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My daughter is 11 years old and has been diagnosed with high functioning austism along with sensory processing disorder. I am a single father and have raised her alone since she was two years old. We have always had a very close and affectionate relationship as she was a very good natured little girl growing up. We have done everything together, gone on many road trips together, done many adventures as just the two of us. I remain to be called "Daddy" rather than "Dad" as she adores me as I do her.

Recently though we have had troubles due to my loss of job last year and our possible eviction. This has led to many behaviors such as lying, stealing, making up stories, acting out of control, purposely going against my rules, breaking things on purpose, among other issues.

What I've noticed lately as in the past 2 months is that she will go as far as to do everything in her power to push my buttons and get me really angry/upset with her. And then when I start to look noticeably angry and start to raise my voice, she laughs at me. I am not sure if anyone has ever has ever been laughed at when you are already furious, but let me tell you it just makes you even more angry. I've never been violent or hell I've never even been in a physical fight my entire life and I sure as hell haven't hit my kid or anyone for that matter. But when you are at your most angry and someone just starts laughing at you, it really invokes a lot of restraint on anyone's part. I can't think of a worse thing to do to someone who is angry at you than to laugh at them.

What I have done out of my way of dealing with it is call her a name or something and then go to my bedroom to calm down. I later regret the name calling and she regrets the laughing bit and I apologize to her and I get the same from her. I am pretty sure if this same thing happened with a friend that they would physically attack her for doing such a thing, male or female. As far as I know she only has done this with me so far.

Now the weird part and the part I don't understand is that she claims she cannot control the laughter. She says that she doesn't want to laugh but she can't help it. To me I can hear her, but I don't understand how someone can find humor in seeing you angry/upset with them.

Has anyone else experienced this? And if so, how did you deal with it?

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It isn't uncommon for people in high-stress scenarios (or scenarios where they're otherwise nervous or in an emotional state) to laugh involuntarily. My brother used to do it when my father was mad at him, even while being punished. I myself would occasionally smile. The fact that your daughter has autism may also compound the issue (or may be totally unrelated). –  Doc Apr 22 at 15:40
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Does your daughter have trouble controlling her laughter at other times? While the answers posted are good and useful, certain neurological conditions can cause uncontrollable laughter, as well. (Such laughter is often not accompanied by the good feelings that laughter usually brings, and is sometimes called "sham mirth.") –  Brian S Apr 22 at 22:21
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Smiling and laughter are supposedly an evolutionary development to indicate that we're no threat to a predator. Basically, a survival instinct of submission. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smile#Historical_background –  asteri Apr 23 at 13:20
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I have done this too. It is the body's way of dealing with stress. Look at it this way, everytime you get angry, you are increasing your blood pressure and taking years off your life (if you believe what doctors say about stress). Your daughter on the other hand, deals with stress by laughing (while inappropriate in some situations) it is a much healthier way to deal with it as laughter is theraputic and prolongs life. –  user5013 Apr 23 at 23:03
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Maybe not much help, but I identify with a lot of responses, as I have a completely involuntary laughter response when someone in my presence is vomiting. Not any other emotional or stressful situation, just that one. Which is particularly weird as I feel very much empathetic towards the person, but physically my body starts laughing, which is quite disturbing and weird to me. –  Asya Kamsky Apr 28 at 3:09

15 Answers 15

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I am not a parent so this isn't a complete answer, just a perspective from dealing with people. In any interaction between two mammals, one is reactive and the other has the power. If you want to win an argument, make the other person lose their mind with anger. It doesn't even have to be an anger reaction. Social power falls to the person the least affected by (reacting towards) social tension. The person who breaks eye contact first, or blurts something out to fill a pregnant pause, loses. This should typically give an emotionally mature adult a leg up when dealing with children, however an empathetic impairment can also be an advantage for someone less pulled by the emotional strings of an interaction (which is why in adult society power gravitates to sociopaths).

With a child who has no problems interpreting emotions, sometimes the mere display of anger itself is a sufficient discipline. This is an evolutionarily intuitive feedback loop: child breaks social norms they need to learn, this genuinely frustrates parent, child sees parent's frustration and feels discomfort, that discomfort creates a negative association to the behavior for the child who then exhibits the behavior less often. This is all unconscious, apes and dogs do it as well as people. But it's not perfect, and this is why terrible twos are difficult to deal with when toddlers pick up saying "no" as a hobby and watching their parents blow steam out of their ears.

Anger is a form of engaged attention. If she is acting out on purpose, it's not a stretch to imagine she is feeling some satisfaction to see you reacting and getting angry. You might want to ask yourself if for some reason she is needing more attention than usual, or if you are giving her less attention than usual and she is trying to cope. Either way you have to acknowledge that the display of anger is not working as a disciplinary tool in this context and find another way to handle the situation. Any emotional reaction reinforces behavior, and the lack of a reaction makes a behavior boring and pointless.

Maybe try to pre-empt the acting-out by giving her enough positive attention beforehand, and then deadface ignore her attempts to make you reactive. If something needs a response, like stealing an item, just take it back and say "we don't steal", with no emotion, and walk away.

PS: I personally also tend to laugh when people cry in movies, because honestly emotional people make really comical faces, if you aren't empathizing with them.

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I'm an autistic adult, the parent of an autistic adult, and a teacher of autistic children. The reason your daughter laughs when you're really angry with her is because your anger is frightening her.

This might seem counter-intuitive to the neurotypical mind, until one considers that neurotypical laughter is frequently in response to someone being hurt, scared or humiliated. The Three Stooges, right? America's Funniest Home Videos? Laughter is an 'alternate response' to a situation that ordinarily would trigger fear, anger or dismay. Many autistics regard the neurotypical conception of 'humor'as strong evidence that neurotypicals lack empathy: else why do you laugh when you see bad things happen to other people? But it's not lack of empathy really; it's an interrupted defense mechanism. The same is true of your daughter.

Eleven is a turbulent age for all girls, but for autistic girls, it's frequently a time when all hell breaks loose due to all the weird sensory issues that go with hormonal changes, plus the all the even weirder social issues that go with SEX becoming a 'thing' for the very first time ever. It's probably going to be difficult for you to cope emotionally with the fact that to your daughter, you're no longer just her Daddy - you're also A MAN now; in fact you're the Man, and her natural biological response to that fact is probably confusing and alarming her no end.

Let me put it plainly: when your daughter starts laughing like that, you need to STAND DOWN, because what it means is you have overloaded her. Contrary to the opinions of a lot of ignorant people, autistic people generally have HEIGHTENED empathy, and have difficulty coping with the emotional battering of high-intensity neurotypical emotional displays.

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As an autist myself, i'l approve this is exactly why she laughs at you. Also its worth pointing out that autists "have heightened empathy", tough most people dont understand it for what it is. –  K1773R Apr 23 at 12:04
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I assume your claim of "heightened empathy" only applies to "high functioning" autists? My understanding is that most children with autism have difficulty linking together concepts, something which is required for empathy. (One of the reasons they usually don't look people in the eyes -- there's no correlation, no understanding or linking of normal human behavior.) –  asteri Apr 23 at 13:32
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+100, based on the explanation and also on the "heightened empathy" fact. –  RoadWarrior Apr 23 at 13:53
    
@JeffGohlke Not only "high functioning" autists do apply. Smiling/Laughter is a basic self-help strategy and is almost always used in case the emotions of the opposite person are too heavy or not understandable. –  K1773R Apr 23 at 14:49
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Which also explains why, when you're angry, seeing someone else's teeth makes things worse: it's like they're challenging back the threat you're presenting them. It's all hard-wired in our brains since we were not even humans. It takes much maturity to overcome all this... (y) –  msb Apr 23 at 18:05

Stephen King wrote a description about this once. "You're one of those people that, when King Laugh knocks, you can't keep the door closed." I'm the same way: laughter overwhelms me at sometimes very inappropriate times, and especially when I'm emotionally overwrought or very fatigued.

