Helping Your Aspie Child Develop Empathy

(Note: This is part of a series about helping children with Aspergers manage emotion appropriately. Please read Emotional Management for Children with Aspergers: Part I for more information about this important topic.)

People often think that Aspergers Syndrome and other forms of autism prevent children from developing empathy. This is untrue, and this mistaken belief can hurt the Aspergers community and its allies; people mistakenly think that people with Aspergers are violent or uncaring because of a lack of empathy.

What is true is that people with Aspergers sometimes have a hard time seeing things from other people’s perspectives. Thus, a child (or adult) with Aspergers might understand that someone is sad or angry and feel bad that the person is in pain but not necessarily understand why.

As the parent of a child with Aspergers, one of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the ability to look at things from other people’s point of view. This ability may not be natural to children with Aspergers, but it certainly can be taught. Here’s how.

Relate Experiences to Your Child’s Point of View

The most basic skill you want to teach your children is to look at experiences from the other person’s point of view. It may seem paradoxical, but the best way to do this is to relate experiences to your child’s point of view. Since many children with Aspergers initially cannot switch perspectives, you can begin teaching them to do so by reminding them of times when they felt the same way.

For example, suppose you want to teach your child not to grab toys out of other children’s hands. Your child may think this rule is silly because “why can’t they play with something else if I take their toy?” If your child has a favorite toy, book or stuffed animal that he or she cannot bear to part with, you can use those feelings to help your child understand. (“Remember that time when you lost your bear and you were so sad? When you take Jimmy’s toys he feels the same way about losing them.”)

Use Visual Aids as Much as Possible

Most people with autism are visual learners. If you can show your child visually how other people feel in particular situations, it can help him or her develop the ability to take other people’s perspectives.

There are many worksheets available online to help children with Aspergers. You may want to check out the worksheets at Teaching Ideas for Perspective Taking. These worksheets allow you and your chid to discuss what people might be feeling and why in various situations.

In addition to using worksheets, it may be helpful to watch television or movies with your child. Pause the show at certain points and ask your child what the characters are thinking and feeling and why they might be feeling that way. This can really help teach your child about empathy.

Verbalize Your Own Empathy

Children with Aspergers learn well by seeing what others do. So slow down and demonstrate your own ability to take other people’s perspectives. For example, if you see that your child is upset, you can say aloud, “I can see you are upset because you are crying. I wonder what’s upsetting you. Oh, I know. Many children get upset when they fall down. Is that what happened to you?” You can also verbalize taking the perspective of others around your child and even the perspective of strangers.

Above all, ignore the rhetoric that children with Aspergers can’t experience empathy. Have every confidence that your child can and will learn to relate empathetically to others. Your child already has the basic building blocks of empathy; now you just need to help him or her learn the skills that will help take recognition of others’ feelings to the next level.

I offer one-on-one and group coaching sessions to parents of children with Aspergers to help them learn how to teach their children skills that neurotypical people often take for granted. Please contact me for more information or to set up an appointment.

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The Post Holiday Survival Guide for Trans* People

Holidays can be stressful for trans* people. Many people unfortunately don’t have any place to go for the holidays. Some families refuse to accept their trans* children and other relatives, leaving them with no family whatsoever. Other people have a family to go to, but that family may not know the best way to support their trans* members.

Trans people often feel sad and depressed if their families don't validate their gender identities.

Trans people often feel sad and depressed if their families don’t validate their gender identities.

For many trans* people, holiday time may mean spending several days with people who don’t validate their gender identity. Whether misgendering is intentional or not, it often feels like going into a hostile, foreign country, especially for people who have friends at home who see them as the man, woman or genderqueer person they are.

There are several constructive ways to deal with any frustration, anger or sadness related to visiting family over the holidays. Here are some of the things you may want to do after the holidays to help you regain your sense of balance and prevent future unhappy situations.

Look at What Actually Happened

It’s easy to get caught up in what didn’t happen. For example, if you were excluded from a guys-only or girls-only family outing or your parents didn’t call you by your chosen name or gender, you may get wrapped up in all of your frustration over those situations. However, it’s important to look at things more objectively for a couple of reasons.

  • Focusing on negatives never helps your mood. The more you think about the ways your family treated you that you were unhappy about, the bigger those incidents seem to get in your mind. In addition, you end up getting more and more frustrated.
  • You need to see whether your family has made any progress in order to decide what you want to do about future family get-togethers. There are some times when it makes the most sense to stay home. If your family expects you to retreat back into the closet and they haven’t made any progress towards accepting you the way you are, you may want to set some boundaries or skip some get-togethers. However, if your family is making an honest effort to get to know you and accept you, it makes little sense to sabotage that process with anger and refusal to spend time together.
  • You can figure out what bothered you most and work on changing those things first. Instead of wishing your family was entirely different, you can pick out things that really bother you and see what you can do about them. This helps you get everything in perspective and figure out strategies for dealing with your family.

Ways to Get Some Objectivity

It can be hard to see things clearly if you’re upset or angry about the way you were treated. So the first thing you need to do is get the feelings out so you can process them. Writing in your journal about what happened that upset you is a good first step so that you can get the emotions out of your system. After you do this, there are several things you can do to help yourself move from anger and pain to objectivity.

STEP ONE: Read over what you’ve written. On a new piece of paper, make two columns. In the left column, write one-sentence descriptions of things that happened that you were unhappy about. On the right-hand side, write what you wished would happen instead. Write your left-column items in the past tense and your right-column items in the present tense. This signals your brain that your old feelings are in the past.

