How to manage anger in the aspergers child

Both my autistic children experience moments of anger.  For my aspergers daughter this builds up during her day at school and is let off when she is in the comfort of her own home.  Much of her anger is related to her frustrations at school and her difficulties in understanding others though she also gets angry if she thinks she has been treated unfairly.  Nevertheless, these are some of the things that I do to manage my children’s anger which might help you if you’re also having similar difficulties.

1.  Channel their anger into something else – tearing up old newspapers is a favourite in our house and works well at absorbing negative energy.  Alternatively get a pillow and encourage them to thump it.

2.  Distraction – my daughter loves art and the computer and if I can get her to concentrate on these things instead of focusing on her anger then she will start to calm down.  Alternatively, practical jobs are also a good source of distraction.  Mowing the lawn, washing the car or helping to cook can help both of my children to chill out.

3.  Exercise – the trampoline, cycling, swimming and the Wii have all been effective in helping to de-stress our children though I try not to leave the house if their anger is so great that a meltdown is likely.

4.  Scented oils, warm lavender pillows and warm baths with plenty of ‘bubbles’ have all helped my daughter to relax, particularly before bedtime.

5.  Create a calming bedroom – soothing colours and lighting can really help to calm our children.  We have recently redecorated our children’s rooms in colours of their choosing and have added special lighting to help them relax.  By involving them in the redecoration, we have managed to create bedrooms that they are happy to spend time in.

6.  Find a quiet space – time out in a quiet part of the house, away from other members of the family can be really effective.  Often in our house, our daughter needs to be on her own, either in the lounge watching TV or in her bedroom.

7.  Consider your child’s sensory issues.  My daughter often likes to squeeze in the laundry basket (the snug fit helps her to relax) and she also enjoys the tactile nature of fluffy clothing.  My son on the other hand enjoys water play or playing in the sandpit.  Ignore what is age appropriate and let them play with the things that help them to unwind.

8.  Keep calm – our autistic children can pick up on our feelings and react negatively if we are angry so by learning to be calm ourselves we can set a good example.

9.  Try  to find out what is causing the anger – I am fortunate that my daughter can tell me about her day and usually I can get to the root of her problems.  If your child can’t tell you, like my son, then speak to the school to see if they can provide any insight.  If not, think back to what your child was doing before he/she got angry and see if you can find a trigger.  However, as I have found it is not always possible to identify a trigger, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

10.  Other children – if the cause of the anger is the result of an argument with another child then try to find out what happened and deal with it.  If it’s a brother or sister, try and get the one who caused the argument to apologise and if the problem is school related, ask the school for help in resolving it.  My daughter will not settle if arguments remain unresolved or if she feels she has been treated unfairly so its important for me to deal with arguments quickly.

11.  Feelings – help your child to learn about their feelings and how to manage them.  After your child has calmed down discuss it with them, asking them whether they felt angry, sad or frightened.  Do this as often as possible so that they start to learn about their feelings and the symptoms of anger.  You may want to think about doing a social story on ways of staying calm or looking for a self-help book on feelings that you and your child can share.

12.  Just  because our children  are autistic, doesn’t mean we have to put up with aggressive behaviour.  Try and teach your child that aggressive behaviour is not  acceptable.  We have made it clear to our children that they loose computer time when they behave badly but we also make a point of rewarding good behaviour.

13.  Authority – my daughter does not respond well to authority so I try and explain that if she didn’t misbehave in the first place or she did as she was told then I wouldn’t need to tell her off.

14.  As far as possible, I get my children to help me clear up any mess that they have made during moments of aggression.  Its often too overwhelming for them to clear up on their own (they don’t know where to start) but if I get them to help me then it’s a way of showing them that one consequence of their aggression is that they will be expected to help clear up their mess.

15.  Empathy.  I try and teach my children the consequences of their behaviour on other people.  If one of my children says horrible things or hits out at someone else, I try and help them to think about what it would be like if people said or did those things to him/her.

This post is day 15 of the nablopomo challenge.

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12 Responses to How to manage anger in the aspergers child

  1. mimismum says:

    Hi, I just found your blog tonight after I just about reached the end of my tether and spent the evening in tears and ranting and raving at my husband about what our dd is going through.
    She is 9, was diagnosed last year as Aspergers, and thats all we have had,just the diagnosis. No help at all. I originally took her to the drs because of her anger and behaviour and that I didnt know what to do, that was 2 years ago (yes, its taken over a year to get the diagnosis)
    Usually she is always angry unless she is in her comfort zones of crafting or minecraft. But of course I cannot let her do that all day and all night. We limit pc time for each child to 1 hour a day for any homework tasks and 1 for play. We have 2 other daughters, one of 11, and one of 7. The one of 11 is very serious and can be bossy, (she calls it helping) and the 7 year old is a little minx who likes to joke and laugh a lot, oh and wind her sister up.
    Tonight we had a situation, I was sorting out the DS games, its the weekend so they can have them upstairs at bed time for a while, got to dd3s and asked her what she wanted to play and asked dd2 to get my walking stick for me as I was struggling to stand) dd3 went rushing off to get it and even when I said, no come back let … it was too late, dd2 screamed at dd3 snatched the stick off her and screeched into her ear ( they were stood inches apart)so loud it hurt my ears and I am moderately deaf and was at least 5 meters away…. I asked dd2 to stop but she flew into a rage straight upstairs, banging doors and thumping the bunk bed ladder in the floor in anger which shook the house. DD3 meanwhile was screaming her heart out in pain holding her ear saying ow ow ow over and over. By this time I was extremely angry becuase of my own hearing loss and upset that dd2 yet again had lost it. I went to the bottom of the stairs, told her to come down, she refused and started banging the ladder again at which point I said ok, go to bed, I am very upset with you, you are NOT having your DS tonight as you have hurt dd3s ear and got angry again. Actually I was shouting at her because she was screaming back so loud she would not have heard me. Dd1 shook her head and went to bed which infuriated dd2 because she took it as a wind up. She takes everything very personally and everything that happens is always about her, it isnt of course, but she always manages to make it about her and then gets angry and its a catch 22, because then it does become about her. I cannot cope anymore, dh works evenings, and is in an impossible situation job wise, he also tends to give in to her just to keep the peace which of course I dont. I still beleive that even a child with aspergers needs to be disciplined and have boundaries and I wont make allowences for bad behaviour, especially when it hurts another child. She cannot cope with change, or deviation of routine, she cannot cope with the word NO, or any negative answer that means she cannot have or do what she wants right there and then, and its getting worse. This weeks disaster is that her class teacher is leaving at the end of term, it doesnt affect any of my children as they all have new teachers in the new school year anyway, but dd2 has taken it personally, whereas the teacher is leaving to go to a new post thats all. DH has finally agreed we need to go back to the drs and ask for help, but shrugged and said theres no point because last time we just got told its middle child syndrome, even though the dr did actually eventually refer us and we did eventually get the diagnosis.
    So I honestly dont know what to do, I do all that you have suggested in your great list except the bath-bed time routine, and her decor in the bedroom, she hates water for one thing, and the bedroom she has to share with dd1, they split the decor, one chose the wallpaper which is blue, and then dd2 chose the carpet which is red, and I absolutely refuse to have red walls, everything else she owns is red, but I draw the lines at red walls!
    Any advice would be useful.. am off to read some more of your posts now I have found you :-) Its nice to know I am not as alone as I thought in all this, thanks

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hello Mimismum and sorry to hear you’re having a tough time. Reading what you’re going through reminds me of the sorts of issues we’ve gone through though I have to admit that now my son is nearing 16, things are improving.

      The only other things I can suggest (that has helped us) is knowing when to back off. If your daughter is becoming angry and overwhelmed to the point of meltdown, I’d recommend stepping away. I appreciate the need to set boundaries but when an aspergers child is overwhelmed then their ability to communicate and reason becomes impaired. When they’re like this I find it almost impossible to communicate with them, let alone talk about appropriate behaviour. I find its best to step back (ensuring of course that they’re safe and the rest of the family are too) and letting the anger/meltdown ease. When you feel sure their anger has eased then you can have a gentle chat with them about their behaviour but try and remember that they can’t always help becoming angry and upset. However it is important to try and understand what is causing the anger.

      Change in routine is a common trigger. People on the autism spectrum find change difficult; it can cause them immense anxiety which in turn can then aggravate their ASD and result in difficult or challenging behaviours. As a parent we can do lots to help in this area (and so can school). Lots of preparation, in advance, of any change (however subtle). How you do this depends on your daughter but I find visuals, calendars and timetables really helpful here. Notice of change also needs to be repeated; telling them once (or showing them a visual timetable once) might not be enough. It needs to be done until they’re comfortable enough to face whatever change is happening and even then they still may need you at their side.

      The other thing to note is that many people with aspergers can feel things very personally so it doesn’t surprise me that your daughter is feeling bad about her teacher leaving. She is probably feeling very insecure and anxious about the change which is part of having aspergers. In this case I’d suggest you and the teacher have a chat with her to reassure her that its not her fault but be prepared that it may take a lot of reassurance particularly if she has it fixed in her head that she may have done something to cause her teacher to leave. Sometimes what we consider minor things can cause massive anxiety for our aspergers children.

      People with aspergers can also have a very acute sense of equality/fairness. This isn’t a bad thing but I find it requires careful parenting and teaching. For example, my son (when he was at MS primary school) was disciplined alongside another pupil even though my son had done nothing wrong. The school didn’t want to be seen disciplining the other pupil and so dragged my son into the mix. This was sloppy behaviour on the part of the school which triggered massive anxiety and school refusing for my son. So as parents or teachers, we have to be seen to be fair. We have to try and understand what has upset our children and deal with that as well as educating them that destructive behaviour is not good.

