More than typical preschool behavior?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by chels, Feb 5, 2009.

  1. chels

    chels New Member

    Hi I'm new here and looking for some feedback.

    My son will be 4 in a month. We've struggled with behavioral issues with him since he was about 18 months. We have tried various methods for correction: time-outs, positive reinformcement, taking away toys, ignoring bad behavior, picking our battles, etc. They are only momentarily effective. He seems to require strict consistency, as he's exceptionally smart, and once we slip up he knows it. We're not perfect, and it's impossible to catch everything (we have a 20 month old son, too) and to be completely consistent. We try to come as close as possible, though.

    He's very strong-willed and particular about how things should be done and whom they should be done by. He has essentially established his own "rules" on how he wants things done and is quick to point out if you deviate from them. Not abiding his rules results in a full-blown tantrum, which is typically what happens. For example, if he wants a glass of milk, it has to be gotten by the person of his choice (typically me) and in the cup he wants at the moment. If the cup is the wrong color or another person gets it, he throws a screaming tantrum. His tantrums can last for several hours. They typically involve screaming, thrashing, hitting, and throwing. He says very mean things and sometimes gets a demonic look in his eyes. Recently, he seems to want to hurt me while he's throwing a tantrum. When he was 2, he flipped over my mom's kitchen table during a tantrum. Time-outs can only be accomplished if he's locked in his room, but then he destroys his room. He frustrates quickly. He's increasingly defiant. I don't expect him to follow directions perfectly, as he's only 3. But he only does things if and when he wants to do them. Otherwise, he completely ignores me or throws a heated tantrum. He's obsessed with cars and trucks and would play with them exclusively if we didn't try to diversify his toys and activities. Lately, he's been waking 6-7 times a night with nightmares. I know he's sleep deprived, so that's making things worse. He's also suddenly quite clingy, wanting to sit in my lap all the time, only be in rooms where I am, and not wanting to be left alone. He doesn't seem to like abrupt change and prefers to be warned about things coming up. He seems to have difficulty settling down long enough to focus on something, but once he focuses or if the activity is something he really likes, he doesn't have attention problems.

    His behavior in public is generally good. He's only thrown tantrums at stores a couple times because he didn't get his way about something, like when I selected a shopping cart different from the one he wanted. He screamed during the entire shopping trip. But that's a rareity. He's typically well-behaved in public.

    He also does well in preschool. His teacher said she'd take a classroom full of him. He's described as helpful, nurturing, and encouraging to his classmates. He's very social and talkative. She notices he's strong-willed but it's manifested in quiet resistance to direction or change and eventual compliance.

    I have a history of mental/conduct issues on my side of the family. I have ADHD, my mother has ADD, my brother and father have bipolar disorder, and an uncle and 2 cousins have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I'm not sure if my son's behaviors are simply a very strong-willed child (incidentally, my mom says his behavior is very similar to mine at that age) or if something more is going on. I do know his behavior is getting worse rather than better no matter what we try. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!
  2. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    Hi chels, I'm sure we will have some ideas to help you. A few more questions first:

    1) What's his speech like--any delays or conversely very advanced speech for his age?
    2) What's his play with those cars and trucks like? Is he pretend playing with them (ie assigning drivers, going places)? Are you seeing a lot of lining them up in straight lines or formations?
    3) What are you seeing in him that's "exceptionally smart"? Is he reading, doing math, etc or does he just pick up on things quickly?
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2009
  3. chels

    chels New Member

    I forgot to add that my son is extremely sweet (when he's not being defiant or throwing tantrums), sensitive, and empathic. He's very loving and enjoys giving hugs and kisses. He tells us he loves all the time at completely random occassions. I'm not sure he's deliberately mean so much as he's unable to control himself. Then, there's the other side of him I described in my first post.
  4. chels

    chels New Member

    SRL - to answer your questions:

    1) he's advanced verbally. His speech wasn't delayed, per se, but he didn't say much until he was 20 months, at which point he began speaking in 3-5 word sentences. Prior to that, he said a few words, "ball," "dog," "mama." He frequently uses multi-syllable words. His teacher says he's quite verbally advanced, though I have nothing to compare it to. He can easily carry on a conversation with an adult.

