Help for Behavioral Problems in Children on the Autism Spectrum

"Our Granddaughter is a high functioning autistic child and is totally unruly and seems to want to control everything and everyone. I don't want to give into her but need some suggestions because it is bothering us. The whole family revolves around her and her wants. It even influences her sister (both are 9) - and the sister imitates this terrible behavior. What to do???"

Here are some ideas for both High-Functioning Autistic children...

You need to understand what your granddaughter  is thinking, how she interprets what is going on, and how her deficits cause problems before you can begin any intervention strategy. Do not rush into action until you have collected enough information and analyzed what is going on. If you do not know the reasons behind the behavior, you may very likely do the wrong thing. If you know what is going on, you can help things go better.

Realizing that your granddaughter will not be a good observer of her behavior is your first step. The High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) youngster often does not know what to do in a situation. She does not know the appropriate behavior because she doesn't understand how the world works. Or, if she knows a better solution, she cannot use it because she becomes "stuck."

Not knowing what to do - or being unable to do what is appropriate - results in anxiety that leads to additional ineffective and inappropriate actions. Behavior associated with HFA is often a result of this anxiety, which leads to difficulty moving on and letting go of an issue and "getting stuck" on something. This is rigidity, and it is the most common reason for behavioral problems. You must deal with rigidity and replace it with flexibility early on in your plan to help your granddaughter. Flexibility is a skill that can be taught, and you will make this a major part of your efforts to help her.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
Reasons for Rigidity—
  • A misunderstanding or misinterpretation of another's action.
  • A violation of a rule or ritual – changing something from the way it is supposed to be. Someone is violating a rule and this is unacceptable to the youngster.
  • Anxiety about a current or upcoming event, no matter how trivial it might appear to you.
  • Immediate gratification of a need.
  • Lack of knowledge about how something is done. By not knowing how the world works with regard to specific situations and events, the youngster will act inappropriately instead.
  • Other internal issues, such as sensory, inattention (ADHD), oppositional tendency (ODD), or other psychiatric issues may also be causes of behavior.
  • The need to avoid or escape from a non-preferred activity, often something difficult or undesirable. Often, if your youngster cannot be perfect, she does not want to engage in an activity.
  • The need to control a situation.
  • The need to engage in or continue a preferred activity, usually an obsessive action or fantasy.
  • Transitioning from one activity to another. This is usually a problem because it may mean ending an activity before he is finished with it.

Note: Attention-getting is very rarely seen. It should not be considered as a reason for rigidity until all of the above reasons have been considered and eliminated.

Understanding your youngster involves knowing the associated traits and how they manifest themselves in everyday behaviors. How does your youngster or adolescent see the world, think about matters, and react to what is going on around her or him?
==> Parenting System that Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The following reasons will help you understand behavior patterns:

Not Understanding How the World Works—

Your HFA granddaughter has a neuro-cognitive disorder that affects many areas of functioning. This includes a difficulty with the basic understanding of the rules of society, especially if they are not obvious. Life has many of these rules. Some are written, some are spoken, and some are learned through observation and intuition. Your youngster only knows what has been directly taught to her through books, movies, TV shows, the Internet, and explicit instructions. She is not able to sit in a room, observe what is happening, and understand social cues, implied directions, or how to "read between the lines," and as she is growing up, she does not learn how to do this. Instead, she learns facts. She does not "take in" what is happening around her that involves the rest of the world, only what directly impacts her.

Many of the conversations she has had have generally been about knowledge and facts, not about feelings, opinions, and interactions. As a result, she does not really know how the world works and what one is supposed to do in various situations. This can apply to even the smallest situations you might take for granted. Not knowing the unspoken rules of situations causes anxiety and upset. This leads to many of the behavioral issues that appear as the HFA youngster tries to impose her own sense of order on a world she doesn't understand.

The HFA child creates his own set of rules for everyday functioning to keep things from changing and thereby minimize his anxiety. Sometimes, he just makes up the rules when it is convenient. Other times, he attempts to make them up by looking for patterns, rules, or the logic of a situation to make it less chaotic for him and more predictable and understandable. If there are no rules for an event or situation, he will create them from his own experiences based on what he has read, seen, or heard. He will often have a great deal of information to use in reaching his conclusions and forming his opinions and feelings. As a result, some of his conclusions are correct and some are wrong.

