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Your child comes home from school. A question as innocent as how was your day ignites your child with Asperger’s into a meltdown the size of a volcanic eruption akin with the intensity of Mount St. Helens. If this sounds familiar, please take heed. Your child does not single you out as a missile target aimed at an enemy. It is quite the opposite.
Anger is expressed towards you versus others because of trust. This may sound odd. How could an individual express anger towards me when they trust and care about me one may ask? The child does so because they know you will accept them for good or bad. Others may ostracize the child if they display anger or frustration. Your child knows that despite their meltdowns, verbal outbursts and more, you will still be there to support them.
Thus, do not perceive meltdowns, snide comments or actions from a child with Asperger’s to be indicative of bad parenting skills. If you had not gained your child’s trust and acceptance, they would not be comfortable displaying these behaviors in front of you. It is difficult and hard not to personalize. I have walked this walk many times.
I recall asking my son how school went and receiving a comment like, “Well, Mom, that depends if you live in America or a third world country. What is defined as a good day in America is defined much differently in a third world country where people are starving and have no housing.”
Does this interaction sound familiar? Comments such as this are usually a predecessor to what could become an extremely bad afternoon for us if not defused. A verbal interaction as described above is normally a sign that my son had a difficult day and attempted to contain his feelings. Once he was in a safe place, which in this case was in his home and with trusted family, every emotion spewed out of him with the force of projectile vomit.
Once he was in a safe place, which in this case was in his home and with trusted family, every emotion spewed out of him with the force of projectile vomit.
Attempting to reason with your child when they are in this state of mind is futile. However, the best thing to do in this situation is to avoid comments regarding why they are treating you in such a manner. It is likely that any comments from you will merely incite your child and the situation will become reactive and volatile. Remember, your child’s emotions are already on edge at this point.
What has worked for me with my child and in the classroom as well is to merely say, “I can see you have had a bad day, I am not going to discuss this further with you. It looks like you may need some alone time to calm down so I am going to give you your space.”
By doing so, you are setting a model of behavior for your child. These point out the fact that your child had a bad day and is upset (defining their feelings), and you are modeling a coping strategy for them to use (needing alone time). When we define our observations to the child and express an outcome, the child has been given a reason for their behavior.
The delivery of comments makes a huge difference. By making a statement such as, “Why are you acting like this” rather than the above mentioned strategy, the child is put on the defensive. They believe you are judging them rather than understanding their behavior. The first strategy that I mentioned has always resulted in a far better outcome than the second for us. Please attempt to remember that many Aspergians have large descriptive vocabularies, but lack the words to describe their feelings and emotions.
When the child has been allowed space, they may calm down. At this time, they may be more open to talking. Play a video game with them, watch TV, go for a drive, cook dinner together or any other situation you can size up that will place you in a non threatening situation where your child may open up. You may take this opportunity to use statements such as, “I am sorry that you are so upset today.” Lead in to a conversation with an example of when you were upset as a child. This normalizes their situation without reeking of preaching to the child. It is all in the timing.
If children only receive attention when they present with negative behaviors, the negative behavior is sure to increase.
Remember that Aspergians have an extreme amount of experience regarding being judged within society, struggling to be accepted, struggling academically, and struggling in social situations and more. When parents point out behaviors in a direct manner (reactive) versus expressing concern for their behavior and what caused it (proactive), defensiveness is a reaction by the child due to their self-esteem having already been beaten down by day-to-day interactions.
Attempt to involve your child in learning problem-solving skills. Define the issue. Make sure the child has input as well. Ask your child their opinion regarding problem-solving techniques. Write down appropriate outcomes for the behavior. Create cards with problem solving techniques that may be useful in the future.
I created cards with emotions on them. The cards had simple pictures of happy, sad, sick, mad, bored, and other emotions on them with the appropriate word written on the card. These simple pictures could be posted on a bulletin board to alert family members to how the child was feeling. It is a great way to reinforce comprehension of emotions.
In closing, always point out the positives as well as negatives. Even after a meltdown, a child can receive positive reinforcement by noting what a great job they did in turning their behavior around. Point out positive behaviors such as brushing teeth without being told, doing homework without an argument, or even helping to set the table for dinner.
Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If children only receive attention when they present with negative behaviors, the negative behavior is sure to increase. Note positive behaviors, but do not use false praise. Find the positive actions and let your child know that you notice them. Positive praise begets positive praise-seeking behaviors.
Remember, you are doing the best that you can. Parenting special needs kids is a 24/7 job. Your child’s behavior is not indicative of bad parenting skills. In actuality, you are an awesome parent. Otherwise you would not support them day in and day out, would you?
Mari Nosal is a published author and focuses on books pertaining to autism and Aspergers Syndrome. She has recently published a book with curriculum ideas for inclusive and multi age classrooms. You can buy her book, “Ten Commandments Of Interacting With Kids On The Autism Spectrum And Related Commandments,” on Amazon. You can read more of here writing here: