Unfortunately there’s no such thing as anger-management classes specifically for Aspergers children – and you may find that not a week goes by without your youngster reaching Mach 4 on the rage and frustration scale.
Often times, this kind of aggression isn’t deliberate – it’s your Aspergers youngster’s way of asserting himself if he can’t find the right words to say how he’s feeling or what he wants. And anger is fine: we’re all entitled to feel it if things don’t go our way. But anger is a feeling, while aggression is a behavior – and your youngster has to learn that he can’t use it to solve his problems. You need to guide him in learning how to manage his emotions, control his impulses and express his anger with words.
If you have an Aspergers youngster who has an “anger-control” problem, use these tips to (a) prevent anger outbursts and (b) help calm him down once he has launched into a rage or meltdown:
1. Allow the Aspergers youngster to use his energy in a fun way through jumping, spinning, running, climbing, swinging or other physical activities. Allow him to play-wrestle with pillows or other soft objects since agitated kids seek sensations inherent to the contact from tackling, bumping and crashing.
2. Allow the youngster to perform some heavy chores such as vacuuming, moving objects or cleaning windows and cabinet doors. This helps him focus on completing a necessary task while using his energy in a constructive way. Heavy chores or intense exercises allow kids to experience sensory input to different muscles and joints.
3. Give the youngster a creative outlet through playing with watercolor paints, drawing or coloring or molding with clay or play dough.
4. If another youngster is upsetting the Aspergers child, find out why, then confront the other youngster and ask him or her to apologize. If you have any authority over the troublemaker, then give him/her a minor punishment (not watching TV that day, whatever).
5. Ask the Aspergers youngster to take several deep breaths and count to ten. This breathing and counting technique will help him to react not with impulsivity and anger, but in a calm way.
6. Be a good role model. Before you can calm down your kid’s anxiety, you must first learn to calm down your own first. Lead by example, because you can’t put out a fire with another fire.
7. Be positive! Aspergers kids pick up negative thoughts very quickly and will react and respond to them.
8. Brainstorm solutions. If your youngster doesn’t have the verbal skills to assert himself in a non-violent way, then teach him. Children love “pretend play” and you can use that to teach them how to react to the things that tend to trigger their rage. Role-play a situation that would normally have your youngster going into meltdown and work out how he can resolve it without his fists and feet flying.
9. Check your own stress levels, because Aspergers kids are often emotional barometers for their parents.
10. The repeated act of chewing and sucking provides agitated kids the necessary oral sensory input that helps them relax. This is why some kids will chew the inside of their mouth when they feel agitated. Replace this destructive habit by giving agitated kids food that requires repeated chewing, such as celery, carrots, lettuce and other crunchy vegetables. Kids can also chew gum or taffy to help them settle down. You can also give the youngster a smoothie to drink using a straw.
11. Create a calming home environment. Aspergers kids have difficulty remaining calm in a hectic environment. Clearing the clutter and taking a “less is more” approach to decorating can reduce the sensory overload on Aspergers kids. The Aspergers youngster’s bedroom especially should be free of clutter. Use plastic bins to organize and store all those precious little plastic treasures (that we adults commonly refer to as “junk”) and small toys. Open the curtains to provide natural lighting. Keep posters and wall hangings to a minimum. Paint the youngster’s bedroom in calming muted colors instead of bright primary colors.
12. Have the Aspergers youngster wear a weighted belt. These therapeutic weight devices are designed to help agitated kids feel grounded by their core and thus more secure as they become aware of their body in relation to their surroundings. Weighted belts help with the youngster’s balance and motor skills. The deep pressure stimulates the youngster’s sense of positioning to help her refocus and reorganize herself when she is in an agitated state.
13. Allow the agitated youngster to sit in a beanbag chair. The feeling of being hugged helps to relax her when she is too agitated to receive the hug of a parent.
14. Allow the youngster to play in a warm bath or dig in a sandbox. Agitated kids experience a calming effect from the variety of textures.
15. Don’t be harsh. If he/she is angry about a privilege being taken away, not getting to have dessert, having to turn off the television, having to go to bed, or simply is having a very bad day, don’t be harsh. Be gentle and caring. Try to reason with the youngster. Ask what he/she wants, if they had their way. Do they demand to stay up another half-hour (or whatever)? Make a bargain that they may stay up for ten minutes, but that you would read them a story at bedtime (or whatever). Go halfway and give them a deal. If they still are being a pain, or if you simply can’t let them stay up, tell them that they have to go to bed, and give them the reasons why.
