Positive Parenting the Aspergers Way

Positive parenting is a powerful way to improve your child’s Aspergers behavior and reduce the stress in your home. The basis of this parenting technique is to engage your children with kind but firm words. This way of talking to them is not permissive, but it is also not punitive.

This parenting technique is the foundation of what works for children with Aspergers.

Parenting a child with Aspergers is exhausting!

I have to admit that I can be a grumpy parent. It took me a long time to figure out that I’m grumpy because I’m exhausted and unprepared.

Parenting is a lot of work anyway, and we’re parenting kids who are somewhere between special needs and neurotypical (NT*). My husband and I are constantly assessing whether Trio Man is being a typical boy who tests all the boundaries or if “his Aspergers is flaring up.” It’s a lot of work!

*NT is short for neurotypical. It’s the polite way to refer to people whom others might call “normal.” As you can imagine, to use the word “normal” is offensive to those of us who are not.

In addition, there’s more house cleaning because children with Aspergers make more messes–unintentionally, of course, because they lack fine motor skills and common sense.

For example, I just cleaned sprinkles for the ice cream off of the kitchen counter and floor because Trio Man took the whole top off the sprinkles rather than flipping the top open. Yes, I know this is typical of all kids. All kids can be clumsy and uncoordinated. But trust me when I say that it’s more.

Too Much Parenting Advice

In addition to being grumpy, I am also unprepared. I’m unprepared for two reasons:

  1. I am not a natural parent.
    It seems like parenting comes naturally to a lot of women. Well, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m the youngest and never saw anyone parent anyone (except my parents parenting me–and I’m a pleaser, so I was relatively easy to parent). Maybe because I’m a bit of an Aspie myself. (I need a system for parenting!) I don’t really know. I just know that I have to fill my brain with information from the parenting experts and think very purposefully about how I’m going to parent.
  2. I’m overwhelmed by everything that I think a good parent should do.
    There’s an abundance of parenting advice out there. Advice from your own parents. Advice from friends. Oh, and of course parenting advice from all the professionals–Dr. Sears, James Dobson, BabyCenter.com…

More work!
How do I sift through all the parenting advice to figure out how to parent my child?

None of the parenting advice, however, seems to come from experience in parenting a child with Autism.

Let me be clear. My goal in writing this page is not to come up with something new. I do not want to start a new trend in parenting. We Aspergers Parents don’t need something new. We need something that works!

My goal is to summarize what the experts have to say about positive parenting in a way that works for kids on the Spectrum.

Strong-Willed Child–to the Nth Degree!

Our kids with Aspergers seem to be strong-willed children, always wanting to have control.

My friend Liz and I were reminiscing about how we got to the point of getting the Aspergers diagnosis for our children, and interestingly we both first assumed that we had strong-willed children. (We had both read The New Strong-Willed Child by James Dobson. You can learn more about strong-willed children on the Focus on the Family website.)

How interesting, I thought, that Liz and I assumed the same thing.

Children with Aspergers do seem to be strong-willed. One of your relatives has probably told you that your child is “playing you.” But you know that’s not the case.

Kids with Autism, like strong-willed children, do want control, but unlike strong-willed NT kids their motivation for getting control is about feeling out-of-control in this world that they do not understand. Your job is to help them understand.

If you were to read about raising strong-willed children, then you would read about positive parenting techniques. The experts say that it’s all about how you communicate with them.

But with kids on the Spectrum, positive parenting is only part of the puzzle. Certainly positive conversations help, but that’s just the start.

Positive Words – Positive Parenting

Let’s get started.

Here’s how I changed the way I talk to my boys, changing from negative to positive parenting.

I used to say something like this in a firm but grumpy voice:

“If you don’t clean your room, then no video games!”

However, both Trio Man and I were in a better mood when I said something like this:

“When your room is clean, then you can play video games.”

This is a subtle change, but it makes a big difference.

  • Your mood is better.
  • Your child’s mood is better.
  • And your child is more likely to comply without complaint rather than resist, according to the positive parenting and strong-willed child experts.

Also, notice that in the above example I did not ask a question, such as “Trio Man, will you clean your room?” Aspies don’t recognize the politeness of questions. If you ask a yes/no question, expect “no” as the answer.

Whenever I use positive words, I feel good! I was amazed at how much better I felt, that is, how much better my mood was, when I switched to positive parenting.

Think about how you talk to your children.

  • Do you talk that way to your co-workers?
  • To your boss?
  • To the people who report to you?
  • Your friends?
  • Do you want your spouse to talk to you the same way that you talk to your children?

I have to remember to say only what will help to build up my children and meet their needs so that what I say will help them.

Set Expectations

Okay, so you now know what the positive parenting experts say. Now let’s add one of the techniques for positive parenting kids on the Spectrum.

You have to set expectations.

The positive parenting experts won’t disagree with this point. Many of them will suggest setting expectations. But with Autism, it’s not a suggestion. It’s mandatory.

