Crucial Skills-Acquisition for Children with Asperger’s and HFA

Parents often know that their child on the autism spectrum needs to be taught certain skills to improve behavior, sensory sensitivities, anxiety-related issues, and so on ...but they may not know exactly what skill-set will work best in any given situation.

There is a specific set of skills that children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) need to be taught in order to insure their long-term success. The progression of skills-acquisition proceeds as follows:

  1. In the first stage of skills-acquisition, the AS or HFA child follows rules as given, without context, and with no sense of responsibility beyond following the rules exactly.
  2. In the second stage, competence (i.e., active decision making in choosing a course of action) develops, and the child acquires organizing principles to quickly access the particular rules that are relevant to the specific task at hand.
  3. In the third stage, the child develops intuition to guide his decisions and devise his own rules to formulate plans. 
  4. In the fourth and final stage, the child (a) has an intuitive grasp of situations based on a deep, tacit understanding, (b) has a vision of what is possible, (c) transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims, and (d) uses "analytical approaches" in novel situations or in solving problems.

The progression is thus from rigid adherence to rules to an intuitive mode of reasoning based on tacit knowledge. Below are the crucial skills that children on the autism spectrum so desperately need to be taught:

Social and Communication Skills undefined

Social and communication skills are best taught by a communication specialist with a focus on pragmatics in speech. Alternatively, social training groups may be used if there are enough opportunities for individual contact with the teacher and for the practicing of specific skills. Teaching may include:
  • Verbal decoding of nonverbal behaviors of others
  • Social awareness
  • Perspective-taking skills
  • Correct interpretation of ambiguous communications (e.g., nonliteral language) 
  • Processing of visual information simultaneously with auditory information
  • Understanding the appropriate social context of an interaction 
  • Appropriate nonverbal behavior (e.g., the use of gaze for social interaction, monitoring and patterning of inflection of voice)
  • Imitative drills (e.g., working with a mirror)

Adaptive Functioning undefined

The acquisition of self-sufficiency skills in all areas of functioning should be a priority in any plan of intervention. The tendency of children with AS and HFA to rely on rigid rules and routines can be used to foster positive habits and enhance their quality of life and that of family members. The teaching approach should be practiced routinely in naturally occurring situations and across different settings in order to maximize generalization of acquired skills.

Maladaptive Behaviorsundefined

Specific problem-solving techniques (usually following a verbal rule) may be taught for handling the requirements of frequently occurring, problematic situations (e.g., involving novelty, intense social demands, frustration, etc.). Training is usually necessary for recognizing situations as problematic and for selecting the best available learned strategy to use in such circumstances.


Concepts, appropriate procedures, cognitive techniques, etc., are more effectively taught in an explicit and rote fashion using a “parts-to-whole” verbal instruction approach, in which the verbal steps are in the correct sequence for the behavior to be effective. Additional guidelines should be derived from the child's neuropsychological profile of assets and deficits. Specific intervention techniques should be similar to those usually employed for learning disabilities, with an effort to thwart the identified difficulties by means of compensatory techniques (usually of a verbal nature).

If significant motor and visual-motor deficits are discovered during the evaluation, the child should receive physical and occupational therapies. Occupational therapies should not only focus on traditional techniques designed to address motor deficits, but should also reflect an effort to integrate these activities with learning of visual-spatial concepts, visual-spatial orientation, and body awareness.

Self-Support undefined

As children and teens with AS and HFA are usually self-described as loners (despite an often intense wish to make friends and have a more active social life), there is a need to facilitate social contact within the context of an activity-oriented group (e.g., church communities, hobby clubs, self-support groups, etc.). The little experience available with social groups suggests that these children and teens enjoy the opportunity to meet others with similar problems, and may develop relationships around an activity or subject of shared interest.

