Coaching Group for Couples Affected by Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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Instructional Videos for Parents of Troubled Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

What mom or dad doesn't watch their "tween" become a teenager without a twinge of anxiety? Factor autism into the equation, and you may well wonder how physical and hormonal changes will affect your son or daughter. 

What will it be like traversing the social minefield of high school for a young person who has a social disability? How will typical teenage rebellion look in someone who struggles with behavioral control?

Helping Children on the Autism Spectrum to Control Their Anger

"I'm in desperate need of some strategies to deal with my (high-functioning) son's anger. When he starts to stew about something, it's not long before all hell breaks loose. Any suggestions?!"

All of us exhibit some "signs" just as we begin to get angry. Identify the anger signs in your high-functioning autistic (HFA) or Asperger’s son. For example, you may detect a certain "look in the eye," the tone of voice or the tightness in the body. Help your youngster to observe these signs right at the onset of anger.

Once Young people on the autism spectrum can identify the early signs of their anger, they can also learn to diffuse it by such methods as walking away or taking full and vigorous breaths.

Train your youngster to respond to your "signal" like your hand motion to stay calm. Give that signal as soon as your youngster starts "stewing" about something.

If your youngster is too young for such self-control techniques, use distraction as soon as you notice the HFA child exhibiting an anger sign. A distraction, in order to be effective, has to be of interest to the kid. For example suggest to your youngster, "Let's ride a bike" or, "Let's play ball."

Teach your youngsters to talk about how they feel. Give them a language to express their feelings. For example, ask them how they feel. If they are too angry to talk or don't have the vocabulary to express their feelings, ask about the feelings relevant to the specific situation. Examples: "Do you feel embarrassed?" "Humiliated?" "Let down?" or, "Is your pride hurt?"

When your youngster expresses the feeling behind his or her anger, such as embarrassment or humiliation, suggest some other ways to look at the same event that might not be embarrassing or humiliating.

The thought, "It's not fair," is a big anger-arouser for many HFA kids. If that is the case, ask them, "Do you feel you are treated unfairly?" When your youngster answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his or her feelings.

If the HFA child refuses to be distracted or engaged in dialoguing about his or her anger and starts yelling, stomping or breaking an object, impose appropriate consequences. It's better to have these consequences in place to serve as a guideline. That means that you have discussed them with your youngsters beforehand and written them out for future reference.

Armed with a list of consequences which preferably consist of withdrawing privileges or charging the HFA child a "penalty," moms and dads should encourage their Young people on the autism spectrum to choose such alternatives as doing something else, walking away, or talking about the anger rather than acting out of anger.

How about your own anger in response to your youngster's anger? You can set an example of anger control for your youngster. No teaching technique is as effective as a parent "modeling" for the HFA kid with his or her own example.

One thing that makes many moms and dads angry is to see their own child challenging their authority and defying them. Sometimes, it may appear so, but that may not be the intention of the HFA kid. For example, an HFA kid may be too unhappy to be told "No.' because he or she wants it so badly. Of course, you shouldn't give in to the wishes of the kid, but try to understand what might really be the intention of your youngster.

Some Young people on the autism spectrum get upset when they know they made a mistake. Instead of admitting their mistake, they act out in anger to deflect the attention off of them. If you realize that that might be the case, it's helpful to say to your youngster, "Everyone makes mistakes. I am okay with it. Don't feel so bad about it."

Young people on the autism spectrum, who in anger lash out at others, should be often reminded of such consequences as going to the Principal's office, being detained and losing privileges at home.

If the anger outbursts occur in relation to the siblings and you didn't observe the whole interaction from the very beginning, it's better to impose penalty on both siblings.

Some Young people on the autism spectrum get angry because they don't have appropriate peer-interaction skills. For example, some HFA youngsters don't know how to join in a conversation or a game. They abruptly try to get in. When resisted or rejected by peers, they explode. Teaching appropriate social skills can go a long way to avoid such negative encounters.

We can establish a culture that reduces anger and teaches tolerance. For example, we can set a personal example for HFA kids that "big individuals" do apologize and it's graceful to loose and try again.

Anger is like the mercury in a thermometer. When left unchecked the intensity of the emotion increases from frustration to anger and then to other things like rage and bitterness. As the intensity builds, individuals shut themselves off from others and relationships close down. Having a plan to deal with anger can limit the intensity and prevent much of the destruction anger tends to cause.

Most families don’t have a plan for anger. They somehow just continue on, hoping things will get better. Many families don’t resolve their anger, but just keep trying to start over. Starting over may be helpful at times, but it tends to ignore the problem rather than address it.

Here are some ideas for dealing with anger in your family:

1. Anger is good for identifying problems but not good for solving them. One of the problems individuals face is the guilt they feel after they’ve gotten angry. This further complicates the situation. God created us as emotional beings and emotions are helpful for giving us cues about our environment. Anger, in particular, points out problems. It reveals things that are wrong. Some of those things are inside of us and require adjustments to expectations or demands. Other problems are outside of us and need to be addressed in a constructive way. Helping Young people on the autism spectrum understand that anger is good for identifying problems but not good for solving them is the first step toward a healthy anger management plan.

2. Identify the early warning signs of anger. Young people on the autism spectrum often don’t recognize anger. In fact, many times they act out before they realize what happened. Identifying early warning signs helps HFA youngsters become more aware of their feelings, which in turn gives them more opportunity to control their responses to these feelings. How can you tell when you’re getting frustrated? How can your youngsters identify frustration before it gets out of control?

Here are some common cues in Young people on the autism spectrum which indicate that they are becoming angry and may be about to lose control:
•    clenched teeth
•    increased intensity of speech or behavior
•    noises with the mouth like growls or deep breathing
•    pouting
•    restlessness, withdrawal, unresponsiveness, or being easily provoked
•    squinting, rolling the eyes, or other facial expressions
•    tensed body
•    unkind words or the tone of voice changes to whining or yelling

Learn to recognize the cues that your youngster is beginning to get frustrated. Look for signs that come before the eruption. Once you know the cues, begin to point them out to your youngster. Make observations and teach your youngster to recognize those signs. Eventually HFA kids will be able to see their own frustration and anger and choose appropriate responses before it’s too late. They’ll be able to move from the emotion to the right actions, but first they must be able to recognize the cues that anger is intensifying.

3. Step Back. Teach your youngster to take a break from the difficult situation and to get alone for a few minutes. One of the healthiest responses to anger at any of its stages is to step back. During that time the HFA youngster can rethink the situation, calm down and determine what to do next. Frustrations can easily build, rage can be destructive, and bitterness is always damaging to the one who is angry. Stepping back can help the HFA youngster stop the progression and determine to respond differently.

The size of the break is determined by the intensity of the emotion. An HFA youngster who is simply frustrated may just take a deep breath. The kid who is enraged probably needs to leave the room and settle down.

4. Choose a better response. After the HFA kid has stepped back and settled down, then it’s time to decide on a more appropriate response to the situation. But what should they do? Moms and dads who address anger in their HFA youngsters often respond negatively, pointing out the wrong without suggesting alternatives.

There are three positive choices: talk about it, get help, or slow down and persevere. Simplifying the choices makes the decision process easier. Even young HFA kids can learn to respond constructively to frustration when they know there are three choices. These choices are actually skills to be learned. Young people on the autism spectrum often misuse them or overly rely on just one. Take time to teach your youngsters these skills and practice them as responses to angry feelings.

