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Disciplinary Techniques for Kids on the Spectrum: Special Considerations for Parents

“I have an 8 year old son with high functioning autism whose behavior is getting worse and discipline is getting harder. He is refusing to do school work (he is in a special online class geared for children like him) so they send homework that results in 4 hours of work a night and many, many tantrums. Their corrective approach is to have him write 20 sentences on ‘I will not yell’ or an essay on how he can control his anger. I'm not certain this is the best way to correct misbehaving. My husband and I take away his after school TV time or any "fun" time we had planned. We also have a reward chart for him every week with a fun family activity that we do on the weekends if he gets a certain amount of stars for doing what was asked. Nothing seems to be working, his behavior is worse than ever. Any suggestions or tips would be greatly appreciated!”


COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said…  It obviously isn't working. Maybe try positive instead of negative. Be encouraging. Meet him where he is. Use what currency he enjoys to do first/then.
•    Anonymous said… Feel your pain. My daughter acts the same way
•    Anonymous said… Flip all that negative punishment into positive reinforcements. afterschool have a snack, then some sort of big muscle activity to get grounded in his body. Set a goal of working thru one problem, of his choice, with a max time of 20 minutes, then quietly transition to a favored activity. Slowly increase the goal to one problem from each section. School needs to be on board with some positive reinforcement by 'catching him being good.' With the help of a one on one para, start with a very small goal, like no yelling in class for one minute and he gets a smiley face. At home make a big deal out of every goal met.
•    Anonymous said… From reading the initial question, I would infer the school isn't setting four hours of homework each night, rather the behavior is resulting in the small amount of homework TAKING four hours.
•    Anonymous said… get rid of the homework, let him come home and feel he has returned to his safe haven away from all the social anxiety and feeling punished and blamed all the time, that will only serve to fuel his defiance, he needs actual down time, let him do what he wants for a bit after school, warn him 15 mins 10 mins AND 5 mins before he has to switch tasks so he learns that he needs to wind down. But mostly, and please do this one whatever else, remember that is your little boy who needs love and acceptance not discipline and regimentation. Let him be who he is and learn to accept and love him for all his quirks, by taking the pressure of society off his tiny shoulders you'll find your beautiful boy is still there and he might open up and start to trust again.
•    Anonymous said… Go to the school and re-negotiate his work schedule. He cannot be asked to do 4 hours of homework any night, let alone every school night. This is a harmful practice and does not encourage learning. Ask for a review of his classroom environment with a new approach to education for him that accommodates his needs, so he is getting learning done during the day. Make sure that at home he has time for special interests and feels safe and supported. This will help to reduce his anger / stress so that you can reason with him and put him on a reward-based schedule for accomplishing things.
•    Anonymous said… Have you thought of asking for a more mainstream class for him? My son had similar issues (he is almost 8). Being in a regular class has actually been really good for him. He is trying to fit in... which means he is more motivated to do the work and act more appropriately. This is not to say he is without issues... he often refuses to do work(writing is such a challenge). But we have seen a big improvement.
•    Anonymous said… Having a one on one therapeutic support person in a regular classroom may help. They can help him stay on task during regular class time.
•    Anonymous said… He is frustrated and angry - you are right it isn't working. Keep trying to find his currency. I paid my son for every lesson $1 then he also learned about money because he would save this up for what he wanted and then HE had some control over HIS life and things got better. Never say "no" say let me show you how to do that again - I'm not a very good teacher. So they don't feel bad about themselves and you have two choices, you could go to your room OR you can do the right thing and get a good outcome. What do you choose? It takes a bit of practise but it works
•    Anonymous said… I could never get my son to do homework till I hired a high school girl. He does it n 30 minutes when we would fight for two hours for one problem.
