Helping Children with Asperger's and HFA to Navigate Everyday Social Interactions

If you ask “typical” children how they learned to read nonverbal cues in everyday conversations, they might reply that they learned these things through observing the interactions of family and friends. Other “typical” kids might reply that they aren't quite sure how they know that a certain expression means a friend is bored or annoyed — they just know.

This is because the skills needed for social interaction come naturally during the process of growth and development. However, for young people on the autism spectrum, this process may not be so effortless, and direct social skills instruction is often necessary.

The ability to navigate everyday social interactions can frequently present significant challenges for children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Social situations that present difficulties can range from the fairly simple (e.g., engaging in a conversation with a classmate) to the extremely complex (e.g., determining whether a peer who seems friendly is actually harmful in some way). Because of this, social skills are often broken down into categories (or types of skill) according to the level of complexity and interaction.

Here is an example of one way of categorizing social skills:

Skill Set: Foundation Skills
Used for: Basic social interaction
Examples: Ability to maintain eye contact, maintain appropriate personal space, understand gestures and facial expressions

Skill Set: Interaction Skills
Used for: Skills needed to interact with others
Examples: Resolving conflicts, taking turns, learning how to begin and end conversations, determining appropriate topics for conversation, interacting with authority figures

Skill Set: Affective Skills
Used for: Skills needed for understanding oneself and others
Examples: Identifying one's feelings, recognizing the feelings of others, demonstrating empathy, decoding body language and facial expressions, determining whether someone is trustworthy

Skill Set: Cognitive Skills
Used for: Skills needed to maintain more complex social interactions
Examples: Social perception, making choices, self-monitoring, understanding community norms, determining appropriate behavior for different social situations.

Social interactions are incredibly complex, and the list presented above is not exhaustive in terms of the skills that AS and HFA children may need to successfully navigate social situations. Additionally, each child’s “social skill profile” is different. Some “special needs” children may have strong foundation skills but lack appropriate interaction skills, while others may require assistance in developing more basic skills (e.g., making eye contact).

Social skills training is often used to teach specific sets of social competencies to the child with AS or HFA. A common focus of social skills training is communication skills. A program designed to improve a child’s skills in this area may include expressing feelings in appropriate ways, starting a conversation, nonverbal communication, and assertiveness.

Another common focus of social skills training involves improving a child’s ability to perceive and act on social cues. Many kids on the autism spectrum have problems communicating with others because they fail to notice (or do not understand) other's cues, whether verbal or nonverbal. For example, some AS and HFA kids become unpopular with their friends because they force their way into small play groups. But a youngster who has learned to read social signals would know that the kids in the small group do not want someone else to join them (at least not at that moment). Learning to understand other's spoken or unspoken messages is as important as learning conversational skills.

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

Tips for teaching social skills to a child with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism:

1. A major goal in teaching social skills is to develop a program that meets the demands of specific roles or situations. This need developed from studies that found that, for kids on the autism spectrum, social skills acquired in one setting or situation are not easily generalized or transferred to another setting or situation. To assist these young people in using their new skills in real-life situations, parents and teachers should use role-playing, teaching, modeling, and practice.

2. Be careful not to intensify your child’s feelings of social incompetence (this caution is particularly important in helping children with social phobia, who are already worried about others' opinions of them).

3. Generally speaking, kids with AS and HFA gain more from social skills training in a “group setting” than in individual training sessions. Thus, when possible, it would be best to teach the child a particular skill while he or she is actively involved in a social activity with peers (e.g., teaching the child how to share during group play).

4. Move slowly so that your child is not overwhelmed by trying to change too many behaviors at one time.

5. One of the most crucial tasks in preparation for social skills training is the selection of suitable target behaviors. Things will go more smoothly if parents and teachers ask the AS or HFA child to identify behaviors that he or she would like to change, rather than pointing to problem areas that they have identified. Training sessions should consider the child’s particular needs and interests. While social skills training for some kids may include learning self-calming techniques, training for others may include learning strategies for dealing with peer-rejection.

6. Preparation for social skills training requires tact on the parent’s part, because some AS and HFA kids become discouraged or upset by being told that they need help with their social skills. One good approach to get around this issue is through reading self-help books and/or Social Stories (more information on Social Stories can be found here). Also, you can try to ease your child’s self-consciousness or embarrassment by explaining that no one has perfect social skills.

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

7. Social skills need to be transferred from the training session itself to real-life situations. This transfer is called generalization (i.e., the child can apply what he has learned). One approach to improving generalization is to situate the training exercises within the child’s social environment. Generalization takes place more readily when the social skills training has a clear focus and the child is highly motivated to reach a realistic goal. Parents can prepare their child for homework by explaining that the homework is the practice of new skills in other settings – and that it is as relevant as the training session itself.

8. Social skills training may be modified somewhat to allow for cultural and gender differences. For example, eye contact is a frequently targeted behavior to be taught during social skills training. But, in some cultures, downcast eyes are a sign of respect rather than an indication of social anxiety or shyness. Also, females in some cultures may be considered pretentious if they look at others (particularly adult males) too directly. These modifications can usually be made without changing the basic format of the training sessions.

9. Social skills training should rest on an objective assessment of the child’s actual problems in relating to others.

10. There are a number of reasons to consider using multimedia technologies to augment social skills training. Many types of multimedia technologies can be an excellent match for the specific learning styles and preferences of children on the autism spectrum (e.g., virtual environments, simulations, videos, etc.). For children who are visual learners, videos, simulations, virtual environments, pictures and other multimedia can be effective teaching tools. For example, you could video tape your child playing with friends, and then use the video to conduct a discussion (or “autopsy”) of the social interactions. Still images from the video could be captured and used to create a slide show with text or loaded onto a smart phone to be used as reminders when the child is in mainstream environments. AS and HFA children seem to learn social skills best when they are taught in authentic situations using a variety of mediums. Role playing, listening to Social Stories, observing peer behavior, and conducting social skills autopsies can all be augmented with the use of multimedia tools.

11. As already mentioned, a major difficulty with social skills training is that many children with AS and HFA struggle with generalizing new skills to different situations. Parents can help their “special needs” child generalize social skills in several ways:
  • Teach social skills that are valued by the child’s community (e.g., parents, siblings, peers, teachers, etc.). These skills are more likely to be reinforced.
  • Teach social skills with a variety of mediums (e.g., video, books, games, software, etc.) across a variety of settings and situations.
  • Teach new skills in the setting where they are most likely to be used (e.g., on a bus, in the classroom, at church, etc.). If this is not possible, role playing can be an effective substitute.

12. Because children use social skills in nearly every aspect of their day, every moment has the potential to be a “teachable moment.” To take advantage of this, parents and teachers should try to teach social skills throughout the day in a variety of ways. Some methods for introducing social skills include:
  • Use of Social Stories: Social Stories are a successful way of teaching social skills to AS and HFA children because they can provide them with a narrative or script about a variety of situations and appropriate behavior.
  • Social skill autopsies: After a social interaction, discuss what your youngster did, what happened, whether the outcome was positive or negative, and what he or she will do in the same situation in the future.
  • Reading and discussing kids’ literature and videos: Many stories for kids are on social skills topics (e.g., making new friends, dealing with bullies, encountering new situations, etc.).
  • Incidental teaching: This involves using a natural interaction between the child and an adult to practice a particular skill.