5. Never try to reason with an HFA youngster who is enraged. Sometimes Young people on the autism spectrum become enraged. The primary way to tell when kids are enraged is that they can no longer think rationally and their anger is now controlling them. Unfortunately, many moms and dads try to talk their Young people on the autism spectrum out of anger, often leading to more intensity. The HFA youngster who is enraged has lost control. You may see clenched fists, squinting eyes or a host of venting behaviors. Anger is one of those emotions that can grab you before you know what’s happening. The intensity can build from frustration to anger to rage before anyone realizes it.

Whether it’s the two-year-old temper tantrum or the 14 year-old ranting and raving, don’t get sucked into dialog. It only escalates the problem. Talking about it is important but wait until after the HFA kid has settled down.

6. When emotions get out of control, take a break from the dialog. Sometimes moms and dads and Young people on the autism spectrum are having a discussion about something and tempers flare. Mean words often push buttons which motivate more mean words and anger escalates. Stop the process, take a break and resume the dialog after individuals have settled down.

7. Be proactive in teaching HFA kids about frustration-management, anger-control, rage-reduction and releasing bitterness. Model, discuss, read and teach your youngsters about anger. There are several good books on this subject available, which are written for youngsters at various age levels. Talk about examples of frustration and anger seen in kid’s videos. Talk about appropriate responses. Work together as a family to identify anger and choose constructive solutions.

8. When anger problems seem out of control or you just don’t know what to do, get help. Sometimes a third party can provide the helpful suggestions and guidelines to motivate your family to deal with anger in a more helpful way. Young people on the autism spectrum can begin to develop bitterness and resentment in their lives and may need help to deal with it. Unresolved anger can create problems in relationships later on. HFA kids do not grow out of bitterness, they grow into it. Professional help may be needed.

Creating an Anger Control Plan—

The basic idea in developing an anger control plan for an HFA youngster is to try many different strategies and find the anger control techniques that work best for them.. This is an ongoing process. As working strategies are identified, they can be added to the anger control plans and used the HFA kid starts to feel angry. Some individuals refer to their anger control plans as their toolbox and the specific strategies they use to control their anger as their tools. 

This analogy may be very helpful. You can take this even further by creating a physical box for the youngster to put the strategies in (written on pieces of paper). You could be really creative and have the pieces of paper shaped like various tools. Again, it is important to identify the specific anger control strategies that work best for the youngster.

These strategies should be put down in a formal anger control plan for referral when the child encounters an anger-provoking event. It is also important to explore how different techniques may be used at different times. Referring back to the toolbox, I point out how a screwdriver can be very useful, but not for pounding in nails. Application- An HFA child may feel better after running around in the yard, but this may not be possible when he or she is getting angry at something in the classroom. Strategies need to be in place to handle the different situations that may arise.

An effective strategy that many Young people on the autism spectrum use, for example, is to talk about their feelings with someone that they can trust, such as a parent or caretaker. By discussing anger, they can begin to identify the primary emotions that underlie it and determine whether the thinking and expectations in response to the anger-provoking event are rational. Often an outsider can see the event from a different point of view, and offer some guiding words of wisdom. HFA kids can sometimes view an event as un-winable, or un-escapable, when there is a very simple solution which can be reached.

The long-term objective of the anger management treatment is to develop a set of strategies that can be used appropriately for specific anger-provoking events.


The concept of a timeout is especially important to anger-management. It is the basic anger management strategy recommended for inclusion in every kid's anger control plan. Informally, a timeout is defined as leaving the situation that is causing the escalation of anger or simply stopping the discussion that is provoking it.

Formally, a timeout involves relationships with other individuals: it involves an agreement or a prearranged plan. These relationships may involve family members, friends, teachers, and schoolmates.. Any of the parties involved may call a timeout in accordance with rules that have been agreed on by everyone in advance. The person calling the timeout can leave the situation, if necessary. It is agreed, however, that he or she will return to either finish the discussion or postpone it, depending on whether all those involved feel they can successfully resolve the issue.

Timeouts are important because they can be effective in the heat of the moment. Even if your anger is escalating quickly on the anger meter, you can prevent reaching 10 by taking a time out and leaving the situation.

Timeouts are also effective when they are used with other strategies. For example, you can take a timeout and go for a walk. You can also take a timeout and call a trusted friend or family member or write in your journal. These other strategies should help you calm down during the timeout period.

It is important to make sure that everyone understands exactly what a time out means. For example, say an HFA child is asked to clean his room. He gets angry with his moms and dads and asks for a timeout. The kid then goes outside and begins shooting baskets to "calm down". This could be used by the kid to manipulate the situation, he or she doesn't want to clean the room, so he or she just asks for a time out. It is important to ensure that time-outs are used effectively, and with a general set of rules in place. Used effectively and appropriately, timeouts can do wonders!

Relaxation Through Breathing—

Another technique which may be used to help reduce child-anger is relaxation through breathing.

An interesting aspect of the nervous system is that everyone has a relaxation response that counteracts the stress response. It is physically impossible to be both agitated and relaxed at the same time. If you can relax successfully, you can counteract the stress or anger response.

Model for your child how breathing can be used to relax. Read them the following (or feel free to put it in your own words).

Take a few moments to settle yourself. Try to clear your mind of all thoughts. If you feel Try and relax every single one of your muscles. Lets relax your body piece by piece. Starting with your feet, relax your toes. Now let's relax your foot, (move up as you instruct them slowly to relax each part of his or her body.)

Now, make yourself aware of your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your body. This can be very relaxing.

Let’s all take a deep breath together. Notice your lungs and chest expanding. Now slowly let air out through your nose. Again, take a deep breath. Fill your lungs and chest. Notice how much air you can take in. Hold it for a second. Now release it and slowly exhale. One more time, inhale slowly and fully. Hold it for a second, and release.

Now on your own, continue breathing in this way for another couple of minutes. Continue to focus on your breathing. With each inhalation and exhalation, feel your body becoming more and more relaxed. Use your breathing to wash away any remaining stress.

(Have your child do this for a few moments.)

Now let’s take another deep breath. Inhale fully, hold it for a second, and release. Inhale again, hold, and release. Continue to be aware of your breath as it fills your lungs. Once more, inhale fully, hold it for a second, and release.

When you feel ready, open your eyes.

After the exercise, talk with the child about how it felt.

This breathing exercise can be shortened to just three deep inhalations and exhalations. Even that much can be effective in helping you relax when your anger is escalating. You can practice this at home, at work, on the bus, while waiting for an appointment, or even while walking. The key to making deep-breathing an effective relaxation technique is to practice it frequently and to apply it in a variety of situations.

This technique may sound dumb to HFA kids, but it really does work. The more they do it, the higher of a chance there is they will use it in a time of crisis.

The Aggression Cycle—

From an anger management perspective, an episode of anger can be viewed as consisting of three phases: escalation, explosion, and post-explosion. Together, they make up the aggression cycle. In this process, the escalation phase is characterized by cues that indicate anger is building. As stated earlier, these cues can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). As you may recall, cues are warning signs, or responses, to anger-provoking events.

