By Dr. Steven Richfield
Among the challenges of raising children with Asperger syndrome are the emotional ones placed upon the family. The collection of glaring social issues, mixed with subtle thinking variations and occasional unpredictable emotional swings, transforms parenting into a confusing trip of trial and error. When errors mount, family life is often mired in conflict, and the child’s issues are exacerbated. Parents may resort to blaming one another, leading to further downward spiraling.
To guard against this dysfunctional family dynamic, consider the following coaching tips.
Increase awareness of how Asperger syndrome places a child or teen in a handicapped position with respect to many circumstances in life. The nature of the disorder makes it difficult to readily adapt to change, recognize the subtleties in circumstances, take the perspective of another, and resist reacting to any perceived injustice/false accusation. As events unfold at home, these troubles pop up without warning, eroding smooth discussions and ensnarling the family within the world of Asperger syndrome. It’s easy for family members to unwittingly precipitate more conflict due to an approach that shows little Asperger IQ (AIQ).
Developing AIQ entails using your awareness of the typical impairments that place those with Asperger syndrome at a distinct disadvantage in life—and being prepared to effectively navigate around them. For example, those with Asperger syndrome tend to process emotionally laden events in “black and white” terms, making it hard for them to attribute meaning to the weight of circumstances. This sets them up to react emotionally and without sound perspective when accusations fly, family conflict stirs, etc. This can easily translate into them blaming the person who is yelling the loudest. Parents and other siblings can use their AIQ to reassure them that some conflict is normal, curtail accusatory tones of voice, and model reparative tones and behaviors.
Keep in mind that Asperger syndrome tends to magnify emotional reactions and restrict social understanding. Therefore, it is critical for other family members to consider these tendencies and to recognize and review common themes that have triggered past meltdowns due to limitations imposed by the disorder. Typical themes include misunderstanding the intention of jokes or sarcasm; expecting past events to always repeat themselves within similar circumstances; failing to consider timing, present company, and privacy matters when social boundaries are to be heeded; and tendencies toward excessive preoccupation and trouble refraining when enjoying something or somebody.
Using a loving tone of voice and tender words, discuss these issues with the family member who has Asperger syndrome. Explain how the tears in the family relationships can be repaired if everyone takes responsibility and works together. Describe how past conflicts have demonstrated how helpful it will be for everyone to develop stronger AIQ—including them. Suggest mantras they can call up in their mind, such as “My family loves one another, even when we don’t get along.” This can help restore emotional balance. Introduce “no-conditions time-out requests” where any family member can put interaction on pause for five minutes in order for cooler heads to prevail.
Dr. Steven Richfield is a clinical psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills-building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit www.parentcoachcards.com
Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach