Your Child's Safety Line

October 10, 2011

By Dan Coulter

There’s a great Gary Larson Far Side cartoon about optimists and pessimists that shows four people, each separately looking at a glass with some water in it.

     The first person says, “The glass is half full!”

     The second person says, “The glass is half empty.”

     The third person says, “The glass is half full…No! Wait!  Half empty….No, half…What was the question?”

     The fourth person says, “Hey! I ordered a cheeseburger!”

     Larson titled this cartoon, “The four basic personality types,” but I sometimes think of the fourth responder as a guy with Asperger Syndrome.  He’s got a completely different viewpoint that others may not understand or appreciate.

     And it can cause him no end of trouble.

     I recently read about a Swedish study of people with Asperger Syndrome published in the September 2011 issue of Research in Developmental Disabilities.  The study involved 54 willing adults with a clinical diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.  Their average age was 27 and they were evenly split among males and females.

     Among the key findings: Seventy percent of the study participants had experienced at least one episode of major depression, and about half had recurring depression.  Fifty-six percent met the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder.

     What’s the connection between Asperger Syndrome and these problems?

     I think it’s mostly the cheeseburgers: unexpected, out of the norm behaviors. 

     Parents know these behaviors can cause others to reject, ridicule or ignore children with Asperger Syndrome.   And routinely getting rejected, ridiculed or ignored is enough to make almost anyone anxious or depressed.

     Of course, there can be other causes for depression or anxiety.  Parents should seek professional help for a child who shows ongoing symptoms of either, but there are things you can do that might prevent things from ever getting to that stage. 

     They say the best defense is a good offense. So, if you want to try and  protect your children with Asperger Syndrome from negative feelings, I recommend relentless optimism. 

     Act enthusiastic and positive when you’re with your children.  Don’t always feel positive?  As a friend of mine recommended, “Fake it til you make it!”  Be a motivator.  Not with false praise, but by focusing on your children’s strengths and praising even small successes.  Praise is addictive. 

     I’ve seen enthusiastic, happy kids with Asperger Syndrome return home from school hurt and frustrated after trying to fit in and getting rejected.  And it can be worse than you know.  Your child may not be telling you all the negative things that are happening at school.  That’s not uncommon.

     Even without access to all the details, parents can help children cope by making home a safe haven of encouragement and support.  One key form of support is teaching kids social skills that can help them when they’re flying solo. 

     My parents had no clue I had Asperger Syndrome when I was growing up, but they were always positive and encouraging. I always knew they believed in me.

     Whether it’s a parent, a teacher, or a friend, knowing that someone believes in you can create a safety line that helps keep you from being dragged into anxiety or depression.

     Whoever else your child sees with a hand on his safety line, imagine how powerful it will be for him to know you’re always anchoring the other end. 

     ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of thirteen videos about Asperger Syndrome and autism, including “Asperger Syndrome for Dads.”  You can find more articles and information on his website: www.coultervideo.com.

          Copyright 2011  Dan Coulter   Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

 

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