Specific Parenting Techniques for Children and Teens with ASD Level 1

Should You Treat Your ASD Child the Same Way You Treat Her Siblings?

Question

"My husband as well as most of his side of the family often accuse me of mollycoddling our 6 y.o. girl with high functioning autism. They believe she should receive the same treatment as her brothers. What do you say about this? Should you treat a child with the condition the same as those without it? I'm torn on this issue because I know that my daughter has some special needs, yet I don't want to enable. Advice?"

Answer

You should not treat the high-functioning autistic (HFA) child the same as the other children. Love them the same? Of course. Treat them the same? No.

The youngster with the disorder will need more support than her siblings do, but there are some things you can do to limit the amount of sibling rivalry and jealousy that siblings feel because of this inequality:

1. Do not pamper your HFA daughter any more than is necessary. She will need to learn how to stand on his own two feet, and dealing with a brother or sister is a normal part of gaining this fortitude.

2. Don't tolerate inappropriate behavior from your daughter, and don't expect perfection from your other kids (this will lead to resentment and acting-out).

3. Encourage your kids to talk to you about how they feel about their "special needs" sibling. Listening to their feelings can make them feel validated and can help to avoid any unnecessary jealousy.
 
4. Fully educate yourself about the disorder, and then inform your other children on an age-appropriate basis.

5. Know that kids on the autism spectrum find it very difficult to pick up on social cues and often have intense, narrow interests. Even a very young brother or sister can understand that, "Michelle gets upset when we stop talking about dolls, but we're working on ways to keep her calm.”

6. Learn a few parenting techniques specific to raising an HFA child, and implement them at home (more here).

7. Realize that just as you may grieve the loss of a more “normal” child, her siblings may also be heartbroken that they don't have the kind of sibling-relationship that other families have.

8. Seek a support group. Getting feedback from other parents on how they have dealt with sibling issues can be quite enlightening.

9. Spend quality time each week (one-on-one) with the other kids - as well as your HFA child (this may sound difficult, but one way to accomplish that is to take one youngster at a time on an errand when possible).

10. Understand that HFA is an "invisible" disorder. Brother and sisters may be embarrassed in front of their friends when their autistic sibling (who looks no different than any other child) can't stop talking her favorite special ingterest.
 

On an interesting side note, here are some comments made by children who have a sibling with HFA:

• “He gets bullied a whole lot, at least he used to. Children would make fun of him for the weirdest things…it was terrible. He would come home crying off the bus.”

• “He is incredible at directions… he is able to give directions to anybody to anything, if you're any place in the united states, he will let you know what your location is.”

• “He is great at baseball and making jokes…I like his funniness.”

• “He talks non-stop.”

• “He’ll hit his head on the floor and he will kick the drawers and he will kick his door and he will hit his walls and toss stuff across the room.”

• “He’s very literal. In the event you say ‘throw laptop computer in the rear of the truck,’ he is actually likely to do that. That’s really happened.”

• “I like to see him giggle, but when something is humorous he's, horrifyingly noisy, he is outrageous. Occasionally I will take his hand and I will give him just a little squeeze on the hand and that is kind of his signal to kind of like ease it down slightly.”

• “I try my best to introduce him to all the folks that I know so he does not feel uncomfortable and alone.”
 

• “I’ve figured out either to leave him alone for about 10 mins, or you can attempt to calm him down, but most of the time I leave him alone for 10 mins or so…and the storm goes away and he is normal and it will be a typical day.”

• “James, a lot of the times is by himself. He likes to be in his own little world.”

• “My brother’s great at checking up on the weather…he’s usually watching the weather channel - so he knows what to wear. It’s excellent in the family, he always knows what the temperature is going to be and if the sun is going to be shining.”

• “When he comes back home sobbing due to something one of his buddies said, I will attempt to give him advice about coping with other students, and most of the time he does not want to take that advice. My mum will just kind of pull him aside and state, ‘Your sister has been through this, so listen to what she has to say.’ And then he usually does.”

• “When he needs his time, you give him his time. And when he’s ready to come out and be sociable again, then he will come out.”

