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Procrastination: Is It Laziness or Is It Clinical?

Why your teen with Asperger's syndrome often stalls.

One of the most common symptoms of people diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome is chronic anxiety. The anxiety can be so pronounced that the person often will exhibit symptoms of habitual procrastination. Parents with teens who have Asperger's syndrome, or a diagnosis of ASD, will often complain of a lackluster effort in academia, and personal chores around the home. Parents will often note that the teen possesses the cognitive ability to thrive in school and in the home and will express frustration regarding their difficulty in understanding why he does not make any progress.

It is not unusual that some parents with children like these will take a punitive approach where they see to it that the teen experiences unfavorable consequences for his failures in following through with his obligations. Another common route some parents in these circumstances will take is the tough love approach, where the parents allow the teen to experience the natural and logical consequences for his or her failures for not following through with personal obligations.

Neither of these approaches are effective in getting the teen to change his or her behaviors in the long run, because they fail to address the fundamental cause for the teen’s procrastination or stalling in following through with important and daily obligations.

One of the common complaints reported by people diagnosed with Asperger's, who struggle with anxiety, is becoming easily overwhelmed by new situations. These can be situations that either demand their attention or by which they are challenged. Further, the typical response to the feelings of becoming overwhelmed is to shut down and withdraw from the activity or commitment. These situations are made worse by parents or caregivers who simply believe that the teen is either being defiant, lazy, or coming from a place of entitlement. An ensuing conflict will usually lead to another shutdown and withdrawal by the teen from his or her parents.

Given that the teen’s response to anything that arouses his or her emotions is to become overwhelmed, which leads to a withdrawal from the situation, it makes little sense to aggressively or even assertively confront the teen for not meeting his or her obligations.

The solution resides in getting the teen to respond differently to his emotional arousal upon encountering a person, place, or thing which triggers his feelings of overwhelm. As the teen learns to temper his emotions of becoming overwhelmed in response to his identified triggers, it becomes easier for him to strategically engage and follow through with his activities of daily living.

In my practice, I use a combination of cognitive-behavioral approaches and mindfulness to help the teen identify his thoughts, feelings, and behavioral responses to triggers that he finds overwhelming and then visualizing himself effortlessly moving past his experiences with becoming emotionally aroused and following through with his obligations.

With practice, things like failure to turn in homework assignments, substandard grades in school and inconsistency with daily chores become a thing of the past. Further, this issue also applies to older teens and young adults who have graduated from high school and present with failure to launch issues. By failure to launch, I mean a recent high school graduate who has no immediate or concrete plans for his future.

It is not unusual when talking to young people in this situation to learn that they also overreact to their feelings of overwhelm by shutting down and withdrawing from challenging situations, which leads to a recurring pattern of incompletions in the young person’s life.

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