Events, on the other hand, are situations that occur every day that may lead to escalations of anger if effective anger management strategies are not used. Red-flag events are types of situations that are unique to you and that you are especially sensitive to because of past events. These events can involve internal processes (e.g., thinking about situations that were anger provoking in the past) or external processes (e.g., experiencing real-life, anger-provoking situations in the here and now).

If the escalation phase is allowed to continue, the explosion phase will follow. The explosion phase is marked by an uncontrollable discharge of anger displayed as verbal or physical aggression. This discharge, in turn, leads to negative consequences; it is synonymous with the number 10 on the anger meter.

The final stage of the aggression cycle is the post-explosion phase. It is characterized by negative consequences resulting from the verbal or physical aggression displayed during the explosion phase. These consequences may include going to jail, making restitution, being terminated from a job or discharged from a drug treatment or social service program, losing family and loved ones, or feelings of guilt, shame, and regret.

The intensity, frequency, and duration of anger in the aggression cycle varies among individuals. For example, one HFA kid’s anger may escalate rapidly after a provocative event and, within just a few minutes, reach the explosion phase. Another kid’s anger may escalate slowly but steadily over several hours before reaching the explosion phase. Similarly, one child may experience more episodes of anger and progress through the aggression cycle more often than the other. However, both kids, despite differences in how quickly their anger escalates and how frequently they experience anger, will undergo all three phases of the aggression cycle.

The intensity of these HFA kid’s anger also may differ. One person may engage in more violent behavior than the other in the explosion phase. For example, he or she may use weapons or assault someone. The other person may express his or her anger during the explosion phase by shouting at or threatening other individuals. Regardless of these individual differences, the explosion phase is synonymous with losing control and becoming verbally or physically aggressive.

Notice that the escalation and explosion phases of the aggression cycle correspond to the levels on the anger meter. The points below 10 on the anger meter represent the escalation phase, the building up of anger. The explosion phase, on the other hand, corresponds to 10 on the anger meter. Again 10 on the anger meter is the point at which one loses control and expresses anger through verbal or physical aggression that leads to negative consequences.

One of the primary objectives of anger management treatment is to keep from reaching the explosion phase. This is accomplished by using the anger meter to monitor changes in your anger, attending to the cues or warning signs that indicate anger is building, and employing the appropriate strategies from your anger control plans to stop the escalation of anger.

If the explosion phase is prevented from occurring, the post-explosion phase will not occur, and the aggression cycle will be broken. If you use your anger control plans effectively, your anger should ideally reach between a 1 and a 9 on the anger meter. This is a reasonable goal to aim for. By preventing the explosion phase (10), you will not experience the negative consequences of the post-explosion phase, and you will break the cycle of aggression.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise—

This is an exercise that I use sometimes in therapy to help HFA kids calm down. Modeling it for them and encouraging them to practice it will raise the likelihood that they will do this when feeling upset.

(Use this script or put this in your own words.)

Last week you practiced deep-breathing as a relaxation technique. Today I will introduce progressive muscle relaxation. Start by getting comfortable in your chairs. Close your eyes if you like. Take a moment to really settle in. Now, as you did last week, begin to focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath. Hold it for a second. Now exhale fully and completely. Again, take a deep breath. Fill your lungs and chest. Now release and exhale slowly. Again, one more time, inhale slowly, hold, and release.

Now, while you continue to breathe deeply and fully, bring your awareness to your hands. Clench your fists very tightly. Hold that tension. Now relax your fists, letting your fingers unfold and letting your hands completely relax. Again, clench your fists tightly. Hold and release the tension. Imagine all the tension being released from your hands down to your fingertips. Notice the difference between the tension and complete relaxation.

Now bring your awareness to your arms. Curl your arms as if you are doing a bicep curl. Tense your fists, forearms, and biceps. Hold the tension and release it. Let the tension in your arms unfold and your hands float back to your thighs. Feel the tension drain out of your arms. Again, curl your arms to tighten your biceps. Notice the tension, hold, and release. Let the tension flow out of your arms. Replace it with deep muscle relaxation.

Now raise your shoulders toward your ears. Really tense your shoulders. Hold them up for a second. Gently drop your shoulders, and release all the tension. Again, lift your shoulders, hold the tension, and release. Let the tension flow from your shoulders all the way down your arms to your fingers. Notice how different your muscles feel when they are relaxed.

Now bring your awareness to your neck and face. Tense all those muscles by making a face. Tense your neck, jaw, and forehead. Hold the tension, and release. Let the muscles of your neck and jaw relax. Relax all the lines in your forehead. One final time, tense all the muscles in your neck and face, hold, and release. Be aware of your muscles relaxing at the top of your head and around your eyes. Let your eyes relax in their sockets, almost as if they were sinking into the back of your head. Relax your jaw and your throat. Relax all the muscles around your ears. Feel all the tension in your neck muscles release.

Now just sit for a few moments. Scan your body for any tension and release it. Notice how your body feels when your muscles are completely relaxed.

When you are ready, open your eyes. How was that? Did you notice any new sensations? How does your body feel now? How about your state of mind? Do you notice any difference now from when we started?

The A-B-C-D Model—

Albert Ellis developed a model that is consistent with the way we conceptualize anger management treatment. He calls his model the A-B-C-D or rational-emotive model. In this model, “A” stands for an activating event, what we have been calling the red-flag event. “B” represents the beliefs individuals have about the activating event. Ellis claims that it is not the events themselves that produce feelings such as anger, but our interpretations of and beliefs about the events. “C” stands for the emotional consequences of events. In other words, these are the feelings individuals experience as a result of their interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event.

According to Ellis and other cognitive behavioral theorists, as individuals become angry, they engage in an internal dialog, called “self-talk.” For example, suppose you were waiting for a bus to arrive. As it approaches, several individuals push in front of you to board. In this situation, you may start to get angry.

You may be thinking, “How can individuals be so inconsiderate! They just push me aside to get on the bus. They obviously don’t care about me or other individuals.” Examples of the irrational self-talk that can produce anger escalation are reflected in statements such as “Individuals should be more considerate of my feelings,” “How dare they be so inconsiderate and disrespectful,” and “They obviously don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

Ellis says that individuals do not have to get angry when they encounter such an event. The event itself does not get them upset and angry; rather, it is individual’s interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event that cause the anger. Beliefs underlying anger often take the form of “should” and “must.” Most of us may agree, for example, that respecting others is an admirable quality. Our belief might be, “Individuals should always respect others.”

In reality, however, individuals often do not respect each other in everyday encounters. You can choose to view the situation more realistically as an unfortunate defect of human beings, or you can let your anger escalate every time you witness, or are the recipient of, another person’s disrespect. Unfortunately, your perceived disrespect will keep you angry and push you toward the explosion phase. Ironically, it may even lead you to show disrespect to others, which would violate your own fundamental belief about how individuals should be treated.

Ellis’ approach consists of identifying irrational beliefs and disputing them with more rational or realistic perspectives (in Ellis’ model, “D” stands for dispute). You may get angry, for example, when you start thinking, “I must always be in control. I must control every situation.” It is not possible or appropriate, however, to control every situation. Rather than continue with these beliefs, you can try to dispute them. You might tell yourself, “I have no power over things I cannot control,” or “I have to accept what I cannot change.” These are examples of ways to dispute beliefs that you may have already encountered in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Individuals may have many other irrational beliefs that may lead to anger. Consider an example where a friend of yours disagrees with you. You may start to think, “Everyone must like me and give me approval.” If you hold such a belief, you are likely to get upset and angry when you face rejection. However, if you dispute this irrational belief by saying, “I can’t please everyone; some individuals are not going to approve of everything I do,” you will most likely start to calm down and be able to control your anger more easily.

Another common irrational belief is, “I must be respected and treated fairly by everyone.” This also is likely to lead to frustration and anger. Most folks, for example, live in an urban society where they may, at times, not be given the common courtesy they expect. This is unfortunate, but from an anger management perspective, it is better to accept the unfairness and lack of interpersonal connectedness that can result from living in an urban society. Thus, to dispute this belief, it is helpful to tell yourself, “I can’t be expected to be treated fairly by everyone.”

Other beliefs that may lead to anger include “Everyone should follow the rules,” or “Life should be fair,” or “Good should prevail over evil,” or “Individuals should always do the right thing.” These are beliefs that are not always followed by everyone in society, and, usually, there is little you can do to change that. How might you dispute these beliefs? In other words, what thoughts that are more rational and adaptive and will not lead to anger can be substituted for such beliefs?

For individuals with anger control problems, these irrational beliefs can lead to the explosion phase (10 on the anger meter) and to the negative consequences of the postexplosion phase. It is often better to change your outlook by disputing your beliefs and creating an internal dialog or self-talk that is more rational and adaptive.

The A-B-C-D Model—

A = Activating Situation or Event

B = Belief System
•    What you tell yourself about the event (your self-talk)
•    Your beliefs and expectations of others

C = Consequence
•    How you feel about the event based on your self-talk

D = Dispute
•    Examine your beliefs and expectations
•    Are they unrealistic or irrational?

Thought Stopping—

A second approach to controlling anger is called thought stopping. It provides an immediate and direct alternative to the A-B-C-D Model. In this approach, you simply tell yourself (through a series of self-commands) to stop thinking the thoughts that are getting you angry. For example, you might tell yourself, “I need to stop thinking these thoughts. I will only get into trouble if I keep thinking this way,” or “Don’t buy into this situation,” or “Don’t go there.” In other words, instead of trying to dispute your thoughts and beliefs as outlined in the A-B-C-D Model described above, the goal is to stop your current pattern of angry thoughts before they lead to an escalation of anger and loss of control.

Assertiveness Training—

Even if Young people on the autism spectrum are able to contain their anger, they will still be exposed to situations every day where individuals are acting aggressively towards them. This behavior can include verbal abuse, threats, or violent acts. Often, when another person has violated your rights, your first reaction is to fight back or retaliate. The basic message of aggression is that my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important and that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are unimportant and inconsequential.

One alternative to using aggressive behavior is to act passively or in a nonassertive manner. Acting in a passive or nonassertive way is undesirable because you allow your rights to be violated. You may resent the person who violated your rights, and you may also be angry with yourself for not standing up for your rights. In addition, it is likely that you will become even more angry the next time you encounter this person. The basic message of passivity is that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important, but my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are unimportant and inconsequential. Acting in a passive or nonassertive way may help you avoid the negative consequences associated with aggression, but it may also ultimately lead to negative personal consequences, such as diminished self-esteem, and prevent you from having your needs satisfied.

From an anger management perspective, the best way to deal with a person who has violated your rights is to act assertively. Acting assertively involves standing up for your rights in a way that is respectful of other individuals. The basic message of assertiveness is that my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important, and that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are equally important. By acting assertively, you can express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs to the person who violated your rights without suffering the negative consequences associated with aggression or the devaluation of your feelings, which is associated with passivity or non-assertion.

It is important to emphasize that assertive, aggressive, and passive responses are learned behaviors; they are not innate, unchangeable traits. Using the Conflict Resolution Model, you can learn to develop assertive responses that allow you to manage interpersonal conflicts in a more effective way.

In summary, aggression involves expressing feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in a harmful and disrespectful way. Passivity or non-assertiveness involves failing to express feelings, thoughts, and beliefs or expressing them in an apologetic manner that others can easily disregard. Assertiveness involves standing up for your rights and expressing feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in direct, honest, and appropriate ways that do not violate the rights of others or show disrespect.

The concept of assertiveness can be a difficult one for HFA kids to understand and it is recommended that you focus on controlling the anger first!

Conflict Resolution Model—

One method of acting assertively is to use the Conflict Resolution Model, which involves five steps that can easily be memorized.

The first step involves identifying the problem that is causing the conflict. It is important to be specific when identifying the problem. In this example, the problem causing the conflict is that your friend is late.

The second step involves identifying the feelings associated with the conflict. In this example, you may feel annoyance, frustration, or taken for granted.

The third step involves identifying the specific impact of the problem that is causing the conflict. In this example, the impact or outcome is that you are late for the meeting.

The fourth step involves deciding whether to resolve the conflict or let it go. This may best be phrased by the questions, “Is the conflict important enough to bring up? If I do not try to resolve this issue, will it lead to feelings of anger and resentment?”

If you decide that the conflict is important enough, then the fifth step is necessary. The fifth step is to address and resolve the conflict. This involves checking out the schedule of the other person. The schedule is important because you might bring up the conflict when the other person does not have the time to address it or when he or she may be preoccupied with another issue. Once you have agreed on a time with the person, you can describe the conflict, your feelings, and the impact of the conflict and ask for a resolution.

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

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

How to Change Unwanted Behavior in Young People on the Autism Spectrum

“It is very frustrating not being able to change or modify the rigid behaviors that my son exhibits, for example, picky eating, rudeness to others, lack of motivation …just to name a few. Is there anything that can be done to help him be more open to change and flexibility?”

Most kids with High-Functioning Autism struggle with social skills, communication, and a limited diet, which can cause any of these issues:
  • behavioral problems
  • communication problems
  • desire for isolation
  • lack of incentive
  • sensory issues 
  • social problems
  • dropping into a state of depression, thus making the original problems that much worse

Social skills and living skills therapy may be the most popular areas of concentration when treating kids and teens (and even adults) with High-Functioning Autism. These therapies are widely available and do bring about effective progress in most cases.

Providing incentive is the key to improving your youngster’s circumstances. Actually, incentive is a factor anytime you are seeking to modify anyone’s unwanted behaviors. Incentive in itself is definitely an old concept, but using incentive in a new way will create the wanted result for your “special needs” son.

Old Incentive—

As moms and dads, we often use “set motivators” to achieve the behavior we feel is appropriate. The concentration has been placed on the behavior, which sets a negative tone to the process of change. You can’t blame a youngster for reacting negatively to a negative tone.
  • Punishment: “If you don’t do ______, then you will get ______!” We have all used this at one time or another, and over the course of time, it has proven to be an ineffective motivator.
  • Rewards or bribery: “If you do ______ today, I’ll buy you a ______.” We’re guilty of this one too. This probably creates more confusion and greed than incentive over time.

