Anxiety, Shutdown & Consequences – More of Your Questions Answered

Since 2012, we’ve been helping people with Asperger’s & their families through our courses, communities and stories. Through this work we often get asked MANY questions.

Here are the answers to more of your burning questions.

As always, we’ll be answering this from our own personal experiences of living with Asperger’s, helping thousands of families, and understanding the latest science.

Why do they shut down so much?

First let’s define what “shut down” means in this case. We define shut down as the state in which someone with Asperger’s is withdrawn, avoidant and reclusive. They want to spend time in their room doing nothing but, as an example, playing video games all day, only coming out to go to the bathroom or eat.

So here’s the short version of why they are doing that: They are in Defense Mode. Everything seems like a threat to them. And until they learn how to feel safe & secure in their body and the world, nothing will change.

You can learn how to get them out of Defense Mode by attending our free webinar here.

When in Defense Mode, it can feel like your entire body is on fire and on high alert all the time. Turning down that metaphorical heat by allowing your body to process sensations without resistance is also a great way.

How do I help them with their anxiety?

There are a few things that will help with anxiety issues.

#1) Involve a competent therapist or psychiatrist. You’ll want to find one who is skilled at getting to the root of the anxiety issues. This means not just talking about what makes them anxious. Anxiety isn’t something that is cognitive, so CBT therapy isn’t your best bet.

We recommend going the route of a more body based approach, such as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner.

On the topic of meds: Medication isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be a great benefit to people with Asperger’s. Consider talking to your therapist or psychiatrist about it.

#2) Understand the root of anxiety. Anxiety at its core is just lack of trust in one’s self, circumstances & environment. Specifically lack of trust in ones own ability to “handle it”. Once you understand that, all you need to do is work on building that trust back up.

The way you build trust is through a series of risk-mitigated assumption tests. For example, If I have anxiety about what will happen if I try a cucumber, I might buy one and smell it. If I am really anxious about it, I may have a pleasant scent near by to mitigate any risk that I take by smelling the cucumber.

Anxiety also has to do with the feelings in your body, and lack of trust in those. (See the first question for more on that)

#3) Use short term solutions that work for you. Things that have worked for us include Bach Flower Essences, meditation, thinking of things we are grateful for and making sure to have a healthy diet.

What can I do to reduce fighting & arguments in the house?

Anger & frustration usually generates when what “should be” does not equal what is. For example: The computer “should be” loading… but it isn’t. Or your child “should be” doing their homework… but they aren’t.

Add in Defense Mode and a lack of a shared language (two people have different definitions for the same word), and you often get a lack of understanding that contributes to a sense of frustration over what “should” happen.

So here’s what to do.

#1) Be there to listen. As Ann from our AE+ support group & community says:


#2) Don’t escalate. Remember that having an argument takes 2 people. If one person is yelling, it is your job to decide to take a calm approach. Don’t yell back. Maintain your ground and help the other person feel safe. They are in an emotionally vulnerable place. Remember, it isn’t personal. 

If you are having trouble managing your own reaction, it’s not your fault. We’ve helped hundreds of families Get Unstuck and out of a place where they feel they need to react. This can help you maintain your calm.

#3) Create a shared language. This is a bit deeper than most people usually go. If fighting is a result of anger, and anger is a result of frustration, and frustration is a result of a breakdown in what “should be”, then having a shared understanding of the expected result is the best place to start.

Pick a list of words that you think need definitions, and CO-CREATE those definitions with all other people that you usually have fights with. Come up with a shared understanding of what those words mean. This alone will reduce fighting at least 50%.

What is the best consequence for punishing someone with Aspergers?

It’s time to get out of the paradigm of punishment and reward. The research shows that consequences (and rewards) can actually cause unintended harm to kids. It has to do with the concept of Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation.

Essentially, do you want your child to be motivated to clean their room, do their chores, and be a generally decent human being because they get a reward or fear a punishment? Or do you want them to do all of those things because it is the right thing to do?

Instead of basing your parenting off of the reward/punishment paradigm, start with love, trust & belief. Then add in a little bit of natural consequences.

Kid eats the cake you have set out even though you told them not to? The reward/punishment paradigm would say to take away their computer games or something equally not connected at all.

Instead, explain to them WHY you told them that, and then have them help you in baking a new cake (and cleaning the dishes created from that process!).

Not only do they learn that there are real, actual consequences for their actions, but you don’t put them deeper into Defense Mode while doing it.

Barbara Coloroso has a great book called “Kids are worth it” that touches a lot more on this subject.

How do I help my child if they don’t want to succeed?

Let’s make a distinction between not wanting to succeed and being so utterly terrified of the world and success that you avoid anything to do with success. People with Asperger’s do the latter. It’s important to remember that they DO want to succeed, they are just scared. (Here are 9 more important things to remember)

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says “I sure would love to fail today!”.

If you are in a situation where your child is afraid of life & success, then they are most likely in Defense Mode. Focus on building trust and getting them out of Defense Mode FIRST, and you’ll be surprised at the results you see after.


Is homeschooling or online school a good option for people with Aspergers?

It depends. It can be a good option for some kids, and a horrible option for others. We’ve had thousands of customers & clients that have seen great results from homeschooling, and thousands more that have said it didn’t work due to the family dynamic.

The best thing to do would be to join AE+ and ask our group-mind of thousands of parents & people with Asperger’s about your specific situation. They’ll be able to share their unique experiences.

What do I do if my kid is a picky eater?

Cook with them. I was one of the pickiest eaters in the world until I started to learn to cook. Picky eating usually comes as a result of not feeling in control when it comes to food. So the way that you usually regain control is by being extremely selective about what you eat.

When you begin to cook the food you eat from beginning to end, you have more control over the entire process and begin to trust food more.

I learned to cook from watching Cutthroat Kitchen on the Food Network. It is a great way to learn more about food in a VERY entertaining format, and I highly suggest watching it.

Want more? We answer questions every single day inside of AE+. Join for just $1 for the first month.

22 thoughts on “Anxiety, Shutdown & Consequences – More of Your Questions Answered

  1. My son is eight and waiting to be diagnosed. So many meltdowns and anger at times. Trying to understand and help him but struggle at times. Today he had a meltdown over school not sure why now he is saying he gates school and doesn’t want to go!
    Honesty feel a emotional wreck scared and unsure how to handle him at times. I worry about the future X

  2. So, what happens when you are on the path to communicating without judgement, talk instead of ‘punish’ and your husband won’t buy into this new way of parenting? He is stuck in the ‘old’ time ways of raising kids. To be fair, we are raising a grandson with Aspergers, so we are OLD.
    I have sent him links, I have listened to the classes with him nearby so he could hear these guys explain why this method works. I feel like my ‘son’ and I have had a good day and then my husband gets home and my son is back in defense mode. I’m so sad.

  3. My stepson is 22 years old and was diagnosed at a very early age. He is constantly angry and goes off on rants about the same three subjects that set him off. When he has his meltdowns, he tells his father that he wants to leave and explore the world and then brings up the subject of how maybe he will just die. He acknowledges he has no motivation to get a job yet does nothing about it. We have been together for two years and understanding and dealing with him is something very new to my son and me. I feel like it’s a recurring cycle and a form of manipulation when he tells his father he wants to die (but when he’s out of this mode, he says he wouldn’t do it). He constantly insults him and the last meltdown, he insulted me as well. I grew up in a household where you never raised your voice much less insult your parents. I’m at a loss here because my husband’s patience and hope is wearing thin. Any suggestions out there?

  4. It’s interesting that you say anxiety is not something that is cognitive. Then you go on to say that anxiety at it’s core is just lack of trust in one’s self, circumstances & environment. If someone has the idea that they can’t trust themselves, others, the environment or their ability to cope, this idea is certainly a thought (cognition) and quite possible a core belief (as this term is used in CBT). So CBT model would be able to explain this and could be used to address it.

    The treatment of anxiety in person’s with Asperger’s may be different than treatment of anxiety in the general population. It may be that for people with Asperger’s anxiety is caused more by sensory/somatic experiences than by irrational thought patterns so maybe body focused treatment is better. Certainly I would trust your expertise in that area.

    However, CBT is widely considered the gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of anxiety in the general population. There are many meta-analyses which have come to this conclusion. Somatic focused treatments like some forms of mindfulness also have a lot of evidence behind them. Often treatment can involve both. A cross-sectional formulation using a CBT model would include thoughts, emotions, behaviours and bodily sensations.

  5. How do you apply this in an adult NT-AS relationship. It’s frustrating that there’s so much information for parents of Aspies, but so little for partners of Aspies. (I’m the Aspy and we have a 21yo Aspy son too)

    1. I need more information for a NT and AS relationship as well. I feel so alone because my husband has AS I think but he has never been diagnosed. I also think a couple of our children might show some tendencies as well.

  6. I have got to say that there is very little help out there for children with ASD or their parents. My son is just 18 and was only diagnosed with ASD and OCD last year, even though he has been in the system for 15 years, had various tests…including one for ASD….which he “definitely wasn’t” according to one specialist!! 🙄😱
    Anyway…. We fought to change districts for reassessing and here we are today…. Now he’s 18 we have to change again…. It’s doing my head in so I have no idea what it’s doing to his head 😢 So frustrating

    1. I am in same place my son is12 and cams have said he 1 point under cut of point he only in school 2days week for 2hrs he very frustrated and confused
      And I am no better so hard

    2. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only parent to catch it late. My daughter is 10 and I just figured it out with a new dr. It’s been so stressful. I’m just trying to educate myself now. Prayers💕

  7. I am a single mother of a 20yr old girl with Down Syndromme and ASD, I also have a 22yr old son that I do believe has Aspergers but no one will listen, he is putting me through hell and back on a regular basices? I have been asking and pleading for help for years now but no success, he has extremly low opinion of himself he spends 90% of his life in his bedroom and is so depressed , he has a lot of anger outbursts, he has mild OCD , mild Dyslexia and dyspraxia. I am at the end of trying to get help and have had thoughts of just moving one day with my youngest as she is scared of him, cant see any way out and cant see a furture for my son . I have dealt with this on my own for the past 16years , so if you know of anyone in Northern Ireland that can help please let me know.

