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During the last few months, I've been having a lot of concerns about my 5 year old son's behavior. I was a single mom and have been his main influence up until a little over a year ago.

He was born naturally and healthy. We had to get involved with Early Intervention "Birth to Three" program when he was about 6 months old. He was diagnosed with torticollis, the tightening of the muscles in his neck. He mainly stayed on his right side in the birth canal which caused him to have to go through physical therapy. They did some tests and we've worked with a therapist every week who would come in do stretches and exercises to loosen up his neck muscles so it made it easier for him to start crawling, sitting up, and rolling over. From 6 months of age to 3 years I worked with him.

He is developmentally delayed. He was referred to attend preschool at a school for children with delays and other disabilities. Before we stopped meeting with the physical therapists she gave me information on Sensory Integration Dysfunction for children with sensory issues, which falls on the Autism spectrum. He's never been formally diagnosed and does really well in school. He has worked with the same preschool teacher since he started there. She has more concerns with his learning abilities than his behavior - but I am experiencing problems with him at home. I had to go meet with her and explain to her some of the behaviors I have been dealing with along with hyperactivity.

With the hyperactivity, she sees that may be a problem when he goes into Kindergarten next year, because he will have 1 teacher and no teacher's assistants. It will be all day, and not just afternoon classes and the morning and afternoon will be all in one class next year. I informed her that my son has gone through a lot of changes at home, like the loss of our pet cat, which he is randomly bringing up and saying he misses her because she ran away.

We also have a dog that we have to watch him with, because he gets too rough with her. One morning I heard the dog yelp and found that he had bit the dog. He couldn't give a reason as to why. Having to move twice in the past year I'm sure has confused him, because we had lived in the same place since he was born.

A male authority figure stepped in last year. He doesn't like my boyfriend because he sets down rules which I also try to be consistent with. His father hasn't been in the picture for the past few years due to being incarcerated, and my son is scared of law enforcement. He worries when he sees them that he may lose me too. I just recently got him into counseling where the counselor is going to do a parenting style counseling with me and my son because of his age, and so he can get to know him. It's too soon for him to see anything with my son because he's only seen him once, and I need some advice soon.

This situation has been very stressful to my family. I try to talk to my son with direct eye contact, and all I get in return is disrespect, yelling, asking me "what?" and looking away because he doesn't want me looking at him. He requires a lot of my attention and I don't ever get a break. But it seems like he is always doing something repeatedly that he has been told not to do and for which he knows that there will be a consequence.

We have tried reward systems such as sticker charts, and now the teacher and I exchange journals back and forth. He gets marks in the journal at school and a prize. But if he gets a bad note from home he doesn't get the mark at school, and the teacher talks to him about the problems. I alert her of what he is lying about and repeatedly doing at home. When he's been bad and knows it he says "Mom you going to write me a good note" I tell him "No" because I'm not going to lie to his teacher, and I explain to him why that's wrong, but he asks me that almost every time he knows he's getting a bad note. I praise him and reward him for positive behavior then after he's been rewarded he turns negative all a sudden.

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I'd like to share my experience with raising a child with mild sensory issues, but, it may not be relevant. Could you explain what issues he has? Is he overly sensitive? To what? Does he self soothe? You say he does things repeatedly-are they actions/movements? Also, could you clarify your reward/punishment system? It seems that your saying that he loses merit at school if he misbehaves at home. If I am confused by that it's probable he is too. –  Jax Feb 13 '14 at 2:22
Start small . . . simple, clear instructions, one at a time. Make success easier, and build from there. –  Marc Feb 13 '14 at 18:23

4 Answers 4

I can't speak to much of your post, but I have a step-nephews (8 and 11 now) who have sensory integration issues and I want to offer what little I know that might be helpful there.

It is good to make eye contact when you are speaking, but it makes your son uncomfortable. The reason you want to make eye contact is to make sure he is listening to you. You can check this in other ways that might be easier for him to manage. This is how my sister-in-law does it.

First, stand or sit alongside of him instead of in front of him. Scootch down to his level if necessary. For her boys, they self-soothe by twisting or rolling things in their hands, so she lets them do this while she talks.

Second, set out very clear expectations or say what you need to say in short, logically ordered sentences. Glance at him if you like, but don't force him to look at you. When you are done, ask him if he understands and then ask him to tell you in his own words what you just discussed. Make sure he gets it, particularly that he is following your logic.

She thinks that her boys tend to break rules because they have difficulty remembering them since they seem arbitrary, but she can gauge how well they will behave by how well they process the logic behind the rules she has explained. She still spends a lot of time reining in their impulsivity, but they do get it and can be reminded to think it through.

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Dear Amanda,

You should seek professional help for your son. However great suggestions here may be, you have to get in touch with a good child psychologist and work with him and your son. You will be working for his and your own future and well being and mental health.

You seem very stressed and worried. Try to catch a break. Just one day of rest, of your son staying at your parents' will let you look at the whole situation from a different perspective.

And don't give up. All three of you are going to make through this. There'll come a day when you look back at all this, remember all the hard work you've done, and smile with satisfaction.

Also, remember that this site is not a place to get medical advice. Internet is, in general, a poor source of medical information.

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Some of the behavior you describe sounds like normal 5-year-old boy behavior. It is similar to the behavior I was concerned about with my son until I discovered that pretty much every mom I knew with a 5-year-old boy had the exact same issues. Things like having to repeat/remind your child practically everyday to do/not do something. It can be maddening!