•    Anonymous said… I was where you were...way better now! Some recommendations that worked for me but mostly for my son...First...get rid of the homework. Homework is for applying what they learned at school. If it takes too long , it means the teacher needs to do a better job teaching them or they get it and don't need to do the homework . Send it back and tell the teacher to help him understand. Teaching your son is the teacher's job. Not yours. You are only there to support him with homework. Give him his free time and his fun time. He's had a rough day - 8 hours of sensory overload, not being understood, possibly being bullied and made fun of (by students and/or teachers). The kid needs to come home and be himself and be loved and relax. Second, how is making him write 'I will not yell in class' helping him control his anger???? It just keeps him occupied for hours so the teacher can go on with his/her day. Ask why is he yelling? What is the trigger? What can they do to be preventative? For my son reward charts didn't work. A big hug (pressure) and kiss telling him how proud i am of him does wonders!!! All i know is that my son would come home beaten! So i was there to hug and kiss him. Tell him how proud i was of him for getting through another day and then we would sit and watch tv together instead of hours of fighting over homework. I also found a better school for him. The teacher in the regular class is awesome! He is in a regular class with the option to go to the community class if he's having a bad day. It worked for us. Best of luck to you and your son.
•    Anonymous said… I would advise homeschooling too. I took my children of the school after trying a lot of things and different schools and am homeschooling for years now. I have four children in the autism spectrum and school was really hard for them. The homework for sure cause the school itself already costed a lot of energy and having to deal with angry not understanding and not openminded teachers because of not doing the homework or not well enough was really too much. I think homeschool can be a great solution for both your son and you. School should be more fun, a place to feel safe and to grow and learn. To me it seems that your son is so angry at school because it is really too much for him there .. the noise, the things he has to do, the reaction of others etc.
•    Anonymous said… I would start by getting rid of the homework. Tell the school not to send it home because you aren't doing it anymore. Getting through a school day is so hard for these kids that when they get home they should just be able to be kids. If you think about how many hours they are at school everyday plus their bus ride it is just like an adult's work day and then they are expected to do more, NOPE unreasonable for these kids or really for any kd.
•    Anonymous said… I would try a different type of school. Are there any charter schools? My kid couldn't handle regular school. We found a charter school that is project-based, allows him to roam the classroom, no homework, lots of hands on work. You may need to research other educational options.
•    Anonymous said… I would've thought a special ed class would know better than to do that. Are these people properly trained? All encounters I've had with special ed departments, they are so lenient and understanding of the kids. The poor kid's just been at school for what...6 hrs? And then forced to do an additional 4 hrs...that's torture. A lot teachers don't believe in homework and if it weren't for the curriculum put in place by MOE they wouldn't give it. My boy hasn't done homework for approx 3 years now. I used to make him do it but the boy struggled and it was painful for the both of us so I stopped it. Now, after a long day at school, he's able to come home and chill out rather than be forced to do yet more school work. My suggestion is chuck the homework in and spend some fun time with him, give him nice memories to think back on.
•    Anonymous said… If he has four hours of homework he is not being accommodated thru some kind of I EP If he has one then you need to fight to get accommodations so he can even handle this and his behavior would probably change for the better Need to contact Special needs department officials f your school district
•    Anonymous said… If he's done something wrong at school then don't give further punishment at home. He's probably been disciplined at school and he'll get there eventually. Is he in mainstream with support or special education school? It seems like they don't understand his needs..
•    Anonymous said… If you are in Surrey, there is a great group of parents homeschooling their children through a range of amazing activities with very positive results. might be worth considering. T x
