My 5 year old pre-schooler exhibits some behaviors that have my wife & I a little concerned, but we're unsure whether there's a real problem or not.
I'll try to summarize some of his behaviors and/or personality traits (positive & negative), then go over some of it in a little more detail.
- Destructive behaviors
- note most of these behaviors occurred between ages 2 - 4; over the last year we've noticed a decline in his destructive tendencies, though he still peals stickers off things, and his toy breakage is roughly on par with his older brother at this age. Furthermore, as we've tried to understand the "why" of this, as best we can tell he does it out of pure curiosity.
- Peeling stickers, paint, & other decorations off his property, or off the wall in his room (peeling the paint off his room was one we've only recently arrested; he was regularly destroying the paint job in his room).
- Tearing pages out of books, and tearing other paper things (posters, calendars, etc); these are always his property, I've never seen him destroy someone else's property
- Breaking his own toys -- usually by playing rough; I don't recollect him destroying / breaking toys just because he was curious.
- Personality traits
- He does not have trouble bonding with people -- eg, he does not avoid physical contact (likes hugs/kisses from parents, sometimes hugs/kisses siblings), and enjoys hanging out with parents / siblings.
- He's very curious and talkative; loves to read, play video games, and especially loves cars and other vehicles (tractors, monster trucks, etc)
- He doesn't usually understand humor. He often mistakes playful situations for offensive behaviors.
- Punishments generally don't phase him, except to upset him; we learned a long time ago that taking things away, spankings, etc, do not encourage him to alter his behavior. Furthermore, his lack of interest in "things" (discussed below) negates the possibility of rewarding him with treats, toys, etc; however, rewards such as spending time with mom/dad, or doing other things do seem to motivate him more.
- He has a very high pain threshold; if someone hurts him (eg, rough-housing), he doesn't cry/scream [typically], he just gets angry.
- On a related note, there's one particular quirk I've noticed lately that concerns me. My wife and her [biological] brother have a 'tick': they pick at their thumbs to the point of bleeding/cracking. This behavior has been around since they were both young teenagers, and neither one can explain why they do it other than it being a nervous habit. So far as I know, my son has never observed this particular behavior, and now he's started doing it.
- He's always been very defiant about swallowing his food. When he decides he doesn't want to swallow something, he'll keep it in his mouth for hours if you let him.
- This defiance extends to other things as well; when he makes up his mind that he does not want to do something, he'll just clamp his mouth shut and ignore you.
- He does not form attachments to things. I'll talk about this more below.
- Our pediatrician suspects he may fall in the class of children with Opposition Defiance Disorder.
- He exhibits ADHD symptoms -- inability to focus / concentrate, etc.
The main thing I want to explore is his lack of concern w/regard to personal property. We're concerned it may grow into something more serious as he gets older.
Recently he got a "slot car" track for his birthday and destroyed it by playing too rough with it (within about a month or two). He helped throw it away without argument, and kept talking about something unrelated.
My wife was helping him organize his bedroom and purge it of old/unused and broken toys. He spoke fondly of many of the toys, but showed no interest in keeping them; it didn't seem to bother him that they'd be gone permanently.
It doesn't matter if it's something he plays with regularly, how long he's had it, who gave it to him, where he got it, etc. He's never attached himself to any one thing (eg, a security blanket). When I've taken things as punishment he'll make a show of being upset, get over it very quickly, and thereafter shows very little interest in getting it back.
He has had trouble getting along with his older brother the past few years, though they've been getting along better the last year or so (we tried having them share rooms a few years ago before they were clashing; we put a stop to that after they destroyed a room (pealed paint, peed on carpet, poop in heater vents, peed in radio, etc) and one of them bit the other). He gets along with his other siblings quite well (for a 5 year old).
In short, we're worried his behavior could grow to encompass more anti-social behaviors. My wife says it almost seems like he's less caring/emotional in general, and is worried he has (or may develop) a similar inability to place value on people or relationships.
What are we dealing with here? What can we do to help him? If he grows into an adult who doesn't particularly value 'things', but is an otherwise well-adjusted person, I'm ok with that. However, if there's something going on I can help him with I don't want to let him down.