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

New Incentive—

Motivators should be positive. It feels good to see your youngster happily learning or cooperating in desired behaviors. Motivators that appeal to the individual boy or girl should be used for maximum results. Incentive is definitely personal. What motivates one youngster will not work for every youngster.
  • Positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is “catching” a child doing something you want them to do and rewarding it. The youngster gets attention and reward as positive reinforcement for doing the right thing and will focus on repeating that behavior. Positive reinforcement works because it gives kids positive goals to work towards instead of only focusing on negative consequences to avoid. Positive reinforcement fulfills strong basic psychological needs of every boy and girl, as well as setting a more positive and healthy tone for the parent-child relationship.
  • Routines: Keeping your youngster’s routines constant will improve his outlook. He’ll know what to expect at any given time, lessening the stress he feels.
  • Special Interests: Using your youngster’s special interests both at home and at school can generate positive responses in all situations. For example, your youngster’s love of trains can be used to encourage eating at home. Train themed dinnerware or even themed foods may be used to entice the reluctant eater.

By practicing positive reinforcement, establishing solid and consistent routines, and identifying special interests, you should be able to implement a social skills and living skills “parenting-plan” that will get the results that so desperately desire.

==> Are you experiencing a lot of behavior problems with your child on the autism spectrum? Get more solutions right here...


Anonymous said... Another thing to keep in mind is patience Rome was not built in a day : ) . It might take 21 days to eat that piece of brocoli or 2 years to master those social skills. Hang on to the picture in your mind of the finish line not the starting spot : )

Anonymous said... My 9 year old son has just been diagnosed with Aspergers is diet associated with it? That would explain why its so hard to get him to eat what is good for him

Anonymous said... I think it's the food texture or something that they seem to only prefer certain foods, which in my case, it's not very much. The older he gets though the more he tries and actually likes. He is 12.

Anonymous said... My son, who is 10, just tried a hamburger for the first time a few weeks ago. He had three bites before he decided he was done. I was so thrilled. It was such a major accomplishment for him! I know he probably wont touch another one for a very long time. But thats ok because he tried something new!!! Just keep showing him all of the good things you enjoy and he will decide when he is ready to try it.

Anonymous said... Couldn't agree anymore. I also literally "laughed out loud" when you said how thrilled you got, one of those "been there done that!!" I love those moments!!! :)

Anonymous said... I wanted to do the happy dance!! Every day is a struggle with food around here. I almost whooped out loud when he ate that burger! =)

Anonymous said… You will be able to work with it as they get older. Once they are old enough to understand that we all have certain norms to conform to, my son at least, has started to see the value in modifying his behavior. It's not perfect but who is! I love my son and he's found others who feel the same way along his path.

Anonymous said… Yes Bianca... very familiar. i've just read the article . very good read. and i think for us, we have to set a common strict routine he follows at both houses. i feel he needs that stability n consistency. he's a good, very intelligent kids, but unfortunately with bad habits we need to change. we have to work closely together for his sake.

Anonymous said… We deal with the exact same thing!

Anonymous said… Oh I hear you load and clear... My son is almost 15 and we deal with it every day!!!

Anonymous said… My son is going on 13. Only recently has the word Aspergers been mentioned regarding his 'issues'. All in all though, he is not an extreme case. So it's hard to actually "diagnose". But what I want to share it that all through the years of speech therapy for Apraxia, we never treated him any different than we would any other child. He had the same responsibilities, demands, chores, and punishments as his brother. The biggest difference was how we presented it to him. He needed to understand the logic of why he was being asked. And the logic behind the punishments - letting him know upfront what his punishment would be if he did not do something. This goes with behaviour of all sorts. From what I understand, these children have to be taught to think and feel like we do. "taught" is the key word here. They will not 'feel' it like we do, but they can be taught. Reinforce everything you ask them to do and follow through. It takes a lot of time, but time will reward you. I sometimes have to ask him, was that the correct way to behave, speak, act? He'll hang his head and say no... So than I ask, what was the better way. He'll answer, I'll confirm, and we'll practice it the proper way. I hope this little bit helps.

Anonymous said… My son is 3 and a half and everything is no these day's, putting our foot down is met with a violent outburst that doesn't stop until something distracts him if we get angry it only makes him worse. He is still young and our first so we're still getting to grips with parenting let alone parenting an aspergers child but sometimes (we'll most times) he's hitting, kicking us we don't know what to do, he won't stop and will chase us down if we try to get away, will not stay in his room, couldn't care less about taking things away he just keeps going and we're at a total loss on how to deal with it.

Anonymous said… I knew we were making progress using the Masgutova Method when once I had to change what we were doing and he let out a huge sigh, thought about it and then said ok.

Anonymous said… i feel very much the same way. I too have more than 1 under the same roof. Definitely 3 maybe 4. My 10 yr old sounds very much like your daughter with the mood swings and the foul mouth. She too used to be so quiet and easy going ( maybe that was a sign) but she's undergoing many tests at the moment because she has many difficulties dealing with everyday routines and socially. My question is; how do we manage a home with so many different needs. How do we make sure all their needs are being met and nobody is left behind. I feel like I'm not doing a good job at this anymore!

Anonymous said… Familiar?

Anonymous said…  hmm sounds like my 15 yr daughter not flexible at all, very rude to others, picking eating seems to eat the same thing all the time, lack of motivation. I have a 18 yr son who also has it but he actually got better with age but my daughter it has been a total nightmare. The rigid behaviors, the complusive behaviors the other morning instead of getting dress for school she emptys her dresser drawers and starts to refold each one in a certain way and piles it on her bed. But she never finish because I told her she had to stop go get dress if she has time before the bus comes she can finish but this is something she can do on the weekends or no school day. So frustrating and the she takes 3 outfits to the bathroom to get dressed and leaves them all the bathroom floor and her room was a big mess. So she thinks she is doing something good like organizing but instead she made things worst a bigger mess. Then you add bipolar into the mix you got one moody child like walking on egg shells or riding a roller coaster ride. I dread after school time as it is the worst time for her. She will walk in good mood then boom 5 min later better watch out. The mouth on her and the swearing, rude and disrespectful. She use to be this sweet little girl now you don't know who she going to be next. She is in the hate my mom and dad. She tells me I am kick the F out tells me I am dead, etc She has in home therapist and crisis worker too. If it wasn't for working out the gym I don't know how I would deal with my daily stress. 3 bipolars under one roof, daughter, son and husband. Then add both of them with PDD-nos, anxiety, adhd. I didn't think I would have to go thru this with her. I went thru this with my son for many years but as he got older he got better he was very aggressive when he was younger. Been inpatient 11 times from ages 7 to 11 half. My daughter had 2 inpatients this year never been in the hospital before that. But they seem to hold together there and would never show there behaviors there. They know how to play them and how to get out of there if they behave they can go home. These kids are not dumb they are smart in so many other ways.

Anonymous said... You have to put your foot down. Yes they have certain issues but you have to make it clear that certain behavior will not be tolerated. They good things is many times they are so rule orentied that my son now all I have to do is talk sternly or give him a very stern NO. But we have been very strick with him for 2-3 years now. He is 8. Just because they have "issues" don't mean you excuse disrespect. As far as the food with my son if he doesn't way what we serve him he doesn't eat. It sounds harsh but he eats his dinner. It's not going to kill him

Anonymous said... Some things we should insist upon, but I believe it's important to pick our battles. After all many of our kids have issues with self esteem so punishing them all day long can cause even more damage. Disrespectful behavior and behavior that is self harming or harming to others of course should not be tolerated. Positive reinforcement can work wonders.

