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Children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can appear somewhat paradoxical. On one hand, many kids on the Autism Spectrum are cautious, anxious, and shy. On that, it’s not uncommon for AS and HFA children to struggle with impulse control, too. This can make them look aggressive and rebellious—even when that isn’t their intent. At these moments, they’re not being malicious; they’re just acting on a whim without thinking about the consequences of their actions.


Most children struggle with impulse control to some degree, of course. Unsupervised neurotypical kids will often “binge eat” their favourite foods until they feel sick, for example, or impulsively snatch toys away from other children. Kids on the Autism Spectrum just retain these tendencies longer than other kids and exhibit them more frequently. They struggle to learn how to “self-regulate” and often find themselves getting into trouble more than their peers by the time they’re in school. Unless these children get the help they need, this can lead to both personal and academic problems.


Help Kids Learn Self-Regulation


1. Be specific when communicating instructions.


Kids with Asperger don’t interpret vague language well, so it’s extremely important to be direct and concise when talking to them. Likewise, you should prepare to equip these kids with the “basics” when it comes to telling right from wrong. Because Asperger children usually struggle to read social cues and empathize properly, it can be hard for them to figure out how to behave. For example, instead of telling an Autistic child to “be good,” you’ll need to say to him, “When we go into the store, don’t touch anything unless I give you permission.”


2. Develop a “point system” that allows your child to earn rewards.


One of the best ways to teach kids cause and effect is to give them “points” for good behaviour. Allowing them to redeem these points at the end of the week for a reward, such as a material threat or extra privileges, can help them start connecting their actions with specific results threatening the future.


3. Hold your child accountable for his actions.


Understanding the role Asperger plays in your child’s outbursts should not mean allowing him to use Autism as an “excuse.” Yes, you should help him manage stimulation, coax him through situations that are genuinely difficult for him, and empathize with him. At the same time, however, he still needs to be held accountable when his actions are hurting other people. If he isn’t, he’ll never learn to control his impulses.


4. Give your child a daily schedule.


Kids with Asperger feel calmer and more in control when they have a schedule outlining each day. Likewise, you should let your child cross or wipe off tasks as he completes them. This will enhance his sense of control and give him a feeling of accomplishment.


5. Provide your child with a list of rules.


Giving your child a clear list of rules accomplishes two things: It helps him understand where household boundaries lie (without having to read social cues) and it reminds him to think before he acts. For best results, place the list of rules somewhere visible, such as on the fridge.


6. Guide your child through transitions.


Kids on the Spectrum have a difficult time switching from one activity to the next—even when the change is seemingly mundane, like being asked to get ready for bed. However, you can help them avoid melting down by preparing them for transitions ahead of time. Let your child know at least ten minutes in advance that you expect him to stop what he’s doing and engage in another activity. If he doesn’t cease what he’s doing, give him another reminder five minutes later.


Though teaching self-regulation to children on the Spectrum is challenging, the rewards are well worth it. Kids who can think before they act are calmer, happier, and enjoy healthier relationships with best results, start teaching your Asperger child impulse control skills early in life and patiently repeat lessons as needed. Your child will almost certainly prosper under your caring guidance.


Finally, don’t forget that assistance from a mental health professional can be an invaluable aid in teaching your child how to self-regulate. You and your child don’t have to navigate life with Asperger’s or HFA alone.

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