Back Talking

by Christina
(Moore, OK)

I have a back talking 10 year old who gets very upset when told to do anything and will yell NO or I DON'T WANT TO. He has Asperger's syndrome, but seems to think that if he doesn't want to do any requested assignment chore or punishment, he can scream at us. Any ideas on how to handle this problem? I have a 7 year old mimicking it...

Answer by: Kristina Miller

Dear Christina,

The process for dealing with the same behavior from your 10-year-old son with Asperger's, and from your 7-year-old daughter without Asperger's, will be completely different. Children with Asperger's are especially sensitive to changes and to things that make them uncomfortable. They are often less able to deal with the sensations and emotions that arise from HAVING to do something that they don't WANT to do or are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with doing. We all go to the dentist, take tests at school, change plans midday, try new foods, etc. without much difficulty, but things like this can be a big shock to the system of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. So, the very first thing I would suggest is to make punishments and chores clearly stated and set ahead of time, and always consistent. And "assignments" if you're talking about homework should also be set. For instance, 4-5pm could be homework time, and maybe 3:45-4pm is a calming transition activity like snack time, where you sit down at the table, eat a healthy low-sugar snack, calm down and prepare for homework time. And then this schedule must be stuck to religiously every day. Same with the chores. He should be able to tell you exactly what his chores are and exactly when he is expected to do them. A chart on the fridge may help. Just for your son, there should only be perhaps 2 or 3 different punishments that he ever receives, and the duration can be changed depending on the misbehavior that caused it. That way, he is never feeling totally lost or out of control, and he knows the exact response that his behavior will result in. The less change, the less suddenness, the better.

Once the schedule is set, discussed with him at a neutral and calm time, and then strictly adhered to, I think things may get a lot better with that change alone. However, if he still is reacting in this way, there is more you can do. One of the defining characteristics of Asperger's and autism is that the autistic child will have a harder time understanding "other people." Empathy, the feelings of others, how others view him (or even THAT others view him at all), may be all foreign concepts to him. Social relationships and interactions are difficult. It may not be "obvious" to him why you can tell HIM no, but HE can't tell YOU no. It might also not be obvious to him why him shouting is perceived as disrespectful, unloving, unkind, rude or hurtful to the person he is yelling at. You will have to explain to him, if you haven't already, exactly why chores are in place (because every member of the family does their part, etc.), why it is important for him to follow your directions (so he can grow strong and smart, so he can be happy and get along with others, so he can be safe/healthy, etc.), and exactly how it looks to other people and how it makes you feel when he yells or refuses to follow instructions. This may be something that you talk to him about regularly as he grows up, and a concept he may need to be reminded of periodically throughout the day when he does things that seem to disregard the feelings of others. Remember, he likely doesn't understand clearly that others have feelings, let alone what might cause them to feel good or bad.

The last thing I would do, AFTER you've set up a schedule that respects his special needs, and AFTER you've talked to him about how the yelling and disobedience effects you, his little sister, and the whole family, then you should inform him that not only does yelling hurt his family, but it also is against the rules and it will only result in further punishment. So, the easiest and quickest way for him to get what he wants (to not be doing the chore) is to get it over with quickly and not yell about it.

If you haven't already, you may do a search online for Asperger's/Autism support groups in your area. Talking to other moms about what has worked for them and what hasn't can be extremely helpful on a number of levels. They also may have lots of helpful information and resources for you as your child grows up.

Once your older son has this behavior under control, it obviously won't be rubbing off so much on his little sister. But she may be getting to the age (depending on her personality) where you can have the conversation with her about her big brother's special needs. My cousin has Asperger's Syndrome and his younger sister, who is about 3 years younger than him just like your kids, was able to understand from a young age her brother's special needs and took pride in the responsibility of understanding him, being his advocate and support, being his friend and helper - not patronizing him, but helping him reach his full potential, being a help not a hindrance to him. If you have an honest age-appropriate heart-to-heart chat with your daughter about the differences between her and her big brother, and encourage positive behaviors and responsibility, you may see her start to step up and view the relationship differently. Instead of seeing him as a smart-alec or someone who gets special treatment, she'll instead be able to see her special role in the situation. Instead of copying his bad behavior for the extra attention or because HE gets away with it, she'll realize she has to be that much more responsible, caring and understanding. It is a process, but VERY well worth it.

Good luck!

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