It's apparently fairly common with folks on the autism spectrum. And unfortunately the only thing I know of to "fix" it is maturation, and learning how to suppress the giggles and smiles when they're not appropriate. Maybe talking to her doctors about this response will help you understand that she is serious when she says it's not that it's FUNNY that you're angry, and that she can't really control the behavior. (I'd add links to autism forums that I've participated in for reference but those are (a) anecdotal and (b) usually kind of private.) King Laugh gets what he wants every time.

For you, I think you're doing what you can. Yes, it is EXTRAORDINARILY enraging when you're already angry and someone laughs in your face, because it feels like your anger isn't acknowledged or respected ("respected" isn't quite the word I'm going for, but it will do). And when you get to that level, you remove yourself from the situation, which is absolutely what I would recommend and is sometimes the only thing that helps. If you can, watch her eyes when she laughs in situations like this. You'll most likely learn to tell a laugh based on genuine humor from one generated by stress.

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I read "maturation" as... something else. To be fair, both can help deal with stressful situations. –  Egor Apr 23 at 20:39
    
OMG Egor you do NOT want to know how long it took me to get that! LOL –  Valkyrie Apr 24 at 10:28

Laughter is a big emotional response. My son does this to me too. (And my body is also wired to laugh inappropriately in extremely high-tension situations, so I can relate on that level too.)

Now the weird part and the part I don't understand is that she claims she cannot control the laughter. She says that she doesn't want to laugh but she can't help it. To me I can hear her, but I don't understand how someone can find humor in seeing you angry/upset with them.

She cannot control it the same way that you cannot control the extreme angry/upset feeling inside your body. Based on your description of what's going on, I don't think she is "finding humor" in your anger. I think she is feeling a lot of big feelings in response to your big feelings. It's just that her emotional response is wired differently from yours. I understand that it can feel invalidating when you are upset and she is laughing, but her laughter response indicates to me that she understands that you are upset.

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My experience personally is that I have been able to learn to control my laughter in inappropriate situations, just like controlling any other emotional response. But it still comes out sometimes. –  wxactly Apr 22 at 14:55
    
While I pretty much already understood this to be more or less true, in the act of the moment "invalidated" is a pretty good word to describe how I feel. I already do remove myself from the situation though. –  wardr Jun 8 at 0:35

While unemployment stress may be contributing, don't blame a rebellious phase entirely on that- your daughter is in the prime rebellion years, you would probably be facing some of these challenges anyway.

My suggestion is to drop the angry face and immediately put on a sad face, and say seriously, it's not nice to laugh at people who are having problems. This is an invitation to empathy. It may not work immediately. Keep trying. If she does not respond emotionally, she may at least learn to respond cognitively. It may spark a new dialog resulting in mutual laughter, as the other responder suggested. If it happens to work out that way instead, at least you two will have found a mutually acceptable mechanism to work through these situations.

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If I was able to drop in and out of emotions like a magician I certainly would do this. While I like your idea in theory I don't think it's realistic to expect this of someone when they are being laughed at for being mad in the first place. I realize she isn't laughing for the reasons that we typically look at as humor. But it does not feel that way. I mean I can sit here now and rationalize rather easily with you but that's different than it actuslly happening. Have you ever been laughed at when you were really angry at someone? –  wardr Jun 8 at 0:39

And then when I start to look noticeably angry and start to raise my voice, she laughs at me.

I have Asperger's, and this is something I have dealt with all my life.

I initially noticed this when I was young: I would find myself involuntarily laughing when in situations where I was either subjected to physical pain (such as burns or blunt trauma), subjected to vocal outbursts, or was being accused of actions which I never took.

But when you are at your most angry and someone just starts laughing at you, it really invokes a lot of restraint on anyone's part. I can't think of a worse thing to do to someone who is angry at you than to laugh at them.

Unfortunately, the best action to take is to do your best to control your anger, realize that she doesn't actually mean to laugh at you, and help her understand that her reactions and provocations are not permissible. I must reiterate that, at least in my case, the response is involuntary, and I literally can't help it when it happens. However, with time and guidance, she will probably grow out of it.

I know that this may not make a lot of sense. Why would someone laugh when they're being subjected to physical pain or being yelled at? I can affirm that it's a very strange sensation, almost as if the brain's response to pain and the brain's response to humor are linked together.