“Typical” children have learned to read nonverbal cues in everyday interactions. For them, skills needed for social interaction come naturally. However, for AS and HFA children, direct social skills instruction may be necessary. When this is the case, using the tips above should help parents and teachers begin the process of effectively teaching such skills so that the child can learn to navigate everyday social interactions in a way that approximates how “typical” kids interact with others.

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

==> 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

COMMENTS & QUESTIONS [for Nov., 2014]

Do you need some assistance in parenting your Aspergers or HFA child? Click here to use Mark Hutten, M.A. as your personal parent coach.


Our son is 16 and was going to stay on into 6th form at his school, however he didn't get the grades he needed and had a poor academic and attitudinal reputation.  We were able to find a college course at the last minute which he has started to attend, but unfortunately the issues have followed and he's already on his first disciplinary.

To cut a long story short, my husband and I are to visit the college and subject lead later this week, but could really do with some back up advice.  You see we have no formal diagnosis - we always thought our son quirky in some ways, however as he has gone through teen developmental stages, his difficulties have worsened and put together, have informed us of a bigger picture.  the headteacher at school commented as he had previously managed an autistic unit within another school that the symptoms presenting sounded very much like HFA.  We all agreed a diagnosis at this stage would be unhelpful and our son would be mortified with such a label.  We have found teaching staff largely very unhelpful and unsympathetic and we get the impression they think our son is simply a pain in the backside.  In the UK as I'm sure you're aware without formal diagnosis, there is no extra funding or support available.

At this point, enough is enough hence the purchase of your book and meeting later this week.  We somehow have to get college to understand and support but this will be very difficult as why should they?  We were going to therefore, offer to be our son's mentors - in the background of course, but is there anything you can think of to help us get the message through this week etc etc


I found your name on the internet when researching Apserger’s children who drop out of college.  My son does not believe anything is wrong with him or that he should be labeled with “Aspergers.” 
He’s been attending college for the last 2 years.  I thought he was adjusting pretty well.  I know he had some problems but he seemed to be able to take care of them until this semester – his junior year.  He wants to drop out of college.  He has been experiencing physical symptoms – achiness, can’t sleep or eat (he lost 30 pounds, can’t focus or concentrate on anything, extreme sweating, very cold all the time.  He had great grades the first 2 years but is now barely passing.  He was on several different medications – the doctors were trying different ones to help him with his depression (although my son says he was never depressed) and his outbursts – he was on zoloft, risperdal, geodon, abilify, to name a few.  He says he is slowly dying.  He feels that this medication that he took in the past damaged his hypothalamus.  Could this be possible?  I don’t know what to do.  He was crying on the phone and begging for help.  He is afraid to come home because he feels that he will die because his home state is contaminated.  This was his way of experiencing OCD – it was more of an aura than a specific germ thing.  I can’t just let him drop out and then put him up in an apartment somewhere.  Does your book address anything like this?  In some ways he sounds so intelligent and then in other ways, he is so dependent still.  He doesn’t have a driver’s license and he is 21.
Please help. 


In a nut shell I am now a single parent of a 13 year old girl. her older sister now 22. The girls father past away from a sudden heart attack 1.5 years ago. My older daughter and I have had problems getting along for a long time. I divorced their father over 10 years ago and she blames me for everything. She is a negative influence on her younger sister who is out of control. Last night was the final straw. She won't go to therapy, and last night she touted me with wanting to go live with her step mother laughed at me while she told me to hit her. Which of course I did not do. I told her I was taking her phone as punishment for 24 hours and that's when it got crazy. She pushed me into the wall then the window and she left bruises on my arm but I showed restraint and I never hit her. I got the phone and gave it back today but was it worth it? She says she hates me, refuses to do any chores, treats me disrespectfully.

My older daughter told me I am selfish, wants nothing to do with me because I told her I hated her. I don't recall ever saying those words exactly but when it got too much I am sure I told her to go live with their father. What I do recall is my older daughter spitting in my face in front of her friend Emily.  I have tried to make peace with my older one but is content to tell me that if I don't change I will  be alone not invited to weddings grandchildren. I have to tell you her perception of reality is jaded but it feels like fighting a loosing battle. Both my children focus on the one thing I did wrong, not the things I have done right. They both were spoiled, more by their father as he had the means.

My younger one is out of control and I feel I have all the responsibility of children and none of the joy. I am at my wits end. I deserve to be happy weather my children want me to or not. I just don't know what to do. Let me know if you think you can help.


Hi Mark, I've read your newsletter with interest and bought a few of your guides. My son is 14 and when he was 2 we were told he had moderate to severe autism. In kindergarten, we were told he had Aspberger's. But today, he has very few remaining issues.  (He got an incredible amount of ABA therapy, music, pt, OT therapy before kindergarten and we tried numerous biomedical interventions which I felt made a difference.)

However, he's never stimmed or had odd repetitive behaviors. (His lining up trucks and trains as a child put him in that repetitive behavior category by the evaluating psychologist.) He doesn't have narrow fields of interest. He just has a bit of social misunderstanding in certain situations and poor organizational skills. He has a very hard time focusing in class, but did not meet criteria for ADHD when evaluated. His IQ is average. However, he has no motivation to do well in school. He's not black-and-white literal, but does tend toward that way of looking at the world. I think most people would never guess he had this diagnosis. He has friends, he's friendly, and empathetic. The only items on his 504 plan are extra time for tests over 30 minutes, and moving to a separate location for tests over 30 minutes.  I'm wondering if his initial diagnosis was too aggressive (perhaps in order to secure ABA therapy, which brought in more state funding reimbursement for the therapy group) or perhaps he outgrew it, or our treatments were successful. 

So my question, which might be helpful for other newsletter subscribers, is whether to have him reevaluated at this age.  What are the pros and cons of having a child evaluated again years after the initial diagnosis? Or is it dumb to "give up" a diagnosis so many people fight to get in order to secure help for their kids? (I read your article today on NVLD, but that doesn't totally sound like him either.)  Thanks so much for any feedback you can provide.


Hi Mark,

Thank you for your newsletter!

My interest is because I have become very concerned about my 11 year old grandson and feel he may have Asperger’s. He seems to fit the pattern – very bright, intelligent, interested in many things beyond his years, advanced language skills … but no social sense or eye contact, talks on and on in detail about what interests him with no clue that the listener has lost interest. He is home-schooled but really ‘freaks out’ when given work to do (guess that’s considered a meltdown), he cries and says he can’t do it, and he argues incessantly. The one thing that doesn’t fit from what I read is that he is very loving and compassionate and cares about people especially if they are hurting for some reason, however his mom says he was not always compassionate, e.g. when she hurt herself. He is loving to the point where he pops out with “I love you Gran” at the oddest times.

I have read some material on the Internet but just starting on this journey. I was not planning on mentioning my suspicion to my daughter yet, until I was a bit more convinced myself. Then a few days ago she told me that somebody had suggested to her that George might have AS so I did mention it then. She is not willing to accept it although I think she will when she has time to absorb it. Her husband is totally unwilling to entertain such a thought – there’s nothing wrong with George!