      In terms of saying no to everything, my son was like that. He wanted total control of everything and to tell him “no” would often lead to a meltdown. Much of this was due to heightened anxiety; controlling things (and people) around him helped him to feel less anxious but it was extremely difficult for us to manage. However what I did find effective was giving him guided choice; that is I would give him two options and he would pick one of them. Doing this helped him to feel in control whilst enabling me to assert some control over the outcome and was particularly useful in terms of food, TV, games etc. I also found that when opportunities arose to tell him the consequences of bad behaviour (for him) then I’d take them but it was hit and miss. My son’s meltdowns used to be very severe and it was not possible for me to talk to him during and even after a meltdown as he would often have no memory of the event. Hence I’d have to talk about what is good/bad behaviour as and when the moment arises; its something I still do and my son is nearly 16.

      Besides that I found reading up on pathological demand avoidance very useful. Whilst my son doesn’t have a diagnosis of PDA he certainly shows traits of it. I have written a post about PDA but essentially its key symptom is high anxiety that leads to avoidance of things and very controlling behaviour. You may find PDA strategies helpful in addition to aspergers strategies.

      The only other thing I have to say is to be aware of the demands at school. These can impact on our children’s behaviours at home even though school may report nothing unusual. It is sometimes known as ‘masking’ when an autistic child bottles up their frustrations and anxieties at school and explodes at home. If you notice any of this, then have a word with the SENCO at school and ask what support your daughter is receiving.

      All the best.


  2. Rhonda Delgado says:

    Thank you for these tips and thank you to the Gareth especially for giving us the point of view from the Aspie’s side. I think my biggest downfall is I’ve always been a yeller. I try so very hard not to get to upset but, being physically disabled and a single mom of an 8 and 5 yr old, it’s so very hard not to let my pain and frustrations show. Especially when doors are being slammed, the kids are constantly fighting or (and this is the worst) they are bored because I haven’t the physical ability to do anything with or for them. It’s a day to day struggle and I just hope my Apie knows one day that anything I ever I did I did because I loved her and wanted the very best in life for her.

  3. Gareth says:

    I’m 43 with Aspergers [diagnosed last year!] and every day I experience the Aspie rage, it’s always about conflicts from years ago, never relating to things around me today. [Only a few days ago I realised the rage was an Aspie thing. Couldn't work it out till then.] The thing about authority, not accepting it etc, is that there is too much information for us to digest. We get distressed because it’s hard to comprehend what’s being said, and we’re resistant to it because we don’t want to be manipulated by a stronger voice until we know exactly what’s expected of us. We just need extra time. Raising voices just adds to the information and thus confusion. So we become more rebellious. In my opinion. [Looking back, mostly I was right to resist, just couldn't express myself at the time, and that's the root of my anger these days. Oh well.]

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thanks for your insight. I have to admit to not dealing well with authority myself which is ironic when I’m trying to educate my own children to handle authority and discipline. Neverthless I can draw on my own experiences to understand and to help my own children deal with authority. Sometimes though as a parent I do forget the need for extra time to help my daughter process what is being said – easy done when you’re under a lot of stress. I can only do my best, which I hope is what I’m doing.

  4. Pingback: SEN stories that caught my attention this week. « Special Needs Jungle

  5. Blue Sky says:

    Some great ideas here. And finding the causes is so important. Here so much of it seems to be school or change-related. Hard to believe that we ended up in hospital a month ago and now he is bouncing out of the door in the mornings and looking forward to going to school.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Great to hear your son is so much better. Agree with you about finding the causes; with my daughter its so much easier finding the root of her problem than it is with my son who just can’t tell us. Saying that though, most of the issues are school or change related for the pair of them plus throw in some social and sensory stuff too and we might be getting somewhere to finding the problem! Such hard work at times. Deb x

  6. These are all wonderful tips. For me keeping calm is the hardest, but most important one on the list. If I’m not calm then chances are great the kids won’t be either.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hi Accidental Expert and thanks for commenting. I think I agree with you. I have found that my children really pick up on my moods so the calmer I am the better my children will be. I’ve now adapted to my children’s ASD’s and bury my emotions when I’m around my children; I come across as quite flat to other people but I’m not inside.

  7. Lizbeth says:

    So very well said. We are having issues here with anger and all the fallout. I have found that he loves his Tae Quon Do and even after a rough day he went and was brilliant. It really helped him work out his anger, for lack of a better way of putting it.

    Again, this was brilliant!

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Exercise definitely helps doesn’t it? We try and take our two children swimming very week now as they like the feel of the water and it helps them calm down. Deb x

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