He will rarely consider someone else's point of view if he does not consider them to be an "expert." The fewer people he sees as experts, the more behavioral difficulty you will see. He might consider teachers and others to be experts, but his moms and dads will rarely be seen as such. Therefore, he will argue with you about your opinions if different from his own. He thinks that his opinion is as good as yours, so he chooses his. This represents his rigid thinking. He finds it difficult to be flexible and consider alternate views, especially if he has already reached a conclusion. New ideas can be difficult to accept ("I'd rather do it the way I've always done it"). Being forced to think differently can cause a lot of anxiety.

You must never overestimate your HFA granddaughter's understanding of a situation because of her high intellectual ability or her other strengths. She is a girl who needs to figure out how the world works. She needs a road map and the set of instructions, one example at a time.

Frames of Reference—

In trying to understand how the world works, your youngster tries to make sense of your explanations, but sometimes is not able to do this. As a result, your effort at intervening falls short. This can occur because your explanation has no meaning. Each child on the autism spectrum can only understand things for which they have a frame of reference, meaning they have a picture or idea about this from other sources or from prior discussions. They cannot understand what you will tell them without this frame of reference. For example, when I asked a teenage boy if he missed his mom and dad when he was at overnight camp for a week, he replied that it was not all that long. When I asked him again if he missed them, he said he could e-mail them whenever he wanted. After my third attempt to get an answer he finally said to me, "I can't answer that question. Since I have never missed anyone before, I have nothing against which I can compare my feelings to know what missing feels like."

Preferred and Non-preferred Activities—

For all people on the autism spectrum, life tends to be divided into two categories – preferred and non-preferred activities. Preferred activities are those things he engages in frequently and with great intensity. He seeks them out without any external motivation. However, not all of his preferred activities are equal. Some are much more highly desired and prized. An activity that is lower on the list can never be used as a motivator for one that is higher. For example, you cannot get him to substitute his video game playing by offering a food reward if the game playing is higher on his list.

Any activity that is not preferred can be considered non-preferred. They are less desirable and many are avoided. The lower they are on the list of desirability, the more he will resist or avoid doing them. Sometimes an activity or task becomes non-preferred because it is made to compete with one that is much more highly valued. For example, taking a bath could be enjoyable, but if your youngster is reading, and reading is higher on his list, he will resist or throw a tantrum.

Preferred and non-preferred activities are always problem areas. Your youngster or teen will always want to engage in preferred activities even when you have something more important for him to do. He does not want to end preferred activities and your attempts to have him end them can produce upset of one kind or another. On the other hand, trying to get him to do non-preferred activities, such as interacting socially, can also be difficult. If many non-preferred elements are combined together, the problem can become a nightmare, such as with homework.

The HFA youngster rarely has activities he just likes. He tends to either love or hate an activity. The middle ground is usually missing. Teaching a middle ground or shades of gray can be a goal and will be discussed later. Also, as you try to teach him something new, you will encounter resistance because you are asking him to do something that's not a preferred activity. But, as he outgrows younger interests, he will need to learn new ones in order to have some common interests with his peers. He needs to experience new things to see if he likes them, but may not want to do this just because you're asking him to do something new. He already has his list of preferred interests and will rarely see the need for anything new. Quite often, his preferred list will include computer or video games. However, the more he is on the computer or the more he plays video games, the less available he is to be in the real world and learn something new. Most likely, you will have to control his access to preferred activities if new ones are to be introduced.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's
Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors and Anxiety—

Obsessive-compulsive issues, also referred to as rituals, rigidity, perseverations, rules, or black-and-white thinking, originate in the HFA child's difficulty understanding the world around him. This creates anxiety, the underlying cause for his obsessive-compulsive behaviors. You will see anxiety in many different ways, depending on how your youngster manifests it. Some kids will show it in obvious ways, such as crying, hiding under furniture, or clinging to you. Others show it by trying to control the situation and bossing people around. Some may hit or throw a tantrum. Some may act silly. No matter how your youngster displays his anxiety, you need to recognize that it is there and not assume it is due to some other cause such as attention seeking or just plain misbehavior.

Anxiety can occur for the smallest reason. Don't judge anxiety-producing situations by your own reaction to an event. Your youngster will be much more sensitive to situations than you will be, and often there will be no logical reason for his anxiety. Something that you would be anxious about causes no anxiety in your youngster, while a small event causes him to be quite anxious. When events change, he never knows what is going to come next and he becomes confused and upset, leading to some form of inappropriate behavior.

Your youngster's first reaction is to try to reduce or eliminate his anxiety. He must do something, and one of the most effective means is to take all changes, uncertainty, and variability out of the equation. This can be accomplished by obsessions. If everything is done a certain way, if there is a definite and unbreakable rule for every event, and if everyone does as he wishes, everything will be fine. Anxiety is then diminished or reduced, and no upset, tantrums, or meltdowns occur.

Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to do this in the real world. Nevertheless, anxiety needs to be dealt with in some manner. This is the first order of business in planning for many interventions. If you move ahead before this has been settled, it will continue to be a significant interfering factor. Let's look at some examples of this.

Jake, age seventeen, won't leave the house because he wants to have his nails in a certain condition. This condition requires many hours of grooming that interfere with sleeping, eating, and doing just about anything else. This is obsessive-compulsive behavior. Any attempt to get him to leave the house or stop his nail maintenance causes anxiety and is rarely successful.

Anytime Michael, age eleven, hears an answer that he does not like, he becomes upset. If he asks a question or makes a request and the other person's response is not what he expected, he starts to argue with them, often acting out physically. He must have certain answers that are to his liking. This is rigidity in thought and it is also obsessive-compulsive.

Each of these cases has a cognitive and a behavioral component, and both must be considered. Each youngster must learn to get "unstuck" or let go of an issue and move on. They also need to learn how to change their thinking so that it doesn't become a problem to begin with.

Behavioral Manifestations of Anxiety—
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed and having difficulty calming down.
  • Creating their own set of rules for doing something.
  • Demanding unrealistic perfection in their handwriting, or wanting to avoid doing any writing.
  • Demonstrating unusual fears, anxiety, tantrums, and showing resistance to directions from others.
  • Displaying a good deal of silly behaviors because they are anxious or do not know what to do in a situation.
  • Eating a narrow range of foods.
  • Having a narrow range of interests, and becoming fixated on certain topics and/or routines.
  • Having trouble playing and socializing well with peers or avoiding socializing altogether. They prefer to be alone because others do not do things exactly as they do.
  • Insisting on having things and/or events occur in a certain way.
  • Intensely disliking loud noises and crowds.
  • Lecturing others or engaging in a monologue rather than having a reciprocal conversation.
  • Preferring to do the same things over and over.
  • Reacting poorly to new events, transitions, or changes.
  • Remaining in a fantasy world a good deal of the time and appearing unaware of events around them.
  • Tending to conserve energy and put forth the least effort they can, except with highly preferred activities.
  • Wanting things to go their way, when they want them to, no matter what anyone else may want. They may argue, throw a tantrum, ignore you, growl, refuse to yield, etc.

The obsessive-compulsive approach to life results in the narrow range of interests and insistence on set routines typical of an HFA youngster. However, it usually starts as a cognitive (i.e., thinking) issue before it becomes a behavioral one. Cognitive issues, such as the inability to take someone else's perspective (i.e., mindblindness) and the lack of cognitive flexibility (i.e., black-and-white thinking), cause many of the behaviors we see. We know there is a cognitive element by looking at the youngster's behaviors. There is always some distress, anxiety, or obsession manifested in every inappropriate behavior.

The youngster's cognitive difficulties lead to inaccurate interpretations and understanding of the world. How someone interprets a situation determines how he will respond to it. Many times the interpretation of an event is either not an accurate one or not one that leads to positive or prosocial actions. If the event can be reinterpreted for him, it might lead to a more productive outcome. In doing this, we must first try to understand how the individual interprets a situation. All of the individual's behaviors are filtered through his perception of the way the world works.

Questions to Ask about Your Youngster's Behavior—

To help you determine the reasons why your youngster acts the way she or he does, you should ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Because a situation was one way the first time, does she feel it has to be that way always? (Being rule bound.)
  2. Does he need to be taught a better way to deal with a problem? (He does not understand the way the world works.)
  3. Does she see only two choices to a situation rather than many options? (Black-and-white thinking.)
  4. Has he made a rule that can't be followed? (He sees only one way to solve a problem. He cannot see alternatives.)
  5. Is she blaming you for something that is beyond your control? (She feels that you must solve the problem for her even when it involves issues you have no control over.)
  6. Is he exaggerating the importance of an event? There are no small events, everything that goes wrong is a catastrophe. (Black-and-white thinking.)
  7. Is she expecting perfection in herself? (Black-and-white thinking.)
  8. Is she misunderstanding what is happening and assuming something that isn't true? (Misinterpretation.)
  9. Is he stuck on an idea and can't let it go? (He does not know how to let go and move on when there is a problem.)

