High Functioning Autism and Control

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Plop…..plop….plop….plop….” went the rocks Bobby tossed over.

Bobby is 10 years old now.  When he was two, one of has favorite activities was the stone drop.

My parents had a house right on the bay.  They gave Bobby a life jacket, a little blue wagon and walked him around with which he would collect stones.  He would take the stones back to my parents house, line them up and push them in the water

It wasn’t a race.  He enjoyed watching each one hit the water.  He enjoyed watching the splash and the subsequent ripple effect.  He could drop the stones all day long.

It was later explained to me that this was a control behavior.  Bobby enjoyed tossing the rocks into the water.  He liked seeing the splash HE WAS MAKING.  He liked seeing the ripple HE MADE.

Like all kids, Bobby is still testing control, it just looks a little different now, of course, because he is older.

Catelyn also tested control at each age.  But for her mind, Catelyn has a need for control.  A need for things to make sense.

High Functioning Autism and Control

“Catelyn, would you like waffles for breakfast?”

“I.  AM.  IN.  HERE.”

Well, good morning, sunshine!  I thought with a sardonic smile.

“Catelyn, I didn’t talk to you like that.  Why are you talking to me in a rude way?”

“I’M NOT!!!!”  And she starts to cry.

Catelyn has a hard time with her emotions.  She doesn’t seem to hear her rudeness at times.  Her curt replies.

It can be very frustrating as a parent to try to point out to her that she “has a tone.” Regardless of location, she will start to cry, sometimes rather loudly.  Her voice turns into a siren – A high-pitched squeal of “IIIIIII’MMMMM NNOOOOOOOOTTTT” will emerge.  And heaven forbid if you mention she is causing a scene.  She sees no scene.  She sees no other people, and the same siren wail will emerge again.

So if it is frustrating for me, can you imagine what it is like for her teachers?  Coaches? They are their to teach her, to coach her, to help her to learn something.  They will receive a caustic reply, a glare or a siren cry.

They were frustrated, I was frustrated.  Rudeness was treated as bad behavior.  She was put in time out.  Was she learning anything?  No.  The rudeness continued.  At school she met with the guidance counselor weekly.  Behavior charts were used at home to help curb the crying.  All in response to stop unwanted behavior.

When Catelyn was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, I saw what she was experiencing from a new perspective.  First and foremost, she wasn’t (always) trying to be bad.  She needed to learn a new way.

Catelyn has trouble with flexible thinking.  Catelyn cries a lot when someone is trying to help her.  What was the issue?


I began to realize Catelyn was operating from a written in stone template in her brain where 2+2=5.  She’s young, so of course, she has things she needs to learn.  She created her tablet at a young age, with a magical thinking pen, in stone.  She felt out of control, and she created a way to make sense of herself and the world around her.

When someone approached Catelyn to let her know that 2+2=4, her stone was being altered.  She felt stress and anxiety.  She had created a mental template based on rules that made everything that felt out of control, in control.  And now she was losing mental control.  Which was devastating.  Then she lost physical control and would scream and cry.

Catelyn is learning social skills.  She does not hear rudeness.  She has a hard time reading other people’s emotions.  I recognize that Catelyn feels out of control.  She has created a template to feel in control.  When her template is challenged, she reacts in a huge way.  She feels stress and anxiety.

Trying to help teach Catelyn, to help her change her tablet, requires a lot of patience.  I no longer put her in time out for rude behavior.  But I will ask her to take some time to herself until she feels better.

I know how much she hates her schedule being altered, so I will warn her beforehand.  I know she will sometimes stare at a person that says, “Hi” to her, and will coach her to say “Hi” back.   And I know she will rather spend eternity in her room than ever wear a pair of jeans, or a shirt with a button, sleeve or tie, so I will never force her to.

I found this excellent resource on tips for teaching High Functioning People with Autism.  I reference it frequently when I am learning how to help Catelyn in the best way.  With therapy and resources like these, I have seen the best change from Catelyn.

Catelyn has trouble with flexible thinking, with feeling out of control.  Little by little, I see the stone is being rewritten and she is learning to compromise and open herself to learning new things from new people.  It is truly a wonderful thing to witness.




5 thoughts on “High Functioning Autism and Control

  1. Encouraging and helpful information in trying to understand the frustration and the difficulty in communication. Excellent article on specific tips.

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