• “When he is doing something that he really wants to learn about or that he is enthusiastic about or that I have done, he is extremely energetic. He is happy. And that is when he gets to his noisy stages where he will giggle and he is way up there.”

• “He really wants to believe that everyone wants to threaten him. For the longest time I would scream at him because I would say, ‘Stop crying - why are you crying? There is no need to be sad. I did not say anything!’ But to him, it is a threat should you say anything and…he simply cannot manage his feelings.”
 




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




Succeeding in College with Autism Spectrum Disorder

“My daughter with autism (mild form) is doing pretty well at college managing her courses and her part-time job. However, she is not managing her finances well. For a while she only had to pay for her car payment and insurance. Now, she has also accumulated some credit cards and short-term loans. While she lives away at school, her mail and bills come here, so I’ve been checking her mail. She has not been paying her bills on time, so I’ve had to make some payments for her. She knows that I am holding her accountable to reimburse me. How can I help her develop an organized budget system, while at the same time not offending her and turning her away from us?”

Student budgeting has specific challenges. Typically, the student receives money in large chunks, either from loans, education savings plans, or summer job savings, and then she needs to make it last for several months. If your daughter is managing her money for the first time, it can be tempting to spend big early on, and then struggle to pay the bills later. 
 
For the most part, students will be stuck paying back loans after graduating, so getting a solid grasp on budget and perhaps even learning how to refinance student loans can set the stage for a successful financial future after college.

Budgeting for college students is essential to avoid that end-of-semester crunch. However, even mentioning the word “budget” will most likely make your daughter groan. But having a financial plan will save her from realizing that it's January, she’s out of money, and her next loan doesn't arrive until March!
Tips to help young adults with high-functioning autism create - and stick to - a budget:
  1. Encourage your daughter to start her college student budget in the fall, when she’s saved her summer earnings and received her student loans.  
  2. Help her identify all her sources of income (e.g., scholarships, money from you, savings from jobs, etc), and when she expects to receive the funds. That's her income.  
  3. Next, help her make a list of all fixed costs (e.g., tuition, phone, rent, utilities, etc.) and when they’ll come due (if she banks online, she can ask her bank to send her payment reminders for when things are due). 
  4. Next, help your daughter estimate her regular discretionary expenses (e.g., food, laundry, entertainment, etc.) as well as infrequent expenses (e.g., trips home, books, course materials, etc.). Add a little extra for unexpected or emergency expenses (e.g., a computer crash).
  5. Are her expenses higher than her income? If so, take another look at ways to save. She may want to consider living with roommates, taking public transit, switching to a low-cost cell phone plan with plenty of texting, and so on.
  6. Remind your daughter to write down her expenses for the first few weeks and compare it to her college student budget. Is she eating out more than she planned? Does she have to buy new textbooks instead of used? If so, help her adjust her budget.

==> Here's an example of a budget worksheet for college students...

Another way you can help your daughter from a distance is to find a good computer bookkeeping program. These programs make budgeting and bill paying quick and easy. Use the program yourself and recommend it to her. This will help the encounter seem more like a genuine product review rather than a parent-to-child demand. Encourage her to share this new information with any friends who may be struggling with their finances.

Budgeting is a common problem for college students everywhere. Sometimes the freedom is just overwhelming. Once your daughter has come up with a solution for her financial struggles, make sure she budgets for the money she owes on those late bills you paid.

Going away to college creates feelings of new found independence. It is normal for your daughter to pull away a bit as she finds her own way. Balancing this independence with the need for parental guidance may be difficult for all of you. 
 
While you are willing to help in any way for the time being, you should expect her to take full control of her financial situation at some point, just as she has taken control of the other areas of her life. Paying her late bills for her will keep her credit score in good shape, but she will not learn to manage her money this way.
 
 

Preparing Your ASD Teenager for Adulthood

"How can I prepare my son with ASD for adulthood? He seems so immature for his age and we worry about how he's going to cope with life being out of the 'nest'."

Very few young adults with ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), are ready for “full independent” living. They need ongoing support, social skills training, and encouragement from parents as they learn to negotiate the “adult world.”