STEP 2: Answer the following questions for each item on the left-hand side of the page:

How bad was this incident on a scale from 1 to 10?

Was this incident an improvement from the past? How?

STEP 3: For each item on the right-hand side, answer the following questions:

How likely is it, on a scale from 1 to 10, that this behavior will occur in the next six months?

How likely is it, on a scale from 1 to 10, that this behavior will occur in the next six months if you ask for it?

What alternative behaviors would you be comfortable with?

Step 4: Write about at least one thing you enjoyed during your visit. This can help you remember that no visit is all bad.

Asserting Yourself

Once you’ve done the hard work of figuring out exactly what happened and what you need to happen, the next thing to do is figure out what to do about it. It’s often helpful to assert yourself in some way so that your family understands what bothered you and why.

It’s important to broach this subject in the appropriate manner. Don’t just express anger and demand that things change. Instead, try using the “sandwich” method, in which you slip your complaints in between positive statements. For example, you could thank your family for hosting, then say that you were upset that you were not gendered properly and end by saying that you are looking forward to an even better visit next time.

It’s also important to be sensitive to the fact that your parents and other people are transitioning too. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient when you feel like you’ve been hiding the truth about yourself your entire life and you want to be seen as you are! However, our families are not privy to our internal struggles, so our identity is all new to them. While it’s reasonable to ask to be gendered properly, make sure you make a distinction between an honest mistake and deliberately ignoring your gender identity and misgendering you.

Holidays are often difficult for people who don’t feel the  close-knit family bond our society assumes everyone is “supposed” to have. For trans* people in particular, family holiday time is sometimes nightmarish because it forces them to be thrust back into a world that knows them as something they are not. If you take the time to focus on what progress your family is making towards accepting you and deciding what your next step is, you can make the next family get-together easier and more enjoyable for yourself.

Having a hard time coping with family pressure to be your birth gender? I offer one-on-one coaching to help you increase your self-confidence and stand up for yourself. Contact me to set up your free sample session.

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Emotional Management for Children With Aspergers – Part I

After the tragic shootings in Newtown last Friday, some people have speculated that the shooter had Aspergers syndrome and that, furthermore, Aspergers causes violence against others. This is not true, of course, and many others have done an excellent job of debunking this myth. What is true, however, is that children with Aspergers sometimes have a hard time processing and expressing emotion. Learning to recognize and express emotion appropriately is a key component of mental health; this task is doubly hard for people with Aspergers because of communications difficulties. Thus, this series attempts to help parents to guide their Aspergers children’s emotional development so that they can have the best chances of living healthy lives.

(The author is a life coach that works with the Aspergers community. You should, of course, seek therapy or other professional help for your child if you feel the situation warrants it.)

Proper expression of emotion starts by understanding what emotions you are feeling. This can be difficult for children with Aspergers syndrome for a couple of reasons:

  • Difficulty with non-verbal language. Children with Aspergers don’t always recognize facial expressions or other non-verbal cues as to other people’s emotions. Similarly, they may not connect their own body language with particular emotions. They also may not know that they can express their emotions non-verbally.
  • Difficulty recognizing bodily signals. Some children with Aspergers don’t recognize physical signals of particular emotions or understand what they  mean.
  • Lack of emotional vocabulary. Although children with Aspergers may have a very large vocabulary, they often have difficulty with the language of emotion. For example, they may not know the difference between “sad” and “depressed” and may use words that scare caretakers but don’t mean what they think they mean. Some children with Aspergers, for example, might use “suicidal” to mean “sad and depressed” because they know suicide is associated with depression but not actually feel at all suicidal.

Parents and teachers can help these children develop the ability to recognize emotion in themselves and others in several different ways.

Use Pictures and Videos

Many children with Aspergers are very visual. You can use pictures and videos to help them  understand different emotions.

For example, you can look at photos from an event your child enjoyed and verbalize people’s emotions as you are looking. For example: “Look how happy Uncle Bob was in this picture. He had such a big smile!”

You can also use your children’s favorite videos to help them understand emotion. As your child is watching a video, you can verbalize the character’s emotions in the same way as above.

Once your child is used to hearing you verbalize emotion, you can help him or her begin to do so by playing games with pictures and videos. You can ask your child what people in a picture are feeling or ask him or her to show you the picture with a particular emotion. You can also put some video clips on a DVD and ask your child to identify the emotion in each clip. Make sure that as you practice emotions, you mention non-verbal cues such as pounding the table, jumping up in the air, or raising eyebrows as well as verbal cues and facial expressions.

Model Emotions for Your Child

One of the best ways to help children with Aspergers learn anything is to model it for them. When they can see you do something, it makes it easier for them to learn it themselves. When it comes to learning emotions, it can help them to see you verbalize your emotions, especially if you also mention bodily signals. For example, you might say, “My throat is starting to feel tight. I’d better count to ten because that tells me I’m getting angry!” Doing this helps your children see how to handle their emotions as well as helping them to understand the connection between bodily signals and emotions.

Talk With Your Child About His or Her Emotions

If your child expresses anger or fear, it’s important to do two things:

1. Listen.

2. Find out what he or she means.

Children with Aspergers sometimes use stronger words for their emotions than they really feel or use metaphors that make sense to them but are frightening for you. If your child says he or she is “suicidal” or “murderous,” you may be terrified. Slow down, take a deep breath and say something like, “I hear you saying you want to kill yourself. Is that what you really mean?” It’s important to be neutral and non-judgmental as best as you can even if you may be scared so you can find out what’s really going on. By asking the question this way, you also give your child an explanation of what the words he or she is using mean.

