Creating Successful Behavior Charts for Aspergers Kids

Behavior charts consist of two primary components: (1) parental expectations (e.g., doing chores, behaving, handling self-care tasks, etc.) and (2) the reward for meeting such expectations.

Behavior charts can be very effective in getting kids to do what moms and dads want. But often times, parents find that their Aspergers children don’t respond to charts – either because the concept is too abstract, or the gratification is too delayed. Adjusting and simplifying the chart to your Aspie’s particular needs and abilities can make the difference between success and failure with this particular parenting technique.

Here’s how to successfully employ behavior charts for Aspergers children:

1. Be sure to have plenty of consistency, patience and a willingness to try new ideas.

2. Coupons for desired activities (or avoidance of undesired ones) can serve as a good tangible reward for behavior-chart goals. Try pre-made printable coupons (see below) or create some of your own.

3. Don’t load up the chart with unrealistic items you’d like your youngster to complete (e.g., making all A’s on the next report card). A couple “big goals” are fine every now and then, but make sure there are some things he is already doing on a regular basis, and a couple of very easy things that will always earn some points or check marks no matter what. Add one “miscellaneous” category for rewarding random acts of good behavior.

4. Don’t offer anything you can’t deliver. Big trips or large toys are risky promises. Losing them will be a negative experience for your youngster if he doesn’t succeed in earning enough points, and they may be hard for you to deliver reliably. If your youngster is earning an allowance, put the money aside early in the week so you’ll be sure to deliver on payday.

5. Figure out a reasonable time period for your youngster to go without a reward. For a very young Aspie, or one with severe behavior issues, it may be as little as 15 minutes. Let your youngster know that for every 15 minutes of appropriate behavior, she will get a reward (e.g., a sticker on a piece of paper, a small snack, a coin, etc.). If the behavior during any specific increment doesn’t measure up, the reward is missed, but the time resets and the next increment of time is open for change.

6. If your Aspergers youngster makes a partial attempt at something (e.g., doing a chore), but does not completely follow through (e.g., he made his bed, but didn’t pick up his clothes off the floor), make sure he always gets some sort of reward. The idea here is to be positive about successes. Offer a descending scale of rewards for points attained (e.g., smaller amounts of money, reduced time to play computer games, etc.). If your youngster can work with you on this, set up the rewards together and agree on them. Put the possibilities on the chart.

7. If your youngster is not always able to do the items on the chart without help, then increase the number of points available for that task, and award them according to effort (e.g., if your youngster has trouble getting dressed in the mornings, you might award 5 points if he does it himself, 3 points if you just have to help a little, and 1 point if you have to get him dressed – but he cooperates). In this way, you’re able to make a positive experience out of almost any outcome.

8. If your youngster just doesn’t “get” a chart with points or checkmarks, try putting happy faces or stickers on the chart for successful results – or skip the chart idea entirely and devise another method of tracking your youngster’s successful moments (e.g., put pennies in a jar, add beads to a string, add Legos to a Lego tower, add rubber bands to a rubber-band ball, etc.). Anything that involves “adding on” to something will work.

9. Make the chart all about rewarding positive behavior – not penalizing negative behavior. Make a big deal about putting points up – or checking items off. Don’t apply blame for items not checked. The chart is an opportunity to get extra credit for things done right.

10. Most behavior charts are intended to improve your youngster’s performance over time, or provide weekly motivators for meeting your expectations. Sometimes, though, you need to reward behavior in the short-term (e.g., making it through a church service, surviving a mall trip, etc.). Using a chart to break down the activity into small reward-able units of time can make it easier for your youngster to get it done.

11. Reviewing the chart every night gives you an opportunity to provide positive feedback for jobs well done. If your youngster responds best to short-term rewards, you might give something like a sticker for a minimum of points earned. At the end of the week, the stickers can be “cashed-in” for bigger rewards.

12. Some Aspergers children are highly motivated by an allowance. For them, the pay-off at the end of the week should be in cash. Establish the amount in advance and put it on the chart. If money isn’t motivating, find something that is (e.g., small toy, fast-food lunch, computer game time, a “get out of time-out free” card, etc.). Be creative and find the things your youngster really craves, not the things that would make sense to you.