Adolescents with HFA need extra time to gradually learn and practice adult life skills (e.g., finding a job, managing finances, doing laundry, preparing meals, driving a car, arranging medical appointments, etc.). Many of these individuals may not be ready for adult responsibilities at the same age as their neurotypical peers.

They may choose to live at home and attend a local community college rather than go to a university where they would need to live on campus. Many have even experienced sudden drops in their grades as graduation approached, due to fears about having to leave home before they feel ready. Some may need to experiment with alternatives and adjustments for skills (e.g., driving a car) that are not within their reach.
 
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with High-Functioning Autism

With some special challenges in mind, here are a few parenting tips for promoting self-reliance in your older teens with HFA:

1. Base your support and expectations on your teenager's abilities, level of emotional security, and history—and not on his chronological age or what his peers are doing.

2. By the time your adolescent is working and making an income, he should assume responsibility for all cell phone charges. This cuts down on extravagant cell phone use, because most adolescents are more prudent about usage when they have to pay the bill.

3. By the time kids on the spectrum are in the 8th grade, they should be taking responsibility for their own schoolwork. Moms and dads should not hound their child to complete work. Obviously, instilling a good work ethic regarding schoolwork starts much earlier than middle school. But by the 8th grade, young people should “own” the quality and timeliness of their work so they understand cause and effect before they enter high school, where a poor grade can affect college prospects.

4. Check with your adolescent's school about any transition services the district may provide.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

5. Consider finding a job coach for your teen. The benefits of having a job coach include the following:
  • A job coach can identify specific strategies and techniques that can help your teen learn new tasks or adapt to new schedules.
  • A job coach can serve as a “liaison” between the employer and the employee.   This can help ensure that the employer’s needs are met while advocating for the employee by addressing any concerns of the employee in a manner that is pro-active.
  • Assessing the need for “on the job” accommodations is a fundamental responsibility of a job coach.  In most instances, the job coach can provide information on the procurement of the accommodation as well.
  • Coping skills can be developed or enhanced with the assistance of a job coach.  The job coach’s knowledge of your teen’s strengths and preferences can prove invaluable in determining how specific skills (e.g., relaxation techniques, journaling, role-playing of solutions and responses geared toward specific situations and scenarios, etc.) can be enhanced.



6. Do not rescue your teenager by paying off her debts or by making excuses to her teacher for a failing grade. Let her feel the consequences, and the lesson will be long lasting.

7. Explain in great detail how you will help your adolescent move into adult life. He needs to know how long he can live at home and whether or not you will help him with his first apartment rental, pay college tuition, keep him on the family health insurance, and so on.

8. Explore substitutes or assistance for skills that are not manageable. Your family is the best judge of when your adolescent is ready to partially or fully manage adult tasks.
 
9. Let your teen make mistakes. Moms and dads naturally want to rescue their special needs children. Avoid doing that unless it’s a matter of your adolescent’s health or safety. Otherwise, simply say, “Okay, you made a mistake. It happens to everyone. What can you do to fix it?”

10. Let your teenager make decisions. At this age, she should have some say in nearly everything that affects her. Trust her in this way. She will be more likely to bend your way when you make clear that an issue is very important to you.

11. Provide ongoing emotional and tangible support even after your young HFA adult moves out of your home. Moms and dads who visit frequently, assist with household management, help to fill out tax forms, etc., help these youth not feel too overwhelmed as they adjust to life away from the family.

12. Purchasing a car can be the single most rewarding effort an adolescent makes other than good grades and a decent job. The sense of accomplishment an adolescent feels when she saves money for a vehicle is only trumped by the first purchase of a house. Moms and dads should not deprive their teenager of this milestone by buying a car for her. Saving for a car (preferably the entire time she has her permit) will teach her the value of setting a goal and achieving it by herself and give her a shot of confidence. These young people should also pay for their own insurance – either their own policy or as a rider on their parents' policy.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

13. Remember that teens with HFA take longer to mature than their neurotypical peers. During those 16-18 years, moms and dads are responsible for teaching their teens how to survive in the adult world. Developing good money habits and taking responsibility for their own financial well-being is best achieved by these adolescents before they truly have to manage on their own so that their transition to adulthood has fewer speed bumps and considerably less heartache.