Vocational Training undefined

Oftentimes, older teens and young adults with AS and HFA may fail to meet entry requirements for jobs in their area of training (e.g., college degree) or fail to maintain a job because of their poor interview skills, social disabilities, eccentricities, or panic attacks. Having failed to secure skilled employment, these young people may be helped by well-meaning friends or relatives to find a manual job. As a result of their typically poor visual-motor skills, they may once again fail, leading to devastating emotional consequences. Thus, it is important that these individuals are trained for - and placed in - jobs where they are not neuropsychologically impaired, and where they will enjoy a certain degree of support and shelter. Also, it is preferable that the job does not involve intensive social demands.

Dealing with Difficult Teen Behavior: 40 Tips for Parents

Helping a teenager become a caring, independent and responsible grown-up is no small task. The teenage years can be a confusing “time of change” for adolescents and moms and dads alike. But while these years can be tough, there's plenty you can do to nurture your adolescent and encourage responsible behavior. Use the following parenting skills to deal with the challenges of raising an adolescent:

1. As you allow your adolescent some degree of self-expression, remember that you can still maintain high expectations for your adolescent and the kind of person he or she will become.

2. As your adolescent demonstrates more responsibility, grant him or her more freedom. If your adolescent shows poor judgment, impose more restrictions.

3. Avoid disciplining your adolescent when you're angry.

4. Avoid reprimanding your adolescent in front of his or her friends.

5. Avoid setting rules your adolescent can't possibly follow. A chronically messy adolescent may not be able to maintain a spotless bedroom overnight.

6. Avoid ultimatums. Your adolescent may view an ultimatum as condescending and interpret it as a challenge.

7. Avoid using a sarcastic, demeaning or disrespectful tone.

8. Be consistent when you enforce limits. Whatever disciplinary technique you choose, relate the consequences to the broken rule and deliver them immediately.

9. Be prepared to explain your decisions. Your adolescent may be more likely to comply with a rule when he or she understands its purpose.

10. Be specific. Rather than telling your adolescent not to stay out late, set a specific curfew.

11. Before negotiating with your adolescent, consider how far you're willing to bend. Don't negotiate when it comes to restrictions imposed for your adolescent's safety (e.g., substance abuse, sexual activity, reckless driving, etc.).

12. Don't impose penalties you're not prepared to carry out.

13. Don't pressure your adolescent to be like you were or wish you had been at his or her age.

14. Encourage your adolescent to talk to other supportive adults (e.g., uncle, older cousin) for additional guidance.

15. Enforcing consequences can be tough undefined but your adolescent needs you to be his or her parent, not a pal. Being too lenient may send the message that you don't take your adolescent's behavior seriously, while being too harsh can cause resentment.

16. Focus on what you want your teenager to learn from a particular consequence - not whether or not he or she going to care.

17. Get to know the technology your adolescent is using and the websites he or she visits. If possible, keep the computer in a common area in your home. Remind your adolescent to practice basic safety rules (e.g., talk to a parent or trusted adult if an interaction or message makes you uncomfortable, don't text or chat on the phone while driving, don't share personal information online, don't share passwords, don't send anything in a message you wouldn't say face to face, don't plagiarize, don't get together with someone you meet online, and so on).

18. Give your adolescent some leeway when it comes to clothing and hairstyles. It's natural for adolescents to rebel and express themselves in ways that differ from their moms and dads.

19. Have plenty of time-outs (i.e., time away from your difficult teenager).

20. If your adolescent doesn't seem interested in bonding, keep trying.

21. If your adolescent shows an interest in body art (e.g., tattoos, piercings), make sure he or she understands the health risks (e.g., skin infections, allergic reactions, hepatitis B and C). Also, talk about potential permanence or scarring.

22. Keep in mind that only reprimanding your adolescent and never giving him or her any justified praise can prove demoralizing. For every time you discipline or correct your adolescent, try to compliment him or her twice.

23. Keep your rules short and to the point.

24. Limit consequences to a few hours or days to make them most effective.

25. Listen to your adolescent when he or she talks.

26. Make sure you reprimand your adolescent's behavior, not the adolescent.

27. Make sure your adolescent knows early on that you won't tolerate tobacco, alcohol or other drug use.

28. Not sure if you're setting reasonable limits? Talk to your adolescent, other moms and dads and your adolescent's doctor. Whenever possible, give your adolescent a say in establishing the rules he or she is expected to follow.

