Specific Parenting Techniques for Children and Teens with ASD Level 1

The Importance of Positive Reinforcement: Tips for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

In this post, we'll discuss the importance of positive reinforcement when interacting with ASD children:

Many autistic children may not respond well to negative reinforcement techniques. Negative reinforcement includes punishment or the removal of something unpleasant. It can be counterproductive and lead to increased anxiety and stress in these children.

On the other hand, positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding desired behaviors. This technique has shown to be more effective when working with autistic children. By providing praise, tokens, or other rewards, we can encourage positive behaviors and motivate them to develop new skills.

To create a positive environment, it's important to establish clear expectations and rules. Keep the instructions simple and provide visual cues or social stories to support understanding. This will help autistic children feel safe and more willing to engage in learning activities.

When implementing positive reinforcement, it's crucial to identify the specific behaviors you want to encourage. Break down tasks into smaller, achievable steps and provide immediate reinforcement when the child displays the desired behavior. Be consistent and gradually fade out the reinforcement as the behavior becomes more consistent.

Autistic children often have unique interests and preferences. Utilize these interests to reinforce positive behaviors. For example, if a child loves dinosaurs, you can reward them with dinosaur toys or related activities. By aligning the reinforcement with their interests, you enhance their motivation and enjoyment.

Autistic children can easily become overstimulated by too much sensory input. When providing positive reinforcement, ensure that the environment remains calm and free from overwhelming distractions. This will help the child focus on the desired behavior and facilitate a positive learning experience.

Positive reinforcement not only promotes desired behaviors but also aids in emotional regulation. By acknowledging and rewarding appropriate emotional responses, we can help autistic children develop effective coping strategies and improve their overall well-being.

To ensure the effectiveness of positive reinforcement, it's essential to monitor the child's progress. Regularly assess whether the chosen strategies are yielding the desired outcomes. Be flexible and open to adjusting the reinforcement techniques based on the child's needs and progress.

As the child progresses, celebrate their achievements and milestones. Recognize the efforts they put into their development. This not only boosts their confidence but also reinforces the positive behaviors they have learned, creating a cycle of continuous improvement.


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



The 11 stages that parents go through when they first learn about their child's ASD diagnosis:

Let's explore the different stages that parents may go through when they first learn about their child's developmental disorder:

1.    One of the initial stages a parent of an autistic child goes through is shock and denial. When they receive the diagnosis, it can be overwhelming and hard to accept. It is important for us to understand that these emotions are a natural response.

2.    After the shock wears off, parents often experience feelings of anger and guilt. They may blame themselves or others for their child's condition.

3.    Grief and loss are common emotions experienced by parents of autistic children. They may mourn the loss of the dreams and expectations they had for their child's future.

4.    Once parents have processed the initial emotions, they often embark on a journey of education and awareness. They immerse themselves in understanding autism, its causes, and available treatments.

5.    Acceptance and adjustment mark a significant milestone for parents of autistic children. They come to terms with their child's unique needs and abilities, and begin to adjust their expectations accordingly.

6.    Navigating the challenges of raising an autistic child requires a robust support network. During this stage, parents can actively seek out other families, therapists, and organizations that can offer guidance and understanding.

7.    Many parents of autistic children become passionate advocates for change. They strive to improve the lives of their children and others in the autism community.

8.    Caring for an autistic child often requires a delicate balancing act. Parents now may have to juggle various therapies, school routines, and personal commitments.

9.    Autism affects not only the individuals diagnosed, but also their families and relationships. During this stage, parents focus on nurturing their relationships with their other children, partners, and other family members.

10.    As parents journey through the stages of raising an autistic child, they often undergo significant self-reflection and personal growth. They discover strengths they never knew they had and become advocates for their child's happiness and success.

11.    Parenting an autistic child is a journey filled with ups and downs, but it is also a journey of immense love, joy, and growth. During this stage, parents celebrate their role and the incredible bond they have with their child.