13. Your Aspergers youngster’s abilities and your family’s needs change, thus the chart should change too. Do this in collaboration with your Aspie when possible. Add new chores as your youngster’s abilities increase, and eliminate things he is rarely successful at. Keep brainstorming new rewards and new methods of earning them. The secret to a good behavior chart is making sure your youngster is always able to earn points – and excited about doing so.

14. Decide on a couple things you would most like done “better” by your Aspie (e.g., putting shoes away, sharing toys with siblings, helping with chores when asked, good routine when getting ready for bed, etc.). With a permanent marker, write or draw these points on the side of the chart. Then write or draw the acceptable reward you are happy to offer for compliance.

15. Don’t forget about behavior at school. Ask your youngster’s teacher to send home a behavior report every day. If necessary, send in a simple form that can be checked off quickly. Award points based on performance. Make a big deal of putting these points on the chart, but if your youngster has a bad day, don’t make a big deal of not adding them. Simply wish him better luck tomorrow.

Making a Behavior Chart from Scratch—

1. Write out a list of goals you would like to place on the behavior chart. These might be chores, behavior modifications, or every day habits. Whatever you decide, make a “top five list” of priorities to place on the chart.

2. Open up a word-processing program (e.g., Microsoft Word) or calculation software (e.g., Microsoft Excel). Use a simple chart or graph template of your choosing to make your behavior chart. If you do not find one, you can simply draw one in Word or freehand with a marker.

3. At the side of the chart, make five sections and label each section with one of your goals. For example, “Clean Room” can be section one, “Courteous to Siblings” can be section two, “Sharing Toys” can be section three, etc. On the top of the chart list the date of the month, or just leave it blank. Make rows of squares next to each section so columns are formed with approximately 10-30 squares in each row.

4. Shop with your youngster to pick out stickers to be used as a reward. Getting him/her involved with the creation of the chart – as well as the goal reaching – can really make a strong and positive impact. Choose stickers that are brightly colored or feature your youngster’s favorite characters. Place a sticker on the chart every time a good behavior is completed.

5. Decide what the reward will be once a row on the good behavior chart is filled. Note these rewards somewhere on the chart, ideally along the bottom or below the graph. Make your reward intentions clear from the start, so a youngster will not expect too much or think too little of the behavior chart. Brainstorm with your youngster to come up with goal deadlines and rewards.

6. Tack or tape the good behavior chart in a visible, common area of the home. This may be the kitchen, living room or hallway. Encourage other family members to verbally praise the youngster when a sticker is earned, or a goal is near completion. Create a new good behavior chart with fresh goals once the current ones are achieved.

Printable Reward Coupons—

Print any – or all – of the coupons below and cut along the dotted lines. Use as needed according to the situation.

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Aspergers Children and Social Phobia

The diagnosis of social phobia in Aspergers kids emphasizes the following:

  1. A youngster with social phobia must show the capacity for age-appropriate social relationships with familiar people, and his/her anxiety must occur in peer contexts, not just with grown-ups.
  2. Due to limitations of cognitive and perceptual skills, Aspergers kids with social phobia need not recognize that their fear in social situations is excessive or unreasonable.
  3. The anxiety brought on by social situations may be evidenced by crying, tantrums, freezing, or shrinking from social situations with unfamiliar people.
  4. There must be evidence of the social fears existing for a minimum of six months.

Developmental Pathways to Social Phobia—

1. Genetic factors: Taken as a whole, studies using twins to determine whether genetics play a significant part in the development of social phobia are inconclusive. Some twin studies have examined the heritability of shyness and social fears rather than the clinical disorder social phobia. Overall, these studies suggest that genetics play a modest to moderate role in the development of symptoms and temperamental traits associated with social phobia.

Studies examining the rates of social phobia in the offspring or in other first-degree relatives of socially phobic people show that social phobia rates in relatives are higher than in the relatives of people with other anxiety disorders or no disorder. Overall, these studies suggest that social phobia is at least moderately familial and possibly specific in its transmission. However, family studies cannot specifically sort-out the relative contributions of genetic influences and family environmental influences on the development of a disorder. Thus, the mechanisms behind this familial connection in social phobia still need clarification.

2. Normative developmental factors: Kids as young as 6 months through 3 years of age commonly show anxiety in the forms of stranger and separation anxiety. Some young kids, when confronted with a new social situation, throw tantrums, cling to a familiar person, avoid contact, refuse to take part in group play, and become overly vigilant. By late childhood and early adolescence, kid’s fears of social evaluation of academic and social performance are forefront. Although at some point during their adolescence all youth will experience some level of anxiety about being judged in school or social situations, obviously not everyone goes on to develop pathological levels of social anxiety (i.e., social phobia).

