Dealing with Anger & Aggression

This is not a side of Sensory Processing Disorder that I like to talk about. In fact, it’s one I’ve barely mentioned here on the blog. But, I would like to shed some light on it, for the few of us that have a child that is aggressive. And, just an FYI it is a smaller percentage of kids with SPD that are aggressive. Not all kids with SPD are aggressive. Whether that is towards objects, kids, parents or even themselves. This needs to get talked about as parents.

I’ve lived far too long hiding this fact and being ashamed of it. I’ve vaguely tried to share it with other people only to hear “I would never let that happen in my house.”

Having a child that is aggressive is the scariest part of this disorder. It’s what pushed us to get help at such a young age for our daughter. It has isolated us. It has made us feel like we are the only ones in the world fighting to keep our daughter and us safe.

My goal here today is to share our experiences with you and remind you that you are not alone.

Our first encounter started around 9 months, as our daughter started head banging. She would literally seek out hard surfaces and as she was crawling on her hands and knees she would hit her head into them. I quickly learned to see her going to do this and I would swoop her up and she would hit her head against my shoulder. At night, she would hit her head around the top of her crib repeatedly. This wasn’t just a bump, this was a full force head into object as hard as she could, movement. Nothing broke my heart more than seeing my BABY doing this. Every doctor we spoke with said this was NORMAL. What I now know was that it was sensory seeking. She was seeking that input trying to feel something. She did this until she was 2 ½ years old. It was hard to see it as sensory seeking because it would often happen when we were redirecting her or when we said no. I now know that as her way of coping and trying to comfort herself as she didn’t get what she wanted.

After the head banging, she moved more into being destructive towards objects. She would seek out things to literally destroy. She would throw things, knock anything and everything down. She broke her door off the hinges at 3 years old. This phase probably lasted the shortest. Again, it often was in response to sensory stimuli for example turning on or off a light was almost like we flipped a switch in her to seek something to destroy. She was trying to cope with what was causing her pain (the light).

And then she turned towards us. She would hit, kick and bite.

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Here’s what I want you to know about all these scenarios. During all of these phases of aggression, there was no way of getting in, now way of getting through to her. She was shut “off.” There was no way to calm her down. There was no way to hold her. We fought to keep her and us and everything else safe. Her brain would literally shut down and there was nothing we could do. This wasn’t a child just being naughty. This was a child whose brain was functioning abnormally and she was literally fighting her way through life.

These episodes weren’t just short minutes. These were hours and days and weeks and years. It was from the time she would wake up until the time she went to sleep. It was constant.

As parents who have done so much to try to help our daughter we were exhausted that it was such a struggle to get help. Daily life was such a challenge. We went from one exhausting day to the next in a fog of survival and crisis. We lost hope again and again. And we got up every morning to face the same battle again. We may not have always been standing strong it was more like crawling on our knees begging God to get us through.

There’s no easy answer for how or what made it better. We still have some aggression but it isn’t the out of control aggression that we used to see. I am convinced that development is a major part of the decrease in aggression. As she got older it changed into being more manageable. As her vocabulary and ability to talk increased the aggression went down. However, I did learn that she could put all of that energy that she was using to be aggressive into screaming. It is always changing!

Here’s what I want to tell you if you are living in this:

  1. The most important thing you can do is have a team of people to help. Seek out a really good psychologist with knowledge of Sensory Processing Disorder.
  2. Look beyond the behavior. I know how hard it is. You see a child doing a bad behavior like hitting and you think it needs to be changed. But often with our kids there is more going on than just a bad behavior. Look at what is happening before and after the behavior happens.   Think of it as a defense mechanism. We see behavior, when our child is really fighting something we can’t see.
  3. It’s not your fault. Dear parent- I know you feel like it is all your fault. I know you feel like you should be able to fix this. But your sweet child’s brain operates a little differently. You are doing a good job. Keep going and don’t give up!
  4. 95% of the population will never understand what you are going through or get it.
  5. After experiencing years of living in absolute crisis, I know that it does get better. I know that it cycles in seasons and some seasons are REALLY bad. But, hang on for the good. Hang on for the better. Remind yourself how much you absolutely love your child and pick yourself up to fight another day, because your child desperately needs you to.