29. On days when you're having trouble connecting with your adolescent, consider each doing your own thing in the same space. Being near each other could lead to the start of a conversation.

30. One of the most important parenting skills needed for raising healthy adolescents involves positive attention.

31. Punish only the guilty party, not other family members.

32. Put house-rules in writing. Use this technique to counter a selective memory.

33. Regularly eating meals together may be a good way to stay connected to your adolescent. Better yet, invite your adolescent to prepare the meal with you.

34. Remember, adolescents learn how to behave by watching their moms and dads. Your actions generally speak louder than your words. Set a positive example and your adolescent will likely follow your lead.

35. Respect your adolescent's feelings.

36. Spend time with your adolescent to remind him or her that you care.

37. To encourage your adolescent to behave well, identify what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior at home, at school and elsewhere. As you establish appropriate rules, be sure to explain to your adolescent the behavior you expect as well as the consequences for complying and disobeying.

38. Use “active ignoring.” Tell your adolescent that you'll talk to him or her when the whining, sulking or yelling stops. Ignore your adolescent in the meantime.

39. When a consequence needs to be issued for misbehavior, ask the adolescent to suggest one. Your adolescent may have an easier time accepting a consequence if he or she played a role in deciding it.

40. While it's important to consistently enforce your rules, you can occasionally make exceptions when it comes to matters such as homework habits, TV watching and bedtime. Prioritizing rules will give you and your adolescent a chance to practice negotiating and compromising.

Activities for Autistic Children

Parents, teachers, and other caregivers often get so caught up in educating and providing structure to the lives of autistic children that they forget that, above all, he or she is a child. Like any other child in his or her age group, your autistic child wants to have fun. While some activities may not be suitable for those suffering from autism, there are a number of fun games to play with autistic children, many of which can get them involved with others or help them further develop motor or social skills while just focusing on having a good time.

Autistic children in the elementary school age range can benefit greatly from song. Even children who do not verbally communicate with words can learn to hum along or play simple instruments, such as tambourines or whistles. Using sounds that are repetitive and with educational lyricshelps autistic children learn school lessons but also gives them an outlet for some of the sensory stimulation they need, such as yelling. Play follow the leader with the instruments to help the children focus their attention and improve socialization skills.

Depending on how mature your child is, he or she may also not only be able to participate in regular childhood games, but greatly benefit from them as well. These activities, including tag and other games, can be learned more easily than you think. Stick with games in which the autistic child is not forced to have close physical contact with other children, as this may be hurtful for autistic individuals. Also, remember to play to your child’s strengths or what he or she wishes to learn. If he or she has a problem with yelling inappropriately, for example, encouraging him or her to be involved with a game of hide and seek may help curb this behavior.

Autistic children often wish to be included in games with non-autistic peers, and so this may help with the learning process. At home, focus on games that involve closer contact with trusted family members. For example, make it a game to get across the room without touching the floor. Perhaps the only route in some instances is to be carried. Remember that each child is different developmentally, so stay in tune with how challenging the activities should be.

As your child matures, he or she may want to be involved with organized sports. This should be encouraged, but choose your sport carefully. Golf, baseball, and other sports that do not involve strong personal sensory stimulation may be better for your child than something like tackle football. However, be open to all possibilities. Be sure the team’s coach understands your child’s disability and is willing to work with him or her.

At this later developmental stage, also continue encouraging learning activities. Sensory games work well to further teach these children, and as they mature emphasize the importance of appropriate behavior as you are playing these games. Using things like water balloons in games your child already enjoys is often as fun for children with autism. Also realize that an autistic individual has trouble seeing things from another’s point of view. Therefore, they may be less likely to enjoy games in which something must be kept a secret from another person (like go-fish).

Overall, you and your child need to grow together. Remember that although he or she has many special needs, sometimes your child needs to simply be a kid as well. Encourage play along with work, and realize that games and activities for autistic children may fulfil two key elements, socialization skills for life and learning to enjoy playing with their peers.

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