•    Anonymous said… If you try and see it differently......Should we punish kids with Down syndrome when they refuse to write 20 sentences in class? Autism is a disability aswell.. The very last thing he needs is punishment.... He needs help. Help to stop all the ting X making him upset and frustrated before he reaches a point of yelling... You can't punish someone for their disability... We have to work at helping them ( autistic kids) ...and finding the reasons they explode with anger... Is the class to loud... Is he eating and drinking enough... Does he understand the work and is able to get help from a teacher.. Could be so many reasons.... The class should be adjusted to his needs and turned into a place he likes to go to.
•    Anonymous said… Ignorant approach on their part! Many ASD kids do not learn from consequences; sounds like you have got one of those. Put it back on them. If the teachers are all ABA oriented, they will want to work out ever more dire sticks and attractive carrots. Challenge them to create ways to interest and inspire him in the work. He won't do it unless it makes sense to him. You have a right to set a limit on his homework time: 30 minutes a day is plenty for an 8 year old. Put it in his IEP and also put that they are to modify the length of his assignments so it does not take so long. Then look at other mainstream classrooms with structured and flexible teachers where he might not be so bored. From a mom and a teacher.
•    Anonymous said… I'm not sure getting rid of the homework is the best idea if they are HFA. More perhaps making it into bite sized easy chunks. If you look at those people in top level scientific and academic careers, the major portion are HFA. Whilst our kids have some issues we see as weakness, they have some massive strengths in their ability to focus on one study area and become the best at that. Means they are Dr, Professor material and it would be better for our education system to realise and focus on that ability, by tailoring work and homework to gradually find and refocus them. Stopping their homework is giving up because it makes your life easier, just like many schools 30 years ago gave up on many plonking them in the dunse class. Don't give up try to work with them and the school to find their natural skills set, and fire them in that direction. And I say that as a parent struggling where you all are, but also as someone with HFA whose parents managed to steer me in the academic direction where I have a PhD and earn well above most others I was schooled with. Thats what I wish for my kids.
•    Anonymous said… NEVER ok to discipline kids like him by making him write. Great book: The Kasdin (or Kasden) method. Worked wonders for us w/ our boys. School should back you on this one. Get it in his IEP paperwork too./
•    Anonymous said… No No No they clearly do not understand these children need to go home and be part of the family! My now 15 year old Aspie once said to me when I asked him why we used to battle over homework - "Because school is for school work & home is to relax and play games and be with you!" When it is interfering with your relationship with the child then it has to stop! I told the school if it gets done great if not so be it!
As for writing lines and reasons I should be good this will confuse him and cause no learning just stress! Find another school!
•    Anonymous said… Our doctor (for autism) recommended he be taken off gluten and all dairy. It has made a huge difference in anger, depression and lashing out. Just a small amount can make things miserable again. Not saying that is IT because he still has small episodes but nothing like what it used to be.
•    Anonymous said… Poor guy. We switched schools and it didn't help, bumped up his therapy and the day he had therapy he was fine..so his therapist wrote a two week note for him to miss school I started home schooling him with the work school sent and two starwars spelling and cursive work book he picked out and in those two weeks he finished ALL his work in 4days and no problems..NONE! That was it for me, we pulled him and he's now doing Easy Peasy all in one on line along with book work we chose together and ABeka..it was his Teacher, the noise, lights and to much moving around of other people he now tells us. 3yrs and still doing great! I would say talk to his therapist and have the school call you after one hour of him not working an go up there if you can if not talk to him and see if that doesn't help, look into getting him a service animal, or he may need a "helper" in class to give him one on one with a reward of like "work :30 and get :05 break or walk outside!" I'll be praying for both of you!! OOo and...YOUR a DARN good mom!!!!
