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Anger-Control Problems in Asperger's and HFA Teens

"I need help FAST with what to do about my teenage son with autism - high functioning, and his out of control rage!!! Please I need advice."

Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) may be prone to anger, which can be made worse by difficulty in communicating feelings of disturbance, anxiety or distress.

Anger may be a common reaction experienced when coming to terms with problems in employment, relationships, friendships and other areas in life affected by the disorder.

There can be an ‘on-off’ quality to this anger, where the teenager may be calm minutes later after an angry outburst, while those around are stunned and may feel hurt or shocked for hours, if not days, afterward.

Parents often struggle to understand these angry outbursts, with resentment and bitterness often building up over time. Once they understand that their teen has trouble controlling his anger or understanding its effects on others, they can often begin to respond in ways that will help to manage these outbursts.

In some cases, these teens may not acknowledge they have trouble with their anger, and will blame others for provoking them. Again, this can create enormous conflict within the family. It may take carefully phrased feedback and plenty of time for the them to gradually realize they have a problem with how they express their anger.



The next step is for the teen to learn anger-management skills. A good place to start is identifying a pattern in how the outbursts are related to specific frustrations. Such triggers may originate from the environment, specific individuals or internal thoughts.

==> My Aspergers Teen: Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens 

Common causes of anger in Asperger's and HFA teens:
  • Being swamped by multiple tasks or sensory stimulation
  • Build up of stress
  • Difficulties with employment and relationships despite being intelligent in many areas
  • Having routines and order disrupted
  • Intolerance of imperfections in others
  • Other people’s behavior (e.g., insensitive comments, being ignored)

Identifying the cause of anger can be a challenge.  

It is important to consider all possible influences relating to:
  • How well the teenager is treated by peers
  • The environment (e.g., too much stimulation, lack of structure, change of routine)
  • The teen’s mental state (e.g., existing frustration, confusion)
  • The teen’s physical state (e.g., pain, tiredness)

Steps to successful self-management of anger include:
  • Awareness of situations— The teen becomes more aware of the situations which are associated with them becoming angry. They may like to ask other people who know them to describe situations and behaviors they have noticed.
  • Becoming motivated— The teen identifies why they would like to manage anger more successfully. They identify what benefits they expect in everyday living from improving their anger management.
  • Develop an anger management record— The teen may keep a diary or chart of situations that trigger anger. List the situation, the level of anger on a scale of one to ten and the coping strategies that help to overcome or reduce feelings of anger.
  • Levels of anger and coping strategies— As the teen becomes more aware of situations associated with anger, they can keep a record of events, triggers and associated levels of anger. Different levels of anger can be explored (e.g. mildly annoyed, frustrated, irritated and higher levels of anger).
  • Self-awareness— The teen becomes more aware of personal thoughts, behaviors and physical states which are associated with anger. This awareness is important for the teen in order for them to notice the early signs of becoming angry. They should be encouraged to write down a list of changes they notice as they begin to feel angry.

A simple and effective technique for reducing levels of anger is the “Stop – Think” technique:

As the Asperger's or HFA teen notices the thoughts running through his mind...

1. Stop and think before reacting to the situation (are these thoughts accurate or helpful?)
2. Challenge the inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts
3. Create a new thought

A plan can also be developed to help a teen avoid becoming angry when they plan to enter into a situation that has a history of triggering anger. An example of a personal plan is using the “Stop – Think” technique when approaching a shopping center situation that is known to trigger anger.
  • My goal: To improve my ability to cope with anger when I am waiting in long queues. 
  • Typical angry thoughts: ‘The service here is so slack. Why can’t they hurry it up? I'm going to lose my cool any moment now’. Stop thinking this! 
  •  New calmer and helpful thoughts: ‘Everyone is probably frustrated by the long line – even the person serving us. I could come back another time, or, I can wait here and think about pleasant things such as going to see a movie’.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • Creative destruction or physical activity techniques to reduce anger
  • Find anger management classes in your area
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Self-talk methods
  • Use visual imagery (jumping into a cool stream takes the heat of anger away)

Coping with extreme anger:

It is hoped that teens with Asperger's and HFA can make use of these strategies when they notice themselves becoming angry and therefore avoid feeling extreme anger. However, this is clearly not always possible. For situations where teens feel they cannot control their anger, they can have a personal safety plan.