14. Skip the power struggles. Instead of trying to control your special needs adolescent (e.g., “Get upstairs and do that homework now”), place the control on yourself (e.g., “I’ll be happy to drive you to the mall after you do your homework”).

15. Teach your teenager how to balance a checkbook and budget her money. It's important that she learns by trial and error before she turns 18 and starts making choices as a grown-up. In an era of easy credit and payment plans, the temptation to spend more than they earn hits younger target markets every year, and it is never too early to teach adolescents how to resist those offers. Your adolescent should open a checking account as soon as she starts working (even if she is only babysitting) and should be saving 10% of her earnings. Also, you might want to assist your teen with choosing a checking account.

16. Teens with HFA should begin to think about viable employment by at least the 10th grade. Experience working with others and handling workplace conflicts is critical to developing the work ethic and job skills they need when they enter the adult workplace. Many part-time jobs can be secured by working as an unpaid intern first. Summer camp programs, park and recreation departments, landscaping companies, and recreation businesses will often use free labor, and volunteering opens the door to an eventual paid position. By the time these teens are 15, they should be working part-time in preparation for life beyond school, when they will have to juggle work and family responsibilities. Colleges like to see regular student employment on their applications because it shows dedication, responsibility, and maturity!




17. The next time you talk to your adolescent about an issue, help her to reason on how her choices reflect on her. For example, instead of criticizing her friends, say: “What if your friend got arrested for breaking the law? How would that make you look?” Help your adolescent to see how her choices either enhance her reputation or tarnish it.

18. Under Federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), by the time a “special education” child reaches age 16, the school is to provide a plan that may include help obtaining further education, getting a job, or living independently. Moms and dads need to advocate for these services. Communicate respectfully, clearly, and often with your school's "transition coordinator" about your teenager's transition plan.
 
19. When an issue arises, try reversing roles. Ask your adolescent what advice she would give you if you were her teenager. Have her do research to come up with reasons to support—or challenge—her thinking. Discuss the matter again within a week.

20. Write down one or two areas in which you could extend a little more freedom to your  adolescent. Explain to her that you are extending this freedom on a trial basis. If she handles it responsibly, in time she can be granted more. If she does not do so, the freedoms she has been granted will be curtailed.

Launching young men and women with special needs from the family home brings some unique challenges. "Interdependence" rather than "independence" is a more fitting goal for these youth as they venture into the adult world.


==> Click here for more information on how to help your young adult on the autism spectrum to cope with life...


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> Launching Adult Children with High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

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

How to Handle "Out-of-Control" Children with ASD Level 1

"I need some strategies for dealing with an out of control 7 y.o. boy with autism [high functioning]!"

Moms and dads often ask how to deal with and help the ASD or high functioning autistic (HFA) youngster that seems to be out of control. How do you control or manage the youngster that intimidates, hits, punches and seems to enjoy torturing their siblings? What do you do with the youngster that argues, is defiant, and refuses to participate or follow directions can be difficult to live with and can create disharmony within the household?

Some moms and dads are at a loss as to what to do and where to go for help. They watch as their family life falls apart around them. They feel helpless as the defiant youngster controls the household. Moms and dads argue with each other about what to do. Some moms and dads may be afraid to go for help. 
 
They might feel that poor parenting skills have caused the problems or that they have failed as parents. Often one parent will blame the other for being too easy and letting the youngster get away with poor behavior and the other parent will feel as if the other is too harsh. It is possible for moms and dads to take control of the situation and help their youngster and their family. But it is hard work and many times a long road.

Believe In Yourself. Moms and dads know their children better than anyone. They see their potential, they see their strengths and they see their weaknesses. A teacher sees your youngster every day, but only in a certain location. They do not share the same history as a parent and an HFA youngster. You may become frustrated watching your youngster misbehave, but you have also seen your youngster sit quietly next to you on the couch and read a book. 
 