Taste Aversions in Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Why does my HFA daughter adamantly refuse to eat any new foods? Her diet is severely limited and she literally becomes ill (or does a great job a faking it) if I force her to eat something not on her VERY small list of favorites.”

“Taste aversions” can occur both consciously and unconsciously. In many cases, children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) may be completely unaware of the underlying reasons for their dislike of a type of food.

Taste aversions are a great example of some of the fundamental mechanics of classical conditioning. The previously neutral stimulus (e.g., green beans) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (e.g., dislike of the color green), which leads to an unconditioned response (feeling ill). After this one-time pairing, the previously neutral stimulus (in this example, green beans) is now a conditioned stimulus that elicits a conditioned response (avoiding green beans as well as any other green colored food).

Because of their sensitivity to smell, temperature, taste and texture, kids with Aspergers and HFA are often "picky" eaters. Some even develop strong fetishes, for example:
  • they like to suck on pens, pencils or clothing
  • they only like beige-colored foods
  • they only like foods with creamy textures
  • they only like foods with a very sour or very spicy taste

Aspergers and HFA kids also sometimes have issues with developing gastric problems (e.g., acid reflux, hiccups, diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation). They are susceptible to celiac disease, which is caused by poor absorption of certain nutrients. The danger is that celiac disease damages the digestive system. These young people often suffer from Dermatitis herpetiformis, which causes skin rashes and tissue damage in the intestine. It has also been shown that gluten can aggravate behavioral symptoms in those kids who are sensitive to these foods.

It becomes a real challenge for moms and dads to make sure their “special needs” child gets proper nutrition. One trick that has worked for some parents is to change the texture of a despised food. If your youngster will not eat peas, try serving pea soup. If she refuses orange juice, try orange slices. Most therapists believe that the less you indulge food fetishes, the less entrenched they become. If a youngster creates a rule that "no foods can touch on my plate," it can easily become a lifelong rule if mom or dad fail to intervene.

One promising food therapy is the "Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet" or GFCF diet. The theory behind it is that a youngster with Aspergers or HFA can’t digest casein (found in dairy) or gluten (found in grains). It is true that undigested molecules of these substances frequently show up in their urine samples. These amino acid chains (called peptides) affect neurological function and can worsen a youngster's symptoms. Peptides may have an opiate effect on some kids.

Parents can begin the diet by first eliminating either the casein or the gluten food group. No gluten means avoiding the following (just to name a few):
  • all kinds of flour
  • barley
  • biscuits
  • bread
  • cakes
  • cereals
  • croutons
  • donuts
  • food starch
  • oats
  • pasta
  • pie
  • pizza
  • pretzels
  • rye

Parents can substitute gluten-free products. Next, eliminate all dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese, goat's milk, goat cheese, ice cream, yogurt, most margarines, puddings, etc.). If parents eliminate the dairy group, they may have to give their youngster calcium supplements. They also need to cut out "trigger foods" (e.g., chocolate, food colorings, caffeine, or peanut butter).

Many mothers and fathers believe that the GFCF diet really helps their kids. In one survey of over 2000 parents who tried it, most saw significant improvement – and five reported "miracles."

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

Research into diet and vitamin therapy for kids with Aspergers and HFA is very sketchy at this point. Nevertheless, many parents try them. One scientific study of alternative therapies found that over half of all parents of Aspergers kids have tried diets, herbs or vitamin therapy – and 72% felt they were worthwhile. Many mothers and fathers swear by the GFCF diet. Other parents prefer the Feingold diet or megavitamin therapy.

Parents can buy supplements of herbs and vitamins specifically made for young people on the spectrum. Such supplements often include calcium, fish oil, omega -3 -6 or -9, vitamin B-6, HNI enzymes and DMG or dimethylglycine. If parents use these diets and therapies, they should keep written records of how often their youngster experiences temper tantrums or exhibits other behaviors. In this way, parents can tell if the therapy is working.

There have been a few scientific studies of the GFCF diet. In a study of 15 ASD kids (2 – 15 years of age), there was no difference between the kids who followed the diet and those who did not. However, researchers at the Loma Linda Medical Institute in California concluded that the diet was mostly helpful and improved nonverbal cognition, but that more double blind studies are needed.

Many moms and dads have tried the GFCF or Feingold diets and found that they were not worth the effort. These diets make it extremely hard to buy regular groceries or to eat in restaurants. If there are siblings involved, parents end up cooking different meals for them. Also, trying to stick to the diets may cause parental burnout, which then causes the disadvantages to outweigh the advantages.

 ==> Is your child a picky eater? Click here for more ideas...

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


•    Anonymous said... For my kiddo, it's a sensory thing..... Mashed potatoes, peas, peanut butter etc. all have a thick, somewhat sticky texture that makes her wretch. Having that history makes her reluctant to even taste things like pudding, custard or soups with a thicker texture..... If it LOOKS like it might have the wrong texture, it's not gonna happen.
•    Anonymous said... Forcing is counterproductive .... Sometimes " planting the seed" and wording or demonstrating the benefits are a slower but more lasting lesson at home we have the rule of at least touching or smelling the food and if I feel there is a strong possibility he will like it, I ask that he just lick or put some on his tongue - always with the promise that a genuine dislike will be accepted that time. There are definite things he will still not and probably never eat but this approach has increased his diet greatly.
•    Anonymous said... Give him time, and don't force the issue if he truly dislikes something. I learned that the hard way and cleaned up alot of messes because of it. My son was the same way for most of his childhood but in the last year (he's about to turn 13) he has grown out of alot of it. He still refuses to eat certain things (bananas being at the top of the list) but he will now at least try to eat a cooked potato or carrot in very small quantities where before they would trigger immediate gag reflexes and he is also finally eating at a healthy level.
•    Anonymous said... Hang in there. Texture smell & taste can be overwhelming 2aspie kids. I have always introduced different food 2my daughter w/the attitude 'try 1bite, the worst that will happen is u dont like it!'
•    Anonymous said... How True!
•    Anonymous said... I have come to understand that this is the ONE thing my child feels he is in control of. If you try to change it he gets very upset. He will sometimes eat other foods, but when it comes right down to it, this is the way he wants it (same foods, limited menu), because he is in control of it. We will work on change in that area once we are comfortable with the progress we're making in other areas. One step at a time.
•    Anonymous said... My 5 year old is the same way. I've gotten him to try maybe 2 things since he was diagnosed a year ago. I think my son will eat maybe 5 things that is it! So I do a lot of vitamins to give him what he needs
•    Anonymous said... My son is the same way! I have tried to introduce new things to him, but he refuses to go out of his comfort zone of having only 10 things that he will actually eat. He always has to smell everything too. I have noticed, that he will find something he really likes, such as a plain ketchup sandwich, and eat it for weeks, then he goes to something else. I have to make him a separate meal every night, because he refuses to eat anything we are having.
•    Anonymous said... Same problem here.
•    Anonymous said... sometimes she will try it sometimes she wont. When she does like it i usually have 2remind her she liked it last time & 2try it again. I let her decide 2try it, but i keep presenting different things all the time. Slowly we have expanded her diet! Just keep encouraging her 2try!
•    Anonymous said... That is one battle I don't fight.
•    Anonymous said... The food thing is the one immovable object with my son. He does everything else I ask. If he could do it (eat more foods) I know he would as he loves to make me happy.
•    Anonymous said... We have been SO lucky with our son, he loves his veggies... but only raw. He really hates cooked veg. My hunch is that this is two fold. We have a garden that we let the boys just run free and munch whatever they want from there, so it gets to be "their idea". That has seemed to help the older one relate to what is on his plate a little better. Also, we tend to do food in courses. It's just easier to get the boys to sit down and plop a few bowls of cut carrots, celery, broccoli etc. and dip and let them graze on that first (again, their choice as to what they eat), then we tend to serve the meat/protein next and the starches last.
•    Anonymous said... We start oral ot this week, i wonder how its going to go for my 6 yod who has spd. Has anyone here done the oral ot?
•    Anonymous said... Why? Sensory issues, smell, texture and the way it feels in the mouth or hands, taste, the way it looks, there's a lot going on with sensory and food and why and what we eat.
•    Anonymous said... Wow! I'm so glad I'm not the only one! My son is 8 and JUST decided he would take 1 no thank you bite, of what we are eating as a family, but he has to try it... He smells everything, and most things he tries will instantly make him gag. He puts ranch on EVERYTHING. He does willingly try it because he knows we expect him to and its ok if he gags, just drink it down quick with water.