From one desperate parent trying to help her child to another, hang on.  It is worth the fight.  It’s worth every awful moment.  It’s worth every bruise you get and every hurtful word you hear.  Your beautiful child is worth it.  Don’t give up.  Fight for hope everyday.
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22 thoughts on “Dealing with Anger & Aggression

  1. Full Spectrum Mama

    Heartbreaking and hopeful.
    My autistic child has never been aggressive, but my child who has an attachment disorder has – and your central points here really resonate with me.
    * That a young child who is aggressive is expressing something huge and has no other choice until – sometimes – we show other ways or change their sensory diet or help healing in specific and sometimes unexpected ways, through much trial and error!
    * That things CAN get better!!!!
    * That we are not alone.
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

    Reply
  2. Tania Kac

    Thank you for sharing, this is so difficult to tell out loud to the world. My kid was very aggressive earlier in his life and for a while he was dx’d ADHD/NOS–NOS being Oppositional Defiance Disorder, but with a lot of interventions, the Dx got demoted. That said, I can TOTALLY relate about a sense of helplessness mixed with love and hope. It does get better, especially when you surround yourself with the right team and educate yourself on everything that can help your child. You’re a great mom, keep up the good work!

    Reply
  3. Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution

    Hugs to you! I understand that aggression and anger. It is scary to see it in your child. And you’re right, with a good support system and OT, it can get better for everyone — including your child.

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution

    Reply
  4. Gem

    Thanks for writing this. Our adopted daughter is currently dx with FASD and ADHD. She’s very oppositional and aggressive and we’re trying hard to understand what stimulates those reactions and hoping for an OT assessment to see if the damage to her brain is what is causing the meltdowns and aggression. We are literally existing day to day again at the moment. I find it hard because everything feels like a battle of wills.mskme me,towns we can predict but others come out of nowhere. You’re not alone in dealing with a child who is aggressive at all xx

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  5. Scott V

    Thank you !!!! Thank you !!! Thank you !!!! There are people like us in the world. My daughter ( who is a twin) is a gift from God , we have been through hell and back again with her, 7 surgeries later she beats a disease with a 2% survival rate, to have to deal with life in a very volital manner. She is so smart so beautiful and full of life and mystery, but is a emotionally and physically exhausting puzzle that the peices all most fit but don’t . We wouldn’t trade her for the world and after reading this I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. So thank you for a slice of sanity !!!!

    Reply
  6. Jay

    Thank you. My sons hurts both himself and us, but I can’t talk to anyone about it. The part that struck a chord for me was when you talked about not being able to reach her. I can’t seem to help or change anything. He’s in there but he can’t hear me or something. I don’t know, I’m probably explaining badly. Truly, I think the only thing that has helped is age. But thanks for talking about something hard to acknowledge.

    Reply
  7. Diane Luyben

    You are a brave and beautiful mother. Never give up, your child is blessed. My beautiful grandson has sensory disorder, I see him struggle to be understood. His parents do everything possible to give him quality of life. Many strangers shake their heads, when he has an episode. They ask why can’t you control him. They don’t understand nor do they realize their comments hurt. They are exhausted, but they push forward knowing they are doing everything possible for him. He is their son, the love of their lives. Unfortunately it is a little know disorder, and people are afraid of the unknown. I pray for my grandson and I pray for every other child that has this disorder. Hugs to you and your angel.

    Reply
  8. Trisha

    From one SPD mama to another, I somehow stumbled across this post and so happy I did. Reading this made me break down and cry it was like you were telling mine and my sons story. He is 4 now and most times still a daily struggle, wondering how you’re going to get through all of it the doctors appointments the therapy’s and diagnoses. There were times where I thought I might not actually be the right mom for him. Which is something I have never said out loud till now. Now when I look back I know I’ve been doing everything I can and that he has made tremendous steps. Thank you for sharing a part of the journey that many people don’t want to talk about it just reminds me I’m not alone.

    Reply
  9. Jenny

    This has me feeling really emotional I feel as though I’m reading my own story that is so hard and sometimes as you say shameful to share with others.
    Reading things like this makes me feel stronger and better about being a mum with an spd/adhd/apd child.
    I know I’m not alone in this battle.
    Thank you!!

    Reply
  10. Nikki

    Thank you so much, this brought me to tears. As a mom of a child who has FINALLY been diagnosed austitic, spd, oppositional defiant, add, social pragmatic language disorder, and several other things at the age of 10 I so wish I had this knowledge several years ago. My child has self mutilated since she could scratch herself (6 mo) trying to get out of her own skin when she was over stimulated or things changed that she didn’t like. She’s recently taken to acting out over the last year which is what has dragged us into more doctors and now our diagnoses. The last 10 years have been so hard, not having the support I needed from doctors, family, etc. We are finally on a good road, but man has it been tough. Thank you again.

