My grandson was just diagnosed with Aspergers at 8. From the time he was three years old he has had behavior problems. I now think they were related to anxiety and aspergers. I have observed at our home if I break his routine or he is annoyed by someone else (usually his step sister), he becomes very agitiated and 'has a melt down'. I suspect that it is aspergers but his step mom keeps telling me it just years years of bad behavior and being allowed to act this way. He spends a lot of time sent to his room, and when he is sent there he is destructive to things in the room. She says his behavior is so bad she does not like to be with him at all. There are 3 other children in the family, and there is constant bickering, and anger.
My heart breaks when he is stuck, and can't seem to gain control. He lies a lot now, but I know that he was punished a lot when he was younger. I find now you can be looking right at him and he knows it, but will deny doing what you just observed. He is also now pulling out his hair.
But nearly 90% of the time when he is with me he is loving, kind and sweet. He is on meds: a mood stabilizer (prozac) and concerta.
I would like a little help with the 10% of the time when he has a meltdown. In the past 3 weeks, the meltdowns are more frequent (1 each visit as opposed to 1 every 3 months), and he tells me he hates me. And I know he doesn't mean it, but is frustrated or angry.
It is important for you to know that, independent of a child's diagnosis, there are behavioral interventions that are very likely to help. A diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome increases the likelihood that you will observe behavioral difficulties, but that does not mean that you need to live with those difficulties. Understanding that children with Aspergers experience the world in a different way is important. But, we also have a responsibility to work with children toward more socially appropriate behavior. I recommend that you seek the advice of a qualified professional who can help. The website of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (http://www.bacb.com/) provides a directory of service providers.
I think you are right and alot of the disruptive behaviour is down to Aspergers. But that doesn't mean it is acceptable. What it means is that he may need structure and supports to help him behave as well as structure and support so that he has different options other than a meltdown. But I would also say that even adults with Aspergers have meltdowns and I remember one adult had posted his fear of having a meltdown and of being approached by a policeman. He said that if, at that point of anxiety/stress, the policeman touched him he would probably retaliate and hit him back, with the obvious consequences of that!
You are right to say that breaking routines/rituals is going to cause a meltdown. For them the world is quite a chaotic place with no understandable connections. That is why they like routines/rituals because it them makes them able to predict what is going to happen. If you change it they are again thrown into turmoil of not knowing what is going to happen.
I have heard of a system called 123 magic, which alot of families have used successfully for 'normal' children and those on the spectrum and with ADD/ADHD. It provides the structure so that they can navigate through difficulties behaving more appropriately and it concentrates on rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviour instead of just punishment for bad behaviour. The child with Aspergers needs to know what the boundaries are and the other family members (including other siblings) need to know what are the difficulties of Aspergers. For example if your grandson has problems with transitions he needs the structure so that he is able to accept that the TV programme he is watching has finished and now it is someone elses turn to watch it. If he has rituals/routines/obsessions then these have to be worked with. You cannot try to stop/remove them because that will cause anxiety/stress/meltdowns etc. So if a sibling is playing with something involving his obsession and it is driving him up the wall, the sibling has to know that is a no go area.
My son, who is on the spectrum, also explained to me that when they get emotional about something they are totally flooded with that sensation. We are able to experience that sensation in relation to what has happened we are not completely overwhelmed by an emotion out of proportion to what has happened. Secondly my son says he cannot stop the feeling. So where we can quite quickly get our feelings and behaviour under control and therefore act appropriately they cannot. It is overwhelming and it doesn't stop for a long time. So, any effort he makes to control himself should be praised. He should be shown some empathy eg. I can see you are really upset/angry about ..... and I think you need some time to calm down. Then they can have 5/10 minutes in a quiet place. This is a different approach to being told you are naughty and are sent to your room. You are recognising the difficulty and showing him how to cope ie. go somewhere quiet to calm down. Then later you can talk about it with him and can use Social Stories to explain the situation because many times what we understand automatically is not obvious to the child.
Don't get too upset about words he uses (although he should be made to understand what words are unacceptable through social stories again). When he says he hates you he is just speaking his mind without the social/communication insight to know how hurtful that is to you. Most other children would also think those words, but know that it is socially inappropriate to say them. But listen to what he says to understand the depth of what he is feeling as that will be an honest expression of how he is experiencing the emotion.
Great post, Sally! I have to ad that my sister-in-law (not diagnosed, but Asperger's runs in the family) was pulled over by a police officer and she opened her car door & kicked him you know where! My daugther, who is Aspie, has to go to a school outside of our district because they couldn't handle her, and is driven there by the school's van. Yesterday she had a substitute driver who didn't know a thing about Asperger's and right away my daugther told her what she was doing "wrong" (out of the normal routine). The driver took it as "this kid is an obnoxious brat" and reacted by telling her, "I'm the driver, I can do what I want!" Which, of course, threw my daugther into a borderline meltdown because the driver refused to do it the "right" way. Aspie's are not trying to be disrespectful when pointing things out--it is just obvious to them what is right and wrong (or routine), they can't figure out why everyone else doesn't see it the same way. A good book to read to get an understanding of how these people think and feel is Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome by Luke Jackson (a teen with Asperger's).
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