Is sudden violence actually expressions of anxiety?
Our four year old grandson has been classified as high functioning autistic. Because 250 miles separate us, we only get to see him on a near monthly basis. My wife is an extraordinarily parient person who will spend hours with playing and talking with him. Consequently, my grandson loves her and becomes attached to her on our infrequent visits.
We visited our family this past weekend, and before leaving for our home on Monday morning, we tokk our grandson to breakfast (just us), then dropped him off at his child care where he normally goes each day. Everything had been fine up to that point, and our grandson was his smiling cheerful self. But as we were saying goodbye, he hauled off and roundhoused my wife which landed on the side of her breast where she had cancer surgery a few years ago. My wife said the pain was seering, and almost reduced her to tears. When I asked why he did that, my grandson laughed, and said, "You and Grandmom go back to Massachusetts!", and flopped down on the floor and began to play with his cars. (the fact a four year old can say "Massachusetts" is remarkable, especially since he is speech delayed)
This is not the first time I've witnessed this sudden burst of violence (not anger) before, but never thought of the possibility that it could be his expression of anxiety to a siutuation. Could this be the case?
It definitely could be related to stress. When you have trouble communicating you find other ways to express yourself. From what he said it sounds like he didn't want you two to leave. It is actually very sweet because he loves you, he just has an odd way of showing it. Just gently tell him "no, don't hit." Many children with autism also stim by flailing their arms and accidentally hitting themselves or other people. I've been bopped in the face a few times by my daughter and reduced to tears. I never get mad because I know in this case she did not do it on purpose.
It's possible. Children "on the spectrum" tend to struggle deeply with change, and this can bring out the worst in them. The tendency is usually toward tantrums or "meltdowns" and difficult behavior, but it's not uncommon for children with autism to lash out physically. It is something that his parents need to address sooner than later, while keeping in mind that kiddos like you grandson don't typically intend to hurt anyone - their emotions just flood them to a point of immense discomfort and stress. That's a lot to handle, especially when you're 4.
My son, who is 6 and diagnosed with autism, had some similar issues. I found several books that were a great help for us. Cool Down and Work Through Anger by Cheri J. Meiners is great, and she has a bunch of other similar books that are well-written, offer practical information, and are really helpful in various aspects of manners and socializing. My son loves them. If he enjoys books, it might be a nice way to spend some of your time together, and a little gift he could enjoy while his awesome grandparents are away :) Best of luck to your family. He sounds like a smart, loving little guy overall. With a little support, I'll bet he's going to do just fine.
I hope your wife's health is better now.
(PS: That IS really awesome about him saying Massachusetts!)
hmmm, this is a tough one indeed! I myself was born Higher Functioning Autistic. My parents had a very very hard time with me. I can't tell you specifically what your grandson is going through. But I can offer some suggestions from my own childhood growing up with the same disability. The first thing is that I've always had feelings and emotions, but for some reason my brain never developed the ability to understand them at birth. I had to figure out how to use both feelings and emotions over life experiences. The first major thing to note is that my brain would learn about how to be a human from watching and observing other humans. I would then test out these newly studied behaviors. I can't say specifically, but it sounds sort of like your grandson saw something on TV and he is acting it out. Or maybe some person in his life has uncalled for grudge against you and he has seen them act that way. The way that you describe his behavior suddenly changing abruptly makes me remember how I would act-out anything I saw another person do around me. It probably sounds ridiculous; but the only way I can describe being born Autistic, is being born without the programming installed that tells you how to be a human! I spent all my years watching others around me and building a massive database within me that allows me to be social. I don't know exactly how, but overtime I developed a library of information within me that would boggle other's imaginations! Within my brain is stored every single facial expression and action of humans, cataloged to that is my appropriate reactions to these! Somehow my brain can process all this tremendous data in a mechanical form; so that I don't actually "feel" emotions all the time. Lesser emotions for me are simply a programmed response to the displayed action I see in front of me.