==> More methods for dealing with the behavioral problems associated with ASD can be found here...

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

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said… a good article for information
•    Anonymous said… A really wonderful insightful article! Adding it to my collection to refer back to. You can never be to supportive or have to much information.
•    Anonymous said… Be firm and everyone help controllIng her behavior. It helps
•    Anonymous said… Don't judge. If one of your grandchildren needed a wheelchair and the other didn't would you complain about the child in the wheelchair needing to be pushed everywhere? Needing adaptations in the house? I'm guessing not.
Perhaps look at a local autism charity to see if they run grandparent classes, sounds like you need some help coming to terms with this and understanding what's going on.
•    Anonymous said… good article
•    Anonymous said… Great article
•    Anonymous said… Hello! This is my life!!
•    Anonymous said… Her sisters need to see her being held accountable for her actions even if it means she has to miss out on priveledges they enjoy. Having a posted "family Rules" w/ rules/consequences and following through may help. Teaching them that their sister has strengths and "weaknesses" just like they do may help. It takes a lot of stamina! Both parents should be ready for teamwork. Alone time with each child is beneficial. Good luck!
•    Anonymous said… Huh, that's weird. I have two 9 year olds one of them aspie. I have questions for the grandparents. First of all, how much actual quality time have you spent with your autistic grand daughter? How often have you engaged in discussion and really listened to her parents regarding the autism? How much respite have you provided and actually came through with for the parents? Also, what is going on with you and your perceptions in needing to see the child with autism as controlling rather than dealing with a neurological difference? I ask because in my situation the answers to those questions are "very little", "very little", "none" and "ignorance". It takes a village to raise an child on the spectrum and every single day I am asking where that village is.
•    Anonymous said… I also find that publicly calling them out on their behavior only creates a power struggle. Privacy seems to work better. Hope this helps.
•    Anonymous said… I live this with my 18 year old. But because you can't see a physical problem doesn't mean there isn't one. My daughter often says the most out landish things before speaking. But they are trying to figure out where they fit in, how, and what is their role/job in this world. Be supportive but choose which battle you are willing to fight. It may not end up quite the way you hope!
•    Anonymous said… Ignorance ...... Educate yourself so you understand not to judge
•    Anonymous said… Make her feel 'safe'. Boundaries make children feel safe but children need to know you love them. all children push to see how far they can go ...they're testing their safety. Always explain why you have rules or do something. Feeling 'safe' is important for anyone but more so for autistic.
•    Anonymous said… My 15 year old daughter has Aspergers and I've learned that her need to control everything is not about controlling everyone around her. It's about her trying to make sense of a world she doesn't understand and doesn't feel like she fits into. It's about coping and trying to create a comfort zone so she doesn't become so overwhelmed that she melts down, which is also often looked upon as bad behavior.
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is controlling. Because she feels so out of control inside, that she tries to control what is outside of her. It is not because she is bad, but because it is a way to cope
•    Anonymous said… my son has aspergers as well I'm not implying anything I know about there outburst. And its hard on us. We try everything we can to make him fee safe. And we pick our battles. I'm sorry if I offended any body
•    Anonymous said… My son was talking inappropriate and was warned. He continued and lost his phone. He then attacked him dad and put holes in the walls and doors. Then hit sister. She called the Police scared. Why is his impulse control so poor he is 14!
•    Anonymous said… The grandparents are ignorant because they dont live with the child 24/7 and if they actually knew the child completely they would understand!! Have dealt with grandparents like this and what will happen is your grandkids just wont be around you if you cant accept them and let the parents do their job.
•    Anonymous said… U have to keep giving lots of love & support even if it revolves around that child for the time being it's very hard but very important that U listen to the child to understand how he/she feels & progress From there! Xx
•    Anonymous said… With any ASD child it's not about changing then it's about us as parents/grandparents to change the way we act/approach them. Unruly? Maybe that's her way of interacting or maybe there's other factors going on like sensory issues. She may have so many things going through her head that's she's trying to process like surroundings, smells, noise that she actually cannot hear you. My one tip is keep language simple. Get the Tony Attworth book, I'll find mine and look for the name.
•    Anonymous said… You are not the parent. Please learn all that you can about Asperger's and autism before you spend a second judging your grandchild or the way her parents are raising her.
•    Anonymous said... I sympathize. It's always been so difficult for me to know where to draw the line. Will say a prayer for you both♥
•    Anonymous said... Is anyone in the uk? Do you know of anywhere I can go for support?
•    Anonymous said... Mine 10 year old son is exactly the same also. And I try really hard not to give in. But my Ex his farther just give him whatever he wants.
•    Anonymous said... My 10 year old son is the same and we are at loss as how to deal with it to.
•    Anonymous said... My 18 yr old twins (especially since "Mom I'm an adult now) are the same......you can't give in to everything or you'll have chaos...as you know.....I pick my battles.....Foul language at home ...(Only used to push my buttons)....I ignore.....
•    Anonymous said... my daughter is the exact same way
•    Anonymous said... my family complained about my son acting this way too, finally I explained to them they are witnessing the disability. these kids see everything in black and white (rigidity), they are not able to be flexible so they come off as demanding and controlling cuz they simply can not help themselves. with alot of patience, there are ways of re-directing instead of simply tolerating it (there are good articles on this website). and the siblings without the disability can be held accountable and taught tolerance of the disability, but I realize that is easier said than done. good luck.
•    Anonymous said... There is a support group near me. I think you could find your local one via your doctor or specialist or just google and see if you get anything ?
•    Anonymous said... We have the same issue with my 14 yr old . We walk on eggshells around her and don't try to punish her because I know what will come if I try that .. She is mean to us and her famous line is always .. What I didn't do anything wrong.

