Inappropriate Behaviors Get More Complex as Kids Grow: Special Needs Living

finger paint autismToday's guest blogger is Katie Olson (aurorabunny), mom to 3-year-old Brody, who has autism.

Every week, Katie shares the ongoing struggles and triumphs that often come with parenting a child with special needs. Today, she discusses how children with autism learn to use inappropriate behaviors to get their parents' attention, and how difficult it is to determine when the behavior is coming from a true need and when it's simply a kid's age-old desire to manipulate mom and dad.

Once upon a time, my mommy pals (even those with neurotypical children) would laugh and commiserate with me when I shared the odd things that Brody was stuffing into his mouth or the fact that he constantly had his hands in his diaper, eager to paint a Poo-casso on any available surface. Now that he's getting ready to turn 4 and still doing these things, I'm getting looks of concern rather than commiseration.


We've been dealing with inappropriate and often puzzling behaviors ever since Brody was diagnosed with autism at the age of 1. They've run the gamut from constant hand-flapping and tip-toe walking (things that I've adjusted to) to violent head-banging and repeated self-induced vomiting (behaviors that still keep me up at night with worry). And I've noticed these behaviors are becoming even MORE challenging to deal with as Brody gets older.

The hardest part about decoding and finding ways to deal with these behaviors, especially when dealing with a non-verbal child, can often be the multiple reasons that have caused the behavior in the first place. 

I know, for instance, that when my son first began chewing everything he could get his hands on, it was because he needed more oral sensory stimulation. While this is something we STILL haven't managed to get under control (despite I don't know how many dollars spent on things with names like Chewlery and Chewy Tubes), we occasionally catch Brody sticking some foreign object into his mouth only when he KNOWS that we're looking -- and he's got that "What are you gonna do about it?" expression on his face.

It's easy to see how something that originally stemmed from a true need can turn into an attention-seeking behavior once a child learns that said behavior elicits a big reaction, but when the true need still exists, it can be awfully hard to determine which is which. 

Standard behavioral techniques don't always apply to children with autism either. I've seen the "Ignore it" method work wonders with some children, but that method has often backfired for us when Brody seems even more delighted to be ignored and left to continue his inappropriate behavior.

All I know for sure is that "Get that out of your mouth" is still coming out of MY mouth every 10 seconds and my master poop painter is currently sleeping in the next room with a specially ordered 4T onesie that's buttoned over top of his PJ pants. 

The truth is, I couldn't care less about the weird looks I get, but I don't want to see these behaviors causing Brody pain and suffering once he gets into public school, and I also don't want to see them interfere with his concentration and ability to learn. 

For now I'll keep up the guessing games and keep getting creative. I know that someday we'll get this kiddo chewing food only and painting with art supplies that he himself didn't create.

Image via Little Silver/Flickr

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