•    Anonymous said… Schools often do nothing but babysit. It is not uncommon for children in regular class to have all their work sent home. Have you thought about home schooling? We have already decided my grandchild will be homeschooled just to avoid these issues.
•    Anonymous said… Sorry I don't believe in homework fullstop let alone using it to correct behaviour. I'm a behavioural therapist. Maybe trying to find out the reason behind the behaviours would be a good start. Hugs.
•    Anonymous said… Stop depriving of what keeps him happy. We would all be miserable if lived in a world with nothing to look forward too
•    Anonymous said… That school needs to be educated about Asperger kids... some schools are not the right fit for your kid & always remember you are the parent, if you don't agree with how they are handling it, speak up... the only person who can fight your battles for your kids is you, something I've learnt from having 2 aspie kids with different needs.. good luck  🙂
•    Anonymous said… The homework is just wrong! No adult wants to go to work for a full day and bring home work that will take up the rest of their day. Doing this to a child is simply cruel. This little guy has to feel like he's in a no-win situation...that's because he is. What is the special class comprised of? If he's refusing to do his work at school, what do they have him doing all day? I have serious doubts about the competency and knowledge of spectrum disorder at your son's school. My HFA son just turned 9, and discipline can be a total nightmare. However, he sees a therapist once a week, which helps a lot. It's slow progress, but it is progress. He actually looks forward to going, especially if he can give her good news about how he handled something that is normally difficult for him. As for rewards, etc., long term goals don't work for us at all. Daily goals seem to help keep his anxiety level down and he feels the reward of accomplishment sooner and more often.
•    Anonymous said… The school has it WRONG! 1) Writing should never be a punishment. 2) Even if he was skilled at controlling his anger, an Aspie boy that age is very unlikely to be able to articulate it, especially in writing, and 3) if the school is aware of this it sounds like they are just shoving pain onto you. Home should offer restorative time, at least part of the evening. He needs a new IEP first of all. I will say that we resisted the notion of medication for my son, but finally after outbursts teetered on danger to others (me, teachers) he started a very low dose of prozac, which simply took the edge off his anxiety What emerges as hostility is often fear, near panic, frustration. My kid is in college now and managing quite well. There's hope-- but get him a better IEP!
•    Anonymous said… There is no singular approach that is globally effective. When a child's parents and teachers share a sense of defeat his behaviors will surely reflect that. A child's world often becomes increasingly extreme as we experience more and more defeat. Of course, extremes typically don't resonate well with kids. Behavioral interventions like those you describe can be helpful- though not in isolation. I might start by exploring those parts of his world that have tended toward the extreme (e.g., homework, fun family time, etc.) and make changes wherever practical. Often at this point our attention is concentrated squarely on the behaviors we don't want to have happen. Unfortunately, we get more of what we pay attention to. To invite new, more preferable ways of being, it is helpful to focus more on nurturing those behaviors we want to have happen rather than punishing unwanted behaviors.
•    Anonymous said… To me it sounds very negative. He could already be feeling like he gets everything wrong then he has to write about it. With the right supports he can be taught how to behave appropriately and when he does he needs to be rewarded and feel good about himself. Self esteem is the number one important thing to nurture in my opinion. Nobody likes to feel bad about themselves especially if he is getting into trouble over behaviours he can't control or even understand why they are inappropriate.
•    Anonymous said… We give our 7 yr old girl with Aspergers and poss adhd (awaiting assessment) a supplement of high omega 3, which really helps take the edge off. She is a lot calmer, and concentration is improved too. X
•    Anonymous said… What's the point of him going to school if he's doing 4 hrs 1-1 at home. And they need their free time to unwind . Poor bugger . It's so hard getting parenting right never mind the added pressure of homework. Big hugsxx
•    Anonymous said… WRONG they are doing it completely wrong and not helping him or themselves. I'd change his school or get in there and nail some butts to the wall. My kid had problems BUT he's at 11/12 grade level now bc teachers got involved and I don't play.

