Q&A Teenage Son with Asperger’s

Note:  Asperger’s Syndrome is a milder variant of Autistic Disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with limited and repeated patterns of interest and behavior.

QUESTION  Any ideas for assisting our 17 year old son with Asperger’s who is very oppositional?

ANSWER  My husband, Chris, has worked with some clients like your son—late adolescence, Asperger’s, unmotivated, sometimes defiant. This is what he says.

Chris: These are just some quick thoughts, many of which you may have already considered.

First, I think it would be important to have reasonable expectations. If Asperger’s is the issue, he’s limited in what he can do, and you are aware that too much expectation will only serve to make him agitated.

Along with expectations, encourage what he likes, both recreationally and for possible work opportunities.  My guess is he probably functions better in a routine situation where he can get the pattern down without a lot of different things to have to do. The more he’s able to do expected tasks, the more he can progress and do even more things.  Get involved in the things he likes as well, show interest and learn from his interests.
It’s important that when you deal with him, especially when you are in disciplinary mode, that anger not be the driving force, or even a secondary one.  Wait to cool down before trying to discipline.

In addition, build a system that rewards and disciplines based on behavior. If he earns a right to go out or to be with friends, so be it, if he doesn’t do what is expected, he has no reward. Don’t fight, argue, or otherwise engage over negative things.

You are probable aware of it, but there are support groups for parents of Asperger’s children. That can be a helpful resource.

God bless you in your efforts, every challenge we have gives us something to grow from, though usually not what we think we would have chosen.

Let me know how things go.

Lili: Just a few additional thoughts —

1-Do whatever is necessary to make sure that you, and everyone else around, are safe. When you have a 17 year old, defiant son, this needs to be taken into consideration. If he gets violent, you have to have a plan that works to deal with it. Otherwise, you end up dealing with a terrorist. Never productive.

2-As Chris mentioned, a classic approach with Asperger’s is behaviorism—based on costs and payoffs. When you think about it, all human beings are motivated by costs and payoffs. We do the things that give us substantial reward for little cost. We stop doing things when the cost exceeds the rewards/benefits. There are “Tough Love” materials that can help with this. You can google a lot of info on this. They are redoing their website    http://toughlove.com/html/

3-Chris also talked about building the relationship. We have much more influence when there is an abundance of positive influence in our relationship with our kids. This can take some work but it pays off in big dividends.

4-Try to create/structure situations for your son to be successful. This may take a lot of support, patience, working with him, whatever. But it’s absolutely true that “success breeds success.”

Again, those may all be familiar things that you have worked with before.

Best wishes.

  1. As a person with AS who also has a 14-year-old son with AS, I have learned that a common challenge is connecting actions with consequences. It is very important to communicate consequences with an AS individual, and to communicate how they are linked. A potential hazard is that the person with AS feels so “other” that he or she may feel that common rules don’t apply to them. It is critical to explain that rules definitely do apply to them, and again to explain how and why. People with AS require structure, so responding on whim or according to emotion will only be counterproductive.

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