Add your comment below...

5 Online Autism Support Resources For Parents

Raising a child with autism can be a tough but rewarding job. As a parent of a child with autism, you know that teaching certain basic tasks can become challenging, and sometimes, it’s easy to get frustrated with a lack of progress or understanding on your child’s part. We’re here to tell you that you’re not alone, and there are online resources available specifically for parents of autistic children.

These five websites are run by professionals and parents alike and provide support groups, information on the condition, as well as learning tools and other helpful resources. You don’t have to take this journey alone! There are thousands of parents just like you connecting every day that can offer tips, guidance, and support. 

1. Supportiv

When the days become overwhelming and you find yourself full of frustration, sometimes you just need to vent and get it all out. But where do you vent without facing judgment? After all, being a parent of an autistic child carries with it certain (if not unreasonable) expectations like extreme patience. Let’s be honest; we’re all human, and sometimes, things get the better of us.

Supportiv is an online chat and mental health site where you can connect and chat anonymously about pretty much anything that’s on your mind. If you don’t want to turn to friends and family with your frustrations, this option can offer a perfect alternative.

Everything is completely anonymous, and the chat rooms are moderated so you won’t have to worry about facing judgment or cruelty from anyone online. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Tired? Tell us all about it at Supportiv! Connect with others who feel the same way, share stories, and find the support you’re looking for with this growing online community. You can also take a look at the blog for further resources on mental health.

2. AutismBeacon

This autism resource site was started by a parent of an autistic child, so it’s already coming from a place of empathy and understanding. You’ll find resources on sensitive subjects such as bullying and sexuality that are often avoided in other spaces because of their controversial nature; but these are topics that still need to be addressed, even with an autistic child.

The site provides resources for advocacy, awareness, treatment, and more. If you’re a new parent of an autistic child or someone who’s been looking for a larger, more information-rich autism awareness community, you’ve found it! Visit for more information.

3. Autism Speaks

For new parents confused about what autism is, how it affects daily life, and what options are available, there’s Autism Speaks. This website is designed to provide parents with support via an Autism response team to help answer all of your questions, information on providers and treatment options, and even info on autism-friendly events in your area.

This hub of information and resources needs to be in your Bookmarks, as it’s one of the most comprehensive and information-rich sites available on autism. Autism Speaks is an organization that’s dedicated to helping everyday people, parents, educators, and more, better understand autism and eliminate the stigma surrounding the condition.

4. AutismNOW

Autism Now is another awesome online resource for all things related to ASD. With a focus on early detection, early intervention, transitioning, community involvement, and more, Autism Now aims to cover the entire spectrum of obstacles and challenges that come with being a parent of an autistic child.

You can find fact sheets, information on programs, treatment, and providers, an online support community, and more at The organization also operates an autism call center in case you have any questions about your child’s condition and how to handle certain obstacles that accompany it.

You can also sign up for one of Autism Now’s webinars on the subject of ASD and navigating its obstacles. You can never learn too much about your child’s condition, after all.


TACA, or The Autism Community In Action, is an organization dedicated to providing support, education, and hope to families living with autism (according to the organization’s own mission statement). With a powerful set of core values and an online community that’s home to thousands of parents, caregivers, and educators, TACA is a must-have resource for families with autistic children.

From online programs and webinars to mentor programs, scholarships, outreach, and more, TACA covers pretty much any obstacles you might encounter during your journey. You don’t have to do it alone; TACA is here to help. Visit today and take advantage of the site’s many resources.


Luckily for us, the web is home to thousands of resources for parents of autistic children, their caregivers, and educators. The more information we can get out there about ASD and treatment, support, and caregiving options, the more we’ll understand autism and how to navigate it as parents. Don’t wait! Check out one of these five resources today. 

Parenting Kids with Both ADD and ASD

"My son was originally diagnosed with ADD (age 4), but now they say he has 'high functioning' autism and ADD (age 6). What is the main difference between these two conditions, and is it possible to have both?"

Most kids don’t receive a diagnosis of ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), until after age 5 or 6 (around the time they start public school). Usually, they are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder as preschoolers. Part of the reason for this is that pediatricians routinely screen kids for ADD – but not for autism.

Another reason is that an HFA kid's social impairment becomes more evident once he or she starts school. Finally, pediatricians are reluctant to label a youngster as "autistic." It is okay - and even a badge of honor - to have a “hyperactive” youngster, but it is another thing entirely to have an “autistic” youngster.

Pediatricians make their diagnoses based on the kid's behaviors. Since kids with ADD and HFA share similar behaviors, the two can appear to overlap. However, there is a fundamental difference between these two disorders. HFA kids lack what pediatricians call "social reciprocity" or Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is "the capacity to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings, motivations and desires that are different from our own."
Kids with ADD have a Theory of Mind and understand other people's motives and expectations. They also make appropriate eye contact and understand social cues, body language and hidden agendas in social interactions. HFA kids don’t!

Kids with ADD respond to behavioral modification. With HFA, the disorder is the behavior. Both kinds of kids can tantrum, talk too loud and too much, and have problems modulating their behaviors and making friends. Both are “social failures” to one degree or another – but for different reasons.

The youngster with ADD knows what to do – but forgets to do it. HFA kids don’t know what to do. They don’t understand that relationships are two-sided. If the youngster talks on and on in an un-modulated voice about his particular interest, he simply doesn’t understand that he is boring his friend and showing disinterest in his friend's side of the conversation. On the other hand, the youngster with ADD can’t control himself from dominating the conversation.

An HFA youngster can appear unfocused, forgetful and disorganized like a youngster with ADD, but there is a difference. The ADD youngster is easily distracted, whereas the HFA kid has no "filter." The child sees everything in his environment as equally important (e.g., his teacher's dangling earring is as important as what she writes on the blackboard).

