Asperger's Syndrome and Difficulty with Authority Figures

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

One of the most confusing aspects of Asperger's syndrome (AS) is the strict adherence to rules but, at the same time, having a disrespect or unwillingness to accept authority figures. On one hand, Aspies are known for always wanting to follow the rules and, in some cases, calling out other students who do not follow classroom rules. On the other hand, they often question or refuse to follow rules or even accept that teachers and other authority figures have the right to create rules.

Donnie is a 15 year old with Asperger's syndrome. His teachers frequently tell his parents that he is a pleasure to have in class; he listens, always hands in his homework and follows directions to a tee. But there are times Donnie refuses to follow rules. In English class, when Donnie has completed the class work, he goes to the library to finish the reading assignment. But last week, there was a substitute teacher who wanted him to stay in the classroom to read. Donnie did not accept her right to create new rules and defiantly and loudly argued with her. She sent him to the principal's office. Donnie didn't understand what he did wrong. Her rule just didn't make any sense to him.

Donnie, like many children with AS find it hard to accept that he is not able to follow the rules that make sense to him. He doesn't accept that other's can make and enforce rules, especially when that rule isn't logical. Donnie has an internal motivation to do what is right and in some ways, sees himself as an equal with teachers. When rules don't make sense or aren't logical, he simply ignores them and continues to do what he sees as right.

Dr. Stephen Bauer, Director of The Developmental Unit of The Genesee Hospital of Rochester New York explains, "These children often do not understand rigid displays of authority or anger and will themselves become more rigid and stubborn if forcefully confronted. Their behavior can get rapidly out of control." [1] Tony Atwood, author of The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome also discusses the Aspie's sometimes defiant attitude: "Sometimes children with Asperger's syndrome perceive themselves as more adult than child. Indeed children may act in the classroom as an assistant to the teacher, correcting and disciplining the other children." [2]

Dr. Bauer discusses some ways parents and teachers can help:

  • Make classroom routines consistent, structured and predictable.

  • Rules need to be expressed clearly, preferably written down, but should also be applied with some flexibility. Rules do not need to be the same for all children, they can be changed to fit the needs of Aspies or other special needs. For some rules, you may need to explain the logic behind the rule.

  • When a power struggle ensues and escalates out of control, the parent or teacher may find it better to back off and let things cool down.

  • When possible, potential problem situations should be anticipated. Preventative action rather than reactive action can help to avoid confrontation.

  • Teachers and other authority figures should stay calm and use negotiation and offer choices or diversions to help reduce the confrontation.

Both parents and teachers should focus on discipline rather than punishment. Discipline is meant to teach and show your child how to better handle the situation the next time. Punishment alone does not often teach better behaviors.

See also: Household Rules for Teens with Asperger's Syndrome (AS)


[1] "Asperger Syndrome ," 1996, Stephen Bauer, M.D. The Developmental Unit of The Genesee Hospital at Rochester New York

[2] The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, 2008, Tony Atwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishing, London

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.