Post your comment below...


Reasons for "Bad" Behavior in Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Does high functioning autism come and go? I have a 5 year old tentatively diagnosed with this disorder, but while he's always special, there are weeks when it's like a switch is turned on and everything turns 'bad' - these are the times when we struggle to enjoy him as a person. His resilience becomes very low, he argues with everything we say, he refuses to play at all with others nicely ...well you know the sort of symptoms. But then after a week or so, the switch goes again and he's back to loveable with a few quirks! Is this normal?”

It is normal for a child who (a) experiences periodic anxiety and (b) has a limited ability to soothe himself. Kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are particularly vulnerable to anxiety. This vulnerability is an intrinsic feature of AS and HFA through specific neurotransmitter system defects, a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses, or a secondary consequence of their inability to make social judgments throughout development.

The social limitations of AS and HFA make it difficult for kids with the disorder to develop coping strategies for soothing themselves and containing difficult emotions. Limitations in their ability to grasp social cues, and their highly rigid style, act in concert to create repeated social errors. They are frequently bullied and teased by their peers, but can’t mount effective socially adaptive responses.

Limitations in generalizing from one situation to another also contribute to repeating the same social mistakes. Furthermore, the lack of empathy severely limits skills for autonomous social problem-solving.

For higher-functioning kids, there is sufficient grasp of situations to recognize that others “get it” when they do not. For others there is only the discomfort that comes from somatic responses that are disconnected from events and experience.

In a nutshell, the more anxious the AS or HFA child is, the more he will “act-out” his emotions rather than using more functional methods of discharging the negative energy associated with anxiety. This results in the “bad” behavior that parents see.

Take a couple minutes and watch the video below for additional information on this matter:


•    Anonymous said... I notice the pants are suddenly half way up his legs. lol. Have asked paediatrician if his testosterone could also be tested when we hit rocky periods, but he believes it has nothing to do with it, but we have put him on Omega that contains evening primrose oil and it has made a huge difference than normal omegas esp with aggression.
•    Anonymous said... It does have to do with the stress level. Find a Masgutova Core Specialist and you will have a great tool to change his brain. Worked for my child...it would be a miracle except it is based on the last brain research and we did the therapy for several years to get our miraculous results.
•    Anonymous said... its about the week before the full moon in our house without fail
•    Anonymous said... Sounds like you are describing my 6 year old
•    Anonymous said... This may sound weird, but our son, not so much now but when younger, use to elevate in behaviour with the "new moon", 3 days prior and 3 days after, asked our paediatrician and he said it's not proven that these kids can change with the luna cycle, but I wsn't the 1st parent to have noticed behaviour change with the new moon, also he use to elevate when going thru a growth spurt and still does.
•    Anonymous said... This sounds familiar to me with my son x
•    Anonymous said... To answer your question NO Aspergers does not come and go . Aspergers is under the umbrella of autism if you have it.... You have it for life.
•    Anonymous said... Was just talking about this!
•    Anonymous said... We find this depends on our 10 year old son's anxiety levels... x
•   Anonymous said... We have longer cycles which over the years I think are determined by whether my son is going through either a cognitive or physical growth period. These times we often have very challenging behaviour and when it begins to settle a bit ( could be a month or so later) I suddenly realise how tall he is. Sometimes it's at the end of term always worse at the end of the year and if he's had more stimulation at school. So we have cycles of periods which are harder and it's very stressful during these times which place the family under great strain.
*   Anonymous said... Yes, my son is 8 1/2. He is on the mild side of the spectrum, and I've noticed since he was a baby that his "symptoms" have peaks and valleys. I've brought this up to our doctor, he didn't seem to feel there was much to this theory, but speaking with other parents who have kids on the spectrum, they all report the same thing.  
*   Anonymous said... One possibility is that something is upsetting your child at school, your child is unable to verbalize, and his woes are following him home. Another possibiloty...The rates of ASD in US have increased from 1/10,000 in 1970s to 1/50 most recently. One of reasons is that more variations/presentations are included. It is now a very heterogenous category with at least 300 known genetic contributions. I would encourage you to consider possibility that some yet to be fully understood metabolic and autoimmune disorders are currently labeled as ASD. I think novel bio interventions addressing those possibilities may be worth a try if you yhink they are safe. 