    2) He used to line up the cars and trucks and would take them to bed with him. They had to be in a particular order before he could go to sleep. This stopped about 1 - 1 1/2 yrs. ago. Now, he does imagination play with them, though he sometimes builds parking lots by placing them in rows.

    3) I'm not trying to say he's a prodigy. He's not. His intelligence seems to be more conceptual than applied at this point. He's able to string complicated scenarios together in logical, causal ways. He grasps concepts very quickly. His teacher has started giving him worksheets meant for 4 and 5 yr. olds, which he's doing very well at, because he mastered the 3 yr old worksheets quickly and effortlessly. For example, in the second week of school he completed a worksheet where he correctly matched each animal to their primary food source by drawing diagonal lines. The students were not told what the animals ate first. He did it correctly on his first try. Supposedly, this particular worksheet typically takes students all year to master. (I'm not an expert in early childhood education. I'm relying on the school's expertise that this was impressive.) He remembers almost everything he sees and can describe things that happened 2 years ago in great detail. He's not reading, but he memorizes his favorite books verbatim. He'll correct us if we get a word wrong. He can recognize words he regularly sees, but I don't think he's actually reading. I suspect if I worked with him on early reading, he'd have no trouble. We've never tried math applications, so I'm not sure what he's capable of. He did know all the letters before he was 2.
  5. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    He sounds like he could be on the autism spectrum, especially with lining up the cars--that's a classic red flag. Has he been tested by anyone?
  6. chels

    chels New Member

    No, he hasn't been tested for anything. Our former pediatrician (we've recently relocated) didn't think the lining up the cars was anything to worry about since he had no contributing behaviors (meaning nothing else that pointed to autism). My mom, who's an educator and has taught kids with autism for 25+ years as well conducts parent training courses, also does not think it's autism (or on the spectrum). But I'm not so sure. I think something's going on, whether it's something on the autism spectrum or something else. We've been told that he's just very strong-willed and that being super consistent and firm might make things worse for awhile (which they have) but will eventually work. We're told not to expect significantly noticeable results until he's 5 or 6. Quite frankly, I don't think I can keep my sanity for that long! Plus, that just seems like too long a timeframe.

    We're going to talk to our new peditrician at his 4 yr. check up. I guess we should ask about testing.
  7. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator


    There's a difference between a tantrum and a rage. If I read your info correctly, it sounds as if your difficult child may be raging.

    Tantrums are usually of short duration (10-30 min), whereas a rage can last for several hours. is a link re: rage if you're interested.
  8. chels

    chels New Member

    Sheila -

    Thanks for the link. From what I'm reading, it seems his are tantrums (if extreme ones) because they are goal-directed. The website states a rage is not goal-directed and happens without warning. He will continue to throw the tantrum in an attempt to get what he wants. He continues them if I'm not in the room (though he does his best to make sure I see the tantrum), and shutting him in his bedroom is not entirely effective because he knows I'm still in the house. I can usually predict his tantrums, as they are almost always the result of his not getting his way.

    However, one interesting thing I read on the site is that people who have these rages tend to have them at home and have fine, if not excellent, behavior at school or in other social settings. This is definitely like my son (though he is known to have outbursts at his grandparents' houses).

    I'm definitely going to put this on my list of things to talk to our pediatrician about. Thank you.
  9. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    You might want to check into something called Hyperlexia. Kids with Hyperlexia are drawn to letters and words, and will read prior to age 5 without formal instruction. Often-but not always--this will be accompanied with at least some Autistic traits if not an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) diagnosis. Teachers and therapists who encounter a Hyperlexic child for the first time often comment that even though the child has Autistic traits they're different than any of the kids they've had before. Typically they have phenomenal visual-spatial skills so a task like drawing diagonal lines between animals and the food source would be a piece of cake.

    If this were my little guy waking 6-7 times per night I'd want a sleep study done.

