Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Asperger Perfectionism (sigh)

A trait that we often see in our kiddos who have Asperger's, High Functioning Autism, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the need to control everything going on around them.  You know the kids I am talking about.  Here a few examples of things they might do...
  • The teacher (you) or other student is reading a book and mispronounces a word, skips a word, or doesn't pause long enough at a punctuation mark (or whatever the child is currently being instructed to do at school).  This child will blurt out with authority, "You skipped a word..."
  • Another child does something such as getting out of his seat, talking out, etc.  This child is the self appointed 'rules police'.  He will immediately call attention to the faux pas. (But he usually misses his own behavior lapses and will argue to the death about why he was not in the wrong - in his own mind he would never break a rule so he likely has some legitimate 'rationalization' to excuse such an unthinkable indiscretion).
  • The assignment is to quickly sketch a picture of ....  This is the child who continually erases his picture, asks for a new sheet of paper so he can start over, or takes 3X as long to finish because he has to insert every minutia of detail into his 'quick sketch'.
  • Unfortunately this can also be the child who is so overwhelmed at a task, because in his mind making it perfectly requires herculean effort, that he will often quit before he even tries to begin.
As I typed that last example, I recognized a bit of myself in that one... does anyone else reading this have some of these traits of perfectionist?  Of course we all share some traits with our kids on the spectrum.  We and they are both cut from the same human cloth.  The difference between neurotypicals and those with ASD is the degree to which these traits affect their lives.  We can recognize the problems in ourselves, most of the time, and then we can exert self-control, employ self-talk, put the issue back into the proper perspective, and go forward to do what needs to be done. Individuals with ASD have a much more difficult time navigating this process.

How do we deal with this issue? 

I have not conquered this at all but I will list some of the tools and resources I have employed or am planning on employing to help the children I see with the issue of perfectionism.

Social Thinking Curriculum:  There are many pieces of this curriculum that are ideal in helping the child understand how constantly correcting others is perceived or received:
  • Unexpected Behaviors: It is unexpected behavior to correct the teacher or parent over minor issues. It is also unexpected behavior to correct classmates; that is the teacher's job, not your job.
  • Problem Scale:  How big of a problem is it that the teacher skipped a word?  If it is a #1 or #2 sized problem then you do not need to call attention to it, just ignore it because it does not really make any difference to the outcome.  If the omission will result in a bigger problem (i.e. doing the wrong homework, etc.) then it is okay to point it out in the correct way.
  • Thinking of Others: This is a perspective-taking task. How would you feel if someone pointed out every small mistake you made?  Would it make you feel sad or angry or embarrassed?  Then it probably does the same thing to others.  It also interrupts the lesson or distracts others. 
  • Social Behavior Map: Construct this map to show the sequence of consequences and the negative outcome of constantly correcting versus the more positive outcome of overlooking minor mistakes.
Children's Books:


Beautiful OOPS! is a book about turning mistakes into positives.  A small tear, a drop of paint, a crumple all become an interesting part of the creation.         

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes: Beatrice never makes mistakes...never ever... until one day when she makes a very public mistake and learns that mistakes are okay.
Amelia Bedelia Books:  Amelia constantly makesmistakes but in the end everyone laughs and still loves her!

A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue: Picture book about tattling and the negative aspects associated with this behavior.  Again, picture books serve as excellent pre-packaged social stories.  A social story typically only describes the desired outcomes.  Whereas a picture book usually adds a moral or lesson learned.

Visual Supports & Social Stories:

Other Resources & Links:

This is a great tool to help learn to gauge size of emotional responses.  It works along with the problem scale.  Rate size of problem then rate size of reaction or emotion.  Try to teach children that making a small mistake is a #1 or less size problem and we need to learn to overlook those things. 
Autism Teaching Strategies by Joel Shaul:http://autismteachingstrategies.com/autism-strategies/flexibility-rigidity-cards-and-panels-downloads-page/ Cards to print and cut out for teaching about being more flexible.  Though these cards deal more with being rigid in routines, they address the core problem of being inflexible in thoughts, ideas, and activities.  This website has many great resources for those who work with individuals with ASD.
 Joel Shaul Resources 
Another resource by Joel Shaul: Correcting others and tattling too much: Social skills activities to teach kids with autism who have these problems


SBlagrave said...

I have a very high functioning 13 year old student who has autism and very rarely completes any given task in his classes. He is very intelligent but has difficulty moving beyond getting his name on his paper some days. He traces each letter 3-4 times and if it's not perfect will erase and start over. I know much of this stems from perfectionism and I need direction to help him move past this. The more one rushes him he will totally shut down or melt down. Any suggestions.

Suzanne Herman, M.Ed., CCC-SLP said...

Sorry for the delayed response. I haven't been keeping up with the blog lately. I would start with a social story that states it is okay if things are not perfect. You can also discuss in the story that the goal is not neatness but completion. Then have him read the story daily or several times a day to remind himself of the goal. Set up some type of reward system for completion of work. This reinforcement can be faded as he gains success. It may also be helpful to have a visual timer handy for him to view so he can learn to understand the time concepts. You could give him a bit longer than needed to complete the assignment, say 12 minutes for a math sheet of 15 problems. Then you could tape the #5 at the 4 minute mark, #10 at the 8 minute mark, and the #15 at the 12 minute mark. This will help him pace himself and not feel as stressed. Another idea is to make a game out of making mistakes. You could use the book Beautiful Oops to show him how to transform a mistake into something interesting. I know these measures are time consuming but if they help the problem, you will only have to do this for a short time. The goal is always to remove the props so that the child internalizes and generalizes the behaviors.