I look forward to being ‘educated’ on this syndrome and being able to help in some way. I was very interested in your online coaching and hope my daughter will soon be willing to subscribe to that to learn more.

Just one question about genetics – his mom’s female cousin’s son (both share the same grandparents on moms’ side) who is now around age 20, is diagnosed with Asperger’s. Any comment on that?


My son is in his 3rd year of college at a small Christian college 6 hours from home.  He has Aspergers and high functioning autism.  He has done remarkably well through the years thanks to the wonderful support we have received through the years at school.  He is very gifted artistically and we were thrilled to locate a Christian college with a great art department.   We understand that he gets fixated on certain subjects and can’t seem to move on.  We has developed an addiction to pornography.  We have tried to talk with him and help him by putting a filter on his computer.  He understands it is a tool to help him.  Complicating this matter is that it is male pornography that he is looking at.  When we first discovered the problem, we assumed that he was looking at men since it would be “wrong” to look at naked women.  He has never had close friends, but has always seemed OK with that.  People like him and talk to him, but when it comes to spending quality time with him, they are not so interested.  He plays on a Frisbee team and loves it.  These guys have always included him.  They practice 3 times a week and go to tournaments on the weekends.  He isn’t a very good player and they don’t put him in to play during the games, but he says he likes to go along and keep score.  His grades are always a struggle for him, but he has been hanging in there.  I was monitoring his computer usage and found a website that he has been frequenting.  He actually put his name and birthdate on the website and told where he was going to school!    He said he was attracted to men and was very lonely.  My husband and I have tried to look at this rationally to try to figure out how to help him.  He has always longed for male friends and I think he is just fixated on finding a male friend.  He mentioned the last time he was home that he was getting pretty lonely and would like to find a girlfriend to date, but didn’t know how.  We encouraged him to be friendly and try to join in a group of guys and girls to socialize and not just start out trying to find someone to date.  We explained that you usually try to be friends and talk a bit before dating someone.  I don’t know what else to do!  He’s not here where we can talk to him regularly and he doesn’t call home much.  He always seems fine when we talk to him, but I know he’s lonely.  He escapes with his computer.  He talked with a counselor at the college last year and didn’t do well talking to him in person.  He had a meltdown last year on his birthday and sent me an email confessing his feelings.  I told him I was proud of him for being so honest and encouraged him to send it to the counselor.  He did and so they decided to correspond through emails.  Apparently, that didn’t happen.

I am at a loss at what to do.  We have told him the dangers and pornography and that it is the new drug and in his head, I think he understands, but when he’s down and lonely, he must think he has no where else to turn.  He thinks all this is a secret from us, and I am unsure how much to confront him with.  I am open to any suggestions.


Hello Mark, I've discovered you wonderful on-line resources for those with High Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. I am amazed and grateful for what you do in your profession of Psychology and how you help those seeking assistance and enlightenment. My son Sam has Aspergers (OCD, ADD and anxiety) I only wish I had seen your posts much sooner! Though my experience is only from my family and self study, my passion is helping others going through similar situations. 4 years ago my sons and I embarked on producing a documentary on Aspergers. I just received my 501c3 status! I wanted to reach out to you for a couple of reasons. One, to see if you would allow me to post your blogs (on a weekly basis) on aspergers101. If you visit the site you will see that I have regular bloggers (experts in their fields of study) and offer a bio and links with every blog post. I see you have many positive venues and we could list and link with each one if you would like. Also we could skype interview you on our Top of the Spectrum News segment on various topics. Whether you write new content or use the library of content you already have....you're message is so strong and so very needed. I would be proud and honored to share your valuable info if you are interested! Second reason I wanted to write was to say thank you! I will share your resource with my friends as it's needed and is quality. (which is why i started my site in the first place...wanting a site for those seeking info but not sure where to turn) My son Sam and I have been asked to speak at the 23rd Annual Texas Autism Conference this week and I'll share you site as a great resource! Thank you.


I am struggling with my 9-year-old son, who is in the third grade.   I have read Ross Green's "The Explosive Child" and identify my son as someone with very low frustration tolerance.  When things don't go his way, he screams and runs away.  We homeschool, and unfortunately he seems to have some delays (like fine motor difficulties that make it challenging for him to do writing assignments) that frequently trigger defiant and/or meltdown behavior during our school time.  He also annoys others on purpose, argues and whines constantly, and doesn't respond well to parenting strategies which my two older kids do respond to.  I am frequently at wits' end about how to handle his behavior and the chaos it causes in our family.  I do feel like I am at a point of frustration.


Dear Professor Hutten,

Very recently a psychiatrist who I've been seeing for several years unofficially diagnosed my husband of 22 years with potentially having Aspergers Syndrome. To my astonishment all but a very few of the character traits described my husband's behavior and what I've been experiencing over, and over, and over again.

With that said, for 15 of my 22 year marriage, I slowly, but steadily transformed from a confident, independent, person who loved and loved to laugh to being emotionally confused, over whelmed with parental/household responsibilities, depressed/anxious, unable to work, and isolated from family and friends who saw a totally different person in my husband than the one I experienced behind closed doors. I was the one who was unstable and only I, was the problem. To put it mildly, my spirit was broken. I was a shell of the women I once was.  For 15 years my husband was able to have me committed to various mental institutions against my will until finally my psychiatrist, as if for the first time, heard my voice and the cycle of being institutionalized stopped for by that time I had become much more resilient, less emotional, and could explain more calmly what I was experiencing within my relationship with my husband. I'm slowly, very slowly, taking back my spirit.

Question: Professor, is my experience of being traumatized and met with unbelief by others, even by the Behavioral Health profession, "average" for the neurotypical spouse...the wife in my case? I'm still reading and considering whether to purchase your book. I'm also meeting, without my husband, with a therapist familiar with Aspergers.
I look forward to your response and am grateful that I discovered the professional guidance you may be able to provide me along my journey towards recovery....with or without my spouse but definitely with my restored mental, physical and spiritual health.


I guess my question is how do I help my son to realize that just because he is lonely and longs for male companionship doesn’t mean he is gay.  He has seen porn images that makes it look like this is a way men “bond” and relate to each other.  We told him that these pictures are not a true picture of life and how sad it is that these men have to do this for a living.  He lives in an all male dorm and I don’t think he truly knows how to relate to females.  Most of the females in his life are tutors or motherly types.  How can we encourage him without seeming judgemental?


My 16 year old strangled me, threw me to the floor and continued to try and get his hands around my neck, from the living room all the way out to the kitchen door where I was finally able to grab my phone, get outside and call the police. He has 2 charges, is not living with me right now. Court date in a month.  That's what I get for setting rules.


Hello, Mark.

I just came across through a friend’s post on Twitter. Thank you for being such a help, especially to those with high functioning autism. Our 23-year-old son has aspergers and is stuck as a Burger King lobby attendant. I was happy to run across your recently posted video today giving encouragement for those on the spectrum.

I couldn’t find your name as an author on my Swiss Valley Christian Bookstore. Please, Mark. I urge you to add your book(s) to DeeperCalling Media's database for Christian books so it can be seen by customers throughout our chain of stores. Your publisher should be able to do that for you. I would love to see your book(s) listed so I could embellish the listing and give it a push in the search engines through the access I have as admin to adding keywords to listed books.