    1. Hi Pat

      I have a son who is 30 next year who was a nightmare and I am convinced he has Aspergers as his traits are so similar to my daughter’s. No one else listens but I do and I try and educate my family (hard going) but some members are so entrenched in their own reasons for his behaviour that I don’t waste my time on them anymore. My focus is on my son even at age 30. I know he values my support now. It took a while but it was worth it,

      I also have a daughter aged 12 who has been dx with Aspergers. I have learnt so much the second time around.

      Don’t abandon your son, work with him. Once you understand him, and how to communicate and support him, things will change. My relationship with my son is now very different. He gets it, without a diagnosis, but I had to lead him down the path of knowledge and suggest things to him to tempt him to read and make sense of himself.

      My daughter has been through hell and back with school and adults who don’t understand and reject but now at age 12 after a lot of hard work she is doing well and I love being with her. She is a fascinating little girl.

      Don’t worry about a dx – just start adopting the advice and guidance on this website. I would be more than happy to chat with you if you need to know where to get started but the first base is to understand Aspergers.

      Look at the information on here relating to the Sensory Funnel and also Deep into Defence Mode. With Aspergers there is always cause and effect or a trigger. Your son may have sensory issues and if he does, these need to be understood. Trust me – this complete stranger… can do this but you do need some guidance and you need to read a lot. I would be delighted to help kick you off on a journey that will be a voyage of discovery and reward for you and your son. PS – I am not a therapist, just a mum who really gets this and I have been where you are and I know what success looks like and how to get there.

      Please respond if you would like a friendly ear and a little help and support.

      1. Hello Karen

        I have a son who will be 30 next year. He has just been diagnosed with HFAspergers. I would like to initially send you a private email as I really want him to participate in looking at this informative site but at the moment he is reluctant in reaching out and talking to anyone, from what I’ve read on here he is in defence mode. I hope you can help, not sure if this site allows private replies. But if it does and my email is available could you please let me know. Thank you for sharing your story and your offer of hope. Kind regards Tricia

      2. Karen,
        It is encouraging to read your post. Could there really be a light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel? My son is 24, was diagnosed at 12 and has been in defense mode ever since. I have read every book, watched dozens of videos, been to many counselors with him and two psychiatrists. His depression has many times kept me out of work because I don’t want to leave him alone on those days. He has started binge drinking and smoking pot by himself. He binge eats and has gained 140 lbs. He works at Walmart and spends his paycheck in 48 hours. For the rest of the 2 weeks until the next payday, he stays in his room when he isn’t working and either sleeps or plays xbox. Our home is not a happy place due to all of this. My husband and I would love to retire and start enjoying each other’s company, but it doesn’t seem like a possibility. My son’s case worker is looking into the possibility of him getting n subsidized apartment , but when I think honestly about it, I know he doesn’t have the independent living skills to pull it off, not to mention his crippling depression. He has no self esteem. Asperger’s research is so new, I feel like there won’t be help in my lifetime.
        How did you get your son to read about Aspergers? I have read so many things that I think would really help him, but he gets very angry when he even sees a book in the house about Aspergers. He actually destroyed a library book because of the subject. Any tips you can give me would be appreciated.

        1. Karen,

          I wished I had the answer because you could be describing our situation as well, except your son has a job which my son refuses to get. The weight gain is exact and I am too looking into getting him into some sort of program where they teach and work with the kids with living skills. Do you know of any?
          I feel your pain. Your home life sounds close to ours as well.

  8. This is very helpful, my daughter has Aspergers Syndrome, is 17 years old and i try and understand her, this is sometimes very difficult and my patience grows thin. Your advise and strategies have given me much to think about and i will try and use them effectively. Thank you.

    1. My son is just 18 and we sometimes find it really hard to understand why he goes over and over and over things all of the time…..our patience can wear very thin too. Some of the points mentioned have given my room for thought too. 😬

  9. What happens if you are an adult with untreated aspergers and you are trying to support your child with diagnoses aspergers? I am doing my best but it seems others are against me. I feel they don’t know this first hand like I do, but they seem to discount my experience.

    1. I was going to ask this exact question. My 15 year old was recently diagnosed and I saw it coming while my husband felt blindsided. I’ve known for years that both he and I had aspbergers but didn’t have a diagnosis for him until this past year. I try hard to use strategies that I know work for me, but my husband will tell him to suck it up because he has to learn how to deal with the ‘real world’. I want so desperately to get through to my husband that it won’t work. But most days it feels like a loosing battle.

      1. 2 comments on here in one day.

        I had a similar view and resistance from my husband. I gave him a book and asked him to read it and then I bashed on – over time, explaining the cause and effect of my daughter’s behaviour and what we should do differently next time.

        Again, it took a while, and he is now on board. He still doesn’t totally get it, but I advocate all the time for my daughter and I step in very gently when I feel he is going down the wrong track.

        You may have to work as hard on your husband as you do on your son. I have done and continue to do so. Eventually, if your husband sees the changes you elicit from the way you deal with your son, hopefully he will catch on and follow suit.

        Keep going – success is just around the corner!


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