For all the positive posts I’ve written lately I have just as many, more in fact, of the negative variety (though unwritten…until now.) Lately I feel I am in over my head with this child. The waves are crashing over me, water has rushed up my nose, and I’m struggling to get some air. The behavior, oh the behavior. We are struggling with the Roc. We have been struggling with the Roc for some time.
When I went on a trip in September with my good friend Christa we talked about discipline. Her son P is the same age as the Roc, he also has autism, and she can give him “the look.” You know “the look” some parents can give their children when they are doing something wrong, and they stop immediately. “The look” does not work with the Roc. Christa told me how they went through a period of time which she referred to as “bringing down the hammer.” Every time P broke the rules he went to his room, no threats and no bribes. She said that it wasn’t pretty and he would tantrum for long periods of time while in his room. They had to remove almost everything from his room to keep him and his things safe. When they were out in public and he started up they would leave, when they got home they would tell him that he would be losing a certain privilege which would cause him to tantrum and be sent to his room, but at least they were in the safety of their home. Over time (she guessed about 4 months) he started to change and was having to go to his room less and less. And now they have a child who, for the most part, listens to his parents.
I do not.
Lately the Roc has been so demanding, everything has been such a big deal, or I should say that the littlest of things are the biggest deal. He is bossy and tries to control everyone and every situation in the house. Strange stuff is popping up lately like his sudden issue with all things circular. Container lids have to be hidden, he doesn’t like to see the lids of our pots, he now refuses to eat off the blue plates because they have an indented circle inside, he doesn’t like my camera because the lens is circular. It’s maddening. It’s incredibly frustrating. I feel as though I have no control over this child, and the reality is that I don’t.
I have no control over my child. What is this going to look like in 2 years? 4 years? The teenage years? GAH. Something has to change. I need to get the upper hand here.
We’ve been trying the no threats/no bribes, go to your room whenever you break a rule tactic, and it had an effect at first. He was shocked that we didn’t give any warnings, he flailed and thrashed and screamed away in his almost empty room, but then things changed. He usually gets upset the first time he has to go to his room and then the rest of the day it becomes a game. He runs away from us laughing when we say go to your room, he quiets down immediately as soon as we put him there, he doesn’t really seem to mind anymore, and it feels like he is playing us again. Or maybe he is just outlasting us.
He does tend to outlast us. We had an awesome time hiking in Pennsylvania last weekend. For the most part the Roc did well. He had his moments though, and they were not fun, for any of us. On the ride home he broke apart because GC didn’t answer a question the right way. He didn’t say certain words in a certain order. The Roc SCREAMED for at least 20 minutes. 20 minutes of screaming about what Daddy should have said while driving down the Blue Route, through construction, with lots of traffic. My ears hurt just writing about the length of screaming and remembering how ear piercing it was. We tried to ignore him, we lasted for a long while, but we were tired and hungry and so sick of dealing with these wild swings in behavior that we snapped. He out screamed us, and we both screamed back. Our ropes snapped.
Yesterday morning I had a similar experience and didn’t handle myself as best I could. The Roc and I were playing upstairs together and when it was time to go get ready for the bus all hell broke loose. I didn’t go down the stairs at the appropriate pace while holding his hand, and he went berserk, screaming for me to try again. He wasted all his morning exercise time screaming at me to go back up the stairs. I turned on the silent treatment, ignored him and wouldn’t engage in a fight, trying to see if that would make him calm down. It didn’t. He escalated to roughing up the chairs, throwing things off the table, throwing things towards me, swatting at me, spitting, and then spitting at me. As I felt the spittle hit my face I lost it. I clapped my hand over his mouth and with the devil in my voice I told him that he would “NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!” He kept screaming and thrashing around the entry way. We went outside to wait for the bus, he started running away laughing so I turned to go back in the house causing him to screech for me to stay outside. We waited in the doorway and as soon as the bus came I pulled him out and down to the curb, where he lost it. Screaming and crying saying he didn’t want the bus to be there, he wasn’t going to get on, he wasn’t going to make a good choice (I’ve been talking a lot about choices lately.) I tilted his face upwards, leaned down, and said that he would never, ever, ever behave that way again. That he would never hit me, he would never, ever spit at me, or behave so disrespectfully towards me again. He was so visibly upset. I was shaking with exhaustion and anger and it wasn’t even 9 am. We walked toward the bus and he started to ramp up again. I stopped him at the bottom of the stairs and asked him if he wanted to tell the bus driver about his morning, about how he behaved. He looked afraid and the bus driver looked at me like I was crazy and a horrible mother. As my blood boiled in my veins I felt like the worst mother.
Which I feel on so many occasions throughout each and every day. What am I doing wrong? How do I discipline this child? I talked to the Roc’s doctor on Monday morning (while the Roc bounced around the room, swinging his arms, throwing his jacket, pulling on me, snorting in my face – seriously, he was snorting in my face. Try having a coherent conversation while all of that is going on.) and she did suggest trying to find a behavioral therapist and also referred me to a neurologist that she really likes, she said he has wonderful bedside manner – how often do you get that in a doctor?
I also talked to a mother of a 10 year old with autism at soccer two weekends ago. She and her husband said that it took a lot of time and patience on their part, that they really just repeated everything over and over and over again, literally drilling the rules into their son. She said they talked a lot of things through with him, validating his feelings and giving him alternatives to his outbursts, and over time they could see him shifting, choosing the alternative to blowing up. She also mentioned that they charted his behavior throughout the day so he could see how he was doing, and that if he did well he was able to earn TV time, which was his greatest reward. She suggested I figure out what the Roc’s greatest reward would be and have him work towards that. And right there we are stumped. Because we don’t know how to motivate him. We tried taking toys away, having him work toward a bath, or a special dessert, or an outing, but nothing seemed to really have an impact.
So please, tell me, how in the world do you discipline your child with autism? What do you do when they talk back, get aggressive, flip out over nonsense, scream at you, kick at the dog, spit in your house and then spit at you, are bossy and controlling? How do you motivate them to follow the rules of the house? To respect you? What do you do? Please tell me what do you do?
And please, for the love of god, do not tell me try a sticker chart (as I’ve heard on numerous occasions from parents of typical kids, the Roc could care less about earning a STICKER) or suggest that I have him stand in the corner with his nose pressed against the wall (as my neighbor did after a particularly trying day. She could hear the Roc tantruming through our shared wall…sigh.)