How to Help Children with Autism Deal and React to Problems

Most days, my son acts rather ordinary.  He wakes up every day at the same time, eats breakfast, brushes his teeth, puts on his shoes, watches a little TV, then off to school. Even after school, all is okay with the world. He loves to watch YouTube for a bit, have a snack, watch a little TV, eat dinner, play games or read, takes a shower, hangs out with the family, then off to bed.

Michael autism superheroes

But when something is off kilter, his world breaks down. It can be as little as his older brother got in the bathroom first to brush his teeth, or at school he happened to be at the back of the line. What might seem so minor and insignificant to most people is a HUGE deal to him. It’s a “stop the press” moment, anger moment, the “world-is-ending” moment, and it happens quickly. You don’t even see it coming.

Sound familiar? In these moments, he’s extremely angry and resentful to the person or situation. There is no reasoning with him, no way to help, except one thing.

The one thing that has helped is his PROBLEM SIZE SCALE. We have learned that if he is more aware of his actions and/or reactions then he can learn to properly scale them (with modeling of course.)


autism superhero


Here’s how it works:

We have taught him that all problems have a size, 1-5, 1 being least size problem, a no-big-deal problem, and 5 being an absolute horrible problem, like a tornado ripping our house down. You see, when he is upset or mad, in his mind it’s a size 5 problem. Everything is a size 5 problem. It’s a tornado ripping through the house.

We taught him to calm down and examine his problem and properly scale it. We did this by making a visible chart. Each size has an example and the appropriate way to react to the problem size. Whenever he is angry, we give him time to calm down; we give him plenty of space. We allow up to 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes we help him write his problem on a sticky note, and once he is calm, he is to match his problem that is similar to a problem on the scale. Then we read and talk about the appropriate reaction. This chart is teaching him to be more self-aware of his behaviors and reactions when he becomes upset, frustrated or mad.

problem size scale

Now, when he’s upset we verbally ask him if his problem is really a size 5 problem. We validate that it may feel like a size 5 problem, but in reality it isn’t, and we redirect him to the appropriate reaction. It takes time and a lot of modeling by parents and older siblings, but it works!

Problem Sizes

1 – “I dropped my pencil.” Reaction: no big deal, easy to fix, solved right away

2 – “We are all out of ice cream and I really wanted it.” Reaction: deep breath, total bummer feeling, upset feeling lasts for a very short time

3 – “I have to do something I don’t like.” Reaction: maybe some uncomfortable feelings, take a break, a hug would help, only lasts a few minutes

4 – “I fell off my bike.” Reaction: sad or mad, I might cry just a little, I might need some help, lasts only a day

5 – “I broke my leg.” Reaction: crying, lots of tears, extremely upset, need adult help, will last days or weeks.


Watch my quick video >>here<< for a little demonstration about the journal/scale. For more autism information, >>click here.<<

So there you go, how to help your child deal and react to problems.


Spread the autism love
  • 4
  • 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.