You see both the good and the bad in your youngster, and sometimes it can be confusing. Believe in your assessment of the situation. If you see something wrong, and you feel as if there is some unknown cause behind the bad behavior, seek help. Believe in yourself as a parent.


Disengage Yourself From Power Struggles At Home. This is probably the most difficult to accomplish. With kids that are defiant, it is common for the youngster and parent to become involved in power struggles. Finding ways to eliminate this can help both of you to cope better with your family and home situation.

Find A Support Group. Most HFA kids can be a handful from time to time, however, raising a challenging youngster can make moms and dads feel isolated and alone. They may avoid social situations, not sure how their youngster will react. When friends get together and talk about their kids, and their successes, moms and dads raising a challenging youngster may feel out of place and alone. Not wanting to always have to report the terrible thing your youngster did yesterday, you might stop contacting family. 
 
There are other moms and dads going through the same situation. Support groups around the country and on the internet can provide an outlet for moms and dads to share experiences and talk with one another. They can create a group to help one another through the rough days and feel accepted. They can create a ring of moms and dads that can listen, understand and accept you and your youngster can do wonders in helping you to cope better at home.

Get A Complete and Accurate Diagnosis. ASD often comes along with co-existing conditions. To receive the best possible treatment, it is important to have an accurate diagnosis. Some of the common conditions would be: Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Learning Disabilities, Conduct Disorder, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. If your family physician diagnosed an autism spectrum disorder, ask for a referral to a mental health professional in your area that specializes in working with kids. 
 
You will want to have a complete evaluation done to determine an accurate diagnosis. Once this is completed, you can work with the doctors, or team of professionals, to create a specific treatment plan for your youngster. This may include counseling or therapy, medication, educational interventions and monitoring by a psychiatrist. Don’t stop until you are satisfied with the diagnosis.

Research the Diagnosis. After you are satisfied that you have received an accurate diagnosis, spend time researching and finding out as much as you can about the disorder. Use the support group you found to talk with other moms and dads. Talk to the psychologist/psychiatrist about treatment options. Don’t accept the advice of one practitioner or one other parent. 
 
Read everything you can find and determine what treatment would work best for your youngster and your family. Each youngster on the spectrum is unique in their display of symptoms and intensity of symptoms. Use this knowledge to work with the doctor to develop a treatment plan that is specific to your youngster’s needs.

Rule Out Physical Causes. Talk with your physician about exactly what is going on and have a complete physical for your youngster. Rule out any physical causes.

Seek A Tutor/Special Education/IEP or Section 504.HFA kids with behavioral problems often struggle in school. Some may have specific learning disabilities. Even without a learning disability, school may be difficult because of other symptoms such as distractibility. Request an educational evaluation to determine accommodations or modifications your youngster may be eligible for. Work closely with teachers and other school personnel to help your youngster succeed in school.

Teaching self-control skills is one of the most important things that moms and dads can do for their youngsters because these are some of the most important skills for success later in life.


Helping HFA Youngsters Learn Self-Control—

By learning self-control, youngsters can make appropriate decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that can yield positive outcomes.

For example, if you say that you're not serving ice cream until after dinner, your youngster may cry, plead, or even scream in the hopes that you will give in. But with self-control, your youngster can understand that a temper tantrum means you'll take away the ice cream for good and that it's wiser to wait patiently.

Here are a few suggestions on how to help youngsters learn to control their behavior:

Up to Age 2—

ASD infants and toddlers get frustrated by the large gap between the things they want to do and what they're able to do. They often respond with temper tantrums. Try to prevent outbursts by distracting your little one with toys or other activities. For youngsters reaching the 2-year-old mark, try a brief timeout in a designated area — like a kitchen chair or bottom stair — to show the consequences for outbursts and teach that it's better to take some time alone instead of throwing a tantrum.

Ages 3 to 5—

You can continue to use timeouts, but rather than enforcing a specific time limit, end timeouts once your HFA youngster has calmed down. This helps youngsters improve their sense of self-control. And praise your youngster for not losing control in frustrating or difficult situations.

