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Behavioral, Emotional and Cognitive Traits of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Based on the challenges that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) present, it’s no surprise that kids and teens diagnosed with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often have behavioral and emotional problems. These challenges are most often connected to social deficits associated with the disorder (e.g., when the youngster fails to take his turn in a playground game because he doesn't understand the social rules of an activity).

These challenges frequently involve feelings of stress, loss of control, or the inability to predict outcomes. Therefore, children with AS and HFA typically have behavior problems connected to their inability to function in a world they see as unpredictable and threatening. As a result, they may behave in ways that appear mean-spirited or malicious. But, this is an unfair assessment. While these “special needs” children do have behavioral difficulties, their problems are most often associated with their social ineptness, an obsessive interest in a particular topic, sensory sensitivities, and a defensive panic reaction (just to name a few).

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

The symptoms of AS and HFA can vary greatly from child to child depending on the severity of the disorder. Symptoms may even go unrecognized for younger kids who have mild or less debilitating deficits. Indicators that require evaluation by an ASD professional include:
  • abnormally intense or focused interest
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • clumsy, un-coordinated movements
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
  • lack of empathy
  • na├»ve, inappropriate, or one-sided social interactions
  • no smiling or social responsiveness
  • odd postures
  • poor eye contact
  • poor non-verbal communication
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • repetitive or unusual use of language

For many young people with AS and HFA, symptoms improve with age and behavioral treatment. During the teenage years, some young people on the autism spectrum may become depressed or experience behavioral problems, and their treatment may need some modification as they transition to adulthood. Some young adults on the spectrum continue to need services and supports as they get older, but depending on severity of the disorder, they may be able to work successfully and live independently or within a supportive environment.

A defining feature of AS and HFA is that children with the disorder generally experience normal intellectual and language development. However, given the diagnostic importance of this variable, surprisingly little is known about the cognitive abilities of these children. Some researchers have reported an uneven cognitive profile pattern on individualized IQ tests (e.g., Wechsler intelligence scales) in children with HFA, including a significantly higher Performance IQ when compared to Verbal IQ scores.

Subjects with HFA specifically obtained their highest scores on the Block Design subtest and their lowest scores on the Comprehension subtest of the Wechsler scales. Based on their Block Design performance, some have inferred that children with AS and HFA have relative strength on nonverbal concept-formation tasks, specifically those that require perceptual organization, spatial visualization, abstract conceptualization, and general intelligence. On the other hand, relatively poor performance has been reported in areas requiring an understanding of social mores and interpersonal situations, social judgment, common sense, and grasp of social conventionality.

In one of the few studies of cognitive abilities of kids and teens with AS, researchers assessed the cognitive profiles of 37 subjects, as measured by the Wechsler scales. The scores generally fell within the average range of abilities, although the IQs ranged from intellectually deficient to superior. The Verbal IQ and Performance IQ scores showed no significant differences.

Consistent with the findings of other studies, the study did reveal relatively high Block Design subtest scores. These findings suggest generally strong nonverbal reasoning ability and visual-motor spatial integration skill. The Coding subtest revealed relatively low scores, suggesting that many of the subjects had visual-motor coordination difficulties, were distractible, were disinterested in school-related tasks, and had visual memory weakness. The children also obtained relatively low scores on the Comprehension subtest, suggesting poor social judgment. However, this and other studies on this topic have generally failed to identify a specific cognitive profile for children diagnosed with AS and HFA.

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

Even though there are a number of deficits associated with AS and HFA, there are numerous positives as well. For example, most children and teens of the autism spectrum:
  • pay attention to detail, sometimes with painstaking perfection
  • are not very concerned about their external appearance in comparison to their “typical” peers, worrying less concerning hairstyles, brand names as well as other expensive and unimportant externals that most people worry about
  • have the ability to focus on tasks for a long period of time without needing supervision or incentive  
  • are not restricted to any social expectations that they have to meet
  • have a higher “fluid intelligence” (i.e., the ability to find meaning in confusion, solve new problems, and draw inferences and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge) than “typical” kids
  • usually have a higher than average general IQ 
  • are honest to a fault 
  • rarely judge other people based on who is smarter, richer or fatter
  • are independent and unique thinkers
  • have strong rote skills (i.e., able to memorize large amounts of information)
  • are internally motivated (as opposed to being motivated by praise, money, acceptance, etc.) 
  • usually see through surface appearances so as to find out the other person’s real character
  • are more logical than emotional, spending a lot of time “computing” in their minds
  • are visual, three-dimensional thinkers, which lends itself to countless creative applications

In addition, young people with AS and HFA are often precocious in speaking and reading and tend to use sophisticated or formal language. Also, they are often passionately devoted to – and eager to expound on – topics of particular interest to them.

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

You May Have Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism

Do you think you may have Aspergers? Let's see... For you, are the following statements TRUE or FALSE?