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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

Fight, Flight or Pretend: The 3 Anger Styles in High-Functioning Autistic Kids

“My 8 y.o. son Cory has a diagnosis of autism (high functioning) and has uncontrollable outbursts and aggression when things don’t go his way. He often becomes so distraught that his suffering is palpable. The emotions vivid on his face. His little body tense with distress. Sometimes he will meltdown, at other times he shuts down. Is this just par for the course with autism? Is there anything that can help reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of these behaviors?”

RE: “Is this just par for the course with autism?”

Yes! Many moms and dads recognize that their high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s) youngster has a problem with anger-control. Many feel that their youngster needs to develop some anger-control skills, or needs to find some kind of counseling that will help him get along better in life (e.g., at school, with a parent, with siblings and classmates, etc.). In some cases, professionals have diagnosed a highly-aggressive youngster on the spectrum with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Generally, anger falls into three main categories: 1) Fight, 2) Flight, or 3) Pretend to be “Flighting” (while finding indirect ways to Fight). Most high-functioning autistic kids with anger-control problems will go to either extreme of fight or flight. They tend to become aggressive and hostile, or they withdraw into themselves and become extremely quiet, silently stubborn, and depressed (i.e., a shutdown).

“The Fighters”: Child Anger Turned to Aggression—



The Fighters are pretty simple to recognize. They are aggressive. Many times, the characteristics of high-functioning autistic kids with severe anger-control problems are included in the professional diagnosis for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Some of the warning signs in the following list are taken from the criteria for professional diagnosis. Others are additional common signs of anger-control problems for kids that are Fighters.
  • Uncontrollable fits of rage (usually these tantrums are used as threats to get their way)
  • Seriously violates rules (e.g., at home, in school, or society in general)
  • Seems to have “emotional diarrhea” and “lets it all out - all the time”
  • Physically disruptive (e.g., hitting the parent)
  • Openly and often defiant of requests
  • Often feels rules are “stupid” or don’t apply to them
  • Often demeans or swears directly to parent or others in authority positions
  • Makes threats
  • Loud voice and yelling
  • Initiates fights with others
  • Has left holes in walls and doors from violent outbursts
  • Furious temper
  • Frequently vocalizes anger
  • Does not follow rules
  • Difficulty accepting a “no” answer
  • Destroys property

The “Fighters” have anger-control problems when the problems are creating an unsafe situation for themselves, for others, or for property around them. If parents or siblings are the focus of physical aggression, the problem is extremely critical to address. High-functioning autistic teens who have abused others as kids are at a higher risk of becoming a threat to society than those who have not. Where these warning signs seem to be a part of daily life, intervention is strongly suggested. Intervention can be through anger-control counseling, or through a program dedicated and experienced in working with autistic kids with emotional regulation difficulties.

“The Flighters”: Child Anger Turned to Passive Responses—

The Flighters can also be fairly simple to recognize. They are passive. They do not fight back when confronted. Many of their traits may coincide with the diagnosis of depression. Some of the warning signs below are taken from the professional diagnosis for depression, and others are additional common signs of “shutdowns” for Flighters.
  • Tends to spend a lot of time alone
  • Seems withdrawn
  • Seems to hold anger in
  • Seems to have very little emotion
  • Seems depressed
  • Seems “emotionally constipated”
  • Physical problems may include upset stomach, muscle aches, backaches, frequent headaches, or other physical symptoms from “holding it in”
  • May simply “go along” with whatever - even when it is a poor decision
  • May punch holes in walls or kick doors when “the last straw drops”
  • May have few friends
  • May blame self unnecessarily
  • May be seen as a “loner”
  • Holds anger in, then “blows up” suddenly and violently
  • Has difficulty expressing emotions
  • Extremely passive to the point of getting “walked over” by others
  • Does not engage in much conversation
  • Deals with difficult emotions by “cutting” the emotions off

The “Flighters” are in danger of destroying themselves emotionally from within. They are like a balloon being constantly blown into with no release valve. When they explode, their anger may be violent, and may lead to harming themselves, harming others, or destroying property. Internalized anger is potentially as destructive to a youngster as aggressive anger.

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

“The Pretenders”: Child Anger Silently Planning Revenge—

Perhaps the most difficult to detect, the Pretenders follow an anger style that seems to be calm on the surface, but is raging, scheming, and planning underneath. They are passive-aggressive. These kids do not directly confront the anger as a Fighter would do. They will be passive and appear to accept what is said, and then will disregard what is said to do their own thing. They are sneaky. Often, they may be unnoticed. While they are giving a person a hug, they are also stabbing them in the back (so to speak). They lack the courage to be direct, and perfect the skills to be deceitful. They know where the “back door” to revenge is, and will use it often. They will give the appearance of a Flighter. The list of Flighter traits also applies to them. Some additional traits to look for with Pretenders are as follows:
  • Tends to sabotage
  • Tends to avoid direct conflict while creating problems in other areas
  • Sneaky behaviors
  • Often gets caught in lies
  • May not admit mistakes
  • May be very good at blaming others
  • Inconsistency between what is said and what is done

High-functioning autistic kids who try to manage their anger through the Pretender style are as potentially dangerous to others and themselves as the other styles. Moms and dads tend to underestimate the Pretender style, because the danger does not seem to be as bad as the aggressive Fighter.

