What to do about deliberate meanness

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jonahsmom
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14 Jul 2009, 7:06 am

My daughter will be 5yo in a month. She does have an autism diagnosis...at our team evaluation they said that they had "a lot of discussion amongst themselves" to diagnose her because she is so mildly affected, but in the end they agreed that she is on the spectrum.

She normally does really well. The one thing that is most challenging is that ever since she was little, she has used physical means (hitting, biting, pushing, etc.) in an attempt to get what she wants or stop other kids from doing what she doesn't want them to do. It's always confused me because we have four children and she is the only one who does it or ever has. We don't use physical punishment and our kids don't even watch shows with fighting/wrestling, etc. (My son, 6yo w/AS tends to perseverate on anything negative/scary so we need to closely monitor what is watched.)

Yesterday was a particularly hard day. At the end of it, I had been hit in the face, spit at in the face, had hair torn out of my head, and been scratched to the point that skin was removed. I ended up crying (wow- you feel like a real winner when your four year old makes you cry!) and her reply was, "Now you don't love me anymore!" All of this supposedly occurred because she decided she wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the shape of a heart and I was unable to produce it. For real.

I have no idea what to do when she lashes out like this. It feels wrong just to let it slide, and my tendency with behaviors is to be proactive and prevent them from happening----but this is her reaction to not getting what she wants. I can't exactly get her everything she wants in hopes of preventing these kind of scenes. She is also fond of telling me that she is leaving and she is "done with me" any time I say no to a request....another interesting thing because the rest of us just don't say things like that. I don't know where she gets it. Yesterday got so bad that it was really stressful to the other kids. Also, on several occasions when we've been playing in groups (like at the park), I've seen kids point her out and say, "That girl is mean," which breaks my heart. Despite the fact that she can be mean in certain situations, she often is very sweet and it makes me sad that she might go on to be labeled at The Mean Girl because of her choices.

Any ideas you might have for me would be very helpful. Thanks!



annotated_alice
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14 Jul 2009, 9:29 am

When my sons were around the same age, they went through a stage of using physical violence towards each other (they are twins), and occasionally other children. They were really viciously aggressive and we had concerns about serious injury occurring. We did a few different things and we did them consistently and for a long, long time, and now any type of physical violence is rare.

-make it clear that the behaviour will no longer be accepted, and choose consequences that you will enforce immediately and consistently. At that time both of our sons were really into superheroes, so as a consequence for violence, they would lose a bin of superhero toys, to be earned back one for each violence free day. For awhile there, their toy room was practically empty, but eventually the lesson sunk in. We have used other consequences like loss of dessert, video game privileges, TV and allowance along the way too, depending on what was most motivating to them at the time.

-teach alternative safe ways to express frustration and anger, and give positive reinforcement when you see your child choosing them instead of violence. Our guys bounce yoga balls, punch pillows and vent with a lot of complaining. Other things we've tried: ripping up paper (give a big bin of scrap paper to scrumple, rip or scribble on when angry), punching bag, stress balls etc. Having a few moments alone when they start to get frustrated really helps too, when possible. We didn't know about the 5 Point scale back then, but we use it now and it is brilliant for kids who have trouble gauging and communicating their emotions.

-lots of modelling and teaching about how to be a good friend. We made books about it (social stories) and read books (such as Laurie Krasny Brown's "How to be a Friend") and did a lot of role playing. My guys really need to be taught the specifics on what to do in each social situation.

One thing is to expect it to get worse before it gets better. When you first "draw a line in the sand" about a behaviour, we have found that things usually get much worse at first (resistance to change, testing the rule etc.), but after you tough out that intitial period, the improvements happen.

And I would also investigate any sensory issues contributing. For example, when you tell her "no" is it in a loud voice that may hurt her ears and set her off. Is she being given enough space and support at school, or is she fighting the other kids as a way to get them to back off of her.

I hope this has helped, and good luck.



AnotherOne
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14 Jul 2009, 9:51 am

that sounds rough. my son is almost 5 now and he recently acquired a hitting habit so I guess it is somewhat different. he hits for pretty much the same reasons, not getting what he wants. we do time-outs on a chair but sometimes when he is really set off I see that he went beyond self-regulation I tickle him. That confuses him and breaks the pattern of anger on both sides.



DW_a_mom
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14 Jul 2009, 1:41 pm

It could be a number of things causing it, any one or in combination. But you have to come down hard on this and be very, very consistent about it not being acceptable or you will be battling this for a long, long time.

Annoted Alice wrote a very good list. Teach alternatives, give clear consequences.

Also, pay attention to the other aspects of her life, how much stress there is, how much she may feel out of control of her life. We've found both our kids (AS and NT, but especially the AS one) will get more demanding and insistent on having their own way when the rest of life feels out of control to them. It's like these last little things are all they have left, so they absolutely must get their way. The more comfortable they are feeling, the easier it beomes for them to bend (although bending seems to never be natural to an AS child).


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Mom to an amazing AS son, who recently graduated from the university (plus an also amazing non-AS daughter). Most likely part of the "Broader Autism Phenotype" (some traits).


jonahsmom
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14 Jul 2009, 9:25 pm

Thanks so much for the suggestions! Sometimes when a situation seems impossible it's so hard to think of solutions on your own. Today was a much better day. Yesterday she never did get her peanut butter and jelly sandwich because of her behavior. Today she really kept it in check because she wanted that sandwich so badly. At least it was an easy thing to provide. :)

I know I do need to be consistent. The difficult part is that I often have to carry or lift her in order to follow through and I recently had abdominal surgery, so I can't and she knows it. The only change I can trace her behavior shift to was getting a shot at her 5 yr. checkup earlier this week. I don't want to open up that can of worms, and I don't think shots cause autism, but I do think that having your immune system tackling something extra can make you feel "off" enough to produce behavioral changes.

Anyway, I will try some of the suggestions and I hope that things keep getting better as they did today. Thanks again! It's so nice to hear from people who have actually btdt.