16. Don’t smack him. If you’re in the habit of smacking your youngster in the heat of the moment, you need to express your own frustration more constructively. Smacking in anger teaches kids to strike out when they’re angry. Seeing that you don’t exercise self-control when you’re angry makes them think they don’t have to either.
17. If at all possible, find a space in the house to designate as a relaxation space. It does not have to be a large space but it does need to be away from high activity areas. This little corner (or even a portion of a walk-in closet) can have a beanbag chair and a few books, coloring books or other quiet time activities. Encourage your youngster to go to this space when they become angry or out of control, but never make this a place of punishment. This special spot in the house is a positive place where they can go to settle down, sort things out or just hang out when they need to be alone.
18. If the youngster is upset or angry about something related to one of his/her toys or possessions, ask to see the toy and try to fix it. In the worst-case-scenario, the toy will be permanently broken, and you may want to “put it away so you can fix it properly later”- and wait to see if the youngster forgets about it. If not, you can either buy that youngster a new thing or get it repaired.
19. Follow a routine. Aspergers kids thrive in homes that provide routines, consistency and structure. These kids especially need structure and schedules to feel secure in their surroundings. For them, a more “military” approach to routines works better. Waking up, eating meals, doing homework and bed times should all occur at about the same time every day, with few surprises to upset the Aspergers youngster.
20. Give your youngster an alternative to a tantrum. If he is able to identify that he is losing control, or if you notice it yourself, you can suggest another activity. You can often help a youngster calm down with a little distraction.
21. Give your youngster a mini-massage. Touch is very important to some kids. Massaging their temples, giving a shoulder rub or lightly running your fingers through their hair may calm him quickly.
22. Help him work out what he’s feeling. After your youngster has calmed down from a tantrum, gently talk him through it. Ask him what was bothering him and why: “Did you think I wasn’t listening to you?” Like adults, young kids have a variety of feelings. They need to be taught how to label and manage those feelings, especially anger. In order to do this, your youngster needs an emotion vocabulary – and you can provide that by asking questions such as, “Were you angry?” … “Did you feel sad?” … “Were you frightened?”
23. Help your youngster to identify the warning signs leading up to a tantrum. Older kids can even make a list of these warning signs and post them in a visible location. If he is aware of what these signs are, he can then practice the breathing and counting technique.
24. Hold the highest vision for these kids and try not to label them as difficult or nonconformist.
25. Keep them away from caffeinated drinks and anything with added preservatives, coloring and sugar.
26. Lay it on the line. Sometimes young kids need it spelled out so they can see how their behavior relates back to Mom and Dad pulling them up all the time. Your youngster reacts aggressively when you try to enforce rules and limits – so he gets told off. Explain to him in simple terms the connection between those two events: “Jack, being told off makes you cranky. But if you keep hitting and biting, I’m going to keep telling you off. If you stop doing it then I won’t tell you off.”
27. Make sure the youngster is not hurt. Is physical pain upsetting him? If so, and he is hurt, take care of his wound, or bump on the head, etc. If the youngster is still upset, there may be some anger towards the person or thing that caused the injury.
28. Make the effort to really listen to them at least once a day or when you teach them. Many Aspergers kids react negatively to authority, so making time for them on their own will help to build their confidence.
29. Manage your own anger. If you go off like a rocket at the slightest thing, it’s likely your youngster will too. Your kids learn to manage their anger by watching the way you manage your own. It’s a sobering thought, but anger habits are learned. The irony is that an aggressive youngster can often be a major trigger for parents to explode, but try not to let your own anger build up. Deal with it as soon as possible, using a calm voice to express how you feel rather than yelling. It’ll have way more impact. And just as you expect your youngster to apologize for bad behavior, get into the habit of apologizing to him if you lose your temper inappropriately. If your youngster’s aggressive behavior is disrupting your home and putting family members or others at risk, and he reacts explosively to even the mildest discipline techniques, see your doctor. She may be able to refer you to a child psychologist or counselor who can teach you new ways of interacting with your youngster that will help you manage his anger more effectively.
30. Many Aspergers kids do not know HOW to calm down or even what “calm” feels like. Explain it to them and discuss it frequently.
31. Operate a zero-tolerance policy. Do not tolerate aggressive behavior at all, in any way, shape or form. As with every other aspect of parenting, consistency is paramount. The only way to stop your youngster from being aggressive is to make a House Rule that aggression is not acceptable.