Ages 6 to 9—

As HFA youngsters enter school, they're better able to understand the idea of consequences and that they can choose good or bad behavior. It may help your youngster to imagine a stop sign that must be obeyed and think about a situation before responding. Encourage your youngster to walk away from a frustrating situation for a few minutes to cool off instead of having an outburst.

Ages 10 to 12—

Older youngsters on the spectrum usually better understand their feelings. Encourage them to think about what's causing them to lose control and then analyze it. Explain that sometimes the situations that are upsetting at first don't end up being so awful. Urge youngsters to take time to think before responding to a situation.

Ages 13 to 17—

By now  teens on the spectrum should be able to control most of their actions. But remind teens to think about long-term consequences. Urge them to pause to evaluate upsetting situations before responding and talk through problems rather than losing control, slamming doors, or yelling. If necessary, discipline your teen by taking away certain privileges to reinforce the message that self-control is an important skill.

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

When Youngsters On the Spectrum Are Out of Control—

As difficult as it may be, resist the urge to yell when you're disciplining your youngsters. Instead, be firm and matter of fact. During a youngster's meltdown, stay calm and explain that yelling, throwing a tantrum, and slamming doors are unacceptable behaviors that have consequences — and say what those consequences are.

Your actions will show that tantrums won't get youngsters the upper hand. For example, if your youngster gets upset in the grocery store after you've explained why you won't buy candy, don't give in — thus demonstrating that the tantrum was both unacceptable and ineffective.

Also, consider speaking to your youngster's teachers about classroom settings and appropriate behavioral expectations. Ask if problem solving is taught or demonstrated in school.

And model good self-control yourself. If you're in an irritating situation and your youngsters are present, tell them why you're frustrated and then discuss the potential solutions to the problem. For example, if you've misplaced your keys, instead of getting upset, tell your youngsters the keys are missing and then search for them together. If they don't turn up, take the next constructive step (like retracing your steps when you last had the keys in-hand). Show that good emotional control and problem solving are the ways to deal with a difficult situation.

How do you handle your child's misbehavior? After all, we all go though times when we begin to wonder, "What's going on here? My youngsters seem to be totally out of control."

Often times, poor behavior can be our youngsters' way of telling us that something feels out of control for them; so the next time you're caught off guard by repeated misbehavior, take a few moments to ask yourself the following questions:

Am I Taking Care of Myself?

This is absolutely critical. When we're not taking care of ourselves, we unwittingly send a message to our youngsters that we're not worthy of their respect. In addition, there is a direct correlation between self-care and the amount of energy and patience we have at our disposal. As a result, when we don't take care of ourselves, we can easily become "snappy" with our youngsters, and this ends up being reflected back to us through their behaviors and choices.
  • After the youngsters are in bed, make yourself a cup of tea and do nothing for awhile.
  • Give yourself a break. Hire a babysitter and get out for a few hours.
  • Take a long walk.

Are the Youngsters Reacting to Any Recent Changes in Their Lives?

Of course you already know that your kids are incredibly perceptive. And as a single parent, you also realize that, unfortunately, the changes your youngsters have to go through - such as sudden changes in their visitation schedule with the other parent - aren't always within your control. However, it's important for you to be aware that creating a positive home environment is one of your most valuable assets in encouraging your youngsters' positive behavior and choices. Think about how you can be a consistent presence in your youngsters' lives, emotionally as well as physically.
  • Acknowledge that this is difficult for your youngsters and make an effort to be gentle with them.
  • Be extra generous with your hugs and affection.
  • Do what you can to create consistency in the areas you can control.


O.K. Let's take a moment for a reality check. As a single parent, you may not be able to dedicate one-on-one time with your child on a regular basis. However, when you find yourself dealing with repeated behavior issues, try to incorporate some creative ways to build in even small chunks of "Mommy Time" or "Daddy Time" with your youngster. You'd be surprised how much even older kids crave this! It definitely requires a sacrifice of your time and attention, but it can pay huge dividends in your youngster's sense of well-being and positive decision making.
  • Develop a bedtime routine that includes talking and reading together each night.
  • Play a board game and have some fun together.
  • Turn off the TV and spend some time talking and enjoying one another.

