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Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition affecting between one in eighty eight and one in one hundred children. It was recently redefined in the new diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) and many people are confused about how to understand the new criteria.

People with ASD must now show “persistent deficits” in two separate “domains”. These are (1) social communication and social interaction impairments and (2) restricted, and repetitive patterns of behavior.  There must be at least two repetitive behaviors in addition to social communication deficits. These can include “stereotyped or repetitive motor movements”, “insistence on sameness or inflexible adherence to routines”, “highly restricted, fixated interests”, or hypo or hyper reactivity to sensory input.

Parents of children with ASD are familiar with the phrase that if you have met a child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD. The severity of the condition is so variable, that it is impossible to present any stereotype of an ASD that makes sense, but there is still good evidence that parents of children with ASD live with behavioral problems on a semi-regular basis. Learning to manage these behaviors can make parent’s lives much easier.

Change who’s in control by “Entering and Blending”

There is a concept in the marital art Aikido called “entering and blending” that shows great promise in managing the aggression that can occur with ASD.

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By entering you step towards your attacker, positioning your feet so that they are slightly aside of the attackers path and then making “close and authoritative contact”. If an ASD child is pushing towards you, let their energy come at you as you move to the entering position, then firmly but gently, grasp their wrist or hand, and turn to go with them. In doing so, you are signaling your willingness to engage, whilst still providing yourself with a path to let the energy pass by without harming you.  There should be no pain or aggression in this action.

By entering you have also blended with the child by coming to face in the same direction as they are moving, and most importantly, you are looking at the situation from their viewpoint without giving up your own viewpoint that their behavior is unacceptable.

Entering and blending can also be a verbal technique that allows you to avoid responding to every sentence your child says with a counter sentence and perpetuating the argument. By blending and entering we give a little, turn to see their viewpoint, and try to resolve the situation from that position using their words.

It’s a powerful technique.

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Change the Stimulation Level

ASD may have a sensory component, and increasing or decreasing stimulation can be a useful way to control an explosive situation. There’s a lot of experimentation required, because not every ASD child will react in the same way. For some, turning the lights down may be intolerable and induce profound anxiety, whereas others will find the reduction of stimulation to be soothing.

One clue can be found in “stimming”; self stimulatory behavior where repetitive motions or sounds are made by the child in response to their sensory situation. Stimming can occur when children are happy or sad. My son likes to flap his hands when he’s having a great moment.  He also kicks the floor in a particular way when he’s happy or angry. It’s important to watch well and keep notes about what triggers stimming.

Stimming can tell you exactly what’s going on – or completely confuse you – but it is at least some real evidence of what the mood of the day is. If you can find a “happy” stimming situation, try to adapt the current sensory input to match that situation. If there are only negatives then remove the triggers for these and see if the situation improves.

Change the conversation

One of the key elements of an ASD diagnosis is repetitive behavior or fixation on certain types of objects or concepts. My son has been through a range of such fixations. The first occurred at the age of two when we had to stop every time he saw a flag and take it home with us. This morphed into the world of drains, and he and I spent many a cozy day standing over a drain and discussing its most intricate life story. Then came sharks and we’ve finally settled (for now) on marines.

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While it can be very difficult to maintain a conversation about drains for two hours at a time, I can rest assured that if I can shift the topic to something he is interested about then we can engage. Then I can direct the conversation and tease it around to the problem at hand. Patience is essential.

Change mood through exercise

The literature on the relationship between mood and exercise is extensive. If you can get the blood moving then endorphins will fire, and a euphoric feeling, sometimes called a “runners high”, can change your mood. Nowhere is this more true in children who have fewer filters and access to a more immediate response to endorphins.

You probably aren’t going to get your child to go for a run when they are really angry. Try instead for small gains; keep them walking around after you, even if that means a trip around the entire house four or five times. Chances are they’re so keen to yell at you that they’ll come without even knowing what they are doing. It’s a dirty trick, but it works.

Sometimes simple things like tickling work. It’s hard to be angry if someone is tickling you, but be sure that they aren’t so angry that you’ll just make it worse. Get down on the floor with them, wrestle, tickle and just turn a tantrum into fun. Sometimes they’re really just bored and a little physical engagement can do the trick.

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Change the Scene

We’ve touched on the fact that some anger is a product of boredom, and one of the best antidotes to boredom is a change of scenery. Walk outside. Don’t ask them to come and they probably will anyway because they are bored. Sit down on the grass and start picking daffodils. Pass them carefully over and ask them to pick the petals off and place them in a pile. If they ignore you – fine.

Changing the scene is almost never something you want to ask the child about. Just do it, and you’ll ignore a load of negativity and pointless banter.

It’s important not to treat changing the scene as a reward for bad behavior. Do not take your child to the lego store because he had a tantrum. Instead have yourself or your husband make paper airplanes with him and try to get them all in the fireplace. Start a christmas list. The options really are endless in the modern day and age.

Don’t think that there’s a different, better child ‘hiding’ behind the autism. This is your child. Love the child in front of you. Encourage his strengths, celebrate his quirks, and improve his weaknesses, the way you would with any child. You may have to work harder on some of this, but that’s the goal. – Claire Scovell LaZebnik

Featured photo credit: Jonathon Kos Read via media.lifehack.org

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Published on December 20, 2019

Is Authoritarian Parenting Good or Bad for Your Child?

Is Authoritarian Parenting Good or Bad for Your Child?

Kate sits down to the dinner table and is eager to be a good girl and eat her dinner like her Mom and Dad want her to do. She is a sweet girl who wants the approval of her parents very much. It is not always easy though. During dinner, she stands up and starts to leave the table because she has to use the bathroom. Her Dad yells at her to sit back down. He tells her “we don’t just get up from the dinner table, we wait and ask to be excused after everyone is finished eating.” She begins to protest, wanting to explain that she needs to use the bathroom. Her father becomes more upset with her and yells at her that she is now talking back and she is not allowed to say another word at the dinner table until everyone is finished eating and then she can be excused.

Unfortunately for Kate, she can’t hold it, and she has a little accident because she is too fearful to say a word to her Dad. She doesn’t want to get yelled at anymore. She also knows that in her home, kids don’t have a say. What Mom and Dad say is like words carved into stone. They are strict beyond reason and they will not bend their rules. Therefore, Kate felt that she had no choice in the matter and when she could no longer hold it. There was nothing she could do about it.

Kate’s parents are an example of authoritarian parenting. They are strict, they are not emotionally engaged with their children, and they have very high expectations for their children. This type of parenting style leaves children feeling disconnected from their parents.

Kate wanted to communicate to her parents that she had to use the restroom, but she couldn’t even get her words out because her parents have such strict rules and demands of her. They did not care to hear what she had to say, because upholding their rules was more important to them. In their household, a child’s opinions and feelings do not matter.

This kind of strict parenting is not helpful for children. It can damage a child and leave them with low self-esteem, mental health issues, and doing poor academically among other problems cited by research in Parenting Science.[1]

What Does Authoritarian Parenting Look Like?

In the 1960’s, a researcher and theorist by the name of Baumrind established the well known theory of parenting styles. Those four parenting styles, which are well known today, are authoritarian, authoritative, passive, and neglectful. For proactive parents that are trying hard to be good parents, they will usually lean toward either authoritarian or authoritative.

Authoritarian parenting involves strict parenting and high expectations for children. This can sound reasonable and even like good parenting. However, the strict parenting is often characterized by lack of compassion toward the child, little to no flexibility in rules, and complete control sought over the child’s behavior.

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Parents who use this parenting style believe it is their job to control the will and behavior of their children. An article in Psychology Today explains how authoritarian parents operate:[2]

Authoritarian parents believe that children are, by nature, strong-willed and self-indulgent. They value obedience to higher authority as a virtue unto itself. Authoritarian parents see their primary job to be bending the will of the child to that of authority—the parent, the church, the teacher. Willfulness is seen to be the root of unhappiness, bad behavior, and sin. Thus, a loving parent is one who tries to break the will of the child.

For example, Jake has authoritarian parents. He wants to stay out past curfew on a school night because he has an opportunity to play in a jazz ensemble. He has been playing the saxophone for years and his ambition is to play in a college jazz ensemble.

With Jake still being in high school, his parents have a curfew. On school nights, it is 8:00 pm. This rule is instituted because his parents believe they need to ensure that Jake gets his school work done each night and that he needs to be well rested for school the next day. However, they don’t explain the why of their rules to him, they simply tell him that those are their rules. The jazz ensemble is practicing at 8:00 pm on a Thursday night and they have invited Jake to come play with them. It is a well known group and a huge opportunity for Jake.

Unfortunately, his parents say no. Their authoritarian parenting style is unwavering. He wants to discuss the opportunity and its importance, but his parents will not even entertain the conversation. They stop him mid-sentence and go over their rules again. There is no flexibility.

If Jake’s parents had been authoritative, they would have taken the time to hear out his case and would likely have granted him a later curfew for that one instance. They would see that, although they have a curfew, there are some instances when an opportunity is worth bending the rules. They would ask that he has his homework done before going to play with the group, and that he come home as soon as the practice was finished.

Authoritative parents have rules, but they are also flexible based on reasonable requests for exceptions. The authoritative parents are interested in how their children are thinking and feeling. Conversely, authoritarian parents are not likely to be interested in hearing their child’s thoughts and feelings, because they want to control the will of their child, not come to some middle ground.

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Here are some characteristics of authoritarian parenting:

  • They have strict rules that are unyielding and unwavering. This is often called “heavy handed parenting.”
  • They do not want input from the child about rules. They also feel that the child’s opinion does not matter, because they are the parent thus are the supreme authority over the child.
  • There are severe punishments when rules are broken.
  • There is an emotional disconnection between parent and child, because the parent is not interested in what the child thinks or feels. They are more interested in controlling the behavior of the child and having the child be compliant to their rules.
  • Children are expected to listen to their parents and follow the rules, there are no exceptions. A child that voices their objections will likely be punished for doing so.
  • The parents have high expectations, especially when it comes to compliance of their rules.
  • Parents expect that their child will be obedient and they do not need to explain the “why” of their rules and expectations. Compliance is expected out of sheer obedience, not because the child understands the reasons why the rules are set. Parents do not feel the need to explain why they set their rules.
  • There is a failure to have attached relationships between parent and child because of the overly dominant nature of authoritarian parents and their unwillingness to allow their children to have their own voice or free will.

Authoritarian parents are driven by a belief that they need to control their children. This means controlling their children’s behavior to an extreme. They are inflexible and don’t take into account the child’s desires, emotions, or well-being as being as important to enforcing rules to get the desired outcome. Authoritative parents on the other hand, seek to guide and direct their children instead of control. There is a distinction.

The Problems of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting has many negative consequences to children. Children who are raised in homes with extreme authoritarian parenting are more likely to become dependent on drugs and alcohol, have lower academic performance, and increased mental health issues according to Parenting for Brain.[3] Children who are raised with authoritarian parents are also more likely to have lower self esteem, inability to make decisive choices, and have social skills that are lacking.

When a child is raised to be taught day in and day out that their voice does not matter, then that child will likely be ingrained with that belief. They will not value their own opinions because they have been taught that what they think does not matter and is of no value. This leads to poor self-esteem and low self-worth.

If a child doesn’t believe that their thoughts matter, then what they think about themselves overall is going to be affected. They will not think highly of themselves or believe that what they think, say, or do is of value. This will contribute to low self-esteem long term.

Social skills will suffer because a child who comes from an authoritarian home will be trained to believe that nobody wants to hear their opinion and that relationships are based on compliance.

For example, Judy is raised in an authoritarian home. She is now 18 years old and has her first boyfriend. Anytime that he asks something of her, even if she internally disagrees, she feels that she is supposed to comply and do what he says in order for him to like her and continue wanting to be with her.

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He wants to have sex. She does not feel that she is ready, but she will not voice this to her boyfriend because she doesn’t think that her opinion will matter or that he will want to listen to what she is feeling. She goes along with sex in their relationship to be compliant. She doesn’t want to be punished by disagreeing with not having sex. He says that they are ready for that next step in the relationship and she fears that the consequence of saying no would be that he ends the relationship.

Therefore, she doesn’t even voice her thoughts or feelings on the situation because she doesn’t think they have value or will be heard anyway.

She has been taught by her parents that her opinions and feelings don’t matter. She has learned from the past 18 years with her parents that what matters most is that she is compliant. She gets along with her parents best when she is doing exactly what they want her to do. This is why she feels the need to do the same with her boyfriend.

Going along with his decisions, being compliant, and not voicing her feelings will keep the relationship going and avoid conflict or punishment. The ultimate punishment in her mind would be that he ends the relationship.

With her opinions never being valued by those who she has loved the most (her parents), she has learned that she should not voice her opinion if she wants to keep the other person in the relationship happy. In her mind, because of how she has been raised, compliance overrides all else, and her opinion is meaningless.

However, her boyfriend is not her parents. He is understanding and would want to know how she feels. He wants a long term relationship with her and he loves her so much. His true desire is for her to be happy. He would never want her to have sex if she wasn’t feeling the same way that he was feeling. He would gladly wait and would want to hear what she thinks and feels about taking their relationship to the next level.

Authoritarian parenting methods can inflict great harm on a child. The child becomes emotionally damaged because they grow up believing that their opinions, thoughts, and feelings do not matter. Instead they are taught that compliance and being obedient supersedes all else.

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The Solution

The solution is to move from authoritarian parenting methods to authoritative parenting practices.

Authoritative parenting has been deemed as the best parenting method by researchers, according to Psychology Today. Parents who use authoritative parenting methods have rules for their children, but they are not looking for blind compliance. They recognize that having a relationship with their child is of great importance and therefore valuing the child’s voice, opinions, and thoughts is important.

Authoritative parents seek to guide and direct their children, but they do not seek to control the will of their child.

Parenting Coach Plan explains the foundation of authoritative parenting as the following:[4]

Authoritative parenting can be described as a style of parenting that combines firm limits and clear boundaries with fair and consistent discipline. Authoritative parents are also nurturing, highly-involved, and willing to speak openly with their child regarding expectations and the consequences for failing to meet those expectations. Rules are enforced and fair consequences are put in place for when those rules are broken.

Children raised in authoritative homes follow the rules because they understand the “why” of the rules. They are also bonded to their parents because they are able to talk to their parents openly. This bond helps nurture a positive home environment and a two-way relationship that can last a lifetime.

To learn more about how to be an authoritative parent and how to discipline a child using this parenting method, check out my article:

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

Reference

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