Tips on Parenting a Child with Aspergers
Every child is unique and comes with their own unique challenges, and having a child who has been diagnosed with Aspergers is no different. For a child with Aspergers navigating the world can be difficult or even painful. So many things we take for granted are just not accommodating to a child with sensory issues, for example. How can you help your child learn to cope with these frustrations and come out on the other side successful?
Aspergers is also known as HFA (High Functioning Autism) is on the Autism spectrum. Children and adults diagnosed with Aspergers may have trouble with social interactions and social norms like making eye-contact or carrying on a seamless conversation. They may have difficulty making or keeping friends. Sensory issues are rampant, anything your child sees, hears, touches, tastes, or smells may cause problems for them. Family meal time can feel like a battle to survive, and going anywhere like school, the grocery store, or the park may feel impossible. There is hope! With some help from professionals and some adjustments, life can go from a struggle to mostly smooth sailing.
The first step is to take advantage of any professional help available to you. You may seek out therapists to help your child learn to cope with the strong emotional and physical effects that can stem from being different, and learning skills to get through interactions as painlessly as possible. Once your child is in school they will likely provide some kind of support as well, make sure you talk to the disability coordinator or disability advocate at your school to get your child on a learning plan that can help teach the school how to accommodate them so they can thrive in this learning environment. Training for parents and caregivers is a great idea as well, as it can be difficult to understand what your child is going through if you haven’t experienced it yourself.
Most people with Aspergers like to have routines and know what is expected to happen. By making sure that surprises and schedule changes are kept to a minimum you can relieve some of your child’s anxieties.
There will be a lot of things your child does not like to do because they are severely uncomfortable. Try to pick your battles and make sure you’re not forcing them to do something for the wrong reasons. For example, if your child dislikes certain textures of foods maybe there is another way to prepare them that will still support nutritional goals but without causing problems.
Let your child have favorites. Some kids with Aspergers get very into a hobby, not only is it emotionally comforting for them it can be a way for them to explore the world on their terms. Let them have fun with this even if what they are doing doesn’t make much sense to you. Support them in their interests as much as possible, knowing that this may be their solace from a world that is hard to handle at times.
Help your child with staying organized and making decisions. Executive functioning is the ability to manage time or make decisions on priorities on large projects and people with Aspergers can use a little help here. While you may tell a neurotypical child to clean their room and expect to come back and find it done, that expectation isn’t always appropriate for a child with HFA. You may need to break the task down into smaller, simpler tasks for a younger child or make a checklist for an older child to refer to. “Pick up all the dirty laundry and put it in the basket” is an example of a smaller task that you might suggest first when a child is cleaning their room. Teaching your child to use a planner and outlining a general routine for the day can be helpful and comforting. A young child may be unable to use a planner though, so making a list with pictures so they can see what order things will come in might be a good idea.
Processing time can be longer for someone with Aspergers because they are not just listening to your directions but also trying to ignore or cope with other things going on in their mind and body like sensory issues. When you give an instruction be patient, it can take a little bit of time for your child to process it. This is especially true if your child also has Auditory Processing Disorder which is common for people with Aspergers. In Auditory Processing Disorders the connection between the ear and the brain is a little delayed. Your child’s hearing is fine, but it can take up to a few seconds for their brain to “tell them” what you said. You may notice your child asking “what?” but then seconds later saying “oh, no never mind” because their brain finally processed what you said. Be patient. Waiting a little while instead of getting frustrated can help you both.
Make plans with your child’s needs in mind. What may be a fun day at the water park for you can turn into a nightmare for your child. Make sure you plan times for breaks away from crowds and noise so they can have some time to recover. When buying clothes or shoes try to avoid anything that you have previously noticed was uncomfortable. You may need to take shorter trips to the store or find someone to care for your child while you go. Remember their tolerance level may be less than yours and getting mad or punishing them for acting out will only make things worse for both of you at the moment.
Set expectations for behavior that are reasonable and easy to adapt to. Acting out or having meltdowns can almost always be avoided by planning ahead and making sure your child is receiving good feedback about the day’s agenda, trying to make time and space for them, and not over-stressing them, but sometimes things just have to be done and there aren’t really any accommodations to be made. It is in these times that your child may become overwhelmed and act out. It can be tempting to punish them and treat these outbursts like tantrums, but remember your child is reacting to the situation in the only way they currently know how. It’s important to focus on learning new ways to deal with these emotions, and therapy can help. At the moment, try to remove your child from the situation to a quiet place, validate their feelings and let them try to self-calm. Remind them that this is only momentary and help them through their anxiety by reassuring them about what comes next in the day. After a meltdown is over and you have some space from it, go back and talk to your child. Find out if they felt it coming on and then ask them to alert you early to these feeling so you can take breaks before trouble starts. Learning to notice when they are ramping up to a meltdown is a life skill your child will need forever, so start early helping them learn to accept and deal with these feelings before it’s too late.
Growing up with Aspergers can be a challenge, but it’s nothing you can’t handle with a little patience, kindness, and learning coping skills. Remember to take care of yourself too, take breaks when you need to, and reach out for help from friends or professionals as needed. You know your child better than anyone else ever could, so if something is worrying you or you feel like things are out of control to reach out to your child’s doctor and ask questions. You are your child’s best advocate.