Parenting children and teens with Asperger's syndrome (AS) is a challenge. Often, this diagnosis goes unnoticed until a child reaches puberty or later because symptoms are not as prevalent as others on the autism spectrum, leaving parents confused about behaviors like meltdowns, the inability to make friends and sometimes not quite "getting" what is going on around them.
Parents muddle through these years, not quite knowing how to react to these behaviors, learning and adapting as they go. While a diagnosis finally offers an explanation to the sometimes troublesome behaviors, it doesn't automatically give parents the understanding to cope with and manage behaviors common to children with AS. The following tips may help:
Understand what AS is and isn't. If you know what types of behaviors are attributed to AS can help you better cope. For example, children with AS frequently exhibit the following:
- Trouble making eye contact
- May interact better with adults than children
- May seem unemotional at times and show extreme emotion at others
- Underdeveloped motor skills
- Intense preoccupation with a certain object or topic
- Difficulty making friends or sustaining friendships
- Need for structure and rules
- Difficulty generalizing and understanding abstract concepts
Remember that all behavior is communication. Before reacting to behaviors that may seem "out-of-control" or similar to a spoiled child having a tantrum, think about what your child is trying to say. Communication can be difficult for Aspies; a meltdown may be telling you your child is overwhelmed or frustrated.
Explain expectations clearly and logically. Because Aspies have a hard time understanding concepts, state what you want in simple terms. For example, rather than saying "clean your room" provide your child with a list of a few tasks, such as: make your bed and pick up your toys. Once those are completed, provide several more tasks until the job is complete.
When dealing with a meltdown, focus first on helping your child calm down. Don't try to explain what he is doing right or wrong in the middle of the meltdown, wait until he is calm to talk to him about what he could have done differently.
Focus on behaviors you want rather than criticizing behaviors you don't. Create an environment that rewards appropriate behavior, not one that punishes wrong behavior. Use rewards that are immediate and frequent, letting your child know exactly what types of behaviors you want to see.
Plan ahead and let your child know what the plan entails. For example, if you are going on a family outing, let your child know what time you are leaving, what you will be doing and what time you expect to arrive home. Providing an itinerary will help him cope with the changes in his normal schedule. If your plans change or need to be adjusted, let your child know as soon as possible and give him time to adapt to the new schedule. When transitioning from one activity to another, give warnings so he can be ready to move to the new activity.
Teach your child social skills. Children without AS can often pick up on social cues and have a general understanding of how to interact with other children. Your child does not. Help him learn the steps for introducing himself to another child, how to ask someone to play, what to say when he is done playing.
Find small groups, clubs or classes that focus on your child's special interests. If your child is interested in airplanes, look for clubs for flying model airplanes in your area. Aspies are often more willing to talk with others if the conversation revolves around their special interest. These types of groups will give your child a place to practice social skills while enjoying learning more about their interest.
Observe how other children your child's age are acting and talk to him about what they are doing and why. For young children, you can spend some time at the playground, watching the other children and pointing out how they interact with one another. Teens may not be interested in sitting with you at the local mall, so you may need to watch videos and movies about teen life and discuss why the teens are acting in certain ways.
Be prepared for situations that overwhelm your child. Being proactive and developing strategies to help your child better manage frustration or overstimulation may help reduce the number of meltdowns that occur. Have a designated place at home (and at school) where your child can go to calm down when feeling overwhelmed.
Most of all, remember to focus on your child's positive traits. Celebrate and encourage his unique way of looking at the world. Appreciate his humor, his creativity and his passion. Take the time to talk with him and learn about his perspective on the world around him. AS may sometimes make life more difficult but it does not change who your child is and your love for him.
Published On: December 21, 2011