Thanks again for your words of encouragement.


Dear Mr. Hutton;
Thank you so very much for your services and valuable information. I have a 28 yr old daughter that has Aspergers and need advice please. My daughter refuses to or can not see that she has Aspergers so it has been near impossible to get her help. If I even watch a show or talk to someone including Doctors about her, she has a melt down and accuses me of trying to label her. It would be so much easier to help her if I can get her to see she has a problem in certain areas and will let me or anyone help her. Have you seen this behavior before and what do you suggest?


Hi Mark,
My son is 16 years old and socially inept.  I have read your article and tried many social groups for him and with him and he just refuses to cooperate or engage with anyone.  At present he attends high school as a junior but right after school comes home and stays in his room.  Teachers tell me he has a lot of friends in the classroom but nothing outside of school.   How do I help this extremely stubborn child with social skills.  He has no emotion whatsoever for anyone, which is typical, but it has now filtered down to me and I was always the person he felt most comfortable with.  Please guide me in a direction that will help Peter come out of his room and live a semi happy and meaningful life.  Thanks so much.  


I am a pediatrician in MI and follow several kids with Autism and HFA. I have a family with a recent death of a significant grandparent and trying to deal with grief issues. Do you have any resources or suggestions that might help?

Sandra Wiederhold MD

Hello Mark,
I was very pleased to find your site today, in particular the article about "dealing with destructive behaviour in children with aspergers or HFA". My son was diagnosed early last year as having ASD (autism spectrum disorder); I identified many food sensitivities in him when he was a toddler, most of which are linked to making his ASD symptoms far more severe.
When I am able to keep his diet clean, his behaviour is far more stable, and his symptoms minimal. However, even a small amount of anything he reacts to can cause major problems with his behaviour, his cognitive abilities, and mental and physical health.
He is 10 years old, and so wanting to be like his peers, and eat the foods they eat. Because of his severe reactions, I don't feel like I'm doing him any favours by allowing him to eat things that make him sick. We have spent many hours at the hospital each year, with fevers, headaches, seizures, hallucinations, abdominal/intestinal pain, and he also suffers eczema, and explosive behaviours which have lead to injuries (his and mine), and destroyed property.
I have been seeing the therapist who diagnosed his ASD, regarding his behaviour, and how to teach him the things he needs to know to grow to be a functional adult. She insists that I should be more lenient with his diet, even to the point of including many foods he reacts to, and having a free choice day, where he eats whatever he likes, at least once every month. She has suggested medications to mask the more severe physical symptoms, and punishment and other behaviour modification techniques to deal with that side of things.
I feel that is the equivalent of feeding peanuts to someone with anaphylaxis, and relying on the epipen to keep them alive. Or flashing a strobe light at someone with epilepsy, then slapping them if they have a seizure. There has to be a better way!
What do you suggest in this kind of situation, where there are known sensitivities, and a strong desire to conform to what peers are eating?
I thank you in advance for any advice you are able to offer, and look forward to reading more of your site.


We purchased your program & are excited to begin learning how to better handle our defiant, EXTREMELY stubborn, 14 year old son with Aspergers. He has such a good heart, but boy, he sure knows how to push our buttons! This is sort-of a last ditch effort for us, sadly. We are nearly at our wits end with his lies, lack of respect, & general abuse of the 'system' (home, school, etc). So, we're crossing our fingers that your recommendations will work for him like they have for so many others! Thanks for all of your efforts, for helping us & other people struggling just like us...
We'll let you know! 


Good morning.

I found your website while searching for help for my nephew who has been placed in my home by DHS.  He is 15 years old and was only diagnosed as being on the spectrum within the last month since being placed in my home.

He is the son of my brother who was killed in an accident in December of 2007.  By the spring of 2008, his mother moved a man into her home that was abusive to him.   I have him in PTSD therapy and am working closely with the therapist, the school, caseworkers and psychiatrists to handle the major problems.  However, I need help dealing with the daily issues.  We have a lot of problems with common courtesy issues - i.e. throwing garbage on the floor, eating like he’s the only one at the table.  I am working with his caseworker to get him into a residential home as I believe he needs more therapy and supervision than I can provide.   However, the goal would be to have him move back here when he has completed their program.  Until the ideal situation is found for him, he will continue to live with me and we need to find a way for him to cope with living with a family.   With the abuse issue, would this be something that would help?


Hi Mark
Hope your well and I was hoping if you could help me.
My name is Hafifa Habib and I am Masters student at the University of Derby, studying psychology. I am currently undertaking my research project and have chosen the area Asperger's syndrome. My study involves to investigation the correlational link between Asperger's syndrome in young children and sleeping difficulties they may face. I hope to recruit mothers, parent or guardians of AS children to fill in a questionnaire and one other survey that still needs to be confirmed as my study has not been approved just yet by the ethical approval department at my university as I am currently working on the project for the deadline date.
Therefore I was wondering because you hold such a great Parenting group blog, would I be able to provide a link to my research methods(questionnaires) where you can support me in recruiting participants through your blog. The link would be directly to the questionnaire where parents could fill in if they wished. I believe you will need all the ethical form and information regarding the study which you will also receive in relation to the project.
Could you please let me know and this would be a great opportunity to recruit participants for my study. Please do not hesitate in asking questions.

Hi there ,
We are pretty new to the Autism Spectrum world. Our son was diagnosed in Feb this past year- and we are still trying to figure out how to help him. We have no idea if he needs in home therapy, or a couple hours a week, etc. He is 7 yo and high functioning. He is still having a hard time adjusting to a little sister - who is 2 years old. Any help you could give us would be awesome. We went thru a autism consultant group for an in home therapist and it was a disaster.
Thanks !



We are really trying to work the system but we have a teen who is addicted to video games and has admitted that it is the only place he feels good and safe.   We are in therapy to try and deal with all of the emotional aspects of his anxiety around going to school (btw, he currently is not going to school and now have him enrolled in an alternative school where there are less pressures than a traditional school system, but he is not going to this school either).   We have created a totally dependent teen who feels entitled to everything.   If we go cold turkey on the video games we are going to slip into deeper and deeper resentment where we have finally made some progress where he admits that he  is having difficultly coping with the outside world.   

Would love to hear your thoughts around this issue (video games).

Thanks and be assured that when we work the plan we see results.

Hi Mark,
I came across your ebook online and am looking for some more information...

We are living in Tokyo and my high functioning son just turned 13. He is in an American school and doing well academically. Socially he struggles, although he continues to make steady progress in this area. Unfortunately, there are no English speaking specialists in Tokyo that work on theory of mind and social reciprocity specifically.

I am a school psychologist and am looking for a specific program to utilize to help him develop these skills. After reading the reader reviews, I am a bit concerned that your techniques may be geared to younger children. (?)

Also, I am looking for some information about how to present his diagnosis to him...he knows he has attention difficulties and social relationships are hard for him. He has communicated feeling different from his peers. We have never used the term autism or Aspergers, but are now wondering if it could be helpful for him. 

Would appreciate any feedback you may have!


Hi Mark,

I share the pain of those people who write to you in total desperation.