    FWIW, I suspect there's more going on here than being super strong willed. Personally I wouldn't go with the holding firm discipline approach until I had a handle on what was up because sometimes that approach can make things worse in that it's trying to force an issue the child isn't ready for yet.

    You'll save yourself a lot of trouble if you make adaptations for some of his areas of inflexibility. If different glass colors are causing meltdowns then buy a set of plastic glasses all the same color and use those only for him. Ditto with matching sets of clothing if that's a problem.
  10. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    My son had hyperlexia. He is now 15 and reads all right, but not at grade level (about 7th grade and he's in 9th). He is on the autism spectrum and his early reading didn't really mean a whole lot in the big picture.
    Years ago there was no such thing as high functioning autism and these kids got caught in the cracks, often being mistaken for being mentally ill. If it were my child, knowing what I do now (hindsight, which I didn't have before) I want him evaluated by a neuropsychologist. A pediatrician wouldn't have the knowledge of what is and isn't autistic-like. They simply don't have the training. Can your son transition from one activity to another without crying? Can he make good eye contact with strangers? Does he understand give-and-take socialization with his same age peers (I realize this is a hard question because he is young, but there is a difference between running around with other kids and actually making eye contact and interacting with them). Does he go crazy if something is different or changed? Is he sensitive to textures, light, sound? Does he obsess on anything? Does he have any strange habits such as hand flapping or making mouth noises or high pitched sounds or repeating television shows by rote or picking at scabs? Anything ring a bell? Although I'm no professional, I'm thinking Aspergers Syndrome. This is very high functioning autism where the kids tend to be very smart and talk like "little professors." Aspergers wasn't known about until ten years ago and your mom may not recognize it. However these kids really do need specific interventions and help. Well, just a suggestion. Good luck :)
  11. chels

    chels New Member

    Thanks for the replies!

    MidwestMom -

    He doesn't exhibit any of those characteristics you list. He makes great eye contact with all ages and really engages with people, doesn't have sensitivities to stimuli, no strange habits/mannerisms. The only thing he obsesses about is cars, though he is quite particular about things being done the "right" way (according to his interpretation). He only dislikes trasitions when it's something he doesn't want to do at the time, and it's not always for the same thing. For example, he's ordinarily fine when I say we have to go the store, but sometimes he will scream and throw a long tantrum because he'd rather stay home and play with his toys. His main issue is that he wants what he wants when he wants and in his own way. If our response isn't how he thinks it should be, he throws a tantrum. So, If I put him in his carseat instead of letting him climb in himself (which I only do if he refuses to get in his seat), he will scream for the rest of the cartrip demanding that we return to the place we left from so he can do it by himself. The tantrum typically lasts after I've pulled into the garage, so I just keep him in his seat until he tires himself out. My inlaws think we're too easy on him and that he's just trying to gain power and control. I understand he's trying to assert his independence, given his age, but the degree and length of his tantrumming and his insistence that things must be a particular way cause me concern and don't seem typical.

    SRL - I'm not familiar with hyperlexia. I'll look into it. Thanks for the suggestion. It's hard for us to determine where the line is between intelligence and memory. So, we're not sure what he actually is learning in terms of emerging and perfecting skills and what he's just remembering. I have a photographic memory and a very high IQ (Mensa-level), so it doesn't surprise me that my son's memory is also quite good.

    In talking more with my mom about mine and my son's similarities, she said I didn't line anything up or have a strong interest in one thing (like my son has with cars), but she did notice some lack of social skills with me (difficulty talking to new people, difficulty picking up on social cues) that she (or we) doesn't notice in our son. Otherwise she says my son is a carbon copy of me. She did worry that I had autism when I was young, but the things she detected were subtle, and then I seemed to emerge out of it at some point. Whatever's going on with my son, it seems like it came from me.
  12. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    In listening to parents of highly gifted kids and parents of kids on the Autistic Spectrum, what you'll find is that there if often overlapping traits. In fact I remember reading one gifted/talented forum and it was barely discernable from an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) forum except they spent more time talking about providing suitable academic opportunities. It makes sense that whatever neurological differences result in high intelligence could also spin off kids who have the ability to be hyperfocused on one or a few topics. I think of kids like this as being "spectrumy"--possessing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) traits but not necessarily enough to warrant a clinical diagnosis. As a parent (and for teachers) it can be very helpful to recognize this aspect because it allows them to pull helpful strategies from the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) camp. For instance, with a Hyperlexic child who is reading you would provide them with a written schedule for the day to ease transitions. Or for a non-reader, you would use a visual scedule using something like the PECS system.

