiety). Cognitive behavioral therapy usually focuses on training the youngster to recognize a troublesome situation (e.g., a new place or an event with lots of social demands), and then select a specific learned strategy to cope with that situation.

5. Communication and social skills training: Kids with AS and HFA may be able to learn the unwritten rules of socialization and communication when taught in an explicit and rote fashion (much like the way students learn foreign languages). These young people may also learn how to speak in a more natural rhythm, as well as how to interpret communication techniques (e.g., gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, humor, sarcasm).

6. Computer-assisted therapy: Many remediation techniques have not taken into account that children on the spectrum suffer from difficulties in learning social rules by example. Computer-assisted therapy has been proposed to teach not simply using examples, but to teach the rule along with it. Learning starts from the basic concepts of knowledge and intention and proceeds to more complex communicative actions (e.g., explaining, agreeing, pretending).

7. Dietary supplements: Numerous dietary supplements have been tried in children on the autism spectrum. Those that may have some evidence to support their use include: Carnosine, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B-6, Magnesium, and Vitamin C (usually in combination with other vitamins).

8. Floortime: The Floortime/DIR approach is a developmental intervention to autism spectrum disorders. Its core principle is to understand the youngster's sensory differences, follow the youngster's lead, and use these to encourage the child to climb up the developmental ladder. This approach is based on the idea that the core deficits in autism spectrum disorders are individual differences in (a) difficulties in communication and relation to others, (b) motor planning problems, (c) the inability to connect ones desire to intentional action and communication, and (d) the sensory system.

9. Guanfacine (Intuniv): This medication may be helpful for the problems of hyperactivity and inattention in kids with AS and HFA. Side effects may include drowsiness, irritability, headache, constipation and bedwetting.

10. Melatonin: Sleep problems are common in kids with AS and HFA, and melatonin supplements may help regulate your youngster's sleep-wake cycle. The recommended dose is 3 mg, 30 minutes before bedtime. Possible side effects include excessive sleepiness, dizziness and headache.

11. Naltrexone (Revia): This medication may help reduce some of the repetitive behaviors associated with AS and HFA. However, the use of low-dose naltrexone — in doses as low as two to four mg a day — has been gaining favor recently. But, there's no good evidence that such low doses have any effect on AS and HFA.

12. Olanzapine (Zyprexa): Olanzapine is sometimes prescribed to reduce repetitive behaviors. Possible side effects include increased appetite, drowsiness, weight gain, and increased blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

13. Pivotal response therapy: Pivotal response therapy (PRT) is a naturalistic intervention derived from ABA principles. Instead of individual behaviors, this approach targets pivotal areas of a youngster's development (e.g., motivation, responsivity to multiple cues, self-management, social initiations). The youngster determines activities and objects that will be used in a PRT exchange. Intended attempts at the target behavior are rewarded with a “natural reinforcer” (e.g., if a youngster attempts a request for a stuffed animal, he receives the animal, not a piece of candy or other unrelated reinforcer).

14. Relationship based, developmental models: Relationship based models give importance to the relationships that help AS and HFA kids reach and master early developmental milestones. These are often missed or not mastered in young people on the autism spectrum. Examples of these early milestones are (a) engagement and interest in the world, (b) intimacy with a parent or other caretaker, and (c) intentionality of action.

15. Relationship Development Intervention: Relationship development intervention is a family-based treatment program for kids on the spectrum. This program is based on the belief that the development of dynamic intelligence (i.e., the ability to think flexibly, take different perspectives, cope with change, and process information simultaneously) is key to improving the quality of life for AS and HFA kids.

