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Your Asperger Child: Preventing Problems Rather Than Reacting to Them

Third, reinforcers will need to be very individualized, as the Asperger child or teen often does not respond to typical reinforcers. You must be well aware of what your child views as a reward. Incorporating obsessions into a reinforcement system is an appropriate way of offering a strong reinforcer and of also controlling access to an obsession. You need to make sure your child is aware of how the reward/consequence system works. Natural consequences can also be highly effective and will remove the "giving" or "denying" of the reward from you. An example of a natural consequence is: "If you finish your morning routine within a certain time limits you will have time to watch a favorite TV show before school. If you take too long, you will not be able to watch the show." Favored activities should follow less favored or challenging activities. A word of caution: reinforcers can also cause difficulties if they are used too frequently. Not only will they lose some of their potency, but struggles can arise over the giving or not giving of the reward.

Daily Routine
Fourth, at both home and in school, develop a daily routine so that your child knows what he is doing and when. Posting the schedule and reviewing it when your child becomes "stuck" can provide the necessary prompt to move on. In addition, compliance is not a struggle between you and your child, but rather simply a matter of following the schedule. The individual views the schedule as a guide. As noted, a guide will always serve to decrease anxiety, which in turn decreases behavior issues. I have heard my students tell visitors who enter our classroom, "That's our schedule; don't erase it or we won't know what to do." This is said even by students with excellent memories, who from the first week of school could perfectly recite the daily schedule for each day of the week (again, during sabotage, a goal will be to decrease the importance of the schedule as the year progresses).

The important detail is to review the schedule. We have seen many situations where detailed schedules are written, but never regularly and carefully reviewed with the child. As you review the schedule, you not only lessen anxiety, but you also provide an opportunity to discuss appropriate responding. When you develop a schedule at home, you may number the items on it, such as 1, 2, 3, but try to avoid assigning times to each event or activity. It is often difficult to do things to the minute, and failure to do so can lead to further upset for an Asperger child. You may also choose to establish a routine for only a small portion of the day, if you feel a day-long schedule would be too great a change for your child. For example, you might create a schedule for an activity, such as going to the mall, as an easier place to start. For a teen, rather than using a written schedule, you could use a desk calendar or day planner. Again, this accomplishes the goal of providing a visual guide. We will discuss the use of schedules in greater detail later on in this chapter.

The creation of this environment will take time and will require you to examine more details than you knew existed in any environment. Your reward, however, will be the miracle of watching your child leave his anxieties and problematic behaviors behind. You will see him begin to really trust you and take chances he never thought he could. You will witness his gradual and steady steps into a larger world.

Using Language
It's time to expand your ideas of how to use language and to explore how you can use it as a powerful tool to decrease anxiety and increase compliance. Remember, gain your child's attention before you begin to speak. You should be physically close to him (though not in his personal space) and, for the young child, on his eye level. Your language should convey meaning, provide the "road map" or "game plan," and enable your child to respond more appropriately. These children don't have the road map we all have and take for granted, which allows us to maneuver in the world around us. Language used in a concrete, predictable manner becomes a way to teach alternative behaviors. For example, even after social skills training, saying to Max, age nine, "Today after school, Mom is taking you to the playground to make and play with a new friend," doesn't provide enough information. He doesn't know what that means or what is expected of him. Instead, I would provide Max with the following "game plan."

"How to Make Friends"
Mrs. G.: Today your job is to go to the playground to make a new friend. You will use the rules we learned for making a friend. What do you have to do first?

Max: Look for a child my own age, go up to him, get his attention, and say, "Hi, my name is Max. What's your name?" He will tell me his name and I'll say, "Hi. Do you want to shoot baskets?"

Mrs. G.: That's great. Max, it is also important to remember the rules for shooting baskets. Do you remember any of the rules?

Max: I remember we take turns and we have to decide how many times we can shoot in a row. But how will we decide who goes first?

Mrs. G.: Would you be okay letting the other child go first? Then you could ask him, "Is it okay if I pick how many shots we can do in a row?"

Max: Yes, I can be okay with that.

Mrs. G.: Remember, Max, you can pick one to four for how many shots you can take in a row. You can't pick more than that; it wouldn't make sense. Okay?

Max: That's okay.

Mrs. G.: You also have to decide where you will stand when you shoot baskets.

Max: The playground has a shooting mark on the ground – I saw other kids use it. That would be fair.

Mrs. G.: I agree with you, Max. That would be a good way to decide.

Notice above that I review the rules for shooting baskets, such as how to decide who will go first, how to take turns. Even if they have been discussed before, generalization won't occur without guidance. Remember, a problem planned for is a problem avoided.

We would also practice some simple scripts to be used in conversation. Developing language scripts to be used in novel social situations is a crucial element of any preparation technique.

Mrs. G.: What could you and your new friend talk about? Remember, conversations go back and forth. You will need to ask questions and make comments. Do you have any ideas?

Max: I can tell him all about geography. You know I can name all the states and their capitals.

Mrs. G.: Max, we talked about this before. The states are very interesting to you, but they are not interesting to other children. Other children would only talk about the states if they were doing a report for school or if they were going to a particular state to visit. You need to pick a topic that will be interesting to the person you are talking to. Can you think of anything a boy your age, shooting baskets, might be interested in?

Max: I think he might be interested in sports.

Mrs. G.: That's a great idea. Could you talk to him about basketball and other sports? What could you ask him?

Max: I could ask him if he goes to basketball games, because then he would ask me, so I could tell him I go with my dad. Could I ask him his favorite team?

Mrs. G.: Yes, that is a great question. Then you could tell him your favorite team. Also, when you are shooting baskets, make sure you comment on his shots with nice statements. Can you give me some examples?

Max: "Good shot. I liked that shot." I could even say, "You can have another try" when he misses.

Mrs. G.: Max, you have some great comments and questions. Just remember about going back and forth.

Notice I never just say, "Do this . . ." or accept yes/no answers. I make sure each step is clearly outlined and that Max tells me exactly what he will say or do. The above sequence may involve even more examples depending on the age, prior social experiences, and conversational skills of the particular child. Finally, we would work on a plan in case the first child rejects the play offer.

Mrs. G.: Max, what would you do if the child you ask to play says no?

Max: I would ask again and again. Then he would play.

Mrs. G.: If you do that, the child will think you are a pest [it's good to have a previously decided keyword that illustrates a given type of behavior] and will never want to play with you. Remember, the rule is, if a child tells you they don't want to play, you have to walk away and find another child to ask. You can only ask a child once to play.

Now when Max goes to the playground to make a friend he has a plan to follow.



Next: Reframing >>
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From Parenting Your Asperger Child by Alan Sohn, Ed.D., and Cathy Grayson, M.A. Copyright 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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