Please post your comment below… 


Basic Disciplinary Strategies for Children with ASD

"In what ways do you guide/discipline/treat a child with an autism spectrum disorder that would be a different approach than you would use with a non-autistic child?"

Disciplining kids displaying behavior associated with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) will often require an approach that is somewhat unique to that of "typical" kids.

Finding the balance between (a) understanding the needs of a youngster on the autism spectrum and (b) discipline that is age appropriate and situationally necessary is achievable when applying some simple but effective strategies.

The following strategies can be implemented both at home and school:

General Behavior Problems—

Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with HFA, primarily because they are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Consequently, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, while at the same time giving rise to distress in both the youngster and parent.

At all times, the emotional and physical well-being of your youngster should take priority. Often this will necessitate removing your youngster from a potentially distressing situation as soon as possible. Consider maintaining a diary of your youngster's behavior with a view to ascertaining patterns or triggers. Recurring behavior may be indicative of a youngster taking some satisfaction in receiving a desired response from parents, teachers or peers.

For example, a youngster with HFA may come to understand that hurting another youngster in class will result in his being removed from class, notwithstanding the associated consequence to his peer. The solution may not be most effectively rooted in punishing the youngster for the behavior, or even attempting to explain the situation from the perspective of their injured peer, but by treating the root cause behind the motivation for the misbehavior (e.g., can the youngster be made more comfortable in class so that he will not want to leave it?).

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

One of the means to achieve this may be to focus on the positive. Praise for good behavior, and reinforcement by way of something like a Reward Book, can assist. The use of encouraging verbal cues delivered in a calm tone are likely to elicit more beneficial responses than the harsher verbal warnings that may be effective with "typical" kids. If necessary, when giving directions to cease a type of misbehavior, these should also be couched as positives rather than negatives (e.g., rather than telling a youngster to stop hitting his brother with the ruler, the youngster should be directed to put the ruler down).

Obsessive or Fixated Behavior—

Almost all kids go through periods of development where they become engrossed in one subject matter or another, but kids on the autism spectrum often display obsessive and repetitive characteristics, which can have significant implications for behavior.

For example, if the youngster becomes fixated on reading a particular story each night, she may become distressed if this regime is not adhered to, or if the story is interrupted. Again, the use of a behavior diary can assist in identifying fixations for your youngster. Once a fixation is identified, it is important to set appropriate boundaries for your youngster. Providing a structure within which your youngster can explore the obsession can assist in then keeping the obsession within reasonable limits, without the associated problems that may otherwise arise through such limitations (e.g., tell your youngster that he may watch his favorite cartoon for half an hour after dinner, and make clear time for that in his routine).

It is appropriate to utilize the obsession to motivate and reward your youngster for good behavior. Always ensure any reward associated with positive behavior is granted immediately to assist the youngster recognizing the connection between the two.

A particularly useful technique to try to develop social reciprocity is to have your youngster talk for five minutes about a particularly favored topic after she has listened to you talk about an unrelated topic. This serves to help your youngster understand that not everyone shares her enthusiasm for her subject matter.

Sibling Issues—

For siblings without the disorder, the differential - and what at times no doubt appears to be preferential treatment given to the HFA sibling - can give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. Often, the non-autistic siblings will fail to understand why their brother or sister apparently seems free to behave as he or she pleases without the normal constraints placed on them.

