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Loneliness in Children on the Autism Spectrum: Tips for Parents

Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are more likely to be lonely than “typical” kids. Research shows that they face considerable challenges in making and keeping friends. There are many causes that may result in loneliness for these young people. For example:
  • Change in environment (e.g., relocation from country side to cities, relocation from joint families to nuclear families)
  • Change in school
  • Fear of school bullies
  • Feeling of being invisible
  • Feeling of being isolated
  • Inability of making friends easily
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Lack of social support
  • Lacking of understanding from others
  • Losing a friend
  • Loss of a mother or father
  • Rejection from friends
  • Relocation of a friend
  • Shyness

Signs that your AS or HFA youngster is feeling lonely include:
  • draws sad pictures
  • fails to interact with peers in class
  • never discusses or speaks with other kids
  • never invites kids to his house
  • plays sad tunes
  • prefers being in his room rather than staying out when guests arrive
  • prefers staying home rather than playing outside with other kids
  • walks home alone rather than with peers after school

When a youngster comes home and says, "no one likes me" or "everyone hates me," it can be hard for a mother or father to tell the difference between temporary exclusion versus ongoing rejection. Fortunately, research studies offer some advice on effective strategies to help “special needs” kids cope with - or avoid - loneliness. Here are some tips:

1. Before parents intervene in their youngster’s social difficulties, they should ask themselves some questions about their own history. For example, do you and your youngster have different temperaments when it comes to socializing? What were your friendships like at that age? Where did you stand in the group in terms of popularity? How did you cope with loneliness as a child? What worked – and what didn’t?

2. Become an expert on your youngster’s social life. Observe his social behavior to determine specific strengths and weaknesses, then share your observations with your child. Also, capitalize on his strengths rather than trying to “fix” weaknesses.

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

3. Don’t drag your own emotional baggage into the equation if you were bullied or teased as a child. Resist the urge to march onto the playground and chastise the bully for picking on your youngster. Also, avoid the temptation to gossip about the bully’s parents in the parking lot after school.

4. Employ the help of your child’s teacher. Let the teacher know that you are working with your youngster on “friendship skills.” The teacher can then structure the classroom environment to support efforts to form satisfying social connections with your child’s peers.

5. Encourage your youngster to participate in various activities in school (e.g., sports, hobby courses, music, etc.).



6. Give your child a gentle push to try new social challenges. AS and HFA children need lots of support and encouragement, while at the same time being gradually pushed out of their "comfort zone."

7. If you have just relocated to a new neighborhood or city, then it is likely your youngster misses her old friends. In this case, help your youngster to make new friends. Call a snack party and invite all the kids from the neighborhood. Introduce your youngster to all of them.

8. If your youngster is afraid of bullying in school – then take care of it. Deal with the school bully by complaining to the teachers and other school authorities. If this approach doesn't work, then have a talk with the bully’s mom or dad. Confront the bully if necessary, and teach your youngster to cope with bullies.

9. Lack of confidence is one of the major causes why an AS or HFA youngster can feel lonely. The good news is that moms and dads can assist with confidence-building by helping their youngster to recognize his unique abilities and talents. Children on the autism spectrum have way more talents than deficits (more information on this topic can be found here).

10. Look for a variety of group opportunities. Scouts, church youth groups, drama club, chess club, and sports teams all provide an alternative to school as a place for your youngster to make friends and gain acceptance.

11. Nurture your youngster’s belief in her ability to develop better friendship skills. This requires ongoing empathy, encouragement, and problem-solving support from you, the parent, in order to: (a) develop the hope and motivation to persist in making friends; (b) maintain a positive attitude and acceptance that children may vary in the way they form friendships; and (c) facilitate the view that friendships and satisfying social relations as important.

12. Praise your youngster for the efforts and contributions (rather than end results) she does in any particular activity (e.g., “You did a great job helping me plant these flowers).

13. Provide training and intervention to promote your youngster’s competence and sense of control. Different types of social skills training found to be effective include: role-playing, problem-solving exercises, peer-tutoring, and modeling.

14. Teach basic social skills (e.g., how to start a conversation, how to guess what other people are feeling, how to join in group play, how to ask for help, etc.).

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

15. Try to structure the environment to promote friendship and provide opportunities to experience social competence. For instance, you can set up an opportunity for your AS or HFA youngster to work collaboratively with another youngster on a task or project that they can successfully complete (be careful to select a youngster who is likely to work well with your youngster).

16. Sometimes, you may feel that the social relationships your AS or HFA youngster is developing are childish or superficial, or that your youngster’s friends are too young or not really a good match. Nonetheless, by understanding that friendship skills take time and practice, you will be able to give your youngster the encouragement and support she needs to build these skills in her own way and at her own pace.