The Hostility Cycle—

From an anger-control perspective, an episode of anger can be viewed as consisting of three phases: escalation, explosion, and post-explosion. Together, they make up the hostility cycle. In this process, the escalation phase is characterized by cues that indicate anger is building. These cues can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). If the escalation phase is allowed to continue, the explosion phase will follow. The explosion phase is marked by uncontrollable anger displayed as verbal or physical aggressiveness. The final stage of the hostility cycle is the post-explosion phase, which is characterized by negative consequences resulting from the verbal or physical aggression displayed during the explosion phase.

The intensity, frequency, and duration of anger in the hostility cycle varies among children. For example, one high-functioning autistic youngster’s anger may escalate rapidly after a provocative event and, within just a few minutes, reach the explosion phase. Another youngster’s anger may escalate slowly but steadily over several hours before reaching the explosion phase. Similarly, one child may experience more episodes of anger and progress through the hostility cycle more often than the other. Despite differences in how quickly the anger escalates and how frequently anger is expressed, the child will undergo all three phases of the hostility cycle.

The intensity of the high-functioning autistic youngster’s anger also may differ. One child may engage in more violent behavior than the other in the explosion phase (e.g., he may assault someone). Another child may express his anger during the explosion phase by shouting at or threatening parents. Regardless of these individual differences, the explosion phase is synonymous with losing control and becoming verbally or physically aggressive.




RE: “Is there anything that can help reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of these behaviors?”

Absolutely! Here are some crucial strategies to help teach your son more constructive ways to deal with anger and frustration:

1. When Cory becomes frustrated, use those incidents as "on-the-spot lessons" to help him learn to calm himself down (rather than always relying on you to calm him down). Every time he acts-out due to low-frustration tolerance, ALWAYS use that moment as a teaching moment. For example, explain to him that we all have little signs that warn us when we’re getting frustrated. We should listen to these signs, because they can help us stay out of trouble. Next, help Cory recognize what specific warning signs he may have that tells him he is starting to get angry (e.g., I talk louder, my cheeks get hot, I clench my fists, my heart starts pounding, my mouth gets dry, I breathe faster, etc.).

2. Use books and social stories about anger to help your son understand and manage it. Well-presented stories about anger and other emotions validate a youngster's feelings and give information about anger. It is important to preview all books about anger, because some stories teach irresponsible anger-control.

3. Use role-playing, puppets, or videos to teach social skills (e.g., how to treat each other, how to work out disagreements, etc.).

4. Use feeling words to help Cory understand the emotions of others (e.g., “Robbie is sitting alone and looks very sad; he may be lonely” …or “When Michael tripped, he looked embarrassed”).

5. Train your son to respond to your "signal" (e.g., a hand motion) to stay calm. Give that signal as soon as he starts "stewing" about something. Alternatively, you can use distraction as soon as you notice him exhibiting an anger sign. If he refuses to be distracted or engaged in dialoguing about his anger and starts yelling, stomping or breaking an object, impose appropriate consequences. But, have these consequences in place ahead of time to serve as a guideline. That means that you have discussed them beforehand and written them out for future reference. Armed with a list of consequences (which preferably consist of withdrawing privileges or charging your son a "penalty"), encourage him to choose such alternatives as doing something else, walking away, or talking about the anger rather than acting it out.

6. Try a "time-in" rather than a "time-out." As a parent, you are Cory's main guide in life. He relies on you to be there with him through his difficult emotional experiences, whatever that may be. Thus, no time-out and no isolation may be the best option on occasion. Instead, try a "time-in." Sit with Cory and incorporate other methods mentioned in this post (e.g., work on breathing with him, ask him questions about his feelings, etc.). The important thing is to be fully present with Cory to help him through his emotions. Remember, you are teaching him social skills to be in relationships with others, rather than acting out alone. When some autistic kids are isolated, they often ruminate and feel guilty for their behavior. This only serves to create low self-esteem, which often cycles back to creating behavioral problems.