32. Practice what to say. Offer him verbal alternatives to his rage: “Maybe you could have said this. Why don’t you try that next time?” If trouble is brewing, remind him by saying, “Use your words, Tom” – and be sure to praise him when he does, perhaps via a Reward Chart with a happy face for every day he doesn’t hit or by saying something like, “I’m so happy you didn’t lose your temper when Alex was playing with your toys.”
33. Put together a “Boredom Box” that provides creative outlets for your Aspergers youngster. Fill this box or plastic storage bin with paint sets, coloring books, crossword puzzles, modeling clay, jewelry making kits and other artistic areas of interest. Some Aspergers kids bore easily and their fast spinning minds need extra stimulation. In the absence of nothing better to do, Aspergers kids will lean on their own devises, and you don’t want them doing that. Better that they draw than set the cat on fire.
34. Reassure Aspergers kids that you like them, even though you recognize they are ‘highly spirited’.
35. Teach your youngster what calm behavior looks like by showing him you can be calm, too.
36. Remove the youngster from the stressful situation. Lead him to a quiet room or a secluded spot on the playground.
37. Eliminate clutter in the youngster’s environment to help structure and focus his energies to prevent repeated outbursts. Do not speak in an agitated or overexcited voice to an agitated youngster since this aggravates the problem. Keep your voice calm while instructing her in concise sentences on what she can do to calm down. Dim the lights so the agitated youngster receives less sensory input from surroundings that she may feel are harsh and which may further distract her.
38. Take your youngster for a walk or send him around the block on his own if he is old enough. Not only does walking burn off toxic energy, the repetitive thump, thump, thump of feet hitting pavement brings the mind back into focus.
39. Taking a mini-vacation with guided imagery. Guided imagery is a powerful relaxation tool for Aspergers kids that pulls their focus to positive thoughts, all the while encouraging creativity in your youngster. You can check out books on this technique at your local library if you want further information on the subject.
40. Deep breathing is an easy technique young kids can use to defuse anger. Show your youngster what to do by placing your hand on your chest and getting him to do the same while taking in two deep breaths. The hand on the chest serves a handy visual cue that you can use to remind your youngster to take a step back from what’s bothering him: just do it if you see him start to get frustrated.
41. Teach him to empathize. Aspergers kids often pay little mind to the effect their behavior might have on everyone else. If your youngster hits, bites or kicks, get down to his level and calmly ask him how he would feel if someone did that to him. Prompt him to give it some thought by saying things like, “If your sister kicked you like that it would hurt you and make you cry.”
42. Give them lots of opportunities to be creative as it helps to release emotional energy.
43. Try aromatherapy!
44. Try fish oil. It has a calming effect.
45. Try journaling. For the youngster who is old enough to write, journaling is an excellent way to untangle frazzled minds and get things off their chest. This technique allows Aspergers kids to spill their internal stresses outside themselves and onto paper. Develop a daily habit of having your youngster write a page or two, depending on their age, about anything that comes to mind. They can write “I hate school, the dog just drooled, the baby’s crying is driving me crazy…” – whatever comes to mind. Eventually, they will get to the guts of what is going on inside them. Then rumple or tear the paper up and throw it away. These private internal thoughts are not for you or anyone else to read, ever. Please respect their privacy and let them know they can write anything down without fear of reprimand.
46. Turn it around, and learn from Aspergers kids the gifts of honesty, perseverance, patience and problem-solving.
47. Unplug him. Kids who see aggressive or violent behavior played out on the TV screen or in computer games tend to be more aggressive when they play. If your youngster is consistently aggressive, limit his exposure to it in the media. If he does see it on TV, explain that hitting isn’t a nice way to act and doesn‘t solve problems. Reinforce the message by choosing storybooks and TV shows that promote kindness.
48. Use calming music.
49. Walk away. Sometimes it is best to leave a youngster to work through a tantrum by removing yourself from the situation. However, you should always ensure that your youngster is in a safe environment and not able to hurt himself.
50. Watch the diet. Some parents find that reducing or eliminating certain foods from the diet goes a long way in calming the Aspergers youngster. If your youngster is a finicky eater, you will need to supplement the diet to make sure your he has the fuels needed for his body to function well. Starting the day out with a healthy breakfast balanced with proteins, fats and carbohydrates is important. Sugar cereals are quick and convenient but should not be used as a breakfast mainstay. Fruit juices are high in calories and sugar and not recommended. Instead of juice or sodas, get in the habit of offering plain old H2O. With plenty of bottled waters that offer fruit flavors and vitamin enhancements, getting your kids hydrated is easier now than ever before.