    Yeah, check out Hyperlexia. Keep in mind that many kids don't fit all the traits and you might not find an exact fit, but even a direction would help you at this point.

    As for emerging out of it as some point, some kids will on their own, some will emerge due to a great deal of accomodation and intervention, and some will retain characteristics that are challenging. What I really think is important is the level of functioning--ie is whatever is going on severely impacting the life of the child and/or the family.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2009
  13. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    I really think you may be looking at something on the autistic spectrum. It is a spectrum, meaning some people are more affected and some less. My difficult child, Wiz, has always made great eye contact, been very verbal and social, was reading chapter books by the time he ENTERED kindergarten (hyperlexia for sure), and had many of the types of tantrums you described.

    If the grocery store had carts shaped like trucks and we used the blue one on a cold day, then on cold days we could ONLY use the blue one - forever. Making up his own rules and NEEDING us to stick to them in order for things to be OK in his world is part of his disorder.

    We are learning so much more about autism every day. We now know it isn't just the kids who are totally non-verbal, or who speak more like "little professors" or the other "quick and easy" guidelines that were used even 10 years ago to diagnosis various autistic spectrum disorders.

    He may also have other things going on. One of the SYMPTOMS of Asperger's Syndrome is actually ADHD! It is now written as a separate disorder largely because you get better insurance coverage that way.

    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) like behaviors are also common to people with ASDs.

    Regardless of what he has, I recommend a full neuropsychologist workup, reading the book, "The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, books on Love and Logic Parenting (, and writing a Parent Report.

    A Parent Report gives a full and complete picture of your child to the professionals working with him. It lets YOU keep track of what has and has not been done. You can let the "experts" have some or all of the report, but it really helped many of us here advocate effectively for our difficult children because we had all the info at our fingertips when anyone asked for it. Here is a link to it:

    It was devised and fine-tuned by members of the site who have been and gone (some are still here, but with older children) and can easily be adjusted to fit YOUR needs.

    I also STRONGLY recommend that you NEVER go against your "gut" or "mommy instincts". I know that the times I made MAJOR mistakes that truly HURT my difficult child were times I let someone talk me out of what I really felt was right. Always be true to your instincts about your children. The "experts" are with them for 3-30 minutes every so often. You are with them for hours at a time. You clearly have more info on your child. You may not know psychiatry, but you know your difficult child.

    Have a good Sunday!
  14. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    Regarding gifted kids, really, most are not different from other kids, just smarter. They don't have more behavioral problems than other kids. An example is my two nieces who have 4.5 averages in school (4.5 due to AP classes being a point more than regular classes). They are extremely well behaved and focused. One has some social problems, but they aren't severe--she IS on Poms. The other is a runner--known as a geek because she is so smart--but she has a group of friends. Neither are behavior problems. Uber-smart kids can have disorders and most of the time they aren't related to being super-smart. Many Aspies are brilliant and that's a whole different story. I'd see a neuropsychologist. Until you see one, the "can he be on the spectrum" or "can't he be on the spectrum" won't be answered. Most professionals don't know what to look for in high functioning autism. If he doesn't have it, fine, but my motto is "Better to be safe than sorry." ;) Just my .02
  15. chels