Possible steps in a personal safety plan:
  1. Avoid situations which are associated with a high risk of becoming angry
  2. Explain to another person how they can be of help to solve the problem
  3. Explore the benefits of using medication with a doctor or psychiatrist
  4. Leave the situation if possible
  5. Make changes to routines and surroundings (e.g., avoid driving in peak hour traffic)
  6. Phone a friend, or a crisis center to talk about the cause of anger
  7. Plan ways to become distracted from the stressful situation (e.g., carry a magazine)



Teaching Your HFA or Asperger’s Child Alternatives to Temper Tantrums

“My 5 y.o. son Noah (with high functioning autism) will tantrum over all things big and small. If he is the least bit frustrated over something – well look out, because ‘it’s on’!  Not uncommon for him to have a dozen tantrums in a day. I would be happy to just get that cut in half. Any tips for the chronic ‘tantrum-thrower’ would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.”

The best time to teach your son alternatives to throwing a tantrum is immediately after he has one. Once Noah has settled down, you and he should have a talk while the memories of the episode are still fresh in his mind.

Your son threw the tantrum because he was frustrated or mad. Don't get into the issue of why he was “out of control.” Focus on the tantrum itself, explaining to Noah that the behavior isn't appropriate. Then teach him what he should do instead when he feels upset.



Here’s a simple method that often works when done the right way:

1. First describe the behavior. For example, "You felt frustrated and threw a tantrum. You were throwing things, screaming and kicking the walls." You say this so your son will understand exactly what you are talking about.

2. Then you explain that tantrums are not proper behavior. Make sure that you are clear that the tantrum is “bad” – not your son. Say something such as, "Tantrums are not appropriate behavior. In our family, we don't kick, scream or throw things. That behavior is not acceptable."

This will have an impact on Noah, because like most children, he really does want to do the right thing and please you. You can help him by explaining that tantrums are the wrong thing to do when feeling upset.

As a side note, don't worry about using big words such as "inappropriate." If you use big words with Noah, he will learn big words. If you use only little words, he will learn only little words.

3. Next, give your son some alternatives. For example, "I know you felt frustrated and angry. When this happens again, what you do is say, “I'm angry! Can you say that?" Have Noah repeat the phrase after you.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

4. Lastly, review what you have said. For example, "What are you going to say the next time you're angry?" Get Noah to repeat the phrase, "I'm angry!"

Then say, "The next time you're angry, are you going to scream?" Your son will probably say or indicate "no."

Then say, "The next time you're angry, are you going to throw things?" …and "The next time you're angry, are you going to kick?"

End up with, "Tell me again what you're going to do the next time you're angry."

You will have to repeat this discussion many, many times. It takes a long time for a youngster on the autism spectrum to learn how to control a tantrum and reach for alternatives instead.

Hunger + Tiredness + Low-Frustration Tolerance = Tantrums

Although the triggers for tantrums vary widely, the causes are often very simple, tiredness and hunger being the biggest two.  Low-frustration tolerance is usually the third major trigger. Tantrums can occur as your son tries and fails at new tasks and struggles to express his frustration in an appropriate manner.

When tiredness and hunger are at play, you may have noticed Noah’s frustration level go from 0 to 100. If so, this is your cue to remove him from the situation and try to get him fed and rested.  When tiredness and hunger are NOT at play, you may still notice your son’s frustration level gradually building up. This is why it’s important for him to learn to recognize when his uncomfortable emotions come into play.

When your son learns to identify when he is starting to feel frustrated, he can then learn to take advantage of the other alternatives. But, this requires having an understanding of his emotions. You will want to focus on nurturing your son’s self-awareness with respect to his feelings. Make it your goal to help Noah reach a place where he is able to pause and self-reflect – even in the grip of intense emotions – then constructively answer two questions: “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need?"

When it comes to coaching your son in managing his emotions, you will want to follow some basic ground rules for healthy discussions on the matter:
  • Consistently prove to your son that it’s safe to share his feelings with you. Whenever and however Noah reveals his emotions (e.g., through angry outbursts or tearful whispers), it’s important that you remain calm, keeping your own responses and emotions in check.
  • Explain to your son that emotions are not right or wrong, including frustration and the subsequent anger. However, what is right or wrong is how he behaves when he is upset in this way.
Best of luck!



==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

Sensory Sensitivities and Problems in the Classroom

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