It sounds like you've hit the nail on the head. He's had A LOT of changes in his life in the past year (moving, loss of a pet, etc.). These things can be stressful for an adult and young children have a very difficult time expressing those fears and concerns simply because they lack the vocabulary. I think you've gotten on the right track by finding him a professional counselor and getting him (and you) help. In the meantime, if he brings up the cat who ran away then give him the opportunity to talk about how he feels about the cat running away. Maybe he feels like he did something to cause the cat to run away, when, in reality, sometimes cats just run away. Or get a little confused when the family moves. Most importantly, he needs to feel like its safe to talk to you about those kinds of things, and he needs you to help him develop the words he needs to express his sadness and fear and concerns.

When it comes to your boyfriend, if he doesn't like your boyfriend it's going to be hard for him to respect or trust him. Especially if your boyfriend is stepping in and laying down rules. For now, it might be better if all rules and consequences/rewards come from you and keep the boyfriend out of it. Instead, your son needs to have the opportunity to learn to trust your boyfriend so giving them the chance to bond would put some positive karma into the bucket. As the trust and relationship grows, then your boyfriend might be able to take on more of a parenting role.

When it comes to starting school next year, perhaps you should consider holding him back a year and starting him as a 6-year-old. It will give you and his counselor an extra year to work with him on whatever issues need to be worked on, and I can tell you from experience that there is a big leap in maturity between 5 and 6. People, I think, tend to underestimate the maturity factor in stuff like this. You can certainly discuss this more with his teacher and his counselor. The transition from pre-k to kindergarten was MUCH harder on my son than I expected it to be, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have held him back an extra year.

Finally, when it comes to hyperactivity...we have had a lot of success getting our son involved in martial arts. It helps to reinforce respect (for oneself and others) and self-control as well as being a physical activity that works out some energy. It also has helped our son with goal-setting (he's always working toward his next belt. And anytime he doesn't want to work or whines about leaving his toys and going to class, I can remind him he wants to be a black belt--and it's my job as his mom to help him achieve his goals in whatever way I can). We've also zeroed in on other activities that our son enjoys recently (rock climbing anyone?) and we're trying to encourage that. Boys (well, kids in general) need something that they feel like they're good at.

As an aside, I have been very fortunate to meet a lot of other moms of boys around my son's age through his martial arts class and they have been a wonderful network to have. Sometimes when you're going through something like this, you feel like you're the only mom in the world having these same struggles and I promise you, you're not. Whatever you decide to do, find a supportive group of other moms. YOU need support, too. It doesn't have to be the women at a class your son takes, it can just be a group of moms in a Saturday play group you attend.

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Disclaimer: I'm on the spectrum.

This situation has been very stressful to my family. I try to talk to my son with direct eye contact, and all I get in return is disrespect, yelling, asking me "what?" and looking away because he doesn't want me looking at him. He requires a lot of my attention and I don't ever get a break. But it seems like he is always doing something repeatedly that he has been told not to do and for which he knows that there will be a consequence.

I have the same problem with making eye contact. The first thing you need to realize, it's really not his fault and he's probably trying really hard to make sense of everything.

Here's the kicker, unknowingly, you're making it more difficult for him. Allow me to explain.

People on the spectrum process information differently and a bit slower than neurotypical people. Your son (and others like him, like me) can't keep up with your facial expressions and eye movements; and everything you're telling him. It's too much information to process.

He's already trying to tell you "Mommy, stop it's too much!" by looking away, he's not being disrespectful at all. In fact, it's highly stressful to him to make eye contact.

He's also (probably) not being disrespectful when he yells at you and ask "what?" it's just a case of you misinterpreting what's happening. Like I said, it's too much information to process. He can't focus on your face while also hearing what you're saying.

You need to make him comfortable and allow him not to look at you; don't force him to make eye contact (because honestly, it's just going to damage your relationship with him; which you're already experiencing, so let's make things better); and tell him what you want in a clear and concise manner.

For instance, if he's being inappropriate with the dog it simply means he doesn't know what he's doing is wrong and he's not registering what you're saying. autistic individuals have a lot of difficulty knowing what is OK and what isn't, this will be OK when he gets older, provided you teach him in a manner he understands.

Instead, try to tell him (calmly): "<name [to get his attention; and wait till you have it]>, you shouldn't write the dog. It hurts . Do you understand?"

I think you'll find that far more effective.

I was diagnosed recently (I'm 21); and the eye-thing was then explained to me. I'm currently learning how to focus on people their noses rather than on people's eyes or facial expressions, it's difficult - but not impossible.

You mentioned he wasn't formally diagnosed; please do yourself and him a favor and get him diagnosed; it's a label, yes, but it opens doors to help him function better in life and help you understand why he does certain things and deal with them appropriately.

You don't want him to turn 21 one day and know he failed school because the social interaction was too much; etc. Early intervention from specialized specialists is extremely important!

Regarding the moving: autistic individuals have a huge problem dealing with these events, if something is going to change - it's vital that you tell him ahead of time and prepare him for it. A last minute notice is going to cause a lot of problems.

Last note; things may not seem that bad now but from my own experience, ASD isn't that much fun, the longer you have it - the more problems it's going to cause, unless, you were thought to deal with it - and the sooner that starts the more problems can be prevented and the better his and your quality of life will improve.

I hope this helps.

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I just realized the question was asked a long time ago; still, this may be helpful to others. –  xander Jan 31 at 17:15

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