3. Parenting/family environment factors: Research indicates that parent characteristics and family environment (through such mechanisms as modeling of avoidant responses and restricted exposure to social situations) are likely to have at least a moderate effect on the development of social phobia in kids and adolescents. It appears likely that if the parent’s own anxiety is communicated to the youngster, a cycle is established in which parent and youngster reinforce each other’s anxiety.

Controlling/overprotecting and less affectionate parenting styles have been found to be associated with social phobia in adult offspring, although the cause and effect relationship between these characteristics and social phobia is unclear. A major gap in this area is research that uses kids with social phobia or kids at high risk for social phobia, and this needs to be filled before the developmental impact of parental and family factors can be specified.

4. Physiological factors: Researchers have just begun to explore the physiology of social phobia, and studies have been primarily conducted with grown-ups. When facing phobic situations, socially phobic people commonly experience such symptoms as blushing, racing heart, sweating, and increased respiration, all of which are reactions associated with the autonomic nervous system (ANS). However, the few studies that have examined ANS functioning in socially phobic people have provided mixed results.

Other research has examined the function of the amygdala, a small region in the forebrain involved in the output of conditioned fear responses, e.g., freezing up behavior, blood pressure changes, stress hormone release, and the startle reflex. Hypersensitivity in the neural circuitry that centers on the amygdala may be responsible for behavioral inhibition in kids. The application of currently developing neuroimaging technologies to kids and adolescents may prove to be especially useful in elucidating the continuities and differences between social phobia in youngsters and in grown-ups.

5. Temperamental factors: A predisposition to timidity and nervousness has been believed to be a matter of inborn temperament. The majority of recent research in the role of temperamental factors in the development of social phobia focuses upon behavioral inhibition (BI). BI refers to a temperamental style that is characterized by reluctance to interact with and withdrawal from unfamiliar settings, people or objects. In infants, BI is typically manifest as irritability, in toddlers as shyness and fearfulness, and in school age kids as cautiousness, reticence and introversion. BI includes reactions that can be seen in behavior, such as interrupting of ongoing behavior, ceasing vocalization, comfort seeking from familiar persons, and retreat from and avoidance of unfamiliarity.

BI also includes reactions that are physiological, such as stable high heart rate, acceleration of heart rate to mild stress, pupillary dilation, and increased salivary cortisol. Overall, evidence to date suggests that a behaviorally inhibited temperament may predispose a youngster to the development of high social anxiety, although BI has yet to be definitively identified as a necessary precursor to the development of the clinical syndrome social phobia.

Treatment of Social Phobia—

1. Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT): Treatment from the cognitive-behavioral perspective assumes that social anxiety is a normal and expected emotion. Social anxiety becomes problematic when it exceeds expected developmental levels and results in significant distress and impairment at home, school, and in social contexts. Anxiety is assumed to be comprised of physiological, cognitive, and behavioral components.

Cognitive behavioral treatment involves specific psycho-education, skills training, exposure methods, and relapse prevention plans for addressing the nature of anxiety and its components. Psycho-education provides corrective information about anxiety and feared stimuli; somatic management techniques target autonomic arousal and related physiological responses; developmentally appropriate cognitive restructuring skills are focused on identifying maladaptive thoughts and teaching realistic, coping-focused thinking; exposure techniques involve graduated, systematic, and controlled exposure to feared situations and stimuli; and, relapse prevention methods focus on consolidating and generalizing treatment gains over the long term.

2. Social Effectiveness Therapy for Children (SET-C): This treatment is appropriate for youth ages 8 through 12 and involves 24 treatment sessions held over a 12-week period. Each youngster participates in one group social skills training session and one individual exposure session each week, with structured homework assignments serving to promote generalization of the within session experience to the youngster’s real life.
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Helping Aspergers Teens Transition to College

A major life challenge for young people with Aspergers is attending college after high school graduation. Below are some crucial guidelines to follow as you help your Aspergers teen transition to college:

1. If your youngster’s diagnosis has been identified and supported in your school district, a transition plan to support him from graduation to higher education should be implemented by age fourteen with specific resources and contacts identified.