Set Expectations.
With Autism, this is not a suggestion. It’s mandatory.

To follow this example, I would have ideally set expectations before requiring Trio Man to clean his room. I didn’t do that at first, but I have since redefined myself as a mother, so now we have clear expectations and a system for showing the expectations.

The expectations are essentially house rules.

You might explain to your child that you are making new house rules. Make sure all the parents/caregivers understand and are in agreement about the rules, then go over them (maybe even post them on the wall).

Then go one step further: Review the rules each day.

Setting expectations is not just about deciding the rules and communicating them once. With Autism, you need to remind your child, kindly (positive parenting all the time), daily–sometimes hourly–what the expectations are.

With Autism, you need to remind your child, kindly, daily–sometimes hourly–what the expectations are.

How to Set Expectations

For parents of children with Autism, setting expectations is about building systems and teaching the systems to our kids.

Kids with Aspergers are systems people. They like systems. Teach them systems.

A system is a group of details organized into something. Kids with Aspergers are detailed people. They see details. They focus on details. But they often have a hard time seeing the system into which the details fit.

Put another way, kids with Aspergers see the trees, but they have a hard time seeing the forest.

Kids with Aspergers see the trees.
All the trees.
Every kind of tree.
And they will tell you everything they know about each and every tree.
But they don’t realize that the trees are in a forest.

First, Set the Standard

In the case of a clean room, you have to provide the details of what constitutes a clean room.

Set the standard. What makes the room clean according to your standards?

Take a picture of the room when it’s clean.

When you first set expectations for a clean room, start with just a couple of things that make the room clean. Tell your child–directly–that you are starting with just a couple of expectations and then you’ll add one more thing and so on until he or she learns to do the whole room him- or herself.

Remember that your child with Aspergers probably has a maturity level that’s about 2/3 of his or her chronological age. So, choose your standards based on maturity.

Children with Aspergers usually have a maturity level that’s 2/3 his chronological age.

4 chronological years = 2-1/2 maturity years

6 chronological years = 4 maturity years

9 chronological years = maturity years

For example, when Trio Man was age 6, I set my expectations as if he were 4. I decided that he should:

  • put the comforter on his bed
  • place his pillow in the right place
  • put all his books away into the baskets (not neat, just in–I can make them neat)
  • help me fold all the other blankets in his room (and there are many)

I bet you’re wondering about the toys. Well, in our house, the toys are in a different room, the playroom.

I moved the toys into the playroom when our second boy, Spider-Man, was born, I rearranged the rooms, giving up “my room,” which had been my craft room. My room became the boys’ bedroom and what had been their bedroom became the playroom. This way Trio Man had a place to play while Spider-Man napped.

Having a playroom also kept the living room free from toys (most of the time), which gave me a bit of space “to myself.” We have a playroom even today–but we should probably be calling it a game room!

Second, Provide the Details

If your child is a pictures person, provide pictures of each detail. If your child is a word person, provide a checklist that explains each detail.

Trio Man is a word person. So at age 6, a bulleted list would do:

  • put comforter on bed
  • place the pillow in the right place
  • put all the books in the bins
  • help me fold all the other blankets

Third, Set a Time Limit

In order to have time to play the video game, your child has to clean the room by a certain time. The situation that usually arises at our house is that the room has to be clean by a certain time so that Trio Man has time to play video games before dinner. For example, room clean by 4:30 pm, dinner at 5:30.

Be sure you provide plenty of time to complete the task because Aspergers time is longer than NT time.

Natural Consequences

Parenting experts recommend natural consequences, which work to an extent but usually only with Aspies who are past second grade and only if the consequences are immediate.

Example: Brushing Teeth & Cavities

For example, a positive parenting expert said that if your child does not brush his teeth, then let him get a cavity. Well, this example will not work for a number of reasons:

  • Too much time between behavior and consequence–the child will not understand the connection
  • Children with Aspergers are usually very challenging at the dentist’s office! (and that’s a very mild statement)
  • Cavities cost me money!

Example: Forgetting School Lunch

Another example from a positive parenting expert is if your child were to forget his lunch, leave it at home rather than bring it to him at school. This probably won’t work, either.

  • Your Aspergers child may fixate on the missing meal, making for a bad day for him and his teachers (can you say Meltdown City!?!).
  • You probably packed the meal because your child is on a special diet, and if he eats the school lunch, then he’ll have a couple bad days while the food works its way out of his body.

Consequences the Aspergers Syndrome Parent Way

You can allow consequences. But regardless of age, you have to explicitly connect the consequence to the behavior. Explain it. Don’t expect him to figure it out on his own.

Now that you have…

  1. set the expectation of cleaning the room and what a clean room looks like
    and
  2. provided the details for what needs to be done to get the room clean
    and
  3. set a time limit

…you can let the consequence happen. If the room is clean on time, then your child gets to play video games until dinnertime. If the room is not clean on time, then no video games.

However, you need to remind your child of the consequences.
Over and over again.

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