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Avoiding Arguments with a Child with Asperger Syndrome

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Almost all of the children I have worked with that have Asperger Syndrome (including my own daughter) seem to enjoy arguing, especially when you ask them to do something they don't want to do.  Many children with Asperger Syndrome will also argue when told that they are wrong even about seemingly insignificant things.  Children with Asperger Syndrome seem to have a drive to be perfect and it is a blow to their self-esteem when they discover that they are not.  The easiest way for them to avoid this blow is refuse to believe that they are wrong.  Instead, they will argue endlessly to prove that they are right in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  For example, my daughter loves to argue with her older brothers over information, even if after I have explained to her that she is incorrect.  If her brothers or I attempt to show her the correct information in a book or on-line she will become more agitated and start to scream, all the while still insisting that she is right. 

If your child seems to enjoy arguing, remember that even though you are the adult it is not important for you to get the final word.  If you are not careful, you can quickly find yourself arguing with your child and becoming frustrated.  If your child is arguing over an assigned task then it helps to give choices.  Be sure that both choices are something that you are willing to follow through with.  For example, you might say, "You have two choices.  You can take out the trash or if you don't you can lose TV privileges until you do."  You may need to repeat this statement once more but after that let your child make the choice.  Walk away if needed to avoid the argument but be sure to follow through with the consequence. 

When I first started using this technique with my daughter she would continue to try to argue with me after I gave her the choices, but I would ignore her.  I had all ready given the choices and I was waiting for her to follow through.  Once she saw I wasn't going to engage her in the argument, she would run to her room and shut the door.  She had made her choice, no TV.  However, I gave her time to cool down and left the trash sitting.  Once she had calmed down, she usually came back out and did the chore.  She would then ask if she could watch TV now.  I would then explain that she chose to take out the trash so that was fine.  By giving my final word in the form of a choice, I gave her the control that she so disparately seemed to need.  Essentially, it made her feel like she was the one in control since she had a choice.   By using this approach consistently and patiently we have reached a point where she rarely gets argues after I have given her choices.  Now she generally does as she has been asked the first time. 

When giving the choices I usually phrase the consequence so it only lasts until the child has followed through with the given task.  Last year I was asked to help with a sixth grader who was refusing to do his morning work.  He kept trying to engage the teacher in an argument, insisting that he had no need to do that work.  When I came in to help him, I gave him two choices, "You can do your work now, or you can do your work with me during recess."  He started to argue but I just told him those were his choices and left the room.  I came back right before recess started and he still had not done his work.  I explained to him that, "You chose not to do your work before recess, so you chose to do your work during recess."  I then gave him two new choices, "You can choose not to do your work and miss all of your recess, or you can choose to finish your work and then go to recess."   I showed him how much time he had and then worked on something else to allow him time to decide.  After about 5 minutes he handed me his morning work and was able to go outside to recess.  After that he almost always did his morning work. 

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