16. Risperidone (Risperdal): This medication may be prescribed for agitation and irritability. It may cause trouble sleeping, a runny nose and an increased appetite. This drug has also been associated with an increase in cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

17. SCERTS: The SCERTS model is an educational model for working with kids on the autism spectrum. It was designed to help parents, teachers and therapists work cooperatively together to maximize progress in supporting the youngster. The acronym refers to the focus on: (1) SC - social communication (the development of functional communication and emotional expression); (2) ER - emotional regulation (the development of well-regulated emotions and ability to cope with stress); and (3) TS - transactional support (the implementation of supports to help parents, teachers and therapists respond to the child's needs, adapt the environment, and provide tools to enhance learning).

18. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Drugs such as fluvoxamine (Luvox) may be used to treat depression or to help control repetitive behaviors. Possible side effects include restlessness and agitation.

19. Sensory integration: The term Sensory integration means the ability to use all of ones senses to accomplish a task. Unusual responses to sensory stimuli are common in kids on the spectrum. This treatment includes prism lenses, physical exercise, auditory integration training, and sensory stimulation such as "deep pressure," which is firm touch-pressure applied either manually or via a hug machine or a pressure garment. Occupational therapists sometimes prescribe sensory treatments for AS and HFA kids.

20. Social stories: Social stories is devised as a tool to help kids on the autism spectrum better understand the nuances of interpersonal communication so that they can interact in an effective and appropriate manner. Although the prescribed format was meant for high functioning children with basic communication skills, the format was adapted substantially to suit children with poor communication skills and low level functioning. Social stories are being used in targeted ways to prepare AS and HFA children for social interaction and assist with coping skills.

21. TEACCH: Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) emphasizes structure by using organized physical environments, predictably sequenced activities, visual schedules and visually structured activities, and structured work/activity systems where each youngster can practice various tasks. Moms and dads are taught to implement the treatment at home. One study found that kids treated with a TEACCH-based home program improved significantly more than a control group.

22. The P.L.A.Y. Project: The P.L.A.Y. Project is a community-based, national autism training and early intervention program. The program is designed to train moms and dads to implement intensive, developmental interventions for younger kids (2 to 6 years) with autism spectrum disorders. The program is operating in nearly 100 agencies worldwide, including 25 U.S. states and in 5 countries outside of the U.S. The P.L.A.Y. Project received a $1.85 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a 3-year controlled, clinical study of the P.L.A.Y. Project model. The study compares the outcomes of 60 kids who participate in The P.L.A.Y. Project with the outcomes of 60 kids who receive standard community interventions, making it the largest study of its kind. Before and after the 12-month intervention, each youngster is assessed with a battery of tests to measure developmental level, speech and language, sensory-motor profile, and social skills.

Additional suggestions:
  • You'll need to make important decisions about your youngster's education and treatment. So, find a team of educators and therapists who can help evaluate the options in your area and explain the federal regulations regarding kids with disabilities.
  • Lean on family and friends when you can. Ask someone who understands your youngster's needs to babysit sometimes so that you can get an occasional break. You may also find a support group for moms and dads of AS/HFA kids helpful. Ask your youngster's physician if he or she knows of any groups in your area. 
  • Most kids with AS and HFA have no visible sign of disability, so you may need to alert teachers, coaches, relatives and other grown-ups to your youngster's special needs. Otherwise, a well-meaning adult may spend time lecturing your youngster on "looking at me while I'm talking" (something that can be very difficult for the youngster to do).
  • The tendency to fixate on a particular narrow topic is one of the hallmarks of AS and HFA, and it can be annoying to those who must listen to incessant talk about the favorite topic every day. But, a consuming interest can also connect a youngster to schoolwork and social activities. In some cases, kids with AS and HFA can even turn their childhood fascination into a career or profession.
  • There are numerous books and websites dedicated to autism spectrum disorders. Do some research so that you better understand your youngster's challenges and the range of services in your school district and state.
  • The signs and symptoms of AS and HFA vary for each youngster, and these kids have a hard time explaining their behaviors and challenges. But, with time and patience, you'll learn which situations and environments may cause problems for your youngster and which coping strategies work. Keeping a diary and looking for patterns may help.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule whenever possible. If you have to introduce change, do so gradually.

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

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