7. The thought "It's not fair" is a big anger-arouser for many high-functioning autistic kids. If that is the case, ask your son, "Do you feel you are being treated unfairly?" When he answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his feelings.

8. Teach Cory to take a time-out from the difficult situation and have some “alone-time” for a few minutes. During the time-out, he can rethink the situation, calm down, and determine what to do next. The length of the time-out is determined by the intensity of the emotion. An autistic youngster who is simply frustrated may just need to take a deep breath. The youngster who is infuriated probably needs to leave the room and settle down. After Cory has calmed down, it’s time to decide on a more appropriate response to the situation. There are at least 3 positive choices: talk about it, get help, or slow down. Simplifying the choices makes the decision process easier. Even autistic kids can learn to respond constructively to frustration when they know there are just a few choices.  These choices are skills to be learned. Take time to teach Cory these skills, and practice them as responses to mad feelings.

9. Teach your son to talk about how he feels. Give him a language to express his feelings. If he is too angry to talk or doesn't have the words to express his feelings, ask about the feelings relevant to the specific situation. For example, "Do you feel rejected?" "Hurt?" "Let down?" …etc. When your son expresses the feeling behind his anger (e.g., embarrassment or rejection), suggest some other ways to look at the same event that might not be embarrassing or humiliating.

10. Some high-functioning autistic kids get upset when they know they made a mistake. Instead of admitting their mistake, they act out in anger to deflect the attention off of them. If you realize that this might be the case, it's helpful to say to your son, "Everyone makes mistakes. I am okay with it. Don't feel so bad about it."

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

11. Stop any and all physically aggressive behaviors! Say something like, "I can't let you hurt each other," or "I can't let you hurt me." Then remove Cory as gently as possible.

12. Sometimes an autistic child’s anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in his life. Not all anger is misplaced. Occasionally it's a healthy, natural response to the difficulties that the “special needs” child faces. There is a common belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to the parent’s frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. Thus, the best attitude to bring to such a circumstance is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle the problem as painlessly as possible.

13. Try to establish a home environment that reduces anger and teaches tolerance. For example, you can set a personal example for your son that "big people apologize when they hurt someone” and “it's o.k. to loose and try again.”

14. Simple relaxation tools can help Cory calm down. For example, he can (a) use imagery and visualize a relaxing experience from either his memory or his imagination; (b) slowly repeat a calm word or phrase (e.g., “relax” or “take it easy”) and repeat it to himself; (c) breathe deeply from his diaphragm (however, breathing from the chest won't relax him, so he should picture his breath coming up from the belly).

15. Resist taking Cory’s angry outbursts personally. His motives have more to do with alleviating uncomfortable emotions than with deliberately trying to be “nasty.”

16. One thing that makes many moms and dads angry is to see their youngster challenging their authority and defying them. Sometimes it may appear so, but that may not be the intention of the high-functioning autistic youngster. For example, the child may be too unhappy to be told ‘no’ because he wants something so badly. Of course, you shouldn't give in to your son’s demands, but try to understand what might really be his intention.

17. Many children on the autism spectrum act-out because they simply don’t know how to express their anger any other way. Kicking, screaming, swearing, hitting or throwing things may be the only way they know how to express their emotions. To help Cory express his frustrations appropriately, create an “emotion words” poster together (e.g., "Let’s think of all the words we could use that tell others we’re really frustrated"). Then list his ideas (e.g., angry, mad, annoyed, furious, irritated, etc.). Write them on a chart, hang it up, and practice using them often. When Cory is upset, use the words so he can apply them to real life (e.g., "Looks like you’re really frustrated. Want to talk about it?" …or "You seem really annoyed. Do you need to walk it off?"). Then keep adding new feeling words to the list whenever new ones come up in those "teachable moments" throughout the day.

