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Helping Your Child on the Autism Spectrum to Deal with Stress

"How can I help my little man (high functioning autistic) reduce his stress. He's usually excessively concerned about many things. Currently his main stressor is worrying about a week long summer camp coming up soon (but after that, it will be something else)."

High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) and Asperger's kids and teens tend to experience more anxiety and stress relative to neurotypical children. Issues like school and social life can sometimes create pressures that can feel overwhelming for these children.

As a mother or father, you can't protect your child from all stress, but you can help him develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems.

Here are some important parenting techniques to help your HFA or Asperger's child deal with stress:

1. Be patient. As a mother or father, it hurts to see your child unhappy or stressed. But try to resist the urge to fix every problem. Instead, focus on helping him grow into a good problem-solver. A kid who knows how to roll with life's ups and downs, put feelings into words, calm down when needed, and bounce back to try again, is a child who will be happy and healthy through the adolescent years and on into adulthood.

2. Comment briefly on the feelings you think your child was experiencing. For example, you might say "That must have been upsetting," "No wonder you felt mad when they wouldn't let you in the game," or "That must have seemed unfair to you." Doing this shows that you understand what he felt, why, and that you care. Feeling understood and listened to will help your son or daughter feel supported by you, and that is especially important in times of stress.
 

3. Having “pizza night” (or your child’s favorite food) to discuss the week’s trials and tribulations can be therapeutic for some stressed-out kids.

4. Help your child think of things to do. If there's a specific problem that's causing stress, talk together about what to do. Encourage your youngster to think of a couple of ideas. You can get the brainstorm started if necessary, but don't do all the work. Your youngster's active participation will build confidence. Support the good ideas and add to them as needed. Ask, "How do you think this will work?"

5. Just be there. Children on the autism spectrum don't always feel like talking about what's bothering them. Sometimes that's OK. Let your child know you'll be there when he does feel like talking. Even when children don't want to talk, they usually don't want moms and dads to leave them alone. You can help your youngster feel better just by being there — keeping him company, spending time together. So if you notice that your youngster seems to be down in the dumps, stressed, or having a bad day — but doesn't feel like talking — initiate something you can do together (e.g., take a walk, watch a movie, shoot some hoops, bake some cookies, etc.). Your presence really counts!

6. Limit stress where possible. If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change things. For instance, if too many after-school activities consistently cause homework stress, it might be necessary to limit activities to leave time and energy for homework.

7. Listen and move on. Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that's needed to help an HFA or Asperger's youngster's frustrations begin to melt away. Afterwards, try changing the subject and moving on to something more positive and relaxing. Help your youngster think of something to do to feel better. Don't give the problem more attention than it deserves.

8. Listen to your youngster. Ask him to tell you what's wrong. Listen attentively and calmly — with interest, patience, openness, and caring. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think he should have done instead. The idea is to let your youngster's concerns (and feelings) be heard. Try to get the whole story by asking questions like "And then what happened?" Take your time. And let your son or daughter take his or her time, too.
 

9. Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something's bothering her. If you can, name the feeling you think she is experiencing (e.g., "It seems like you're still mad about what happened at the playground."). This shouldn't sound like an accusation (e.g., "OK, what happened now? Are you still mad about that?"), or put the youngster on the spot. It's just a casual observation that you're interested in hearing more about her concern. Be sympathetic and show you care and want to understand.

10. Put a label on it. Most children on the spectrum do not have words for their feelings. If your youngster seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps these children communicate and develop emotional awareness - the ability to recognize their own emotional states. Kids who can do so are less likely to reach the behavioral boiling point where strong emotions get demonstrated through behaviors rather than communicated with words.

Moms and dads can't solve every problem as their child goes through life. But by teaching healthy coping strategies, you'll prepare him or her to manage the stresses that come in the future.


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

Click here to read the full article…

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

Click here for the full article...

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

Click here to read the full article…

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

Click here to read the full article…

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

Click here
to read the full article...

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

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

Click here for the full article...


 COMMENTS:
  • Anonymous said... I don't know if this helps but I am looking into yoga, mindfullnees to help me and my toddler and a professional just mentioned fun village which is activities designed to help children I am hoping use it to destress us both as his stress and aggressive behaviours stress me and then it just escalates, I know it may be different situation but heard yoga really helpful.
  • Anonymous said... my son's teacher definitely could benefit from reading this. 
  • Anonymous said... Reading this has opened my eyes a little,.. maybe the teacher needs to read this?? 
  • Anonymous said... This has been a big issue with my daughter lately. Usually about once a month she will have a meltdown and refuse to go to school. Because of the excessive number of snow days in our area and a change in my husband's work schedule, there have been a huge number of these meltdowns in the last couple of months. 
  • Anonymous said... Working on sensory strategies for heightened sound/ sensory defensiveness with an OT. This should help.

Post your comment below...

How Parents Can Help the Oppositional Child with High-Functioning Autism

Revealing Your ASD Child's Diagnosis to Other Family Members

"How should we go about telling my parents (and other family members) that our son has been diagnosed with autism (high-functioning)? They have always thought his behavior was odd. We believe strongly they should know so they can help to one degree or another with his special needs."

Disclosing your youngster's diagnosis to other family members (e.g., grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc.) is a sensitive issue. Divulging this information should occur in partnership with your high-functioning autistic youngster in order to determine how much - or how little – extended family members need to know. 

In weighing your decision, ask yourself the following:
  • Can other family members be trusted to honor this disclosure?
  • Can they treat the subject with sensitivity and respect?
  • Can I foresee their reactions?
  • How often do I see these relatives?
  • If there's potential for misunderstanding and conflict, how will I handle it?
  • If they are intrigued and interested, how will I handle that without breaching my youngster's trust about disclosure (i.e., sharing more than what we agreed on)?
  • If I see them infrequently (e.g., only once or twice a year), is it important to say anything?
 