The HFA child doesn’t understand that he doesn’t have to memorize the entire textbook for the next test. He doesn’t "get" such rules. Kids on the spectrum tend to get anxious and stuck about small things and can’t see the "big picture." On the other hand, kids with ADD are not detailed-oriented. The ADD youngster understands the rules – but lacks the self-control to follow them. The HFA child doesn’t understand the rules.
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The unfocused ADD youngster is "nowhere," but the highly-focused HFA “fantasy" youngster is somewhere else. "Fantasy kids" retreat into a world of their own making, a world where everything goes the way they want it to. They play video games for hours or retreat into books and music. Their daydreaming and fantasizing resembles the behaviors of non-hyperactive kids with ADD.

Obsessive-compulsive kids with autism live a world they create from rules and rituals. Like ADD kids, they appear preoccupied and distracted – but for different reasons. They appear distracted because they are always thinking about their "rules" (e.g., Did I tie my shoelaces right? Did I brush my teeth for 3 minutes?).

Some researchers estimate that 60% to 70% of HFA kids also have ADD, which is considered a common comorbidity of HFA. Other researchers say that the two disorders can’t exist together. Still others insist pediatricians have it all wrong - and that the two disorders are the same. The real problem is that there is no hard science. No one knows exactly how slight imperfections in brain structure and chemistry cause such problems.

For this reason, getting the right diagnosis for a youngster who exhibits behavior problems may take years of trial and error. Diagnosis is based on observation of behaviors that are similar for a myriad of disorders. The tragedy is that the youngster often doesn’t receive the correct medications, educational strategies, and behavioral modification techniques that could help him function on a higher level. He falls farther behind his peer group and loses ground when he could be getting appropriate treatments.

Psychiatry has made great strides in helping kids manage mental disorders, particularly moderate conditions, but the system of diagnosis is still years behind other branches of medicine. On an individual level, for many parents with children on the spectrum, the experience can be exhausting.  

==> Has your child been diagnosed with both ADHD and autism spectrum disorder?  Then you will want to borrow from these parenting strategies that address this combination...

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

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


•    Anonymous said... Add is part of asd. That's why so many kids are diagnosed w add before they get an actual diagnosis of high functioning or aspergers (my daughter was finally diagnosed w aspergers after about 3 years of an add diagnosis)
•    Anonymous said... ADD/ADHD and ASD are not the same. They are each mutually exclusive disorders, yet they can also be comorbid. I have two with ASD, yet neither of them have ADD/ADHD.
•    Anonymous said... I fought for my son to not have the ADD label because when I saw the test a lot of the questions they asked where his asd. My paediatrician said I had to take out the asd and answer the questions but it is not that black and white. I agree with Michelle if they can sit and concentrate they are not ADD.
•    Anonymous said... I personally believe that ADD/ADHD has been overdiagnosed for many years and now it seems that many PCP's/Pediatricians are diagnosing Asperger's without doing any Psychological testing leading to it now being overdiagnosed as well. These are not even Developmental Pediatricians who do not have the credentials and training to diagnose ASD.
•    Anonymous said... In kinder the school said my son was autistic. Since he was very verbal, I thought he was just ADHD. Now, I know he is aspergers and so much more of his sensory issues make sense now.
•    Anonymous said... My 11 yr old had adhd first and now aspergers
•    Anonymous said... My 4 (almost 5) year old dr says he is hyperactive disorder but does not have the attention defecit. His preschool is suspecting aspergers but his dr doesn't want to do any testing for that until after we start medicating him. He too will snap right to attention if the subject interest or benefits him.
•    Anonymous said... My son can concentrate but only to a certain point before he gets unfocused. It's hard for him. He was initially dx AHDD and later ASD with AHDD. AHDD came at age of 5 and ASD at age of 12 after multiple problems with school, bullying and behaviors which interfered with his school and life. He still takes meds for concentration and mood stabilizers for some of the mood swings. I have to say it has been a challenging road. But once you figure out what to do for them it gets a little easier. My son is now 17 and soon graduating high school. In some parts he acts his age and in others he acts like he is 12. I try to focus his attention on becoming an adult and college, but he needs a lot of hand holding. I do believe the two disorders exists amongst themselves. He is no longer hyper but surely very forgetful and unorganized.
•    Anonymous said... My son has a duel diagnosis of ADHD and Aspergers.
•    Anonymous said... My son has Asperger's and ADD diagnoses but I don't agree with the ADD. He is definitely able to concentrate for hours if it's something he likes to do and we have tried medicines in the past for attention problems and they made little to no difference for him.
•    Anonymous said... my son has been diagnosed as adhd at about 5. around 8 years old Aspergers was noted and he was officially diagnosed as having both.
•    Anonymous said... My son the same Maria. He has adhd and aspergers.
•    Anonymous said... My son was diagnosed with high functioning Aspergers when he was 4. This year, now he is five, they said he also has ADD. I was told ADD typically always comes with AS. I don't exactly know what my opinion on that is. Yes, my son has trouble consentrating and likes to move around a lot. And that is something I work with him on. I don't know if he really needs that extra label and I do know I am not going to medicate him just to do so.....listen to your intuition. Unfortunately, you will have to do the research as the medical field is highly uninformed (IMO).
•    Anonymous said... Personally I think they over diagnose add. But the 2 are very similar. Except those with add, cannot concentrate on anything, whereas those with Aspergers can concentrate on something they are interested in.
•    Anonymous said... Since our children are around the same age, mine will be six soon, and they have the same diagnosis, feel free to message me and we can talk more.
•    Anonymous said... The two are very different, very very different. The best person to ask is someone who specializes in this. Your child's doctor or specialist will be able to explain to you what the differences are in relation to your child. All aspergers/autism is different so it's impossible to guess what your child is like in that respect. It's possible to have both and my son has many friends who have both. ADD doesn't usually have social issues, sensory issues, and so many other typical ASD issues.
•    Anonymous said... Without sounding like I'm accusing anyone, because I'm not, I think many ASD kids get misdiagnosed with ADD because they are so hard to discipline that they can sometimes just be wild little things. ASD kids don't pay social penalties for anything so they lack a lot of self discipline that NT people learn very early. And traditional discipline doesn't always work. I know if I send my son to the corner he just makes up stories and reads them to the floor and he loves doing that.
•    Anonymous said… My son was diagnosed with ADHD at 7. Typical ADHD meds only made his problems worse, and it wasn't until I saw a checklist of Asperger traits that it clicked "that is him!" Now, at 10, he finally has an "accurate" diagnosis. Beth Ann, I understand where you're coming from. My son is very high functioning and can appear neurotypical in many settings. He even fools me sometimes, until something happens to remind me that no, I'm not dealing with a "typical" child here. That is THE hardest thing for me as his mom.
•    Anonymous said… My oldest wasn't dx'd till 3rd grade but he also has add. We just thought he was immature and a little eccentric as an only child. He hit all the normal milestones. We realized it was something more but bounced a lot of letters around. After some research by his psych and us we all agreed on aspergers. But what do I do with a kid who appears neurotypical and not the full blown vs of autism?
•    Anonymous said… After it took myself, 2 nurses and the doctor to pin my 3 year old son down for a strep test and him coming up with a bloody mouth would she finally have a consultation with me about aspergers. He has major sensory issues. at his last dental cleaning it took 5 of us to hold him down. after his diagnosis, he is in pt, ot and speech. it has only been a month but am starting to see a little improvement.

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