Teaching Children With Asperger's to Filter Thoughts

by Lisa Fritscher

    Children with Asperger’s syndrome often get caught in what are colloquially known as “aspie loops,” or cycles of repetitive unproductive thoughts. They also have trouble expressing their emotions appropriately. Social skills training helps Asperger’s kids filter their thoughts and find better ways of expressing themselves. Note that in May 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders combined Asperger’s syndrome with other disorders along the autism spectrum to create the single diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Some experts now refer to Asperger’s as high-functioning autism, while others continue to use the older name.

    Rule-Making

    People with Asperger’s have trouble understanding the social behaviors that come naturally to their neurotypical peers. Use the inherently Asperger's rule-following tendency to your advantage by developing a set of rules for your child to follow. Help him learn to identify times when his thoughts start cycling or he feels compelled to speak his mind inappropriately, and work with him to find ways of calming his feelings. For example, when your child feels his jaw clench and his body tense, he might need to take a deep, slow breath or even leave the room to calm his anger. When you and your child have identified the main triggers and helpful responses, write a list he can carry with him.

    Role-Playing

    Role-playing is a therapeutic technique that is easy to apply at home. You take on the role of someone who is not filtering her thoughts, while your child takes on the role of a friend who has to respond. Make up the conversation as you go along, gradually adding more complex or potentially hurtful statements. The goal is for your child to understand how her lack of a filter affects others. At the end of the session, engage your child in a dialogue. Ask her how it felt to hear your unfiltered statements and whether they were really necessary to the conversation. Explain that what she felt is similar to how other people feel when she does not apply a filter. Brainstorm and practice better ways of being honest without being hurtful.

    Modeling

    Modeling occurs every day as children watch their parents or other adults perform various tasks. Use modeling to demonstrate ways of filtering responses without being dishonest. Enlist another person’s help in repeating the role-playing exercise with both sides filtering their thoughts and expressing themselves proactively. Social skills training videos are available in which child actors perform the target behaviors. This allows your child to learn from other kids while making you available for questions or comments during the video.

    Generalization

    Many kids with Asperger’s syndrome have trouble generalizing behaviors from one situation to another. Help your child practice new skills in wide-ranging environments -- from the playground to the classroom to the neighbor’s house. Remind him of the rules and scripts he helped develop, and encourage him to review his list before each new situation. Expect that he will sometimes back slide in a new environment, and help him find ways of returning to his new filtering behaviors. Provide praise and encouragement when he is successful, but avoid being overly critical when he fails.

    About the Author

    Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including VisualTravelTours.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.

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