I accept that when kids explode into tantrums and meltdowns, there is little you can do to calm it.

But I have a wife of 36, a girl of 13 and a boy of 11, and all have Aspergers, so of course I have tried EVERYTHING.

Aspergers is very different in boys and girls, and my wife, but there is a common theme that seems to get insufficient mention:

They are all very distressed by being with PEOPLE

My BOY: He was FROZEN and apparently terrified at school for years. I took him out of school permanently at 9, and should have done it at 6. I do home-schooling. We just love doing that. I do just 40 minutes a day, with one-to-one that is enough. I also have an enthusiastic untrained girl of 24 to do 15 hours a week, which is also brilliant. You can use a High School gorl of 16 to 18 for that: great little job for her and a blessing for everybody.

My GIRL: Always locked in her room, never spoke to anybody, never had a friend, very unhappy. Patience and Love go a long way, but she was still distressed. I tried sertraline 25 mg a day, and the difference is absolutely dramatic. She was cheerful, chatty, happy, relaxed and full of energy within 10 days.

My WIFE: Appeared to hate me for a hundred reasons that were all ridiculous, a mixture of fantasies and lies. Never ever spoke to the kids, or played, or came on holidays or trips. Never fed them. So she moved out, and is now very happy, just a few short visits each week.

So all three seem to be very uncomfortable with PEOPLE near them.

It seems better to ACCEPT that, but slowly work on it, bringing in gentle people now and then, to nurture friendship skills.

Who to bring in?
Young better than old, friend better than stranger, 1 or 2 better than 3.  Girls better than boys. Outside easier than inside.

Despite the wide range of aspects of Aspergers, after ten years of suffering with all 3, I have the impression that there is NOTHING ELSE in Aspergers except fear of people!

Watching Forrest Gump is also a good move!

Dr Andy Gudgeon in Philippines


Hello Mark,

I am the Special Education Representative for a high school in South Orange County, CA. I am the coordinator of All Abilities Day. All Abilities Day is a day where students rotate through stations to get a glimpse of what it would be like living with a disability. I am proposing this day to the high school for the first time. I have created the event for Elementary 2x and Middle school 1x. Since this is high school I need to increase the information and gear it toward their age range.

I was wondering if I could get your help in assisting me with ideas for this station. It will probably be a 15 min station which includes an experience then ideas to help. I read your website information about the Defiant Teen. This is the exact information that I would like to create this station around.

Please let me know.

Thank you so much,
September Warren


Hi Mark,

I am an autistic adult with an autistic child.  I am also a full-time college student, business owner, and an autism advocate and activist.  I am constantly asked for recommendations from allistic parents who are struggling to understand their autistic child.  I co-facilitate two Autism groups and am involved with numerous others.

From what I have reviewed so far on your website, I am really impressed by your approach and understanding of autism and autistic people.  I would really like to review your material further.  I have reviewed Love & Logic, Conscious Parenting, and Total Transformation - not really impressed with any of them.  Although, all three had some good points.

Would you be willing to allow me to review your program for free for a few days?  (I am currently living on student loans and ten hours of paid work a week.) I would be happy to provide you with a detailed review from an Autist's perspective.  I will not share my review with anyone but you.  If your program is as awesome as it seems, I'd love to promote it within the Autism community here in North Carolina as well as online.  I am so happy to see that it is actually affordable for most families!

I completely understand if you can't allow me access to it for a few days, I will just save up for a while and then pay the fee.  (no hard feelings at all!)

Thank you for your time!


Dear Mr Hutten

I was reading your page and I saw an article stating that 50% of kids with Aspergers or HFA are known to have delayed speech.  I have always read that Aspergers kids never have speech delay.  My son Luca, just turned 4 and I have always believed he has Aspergers not HFA.  I live in the UK and all the professionals will tell me is that he has Autism nothing else.  They have said that "they do not like to say which end of the spectrum a child is in" Which I find completely distressing.

My son fully understands instructions and does a lot of pointing but is severely speech delayed.  He is a big smiler but only makes fleeting eye contact, he loves puzzles and enjoys choosing short kids videos online using a touch screen computer. Need some advice please.


Hello--I came across your website, and wanted to know if you offer help with educational placement ideas. Our daughter has just been diagnosed with high functioning autism, at age 16, and has slipped through the cracks all her life. She recently attended a wilderness therapy program, and is now in a therapeutic boarding school, but we are wanting to bring her home. Would you be able to consult with us on educational alternatives to therapeutic boarding school/how to live with an autistic teen in the home who has shut down/is defiant/anxious/withdrawn? Thanks. 



I found you on the internet and was interested.
My son is 11, will be 12 on Monday.  He was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 8 and is very high functioning.
He started middle school this year and makes excellent grades, he always has.  He is in the AIG program (Academically, intellectually gifted) as his reading scores are sky high!
He has been acting out a lot lately with me, (hitting, yelling, refusing to mind).  My friends say this is just his age but I know if I don’t do something, things might get worse.  He seems so angry at me a lot.  I am a single parent and not so young.
Is there an online support group you would recommend or anything you recommend?



What is your availability for skype counseling?  I am interested in this if you have time.  I am a 53 year old male who is married with 2 children Ben 20 and Alexis 14.  My wife and I are attending marriage counseling and at about the 3rd session my therapist said he thought I likely have Aspergers.  I never looked into this as a possibility.  I have been diagnosed in the past with depression, anxiety and most recently ADD.  ADD seemed like a good possibility since I had many of the symptoms.  I tried just about every variation of ADD drug and almost every anti depressant you can think of and none of them did anything positive.  My wife is threatening to leave me which is what brought on the marriage counseling and when the guy brought up Aspergers and after I looked into it (I read your “Living With An Aspergers Partner” publication among other stuff) I am starting to think this is the missing link.  I have looked around to see if there was someone who could give me an official diagnosis and I found a guy in Buffalo NY  who can see me at the end of January.  In the mean time I would like to start working with a therapist who understands Aspergers  and if you could do that I think that would be a great help for me.  If you have availability maybe we could discuss this sometime?  Thanks very much.


Dear mr huttten,
allow me to introduce myself & why I am emailing you . I am Mrs Greta Josso born 1924
& I have a 25 year old grandson who most possibly has S.C.D. His parents are aware that he is different , but don`t want to label him, consequently he has never had help.
I love this boy & am so sorry that he is missing out on so much  that I am prepared  to go to the ends of the earth  to find a way to help him.  In this case to America.
Please mr. Hutten.


Hi Mark, I found your website last night during a search trying to figure out what to do with my son. He has been getting into trouble for the last six months and just two weeks ago we found out he is smoking marijuana. What's worse, he's getting the marijuana from the dad of a friend of his. I also suspect this dad is giving or selling it to other friends too.
I'm not sure why I'm writing other than I got your reply to my site registration. I assume you do telephonic consultations. Right now my husband and I are contemplating our actions with regard to my son's situation none of them are good, but this is very scary.
I wonder if you might have experience with something like this . . . my son is turning into someone I don't even know anymore, and we need to get it turned around.


