8 Tips for Parents of Children with Asperger’s Syndrome
People with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty with the social aspects of life and often have inappropriate responses to social situations. One of the major problems for children with Asperger’s Syndrome is understanding social cues in a given situation. Parents often struggle trying to find the best ways to help their Asperger’s child; it takes time, patience, practice and compassion.
While many parents notice something unusual in their child quite early, most try to explain “unorthodox” behavior of their child by all possible reasons except for the most likely one. When the fact that something is wrong becomes obvious, parents bring their child for psychological assessment. Accepting the diagnosis is a very difficult step. Denial that your child has Asperger’s will not help, the sooner you accept the reality, the better for you or your child.
The following tips can be useful for parents of Asperger’s children:
- Do not coddle or shelter your child from any situation that might set him/her off. Exposing your child to social situations will allow opportunities for both of you to work through them. With your guidance and over time, your child will be able to learn what the appropriate behaviors are in various situations. In addition, learn what your child’s triggers are to better prepare yourself to diffuse or alter a possible meltdown or display of undesired behavior(s).
- Be clear in your explanations of expected and/or desired behaviors when the situations arise. Do not expect that your child should know how to behave in different social situations and settings. Walk them through (thoroughly, but with the use of age-appropriate language) appropriate behaviors as well as emotional responses in accordance with the given social situations. You will have to repeat your explanations, but with time, your child should have a better understanding of the social skills necessary to achieve positive social interactions in diverse situations.
- Embrace your child’s passion, creativity, humor and energy when he/she exhibits it. With so much attention on changing your child’s behavior, you have to remember to celebrate the amazing traits of his/her personality. Children will notice the negative attention they are receiving as well as how much work they need to do to be able to enjoy a social life. Use every opportunity to admire your child for the qualities that make them special, talented and loveable. You may forget how important positive reinforcement is when you’re preoccupied with anxiety over the next Asperger’s instance.
- Your goal should always be to diffuse the situation. Going head to head with your child will never yield constructive results. If your child has an outburst in any social setting, do not yell at them because that will only make it worse. For example, if you are in a restaurant and the waitress gives your child the wrong meal, don’t yell at your child to stop screaming, crying, banging on the table or for whatever reaction he/she has in response. Ask your child to come with you and take a walk. After you’ve been successful in helping your child regain composure, have a discussion to convey to one another your child’s thoughts and emotions throughout that particular experience. Use this teachable moment to work through your child’s emotions together while coming up with different ways that they can handle a similar situation (or even the same one) in the future.
- Since you can’t be with your child all the time, give him/her helpful hints (even if you have to repeat them) by voicing them or leaving little notes in his/her lunchbox, pockets or notebook. For example, when your child goes to lunch and goes to pay the individual at the register, wrap a note around the money to remind him/her to say “thank you”. The types of notes you leave will obviously vary, but the idea is to help remind your child what to do when he/she struggles in a certain social situation.
- Provide your child with positive feedback whenever possible. If you see that your child has displayed a desirable behavior whether on his/her own or as an effort to improve on a social skill, praise your child. For example, your child gives his/her last cookie to his/her sibling; make sure you compliment your child with something along the lines of “It was so nice of you to give your last cookie to your sister. I know you really wanted it, but look how happy you made her by giving it to her”. Behaviors that are rewarding for a child will increase the likelihood that those same behaviors will be repeated in the future.
- Create a “safe word” or special phrase between you and your child to use to communicate that he/she is having trouble with or is confused by a situation. This “safe word” or special phrase will allow only the parent and child to know what’s going on, which protects a child’s feelings and avoids any possible humiliation that may occur. In addition, it will enable the parent and child to work together to successfully deal with the social situation/setting in the moment.
- Try to work with your child to improve both verbal and nonverbal communication. For example, while speaking with your child, continuously remind them to maintain eye contact. Explain to your child that maintaining eye contact will not only show that he/she is interested in the social interaction with the other person, but help them to detect facial expressions and possible hints about how that person feels in the moment. Since children with Asperger’s have an incredibly difficult time picking up social cues, this will take a lot of time and the ability to do this will vary between children. However, do not give up on this tip, no matter how challenging it may be.
Always remember that children don’t wish this upon themselves; Asperger’s is not their fault. As stressful, frustrating and draining as times can be, you have to remain calm without ever blaming your child. With guidance, patience, compassion and love, parents and their children can successfully live with Asperger’s… together.