As our child grew her behavior didn’t seem typical and we spent years trying to figure out how to deal with our child’s aggressive behavior and eventual diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD and Anxiety. Aggression the main sign or symptom that made us wonder if her behavior was something more than just bad behavior or the often blamed bad parenting. We wondered what was causing her to have such a hard time behaving well.
Aggression, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is not something that I like to talk about a lot. In fact, it is one thing I’ve barely mentioned on my blog. But, I would like to shed some light on it, for the few of us that have a child that is aggressive. Not all kids with SPD or Autism are violent, in fact, its only about half of all kids with Autism that do. Whether that is violence towards objects, kids, parents or even themselves. This needs to get talked about as parents.
Maybe you’ve hid that your child hits, bites, throws things or kicks and have felt the shame of it. Have you tried to share it with other people only to hear “I would never let that happen in my house?” I want you to know that you aren’t alone, I’m right there with you. It’s been one of the toughest things I’ve had to deal with as a special needs parent. My child’s behavior was the first clue that there was something more going on than just bad behavior or bad parenting.
Having a child that has out of control meltdowns is one of the many scary parts of any disorder. Our child’s aggression is what pushed us to get help at such a young. Aggression has isolated us from others. It can be embarrassing being around other people and having a child that gets completely out of control. 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 is to share our experiences with you and remind you that you are not alone. As a parent who has dealt with a child’s anger for many years, it is hard to know what to do and how to help your child. It is hard to find good help, and find things that work. I certainly don’t have it all figured out and I am just one mom, but I want you to know that you aren’t alone in this struggle.
Our Story: Aggression in Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
IT ALL STARTED WITH HEADBANGING
Our first encounter started around 9 months, as our daughter started head banging. She would 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 an object as hard as she could movement. Nothing broke my heart more than seeing my, still yet a baby not quite a toddler, 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 heavy amount of physical 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, she was lacking the ability to regulate her emotions.
After the head banging, she moved more into being destructive towards objects. She would seek out things to completely 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).
AGGRESSIVE TOWARDS PARENTS (ESPECIALLY MOM)
And then she turned towards us. She would try to hurt others and would hit, kick and bite. I remember I would lean in to kiss her forehead and she would start swinging her fists and kicking me. This was her response to not being able to interpret the light touch of a kiss on the forehead.
I’m a petite person, and I had all I could do to try to handle an out of control toddler and then preschooler. Her strength was unbelievable. I could not do a safety hold on her, which with Sensory Processing Disorder the Deep Pressure is supposed to be calming, it would make her more aggressive. We became more concerned not only about her safety but ours.
At this point, our daughter was around 2 ½ to 3 years old and we finally really sought out help, despite many doctors telling us her behavior was normal for nearly 2 years. We eventually got referred to a psychologist who suggested Sensory Processing Disorder maybe a part of what was going on, and then when our daughter was 6 she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW
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, no 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 wasn’t bad parenting. 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 IS HOPE
I would search the parent support groups on Facebook and many moms would say it gets better, I didn’t believe them. 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, she slowly grew into being able to have more control. As her vocabulary and ability to talk increased the aggression went down.
As she grew and developed we also learned a lot. We learned how to better cope with her out of control moments. We learned what helps and what doesn’t help, and we learned that every day we get a fresh start.
What to do if you think your child’s aggression is related to Autism Spectrum Disorder or Sensory Processing disorder?
- The most important thing you can do is have a team of people to help. Start with your family doctor, keep asking even if they tell you this is normal behavior. Seek out a really good psychologist with knowledge of Sensory Processing Disorder.
- Look beyond the behavior. I know how hard it is. You see a child doing a 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. Use our free behavior chart to track this and look for connections. Think of it as a defense mechanism. We see behavior when our child is really fighting something we can’t see.
- It’s not because of bad parenting. It’s not your fault. Dear parent- I know you feel like it is all your fault. Given the fact that you reading this blog post, tells me that you are doing everything to help your child. 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!
- 95% of the population will never understand what you are going through or get it. Given, that it is small percentage of kids who are aggressive, the general public will typically find something to cast blame on bad behavior. Unless they’ve parented a child who gets out of control, they won’t understand.
- Believe that it gets better. 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 harder than others. 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.
Download Your Free Printable: Behavior Tracker
Use this printable to evaluate what is happening before, during and after you are seeing your child’s challenge behaviors.
1. Download the free printable. Join my newsletter and as a bonus, you’ll get the printable! Just click here to download and subscribe.
2. Print and track several days or weeks of behavior. Take notes on what is happening before, during and after and also what your child’s behavior was. If possible, try to keep try of how long that behavior was lasting.
***Bonus points if you are able to get a video of your child’s behavior to share your provider.
3. Make an appointment with your child’s doctor. Share with your doctor the behaviors that you’ve noticed and if you’ve found any connections. Remember, if they don’t seem like they are taking your concerns seriously, get a second (or third, fourth, fifth) opinion!
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 every day.
More great posts related to aggression in kids with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder:
Is it Sensory or is it Behavior?…or is it Both? from Lemon Lime Adventures
Coping Tips for Families with Autistic Children from Kori at Home
My Child Keeps Lashing Out at Me? What can I do? from Understood
Anger Books for Kids: Anger Management Help for Kids of all Ages from Mommy Evolution
Why You Can’t Discipline the”Angry” Out of Your Child. from Lemon Lime Adventures
Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!
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