2. Some high schools partner with local colleges to offer higher-education opportunities while the teenager is still attending high school. Inquire about such opportunities well in advance of your teen’s senior year of high school since there may be a waiting list, limited availability, or sign-up procedures.

3. Hopefully at some point in your youngster’s school career, a guidance counselor completed an inventory of his aptitudes (i.e., strengths and talents). The results of such an assessment can provide a valuable starting point in weighing future educational paths for your youngster to pursue.

4. Your youngster’s school should be able to assist you in matching your youngster’s strengths and skills with schools known for their expertise in those select areas (e.g., the college with a strong science program, the university known for its music department, etc.). Literature and other resources can be obtained with the support of your youngster’s guidance counselor or other staff.

5. Just prior to graduating high school, encourage your youngster to make an appointment to meet with the guidance counselor to gather information and tips on filling out applications. If your youngster procrastinates, set deadlines by which you expect him to follow through. (Note: His apprehension and resultant procrastination may be misinterpreted as laziness or lack of motivation.)

6. At some point prior to starting college, your child will have to deal with the difficult distinction between “What I want to take with me” vs. “What I have room for and what the college will allow in a dorm.” Usually the two are very different. Advise your child that dormitories are usually tiny, cramped spaces – and he will have to share it with at least one other person.

7. Be sure that your child’s medications are up-to-date. It’s a good idea to have her get a physical just to make sure that everything is working well and that there are no physical limitations that have to be addressed.

8. Be sure to run through the basics of car maintenance at some point. Show how to check the air pressure in the tires, the oil level, the radiator fluid level, etc. Point out the dial or icon on the dashboard that shows whether the car is about to overheat, and discuss what the child should do if that indicator moves toward the dangerous zone. Also, review how to deal with a flat tire (e.g., change it, use a fix-a-flat product, call AAA, etc.).

9. Ensure that you are maintaining the literature, directions, contacts and references, and campus maps as organized as possible. Keep notes cataloged well – and in writing. Carefully photograph or videotape everything, marked clearly, to review as often as needed in order to make a final decision or just familiarize your youngster with the surroundings.

10. If your teenager will be using a credit or debit card, get that established before leaving for college. Be adamant that she is not to sign up for a new credit card. Also, explain how to balance a checkbook and how that must be done each month in order to avoid overdrawing her account and racking up fees for bad checks. Let her know that you are not going to foot the bill for bank fees that she could have avoided.

11. Make sure that all vaccinations are updated — measles, mumps and rubella vaccines should have been given at one and five years of age for entrance into all public schools.

12. Also, make sure that your child has had the hepatitis B vaccine, as well as Menactra — a newer vaccine for meningitis that is specific to the strain that appears to haunt the halls of college dormitories.

13. Make sure that your child has a cell phone with an updated calling plan. Be sure to check to see if it works well on the road to and from school as well as at the college — in the dorm room and on the walkways between classes. Decide whether it would be best for the cell phone’s home area to be based in your hometown, or whether it should be purchased at school, depending upon what would be more convenient for the student. Also discuss what you expect in terms of calls home per week, minutes to be used on a monthly basis or whether e-mail will be the primary communication device.

14. Many Aspergers teens have fears about not being able to fit in, making friends, leaving old friends, and how they’ll fare without parents to talk to on a daily basis. Some teens, of course, are raring to go and won’t give it a second thought, but many fresh high school graduates are fearful of the unknown. Some may even be depressed about leaving home or their old friends. Consider engaging in counseling if you and your Aspergers child can’t figure out the feelings and resolve them. A good counselor can let you know what will help your teenager to feel more comfortable with the move. Thinking and talking about fears and concerns ahead of time will make the transition much more successful and pleasant.

15. Parents should frame this time as a maturing “rite of passage” and not something to be filled with dread.

16. Set a budget. Unless you’ve had an older child recently in residence at the same college by which to gauge expenses, you’ll do a lot of guessing at first. A good place to start is to purchase the school’s meal plan. Also, consider funds needed for books, fees, video nights, shooting pool at the student union, etc. Then, depending upon your child’s responsibility level and nature, decide whether she can handle being given the entire spending money for the semester at one time, or whether it should be deposited into her account on a monthly or weekly basis.

17. Take into account the location of classes and the time allotted between classes, in addition to the distance from your youngster’s residence (or the parking lot, if commuting) to classes. Some Aspergers students find it physically depleting to spend a lot of time walking long distances, especially in inclement weather. On the other hand, if your youngster has too much time between classes, it can be socially awkward to find ways to fill such downtime, especially if he is a commuter.