Some children may find it easier to communicate what they really mean in pictures. You might want to keep a scrapbook of pictures your child enjoys that show different emotions or levels of emotion. That way, if your child is having trouble verbalizing his or her emotions, you can ask him or her to point to a picture that shows the correct emotion.

Learning to process and express emotion is an important developmental step for your child with Aspergers. These children sometimes act out because they are frustrated and don’t have the language to express what is bothering them. The more you can assist them in communicating emotion, the less likely they are to have meltdowns or other negative behaviors as a result of pent-up emotion.

Jack Ori is a motivational and communications coach who draws on his experiences as a person with Aspergers to assist children on the autism spectrum and their parents in communicating and understanding themselves and one another. Click here to request a consultation with Coach Jack.

Categories: Aspergers, Emotional Development Series | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

The Holiday Season Survival Guide For Parents of Children With Aspergers

The holiday season can be chaotic–or at the very least, very different from the rest of the year. Many people enjoy holiday shopping, taking kids to visit Santa and seeing relatives they haven’t seen for a long time. For people with Aspergers or other forms of autism, however, the holidays can be an overwhelming, frightening and stressful time. During the holiday season, autistic people might be challenged by the following:

  • Changes in routine that throw them off-kilter or increase anxiety
  • Visits from people they don’t know very well, especially people who aren’t aware of or don’t understand their needs
  • Sensory challenges such as being exposed to constant music, toys that light up or make noise, lots of conversations going on at once and foods that taste different or have different textures than they are used to.

All of these challenges, if not handled correctly, can lead to anxiety and meltdowns. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your children–or yourself–stay as stress-free as possible during the holiday season.

Think About What Activities The Person With Aspergers or Autism Most Enjoys

During the holiday season, there’s a lot to do. Many parents like to take their children to kid-friendly holiday parties or take them to the mall to see Santa in addition to doing holiday shopping, going to see Christmas lights all around town, visiting friends and relatives and/or going to religious services.

Some of these events can be upsetting to children with Aspergers and autism because of sensory or other issues. In order to keep stress to a minimum, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Why am I taking my child to this event?
  • Does my child enjoy the event as much as I do?

This second question should not be asked judgmentally; it’s not an indictment of parents, but a way of ensuring that they are doing activities that their kids really enjoy for the most part. For example, if your child has problems with flashing lights, don’t take him or her to see Christmas lights just because “it’s a tradition everyone enjoys.” If the activity isn’t truly necessary (i.e. a family party full of relatives you’re looking forward to seeing) and your child hates it, consider skipping it. This will help your stress level as well as your child’s.

Prepare Your Child In Advance

It can help your child navigate changes in routine or other challenges at holiday time if you let him or her know what to expect. Depending on your child’s age and ability level, there are several activities you may want to engage in to help him or her become comfortable with what’s going to happen at holiday time. Some of the things you might want to try include:

  • Showing your child pictures of relatives from previous holiday parties and pointing out who the relatives are and what they’re doing. Then tell your child when the relative will be visiting again and what is planned for the visit.
  • Drawing simple pictures or reading a picture book that shows how to put up the Christmas tree or how other events go so that your child has an idea of what to expect.
  • Having a tour of a relative’s house during a quiet time prior to a holiday visit so that your child can become familiar with it.
  • Role-playing with your child

Tell Relatives Your Child’s Needs

If your child has sensory issues or other challenges, you should tell relatives about them in advance. It’s especially important to ask relatives to only give your child sensory-friendly presents or not to get offended or push it if your child doesn’t want a hug. That way, you can stop problematic incidents from occurring and can ensure that your relatives’ feelings don’t get hurt.

Some people are uncomfortable bringing up issues about what presents are okay to give your child because they don’t want to sound like they expect any present at all. You can get around this by writing a family newsletter or other item to send to your relatives that emphasizes that you want everybody to have a good time during the visit and that you are looking forward to seeing them. You can then add something like, “<Child’s name> has some special needs when it comes to the tradition of opening presents together. We don’t expect that everyone will give presents, but if you do want to participate in this tradition, here’s some things you should know.”

In addition to the issue of presents, be aware that some relatives are simply not going to understand or want to respect your child’s needs. These relatives may not really understand anything about autism and may think that you are being “too soft” or “not letting your kid be a kid.” It’s important to stand your ground with these relatives and make it clear that although you want to spend time with them during the holidays, these are the rules that you are setting so that everyone can have a good time.

Have Contingency Plans

Sometimes you can’t avoid situations that may cause meltdowns during the holiday season. For example, you may not be able to find someone else to watch your children while you go holiday shopping or you may go to a party at a relative’s house that has too much sensory stimulation for your child.

For this reason, it’s important to always have a plan for dealing with meltdowns during the holiday season. A meltdown resembles a temper tantrum but is set off by overstimulation or other problems that the child can’t verbalize. Some children can get violent during meltdowns, and it can take a long time for a child to calm down after a meltdown. It’s important to have a plan for dealing with the first sign of a meltdown so that you can solve the problem before the child’s behavior gets too out of control.

