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Autism or Abuse?
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Autism or Abuse?

I am a teacher in a kindergarten classroom that contains both regular and special ed children.  We have a new five year old boy who behaves very strangely and the teacher who I work with and I are at odds on what the problem is - she says it is autism, I say it is severe emotional abuse.... Behaviors he exhibits are as follows:

temper tantrums that involve injuring himself, head banging, biting himself, throwing himself on the floor

when he does something incorrectly he calls himself stupid, an idiot etc...

he has a certain way he wants to something and if he doesn't do it the way he intends he completely melts down

he does play with other children in the classroom

he is extreemly clingy, when hugging hugs TIGHTLY

does not want us to call Mom to send him to the office
has a hard time focusing and staying involved in tasks

is constantly worried others are being "mean" to him

likes to line up cars in rows, and build things, but has a tantrum if he doesn't build them correctly (screaming, crying, throwing himself down)

when he starts a tantrum, he can be inconsolable, but not always, usually he can be talked down by me, although not by any other teachers.  Clearly, he needs to be in a self contained classroom - but we really disagree on what is causing his delays and tantrums.  

He has not spoken of any emotional abuse, but I wonder.

Any thoughts?
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Avatar_f_tn
If it is emotional abuse, he wouldn't have mentioned it.  Most kids around 5 or so wouldn't necessarily be able to identify themselves as victims of abuse...particulalry emotional abuse.

The only thing that raises a red flag for me (regarding emotional abuse) is his behaviour of calling himself stupid, etc when he doesn't get something right...he learned that from someone / somewhere.

His other behaviours could be related to emotional abuse..but it'd really anyone's guess.  It doesn't sound like autism per se, but perhaps something else on the PDD (pervasive developmental disorder spectrum) such as asbergers.  

Or it could be none of the above....there is just really no way to know for sure without an evaluation.  Have you brought these concerns up to his parents?  That's the first place to start.  It's possible he doesn't behave that way at home.  But it would be good to get his parents perspective on the matter.  Abuse of any kind is a serious subject matter and a serious accusation to make, particularly if you're not sure and there are no obvious signs of abuse, so when speaking to his parents about this, use caution and try  not to assume anything.  Good luck.
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Avatar_f_tn
The behavior and symptoms you describe also sound like severe ADHD and/or something on the autism spectrum. Some children with ADHD will verbalize feeling stupid because they "know" that they should not behave a certain way and cannot control themselves in terms of their behavior-- they then internalize that they are stupid. I have known several children who behave this way that  and use this kind of language that are definitely not in emotionally abusive situations.

If you have concerns about this behavior, you should bring it up to the parents-- and I agree-- not in terms of a diagnosis or conclusion, but just that you, as his teacher, have some concerns -- describing only the behavior-- and perhaps making suggestions as to where to turn for further assistance/ evaluation.
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Avatar_f_tn
While I am not a professional on either topic, I do work within a contained classroom with autistic kids, aging from 5-8.  The things you are describing sound a lot like all of the kids within my school.  Majority of these kids need a set schedule so they know what to expect next.  If something is done out of the norm or not within their set standards, a melt down is expected.  Has the child been evaluated by a physician or concerns brought to the school social worker?  I hope things work out for you and him.  It sounds like you may be good for him, that may be just what he needs.
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Avatar_f_tn
I have two children with autism and that definitely sounds like he is on the spectrum. May not be actual autism but somewhere on the spectrum. If he doesnt have language delay it probably isnt 'autism' but can be PDD-NOS, ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, etc.
One of my sons hugs extremely tightly because he seeks sensory input...he also squeezes toys, people etc. Lining up cars, toys...rigid thinking...has to have things a certain way...those are very typical traits. Inconsolable meltdowns..all part of it. Worried other people are mean, or of calling his mom...he may be very sensitive to criticism. Doesnt mean abuse. He needs professional evaluation..isnt there someone who can recommend that to his mother. Its so sad to me when i see the parents can be in denial because no one wants to think their child can have a problem. Even pediatricians arent well-trained in early warning signs. But with early intervention they can get so much better.
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My former roommate's son (who was 6) did a lot of these same things, especially the 'i'm so stupid' and headbanging...I lived with them for a year, and know that she never abused him or EVER called him stupid. It progressed for him inside his head...I doubt this is abuse in your case, but I would def. recommend he get evaluated and extra help learning to control himself.  I tried to help my friend's son (she wouldn't let him be medicated) and made some progress, but I'm not a professional. Mostly he just needed someone to keep telling him he's NOT stupid, and listing all the great things he CAN do.
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Avatar_n_tn
I am a mother of a 9 year old son. As a youner child he did not bang his head but would throw a fit when he didn't get something correct. He would also think that he was stupid. It wasn't something that we taught him, somthing that he taught himself. We had trouble with getting him the help that he needed for this. No one thought it was a problem but us. After moving to a differnt school and we sought help from a high school counsler did he get better. His grades have improved, and so has his out look about himself. This child is lucky to have teachers like you who do care enough to help this little boy. I wish that my child's teachers would have been so caring to help us. Hopfully with a lot of work the little boy will be fine. I am sure the parents are aware of his actions. I know we were. It is still hard for him to make friends because he is afraid of how they act toward him but he is gaining confidence everyday.Good Luck
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I am a mother of a 9 year old son diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD.  The behaviors you describe sound exactly like my son.  They tend to be perfectionists and get very frustrated if things don't work out the way they have it planned in their mind.  My son was a headbanger since about the age of two.  Bear hugs are great as many of the kids have sensory issues and sometims crave pressure.  There are usually triggers that bring on the aggressive behavior and they need help learning to deal with situation.  Structure helps.  Social stories and foreshadowing tends to help my child.  Unstructured times are difficult for autistic children and they tend to struggle at recess, lunch, changing rooms, etc.  
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My son is diagnosed with PDD-NOS and he does a lot of those things.  He has a meltdown if something is not the way he wants it, line up everything, doesn't really play with kids in his class, and is delayed in his speech and motor skills.  I wouldn't call it abuse, I would maybe ask his parents if he displays this behavior at home.  Then you and the parents can work on a plan to control this behavior or get to the root of it.  
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