18. The Aspergers student would do well to develop a checklist that includes not only “academic milestones desired” but social objectives as well (e.g., joining a student organization, attending an athletic event, participating in other on-campus social events, etc.).

19. Many colleges offer support programs to Aspergers students. On-site coordinators meet weekly with identified students. Upon admission, any such student meets with a coordinator to whom he is assigned and completes a participant agreement that defines the obligation of the support program as well as expectations of the student’s participation in the program. By signing a participant agreement, the student gives permission for a release of information so that test scores, grades, and other assessments are shared with his coordinator. This allows the coordinator to access student grades and provide feedback early on in each semester so that any action needed to improve grades can be planned well in advance of failing a course.

20. Another aid provided to Aspergers students by some college support programs is a study schedule that is filled out by each student and visually maps how to get organized, use time wisely, and plan when and where to devote time to studying. A calendar, maintained by both the coordinator and the student, records test dates and assignment and project due dates. When the Aspergers student comes in to meet with his coordinator, the coordinator can, at a glance, get a sense of where the student should be in his class management and can ask how he is progressing.

21. Yet another aid provided to Aspergers students by some college support programs is a learning style inventory, which is a simple, easy-to-read questionnaire that helps the student’s coordinator to determine the type of learning style unique to each student (e.g., visual learner, auditory learner, kinesthetic learner, someone who learns best through moving and doing, etc.). Supporting the student to identify his learning style and adapt study habits to some helpful techniques is another of the coordinator’s responsibilities. This may, in turn, lead to accommodations necessary to achieve success in certain classes (e.g., a professor’s flexibility in how graded notebooks are submitted if the Aspergers student reinforces certain concepts with illustrations).

22. Determining the type and degree of available support may be a decision-making factor in your youngster’s college selection. Making a connection with someone who will function as an ally is crucial to your youngster’s ability to assimilate successfully. But college is also about broadening one’s social contacts as well. An ally may be gained informally, or the relationship may be prearranged through a student mentorship program on campus. Most forward-thinking, progressive universities have programs established to aid students with disabilities, but finding those that have expertise in the subtleties of Aspergers may prove challenging.

23. Discuss your expectations with your child. The following issues should be covered:

  • Underage drinking is an all-too-common and socially acceptable college practice, but underage drinking is illegal, stupid, and can quickly get out of hand. A frank discussion of substance use will probably meet with eye-rolling, but it can’t hurt to delve, again, into that area.
  • Lots of freshmen register for 12 or 15 hours but drop to six or nine by the end of the semester. The expectation of the minimum number of credits completed per semester is an issue that should be addressed and agreed upon by both the parents and the student before the semester begins so that there are no ambiguities. Statistically, more college students take four and one-half to five years to complete their studies than the traditional four-year program — partly due to legitimate changes in the major area of study, but also due to too many wasted semesters when only six or nine hours of course work were actually completed.
  • What are your expectations about going to class and not lazing around the dorm room, sleeping in and hoping to catch the information from the roommate’s notes or via video classes?
  • What grade point average needs to be maintained before the new student matures at the community college for a few semesters or years until he’s ready to venture out again? Keep in mind that community colleges offer excellent educations and are usually less expensive. In addition, parents can offer more guidance and supervision if the teen is not ready to “do it on their own.”
  • What should the student do if he or she finds that they are in over their head — either academically (grade or credit problems), socially (too many friends or parties), or emotionally (homesick, not enough friends, lonely)? The college counseling center is usually an excellent resource if the college student doesn’t feel comfortable talking to parents about these issues.

24. In partnership with your youngster, explore all that “going off to college” can mean, including:

  • Attending a branch campus before relocating to the main campus
  • Attending college in another part of your current state (living on campus)
  • Attending college in another state (living on campus)
  • Considering how to transfer schools (and credits) if things aren’t working out, or as part of a plan
  • Starting out slowly by living at home but commuting to a local college
  • Starting out slowly by taking fewer classes (on campus or living at home)
  • Taking classes online over the Internet
  • Taking correspondence courses
  • Working part-time and attending night classes (on campus or living at home)

25. By following these guidelines, you and your Aspergers teen will be better prepared for a pleasant and successful college experience. This should be one of the most exciting, challenging, and stimulating times of his life. By avoiding problems such as poor grades, financial disasters or emotional meltdowns, your young adult will have a much greater chance of success in this new life chapter.
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Sensory Integration Therapy and Occupational Therapy for HFA Children

“What does sensory integration therapy entail? And is it effective for children with high functioning autism?”