    Reply
  11. Kelly

    It was like reading my life . My ds is like this and he’s 8 now. It’s so hard some days and you just have to go to bed, forget whatever happened that day and hope that the next day is better. We’re currently on a ‘quiet week’. Whilst I should be enjoying it, I’m actually wondering when he’s next going to strike. Constantly on egg shells and looking out for triggers . I hope it does get easier. We have psychologists, psychiatrists, o/t . I get respite once a week which is heaven although I have a 2yr old at home who’s neurotical but is in the copying phase .

    Reply
  12. Susi

    I love this. It explains so much, my son is 14 now and he has auditory processing disorder, dyspraxia of speech, sensory issues with touching and is very smart. When he was younger the only way I knew he was upset is when he would stand up and just break something or hit me. He never screamed or cried, I think he gave up trying to talk. He would try sign language he made up, he was around 4-5 before we understood anything he said. It wasn’t until he was 10 that we saw he was very smart and the school IQ test put him in gifted. So as a child he would know things and not be able to tell us. He’d run into walls, if he though relatives were going to hug him he’d rush them like a linebacker, when his cousin was mean to him he’d just break something of his. I had no idea what to do with him. Like you said, age has helped a lot. I’ve tried to teach him how to express himself if he’s upset and he’ll let me hug him but no one else. He plays football and has plenty of friends, he doesn’t mind getting hit, but it’s the light touch that he hates for some reason. I haven’t looked into it because he seemed to outgrow it. I will say too that we found out he was gluten free at 8yrs old and his behavior changed almost overnight, and we are not healthy eaters lol, but it was so blatantly obvious that I couldn’t deny the connection. Now if only my son with aspergers would eat better…

    Reply
  13. Lucky Loo

    Thanks for the great article.
    I would just like to know, what can a parent do with an aggressive child, that unfortunately doesn’t have the finances to seek these treatments? Noting that the aggression usually only comes with frustration.

    Reply
  14. Claire

    Just a huge thankyou for sharing this. We are presently travelling a very angry and aggressive journey. As an adoptive Mum, we have had AMAZING, we now have challenging again but I’m sure Amazing will be back!

    Reply
  15. Jennie

    This is MY life!! For the first time EVER I feel like someone just understood my life!!!!!!!! Finally!!!! Someone just got it!!!!!

    Reply
  16. Elizabeth Reeves

    My son has SPD and ADHD. He is 5 now and hits himself in the chest or sides almost constantly throughout each day. This started about 3 months ago…he has gone through hitting his head against things to hitting other kids to a phase where he would yell “hit, hit, hit” repeatedly but didn’t actually hit, then a phase where he would would say “cut, cut, cut,” but didn’t cut…now to hitting himself. It’s the most upsetting, unsettling, heartbreaking thing I’ve ever been through. And there’s nothing I can do to help him most of the time. We just switched to a new OT who will be seeing him twice a week instead of once…I pray this helps! We are also being encouraged to get him on meds before he starts Kindergarten in the fall. We are sending him to public school after being told by two private schools here that they were not “equipped” to teach our son. Which is also upsetting because he texted very high on his iq test. Sigh. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

    Reply
  17. Sarah

    Thank You! I love how you said that it was hard to realize the head banging was a sensory issue because it happened right after telling her “no”. I’m SO HAPPY you shared this and will be posting it in my FB group.
    Sarah from
    ParentsOfFosterCare.com

    Reply
  18. Kellie

    I agree, with them growing up it gets better, they are better able to manage themselves or at least verbalize what is wrong and you teach them ways to help themselves. But please remember that even when it’s tough please persist everyday in help your child understand this no matter how young they are because this is what will be that helps them adjust, communicate and manage this much easier as they grow. It sounds like you have done a great job!!! My severe SPD is now 6 and she is getting there. We have found she has come in leaps and bounds this last year. I think mainly because of all the work we started with our occupational therapist about a year and a half ago, has allowed her to get the sensory seeking she needed and therefore she wasn’t so over stimulated and her body wasn’t constantly ‘buzzing’ (her words). It has really allowed her to notice much more in her world because her body settled for periods of the day.

    Reply
  19. Kellie

    Thank you for this. I have never felt more isolated or alone. I find myself questioning everything I did during my pregnancy. Did I cause this , am I bad mother. Your words help me remember I’m not alone and doing everything I can for my son. It’s not under his control and I need to guide him. He struggles and it kills me.

    Reply

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