Imagine the following situation. You’re out in a crowded mall shopping with your family. The environment is hectic and noisy, and just as you are getting ready to leave your child begins to scream loudly and behave inappropriately.
While many parents of toddler-aged children would view this event as a temper tantrum, for parents of older children with Asperger’s Syndrome, this situation may be all too familiar and quite embarrassing.
Overstimulation, anxiety, and the inability of that child to appropriately express his or her frustration may result in a breakdown that leaves spectators wondering why your 10- or 12-year-old child cannot control his or her emotions.
While you may be tempted to shout “My child has Asperger’s Syndrome!” at the top of your lungs, the stares of parents and the desire to calm your child prompt you to act quickly and leave the mall as soon as possible, much to your lament.
Caregivers of children with Asperger’s experience the reality of social embarrassment and ridicule all too often
as a consequence of their child’s behavior. Developing strategies for improving your child’s behaviors are important steps toward preventing future negative social outcomes.
When emotional outbursts do occur, caregivers need to have strong coping mechanisms and a standard or contingency plan in place to help them deal with the reality of their child’s behavior. Here are four strategies for coping that may provide you with the support needed to deal with challenging social outings.
1. Educate Yourself. Understand the specifics of your child’s diagnosis and mental challenges and what can be done to help soothe your child when outbursts occur. Education and awareness of the psychodynamics of the child’s outbursts is a powerful tool in effectively managing the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Each child is unique, and the goal is to know what works, and how to optimize positive results. If possible given the level
of your child’s cognitive understanding, have the child learn basic stress management and self-regulation techniques so they also have strategies for difficult times in outside activities. If not, try to find what works for you to help soothe the child and reduce his or her anxiety.
2. Develop a Contingency Plan. Caregivers of children with Asperger’s should develop contingency plans when structuring family outings. Contingency plans, or options under different challenging situations, may enable the family to change activities without too much disruption to the needs of other family members. Recognizing the child’s limitations and creating a family structure of support and preparation can enable parents to avoid embarrassing social situations while allowing the family to still have fun and to maintain understanding rather than resentment.
3. Build Support. Work with friends and community organizations that understand your situation. Discuss ideas offered by others who have been through similar challenges. Find peer and group supports that can help you cope with parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and dealing with outside social events.
Be aware of support systems in the locations you frequent, and prepare for such challenges before they occur. Awareness of the environment and practicing rehearsal strategies will be vital in managing your feelings and finding new techniques that may improve social outings.
4. Talk About It. Talk about your experiences with family members and with siblings of the child with special needs. Discuss your feelings and listen to their feelings so that you and your family members do not feel alone.
Communication before events may improve your confidence and provide your family with the intimacy needed to cope with these challenging situations.
Arguably, parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome has its challenges. Effective coping strategies, awareness of options, and rehearsal of strategies prior to leaving for outside social events are instrumental for caregivers navigating these challenges.
Dr. Clatch practices at the Courage to Connect Therapeutic Center, 2400 Ravine Way, Suite 600, Glenview. For more information, call 847-347-5757 or visit couragetoconnecttherapy.com.