Some teens with Asperger’s syndrome (AS) have problems with anger. For those with AS, a number of factors can contribute to anger issues:
- Difficulty communicating or expressing emotion
- Over- or under- stimulation
- Logical, linear thinking process which causes frustration when things are not done “just so”
- Not understanding socially appropriate reactions
Anger is a normal human emotion. Everyone gets angry from time to time, but unmanaged anger can get your teen into trouble. Recognizing the signs that anger is getting out of control is the first step to learning to manage your emotions. Some of the signs include:
- Aggressive or violent reactions when angry or upset
- Not being able to let go of the angry feelings
- You anger easily, even with things that are mildly annoying
- Self-destructive behaviors
Tips for Parents
If your teen’s emotional outbursts are so frequent that your home feels like a battleground or if your teens anger is getting him in to trouble at school, you may want to talk with your medical professional or a behavior therapist to help your teen learn to better manage his emotions. There are also some ways parents can help teach anger control:
Help your teen learn the benefits of learning anger control. Aspies are very logical and often need a reason to change. Explain, in ways he can understand, the benefits of managing his emotions. Point out times he got into trouble because he acted out when frustrated or when he wasn’t able to do something because of his behavior. Discuss the social impact, explaining that peers may begin to avoid him. Use straight forward language, giving him reasons that controlling his emotions will make his life better.
Help him understand when it is appropriate to be annoyed and when it is appropriate to be angry. For example, if someone is hitting or hurting him, he may feel angry but if someone is better than him at a subject in school or a video game, it is not appropriate to get angry.
Keep an anger diary. Have your teen write down situations where he became angry, listing what happened that caused the anger and his reaction. This can help him learn triggers and help foster discussions on what he could have done differently.
Teach alternative behaviors. Rather than simply telling your teen what he can’t do, such as “You can’t hit your brother,” provide alternatives. You might say, “You can’t hit your brother but you can go outside for a walk, write in your journal or go to another room and focus on what you want to do.” Let him know while you think his opinions, thoughts and feelings are important, he needs to find a more positive way to express them.
Provide different relaxation techniques to help your teen calm himself down. Your Aspie may not know how to stop himself from being angry once his emotions get out of control. Help him learn techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or other relaxation strategies that will help remove him from the situation and defuse.
Make sure your Aspie is exercising on a regular basis. Exercise is a great stress reliever and has been found to decrease depression and anxiety. Today, video games offer fit programs or you may want to join a local gym which can give the added benefit of social skills practice.
For some people, the act of chewing helps them relax. Have your Aspie use foods such as celery, carrots or gum as a way to calm down.
Keep your home calm. Chaotic and hectic environments can be over-stimulating for Aspies. Make your home a place your Aspie can relax and unwind. Some families find reducing the clutter to reduce sensory input and creating a “calm space” in their Aspie’s bedroom helps.
Teach specific steps to take when he feels anger building. These steps might be:
- Take a deep breath
- Think about why you are mad
- Decide if your thoughts are accurate or if there can be different interpretations
- Think about all possible reactions
- Choose the best option
- If not able to defuse the situation, walk away
Aspies often work well with specific steps to follow but it is important to include your teen in coming up with the specific steps.
If your teen reacts inappropriately, wait until the incident is over (unless someone is in danger of getting hurt) to address what happened. Once he is calm, discuss how he could have better handled the situation and what he could do differently next time.
The Aspie Teen’s Survival Guide: Candid Advice for Teens, Tweens and Parentsfrom a Young Man with Asperger’s Syndrome,2010 , J.D. Kraus, Future Horizons
Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome: A Practical Guide to Day-to-Day Life, 2008, Nancy J. Patrick, Jessica Kingsley Publications
“Tips for Parents of Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome,” Date Unknown, Stephaine Loo, Asperger’s Association of New England
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.