18. Listen, reflect and validate (without judgment) the feelings Cory expresses. After listening, help him identify the true feeling underlying the anger (e.g., hurt, frustration, sadness, disappointment, fear, etc.). Say something like, "That hurt when your friend was mean to you," or “It was scary to have those boys bully you.”

19. Involve Cory in making a small list of “house rules” (e.g., we work out differences peacefully, we use self-control, we listen to others, we are kind to each other, etc.). Write them down and post them on the refrigerator. Make the rules clear, and follow through with meaningful consequences that are appropriate for Cory’s age when the rules are ignored.

20. Model responsible anger-control yourself. High-functioning autistic kids have an impaired ability to understand emotion when their parents show a lot of anger. Parents who are most effective in helping their kids manage anger model responsible management by acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for their own angry feelings, and by expressing anger in direct and non-aggressive ways.

21. Help Cory to understand that anger is a natural emotion that everyone has. Say something like, "It's normal to feel angry. Everyone feels angry from time to time, but it is not O.K. to hurt others."

22. Help your son develop self-regulatory skills. Parents of kids on the spectrum do a lot of “child-regulation work" (i.e., doing things ‘for’ their child rather than ‘with’ their child). This is because parents know that their child has a very limited ability to regulate emotions. As the high-functioning autistic child gets older, parents can gradually transfer control to their child so that he can develop self-regulatory skills.

23. Facilitate communication and problem solving with Cory by asking questions (e.g., How can I help you? What can you do to help yourself? What do you need? Is your behavior helping you solve your problem? …and so on).

24. Encourage Cory to accept responsibility for his anger and to gain control by asking himself the following questions: Did I do or say anything to create the problem? If so, how can I make things better? How can I keep this issue from happening again?

25. Create a “ways to relax” poster. There are dozens of ways to help autistic kids calm down when they first start to get bent out of shape. Unfortunately, most of these “special needs” children have never been given the opportunity to think of those other possibilities. Thus, they keep getting into trouble because the only behavior they know is inappropriate ways to express their frustration. So, talk with Cory about more acceptable "replacement behaviors.” Make a big poster listing them (e.g., draw pictures, hit a pillow, listen to music, run a lap, shoot baskets, sing a song, talk to someone, think of a peaceful place, walk away, etc.). Once he chooses a replacement behavior, encourage him to use the same strategy each time he starts to get upset.

26. Encourage your son to “label” his emotions. For example, a permanent record (book or chart) can be made of lists of labels for “anger” (furious, mad, hot, irritated, annoyed), and he can refer to it when discussing angry feelings.

27. Be sure to VALUE what Cory is experiencing. For example, if he is hurt and crying, never say, "Stop crying." Instead, validate his experience by saying something like, "I’m sure that hurts. That would make me cry too." This makes an ally out of you, rather than a target for free-floating anger. As an ally, Cory learns to trust you, realizing you are there for him no matter what. If he can trust you, he can learn to trust himself and the outer world.

28. Acknowledge strong emotions, helping Cory to save face (e.g., say, "It must be hard to get a low score after you tried so hard").

29. All of us exhibit some "signs" just as we begin to get angry. So, it’s actually fairly easy to identify the “anger signs” in a youngster with high-Functioning Autism. For example, you may detect a certain look in the eye, a tone of voice, or a tightness in your child’s body. Thus, your first course of action is to help him observe these signs right at the onset of anger. Once he can identify the early signs of his anger, he can also learn to diffuse it by self-soothing techniques (e.g., walking away, taking full and vigorous breaths, etc.).

30. Lastly, help Cory understand that he can “choose” how to react when he feels angry or frustrated. Teach him self-control and positive ways to cope with negative impulses (e.g., write about feelings, tense body and then relax, tell someone how you feel, play music or sing, look at books or read, hug a pet or a stuffed animal, find a quiet place or sit alone, exercise, draw or play with clay, count slowly, calm self by breathing deeply, etc.).

By using a few of the ideas listed above, you can help strengthen your relationship with your high-functioning autistic youngster and give him the tools he needs to cope effectively with frustration and anger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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