Some aspects of your contingency plans might include:

  • Deciding where you will go if your child has a meltdown. You will want to scout out party rooms ahead of time for quiet corners you can use, or you may want to take the child to the car. You should also be prepared to take your child out of the area while shopping or doing other holiday activities.
  • Discussing with your family, especially your spouse, what the plan is in case you have to take your child home early during a family event. For example, decide if you will all leave or if someone will stay at the party with other children.
  • Finding people who may be able to babysit if you decide you don’t want to take your child to a particular event or party.
  • Having items on hand that you know calm your child down such as a favorite toy, video or song so that you can more easily stop meltdowns.

The holiday season is challenging for everybody, ad it’s especially challenging if someone in your family has Aspergers or other forms of autism. However, if you prepare in advance, you can have a (mostly) peaceful holiday season.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of greater understanding, peace and personal power. Coach Jack is offering one-on-one coaching sessions for parents of children with Aspergers and autism to help them understand, motivate and empower their children and to reduce conflict and improve the relationships between parents and children with Aspergers. Please fill out the quick contact form for more information.

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How to Create a Safe Environment For Potentially Transgender Children

Now that children are announcing openly that they are transgender at earlier and earlier ages, parents who want to support their children no matter who they are sometimes wonder how they can create a gender-friendly environment for their children. These parents sometimes worry that they’ll confuse their children if they go too far in one direction and impose gender roles on them if they go in the other. Gender identity and expression are challenging areas for parents to guide their children through; however, there are some things you can do to make it easier.

Let Your Child Express Him Or Herself 

The best thing you can do to support your child is allow the space to express his or her personality. There are some girls who are less traditionally feminine or even masculine, and some boys who are less traditionally masculine or even feminine. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is transgender. Some children just don’t fit the expectations for their gender, and some change their gender expression as they get older. By allowing your children the space to be themselves, you send them the message that whoever they are is acceptable to you. Thus, if your child is gender-variant or transgender, he or she will have the confidence and ability to come to that conclusion eventually.

This is often harder for parents of male-assigned children than female-assigned children because in American society, it is far more acceptable for a girl to be a “tomboy” than for a boy to enjoy expressing a feminine side.  Some parents may opt to allow their male-assigned children to wear dresses at home but not at school because of concerns about safety. It is all right to do this as long as your child is not overly upset about not being able to express a feminine (or masculine) side at school. If the issue becomes very emotional for your child, you may want to seek professional help to determine what your child’s gender issues are.

In general, though, allow your child to do the following:

  • Play with toys he or she enjoys, regardless of whether they are typical for your child’s gender.
  • Dress in a way that is comfortable for the child as long as it meets your standards for appropriateness.
  • Engage in extracurricular activities your child enjoys, regardless of whether they are traditionally associated with his or her gender.
  • Walk and talk in a way that is natural to your child, even if it makes the child seem more masculine or feminine than you expect.
  • Decorate his or her room using posters, wallpaper or colors that appeal to the child regardless of gender associations.

Of course, as the parent you also have the right to decide a particular form of self-expression is not appropriate. In order to make sure that you aren’t rejecting something because of gender, ask yourself if you would still feel it inappropriate if your child were the opposite gender. If you wouldn’t, you may want to leave it alone.

Make Transgender People and Issues Part of Your Daily Life

Many children who are transgender or gender-variant don’t realise that there’s any such thing. These children may think something is “wrong” with them or try to hide their gender identity from their parents and themselves.

The best way to stop this from happening is to incorporate transgender people and issues into your life. If you happen to have friends who are transgender, don’t shy away from including them in family events. If your transgender friends are comfortable with people knowing that they are transgender, you can explain to your children in age-appropriate terms about your friends’ history or let your friends tell them. If you don’t know any transgender people, don’t worry; you can also make being transgender part of your life by talking about it if it comes up on television or reading stories about gender variant children to your children.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

By far the best thing you can do to support your children’s gender identity is practice good communication skills. Talking to your children about gender identity issues is not any different than talking to your child about any other issue–it’s just that it is uncomfortable for parents sometimes.

Don’t force any particular identity on your child. Instead, use your listening skills to help your child feel comfortable telling you anything–including his or her feelings about gender. If you listen non-judgmentally to your child’s feelings about any topic he or she talks about, you will foster trust. This will allow your child to tell you if he or she has gender variant feelings. (For more details about what to do if your child says he or she is transgender, check out this post.)

If you set a foundation of communication, acceptance and authenticity when interacting with your children, it will be much easier for them to express who they are, regardless of their gender identity. So rather than focusing on whether you are creating a safe environment for a possibly transgender child, just create a safe environment for your child regardless of his or her gender identity. This will help your children–whether trans, cis or in between–to develop confidence in themselves and the ability to trust you with their feelings.

I don’t just advise people about transgender issues–I live an openly transgender life. If you’d like to work one-on-one with a confident, happy member of the transgender community to improve your relationship with your transgender child, please contact me to schedule an initial consultation.

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What to Do If Your Child Isn’t Focusing in School

The choice to medicate should be made only by you and your doctor

Many people with Aspergers have difficulty with focusing and concentration for a variety of reasons. Children with Aspergers may experience sensory overstimulation, become overwhelmed or frustrated with schoolwork or not be engaged enough with the material to want to focus on it. Often, parents of such children wonder whether medication would help their children focus.