    chels New Member

    Thank you all for your input! I've just finished reading The Explosive Child. Not only has it given my some understanding of what's going on with my son, it's also provided tremendous insight for me as a person. As I read it, I kept wishing people had known this method while I was growing up. I've implemented the method just a couple times, and the results were much better than anything else I've tried. I am having a hard time convincing my partner that our son doesn't need to be punished for everything and that he's not just getting away with things. Of course, the grandparents, aunts, and uncles are insistent that we still just need to be more consistent with him. I think it will be challenging to get everyone behind this. We see our pediatrician in a few weeks and plan to discuss at length the issues with our son and recommendations for a neuropsychologist. Thanks again!
  16. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    Your instincts tell you something is going on. So something IS going on. Period. You have more experience with this child than anyone else on the face of this planet. Tell your pediatrician that you want a referral to a neuropsychologist for testing and will not be pacified with anything less. You want to be insistent because if he IS on the autistic spectrum then the earlier you get interventions into place the better for his long-term outlook.

    You mentioned in the first post in this thread that time out only works if you lock him in his room. You want to be VERY careful with this. You could face a CPS investigation if anyone finds out that you lock him in a room. Even a child-proofed, safe room. It is HIGHLY frowned upon. I KNOW it is not for hours, that you are not abusing him, etc.... BUT many people are mandated reporters and often they will see this as a sign of abuse. Depending on who evaluates the case for CPS you could really end up in a nightmare.

    This is just a warning. NOT an indictment of your behavior, or even criticism. Just experience learned from other members and something we were warned about years ago.
  17. Squirrel13

    Squirrel13 New Member

    Hi, I hope you're still at this email address and get this post as it's now 2 years on. I found your post below. My boy is 3.3yrs and everything youve written is exactly the same for us. He manic screams and tantrums over the simplist things (like the cup and anything else that doesn't fit his expectation). If you are still around I am soooo interested in hearing what happened. Was anyone able to provide a diagnosis? How is he today? Does he still scream/tantrum (god forbid)?

  18. forkeeps251

    forkeeps251 Member

    Squirrel -

    I'm not the original poster, but I thought I would comment anyway. In fact, I'm really new to this forum and am currently in the process of getting my son some of the help he needs, but he is a little older... almost 6, and starting school has been very difficult for him.

    However after reading through these posts I saw a lot of my son in the OP's post. Mornings used to be a nightmare for us... he too would have a tantrum if he didn't get the cup, bowl, or whatever he wanted. Getting dressed was especially hard, he did not want me to change him and was too young to dress himself completely, and he would scream till red in the face and I would have to hold him down to change him. There were many mornings when we BOTH left the house crying!

    The good news, in our case, is that as he has gotten a little older many of those behaviors have stopped. Sometimes he still requests "the green bowl" for his cereal or whatever, and I try to accomidate him but if I'm not able to (I've already prepared it, for example), it pretty much just passes by without any more than a pout. Dressing him is much easier now too... I give him a limited choice and now that he is able to dress himself, we no longer have these melt downs in the mornings at all. Actually at home and out in public, he is a pretty good kid!

    School, on the other hand, is a different story and I think it all boils down to one thing.. he is very infelxible. At home he has learned, or addapted, or maybe WE have addapted a little too to meet his needs and home is relatively tantrum free. At school though, he has meltdowns frequently and I think they are often when it is time to change activities.

    So to answer your question (even though I'm not who you asked), for my son, he has grown out of a lot of those behaviors. He was about the same age as your son when we were having these problems, and now days it is a totally different story. It must have been a subtle change because I can't remember at what age he improved, but I think it was somewhere around 4.5 or 5. Of course, now we have different issues, which is to be expected I guess. My son also had a speech delay, which we always assumed was partly responsible for his tantrums.

    We are still in the process of getting a diagnosis, so I can't give you any information there, either.

    Hope that was some kind of help :)
  19. Liahona

    Liahona Guest

    Welcome to the board Squirrel!
  20. nvts

    nvts Active Member

    Welcome Squirrel! I was buzzing through this last night (very late, very tired!) and missed what you were looking for....

    I would suggest that you start a new thread and ask away! Since this is such an old post, it's likely that you won't get much feedback. If you're dealing with issues, let us know what they are and ask if anyone has a success story. Truly we are a very warm group that jumps at the chance to speak to people!

    Again, welcome to the crowd! Lots of experience and strong shoulders!