We adopted my two nieces 2 years ago Kaela & Ava.  They have been with us 4 years.  My brother's wife (their mom died of a massive heart attack when Kaela was 4 and Ava 5 months).  Without going into the very long story, my brother had 5 girls and 4 years ago I got 4 of them because CPS wanted my brother to complete some services.  (The oldest was an adult at the time).  A lot of dysfunction in their family, my brother rewarded them to sneak and spy on each other and to manipulate.  He openly had his two favorites, one of them being the youngest baby.  We had all 4 girls for a year, the favored one caused a lot of issues and started her pattern of manipulation here and CPS allowed her to go back to my brother for a time period until the Court intervened.  Some friends of ours stepped in and offered to let her stay with them because of the conflict she was causing with her sisters I had and also my 2 boys.  A year later, the older sister was trying to manipulate and divide by two sons and also myself and husband, another characteristic of my brother.  She was also very mean to Kaela, and would make fun of her and hit her.  I discovered that she was steeling my jewelry and my asthma medication and that was the last straw for me.  The family that had my other niece stepped up and took her.  Now we have adopted Kaela (15) and Ava (10) and our friends have Jamie (19) and Maia (14).

Since Kaela was very young, even when her mom was alive, she was always just different, saw things a different way and just lived in a make believe world.  Kaela's mom used to say that she would probably have to home school her because she didn't think Kaela could handle school.  After her mom passed away, I registered Kaela for Kindergarten.  She has always struggled with grades.  My brother didn't have the girls in school for 9 months, when we got them, I registered them for school.  Kaela was in 3rd that year.  It really didn't hurt to hold her back for 3rd because she was very behind.  At first Kaela had a lot of friends and our community embraced the girls.  I had the girls in counseling and we noticed that Kaela had a focusing problem which was diagnosed as ADHD.  We got her set up on medication and that seemed to help.  Toward the end of 4th grade and all of 5th grade I noticed that all of the friends had dropped off significantly.  I couldn't figure it out. Our 5th grade teacher insisted that the school test Kaela and they revealed that she had short-term memory loss, poor language arts, communication & a low IQ.  They wanted to blame it on her environment.  We went into 6th grade but none of her accommodations went with her.   We had her tested by an outside facility and they said her language arts/vocab/writing was on a 2.5 grade level, low IQ, short term memory loss, ADHD, math facts were fantastic.  We started going to a pediatric neurologist and I had him run a MRI, CAT scan and they also conducted genetic tests in an effort to determine if her learning disabilities were related to a past accident or genetic.  Test results were negative.  They also tested her for Autism and she tested positive for moderate Asperger's.  We were surprised because her IQ is low but then she did have a lot of the characteristics.  Kaela also has OCD and is extremely, extremely immature.  The doctor has indicated that the immaturity coupled with the ADHD and Asperger's is why her friends started dropping off.  She cannot keep up with them.

My biggest concern is that Kaela went from wanting to become a McGinnis (our last name), changing her hair color from blonde to brown, and eye color from blue to brown to not wanting to be a part of our family.  In fact, she has fixated on wanting to go back to her "awesome family" which consists of my brother, her formerly abusive sister and her other sister.  I found a picture she posted on instagram of them, not us.  From the time their mom died, until CPS stepped in, I paid for their groceries, bought everything they needed for school, bought all of their clothes, bought every Christmas present, paid for electric bills and this went on for 4 years and then when my brother couldn't hold it together, I rescued them but now she perceives me to be the enemy.  I am the one that has set her up in the 504 program at school so she can pass her classes and get help and I have gotten her help with counselors and doctors but I am the enemy, she talks about me behind my back to her sister that lives with the other family and to kids at school but yet her outward appearance is this sweet quiet girl that would never hurt a fly.  She purposely says things to try to upset me in front of my husband and she tries to drive a wedge in between myself and my husband and me and the other kids.  She says horrible things about me to her younger sister.   She purposely doesn't follow rules says she forgets or didn't understand yet seems to remember every rule at school.  When I asked her how she can do everything at school and follow their rules she said she does it because she doesn't want detention.  Kaela blames me for her lack of friends.

Kaela hasn't had a lot of tantrums, but she has had 3, and they have all been on my watch.  My husband hasn't seen them.  The other kids have.  I really haven't had a lot of success with the counselors and psychiatrists we have seen.  Kaela gets in there and nobody has addressed the underlying problem.  Kaela wants to blame it all on me but that's not it.  She really needs to be around kids that are similarly situated.  She thinks she should do everything a normal 15 year old does but she does not have the common sense or processing ability or maturity that a normal 15 year old has.  The doctor said she is more like a 5 year old in many respects.  


Dear Mr. Hutten,

I found your article online regarding teens with AS. My son is 15 and is diagnosed with AS and ADHD. He is very defiant and hard to talk to. doesn't listen and won't do his homework at all. He is very bright and smart but does not want to do anything. I am very worried about him and don't know what to do. I take him to psychiatrist and therapist but issues are still on going. I am wondering if he even can get his HS diploma and can go to college one day. I am so helpless and tired. His father is another problem that I need to deal with becasue he expects him like a normal child and gets very mad at him. Please advise me what to do.


 Hello Mark,

My 12 year son is very upset due to primary - middle school shift. He is in very good school with  well planned IEP. his session started in June 2014. He often at home, refusing to go school. Even that has not helped him , he is either anxious or giggly . His meltdown includes screaming, crying, spitting and sometimes hitting anyone trying to talk to him.  We have tried professional counselling on regular basis, tried talking to him when he is calmer. Nothing has worked so far. kindly advice.

Dear Dr Hutton

I have an 18-year old son with PDA (EDA, sometimes called Newsom's syndrome), and attended the conference on EDA Cardiff earlier this month, but I am also a clinical-academic.  I have been in discussions with Phil Christie, Elizabeth O'Nions, Janet Matthews and Hilary Dyer regarding a study I would like to conduct on assessment of adult PDA, which some say is an expression of autistic spectrum disorder, and am about to prepare an ethics form regarding the potential study at my University (my academic details are below).  Before I go into a long explanation of the study (which I'm very happy to submit to your own ethics/ research committee), I am writing to find out if I would be allowed to have a link to the study (with any relevant information) hosted by your website, and perhaps as a "sticky" within the forum.  I shall be approaching a number of other P/EDA resources on the Internet to maximize the spread of my sampling, but thought I should start with yourselves.  


Vincent Egan

Dr Vincent Egan
Associate professor in Forensic Psychology Practice 
Chartered clinical psychologist, chartered forensic psychologist (BPS/HCPC)
Centre for Family and Forensic Psychology
 University of Nottingham 
YANG Fujia Building
 Jubilee Campus 
Wollaton Road 

Dr. Hutten,
I found your information on you-tube and wondered if you could help me. I am leaving my husband after only 3 years of marriage. I left in 12 months and we have been separated this entire time. How do I know if he has just a narcissistic personality or Asperger's disorder?

Adam has always been edgy. I helped him after he was fired from his job because he has a very bad attitude and takes it with him everywhere he goes. He moved to Ohio form Utah as we met online. He became angry with anything I wanted. I am farf rom the normal wife that wanted a diamond ring or a wedding. I knew he had no money and did everything for him and paid for everything. He became angrier. He blamed it on his job, mother and everything else but after a few years of my constant helping him..he has a great job. He became abusive along the way and increasingly self centered and pompous. He would mock me and out me down personally in fights we had. He would denigh pushing me and finally the police came. He would punch his head, bang the walls and grit his teeth. He told me he wish I was dead.