The decision whether to medicate or not is a personal decision that should be made by parents with the help of their pediatrician and any specialists they see who have expertise in autistic spectrum differences. Here are some of the accommodations that may help children with Aspergers focus, with or without medication:

  • Moving the child to a quieter area of the classroom. If the child has sensory issues that are distracting him or her, a quiet corner that has less distractions can often aid in focus. Children with Aspergers may also benefit from wearing earplugs or headphones while working to block out other sounds.
  • Giving the child modified worksheets and assignments that have fewer problems or questions per page and larger type to get his or her attention.
  • Playing into the child’s obsessive interests whenever possible. For example, if a child with Aspergers is obsessed with baseball, parents or teachers can use baseball scores to teach math, read books about baseball to practice reading and look on the map to see where favorite teams are playing to practice U.S. geography. This keeps the child interested, making it more likely that he or she will focus.
  • Using a rewards chart and rewarding the child for remaining in his or her seat, focusing on work for a certain period of time or completing assignments.
  • Using a timer with large numbers to help the child know how much longer her or she is expected to focus for.
  • Working with the child one-on-one.

This is only a partial list of accommodations. Not all accommodations work with every child, but with some creativity and resourcefulness, you can figure out methods that work well with your child.

What to Do If A Teacher Recommends Medication

Unfortunately, many mainstream classrooms are overcrowded, making it difficult for teachers to give your child the one-on-one help or other accommodations he or she needs. As a result, teachers may sometimes recommend you take your child to the doctor and look into medication without considering other accommodations.

Keep in mind that most teachers are not doctors–only your pediatrician and/or autism specialist can decide whether medication is a viable option for your child. In addition, your child has the right to accommodations if he or she needs them in order to learn successfully.

If a teacher is concerned about your child’s ability to focus and suggests medication, the best thing to do is ask to observe the classroom. That way, you can see exactly what your child is doing that concerns the teacher and what the teacher is doing to try to help.

Remember that the purpose of observation is not to “catch” the teacher doing something you don’t like. Teachers and parents can and should be on the same side: helping your child succeed academically and socially. So when you observe, your goals should be to see what your child’s behaviors of concern are and to work with the teacher to improve the situation.

Be as unobtrusive as possible when you observe. Sit in the back of the room or another location that is not near your child. You want to do your best not to influence your child’s behavior. Take notes but don’t interact directly with your child or the teacher during instructional time.

After you have observed, make an appointment to talk with the teacher about what you noticed. Solicit the teacher’s opinions about what was going on in the classroom and then share your thoughts. Try to brainstorm solutions together.

It may also be a good idea to ask for an IEP meeting after you finish your observations. That way, you can discuss your thoughts with the teacher, administrators and other professionals that work with your child. You can get the accommodations you think are best put directly into the IEP and can also create a behavioral intervention plan–a part of the IEP that explains how to address problematic behaviors and what behavioral goals you hope to help your child reach.

After doing all this work, you should be in a better position to decide whether you need to pursue medication for your child to help him or her succeed. Regardless of what you decide, you’ll know exactly what your child is doing and what you want to help him or her do so that you can discuss medication more realistically with your doctor.

I am not a medical doctor and cannot determine whether your child needs medication, but I CAN help you figure out strategies for helping your child succeed that you feel comfortable with. Please contact me if you are interested in one-on-one coaching.

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What to Do If Your Child With Aspergers Is Being Bullied

Bullying is a widespread problem among all children. Children who are perceived as “different” such as those with Aspergers syndrome are particularly vulnerable to bullying because their differences are noticeable and they might not know the correct way to handle it. As a parent, you want to encourage as much independence as your child is capable of, but you also may need to advocate for him or her in order to put a stop to bullying.

Teach Your Child What Bullying Looks Like

One of the challenges that children with Aspergers sometimes face is that they may not know the difference between someone who is really their friend and someone who is pretending to be their friend in order to bully them. Last season an episode of Parenthood demonstrated this via a storyline where Max, who has Aspergers, was unaware that some of his classmates asked him the answers to math problems in order to laugh at him and not because they liked him. Children with Aspergers may also do things like trade dollars for coins that are worth less because they think the people asking them to do so are their friends. They ay also break rules and get themselves in trouble because a bully told them to and they think that person is their friend.

The best way to handle this problem is to teach your child what bullying looks like so that he or she can more easily avoid bullies. You want to protect your child from being taken advantage of or influenced negatively. Depending on your child, you might want to role play different scenarios, read stories together or watch scenarios on television. Discuss each scenario you play, read or watch with your child. Ask your child if the bully in the scenario was the other child’s friend so that you can discuss what makes someone your friend or not.

You should also give your child some general rules to follow so that they can tell the difference between bullying behavior and friendly behavior. Many children with Aspergers have a finely tuned sense of right and wrong. Teach your child that if another child tells them to do something that they think is wrong, they shouldn’t listen. Explain that  friends don’t expect them to do things that they think are wrong or that make them feel bad.

Meet With Your Child’s Teacher

If you believe another child is bullying your child, the next line of defense after talking to your child about what to do is to meet with the child’s teacher to explain your concerns. Children with Aspergers sometimes have a hard time communicating if they are being bullied. In addition, teachers may sometimes think your child just needs to stop reacting to bullies or stop behaving in ways that attract bullying.

For all these reasons, it’s important to talk with the teacher if you have any concerns regarding bullying. Approach the conversation from the perspective that you’re concerned about the issue and want the teacher’s help rather than wanting the teacher to do something specific to resolve the problem. This leaves space for you and the teacher to come up with solutions together to help your child. If you enlist the teacher as an ally, you may be able to find a way to resolve the problem that doesn’t require a lot of parental involvement. This is important for fostering independence and avoiding the appearance that your child is a “baby” who always runs to their parent, which can lead to more bullying.