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My daughter has some autistic characteristics, although she hasn't been officially diagnosed because her cerebral palsy symptoms are overwhelming. Observing anger and violence makes her laugh, the same as watching slapstick humor.

My theory is that this is due to her difficulty empathizing. If you take the emotions out of the picture, someone being angry looks pretty funny. Their face gets red, they become flustered and their words don't come out right. They make flailing gestures.

So what we have to do is explain our anger in words instead of the funny-looking gestures. That's easier said than done, but you need to stop the response she is enjoying if you want to take the fun out of the provocation. She probably only does it with you because she knows it is safe to do so. Try to recognize when she's intentionally provoking a response and leave the room before you get to the level of anger.

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Interesting contradictory claims in the answers. You say she has difficult empathizing, and @Elen's answer claims she has heightened empathy. Yours is more inline with what I know about autism, but the other answer comes from someone who's autistic. Haha. Just very interesting. –  asteri Apr 23 at 13:34
    
Hmm, I will have to research further. I would take her word over mine. Like I said, my daughter has other conditions and hasn't been officially diagnosed. Her apparent difficulty empathizing could be due to another condition, or may be just an outward appearance that doesn't reflect her inner thoughts. –  Karl Bielefeldt Apr 23 at 13:53
    
See my comment above on the top rated question regarding empathy. Empathy is deeply misunderstood by the masses especially when it comes to austism. –  wardr Jun 8 at 1:07

It may be bit late but I don't think anyone else has covered what I wanted to say.

I have a similar problem to your daughter; when I am nervous or anxious I sometimes get a nearly irresistible urge to smile or even laugh. Of course I do try to stop myself, and can most of the time now I am an adult, but not always. I have never really understood why it happens but I have some suggestions for coping:

First make sure she understands why it is a problem, especially with people who don't her, and that she needs to try and suppress it. Tell her you understand this is hard but she should be able to improve with time and practice. If she can't stop then there are still things she can do to manage it better. You leaving the room to calm down seems like a sensible idea, and you should tell her to do the same thing: if she feels the irresistible laughter coming on, she should say she needs to calm down or have a time out and then leave the room. If the laughing has started she can still just leave, if she can do this hopefully it will make it easier for you too.

Secondly it might be easier for her to shout or cry instead of laughing, rather than trying to suppress it completely. You could explain to her how 'normal' people would respond to the situation/emotion and she could try to make her reactions closer to this.

Thirdly if it just a smile then I have found it is better to put my hands over my face to hide it and act like I am upset / sickened by what is happening rather than sit there with a big grin on my face when someone is angry or upset. Also this actually gives other people a better idea of my real emotions than what my face is showing.

Lastly it is possible she also has the same reaction in other circumstances, eg when giving a presentation at school, or if she or someone else is very upset. You could ask her about this and if it's relevant explain to her teachers at school that it's not just misbehaviour. It would also be a good idea to check that she knows which other situations it is inappropriate to laugh in otherwise she could get some very confusing and bad reactions.

I hope that is helpful.

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thanks. this actually hasn't occured in a while, probably since I asked this question in april - because I actually rarely get this angry in general with her or anyone. What you said about hands reminded me actually that she does usally actually put her hands on her mouth when it happens which is obviously her way of trying to suppress it, furthering the notion that it is completely involuntary. Good advice though, thx @Demontree –  wardr Jun 19 at 2:48

It sounds like what you need is a time-out when this happens. If you're angry and she's laughing, just get in the habit of saying "Okay, we need a break; let's talk about this again in ten minutes when we've had time to cool down." Have a conversation about this with her, and tell her that she should do the same (suggest a cool off period).

Talking when you're both angry doesn't help anyone, and in particular it's very hard to back off of your position and compromise if you're angry. Since you know that particular trigger (laughing) makes things worse, it's a good signal that the particular conversation you're having needs to cool off.

(This also doubles as relationship advice - it's what my wife and I try to do when we're angry to the point of verbally hurting each other, and it usually works pretty well for us since we both realize we don't want to be doing that.)

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(Sorry if this is posting as two comments; having trouble with the commenting format.)

