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Dealing with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autistic Kids Who Hate Change

"Any advice for a child (high functioning) who absolutely hates change and will meltdown at the drop of a hat?! Help!!!"

Research suggests that the brains of kids on the autism spectrum are quite inflexible at switching from rest to task, and this inflexibility is correlated with behaviors characteristic of spectrum disorders. This behavioral inflexibility can manifest as restricted interests (e.g., preoccupation with particular activities, objects or sounds). These behaviors impact how a youngster attends to the external world.

Compared to “typical” kids, young people on the autism spectrum show reduced differentiation between brain connectivity during rest and task (called “brain inflexibility”). Also, there is a correlation between the degree of brain inflexibility shown in the fMRI scans and the severity of restrictive and repetitive behaviors in this population.

Symptoms of inflexibility or behavioral rigidity are often difficult to quantify, and yet often introduce some of the most disruptive chronic behaviors (e.g., tantrums, meltdowns) exhibited by children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). These can be manifest by (a) changes to plans that have been previously laid out, (b) difficulties tolerating changes in routine, or (c) minor differences in the environment (e.g., changes in location for certain activities). For some AS and HFA kids, this inflexibility can lead to aggression, or to extremes of frustration and anxiety that impede certain activities.

Parents – and even teachers – may find themselves “walking on eggshells” in an effort to circumvent any extreme reaction from the AS or HFA child. Also, the children themselves may articulate their anxiety over fears that things will not go according to plan, or that they will be forced to make changes that they can’t handle. Sometimes these behaviors are identified as “obsessive-compulsive” because of the child's need for ritualized order or nonfunctional routine. The idea that OCD and these “needs for sameness” could share some biologic features is a popular notion among professionals.


Have your child watch this video -- Moving From One Activity To Another:




Some of the causes of inflexibility or behavioral rigidity in AS and HFA include the following:
  • Behavioral problems: Some AS and HFA children are just naturally more “set in their ways” and prone to tantrums. Also, some have a very low tolerance for frustration.
  • Neurological catalysts: Underlying neurological issues may explain inflexibility.
  • Parenting issues: Inflexibility can also be influenced by well-meaning parents (e.g., parents may be too busy with other things to take time to teach their child how to deal with frustration or agitation). Some parents find it easier to just let some things go, thus allowing their child to have his/her way time and time again (i.e., over-indulgent parenting). Also, some parents simply do not know how to redirect inappropriate behavior or to systematically teach flexibility. 
  • Security-seeking: Children on the autism spectrum often thrive on routine – sometimes to the extreme. Routines help these children feel secure, and they often have meltdowns if they encounter unwanted changes in their routine (e.g., changes in schedules, activities, food, clothing, music, pillows, the arrangement of knick-knacks, etc.). Over-reactions may look like tantrums, or they can mimic panic attacks. 
  • Sensory sensitivities: Finely tuned taste/smell/sound/touch may cause the child to develop an extraordinary attachment to certain things (e.g., food, a particular song, a favorite pair of shoes, etc.). Sensory sensitivities paired with obsessive interest often cause problems when things change unexpectedly.

Some of the signs of inflexibility or behavioral rigidity include the following:
  • repeats same movement constantly (e.g., clapping hands, facial tics, etc.), which is a self-soothing technique
  • is highly obsessed with narrow topics of interest (e.g., numbers, symbols, phone numbers, sports related statistics, train schedules, etc.)
  • has great difficulty in adapting to changes in school (e.g., shifting from the classroom to the playground)
  • experiences meltdowns or tantrums when unwanted changes are introduced at home (e.g., an earlier bedtime)
  • reacts strongly when thinking or seeing that something has changed from its usual pattern or setting (e.g., his or her display of toy dinosaurs on the dresser)
  • has a very strong attachment to certain items (e.g., toys, keys, switches, hair bands, etc.)
  • likes watching objects that are moving (e.g., ceiling fan, wheels of a toy car, etc.) 
  • lines up items in a certain pattern or order (e.g., all the blue crayons must be grouped together)
  • difficulty multitasking due to adhering rigidly to tasks in the order they are given

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So what can parents do to help their AS or HFA child learn flexibility? 

Below are some simple ideas that will get you started on this journey (hopefully, you will be able to generalize from these ideas, and then create your own based on your child’s unique needs):

1. Alter routines slightly. This helps your AS or HFA child to learn to accept variation in his or her schedule (e.g., you can have your youngster work on his homework BEFORE dinner one day, then AFTER dinner the next day).