Sensory integration therapy is often used alone or as part of a broader program of occupational therapy for kids on the autism spectrum. The goal of this particular therapy is not to teach specific skills or behaviors, but to remediate deficits in neurologic processing and integration of sensory information to allow the youngster to interact with the environment in a more adaptive way.

Unusual sensory responses are common in young people with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), but there’s no good evidence that these symptoms differentiate HFA from other developmental disorders. The effectiveness of sensory integration therapy has not been demonstrated objectively. “Sensory” activities may be helpful as part of an overall program that uses desired sensory experiences to reinforce a desired behavior, help with transitions between activities, and calm the HFA youngster

Occupational therapy is often provided to promote development of self-care skills (e.g., using utensils, personal hygiene, manipulating fasteners, dressing, etc.) and academic skills (e.g., writing, cutting with scissors, etc.). Occupational therapists also may assist in modifying classroom materials and routines to improve attention and organization, promoting development of play skills, and providing prevocational training. However, research regarding the effectiveness of occupational therapy in autism spectrum disorders is lacking.
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Is Asperger’s Simply a Variant of Normality?

Some people believe that Asperger’s is nothing more than a “different way of thinking” (i.e., a variation of “normal”). This notion is quite believable due to the fact that everyone has some Asperger’s characteristics. All the traits that typify Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can be found in varying degrees in the “typical” population. For example, collecting objects (rocks, stamps, old glass bottles, etc.) are socially accepted hobbies; individuals differ in their levels of skill in social interaction and in their ability to read nonverbal social cues; people who are capable and independent as grown-ups have special interests that they pursue with marked enthusiasm; and, there is an equally wide distribution in motor skills.
As with any disorder identifiable only from a pattern of “abnormal” behavior (with each trait varying in degrees of severity), it is possible to find numerous individuals on the borderlines of Asperger’s and HFA whose diagnosis is particularly difficult. While the usual case can be recognized with ease by professionals with experience in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders, in practice, the disorder blends into eccentric normality and into certain other clinical pictures. Until more is known about the underlying mechanism at play, it should be accepted that no precise cut-off points can be defined.

As an experiment, take a moment to scan through the following traits associated with Asperger’s and HFA (count the number of traits that apply to you)…

Social traits of Asperger’s and HFA include:

  1. Abrupt and strong expression of likes and dislikes
  2. Apparent absence of relaxation, recreational, or “time out” activities
  3. Bizarre sense of humor (often stemming from a “private” internal thread of humor being inserted in public conversation without preparation or warming others up to the reason for the “punchline”)
  4. Bluntness in emotional expression
  5. Constant anxiety about performance and acceptance, despite recognition and commendation
  6. Difficulty in accepting criticism or correction
  7. Difficulty in distinguishing between acquaintance and friendship
  8. Difficulty in forming friendships and intimate relationships
  9. Difficulty in offering correction or criticism without appearing harsh, pedantic or insensitive
  10. Difficulty in perceiving and applying unwritten social rules or protocols
  11. Difficulty judging others’ personal space
  12. Difficulty with adopting a social mask to obscure real feelings, moods, reactions
  13. Difficulty with reciprocal displays of pleasantries and greetings
  14. Discomfort manipulating or “playing games” with others
  15. Excessive talk
  16. Failure to distinguish between private and public personal care habits (e.g., brushing, public attention to skin problems, nose picking, teeth picking, ear canal cleaning, clothing arrangement)
  17. Flash temper
  18. Flat affect
  19. Immature manners
  20. Known for single-mindedness
  21. Lack of trust in others
  22. Limited by intensely pursued interests
  23. Limited clothing preference (e.g., discomfort with formal attire or uniforms)
  24. Low or no conversational participation in group meetings or conferences
  25. Low to medium level of paranoia
  26. Low to no apparent sense of humor
  27. Often perceived as “being in their own world”
  28. Pouting frequently
  29. Preference for bland or bare environments in living arrangements
  30. Problems expressing empathy or comfort to/with others (e.g., sadness, condolence, congratulations)
  31. Rigid adherence to rules and social conventions where flexibility is desirable
  32. Ruminating (i.e., fixating on bad experiences with people or events for an inordinate length of time)
  33. Scrupulous honesty, often expressed in an apparently disarming or inappropriate manner or setting
  34. Serious all the time
  35. Shyness
  36. Social isolation and intense concern for privacy
  37. Tantrums
  38. Unmodulated reaction in being manipulated, patronized, or “handled” by others

