In May 2013, the DSM-V grouped Asperger’s with other disorders along the autism spectrum under the umbrella category of autism spectrum disorder. Many experts continue to use the older term, and you may hear both applied to your child. Regardless of what you call the disorder, Asperger’s presents numerous social and behavioral challenges. Among the most difficult for parents to deal with are angry and defiant behaviors.
People with Asperger’s experience numerous issues that can lead to anger and defiance. Traits commonly seen in Asperger's, such as difficulty in reading social cues, a tendency to take things too literally, the hallmark trait of focusing on one interest to the exclusion of others, difficulties with social reciprocation, unusual speech inflection, aversion to change in routine, and other issues can make navigation of the social world difficult. Anxiety disorders of one kind or another are often seen in those with Asperger's. While some with Asperger's don't care about making friends, this often changes as they enter adolescence, and if they still don't have friends, depression becomes a real risk, and anger can be a symptom. If you suspect your child has depression, seek professional assistance. Some children with Asperger’s have difficulty processing intense emotions, leading to meltdowns and emotional explosions. Many with Asperger’s are highly sensitive to lights, certain types of noises and other sensory stimuli, which can increase anxiety and bring on meltdowns.
Involve your child in a calm discussion about his inappropriate behaviors. Tell him that you understand that his acting out is a response to something painful or frustrating, but you need his help to figure out what. Work together to brainstorm a list of solutions to minimize his triggers and help him maintain emotional stability. For example, some kids with Asperger’s communicate best through drawings or puppets. Some are able to self-soothe with worry stones or other small, easy to manipulate objects. Noise-canceling headphones help kids block out loud sounds. Create a list of solutions to try, and do not become distressed if it takes a few tries to find something that works consistently.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Oppositional defiant disorder is a mental health condition that sometimes occurs in tandem with Asperger’s syndrome. This disorder is characterized by ongoing defiant, vindictive and disobedient behavior that lasts for at least six months and greatly disrupts the home or school environment. ODD is complicated to diagnose, even for trained for professionals. Avoid making an armchair diagnosis that could end up doing more harm than good. Other disorders that might coexist with Asperger's can also lead to anger and defiance, as can family dynamics.
If identifying the possible causes and solutions for your child’s behavior is not enough, seek professional assistance. Start with the professional who diagnosed your child’s Asperger’s syndrome. Provide documentation of specific instances of your child’s defiant or angry behavior. Both you and your child will give interviews designed to help the mental health professional reach an accurate diagnosis. Depending on the circumstances, your child’s teachers might also need to provide information. Treatment often includes both family and individual therapy, and your therapist will teach you skills for managing the behaviors at home. Ask about programs and support groups in your area that assist parents and kids in coping with Asperger's. Some of the support groups plan outings and help teach social skills. With the right supports, anger and defiance will lessen.