Social Characteristics of Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

High-Functioning Autism (HFA), formerly “Asperger Syndrome,” is first and foremost a social disorder. Children with HFA are not only socially isolated, but also demonstrate an abnormal type of social interaction that can’t be explained by other factors (e.g., shyness, short attention span, aggressive behavior, lack of experience in a given area, etc.).

Children with HFA are notable for their lack of motivation to interact with others. However, their social difficulties frequently stem from an incompetence and lack of knowledge and skill in initiating and responding in various situations and under variable conditions. For example, an adolescent with HFA may appear odd because of his continuous insistence on sharing with peers an obsessive interest in space craft, despite their displays of apathy for this topic.

The fact that social difficulties of young people with HFA range from social withdrawal and detachment to unskilled social activeness is well documented. Nonetheless, even within this broad range, these kids are thought to be socially stiff, socially awkward, emotionally blunted, self-centered, inflexible, and have difficulty in understanding nonverbal social cues.

Preliminary evidence suggests that children with HFA may be able to infer the meaning of facial expressions as well as match events with facial expression. But, the difficulty arises when dealing with the simultaneous presentation of facial, voice, body, and situational cues. Thus, even when HFA kids and adolescents actively try to seek out others, they encounter social isolation because of their lack of understanding of the rules of social behavior (e.g., eye contact, proximity to others, gestures, posture, etc.).

Children with HFA often are able to engage in routine social interactions (e.g., basic greetings) without being able to engage in extended interactions or reciprocal conversations. Parents often describe their HFA children as lacking an awareness of social standards and protocol, lacking common sense, tending to misinterpret subtle social prompts, cues, and unspoken messages, and displaying a variety of socially unaccepted habits and behaviors.

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

Children with HFA also typically display emotional vulnerability and stress. For example, they may become upset if they think others are invading their space or when they are in unpredictable and novel social situations. However, in contrast to “typical” children, many HFA children do not reveal stress through voice tone, overt agitation, and so on. As a result, they may escalate to a point of crisis because of others' unawareness of their excitement or discomfort along with their own inability to predict, control, and manage uncomfortable situations. Also, it is very clear that kids and teens with HFA are relatively easy targets for those who are prone to teasing and bullying others.

While they are known by others for their lack of social awareness, many HFA children are very aware that they are different from their friends and classmates. As a result, problems with self-esteem and self-concept are common. These problems often are particularly significant during the teenage years and young adulthood.

Variable social situations make it difficult for children with HFA to apply social rules in a rigid and consistent way. Social rules vary with circumstances (i.e., there are no inflexible and universal social conventions and rules). This lack of social consistency is especially confusing for kids with HFA. They often painfully discover that interactions that may be tolerated - or even reinforced - in one setting are rejected or punished in others. For instance, one 5th grader with Asperger’s could not understand why his calling Mr. Potts (his teacher) "Mr. Potty" in the restroom was the source of great delight to his classmates, while saying this in the classroom in the presence of Mr. Potts drew a much different response.

Kids and teens with HFA do not acquire greater social awareness and skill merely as a function of age. All young people are required to use increasingly sophisticated social skills and to interpret ever more subtle social nuances as they progress through school. For that reason, children diagnosed with HFA may find themselves more and more in conflict with prevailing social norms as they move through the teenage years and young adulthood. As a result of these requirements and the experiences that follow, these individuals are vulnerable to developing a variety of problems. For example, studies of adolescents diagnosed with HFA indicated that they often experience increased discomfort and anxiety in social situations, along with a continuing inability to effectively interact with friends and classmates.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook
Depression and anxiety may also appear during adolescence. Clinical reports have revealed that adolescents and young adults with HFA seem to be at higher risk for depression than their “typical” peers.

Since one of the most significant problems for children and teens with HFA is difficulty in social interaction, the most important thing parents can do is involve their child in social skills training. As HFA has become more and more common, a sort of industry has grown up around teaching social skills to these “special needs” kids.

Social skills therapists come from a wide range of backgrounds and training (e.g., social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, etc.) and specialize in working with children on the autism spectrum. In recent years, "do it yourself" social skills training strategies (in the form of videos, books, and eBooks) for moms and dads of HFA kids have become available. Social skills training will provide HFA children with the ability to converse, share, play, and work with “typical” peers. In an ideal world, such training will allow these kids to become almost indistinguishable from their non-autistic peers.

The best social skills practitioners are not so much trained as born. They happen to be very talented in their own field, with an innate understanding of how to help children and teens with HFA "get" how others think, feel, and act. Thus, the fact that someone has been trained in a particular social skills method does not necessarily make him or her the perfect therapist. The best way to decide if a therapist is right for you and your youngster is to attend a few sessions.

More resources for parents of children and teens 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

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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

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

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...