A commenter requested an update on our situation so here it is:
- Family dynamic
- 5 children: 2 older siblings (girl, boy) & 2 younger siblings (girl, boy)
- 1 working parent, other parent part time college
- pets: turtle, dog, currently 1 rat (the others have been getting old & dying on us)
- Personality traits
- Emotionally speaking he seems to be developing. My post has "somewhat unemotional" in the title, though I would now amend that to "emotionally reserved". Sometimes he seems not to understand either what he's feeling or how others are feeling, but he does seem to be learning to understand emotions. This was probably my largest concern when I originally wrote this post and I'm happy to say that aspect of his development doesn't concern me nearly as much as it used to.
- He has begun forming some attachments to objects; there's a stuffed seal he carries around everywhere and loves to rub his mouth/nose against it -- especially when agitated.
- He's a fast reader and when he chooses to he reads a wide variety of books -- when he chooses to.
- Like many children he has explored lying, cheating, stealing, etc. I do not feel as though these behaviors are more or less pronounced than any of his older siblings has been.
- He tends to be more willing to take responsibility for poor decisions as compared to his older siblings. We had an incident earlier this year with money missing from my wife's purse. Since I didn't know who was responsible I stopped paying allowances. He didn't fess up until I helped him realize everyone would be punished. I was concerned at first he wasn't responsible and was just trying to spare his siblings' the punishment but he knew details no one else had.
- On the one hand I feel as though it's not usually obvious to him when an action or situation will cause someone discomfort. On the other hand, when he is aware of it he'll usually go out of his way (sometimes a little too far) to make them happy; exceptions being anyone he perceives as a perpetual irritant.
- He tends to be rather easy to take advantage of; some examples:
- Kids in school have been able to convince him to do inappropriate things (eg, pull down pants in class)
- His brother convinced him to pay $5 to hear a "secret" that wasn't useful
- Our children were participating in an AWANA group at a local church we don't attend. He had difficulty getting along with some of the kids and they started bullying him. He would become aggravated then they would complain to leaders & their parents that he was upsetting them.
A few incidents in particular made it fairly clear they were intentionally egging him on so they could get him in trouble. We tried to work with the leaders but they eventually asked us not to bring him back.
We felt as though they had less interest in his welfare and more interest in getting rid of a difficult child; we removed all of our children from their organization.
- Destructive behaviors
- He still exhibits some destructive tendencies but they're far more infrequent. The paint peeling in particular is still a problem and mostly manifests when he's agitated.
- He likes to fidget and we've found it's been more constructive to allow him access to things he can destroy than trying to teach him not to
- When reading books the book often doesn't survive. If you watch him while reading he'll be absently bending/unbending, wiggling and sometimes tearing pages. He's usually not aware he's doing it.
His school has put him on an individual education plan (IEP). Among other things they've begun using occupational therapy techniques when he seems agitated or is struggling to concentrate. They finalized everything at the end of the school year and we're on summer break, so we don't yet have a clear idea of how much it's helping.
In addition I've been trying to apply the nurtured heart approach as described in the book "Transforming the Difficult Child", though I'll readily admit I've struggled to be consistent.
Overall I feel as though things are going rather smoothly all things considered.
While it's sometimes difficult to work with him I also feel encouraged; some of the things that make it hard to work with him can be leveraged as strengths instead of limitations. As an example my brother once remarked that he considers his (and my) ADHD to be like a super power: yes it's quite hard for us to concentrate, but when we can pull it off we become hyperfocused (concentrating to the exclusion of all else).
We believe we're dealing with Aspergers. Some years back we tried to get an official diagnosis from a trained psychologist but we couldn't afford the test (~$1500).
There's a charter school nearby (K-12) that specializes in dealing with children on the spectrum, but they allow any student into the school that expresses an interest.
I believe transfering him to that school was the right move as they're far more patient with him (eg, if he wants a wobble chair, they provide it) and provide him with regular access to an occupational therapist.
He has a hard time interacting with kids his own age mostly because they don't have patience for him (he always has stuff to talk about with anyone who'll listen), but overall things still seem to be progressing smoothly (relatively).