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Q: My son tends to get very upset and has meltdowns when things go wrong.  He just lost his job because of this. What can I do?

A: Feeling uncomfortable, often with intensity and in combination with anxiety, is a very common issue with ASD. This can sometimes lead to loss of control or meltdowns, even for young adults. Your son must become independent at managing this. In order to tackle the problem, first please read our blogs on anxiety and insight, and share them with your son, so that you can both be on the same page and work together. Another helpful blog may be about how parents make great coaches--your son will need to accept your guidance. You the parent can coach your son in a variety of real life situations (“teachable moments”) so he can become more aware of the level of discomfort or anxiety that he is feeling, and then you can guide him to choose something to help him cope with discomfort/anxiety well before he reaches a melt down point. Exactly how do you do this? You encourage him to be aware and report to you how “uncomfortable” he is feeling with a concrete scale from 1-4 (1-not at all, 2-a little, 3-quite a bit, 4-a lot), and have him practice doing something to cope when he is still at a “2” or “3”.  (If he waits until he is a “4”, he is unlikely to be able to do any positive coping, and a melt down may occur). So, in addition to talking about a 1-4 scale with him (which you can create together and post, or he can carry with him), he also needs to make a list of activities or things that help him to calm down and refocus on something positive.  These may be things like taking a break, drawing, texting you, walking the dog, etc. There may a list of activities that are appropriate for coping at home and a separate list for coping on the job or in public generally. When you are in situations with him and you see that he is becoming more uncomfortable and moving toward a “3” (ie “quite a bit” uncomfortable), then you start coaching: “You seem uncomfortable--where are you at on the scale?, or perhaps simply “What’s your number?”  If you can both agree that he is escalating, suggest that he choose something from his coping list and do it.  When he is back down to a “1” or “2”, he will be ready to go back to what he was doing.  Obviously he needs to become truly independent at doing this, so you will need to back off gradually in stressful or uncomfortable situations to just occasional cues and visuals, then hopefully he will begin to do it on his own! Keep checking for new blogs at IFAutism.com that you may find helpful and that will support your efforts. Good luck! 

Q: My daughter often says things that other people think are rude, and she sometimes hurts people’s feelings.  She has lost a few jobs, I think because of this. She says that she is just telling the truth.  She doesn’t get the point of being tactful or telling “white lies” to avoid hurting feelings. How can I make her understand that she can’t say these things?

A: FIrst, I am assuming that you and your daughter have discussed and have an understanding about ASD, the common issues, the importance soft skills, and the concept of parents as coaches for these skills.  There are so many concepts that relate to this! I suggest that you and your daughter look at the blogs about “The Two R’s”, and “The Commenting Rule” parts one and two, “Positivity”, “Acknowledging Others”, and the blog that describes why parents make great coaches (to help your child accept your guidance). Check often for new blogs that may relate to this issue and support insight and improvements in the area of tact. The bottom line to convey to your child is that being “insincere” with facts in small ways for the right reasons is a form of true sincerity with people--that is, you are showing that you sincerely care about the feelings of others.  When your words are tactful, and your behaviors show positivity, respect, consideration for your reputation, and acknowledge the feelings of others, this shows that you are maturing in soft skills.  The reward for this may well be friends, a job you can keep, and more independence! 

Q: Should we advise our daughter to tell her employer about her ASD when she applies for a job, or not?

A:  Parents in our groups have discussed this, and have differing opinions.  Some speak about the importance of not lying on an application, others say that it’s all right to not share any reference to ASD, for example to not tell about losing a prior job due to an ASD issue even when asked on the application about why a previous job was terminated.  Others think that no reference to ASD issues should be made on an application, hoping to get to an interview, but that the individual should share about the ASD at the time of the interview. Other parents advise their children to not inform a potential employer about the ASD at all, hoping that no issues will arise and/or that it won’t be obvious to others.  I think that practically speaking it usually will be noticed by the employer and by fellow employees. Even individuals only mildly impacted by ASD may be noticed by most people after some contact with them, as being atypical in some way. And unfortunately others may read something negative into the signs of autism, perhaps they will think the individual is disrespectful when they do not acknowledge the comment of a coworker, not a hard worker if they avoid a task that is new to them, or not friendly if they do not smile when greeted.  I think it is best practice to be honest on the application for any job. Hopefully an honest disclosure when called for might still allow an individual to get past the application stage to an interview, where they can then volunteer some information about their ASD, which I think is important to do. Ideally an individual with ASD should be able to express to an employer that they have ASD, and express it in a balanced way with emphasis on their strengths. That is to say, they should be able to describe their strengths and ambitions for working in a particular place of employment first and foremost, but acknowledge the ASD secondarily as a condition that is sometimes noticed by others, but for which they are open to receiving guidance, as needed.  A young lady from a social communication group that we were conducting a few months ago did just that. Her mother told me that her daughter decided that she was going to just embrace who she was and tell her prospective employer at her interview about her autism, and she did. She told him that she was on the autism spectrum and that there might occasionally be things he would notice related to that, but that she was going to work hard and try to be his best employee.  He hired her, and she made a very successful start to her new job. Her mother was of course very proud, and best of all her daughter felt empowered. Since her boss has this information, hopefully any issues that arise for her at work will be handled thoughtfully and kindly. I would encourage you to coach your daughter to express her strengths and interests in an interview, and to also make a positive statement regarding her ASD.