I have become so depressed and finally filed. I tired to help but the waking around on egg shells to avoid any confrontation or anything I may want in a relationship has all but ruined my life.

When all is right with Adams world he is a kind funny man. He acts differently in public with a very robotic loud vice-as if he is acting the part. He says he hates people and social situations and it makes him nervous...he is I a lot of debt so he must keep his job at a bank beig very social. At tie though-he will say he loves his job. Can you just tell me if this sounds like an aspie? Or is he just a man that used me and is infantile when he does not get his way. I would like closure.



Dealing with Destructive Behavior in Children with Asperger's and HFA

"I need some immediate ideas about how to deal with my son's behavior problems. He has Asperger syndrome (high functioning), ADHD and ODD. His behavior is completely out of control and I am at my wits end. Please help! He also has a lot of problems at school. His favorite thing to do when he's upset is to throw and break things."

There are no easy, quick fixes to reduce or eliminate severe behavioral issues in children with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) (e.g., self-injury, aggressiveness, meltdowns, tantrums, destructiveness, etc.). However, I have a few suggestions that may not require a tremendous amount of time and effort to implement. Let’s look at a few…

1. One reason for behavioral issues may be difficulties in receptive language. Kids on the autism spectrum often have poor auditory processing skills. As a result, they often don’t understand what others are saying to them; they hear the words, but they don’t understand what the words mean. The child’s lack of understanding can lead to confusion and frustration, which can escalate into a behavioral issue. Visual communication systems can be useful in teaching and in informing these children of what is planned and what is expected of them.

2. Behavioral issues may be due to difficulties in expressive language. Some researchers suggest that many behavioral issues in kids on the autism spectrum are simply due to poor expressive communication skills. There are numerous communication strategies (e.g., Picture Exchange Communication System, Simultaneous Communication), which can be used to teach expressive communication skills.

3. Food allergies can be a cause of behavior issues (e.g., dairy and wheat products, food preservatives, food coloring). Some AS and HFA children have red ears, red cheeks or dark circles under their eyes, which are often signs of food allergies. Some of the symptoms associated with food allergies include feelings of nausea, headaches, fuzzy thinking, stomach aches, meltdowns and tantrums. Due to these allergic reactions, the youngster may be less tolerant of others and more likely to act out. Since some of these “special needs” kids have poor communication skills, moms and dads may not be aware that their youngster is not feeling well. Have your son or daughter tested if food allergies are suspected.

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

4. In some cases, a behavior problem is a reaction to a request or demand made by the parent or educator. The AS or HFA child may have learned that he can escape or avoid certain undesirable situations (e.g., doing homework) by acting out. A functional assessment of the child’s behavior (i.e., antecedents, consequences, context of the behavior) can divulge certain relationships between the behavior and the function the behavior serves. If avoidance is the function the behavior serves, parents and educators should follow through with all requests and demands made to the child. If the child is able to escape or avoid such requests – even only some of the time – the behavior problem will continue.

5. Behavioral issues may be due to a low level of arousal (e.g., when the child is bored). Certain behaviors (e.g., aggression, destructiveness) may be exciting – and thus appealing – to the child. If it is suspected that behavioral issues are due to under-arousal, the AS or HFA child can be kept busy and active (e.g., with vigorous exercise).

6. Occasionally a youngster with AS or HFA may exhibit a behavior problem at school but not at home, or vice versa (e.g., the mom or dad may have already created a technique to stop a behavioral problem at home, but the educator is unaware of this technique). Parents and educators should discuss the youngster’s behavioral issues since one of them may have already discovered a solution to handle a particular problem.

7. Often times, powerful medications are prescribed to children on the autism spectrum to treat their behavior problems (the most common one being Ritalin). A survey conducted by the Autism Research Institute revealed that 45% of over 2,000 moms and dads felt that Ritalin made their youngster’s behavior worse.

8. Some moms and dads are giving their AS and HFA kids safe nutritional supplements (e.g., Vitamin B6 with magnesium, DMG). Nearly half have reported a reduction in behavioral issues as well as improvements in the youngster’s general well-being.

9. The AS or HFA child’s level of arousal should be considered when developing a technique to deal with behavioral issues. Sometimes “bad” behavior occurs when the child is overly-excited. This can occur when she is anxious or when there is too much stimulation in the environment. In this case, interventions should be aimed at calming the child (e.g., with vigorous exercise, vestibular stimulation, deep pressure, etc.).

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

10. If the AS or HFA youngster’s behavior is worse at school but not at home, there are many possible reasons. For example:
  • Cleaning solvents: Custodians use powerful chemicals when cleaning the school environment. Even though the smell may be gone in a few hours, chemical residue is still in the air and on surfaces. Breathing these chemicals often affects children with sensitivities in this area. Children often place their hands and face on the tables and floors, thus cleaning solvents may end up in the youngster’s mouth and can alter brain functioning as well as behavior. Many educators who have wiped the desks with water or a natural cleaning solution prior to class each morning have reported significant improvements in their “special needs” students.
  • Florescent lighting: Many kids on the autism spectrum report that florescent lights bother and distract them during classroom activities. Also, researchers have observed more repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors under florescent lighting compared to incandescent lighting. When possible, educators may want to turn off the florescent lighting in their classroom for a few days to see if there is a decrease in behavioral issues for some of their “special needs” children. During this experiment, the educator can use natural light from the windows or incandescent lights.
  • Lack of consistency, routine, or structure: Children on the autism spectrum crave structure. It helps them feel safe, and facilitates the ability to concentrate.

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

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


Asperger's or NVLD: Has Your Child Been Misdiagnosed?

Since young people with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD) and Asperger’s (high functioning autism) share similar traits, it is tempting to say that they meet the diagnostic criteria for either classification – but this is not the case. Learning disabilities and Asperger’s are significantly different disorders. Also, different types of assessments and interventions need to be selected to address the distinct - and sometimes overlapping - features of each.

Kids with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities are described as showing signs of:
  • Social isolation (e.g., not being sure of how to join a group or initiate social interaction)
  • Social intrusiveness (e.g., standing too close to someone; following someone around during casual conversation; not knowing when or how to join a conversation; having a hard time engaging in the “give and take” of “small talk”)
  • Physical awkwardness (e.g., not knowing what to do with their hands during casual conversation; showing anxiety-induced behaviors in public that often result in embarrassment)

The argument could be made that the signs listed above are also indicative of Asperger’s. The overlap between Asperger’s and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities significantly complicates the diagnostic process. Further complicating the diagnosis is the probability that teachers and professionals view certain behaviors through different lenses (e.g., some looking at language and cognitive skills, and others looking at social and behavioral concerns). In addition, teasing apart Asperger’s and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities is complicated by the fact that there is no single battery of tests or uniform profile for either of these disorders.

