of Children with Aspergers or Special Needs
Coaching your child with Aspergers or other special needs to handled
social and self control problems.
A parent writes, "Our children with Asperger Syndrome have social
and self-control difficulties. Can you offer additional advice on how
to help them cope more effectively with the world around them?"
It is not uncommon for parents to find themselves at a loss when trying
to coach life skills to their special needs children. Part of the problem
is that those responses that are so obvious and intrinsic to our behavior
patterns have not yet been firmly established in the child. This can set
in motion a response cycle that leaves the child feeling unfairly criticized
and parents feeling powerless to help. In my experience, parents are in
the best position to provide such coaching as long as they approach the
child with realistic expectations and helpful ideas.
When children are hampered by Aspergers Syndrome or other neurologically
based problems, the world may often appear as a vast puzzle that overwhelms
their senses and confounds their thinking. Abruptness, inconsistency,
and sudden disappointment can trigger immense emotional reactions that
are disproportionate and extremely troubling to those around them. Attempts
at conversation may be feeble and one-sided because it is so difficult
for them to assess empathy and perspective-taking. The ability to infer
what others expect of them is often very limited by their narrow
focus. Given these limitations, parents can help them fit the pieces
of the puzzle together by employing some of the following coaching
Explain how conversations are like taking turns at telling something
about yourself. Conversational tools include volunteering information
without being asked, pausing to allow others to speak, asking questions
that are related to the topic being discussed, and bringing up subjects
that have been covered in the past. Suggest that they observe how others
blend these elements together to form satisfying conversations. Write
out the tools on individual index cards and have them refer to the cards
as they practice having such conversations where you provide the context
and act as a peer. Once they develop some proficiency, try recording the
discussions so that they can listen to their success and identify areas
Prepare them for the sudden and unexpected by highlighting those specific
events. Life is often filled with twists and turns that more rigid children
find hard to navigate around. Explain how common these events are in everyones
life and point out their occurrences. Suggest that these are thinking
side tests in that they challenge us to think and not act upon our
feelings. Introduce the concept of say-it-to-yourself solutions
that help maintain self-control and clear thinking. For example, if a
parents possession is misplaced, use it as an opportunity to express
the solution, I know I left it somewhere in the house. When I have
the time to thoroughly look for it, I know Ill find it.
Enhance their powers of inference by using television and real life observations.
Explain how the ability to infer meaning essentially means picking up
on clues and figuring out what is going on in a situation. Facial expression,
body posture, tone of voice, eye contact, and other clues should be identified
and referred to when watching television and/or observing others from
a distance. When appropriate, suggest that you watch a show together with
the volume muted and attempt to infer what it going on between the characters.
Another variation is to watch the first half of a show, turn it off, and
discuss what may have happened during the final sequences. Look for other
inference tests involving movie previews, shapshots, and commercials
in order to increase your childs Inference Quotient.
Dr. Steven Richfield is a child
psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. His column appears monthly. He has
developed a child-friendly self-control/social skills building program called
Parent Coaching Cards. His new book is The
Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Todays Society.