Q: My son is 23, was very smart in school, and he “knows it all”--he won’t listen to me when I tell him what he needs to do. His social skills are weak, he pretty much stays at home all the time playing video games, and he does not have a job or friends. He says he wants a wife and a house someday, but he mostly refuses to do anything that isn’t what he wants to do, and is very negative.  What can I do?

 

A:  Unfortunately, I have heard this many times from parents, so you are not alone. There are multiple issues at play, and multiple ways to respond.  Some potentially contributing issues that are beyond the scope of this Q&A are his unique personality, the family dynamics, past experiences, and his personal strengths/weaknesses/interests.  Looking at it purely from the standpoint of ASD, I suspect contributing factors may be anxiety and a strong drive to stay in the safe “comfort zone”. These are my suggestions, and also please read our blogs and books as they will give you more detailed guidance in all of these areas:

 

  • If he is not already, he needs to become comfortable with his ASD, it needs to be spoken of daily in positive, matter of fact ways.  He needs to know what areas may be issues for someone with ASD generally, and you need to be able to identify his behaviors in particular at “teachable moments” that may stem from his ASD and offer ways to improve/change.

  • He needs to understand that ASD is a condition that benefits by partnership and teamwork with a “neurotypical” person, usually a parent, who can serve as a guide and advisor, to help him to grow to his maximum potential. He needs to understand that he must be occasionally uncomfortable to grow, and the person guiding him may challenge him to be uncomfortable sometimes, but he can do it!

  • There are many small daily steps toward his eventual goal--so make visuals, for example a ladder or a timeline, and mark off small steps that move him forward.  These can be as small as being positive every time he speaks with you for a full day or as big as applying for a job or volunteering, depending on what he needs to do and is ready to do.

  • While he is learning to tolerate feeling uncomfortable, he also needs to be aware of how and when he may be making you and others feel uncomfortable. To be successful in relationships with others, he must care about and work toward making others feel comfortable around him. You are in a relationship with your son, so it is a teachable moment and an important lesson for him if he wants relationships with others--let him know when he is making you uncomfortable and at what level (see the bullet about scales, below).

  • “Positivity” and “positive” responses to ASD challenges are a big deal with a young person like your son; I suggest that you use these words multiple times per day in appropriate moments, and praise/reward him for demonstrating these qualities.

  • Post two scales or number lines on your refrigerator or other central location that go from 1-4--one scale is for Positivity and one is for Intensity of “uncomfortable feelings” (1-not at all, 2-a little, 3-quite a bit, 4-a lot).  For Positivity (this includes body language, voice tone, and what he says) a “3” or “4” is the goal, for Intensity, a “1” or “2” is best. Have everyone in the family reference the scales as you go about your lives, and talk about “where you are” or “your number”. At appropriate moments, ask him what number he feels he is at on the scales. "Dialing back" negative intensity and increasing positivity should be praised. 

  • Make sure your son has a personal list of “coping strategies”.  These can be listening to music, riding a bike, saying something positive to himself, drawing, etc.  If his negative intensity is moving from a 2 to a 3 on the intensity scale, point it out to him and ask him to choose something from his coping list to try to bring the number down.  Recognizing that he is becoming too intense and “scaling it back” is an important skill that he must become independent with.

  • Use timers to place limits on the amount of time he is engaged in high interest areas and to increase time with others and doing non-preferred activities. Try to get his cooperation for this and reference his goals in life and make it a step on your “ladder” or "timeline" visual toward his goals; independent adult life including employment often requires a lot of time spent in non-preferred activities! Start small and work up.

  • Reward coping, positivity, and positive responses to ASD challenges (including allowing your guidance, using the scales and communicating with you on these topics, and stepping outside his comfort zone). Good luck!

Q: We want our son to go to college and get a degree in art, because he loves to draw Anime and other cartoon characters and is very good at it.  Our state vocational agency says there are no jobs for this, and they don't support our plans for him. But it's been his high interest area all his life and it's the thing he really loves to do.  Shouldn't he at least try to do what he loves for a living?

A:  As you probably know, it is common for high functioning individuals on the autism spectrum to have a strong interest area, and often some real talent or expertise in it.  It is really wonderful when strong interests and skills align with a good career for a young person with ASD.  Having said that, some areas of interest are more likely to lead to a well-paying, sustainable job than others.  I know a young man who has a deep interest and knowledge base in entertainment and music and works successfully as a disc jockey for parties and events, another young man knows everything about bicycles and works in a bike repair shop fixing bikes all day long.  The bottom line is, for young people with or without Autism Spectrum Disorder, a strong area of interest or talent that doesn't pay the bills and support an independent life may have to be just a hobby. I suggest that you encourage your son to practice doing things that are not preferred, and help to find motivators and coping strategies to make that work (see above Q&A, and our blogs and books, for more suggestions about this).  It is also important to help him develop (and accept!) second, third, and fourth choices as far as interests that may lead to a good career, and then help him explore them.  Job experience and improving his "soft skills" (see our blog about this and related topics) will help him with the skills needed for any job.  Your local vocational agency is well positioned to help your son with all these things. We hope that our blogs, books, and services/engagements may be of help, too.  Good luck!