Put Things In Perspective

All bullying is wrong. There are too many stories of children who commit suicide or who lash out violently at classmates because they have been bullied. So you certainly don’t want to ignore it if your child is being bullied. At the same time, you don’t want to react to every incident the same way. Save your energy for the bigger battles–if a child is continually bullying your child after you’ve taught your child to recognize bullies and walk away, if your child is unhappy or angry because of being bullied or if another child physically attacks your child.

It’s hard to find a balance between protecting your child and letting him or her solve problems themselves. This is challenging for all parents, but it’s especially challenging for parents of children with Aspergers because sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your child fully understands what’s going on.

The best thing to do is keep lines of communication open with both your child and the school. Talk to your child about what he or she experiences in school. Encourage your child to talk about what’s happening socially as well as what’s happening in class–some children with Aspergers don’t consider social interactions important enough to tell you about. You should also check in regularly with your child’s teacher to see how things are going in general and to create a relationship with that person so that you can find out about and handle problems.

Parenting a child with Aspergers is challenging in many respects, and dealing with bullies is one of the harder ones because you want to protect your child from harm. If you practice communication with both your child and the school, it will help you resolve problems before they get out of control.

Is your child with Aspergers being bullied? If you would like one-on-one guidance on how to deal with this situation, I am available for one-on-one consultations. Please visit my contact page to get started!

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First Steps Towards Establishing Romantic Relationships When You Have Aspergers


Photo courtesy of Catlovers on Flickr.

While some people with autism prefer to be alone, many people with Aspergers are “lonely loners.” Many of us would love to make connections with others–especially romantic connections. Romantic relationships are a particularly challenging area for people with Aspergers; there are some basic principles to keep in mind to help you develop the type of relationship you’re looking for.

Tip #1: Remember that relationships take time to develop.

Aspergers often comes with a more-than-healthy helping of impatience. Our brains are wired to see things in black-and-white, and as a result we often have a hard time looking past what is going on right now and realising that it may be different in the future. This makes relationships difficult because the type of relationship you want often takes time to develop. Most people’s relationships begin as acquaintanceships and then become friendships and possibly more than friendships. Don’t be discouraged because the other person wasn’t “swept off their feet.” More often than not, it doesn’t work that way.

A corollary to this is that it’s okay to just be friends with someone. Many people–both those with Aspergers and those without–have a tendency to look at people they are attracted to as either relationship material or not. Many people think that if you are “just friends” it’s not good enough. Remember, though, that every solid romantic relationship is built on a solid friendship. If someone you like doesn’t like you “that way,” then try being friends with them instead. You do have to be careful not to try to push the relationship further than it can go, but you might find a friendship with a like-minded individual satisfying.

Tip #2: Don’t share everything at once.

Part of the reason that many people with Aspergers get impatient with slow development of relationships is because we are not fans of the superficial or the ordinary. It can feel uninteresting or dishonest to talk about things that don’t matter that much or refrain from sharing our deepest selves with people we just met.

The problem is that sharing deeply requires emotional intimacy, which, again, takes time to develop. Most people learn to trust each other slowly. They share a little bit about themselves–often things that seem uninteresting or unimportant to the Aspie mind–and as time goes on they share at deeper and deeper levels. Telling someone you just met everything about you is, for most people, the emotional equivalent of having sex with someone you’ve known for just a few minutes. People who want lasting relationships don’t feel comfortable with one-night stands, whether they’re physical or emotional.

In addition, if someone already knows everything about you, there’s no room for discovery and growth, which are key parts of any relationship. So hold back on telling people everything. Instead, follow their lead and share a little bit at a time. A good rule to follow is that you share at an equivalent level to the other person. This not only keeps the intimacy level appropriate, but helps you remember to listen to what the other person is saying rather than just jumping into the conversation with what you were thinking about.

Tip #3: Pay attention to your self-esteem.

One of the biggest challenges in relationships is separating your feelings about your partner from your feelings about yourself. Many people think that if you love your partner, that makes the relationship healthy. However, it doesn’t really work that way. Sometimes people deeply fall in love with someone who hurts them on a regular basis. If the pain is purposeful, the relationship is abusive. Even in non-abusive relationships, however, people may accidentally harm each other in all sorts of ways.

For this reason, it’s important to pay attention to your self-esteem while you are in a relationship. Ask yourself how you feel about yourself while around the other person. If you feel stronger and better about yourself while around them, that’s a good sign. If you feel not-good-enough, you need to look closer at what’s going on.

Self esteem is too large a topic to cover in one article; it takes time, effort and sometimes professional assistance to raise your self-esteem. However, there are a few things you can do if you notice your self-esteem  falling whenever you are around a partner or potential partner.

It can be hard to tell if our feelings are coming from our behaviour or from the other person’s. One way to figure this out is to identify the thoughts behind your feelings and then look at what triggered those thoughts. For example, if you feel like something’s wrong with you, and the thought behind that feeling is “I talk too much,” ask yourself why you feel that way. You might have noticed that you are talking a lot more than your partner. So you might be feeling uncomfortable because you don’t like that behaviour rather than because your partner doesn’t. However, if you have this kind of feeling and you notice it was triggered by the fact that your partner sighed or rolled her eyes every time you spoke, then your partner is contributing to that feeling.

If your feelings are coming completely from you and you haven’t noticed any behaviour on your partner’s part, the next thing to do is ask your partner if the behaviour really bothers him. It is important to be open to the answer to this question; try not to get defensive or take it personally if your partner says the behavior is bothersome.

If your feelings are related to your partner’s behaviour, talk to him or her about how you feel when they engage in the behaviour. Use the tips from Conflict Resolution for People With Aspergers to help you approach the issue productively.

Romantic relationships are challenging for everybody, not just people with Aspergers. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s impossible to learn how to relate to others–which is what you need to do if you hope to have friends and/or a partner–without trying and sometimes making mistakes that can hurt. Keep the above tips in mind to help make the process of learning how to be in a relationship easier for yourself.

I currently am using my first-hand knowledge about living with Aspergers to help people with Aspergers and/or those who interact with them regularly live happier lives. If you would like help with a specific situation related to relationships or any other Aspergers-related issue, please contact me  via the contact form.

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Tips for Communicating When Your Child Says S/he May be Transgender

When your child comes out to you as transgender or says that s/he is exploring their gender, you might be at a loss as to what to say or do. Many parents want to demonstrate how much they love and accept their child–no matter where that child’s journey takes them–but when it comes to transgender issues, they are afraid of making a mistake and tearing the child down instead of building them up. In addition, parents may have conflicted feelings about what their child is saying, making communication difficult. The best way to support your child is to use listening skills and other communication skills that allow him or her the space to be themselves while still giving you the ability to think and feel whatever you do upon hearing the news.

In general, using active listening skills is an important part of communication with children. Many parents unintentionally send their children the message of “You don’t really know what you’re talking about” by arguing with them about their perceptions on many issues. For example, a child may state, “This plate is too hot to touch,” and the parent may respond, “No it isn’t.” By switching to listening mode and really hearing what the child says, parents teach their children three things:

1) Your perceptions are accurate enough to be trusted.

2) You have the power to communicate your experience through words.

3) You are worth listening to.

These are messages that all children need to hear. If a child is transgender, it is even more important to build his or her self-esteem through listening because much of the world–and perhaps your child themselves–will throw doubt, confusion and denial your child’s way. Some children may not know there is any such thing as transgender or may think something is wrong with them. By listening to your child’s experiences, thoughts and feelings, you show them that their experiences are valid and that they are not quite as alien as they might have thought.

Listening can be difficult, however, because parents may be struggling to understand who their child really is, frightened of what this means for the child’s future, or uncertain how their child’s identity will affect the rest of the family. Here are some tips to help you listen to and validate your child’s experience.

Take a deep breath. When your child tells you that he or she is transgender, may be transgender or anything else related to gender identity, you may feel anxious, afraid or angry. You may think your child is going through a phase that you don’t like, want to sort out his or her confusion, or a bunch of other things that have to do with your perception of who your child is and your beliefs about transgender people. So if you feel uncomfortable with what your child is expressing to you, you may want to rush in with questions, advice or opinions. Resist the urge to do this. Instead, take a breath and let your child’s words sink in.

Repeat back to your child what you hear him or her saying. This serves a couple of different purposes. First, it lets your child know that you are listening. It also gives you a chance to make sure you understood what was said. Finally, it gives you a chance to hear your own perception of what your child said, which might help it sound less overwhelming to you.

Don’t be afraid to show emotion. While you want to focus on listening and understanding where your child is coming from, it’s okay if your voice trembles or you show emotion of your own. It won’t make your child think you don’t accept him or her. It’ll just show that you’re grappling with emotions over this too. Sometimes that can help open up a dialog.

Make sure your child has finished saying what he or she wants to say before you respond. Continue using listening skills until your child has nothing further to say about the topic. Then you can share your feelings.

Be both honest and respectful. It’s okay to tell your child that you have concerns or that you aren’t feeling comfortable. Keep the focus on these feelings being your feelings–use “I” statements and avoid accusations.

Allow your child–and yourself–the space to express negative feelings as well as positive ones. Don’t worry if you or your child expresses anger or sadness when talking about transition. It won’t ruin the relationship. In some cases, it may actually be the beginning of an authentic relationship with your children.

For many parents, it’s not easy to hear that their child is struggling with gender identity issues. Although in some ways it is similar to other parenting issues–it isn’t easy to deal with many issues that you might not agree with your child on as he or she gets older–gender identity runs so deeply within us that both parents and children find it particularly hard to talk about. It may be difficult to stay calm and composed, but the good news is you don’t have to. If you make the best effort you can to listen honestly to your child’s experience and feelings and to communicate about the issue, you can get to a place where you can be a supportive influence as your child makes this journey.

If you need one-one-one help with handling your child’s transition or with helping your parents accept your transition, I am now offering 30 minute sessions for $25. Contact me for more details.

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Conflict Resolution For People With Aspergers

Very few people enjoy conflict, and many people aren’t really sure how to handle it appropriately. Often, we have a hard time standing up for ourselves and saying what we really feel because we don’t want other people to be angry with us, and some of us may have a hard time trusting that we can control our own anger. For those of us on the spectrum, conflict resolution is sometimes challenging because we aren’t sure what is and isn’t an appropriate thing to say or feel or don’t know how to balance our need to be honest with our need to be accepted by the people we are talking to.

As scary as conflict often is, however, it’s unavoidable sometimes. Most people–not just Aspies–have things that are very important to them, feelings that overwhelm them and beliefs they are passionate about. People are all different, and sometimes your needs and wants are going to clash with somebody else’s. If you are unable to speak up, other people may never be aware that their needs conflict with yours or that their behavior is bothering you. For this reason, it’s important to learn how to handle conflicts.