Give you an example; at thirteen years old I stood up the wrong finger to a school cop because I had seen that behavior displayed. Well I did it to his face and got in huge trouble for it. So that day my database was updated to not do that to a police officer. I had no bad feelings towards the cop, he was rather nice and friendly. I simply replicated an action I had seen modeled in front of me. Maybe I was born with a tough spirit and always enjoyed a challenge. I saw social awkwardness as something I could master! I took to studying people the same way scientists study ants! I was able to develop into one of the most social Autistic disabled persons. Another such person would be Temple Grandin, a very publicly known Autistic person and popular figure in the world, so I think I post her name here. She went through a similar growth process, she now specializes in agricultural work and is also a professor.
So, when an Autistic child does something that they should not do: You must appropriately correct them and let them "know" what they did was wrong. If you don't help him learn right and wrong then he won't be able to judge the difference. Any other child knows its wrong to wave inappropriately at a police officer, but I do not automatically "know" things. I was taught over years of growing up how to categorize everything properly. You see most people don't something because they get a bad feeling when they think about it. Now imagine that your feelings don't work correctly. That then explains why an Autistic person will do something inappropriate without having the full meaning of it. So, perhaps all you have to do is help him learn what is right and what is wrong to do. Just by your description I thought it sounded like a reenactment of something he saw somewhere else. Oh before I conclude let me also let you know that facial expressions on my face are not tied to actual emotions. As a matter of fact while learning from others an Autistic child can display the exact same facial expressions they observed. Gives me a mean Poker Face, but no seriously; I find it often misunderstood when you try to convey what it means to be born without working emotions. For a fact I could be an astounding actor for my ability to imitate any facial expression because I don't have minor facial expressions linked to my emotions. It's a complex world Sir, one you'll have to get used to. But you see, that is what makes us the scientists! We don't "feel" tired and we don't "feel" bored! We can work tirelessly at one thing our whole lives and become masters of that one thing! And never "feel" unfulfilled mastering only one thing! We also make excellent judges of character because of what it takes for us to learn how to socialize we often spot a liar very quickly! I studied the eyes for so many years that I can see a person's mood in their eyes! I've met the brightest smile and outgoing optimism with the saddest eyes I've seen, and that tells me that everything else is just a front! I see I've gotten quiet detailed here. I apologize for the length of words. I just wanted to explain in the greatest depth possible from a Higher Functioning Autistic adult who may be able to help a "normal" functioning grandfather understand his Higher Functioning Autistic grandson.
Some kids, including my own son who has sensory integration disorder, will have a base level response to things of 'fight or flight'. When pushed and yes, stressed-- a child can either flee/run away or have an outburst/ fight.
Very common in kids with autism and other neurological disorders.
We worked on helping our son with coping skills to go beyond a base level response. If you need help with ideas for that, let me know. peace
Thank you all for your valuable insight. I pass along these tidbits of information to my son and daughter in law. As we see our grandchildren on the average only every 4-6 weeks, we watch them grow up like time lapse photography.
What continues to amaze us is this paradox of a child who has been labeled with a "disability" but who seems to posesses certain talents, and special abilities. My son has been taking him to his karate school to immerse him in the environment. He wears his little ge, and giant set of sparring gloves and goes at it with the older children. My son reports he's a little tiger and although gets knocked down frequently, hops right up again and keeps coming, no tears, but smiling, almost like it's a game to him. So we'll see where this leads to. Perhaps he needs to be taught where and when this behavior is appropriate, and I will speak to my son about this.