Physical  traits of Asperger’s and HFA include:
  1. Anxiety
  2. Bad or unusual personal hygiene
  3. Balance difficulties
  4. Clumsiness
  5. Depression
  6. Difficulty expressing anger (i.e., either excessive or “bottled up”)
  7. Difficulty in judging distances, height, depth
  8. Difficulty in recognizing others’ faces (i.e., prosopagnosia)
  9. Difficulty with initiating or maintaining eye contact
  10. Elevated voice volume during periods of stress and frustration
  11. Flat or monotone vocal expression (i.e., limited range of inflection)
  12. Gross or fine motor coordination problems
  13. Low apparent sexual interest
  14. Nail-biting
  15. Self-injurious or disfiguring behaviors
  16. Sleep difficulties
  17. Stims (i.e., self-stimulatory behavior serving to reduce anxiety, stress, or to express pleasure)
  18. Strong food preferences and aversions
  19. Strong sensory sensitivities (e.g., touch and tactile sensations, sounds, lighting and colors, odors, taste
  20. Unusual and rigidly adhered to eating behaviors
  21. Unusual gait, stance, posture
  22. Verbosity
Cognitive traits of Asperger’s and HFA include:
  1. An apparent lack of “common sense”
  2. Compelling need to finish one task completely before starting another
  3. Concrete thinking
  4. Dependence on step-by-step learning procedures (note: disorientation occurs when a step is assumed, deleted, or otherwise overlooked in instruction)
  5. Difficulty in assessing cause and effect relationships (e.g., behaviors and consequences)
  6. Difficulty in assessing relative importance of details (an aspect of the trees/forest problem)
  7. Difficulty in drawing relationships between an activity or event and ideas
  8. Difficulty in estimating time to complete tasks
  9. Difficulty in expressing emotions
  10. Difficulty in generalizing
  11. Difficulty in imagining others’ thoughts in a similar or identical event or circumstance that are different from one’s own (“theory of mind” issues)
  12. Difficulty in interpreting meaning to others’ activities
  13. Difficulty in learning self-monitoring techniques
  14. Difficulty in understanding rules for games of social entertainment
  15. Difficulty with organizing and sequencing (i.e., planning and execution; successful performance of tasks in a logical order)
  16. Disinclination to produce expected results in an orthodox manner
  17. Distractibility due to focus on external or internal sensations, thoughts, and/or sensory input (e.g., appearing to be in a world of one’s own or day-dreaming)
  18. Exquisite attention to detail, principally visual, or details which can be visualized (“thinking in pictures”) or cognitive details (often those learned by rote)
  19. Extreme reaction to changes in routine, surroundings, people
  20. Generalized confusion during periods of stress
  21. Impulsiveness
  22. Insensitivity to the non-verbal cues of others (e.g., stance, posture, facial expressions)
  23. Interpreting words and phrases literally (e.g., problem with colloquialisms, clichés, neologism, turns of phrase, common humorous expressions)
  24. Literal interpretation of instructions (e.g., failure to read between the lines)
  25. Low understanding of the reciprocal rules of conversation (e.g., interrupting, dominating, minimum participation, difficult in shifting topics, problem with initiating or terminating conversation, subject perseveration)
  26. Mental shutdown response to conflicting demands and multi-tasking
  27. Missing or misconstruing others’ agendas, priorities, preferences
  28. Perseveration best characterized by the term “bulldog tenacity”
  29. Poor judgment of when a task is finished (often attributable to perfectionism or an apparent unwillingness to follow differential standards for quality)
  30. Preference for repetitive, often simple routines
  31. Preference for visually oriented instruction and training
  32. Psychometric testing shows great deviance between verbal and performance results
  33. Rage, tantrum, shutdown, self-isolating reactions appearing “out of nowhere”
  34. Relaxation techniques and developing recreational “release” interest may require formal instruction
  35. Resistance to or failure to respond to talk therapy
  36. Rigid adherence to rules and routines
  37. Stilted, pedantic conversational style (“the little professor” concept)
  38. Substantial hidden self-anger, anger towards others, and resentment
  39. Susceptibility to distraction
Work-related traits of Asperger’s and HFA include:
  1. Avoids socializing or small talk, on and off the job
  2. Deliberate withholding of peak performance due to belief that one’s best efforts may remain unrecognized, unrewarded, or appropriated by others
  3. Difficult in starting project
  4. Difficult with unstructured time
  5. Difficulty in accepting compliments, often responding with quizzical or self-deprecatory language
  6. Difficulty in handling relationships with authority figures
  7. Difficulty in negotiating either in conflict situations or as a self-advocate
  8. Difficulty with “teamwork”
  9. Difficulty with writing and reports
  10. Discomfort with competition
  11. Excessive questions
  12. Great concern about order and appearance of personal work area
  13. Intense pride in expertise or performance, often perceived by others as “flouting behavior”
  14. Low motivation to perform tasks of no immediate personal interest
  15. Low sensitivity to risks in the environment to self and/or others
  16. Often viewed as vulnerable or less able to resist harassment and badgering by others
  17. Out-of-scale reactions to losing
  18. Oversight or forgetting of tasks without formal reminders (e.g., lists or schedules)
  19. Perfectionism
  20. Punctual and conscientious
  21. Reliance on internal speech process to “talk” oneself through a task or procedure
  22. Reluctance to accept positions of authority or supervision
  23. Reluctance to ask for help or seek comfort
  24. Sarcasm, negativism, criticism
  25. Slow performance
  26. Stress, frustration and anger reaction to interruptions
  27. Strong desire to coach or mentor newcomers
  28. Tendency to “lose it” during sensory overload, multitask demands, or when contradictory and confusing priorities have been set
  29. Very low level of assertiveness
If you were honest with yourself, you found that many of the traits listed above directly apply to you. Does that mean you are technically located somewhere on the autism spectrum? Some will argue that the answer to that question is a profound “yes.” Also, many professionals are now noticing that the younger population (approximately ages 5 – 25) is becoming more “autistic-like” due to their significant obsession with digital devices (e.g., iPhones, iPads, computers, etc.). These young people are literally (a) living in an altered reality (i.e., digital rather than real life experience), (b) spending inordinate amounts of time with their “special interest,” and (c) engaging in far fewer face-to-face social interactions – all of which are considered autistic traits. So, is autism on the rise, or are there simply more “normal” people engaging in “autistic-like” behavior (in the higher-functioning form)?