Due to the fact that Nonverbal Learning Disabilities are often difficult to recognize, many kids with the disorder get mislabeled as being lazy or unmotivated. Some of the traits of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (e.g., problems with organization, motor planning, problem solving, and social adaptation) are also present in kids with Asperger’s. And while both groups demonstrate areas of significant weakness, they also have specific areas of extraordinary talent. Most experts seem to agree that these two groups differ in severity, with Asperger’s usually showing more serious challenges than Nonverbal Learning Disabilities. However, the degree of severity in both disorders can range from mild to severe.

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

The similarities between with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and Asperger’s (high functioning autism):
  • Both are oblivious to nuances of appropriate spatial distance.
  • Both are often misunderstood by others (e.g., accused of rudeness, laziness, lack of empathy, poor attitude, etc.). 
  • Both have difficulty perceiving subtle differences in facial features, tone of voice, and gestures that make up nonverbal communication.
  • Both have neuro-developmental abnormalities involving functions of the right cerebral hemisphere.
  • Both have problems in social relationships, whether at school or at home. 
  • Both have the inability to perceive or understand nonverbal cues.
  • Both live with social anxiety that often leads to uncertainty, confusion and insecurity, which they may try to relieve by creating routines and rituals – and if these things are not addressed, a lowered self-esteem and psychological disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression) may result.
  • Both respond to peer-rejection by withdrawing, "acting out" with emotional outbursts, or refusing to cooperate. 
  • Both seek out social interaction, yet are often not accepted by their peers.
  • In both disorders, there is no delay in cognitive development and speech. 
  • Kids from both groups are socially awkward and pay over-attention to detail and parts, while missing main themes or underlying principles. 

The differences between with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD) and Asperger’s (high functioning autism):
  • Asperger’s kids generally have greater social problems. Their highly restricted interests present an additional obstacle to their social functioning. These restricted interests are not mentioned in the literature about NVLD.
  • Many children with Asperger’s respond well to visuals and diagrams, and are visual learners. On the other hand, children with NVLD do not usually respond to physical demonstrations and may not understand diagrams. They usually don’t learn by watching, and need everything explained in words. 
  • Due to their visual learning style, many Asperger’s children excel in math and find work in computer fields, engineering or architecture. Conversely, children with NVLD tend to become wordsmiths (e.g., teachers and writers).
  • NVLD kids have normal emotions, but are inept in expressing them and in recognizing them in others, to the extent that they are expressed non-verbally. Conversely, Asperger’s kids do not feel the same range of emotions (e.g., though they may feel very deeply about many things, they may not cry or smile when it's deemed appropriate; they often have a flat affect).
  • Odd behaviors (e.g., rocking, flapping) can contribute to social problems for children with Asperger’s. These behaviors are not present in NVLD. 
  • The literature on Asperger’s does not mention problems with visual spatial issues, which are a major problem area for children with NVLD.

There are two distinct types of learning disabilities:
  • Non-verbal: The child has great difficulties with problem solving that do not involve written or spoken language. He or she struggles staying organized in terms of time and space, while having good language skills.
  • Language-based: This involves poor speech and/or language skills, difficulties with vocabulary and speed/accuracy of performance on language-related tasks, and overall problems with reading and writing.

What are the signs of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities?
  • Anxiety
  • Attention to detail, but misses the big picture
  • Concrete thinking
  • Depression
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Difficulty with math, especially word problems
  • Excellent memory skills
  • Fear of new situations
  • Great vocabulary and verbal expression
  • Low self-esteem
  • May be very naïve and lack common sense
  • May withdraw, becoming agoraphobic 
  • Messy and laborious handwriting
  • Physically awkward
  • Poor abstract reasoning
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor social skills
  • Predisposition to memorize and repeat large amounts of verbal information, but a pronounced weakness in knowing how and when to share this knowledge in socially appropriate ways
  • Taking things very literally
  • Tendency to talk excessively, using age-appropriate and even advanced sentence structures
  • Trouble adjusting to changes
  • Trouble with nonverbal communication (e.g., body language, facial expression, tone of voice)
  • Uncanny ability to read and spell single words

Thinking about the clusters of strengths and weaknesses that typify Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, it is apparent how children affected by the disorder pose unique challenges to parents, teachers and professionals. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the features of the disorder change for the worse as the youngster gets older (e.g., a young child with the disorder may demonstrate strong verbal skills and be expected to know how to apply these skills, but over time, given the weaknesses in organization, abstract thinking and social cueing – in conjunction with apparent early strengths in isolated skill areas – this same child may quickly fall behind and be perceived as lazy).

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

How parents and teachers can help a child with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities:
  1. Be logical, organized, clear, concise and concrete.
  2. Avoid jargon, double meanings, sarcasm, nicknames, and teasing.
  3. Be very specific about “cause and effect” relationships.
  4. Make sure your child is not on the receiving end of bullying at school. The school must make every effort to prevent it. If talking to your youngster's teachers and principal does not put an end to the victimization, ask your physician to write a letter to the school, and pursue the issue up to higher channels in the school district if necessary.
  5. Encourage the youngster to develop interests that will build his self-esteem and helps him relate to peers (e.g., if he is interested in Pokémon, pursuing this interest may open social doors for him with classmates).
  6. Get the youngster into the therapies she needs (e.g., occupational and physical therapy, psychological, or speech and language to address social issues).
  7. Have the youngster use the computer at school and at home for schoolwork.
  8. Help the youngster learn coping skills for dealing with anxiety and sensory difficulties.
  9. Help the youngster learn organizational and time management skills.
  10. Help the youngster out in group activities.
  11. Keep the environment predictable and familiar.
  12. Learn about social competence and how to teach it.
  13. Make use of the youngster’s verbal skills to help with social interactions and non-verbal experiences (e.g., giving a verbal explanation of visual material).
  14. Pay attention to sensory input from the environment (e.g., noise, temperature, smells, too many people around, etc.).
  15. Prepare the youngster for changes, giving logical explanations.
  16. Provide consistent structure and routine.
  17. Reassure the youngster that you value him for who he is. (Note: It will be a challenge to help the youngster improve social skills, while at the same time nurture his confidence to hold on to his unique individuality.)
  18. Try to find a small-group social skills training program in your school system, medical system, or community. 
  19. State your expectations clearly.
  20. Steer the youngster toward a playmate she has something in common with, and set up a play date. This is a way to get some social skills experience in a small, controlled, less-threatening way.
  21. Talk to the youngster in private after you have gone with him to a group activity. Discuss with him how he could improve the way he interacts with peers (e.g., point out that other kids don't feel comfortable when he stands so close to them). Also, help him practice the social skills you explain to him through role-playing.
  22. Teach the youngster about non-verbal communication (e.g., facial expressions, gestures).
  23. Work with your youngster’s school to modify homework assignments, testing, grading, art and physical education.

As you might have guessed by now, the tips above would also have great benefit for children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism. There is clearly a significant overlap between Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and Asperger’s. In fact, it is possible that the symptoms of each diagnosis describe the same group of young people from different perspectives. Studies reveal that up to 80% of kids who meet the criteria for Asperger’s also have Nonverbal Learning Disabilities.

While there is no research on overlap in the other direction, most kids with the more severe forms of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities probably have Asperger’s as well. In a nutshell, doctors, therapists and other professionals reserve an Asperger’s diagnosis for kids with more severe social impairment and behavioral rigidity. 

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

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

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