The extra insight does help alot Sir. One of the most difficult things in life I might think is helping an Autistic person understand why people fight and when a person should fight. Please make certain that your son lets the Karate instructor know this. You can't just act out your skills anytime you want to. Perhaps this will be very helpful for your grandson if he pursues this talent with age: Have your son sit him down and show him Bruce Lee films, pointing out every time that Bruce is not fighting. Showing him how much control over himself that Bruce has. Bruce Lee was an awesome man of self-control and skill in martial arts! If your grandson with age watches these videos with your son and he is trained in the arts of self-control and self-suppressed skills- then your grandson may possess the talents to become a next Bruce Lee! One of my main talents is the ability to understand human character like most others do not. They put me in a very high rank in the US Military because I learned when to stare at other humans and when not to. My skills are best practiced on television and internet videos of real life people being themselves; because those people made the choice to put themselves up for such analysis. I am not a weirdo though. I carefully study and analyze human expressions and interactions; because I want to help people. To understand through the eyes of other people how to see emotions and how they work. This is why my advice on here is so very extensive! I have learned so many things from a life of studying human behaviors. It all started about highschool of my childhood because I got sick and tired of being bullied and picked on and beat up. I was never taught how to defend myself by anyone. I was brutally beat by other children. So what I did was begin studying the most liked children and figure out why they were so liked. By the time I reached college I knew this was called "popularity". I then used my special skills to silently observe all the popular kids and then I imitated what made them popular! At one point I even realized that poetry can be sped-up and it becomes rap lol I used to rap with the cool kids and spit mad rhymes! Oh man, the memories! The whole point of my post is that you have to teach the Autistic person, when they have a unique and unusual talent: i.e. one you can only use at specific times; you have to teach that person all of the rules and boundaries to using that talent. For me I can't just go to a large store and start staring at other people. That would make other people very very nervous and cause them needless anxiety. Normal boundaries don't come natural to us. Part of the reason I was made fun of alot in childhood was that at age thirteen I was still running around with plastic guns pretending I was a GIJoe character! I've learned so much over my years that now I know where the boundaries are at. But it took me years and years and years to learn all these human social dynamic things. My wife was extremely helpful with teaching me what to do and not do. And her incentive was to stop being embarrassed by her husband in public. Her wonderful and relentless training led to my career! Your son must carefully guide and instruct your grandson. It is very wise to be extremely cautious when teaching an Autistic child about Karate. Because he must, most of all, understand "when" his talent is appropriate to use and when it is not. So perhaps then when he hit your wife he expected the same response as others in his class. When this became an upsetting situation I can see why he would say "Go away!" *Every word spoken in Autism must be understood in full context.* I think he may have been embarrassed and shocked at the outcome of a social experience he was not expecting; because your wife is not tough like the other children in his class. So perhaps his intentions were to show you a special move he learned, but he ended up embarrassing himself instead. This sounds like the most appropriate context given the extended details of the situation. Due to his young age he may bounce right over it. But if you can in a subtle way without bringing it back up, just let him know that you love him and this was a simple mistake. I think he meant to show grandmom one of his moves and it went completely wrong for him. That sounds alot like my own childhood, always making mistakes and doing the wrong thing at the wrong moment and embarrassing myself alot! It's extremely difficult to grow up with any kind of Autism. But once Autism is mastered- you can literally push mountains out of your way! How many Americans doubt an Autistic person can pass enlistment in the US Military? And you are reading the writings of a high ranked US Military Officer who is Higher Functioning Autistic from birth! I learned to master my Autism! And that is what your grandson must do also. With the correct teaching he may be the very next martial arts master world renown! Autism under control provides keen focus that normal brains cannot handle. Most Autistic people cannot even "feel" time. So all we see is what we are trying to accomplish in front of us! It is a fact that Albert Einstein had to be, at times, forced to eat by his care taker. A caring woman would slide a food tray in the door and beg him to stop and eat. So whenever a person masters their Autism, they usually rise to the top of their field in life. At four years old you have alot of bumps ahead! I wish you all the luck in the world and patience too! If your son trains him right and your son uses professional help available then your grandson will go very very far in life!
Thank you! What a brilliant explanation from
The 'inside' perspective. As a mom of a higher functioning child who also has trouble with self regulation this is very valuable. You should write, publish and do everything you can to help others understand your perspective. It is indescribably valuable. Brilliant. Thanks.
My daughter loves to "crash and bang" too. It is a form of stimming, but since it doesn't usually harm her I let her do it. She will find ways to "fall" down and just giggle and laugh. In her mind it's the best thing ever. The only thing is often times children on the spectrum have a very high pain tolerance. I would still encourage the older children to be gentle as he can probably handle rough play because he doesn't feel pain the same way. Autistic children have been known to break bones and not show any signs of it.
It is common for people on the spectrum to be very talented at something. Einstein, Mozart, Newton, and Temple Grandin are/were all autistic and changed the world like very few people have. Yet, Einstein was infamous for being unable to find his way back to his own office and we all know Mozart's story. People with autism aren't broken, they are just different. As our society progresses there begins to be a spot for them in our culture!
I am a PCA for a sweet young 10 year old Autistic boy. I have been hit by his stemming so many times I have lost count. I also think that I should point out that people with Autism have a very high pain threshold, and they don't realize that we feel more pain than they do.
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