Loneliness is distressing for all children. But, for a youngster with AS or HFA, loneliness may become an ongoing struggle resulting from a lack of social skills or a belief that she simply can’t make and keep friends. As a mother or father, you can play an important role in identifying your youngster’s specific social strengths and challenges, and help her understand that friendships require effort and skill. By doing so, you support her hopes for closer friendships and more meaningful social networks in the future.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
 
 
More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
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…

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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...

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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…

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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…

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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...

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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...
 
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A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

Click here for the full article...

Effective Interventions for Problem Behaviors in Children on the Autism Spectrum

In order to create an effective intervention for problem behaviors in children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), parents need to take into consideration a variety of aspects.

Let’s first look at “The 4-Step Plan”:

1. Hypothesize the Function of the Behavior:
  • Escape/Avoidance
  • Sensory Feedback 
  • Social Attention 
  • Wants tangible item or activity

2. Gather Information:

a. Antecedent: Does the behavior occur…
  • Following a request to perform a difficult task?
  • Repeatedly, in the same way, for long periods of time, even when no one is around? 
  • When a request for an item or activity is denied? 
  • When you are attending to other children in the room?

b. Consequence: When the behavior occurs, do you…
  • Allow your child to engage in inappropriate behavior?
  • Attend to your child? 
  • Leave him or her alone? 
  • Negotiate or give the desired item/activity?

3. Plan an Intervention:

a. Based on information gathered, are environmental changes needed?
  • Limit toys and games available to your child
  • Less noise/chaos
  • Remove distracters

b. Based on information gathered, determine how you should react to the challenging behavior each time it occurs.
  • Plan to attend
  • Plan to ignore
  • Plan to redirect
  • Plan to remove privileges

4. Identify a Replacement Behavior:

a. What appropriate behavior is “functionally equivalent” to the challenging behavior?
  • Teaching your child to communicate his or her wants appropriately to replace escape/ avoidance behaviors
  • Teaching your child to ask if he or she can use the computer later to replace tantrum behavior 
  • Teaching your child to tell you what he or she wants/needs in order to replace attention-seeking behaviors

b. Create “replacement behavior” planning guide (write it down in a journal or notebook).
  • Describe how you will evaluate if – and how – your child uses the new response.
  • In what situations will “training” (i.e., behavior modifications) occur? 
  • What functionally equivalent behavior are you going to train in place of the problem behavior? 
  • What motivation system will be implemented during training? 
  • Which behavior are you going to target for replacement?

Next, let’s look at Differential Reinforcement:

Differential reinforcement is the process by which the frequency of a desirable behavior is increased while the undesirable alternative behaviors are eliminated. It is used when the desired behavior already occurs occasionally and when there is an available reinforcer.

The first step to differential reinforcement is to define exactly what the target behavior is, and also to define the undesirable competing behavior (e.g., if Michael plays video games twice as much as he does homework, the target behavior would be doing homework, and the undesirable behavior would be playing video games).

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
 
The next step is to collect baseline data. Baseline is the period of time before behavior modification is implemented. The baseline serves as an indication of whether or not behavior modification is successful. So with Michael, the parent would record and graph the amount of time spent doing homework and playing video games each day.

In the third step, a reinforcer should be chosen (i.e., an item which the child is willing to work for), for example, snacks, praise, games, etc. With Michael, he could be reinforced with video game time.

Every time that the desirable behavior is demonstrated, it should be immediately reinforced. So, for every 30 minutes Michael spends doing homework, he would immediately be given 15 minutes of video game time. If too much time elapses before the child is reinforced, the target behavior will not increase in frequency.

Throughout the process, it is important for the parent to record the frequency of both the desirable and undesirable behavior so that progress can be tracked. After the desirable behavior is at the desired level, and the undesirable behavior is virtually eliminated, behavior modification can be decreased.

Lastly, here are a few additional interventions for problem behaviors in AS and HFA children:

1. Checklists and Schedules -- Provide visual structure and motivation needed to complete tasks/chores/activities, and stay on target by checking off tasks/chores/activities upon their completion.

2. Contingency Contracts -- The parent and child formalize agreements concerning specific behavior for the exchange of “reinforcers” (i.e., stimuli, such as rewards, the removal of unpleasant events, or punishments that maintain or strengthen a desired response) by writing an agreement. It outlines the behaviors and consequences of a specific behavior management system (e.g., good behavior “A” gets reward “A” …or misbehavior “B” gets punishment “B”).


3. Interspersed Requests -- Used to motivate AS and HFA kids to perform a difficult or unpleasant task by initially asking them to perform several easier tasks, which they can complete successfully in a short amount of time. This helps promote “behavioral momentum.”

4.  Premack Principle -- A method of maintaining and increasing compliance with rules through the use of positive reinforcement. A desired activity is available to the youngster on the completion of an undesired activity (e.g., the child who completes homework can earn an opportunity to play on the computer).