2. Give your youngster the “freedom of expression” (e.g., give her the ability to wear the clothes and items of her liking). Allow your child to express herself in the unique being that she is.

3. Illustrate that categories can change. Young people on the spectrum often put something in only one group, and are not be aware that it can also belong with another group (e.g., a yellow plastic bowl can be used for eating cereal in the kitchen, but it can also be put on the dining room table and used to hold candy, or it can be used as a container filled with soil to grow a small plant).

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism
 
4. Incorporate role playing and storytelling in everyday activities (e.g., while you are eating animal crackers, have your child pick a particular animal cracker, name that animal, eat the cracker, and then imitate that animal).

5. Maintain a variety of activities in a variety of environments (e.g., go to different public parks, at different times, on different days).

6. Offer a variety of creative avenues. For example, theatre activities (whether in-school or out-of-school) can be encouraged. Many local organizations for the arts can help parents find a place for their youngster in their programs. Even if the child is shy and does not feel comfortable acting in a play, the organization can always provide other services for the stage play (e.g., lighting, decorating, sound, costume, narrating, etc.).

7. Offer your child the ability to help provide the rules and regulations of the household, but also teach that there will be occasions when a particular “rule” can be disregarded temporarily (e.g., “no eating in the family room” may be an ongoing house rule – except when the family gets together to watch a movie and eat popcorn).

8. Prepare an indoor play area in a way that encourages diversity (e.g., play dough, small inexpensive musical instruments, books, blocks, crayons and paper, etc.).

9. Provide multiple opportunities for an assortment of activities outside as well (e.g., sand box, teeter totter, swing set, a fort, tree house, trampoline, etc.). The more “total-body movement” experiences your youngster can have – the better!

10. Teach your child how to review alternative ways of problem-solving by evaluating the problem, thinking of a variety of solutions, and then figuring out which is the best way to execute the solution (e.g., if your child’s friend refuses to share a particular toy, then give 3 or 4 alternative methods to solve this problem and have your youngster execute the one that appears to be the best choice).

While teaching kids the alphabet or how to count may be fairly straightforward, teaching them how to be more flexible in matters is often not as clear-cut. Fostering flexibility in AS and HFA kids often involves a lot of creativity – and even some unconventional tactics – on the parent’s part.

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 



BEST COMMENT: This is my daughter but her meltdowns are associated with getting new things and discarding old things. The smaller issues are with hoarding. She keeps kleenex boxes, Pringles can and cake icing containers. She puts them in totes with lids and organizes them in her bedroom. The large stuff she melts down over would be buying a new car, getting new furniture, rearranging or painting a room. Those types of changes will be hours long meltdowns. I would love to know how to teach her that life changes every day with and without her knowledge.

Identifying "Meltdown Triggers" Before It's Too Late: Tips for Parents with Kids on the Spectrum

Parenting Difficult Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum


If you are a mother or father of a teenager with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), you undoubtedly have bigger challenges to overcome than you ever thought possible. There may be days where you feel all alone in your trials and tribulations. Maybe you've been so busy taking care of your teen's needs that you have not had the opportunity to seek support from those who have traveled a similar road.

As a parent of a teen on the autism spectrum, you are most likely aware that he somehow always finds a way to get under your skin.  There are so many changes going on with your teen – emotionally, psychologically, and biologically – that it’s almost impossible to understand him at times. Furthermore, his meltdowns, unpredictable temper, and natural instinct of reclusiveness may make communication nearly impossible.  If this is a challenge that you are facing, the tips listed below will help you positively parent your “special needs” adolescent. Good luck on your journey!

Tips for Parenting Difficult Teens with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism:

1. Accept that your AS or HFA adolescent will spend more time alone and away from family members compared to a “typical” teen.

2. Allow your adolescent to express her frustration. It’s hard enough just getting through adolescence – but for AS and HFA teens, the job is even more difficult.

3. Ask for advice from other parents of teens on the autism spectrum.

4. Assign tasks that your teen is capable of doing on his own. In this way, he will feel like he is a contributing member of the family, which is a great morale booster.

5. Be consistent with discipline. If you are not consistent with consequences, your AS or HFA adolescent will become confused about what is - and is not - acceptable. Also, when you're angry, it can be easy to make rash judgments and get carried away with loud demands or threats. Instead, wait until you are calm to set a consequence (e.g., count to 10 before responding to rude or annoying teen-behavior).

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and HFA Teens

6. Don't go overboard with consequences or try to ground for weeks. If you do, your discipline will lose its effectiveness and your adolescent will look for ways to get around it.

7. Focus on the behavior, not your child’s personality. For example, say things like "It's not acceptable to lie about where you've been" instead of "You're a liar." Also, disregard the attitude and focus on the actions.

8. Be exceedingly patient. Parenting an AS or HFA teen takes extra patience with a strong dose of inner strength.  Problematic situations require a deep breath and that extra ounce of strength you really didn’t think you had. Sometimes you can find your patience and strength in a quick memory, a supporting hand, friendly advice, or even just sharing the difficult moments. 

9. Be realistic about “completion time” of chores and homework. Many AS and HFA teens need to do things “step-wise.” In other words, they have to finish what they’re currently doing before they can comfortably move on to the next task. Also, praise efforts – not just results.

10. Be your teen’s parent – not her “buddy.” Your responsibility is to ensure the well-being and safety of your “special needs” teenager. Intervening in a dangerous situation (e.g., involving drugs, abuse or truancy) might make your teenager dislike you, but it will also save her life. Don't just “go along just to get along.”

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11. Pick your battles carefully. Your adolescent will feel more resistant to what you have to say if you lecture him about every perceived transgression. Decide what's really important, and focus your efforts on those behaviors. Just address one issue at a time!

12. Encourage friendships. Loneliness is one of the main causes for challenging behavior among AS and HFA teenagers. Try to encourage opportunities for socializing and making friends.

13. Establish clear rules and guidelines for your adolescent to help her understand what behavior is acceptable. Don't just wait until she does something you don't like and then discipline her. Make sure the rules are clear from the start. Also, involve your adolescent in establishing the house rules so that if she breaks the rules, you can remind her that she played a role in setting them. Furthermore, be very specific and keep the rules simple (e.g., "In this house, we speak kindly to one another" or "Everyone must pitch in by completing their assigned house chores").

14. Look at your teen’s history. Negative events that happened during the pre-school and elementary school years help to shape a teen’s personality. By the time these kids become adolescents, many have been living with the resulting pain for most of their lives (e.g., due to peer-rejection, teasing, bullying, etc.). AS and HFA teens may feel pain and anger, but they lack the ability to act on those emotions. However, they are able to act on those emotions with more lasting and harmful consequences.

15. Expect gradual improvement, not immediate results. Your AS or HFA teen is emotionally immature compared to her same-age peers.

16. Foster independence. It’s so easy to do everything for your “special needs” teen (e.g., making all the decisions for her).  Give her the chance to do more herself and to make decisions on her own.

17. Get a dog. According to research, owning a dog can transform an AS or HFA teen’s life. Bringing a pet into your home is great for all teenagers, but can become a real friend for those with developmental disabilities. Having a pet reduces stress, can help your teen learn responsibility, improve social skills, and reduce feelings of isolation. Research has shown that dogs can calm and comfort “special needs” teenagers and help them develop the confidence to try new tasks.

18. Get a punching bag and some boxing gloves. My grandson’s behavior became very problematic when he started middle school. I found that a punching bag helped him to unwind. He used to scream at it while punching it! It was also great exercise to get rid of some of the stress and anger that accrued through his school day. Using the punching bag was his “home from school” routine each day through the week.

19. Record your moments of success and failure in a journal. Keeping a journal and recording incidents can help you to look back and see if there are any patterns or contributing factors to problematic behavior. The journal may be a good thing to look through with your teen, talking about both the positives and negatives. Also, be sure to log and monitor medications (don’t forget, medications can have side-effects that contribute to problematic behavior).

20. Try to look at your adolescent’s situation from a different perspective. In this shift of perspective, answers are often revealed and insight into what is triggering your adolescents' behavior comes into focus. Sometimes moms and dads can get un-stuck simply by looking at a situation with new eyes, which is usually followed by acting or thinking about things differently. When the parent responds in different ways, there is no choice for the adolescent but to act differently too.