Raising an autistic child presents unique challenges that parents must overcome. From sensory sensitivities to communication difficulties, parents face obstacles every day. Every milestone achieved by an autistic child is a cause for celebration. By understanding these stages, you can come to terms with this unique and special journey. Best of luck!

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

What to do when your ASD preteen begins to ask questions about sex:

"My son [12 y.o. with ASD] has been asking questions about sex. He has a rather warped notion regarding how to interact with girls. I want to teach him about appropriate sexual behavior – but how? He takes things SO literally!"

Everyone wants to be loved. Kids seek love from their parents, and eventually they will seek love from their peers. Kids with ASD (high-functioning autism) want to feel love and affection just like everyone else, but they are hampered by their inability to form solid relationships. 

Building a strong parent-child bond early in life will help teach your ASD youngster about relationships, love and the closeness necessary to form intimate bonds. There will be more work to do later, as you’re realizing now.

Sexuality should be openly discussed at the appropriate level at all ages. Once your youngster hits puberty, it’s time to talk about sexual behavior. Talk, talk and talk some more. Having a clear path of communication with your son will enable you to have conversations about important life lessons. Make sure you respect his needs for adjusted communication given his developmental disorder.

Talking while walking for example, or while driving through town, will give him a chance to voice his thoughts without having to maintain eye contact. Plus, he may be more willing to open up about his true thoughts and feelings when he knows you are not focusing solely on him.

Young people on the autism spectrum like to have the facts. No cutesy stories, no made-up names, and definitely no personal details. Stick to clear, concise facts using proper terminology. Have him make a list of the facts. In addition, have him make a list of do’s and don’ts in relation to sexual behavior. This will appeal to his need for order/structure. 

Here are some suggestions to start a list of do’s and don’ts:
  • I should not touch a person’s face, hair, or body without permission. 
  • I should not touch my own body in public. Touching myself is private. 
  • I should stand a foot away from another person. People need their space.

Your preteen is going through major physical and emotional changes. He may find it difficult to cope with these changes and how they relate to all areas of life. His body and hygiene, friendships and dating, maturity and behavior will all be affected by becoming an adult. With your guidance, he can make these changes and approach adulthood well educated on the subject of sexuality and proper sexual behavior.

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

Helping Your Child with ASD 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) 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

Child with High-Functioning Autism Flips into Severe Tantrums

"Any advice for dealing with a child on the spectrum who flips into severe tantrums over the slightest change in his routine?"

Some kids with ASD and high-functioning autism (HFA) are more likely to have temper tantrums than others. Causes that contribute to a youngster's tendency to have tantrums include:
  • age and stage of development
  • fatigue
  • stress in the youngster's environment
  • temperament
  • whether underlying behavioral, developmental, or health conditions are present (e.g., ADHD)

Also, a youngster may be more likely to have temper tantrums if moms and dads react too strongly to difficult behavior or give in to the youngster's demands.

Temper tantrums are normal behavior for most kids, and there is no reason why kids with HFA should refrain from this stage of development. But how do you know whether or not a child's tantrums are "normal"? When tantrums escalate to the point of violence, is it still just a "tantrum," or are there deeper issues that need to be investigated?

Temper tantrums are one of the most common problems in younger kids on the autism spectrum. They may appear to go into a state of rage, panic, anxiety or fear for no reason at all. This might involve screaming, crying, resisting contact with others, or pushing others away. Unfortunately for children with the disorder - and their parents - temper tantrums and destructive behaviors are especially common.

It is more difficult for moms and dads to “prevent” temper tantrums in these kids. The youngster may seem inconsolable during the tantrum, and the episode might last a long time and consist of more aggressive behavior (e.g., hitting, biting, pinching, etc.).

Also, the satisfaction (i.e., emotional release) that typically accompanies the end of the tantrum for "typical" kids rarely occurs in HFA kids. Similar episodes of panic, anxiety, rage and even aggression might be seen all through childhood, adolescence – and even adulthood.

Paying attention to the things that trigger a tantrum can help parents act before a youngster's emotions escalate beyond the point where he can control them. Identifying the cause of the behavior is very important. There is almost always some yet-to-be-unidentified trigger that brings on challenging behavior.

==> Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns in Kids on the Autism Spectrum 

Causes for challenging behaviors:

As with such behavior in all kids, there may be any number of causes. There might be underlying reasons (e.g., feeling upset, anxious or angry) and immediate triggers (e.g., being told to do something). In HFA however, tantrums are directed by frustration.

Children on the spectrum often rely on ritual and structure. Structure is a method that helps define the world in terms of set rules and explanations, which in turn helps the child function most effectively. Most kids with the disorder find their own methods of imposing structure and maintaining consistency. They need this structure because the world is confusing.

To these special needs children, the world is complex and almost impossible to understand. The information they receive through their senses might be overwhelming and hard to bring together into a strong whole, and there is likely to be an additional learning disability that makes it hard to apply cognitive skills to all these areas at once.

When some form of structure or routine is disrupted, the world becomes confusing and overwhelming again (e.g., feeling homesick, losing a comforting toy when feeling alone, starting a new school year, etc.). This disruption of structure might be obvious (e.g., having a collection of objects disturbed, being made to go a different way to school, getting up at an unusual hour), or it might be hidden (e.g., subtle changes in the environment which the youngster is used to).

Some of these triggers might be out of the control of the child or his parents. Some might be avoidable. Others might be necessary events, which can be slowly introduced so as to limit overt reactions.

Generally, one of the most significant causes of challenging behavior is a communicative need. For children with profound difficulties in understanding others and in communicating with them, it is hardly surprising for frustration, anger and anxiety to build up.

It is also quite likely that challenging behaviors will directly serve as a form of communication. Natural temper tantrums (e.g., in response to changes in routine, or requests to do something the child does not want to do) may well become usual reactions to those involved.

Frequent temper tantrums:

If your youngster continues to have frequent temper tantrums after age 3, you may need to use time-outs. A time-out removes the youngster from the situation, allows her time to calm down, and teaches her that having a tantrum is not acceptable behavior. Time-out works best for kids who understand why it is being used.

Most kids gradually learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to tantrums. They also usually improve their ability to communicate, become increasingly independent, and recognize the benefits of having these skills.

Kids who continue to have temper tantrums after the age of 4 usually need outside help learning to deal with anger. Tantrums that continue (or start) during the school years may be a sign of other issues (e.g., learning difficulties, social skills deficits).

Talk with a health professional if difficult behavior frequently lasts longer than 15 minutes, occurs more than 3 times a day, or is more aggressive. This may indicate that the youngster has an underlying medical, emotional, or social problem that needs attention.

These are not considered typical temper tantrums. Difficult behaviors may include: biting, hair pulling, head-banging or inflicting self-injury, hitting, kicking, pinching, scratching, throwing or breaking things, etc.

Does your child do any of the following?
  • behavior does not improve after 4 years of age
  • hurts himself, other people, or objects during a tantrum
  • tantrums frequently last longer than 15 minutes
  • tantrums occur more than 3 times a day

Do you, as the parent, experience any of the following?
  • have concerns that you might hurt your youngster when trying to hold him back or calm him down
  • have problems handling your youngster's behavior
  • have serious concerns about your youngster's tantrums
  • need help with learning to cope with your own feelings during your youngster's temper tantrums

Counseling and/or medical treatment for temper tantrums may be recommended for kids who: 
  • regularly have tantrums after 4 years of age
  • have long-lasting and frequent temper tantrums
  • cause self-injury or become violent

This is where support is needed both in the form of direct interventions related to the behaviors, and in advising and helping moms and dads manage episodes in ways that can be applied at home. These difficulties can be improved slowly through education and other interventions.

Moms and dads can help by making an effort to manage the environment so that the child is more comfortable (e.g., providing structure, avoiding distracting information when engaging in tasks, allowing personal space where necessary, etc.). Challenging behavior serves a communicative conduct. In this case, the cause for the behavior must first be identified before teaching and developing other means of communicating.
More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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