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Asperger Syndrome: Some Common Questions (page 3)

By — MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Updated on Sep 10, 2009

How do you draw the line between an 8 year old trying to get away with something, and a boy doing what he is doing because he has AS?

I think in a way that's been answered. AS is a difference, but not a license to do whatever you want to do. If they want to do what they want to do, then often we use a timer. If they're watching TV, we often say, "you can watch TV for 15 minutes" — one day it's 10 minutes, and other it's 15 minutes — it's very inconsistent. The child knows that if it's your opinion of when it stops, they can use emotional blackmail to get you to change your mind. That's why we get a timer, "okay, you've got 15 minutes, and when the timer goes off, that's the end." I read in a computer magazine the other day about a wonderful computer program that you can load onto your computer, and every so often, it flashes a message across the screen, "time to take a break, you've been on this long enough." That's what they want! It's not you, the computer says "I've had enough, I need a break, you must go have a cup of tea!" And then they'll believe it! So find one of those programs. So, we use a timer in that process, so it's the timer that says you've got to stop, not you in that situation.

What about the child who says no to every proposed appointment - medical, dental, eye, even school at times - as well as to most proposed family outings. Should we force him, persuade him, give up, leave him home alone?

Probably what's happening with that child is fear of new circumstances. Any new circumstance is fraught with danger of making a mistake, hard work of working out the cues and what to do - there's change, there's no script. In other words, where others would like variety and novelty, here the person wants consistency and predictability.

What you've got is a child who needs knowledge and scripting. I talked earlier about Social Stories by Carol Gray. What you would do is create a Social Story about where you're going. If it's to the dentist, you'd write a Social Story about that, why you're going, what the person is going to do, what's going to happen next, etc. By writing that story, illustrating it, and going through it, that child is more likely to be scripted in what's going to happen, so it's giving that information.

It means you have to anticipate. You start off with some minor excursion somewhere that's short and sweet, and keep it successful. It means throughout the process, the parent has got to think ahead. You've got to think like your child, and before you go round that corner, you've got to know what they're going to be concerned about, what's going to happen. So when Auntie Joan comes up and goes "oh, let's give him a kiss," you grab her quick, and just push him off to the side, knowing that will upset him in that situation. You have to think ahead in that, or, you write a Social Story that Auntie Joan is going to give you a big hug, it's going to be very quick, then you pull back, say thank you Auntie Joan, and I'll take you upstairs and you can play.

I meant to say that this boy is 14 years old. . .

If he's 14, I'd also be looking at whether his world is actually shrinking, because he may be aware at 14 of his differences, and retreating from the world, so I'd also be looking at some of the signs of depression as a possibility at this stage. That lack of interest in other activities, etc. may be a sign of depression.

With a teenager at 14, I would look for that because often at 14 not only is it a time of hormonal change - but he may be going through an insight into being different. So, he may need a bit of help in that area too.

What is the best way to handle meltdowns and temper tantrums with youngsters?

With the temper tantrums, you may know with an individual that a certain situation is fraught with frustration, and potential anger. You know that the stress and strain of school days, which are so long and arduous - it's like a compressed spring. It's compressed, and compressed, and compressed, and when they get home, there's an explosion, and there's that Jeckyl and Hyde component. You may know that after school, it may be a time for going for a run, going for a walk, watching a TV program, or whatever it is, to get it out of their system, to debrief or to get rid of that tension.

There are ways that parents may pick up the signs — it may be rigid thinking, it may be being intolerant of imperfection - but there are warning signs that this person is starting to get agitated. So, in other words, the circumstances or warning signs may be a clue.

However, with AS, there are times when it comes out of the blue. When you have no expectation that it's going to occur, that it's out of proportion to the situation - it takes everybody by surprise. Often what occurs is that it's very, very intense, but brief, and at the end of it - "I'm fine, why are you crying? Why are you upset, I'm all right now" - not realizing that with that whole process, everybody else is unstable for some time. What you have to go through is a program on emotions and anger management for that individual, so that they can, hopefully, telegraph their anger before hand in more constructive ways.

We use what we call constructive destruction — it's basically vandalism, and it's what teenagers do because they hate the system, they will wreck things — so we call it recycling. One child we have has major problems with his mood swings, which seem to go up and down quite phenomenally, and includes periods of severe anger. But when he's coming up to those periods of anger, he's got cans to crush, telephone directories to tear up, there are all sorts of things that he's recycling because he's fascinated by the environment, geography, and recycling. He can be channeled to do that and feel better, having done that sort of mini-vandalism to get it out of his system.

Anger is an issue, because it can be the one reason that children are expelled from school. They may be okay with their school work, they may be reasonably coping with their social life, but if you have one or two periods of anger, especially if somebody is hurt, then you're often excluded from school. So, there are a number of kids, especially in adolescence, because of one or two episodes where the person has been teased, or has been wanting to join in a group, or misunderstood circumstances, that the anger and the intensity of it gets everybody frightened about the situation. So there are areas in anger management that need to be gone through, but really it requires someone with expertise in both AS and emotions.

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