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and HFA Teens

21. Provide lots of structure. Write down routines as sequences of tasks (2-5 items only), and post where easily visible. AS and HFA teenagers respond well to structure and routines because it helps to nurture self-discipline and provides a sense of security.  These “special needs” teens are typically afraid of the “unknown” – and as a mother or father, it is your job to guide your teenager through his many “unknowns.”  Growth and change are unavoidable, and these teens need the security of routines to counteract their constantly changing worlds. Structure and routines help them grow to understand and learn to positively control change and their surroundings. The security of small routines actually enables them to handle change and growth with less fear and more independence.

22. When confronting misbehavior, relax your facial muscles and keep your voice down. When faced with an angry teen who is aggressive and shouting, keep your face neutral and lower the volume and pitch of your own voice. Nine times out of ten, your teen will quieten down to hear what you are saying. Also, stay calm – but be assertive. Take some deep breaths if you feel yourself beginning to get aggravated. Calm, assertive instructions and body language are important assets when dealing with challenging behavior.  Any more emotion into an already emotional situation only clouds judgments, causes greater confusion, and launches your teen closer to meltdown.

23. Try to be prepared. If you know you are going to do something with your teenager or ask him to do something that may trigger a tantrum or meltdown, anticipate and prepare for his response. Preparation often relieves some of the stress that rings your “patience buzzer.” Also, always visualize your response before acting on it.

24. Understand when professional help is needed. Most AS and HFA adolescents benefit from some type of professional help in identifying the underlying reasons for their problems and assistance in dealing with them. Getting help for your “special needs” adolescent when she first starts having difficulties is usually far more successful than waiting until problems get worse. For some moms and dads, this can be a difficult step to take. Many parents fear that “reaching out for help” is a sign of weakness – but nothing could be further from the truth. The advantages of seeking professional help for your adolescent include: (a) experienced help in figuring out the reasons your adolescent is acting out, (b) expertise in identifying what clinical interventions are most likely to be effective, and (c) support in helping your adolescent, yourself and your family get through challenging times.

25. AS and HFA adolescents may not know how to express themselves well, causing them to act out – and parents may take the behavior to heart, causing them to lose patience and to speak in anger. Thus, talk with your adolescent about how to express himself in a more appropriate way, helping him to better handle his anger and frustration. Role-play specific situations. Play your adolescent first so you can model appropriate responses, and then let your adolescent give it a try.


Why Your Teen with Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism Prefers To Be Alone 




Additional ideas for parenting your “special needs” adolescent include the following:
  • Compliment your AS or HFA adolescent and celebrate his efforts and accomplishments.
  • Encourage your adolescent to develop solutions to problems or conflicts. Help her learn to make good decisions. Create opportunities for her to use her own judgment, and be available for advice and support.
  • Encourage your adolescent to get enough sleep and exercise, and to eat healthy, balanced meals.
  • Encourage your adolescent to volunteer and become involved in civic activities in her community.
  • If your adolescent engages in interactive internet media (e.g., games, chat rooms, and instant messaging), encourage him to make good decisions about what he posts and the amount of time he spends on these activities.
  • Respect your adolescent’s need for privacy.
  • Respect your adolescent’s opinion. Listen to her without playing down her concerns.
  • Show affection for your adolescent. Spend time together doing things you enjoy.
  • Show interest in your adolescent’s school and extracurricular interests and activities and encourage him to become involved in various activities (e.g., sports, music, theater, and art).
  • Talk with your adolescent about her concerns, and pay attention to any changes in her behavior. Ask her if she has had suicidal thoughts, particularly if she seems sad or depressed. Asking about suicidal thoughts will not cause her to have these thoughts, but it will let her know that you care about how she feels. Seek professional help if necessary.
  • Talk with your adolescent and help him plan ahead for difficult or uncomfortable situations. Discuss what he can do if he is in a group and someone is using drugs or under pressure to have sex, or is offered a ride by someone who has been drinking.

Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are “developmental disabilities,” which are some of the most overwhelming for parents to deal with, changing visions of the future and providing immediate difficulties in caring for and educating their teen. AS and HFA teens with behavioral issues don't respond well to traditional discipline. Instead, they require specialized techniques that are tailored to their specific abilities and challenges. If those techniques are not developed and used, these young people often throw their families into chaos – and are seriously at risk for school-related problems. Thus, parents will do well to take most of the ideas listed above to heart. Use them wisely and frequently.

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and HFA Teens

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