5. Redirection -- Introduce a novel stimulus to recapture the child’s attention by delivering verbal and nonverbal cues to the child to stop misbehavior, offering assistance with a task, engaging him/her in conversation, reminding him/her to focus attention on the task, or modeling calm and controlled behavior.

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

6. Rules -- Establish, teach, and enforce house rules. Rules should be positively stated. Identify the specific behaviors you wish to see displayed.

7. Self-Evaluation -- A self-management system that has been used to promote appropriate behavior. AS and HFA kids are taught to evaluate their own behavior using a rating scale. For instance, a child can rate his or her behaviors using a 0-5 point rating scale ("unacceptable" to "excellent"). The child earns points, which can be exchanged for reinforcers based on both child-behavior and the accuracy of his or her ratings.

It is important for parents to know that, independent of their AS or HFA child's diagnosis, there are behavioral interventions that are very likely to help. A diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder increases the likelihood that parents will observe behavioral problems, but that does not mean that they have to live with those problems. Understanding that kids on the spectrum experience the world in a different way is important. But, moms and dads also have a responsibility to work with their child so that he or she can develop more socially appropriate behavior. Using the methods outlined above can be a good start toward this end.




 
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
 

College Depression in Older Teens and Young Adults with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism

"The emotional transition to college has really been a challenge for our young adult child with HFA. He has struggled with depression even more than in the past during high school. He is having a lot of trouble dealing with this new stage of life — how you we help?!"

College depression is a common problem among older teens and young adults with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). In this post, we will look at why the transition to college makes these “special needs” individuals vulnerable to depression — and what moms and dads can do about it.

College depression isn't a clinical diagnosis, rather it is depression that begins during college. AS and HFA students face many challenges, pressures and anxieties that can cause them to feel overwhelmed. For example:
  • Due to their “quirky” or odd behavior, they may experience ostracism from the peer group, teasing, or bullying.
  • Money and intimate relationships may serve as major sources of stress.
  • They are adapting to a new schedule and workload.
  • They are adjusting to life with roommates.
  • They may be living on their own for the first time and feeling homesick.
  • They are trying to figure out how to “fit-in.”

Dealing with these changes during the transition from the teenage years to adulthood can trigger depression during college in these individuals. College depression has been linked to:
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Risky behaviors related to drug and alcohol abuse
  • Smoking
  • Impaired academic performance
  • Preferring to isolate rather than socialize
  • Returning home after a failed attempt to adjust to college life

Many “typical” college students occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions usually pass within a few days or weeks. However, with students on the autism spectrum, feelings of sadness or anxiety may persist and interfere with normal activities. This is often due to the fact that their emotional age is much younger than their chronological age. Thus, they are emotionally and socially unprepared to “mix” with peers who are developmentally advanced by comparison.



Signs that an AS or HFA student may be experiencing depression during college include:
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Distractibility and decreased concentration
  • Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy
  • Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Self-blame when things aren't going right
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Unexplained physical problems (e.g., back pain, headaches, stomachaches, etc.)

Symptoms of depression can be difficult to notice if your teenager is no longer living at home. Also, AS and HFA students may have difficulty seeking help for depression out of embarrassment or fear of not “fitting-in.”

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

What should parents do if they suspect that their older teen or young adult is experiencing college depression?

1. Helping your AS or HFA teenager become accustomed to the college campus before the start of the school year may prevent him from feeling overwhelmed later in the semester. Encourage him to visit the campus and talk to other classmates, peer counselors, and faculty about what to expect and where to turn for support.

2. Encourage your teenager to avoid making major decisions (e.g., changing majors, doing too many things at once, etc.). Instead, help her to break up large tasks into small ones.

3. Encourage your teenager to get to know people in her dorm and classes. Caring classmates can help her to feel more comfortable in a new environment.

4. If you suspect that your teenager is struggling with depression, talk to him about what's going on – and listen. Encourage him to talk about his feelings. Also, ask him to make an appointment with a therapist as soon as possible. Most colleges offer mental health services.

5. If your teenager has risk factors for - or a history of - depression, talk to her doctor about what kind of counseling options might best help her with the transition to college. Also, help her become familiar with campus counseling resources.




6. Remember, depression may not get better on its own. In fact, it often gets worse if it isn't treated. Feelings of depression can also increase the likelihood of substance abuse and the risk of suicide. So, parents must intervene! Untreated depression can lead to other mental and physical health issues in other areas of life.

7. Urge your teenager to get involved in activities that he enjoys, which can help to shift the focus away from his negative feelings. Physical activity can be particularly helpful as well.

Helping your AS or HFA teenager make the emotional transition to college can be a major undertaking. Know how to identify whether he or she is having trouble dealing with this new stage of life — and what you can do to help. Remember, getting treatment at the earliest sign of a problem can relieve symptoms, prevent depression from returning, and help “special needs” students succeed in college.

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

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

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content