Am I Being Consistent in My Expectations and My Reactions?

As much as you can, try to be consistent with your child's schedules and routines. Simply knowing what to expect will help him behave well. In addition, try to be consistent in your reactions to your child's behaviors. When our reactions depend on our mood, we teach our youngsters that we're unpredictable. This can add stress to your youngster and make it more difficult to exhibit self-control. In addition, your effort to be consistent shows respect and honors your relationship.
  • Develop a consistent evening routine that includes time for completing and reviewing homework.
  • Develop consistent expectations regarding time with friends and extra-curricular activities.
  • Serve dinner at roughly the same time each night.

Am I Including the Child?

When you can, try to include your child in your decision-making. So much of his life is pre-determined, particularly for kids who are in school all day. When you can, try to give your kids opportunities to make their own choices. This might be regarding what clothes they wear, to the food they eat. Having this opportunity to make a choice - even one that might seem insignificant to us - empowers your youngster to make appropriate choices. With older kids, look for opportunities to compromise when you can, realizing that there will be some non-negotiable issues.
  • Ask your youngsters for ideas about what they'd like to do together when you have time for a special outing.
  • Give your youngsters choices whenever you can.
  • Let your youngsters participate in making decisions about meals by planning and preparing dinners together.

==> More parenting methods for dealing with oppositional, defiant behavior in kids on the autism spectrum...

How to Handle Your ASD Child's Obsessions and Rituals

Question

Dear Mr. Hutten,

I appreciate all the newsletters, and have come to think that you might be able to offer advice. My son (KW- I will use his initials) is 14, and although my husband prefers to call him "normal", for me, it’s a little more reasonable to say that he has AS (as was diagnosed). I'm around him more. I see the tendency to rock, and the need to hold something in his hand, etc. There are a couple of symptoms that he does not have like having "meltdowns" in public or extreme reaction to loud noise. But he does have enough symptoms that generally I think he may have it. Whether he does or not, the advice for AS is right on the nose for him.

This is my dilemma - KW saw spit coming out of my mouth when I was speaking forcefully about his homework, and from that time has developed a sort of theory that whenever I talk I spit. From there, he started spitting in order to get rid of the germs that he thought went into his mouth. (I really apologize if this is a bit too gross). So now he softly allows saliva to fall onto his clothes or book or whatever.

I of course told him that spitting in that fashion was not ok and have gone to great lengths to tell him only babies spit, or "you did not do that when you were 12, why do you do it now?" I tried many different things, including explaining that his practice does not aid in getting rid of germs. But it is such a habit at this point. Also, along the same line of reasoning, he covers his food with his hand whenever I come near to avoid getting my germs on it. This really breaks my heart. But that’s what "he's into" at the moment.

He also was becoming obsessed with some sort of problem with his face. He's a genuinely good looking boy. However, there is something that he finds unacceptable. He was getting very upset and started looking at himself in the mirror and yelling something like "NO, no, no." Anyway, I tried to tell him that he was handsome but he would not accept that. He was really very upset and even cried. Then I told him something about hormones at his age causing the trouble. Anyway, he came up with another "theory" of sorts that his life is devastated because he is forced to accept something about himself that he cannot accept.

Up until he found out there was not going to be a spiderman 4, he was into blogging about Spiderman on the internet. But when he found out it was over, he lost his area of interest. Now he has no hobby and I think that these issues have become his hobby.

I wish I had been more wise a few years ago and that I could still hug him, but that is not the case. He will initiate conversation with me when he has something to say, but so often the conversation I initiate is centered around the daily task of getting homework done, or picking up or something. I am practically like his enemy. But the problem is that if he does not talk to me, then he spends his whole time at home just daydreaming, which is getting worse in terms of the amount of time and he is really tuning out.

I am thinking that maybe he needs counseling. When I went to a counselor a couple years ago he told me that if my son has AS, (no diagnosis back then) then the only counseling he could do is to help the parents. But at school there is a really great special ed teacher who works with KW on various social situations and is making some progress. I thought maybe someone could help him come to terms with these issues. My husband is not able to face it right now. And I have blown my relationship with KW by pushing him to get through the daily tasks.

This is my third attempt to write this letter. No matter how I write it, it seems like something that is not reasonable to send. Yet I keep trying. So I am going to send it as-is this time and not rewrite it again.

Thank you for your time.

J.

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Answer

I see two issues here: (1) obsessions/rituals and (2) low self-esteem.

Rituals and obsessions are one of the hallmarks of ASD (high-functioning autism). In order to cope with the anxieties and stresses about the chaotic world around them, kids often obsess and ritualize their behaviors to comfort themselves. While some kids may spend their time intensely studying one area, others may be compulsive about cleaning, lining up items or even doing things which put them or others in danger.

Here are some suggestions to help:

1. Be prepared for resistance by arming yourself with suggestions and alternatives to your youngster's behavior. A great way of doing this is by creating a "social story". Carol Gray's Social Stories site is a great resource for parents and educators alike to create books which will modify behavior in kids with autistic spectrum disorders.

2. Choose your battles wisely. Breaking an obsession or ritual is like running a war campaign. If not planned wisely or if you attempt to fight on many fronts, you're guaranteed to fail. Not only is it time consuming and tiring, it means you can't devote 100% to each particular area. So, if you have a youngster with a game obsession, a phobia of baths and bedtime troubles, choose only one to deal with. Personally, and I have had that choice, I dealt with the bedtime troubles. Using logic, a sleep deprived youngster certainly isn't going to deal with behavioral modification in other areas well. Plus, it was having an effect on his overall health. Deal with the worst first!

3. Communicate with your youngster to explain the effect that his or her ritual is having on your family as a whole. My child's 2am wake-up calls were affecting me mentally, emotionally and physically, and I told him so. I pulled some research off the internet about sleep needs and discussed this with him.

4. Speak to professionals for advice. Contact your pediatrician for recommendations for behavior therapists. Your local parent support groups and national associations, such as the National Autistic Society, will not only provide you support but the information you need to move forward with your youngster.

5. When breaking an obsession or ritual, examine the ways that you may have fed into this. With my child's bedtime activities, I found I was too tired to fight his waking up at 2am. While dealing with this ritual, I ensured I was in bed early myself so I had enough sleep in me to knock his night owl tendencies on the head.

6. When tackling any problem with any youngster, Aspergers or not, it's always best to remain calm at all times. Kids can feed off your anger, frustration and anxiety, so keeping a level head at all times is essential. If you feel a situation is escalating and elevating your blood pressure, take a step back and collect yourself.

Some Practical Tips to Build Healthy Self-Esteem—

1. Always comment on any procedure that is done well, but aim not to comment when it is poorly done!

2. Ask permission to comment on their progress from your perspective.

3. Ask permission to work with them on any improvements they think might be necessary.

4. Avoid using words that denote something is ‘bad’, ‘rubbish’, ‘a mess’, ‘awful’, ‘could be better’, ‘poor’, or ‘incompetent’. Individuals with AS can be quick to pick up on all that they are not, rather than on what they are or could be!

5. Discuss with your child/spouse how they view their own achievements and/or progress.

6. Focus in on the successes, not the failures, mistakes or ‘could be improved’.

7. If they think they are ‘the best’, ask them to explore their reasoning with you.

8. If they think they are ‘the worst’, ask them to explore their reasoning with you. Be careful not to use ‘why’ questions and always frame or structure your question so that they have a framework to respond in. Avoid open-ended questions -- we don’t know how to answer them!

9. Never assume that your comments for their improvement will be welcome, either ask to be invited to comment or share your own experience with them, if allowed to, being careful NOT to compare yours to theirs. Just state the facts.

10. Offer lots and lots of positive reinforcement. I don’t mean bribes, but well-timed approval is terrific. Not only does it let us know that we are OK, but it's’ useful in teaching us what the most appropriate response might be. An example taken from personal experience is: "He always monopolizes the dinner table conversation, so one day I waited for a pause as he was eating, and I said, ‘you know Kyle, you talk much less at the table than you used to, and sometimes you listen to what others say and follow the dinner conversation’."

Good luck,

Mark

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