In the end, the pros of disclosure may outweigh the cons, but you and your youngster may decide that it's simply no one's business. Many high-functioning autistic (HFA) kids can skillfully “pass” and “blend in” for the duration of a day with extended family such that any differences may go completely unnoticed given all the other distractions.

If you decide it’s appropriate to share information about your youngster's diagnosis, you will want to be prepared to deal with the potential for other family members to show their ignorance (they may simply need to be educated about the condition), overcompensation, or discomfort. You will need to consider how best to control any situations that arise from over-reactions should they express concern about the entire family being stigmatized by the diagnosis.

For example, they may:
  • become increasingly distant due to their own issues in processing the information (e.g., they may only want to spend time with your other kids)
  • confuse HFA with severe Autism or some other diagnosis
  • exclude you and your youngster from future family get-togethers
  • express excessive and unreasonable concern (e.g., they may think that ASD is life threatening, contagious, etc.)
  • focus on a cure or a “quick fix”
  • offer assurances and support
  • be overly cautious (e.g., trying not to do or say the wrong thing)

So, be prepared for the full range of reactions from extended family.
 

Additional tips:
  1. Agree on how long you will attend family gatherings – and stick to it!
  2. Be certain to locate an area where your son can retreat, undisturbed by others, to recuperate during much-needed “downtime.” Show him where this “safe place” is, and assure him that he may use it at will.
  3. Check with your family members in advance to find out what materials your son may access with their permission.
  4. Ensure that your son has some materials related to his special interest (e.g., iPod, iPad) to quietly indulge in if he feels overwhelmed.
  5. Make sure he knows where books, TV or videos, crayons, pen or paper, and Internet access can be found for solitary downtime activities.
  6. To help your son in surviving a day or more with extended family, you will want to arm him with self-advocacy and coping skills prior to attending family get-togethers.

Sharing information about your youngster’s disorder with neighbors, acquaintances, or total strangers in your community is no different than the process of determining when, where, and how to share the same information with extended family. Weigh carefully the pros and cons that may come from disclosing this information. 
 
Ideally, your HFA child should be encouraged to be his own advocate as early as possible in order to decide how much or how little to tell others about his condition (if it's even necessary at all).
 
 
 

When ASD Runs In The Family

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often an invisible disorder. Because it is so subtle, it can go undetected. It is very likely that there many adults on the autism spectrum living and working in your community who are un-diagnosed.

It is hypothesized that certain types of individuals with “ASD-like” traits (e.g., smart, but antisocial) attract one another, leading to such couples having kids with the same traits – but magnified due to an overload of genes. It is estimated that the disorder correlates with a genetic component more apparent than other disorders.

About 33% of fathers of kids with ASD show signs of the disorder themselves – and there appear to be maternal connections as well. This information increases the likelihood that it may be present in your own family. Think about your youngster's lineage. Are there - or were there - brilliant and creative, but blatantly eccentric, family members?

Depending on your personality and the strength of your coping skills, this may be either a relieving or a disturbing revelation to ponder. If the diagnosis is received with a negative outlook, you may slip into a period of guilt or self-condemnation. You may even find yourself unjustly bearing the brunt of blame induced by your partner.

Moms and dads of kids on the autism spectrum do tend to reflect more stress tied to anxiety and depression when compared with moms and dads of neurotypical (i.e., non-autistic) kids. But never forget that the disorder is a naturally occurring phenomenon – and it is no one's fault. So, avoid believing pessimistic, self-defeating “autism stereotypes” in favor of focusing on the positives associated with this challenge.

One father reported that learning of his son’s diagnosis was “liberating,” because it wasn't until then that he realized he, too, had the disorder. He defined the experience as “reaching the end of a race to be normal.” At long last, he came to a point of acceptance, and was now in a position to voice his “quirks” using the framework of ASD. This father’s journey was challenging, but fortunately, his wife was very supportive throughout. However, not all families deal the experience of uncovering the disorder in themselves as well as this.

There are married couples that simply don’t do well under real (or perceived) pressures of raising a youngster with a different way of being. Families of kids on the spectrum are no exception. Educate and inform yourself - and your husband or wife - early on. Connecting with other moms and dads in similar situations can help cast out destructive, stigmatizing myths and stereotypes.

If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, and you suspect that you or your partner also has the disorder, consider the following suggestions:
  1. Arm yourself with knowledge and gather as much information as you can from the Internet or the resources.
  2. Avoid the “blame game” (e.g., “It's your fault our son is this way.”).
  3. Avoid the “guilt game” (e.g., “It must be my fault.”).
  4. Because you are both still assimilating your youngster's experience, allow yourself and your partner time to process this new twist on the situation.
  5. Broach the subject with your partner by asking leading questions that will provide opportunity for reflection (e.g., “Do you think our son gets his love of history from your side of the family or mine?”).
  6. Discuss marriage counseling or other professional supports with your partner.
  7. Offer to research the disorder with your partner or to provide your partner with whatever literature you've already gathered.
  8. The conversations you have about it in the family should build slowly and incrementally.

Understanding ASD as a probability for you and your partner will be a learning experience for the both of you. It can create marital stress and chaos, or it can be an opportunity to strengthen and enhance your relationship. It’s your choice!

As one parent stated, "How interesting. My husband and I have agreed that we share a preponderance of traits and that is probably what attracted us to each other. Thankfully, we view our son's difference as a positive. I love that he is only seven and has taught me about the history of World War II. He is definitely a challenge, but we love him for who he is and not is spite of it."  
 
 
 
 

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...