To complicate the matter of coming to an accurate diagnosis even further, there is the issue of “differential diagnosis.” For example, the lack of empathy, single-mindedness, odd communication, social isolation and over-sensitivity of individuals with Asperger’s and HFA are features that are also included in the definitions of Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD). To demonstrate this point, I had a client (19 year-old male) diagnosed with SPD who had no friends at college, he was odd and awkward in social interaction, always had difficulty with speech, never took part in rough games, was oversensitive, and very unhappy being away from home. He thought-out incredible digital inventions and, together with his younger brother, invented a detailed imaginary world. Sounds like Asperger’s – doesn’t it?

There is no question that Asperger’s can be viewed as a form of Schizoid Personality; however, the question is whether this grouping is of any value. The capacity to withdraw into an inner world of one’s own special interests is available in a greater or lesser measure to everyone. This skill MUST be present in those who are highly creative (e.g., inventors, artists, scientists, etc.). However, the difference between an individual with Asperger’s or HFA and the “typical” individual who has a complex inner world is that the latter DOES take part appropriately in two-way social interaction at times, while the former does NOT. Also, the “typical” individual, no matter how elaborate her inner world, is influenced by her social experiences, while the individual with Asperger’s or HFA seems cut-off from the effects of outside contacts.

Many “typical” grown-ups have excellent rote memories – and even retain eidetic imagery into adult life. Pedantic speech and a tendency to take things literally can also be found in “typical” individuals. Some individuals could be classified as having Asperger’s or HFA because they are at the extreme end of the normal continuum on all these traits. In other people, one particular characteristic may be so marked that it affects the whole of their functioning.

Even though Asperger’s and HFA do appear to merge into the normal continuum, there are many cases where the difficulties are so striking that the suggestion of a distinct disorder seems to be a more credible explanation than a “variant of normality.”

Personal One-on-One “Parent Coaching” from Mark Hutten, M.A.

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