It's important to explain the disorder to siblings of HFA kids and encourage open discussion about it. Encouragement should extend to the things siblings can do to assist the autistic youngster, and this should be positively reinforced through acknowledgement when it occurs.

Sleep Difficulties—

Kids on the spectrum are known to experience sleep problems. They may have lesser sleep requirements, and as such are more likely to become anxious about sleeping, or may find they become anxious when waking during the night or early in the morning.

Combat your youngster's anxiety by making his bedroom a place of safety and comfort. Remove or store items that may be prone to injure your youngster if he decides to wander at night. Include in the behavioral diary a record of your youngster's sleep patterns. It may assist him if you keep a list of his routine (e.g., dinner, bath time, story and bed) in order to provide structure. Include an image or symbol of him waking in the morning to provide assurance as to what will happen. Social stories have proven to be a particularly successful technique in decreasing a youngster's anxiety by providing clear instructions on how part of his day is likely to play out.

At School—

Kids with HFA will often experience difficulty during parts of the school day that  lack structure. If left to their own devices, their difficulties with social interaction and self-management can result in anxiety. The use of a "buddy system" can assist in providing direction, as can the creation of a timetable for recess and lunch times. These should be raised with class teachers and implemented with their assistance.

Explain the concept of free time to your youngster, or consider providing a separate purpose or goal for your youngster during such time (e.g., reading a book, helping to set up paint and brushes for the afternoon tasks).

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

In Public—

Kids on the spectrum can become overwhelmed to the point of distress by even a short outing in public. The result is that many parents simply seek to avoid as much as possible situations where their youngster is exposed to the public. While expedient, it may not offer the best long-term solution to your youngster, and there are strategies to assist with outings.

Consider providing your youngster with an iPod or iPad in the car to block out other sounds and stimuli. Prepare a social story or list explaining to your youngster a trip to the stores or doctor. Be sure to include on the list your return home. Consider giving her a task to complete during the trip, or having her assist you. At all times, maintaining consistency when dealing with the disorder and discipline is key. It pays to ensure that others involved in your youngster's care are familiar with your strategies and techniques and are able to apply them.

Most importantly, don't hesitate to seek support networks for parents of "special needs" kids, and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that those who have dealt with the disorder before you have developed. The assistance you can gain from these and other resources can assist you in developing important strategies to deal with problems in a manner most beneficial to your youngster.

Knowing when, how, and how much to discipline your youngster can be quite challenging. You may be filled with worry for your youngster and her future. You may be learning more about becoming her strongest advocate. In so doing, you will need to find balance in your role as a parent and disciplinarian. There may be a fine line between being an effective parent and being perceived as zealous or coddling of your youngster.

Your youngster’s diagnosis is a label that describes a small part of who he is as a human being. He is many other things. His diagnosis does not exclusively define him (remember the self-fulfilling prophecy). In valuing your youngster’s gifts and talents concurrent with understanding his diagnosis, be cautious about going to extremes. You have every reason to be a strong advocate on behalf of your youngster and in protection of his rights. But this does not exempt him from being disciplined by you or, where appropriate, by teachers.

Some moms and dads can become overprotective. They may make frequent excuses for their youngster’s words or actions. And they may not discipline where most others agree it to be warranted. When this occurs - regardless of the youngster’s way of being - the balance of authority shifts. The youngster gains more and more control while being protected in a sheltered environment with little to no discipline.

The Latin root of the word discipline means “to teach.” Moms and dads who are overprotective and do nothing to discipline their youngster are teaching some very artificial life lessons that will significantly hinder their youngster in the real world. One mother openly despaired that she envisions caring for her son with Aspergers for the rest of her life. This may indeed be the case if she micromanages every aspect of his life.

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

The Dignity of Risk—

There is what is known as the “dignity of risk.” It speaks to the luxury we must allow persons with different ways of being to make long- and short-term mistakes, but not without support and guidance. This will be a great challenge to you as a parent who is naturally protective of your youngster. But it is the only way she will be able to learn and prepare for greater independence in the future. Disciplining your youngster should be a teaching and learning opportunity about making choices and decisions. When your youngster makes mistakes, assure her that she is still loved and valued. In other words, focus on the issue at hand, not the person.

For example, the parents of the adolescent who drove the uninsured car should demonstrate their discipline by first discussing his great error in judgment in addition to entering into a dialogue about good, better, and best choices in the future. It will be especially helpful - and will maximize the learning opportunity - if, in partnership with the child, they write it all down to make it as concrete as possible. They may also decide that another form of discipline (e.g., withholding allowance or grounding) is an entirely appropriate way to reinforce the seriousness of his actions.