Read on for some tips about handling conflict.

Tip #1: Remember that all feelings are okay to have.

People with Aspergers and autism often get caught up in wondering if their feelings are “okay.” You may worry that you’re getting angry over something that doesn’t bother neurotypical people or that your emotional response is inappropriate. While it’s often helpful to look at the thoughts behind your emotions, all emotional states are legitimate. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else would feel angry about a situation–the fact that you do is important, and you need to honour that.

Emotions are not mandates to act in any particular manner, however. This is where it’s easy to get tripped up. Many people think that if they’re angry and feel like yelling, screaming, or shoving someone, that somehow makes it okay to do these things. It doesn’t. Allow yourself to feel angry or sad about someone else’s  behavior and then decide how you want to handle it.

Tip #2: Separate your feelings about what someone is doing from your feelings about the person.

The Aspie brain often sees things in black and white. This can make it difficult to judge situations or to navigate relationships. Many people with Aspergers or autism think that if they’re angry or disappointed with someone, they can no longer love that person. They seek to suppress feelings of anger because they think that if they become angry at someone, they can no longer have a relationship with them. Similarly, they may be afraid that if someone is angry with them, the relationship is over.
It does not have to be this way. Instead of idolizing some people and demonizing others, try your best to look at people just as people. Everybody has some qualities you like and some you don’t. If, on balance, you like more of someone’s qualities than you don’t, that person is someone you want to keep in your life.

Tip #3: Stretch your empathy muscles before you begin to approach a conflict.

It’s easy to take everything personally, especially because looking at things from other people’s perspectives may not be natural for you. Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings to yourself and processed them a little, the next step is to try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This is important for a couple of reasons.

  • Sometimes empathy helps turn down the intensity of your feelings. You may be furious at someone’s behavior and not be able to think clearly, but if you can see it from the other person’s perspective, it may help tone down your anger. For example, if you are furious that someone didn’t return your phone call, using your empathy muscles may help you see that the other person is especially busy or stressed right now. You still may be angry, but you won’t be so angry that you can’t deal with the problem.
  • Empathy can help the other person hear you once you address the conflict. Nobody likes to hear that they are all wrong or that they need to change. Those kinds of attitudes put people on the defensive. If you can come from a place of understanding the other person’s point of view, it makes it easier for him or her to hear what you have to say.
  • Empathy can stop you from making assumptions. Very often, we assume that people are doing things to us or to bother us when in reality the other person wasn’t thinking about us at all! If we can look empathetically at someone else’s behavior, we can see that the behavior might not be about us at all and are less likely to accuse the person of something or act as if he or she is attacking us personally.

Tip #4: Walk away if you need to calm down.

For many of us on the spectrum, the uncertainty of an unresolved conflict provokes extreme anxiety and even panic. We want to work through conflicts immediately so that we know where we stand with people. However, this approach often doesn’t work. If your emotions are too high or too intense, you won’t be able to take all the steps you need to take in order to successfully resolve the conflict.

Don’t be afraid to walk away. Walking away doesn’t mean that you are giving up on the relationship with the person or giving in. It means you are taking the time necessary to come to a successful resolution. If you are worried that someone else’s feelings may be hurt by your desire to walk away, you can let him or her know that you’re doing this to help the relationship. For example, you might say, “I’m getting really wound up. I don’t want to attack you with my words. I’m going to go calm down and we can talk about this later.”
Tip #5: Remember to listen, not just talk.

Listening fully to the other person is important to all types of communication. It’s especially important in conflict resolution because emotions run high and both people have a need to be heard in order to be able to resolve the conflict. So when the other person is talking about his or her emotions, it’s important to:

  1. Make eye contact for 2-3 seconds at a time so that the other person knows you are interested and listening.
  2. Nod or say “okay” or “mm hmm” after the person makes a point to show you have heard.
  3. Summarize what the other person has said when he or she finishes speaking.

Doing these things shows you are listening. In addition, you should pay attention to what the other person says. Do not focus on what you are going to say next while the other person is talking. When the other person is finished and you have summarized what he or she said, then wait a second to see if the person is going to say something else. If the other person is finished speaking, then you can begin to say what you want to say.

Tip #6: Try to see the other person as on the same “side.”

Many people–both those with Aspergers/autism and those without–see conflict as a competition where one person wins. This attitude is counter-productive because it keeps you and the other person fighting. Instead, look at the conflict as a challenge to overcome. You and the other person have needs, feelings or desires that conflict. The challenge is to find a solution that benefits both of you.

Using your listening skills helps dissipate this competitive attitude because when you listen to the other person, you give up being “right” in favour of understanding what the other person’s needs are.
Once you both have communicated your side of the conflict, it’s time to work on finding a solution. It’s helpful to use a dry erase board or a pad of paper and brainstorm solutions. During the brainstorming process, don’t reject any idea as “wrong.” Write down all ideas and the use your listening skills as well as your speaking skills to determine what solution might work best for both of you.

Conflict is hard for everybody. There’s no exact formula for resolving conflicts like there might be for math or science problems. However, if you follow the advice above, you have a much better chance of resolving conflicts in a way that boosts everybody’s self-esteem. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect at this, especially when you’re first beginning; just do the best you can to approach conflicts in a mature, open-minded manner and you will find that you get more of what you want and have less stress when conflicts occur.

Need help with conflict resolution or any other communication skills? Click on Contact and fill out the form to request a consultation with me.

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