Where you say "we have had troubles due to my loss of job last year and our possible eviction. This has led to many behaviors such as lying, stealing..." - this begs the question of why the child's behavior is being attributed to your adult problems. Is it not more likely that the loss of your job and possible eviction has led to 'behaviors' on your part, to which her behaviors are a reaction?

Perhaps she is not trying to push your buttons. Perhaps your 'buttons' are impossible to avoid bumping into right now. Men who've lost their jobs are extremely difficult to live with, as most wives can attest, and your daughter is the only woman in your house. It's unfortunate that her puberty and your unemployment are happening at the same time; that would make it rocky for any family. But it's really not okay to "get furious" at your daughter like that. What sort of treatment are you teaching her to expect from men? Consider that her sensory processing may translate your 'raising your voice' into something more like the roar of a grizzly bear about to charge.

The three books I recommend over and over to parents are Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, Strong-Willed Child Or Dreamer? by Dana Spears and Ron Braund, and Parents, Please Don't Sit On Your Kids by Clare Cherry. Lots of excellent techniques there for dealing with problems without resorting to coercion. The way to teach self-control and courtesy is to model them, even under fire.

wry grin Think 11 is fun; just wait till 14. Hang in there; they do grow out of it.

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It's fine to post two separate answers if they really are separate - like in your case :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 23 at 7:49
    
@Elen Well thanks for the sexist comment as this has almost nothing to do with gender. If you really don't understand why her behavior is linked to "adult" problems then you must live in some kind of bubble or something. I csnt believe I really have to explain this but we were living an upper middle class life in which I took her places, had a car, could eat everyday, went on road trips, took vacations, had the stuff we needed, lived within our means. Now none of that is the case, we tske the bus, don't do anything, and scrounge for change in the couch to even do laundry. –  wardr Jun 8 at 0:49
    
This stuff affects people, boys and girls, mothers and fathers, blacks and whites, English speaking and Spanish speaking, old and young, it doesn't matter. We had money and now we don't. In fact we are facing a very reality of homelessness in 2 weeks. If you seriously think this is a gender thing you need to reexamine your ideology. –  wardr Jun 8 at 0:51
    
Lastly the kind of treatment I am expecting her to expect from men is exactly the kind of treatment how she has been raised with for the past 11 years. Thanks for the judgemental comment but how I deal with an oddball situation that I don't understand (in fact I'm on here asking about it) doesn't have any barring on our life or our relationship everyday since she was born. People like you that form judgments over something you know nothing about do not help the people you are forming judgments about. And since this forum is for parents needing help, judgmental comments need not apply –  wardr Jun 8 at 1:00

I am not a parent, I'm just a 26 year old guy. And I only wanted to assure you that your daughter is not making fun of you, or disrespecting you as you seem to be thinking. I have the same problem too. For a long time I used to think there was something wrong with me, until I found out recently that other people (although rare) experience the same thing.

It is difficult sometimes to maintain a serious argument in my case. I remember the last time I did this was about 6 months ago, I was debating with a war veteran based on political issues. We have very different opinions about our Government. She called the government a dictator, and I begged to differ. After some time she started to get emotional as anyone would in her situation (as had spent almost 30 years of her life working for the Gov), and had witnesses so many atrocities, and was eventually exiled from the country along with her entire family. For her, anyone taking the side of the government is a persona attack. So as she became furious, and couldn't control her emotions I was the only one in the entire room who started to laugh and smile uncontrollably. Although she was wrong about some fact, I respected the woman and her opinions. There was nothing anyone would find laughable in that situation or about what she said, but I did it anyway, and could not contain it. She got pissed of and gave me a serious warning, by saying something like "don't laugh, you are boiling my blood". Thankfully, I stopped the argument right there, because it was impossible to stop myself from laughing.

Many people know I do that. But I can't explain it to them, because no one would understand this phenomenon. I never even understood it before a year ago. I have no a autism or any thing similar.

