Have you ever enrolled your child in a great therapeutic or alternative program that offered improvements in behavior? Maybe things are cruising along, everyone’s in the flow… and then bam! Suddenly your child seems WORSE than before! Now there is some backtalk and strong opinions about things where there was harmony and eager-to-please attitudes before.
Or maybe you have a great set of tools that have been working for certain struggles at home or in school and then suddenly they stop. They wear off. The rewards lost their power and any consequences don’t seem to matter.
It’s very frustrating and confusing, especially when you can’t identify reasons or patterns. Erratic and disrespectful deeds and outbursts seem to be all you encounter.
If you’re like me, you immediately start analyzing where you think you’ve gone wrong as a parent, or what rules you are too relaxed about, or what changes should be made effective immediately to end this new attitude in your home.
Before you start calling military schools or Nanny 911, take a step back and consider what might be going on. It may not be disrespect at all!
There is a big picture. One that your child cannot identify for him or herself, so you have to play detective: be open-minded and look for some clues.
Sensory Processing issues
Is there a possibility of sensory overload present when you see these behaviors? Could something have changed in your home? A new vacuum, different light bulbs, more chaos (especially around the holidays!) or a family stress? What about different clothing or new foods? If you were being assaulted by your senses daily, you might “act out” to seek refuge or override an impending meltdown. To others this would look like a tantrum or behavior issue, but it may be as simple as making some adjustments in your home to accommodate oversensitive eyes or ears.
Fear from a change or disruption in routine
Many of us witnessed a great many outbursts and regression of old behaviors in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Simple things like not having the right cereal bowl when you give your child breakfast may set off a litany of bad behaviors or verbal outbursts that seem unreasonable or like our child is seriously overreacting. What you’re seeing is your child’s need for safety and order. This is not a logical discussion or something you can “reason your child out of”. Order, safety and stability are basic human needs and they are magnified in situations that are happening outside of your child’s control (and outside of yours in many cases!).
Have empathy and try to keep as many of the routines and rituals intact as possible. Use social stories to explain natural disasters or other really tough situations.
When puberty enters the picture you may have to throw everything you know out the window. It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been since progress was made or a behavior was licked. I dedicated a whole article to puberty and Autism that explains some of the lovely, odd things you may experience during this time.
Among these are unexpected rage over small incidents, new food likes and dislikes, sleep schedules running amok, regression of old behaviors, appetite changes, and sensory issues that are tenfold. Remember, if you’re having a hard time, imagine what your child is experiencing!
This is a tricky one. When you see regression or outbursts you automatically assume something’s not working. However, it very well could be the opposite. Here’s a sensitive analogy:
When an alcoholic gets sober they assume life will be kittens and rainbows because they’ve stopped drinking. After all, drinking caused their problems, right? What really happens is all of the mucky feelings and issues that were being suppressed with alcohol come floating to the surface and the alcoholic must learn to now deal with these emotions in a new and healthy way. It takes time and work! New tools, new skill sets and lots of support are required.
When your child gets some of the major sensory issues out of the way with a new therapy, diet or treatment the same thing is happening. The fog is being lifted and now they must learn how to deal with the world in a new way. In some cases, your angel may be finding their voice for the first time. They might be exercising their right to an opinion, or learning to say no. This is a time for support and patience, even though it may feel like you want to start over or jump to the next option because this doesn’t seem to be working.
Lack of empathy skills
I have to constantly remind myself of this one. Right now, my son does not have the skills to understand what something might feel like to someone else. We are certainly making progress! He is so intelligent and advanced in so many ways that this one is easy for me to consistently overlook.
If you only knew how many times he hurt one of us or one of our dogs with proprioceptive crashing or impulsive behaviors and I blurted out, “How would YOU feel if someone did this to you?!?!?!”
I always thought this was disrespect, but he truly doesn’t know! We are now learning to try and equate something I would like to something he can relate to, and I’m seeing great results with this new method. For instance, when I don’t want him screaming in my face and jumping on me, I point out a time when he needed his space alone in his room to finish programming his new Mario world and then I ask for the same space.
Just being a child
Another one that flies out the window for me often. I am so entrenched in the world of Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder that I have to stop and realize sometimes he’s just being a boy! I have two brothers. One used to throw dried dog poop down the back of my shirt. During winter he would pack snow around a rock when we had snowball fights and nail me in the head. A brother’s job is to find his sibling’s hot buttons and push them as often and as creatively as possible.
Autism is not a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to unacceptable behavior for my child. It can be tough to discern what is bad behavior and what is self protection from a confusing world. I have to have boundaries and rules, but I can also have an understanding of the real meaning behind the behaviors so my choices come from a place of empathy and love when it’s time to take action as a parent.
What about you? How do you know when it’s disrespect and when it’s a behavior issue? Share your comments below of post them on the SOA Facebook page!