What Every Child with Asperger’s Needs for Good Mental Health
Typical adolescents go through many different changes and transitions in an attempt to discover who they are as individuals. It’s common for a teen to have many different hairstyles, change music and movie interests, and especially embrace different social activities involving their peers. Teenagers who have Asperger’s tend not to be concerned with changing their appearance or style. Quite the opposite is true for these kids. Change can be a huge source of anxiety. People with Asperger’s thrive on routine and predictability. People with Asperger’s generally have a few specific interests that they are consumed by, which don’t change dramatically. Their knowledge of the interest grows considerably since they are always thinking about it and seeking more information. This process doesn’t leave a lot of room for the typical self-exploration that many teens experience. This difference is one of many reasons that teens with Asperger’s have a hard time relating to the average teenager.
Here are some things you can do to help a teen with Asperger’s to survive and thrive:
1. Teens with Asperger’s and HFA often experience self-esteem issues. To combat this, try to make them feel like they have a role of importance in matters that involve them. Give them choices and a sense of autonomy, while also making them aware of potential consequences.
2. Employ an activity-based reward system. Teens with Asperger’s often derive intense pleasure from their favourite activities, so these can be used to motivate them to engage in less-preferred activities (e.g., homework, chores). This avoids nagging, frustration, and other negative social stimuli.
3. Always remember to show your teen unconditional love and acceptance; teens with Asperger’s need to know they are loved and valued as they are.
4. Create a plan to teach your teen basic social skills and how to apply them across multiple situations, such as how to start a conversation, how to ask for help, etc. Make sure he or she understands how to move those skills from one environment to the next. Do not try to teach too many of these skills at one time; instead, break them down into manageable lessons. Make sure to have the teen apply these skills in real-world situations and reward him or her for a job well done.
5. Employ your teen’s love of organization and list-making to help build his or her self-esteem. Lists like “Five things I like about myself,” “Five people who care about me,” or “Five things I accomplished this week” can go a long way toward making a teen feel good about his or her self. Encourage your teen to store these lists and look at them when feeling down or discouraged.
6. Expect mood swings, meltdowns and periods of hyperactivity, and remember that often the best thing you can do for your teen is to keep a grip on your own emotions. Reactivity only makes these outbursts harder to get through and magnifies the stress of the situation.
7. Don’t try to minimize or “cure” your teen of his or her autism-based needs or behaviours; simply help the teen to effectively manage them and be happy while living with them.
Kids with Asperger’s have a very difficult time having a reciprocal conversation or interaction with people which makes it very hard to make friends. They also have difficulty empathizing and relating to their peers in a way that fosters a traditional friendship. People of all ages who have Asperger’s spend much of their time in their world entertaining themselves. When the teenage years approach they will often begin to long for the companionship and comradery they see with other teens around them. Their family and loved ones need to foster that desire as much as they can. Unintentional teen isolation can lead to depression and other emotional distress. Teenagers with Asperger’s already have a significantly higher risk of being prone to depression.