Possible explanation

I am convinced though, beyond any reasonable doubt ... I tend to laugh when the person with whom I am arguing seems to be debating based on the grounds of irrationality and there is no way to convince them .So, the only way I could make sense of it is by laughing. It is sort of amusement laugh. I almost never laugh, when the person is 100% right about something. I'm probably sure that your daughter is very smart, and due to the fact that you lost your job you are taking your anger on her without realizing it. She must have realized this odd behavioral pattern (which you never had in your good times) and is dealing with it with amusement.

I believe spanking your kid is a not a horrible thing, as these crazy hyper sensitive, liberal society wants you to believe. But don't spank her for laughing at you, but please don't hesitate to do for some serious things.

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You lost me when you described your laughter as uncontrollable response but then said it's reserved for people who are less than 100% correct: then it's hardly involuntary - sounds more like you're amused and being inappropriate... –  Asya Kamsky Apr 28 at 3:06
    
Nope. It is uncontrollable, because I can't stop it even if I wanted too. And it's triggered by people who are more or less detached from reality. So I don't laugh at everyone, except for people who are angry or blame someone without having realized is due to their own fault –  samayo Apr 28 at 16:31

I, too, am struggling with the uncontrolled laughter of my 22 year old son with ASD. He has always laughed occasionally at inappropriate times, but now he is older, more is expected of him, and it is very disruptive at school and at home. He, too, laughs when I get angry at him--I do believe that anger is a frightening emotion for people on the spectrum and they don't know how to process it. I am sure that your daughter is picking up on the stressful environment at home and it is not helping her control her emotions.

The only thing I have found that helps when my son is laughing inappropriately and/or showing obstinate behavior is to walk away and not engage him. It is infuriating to have your child laugh at you when you are trying to tell them something and it can escalate quickly into a very bad situation.

This is not "any" child that we are talking about and people with ASD do not express/process emotions the same way as neurotypicals. In that state, anything you say to them is white noise and is not even listened to--so don't bother.

When she is in a more lucid moment, tell her that, in the future, you are going to walk away when she laughs or misbehaves and do it each time. Tell her that you will also take away something that is meaningful to her, like her phone or computer privileges, if she acts like that, for a period of time. This morning my son was, as he is quite often, totally appropriate, easy to talk to, and sorry that he went from laughter to anger and back in such a short time last night. We discussed how his laughing is difficult for others and he vowed to do better. I do not believe that it will happen overnight or that the laughter will ever be totally extinguished.

I think uncontrollable laughter is a characteristic of many people on the spectrum and that the catchword to always remember about autism is "inconsistency." But, you can show your daughter, during her more attentive and lucid moments, that her behavior is not appropriate and that you will not engage her when she is in that state. See if you can find positive things that will destress her when she is in that mood, like reading a book or listening to music. And best of luck--I certainly feel your pain.

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Her response is re-enforced by the outcome that generally follows when you are in this state. With a child still in the heavier parts of the developmental stage, they should only see you in this state when consequences are to follow. Otherwise, they have no "potential" outcome to associate your behaviour with, and will only see you as acting "odd/funny"; Try and conceal your frustration during times that they wont be able to fully comprehend the reason and consequences(ie. employment issues), and be sure to fully enact your frustration(appropriately for a child) during the times that they will understand the reason and consequences. Use your words, and follow through with them.

EDIT: do not let her push your buttons with complete liberty, this will re-enforce the problem.

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Laughter, especially nervous one, is very common way for a body to release stress. Each time you become mad or angry you put your daughter in a stressful for her state. Instead of thinking about her reaction, I suggest you start thinking how to avoid her emotions, but eliminating such behavior as anger. It's all about you, not her reaction. Talking everything out and speaking in a polite calm manner will help much more than you think.

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There are a lot of of good, well though out answers here.

In college I visited a psychologist about possibly having Asperger's, but was eventually told I was too well adapted to get a diagnosis.

That being said, I usually find enraged people hilarious, as long as I'm not immediately physically threatened, and even sometimes then. I'm not talking some laughter for other reason, I honestly think they're funny. Being enraged is irrational, and irrational is amusing. This has resulted in me having to drop a class and find a more easy going professor before.

From what you describe, and seeing the other excellent answers, this probably isn't the case in your situation, but I just wanted to raise the possibility that someone who laughs at somebody yelling at them could really and truly be amused by it.

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