We are all vulnerable to black and white thinking during times of emotional distress: “He NEVER appreciates the sacrifices I make!” or “She ALWAYS chooses work over time with me!”

Children and young adults with Aspergers are no different—except they may be more vulnerable to polarized thinking. These emotional regulation difficulties stem from differences deep within their brains, along with other extraordinary gifts such as strong attention skills or heightened visual and auditory detail.

The cost of this gift may appear as limitations in the ability to see the big picture and the social nuance (or gray areas) of a situation. This means that many Aspies are susceptible to assessing daily bumps on the road of life as fixed, rather than flexible.

Those with Asperger’s face challenges that would undermine anyone’s ability to remain emotionally regulated and adaptively problem solve in the face of a rough situation:

  • the capacity to think outside of the box
  • relate to the mental states and intentions of others around them (affective Theory of Mind)
  • effectively verbalize his or her own emotional experiences

Additionally, because this child or young adult has historical challenges in emoting and verbally expressing their own emotional experience, their parent or caregiver’s ability to help in co-regulating them from infancy and toddlerhood onward may also have been impaired.

So, how can we as clinicians, parents, teachers and friends play a role in helping children and young adults with Asperger’s better navigate the messy but marvelous game of life?

Several approaches are moving to the forefront of the interventional scene that focus on helping the individual with Aspergers or High-Functioning autism become better able to recognize and discriminate the emotions of others. These techniqus have been culminated from years of hard work and research from a multitude of professional disciplines.

Some techniques that may help your child are:

  • DIR/Floortime, a model that emphasizes the development of a child or adolescent’s ability to emotionally relate and think flexibly through a social-emotional reciprocity with a parent or partner
  • Speech-language therapy that specifically targets social-pragmatics
  • Occupational therapy that utilizes sensory integrative techniques to support development of self-regulation
  • Less studied approaches (including drama therapy and art therapy) are also receiving attention and may be beneficial in supporting the complexity of emotional regulation

What out-of-the-box techniques or approaches have you found to be effective for your child?

By Carrie Alvarado, OTR, PhD(c), DIR/Floortime Certified Expert Clinician and Training Leader

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  1. I am a therapist to a 30 year old male with Asperger. He struggles with emotion regulation. He is on medication. Looking for tips. He can’t seem to use any of the ideas at the time he gets overwhelmed by feelings of frustration , boredom and delaying gratification

    1. This is what I have tried to communicate to a therapist before- no technique seems to help in the event of a meltdown. Overwhelm once reaching a limit spills out how it will and must be ridden out. It’s not easy for me and I know it’s not easy for those around me either. I’m over 40 and still working on it.

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