This is not to suggest that they should not have intervened if they had had prior knowledge of his intentions - they certainly should have! But, where possible, look for small opportunities to deliberately allow your youngster to make mistakes for which you can set aside discipline-teaching time. It will be a learning process for you and your youngster.

An HFA youngster may behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated (as other kids do). But he may not be doing it intentionally, because as a youngster on the spectrum, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. He doesn't fully understand that other people hurt when he hits them. He may learn this as he gets older, but it may take some time. So how do parents of autistic kids tell them to not hit other people? How can they handle their misbehavior?

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

Here are a few short but helpful pointers to help parents in disciplining a young person on the autism spectrum:

Discipline is about teaching your youngster good and appropriate behavior. Discipline is about helping her to become an independent and responsible people. Regardless of the disorder, you still need to discipline your child with the consideration of her special needs. In particular, you need to keep in mind her unusual perception of pain. Therefore, spanking is a "no go." It will not teach that her behavior is unacceptable. In contrast, it may encourage her that hitting others is an acceptable behavior. It may even encourage self-injurious behavior. In fact, many experts strongly agree to not use any form of physical punishment on autistic kids.

The best method is through positive discipline, where you focus on your child's acceptable behavior and provide rewards so that he will be encouraged to repeat the behavior. To do that, first you need to establish ground rules. The ground rules state specifically what is considered acceptable behavior - and what is not. You must catch and reward your child when he is  well-behaved and following the rules. A reward need not necessarily be a physical or expensive one. It can be genuine praise or a word of encouragement. Most importantly, the reward must be clear and specific. The youngster should be able to know exactly the behavior that earned the reward. Rather than saying "Good job," say "Thank you for cleaning up your room."

Some HFA kids are not able to generalize information. They are usually not able to apply what they learn in one learning context to another learning context (e.g., he may learn that hitting his friend at school is not acceptable, but he may not necessarily understand that he can't hit his sister at home). In other words, once the situation changes, it will be a totally a new learning experience for the child. Be consistent and provide many repetitions in disciplining him. If there is punishment, make sure that the punishment is always the same for the bad behavior. A consistent environment and many repetitions will help your youngster to learn and remember the differences between right and wrong.

Disciplining an HFA youngster is not easy, but your loving care and understanding of him will make the task much easier to fulfill. By accommodating her special needs, she will accept discipline with less push-back. Be persistent and enjoy every small success. Your child may not be the captain of a cheer-leading squad, but she is taking small steps to become an independent and responsible adult.

==> More crucial disciplinary strategies can be found here...

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

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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•    Anonymous said… a good read...
•    Anonymous said… Do you take it away for the rest of the day or a set time that he loses it? My son is hf and loves his computer games but he doesn't seem to understand when he loses them as the unwanted behaviour continues x
•    Anonymous said… Figuring out an effective discipline strategy has been one of the most challenging issues I’ve faced as the parent of an ASD teen.
•    Anonymous said… Good info. I am glad you share this stuff. It helps me help Ryan and Mason as well as you guys. Consistency in his family environment is crucial.
•    Anonymous said… it depends on situation. He is 13 and when he was younger, yes it would be for the rest of that day onto next. Id give him opportunities to earn it bk but it depended on why it was taken away. Now hes 13 i will remove it till i see fit to return it. He was in big trouble a few wks bk as he hacked into the school computer to see if he could. He couldnt see the seriousness of this so all tecnology was removed for nearly 3 weeks. During that time, we researched serious acts of hacking and i showed him the consequences... Jail sentence etc. Also during that time he had chores around the house which he did earn money for as i wanted him to see, there are other things to do with ur time. Unfortunately when he gained the tec bk, the chores fell away to the way side. However i did show him that during that 3 weeks he also learned to play ukelele. Frustrating.... But sometimes tough love and consistencey does pay off from time to time. His behaviour has improved and the very thought of him loosing it again makes him think twice. Hope this helps x
•    Anonymous said… My son is hf and as a punishment I take away the thing he loves most.... technology. While he doesn’t have it he can reflect on his actions. Dnt get me wrong, it can be hard going but I’ve tried various strategies and this seems to work x
•    Anonymous said… We find we had to find different strategies to discipline our son with asd and spd it's not easy we can tell u he is 9 years old still keep on trying. 😢 😢.

Post your comment below…


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 Autistic 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!

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

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Sensory Sensitivities and Problems in the Classroom

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...