Trying to understand my son

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by bagels, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. bagels

    bagels New Member

    Hi folks (new user here) -

    My 3.5 year old son never seemed to fit the mold. All of the childrearing books we've read, websites I've looked at, professionals we've talked to, etc, never seem to apply for the combination of issues we see with him. Perhaps some of you have thoughts about how we can help him?

    1. Ever since he was born, he was extremely attention-needy. He's slowly improving in this regard (baby steps, which is great!) but compared to any other kid his age around, he seems to need dramatically more attention from us or he shuts down. We've tried suggestions we've found such as "give him focused attention for 15 minutes a day" or some such, but doing that sort of thing actually makes the problem worse. When we give him focused attention (especially on days when he's home because he's sick, for example), his expectation levels increase.

    2. He doesn't interact much at all with peers. He has a younger sister that he's crazy about, and he actually does ok these days playing with older kids (junior high and up, I suppose) that he knows really well; but he won't interact with his peers at all. It was actually a significant daycare challenge for us when we started him at 2.5; we had to remove him from an exceedingly well-respected local daycare center (all of our friends and co-workers love it) and put him in a small home care, because he just wouldn't socialize with any of the rest of the kids. He just stayed on his own there and cried. We have a weekly play group that we take him to, with friends of ours and their kids; after a year and a half of doing this, he still refuses to sit at the "kids table" with the other kids to eat. He knows the other kids by name, but avoids them.

    3. Disciplining him is a major challenge. He's not a mean kid, or anything like that, but he pushes us as any preschooler might. The challenge is that he responds to very little from a discipline perspective. The best technique we've found after much reading and trial and error is the "Magic 1 2 3" sort of thing where we count him when he's acting out, and punish him if we get to 3. The main challenge is coming up with something to impose that works. Time-outs don't work on him: he likes playing in his room, and refuses to sit in the corner. At times, we'll strap him into a booster seat as the only technique we can think of to keep him in place for something resembling a time-out. I sometimes wonder if there's a practical distinction between strapping him down while he's screaming (which we sometimes need to do, it seems) and spanking him (which we don't do). We sometimes have marginally better luck with taking away privileges; we'll impose an early bedtime, or remove books before bed, or something like that, but that is typically not an immediate response, which goes against common wisdom. If he runs away from us outdoors (which is somewhat common), we're generally thoroughly perplexed as to what to do. One local educator suggested: "hold his hand whenever you're outside; it stops it, and he won't like it and he'll learn." The problem is he LOVES attention, and it doesn't help. It seems that he's old enough to learn to not do this sort of thing, but we can't figure out for the life of us how to teach him, especially when we're managing a younger child at the same time.

    4. He does very poorly with being left with others. He's improving dramatically, which is good, but only with people he knows well. Getting babysitters is a massive undertaking for us.

    So... we're exhausted. We've got a loving, smart, needy son that demands much of our attention (and we've got a younger daughter, no less!). He thoroughly doesn't interact with peers, it is extremely difficult to find something that changes his behavior, and he is hard to leave with others to give us a break!

    We did have him screened by a local professional, who indicated that he did not have Asperger's. In fact, our dear son chose that moment in the screening to ham everything up, played with toys enthusiastically, and joked with the therapist. The therapist indicated that our son had no trouble making eye contact, and engaged with him plenty. Of course, we were in the room... Also, if I look at web pages that describe Asperger's, none of the other symptoms seem to apply. Just the social one.

    The main suggestions the therapist had for us was "Magic 123" (ok, we're doing that), and to slowly expose him to playing with other kids as we could within his comfort levels so as not to overload him. The main problem we have there is that it's actually hard to achieve; apart from our one fixed weekly play group with established friends, we can't succeed at forming other relationships for him to get playdates. After one visit where he ignores the other kids, other parents lose interest. He isn't fun around other kids. We try our best to do local activities (library games, that sort of thing), which he does, but again, he doesn't really engage with others.

    He's only 3.5, so things may improve as he ages; but at this point, we're actually worried about his readiness for school when the time comes. We suspect we'll be waiting an extra year for kindergarten. We know that he's bored right now in his home daycare; but he won't engage in any kind of preschool or group daycare setting. As such, it's impossible for us to imagine him sitting in a group and participating in any kind of activity with other kids, especially without us around. We're trying to work with the locals pros, but does anyone here have any ideas what's going on with him, and how we might help?
  2. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    Hi there.
    Welcome to the board, although sorry you have to be here. The very first advice I would give you is to remind you that educators are not child specialists and don't really know what is wrong with him nor how to correct it. I wouldn't ask them for advice. Often, they think they know a lot more than they do. Teaching kids is not the same as knowing how to handle "differelty wired" children.

    I would be seriously watching for autistic spectrum disorder, higher functioning. The lack of interaction with his same age peers is classic with this disorder. it is a huge red flag. If he speaks, and it's precocious, then I'd be looking at Aspergers. If he just repeats what people say or barely speaks, could be Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)-not otherwise specified. Does he make good eye contact with your family AND with strangers? Most kids do. Also, does he have good imaginative play and does he play appropriately with toys or does he sort of ignore them or dismantle them or shake them to see what they sound like? Does he have an oddities in gait or obsessions or does he flap his arms or make weird throat noises or other inappropriate clicks of the tongue or noises? Any head banging or face scratching? Does he like to rock? Many Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) kids do MUCh better with younger or much older kids. Why? The younger kids don't care that they are different and the older kids just find them adorable. My son was the same way. Things have gotten a lot better. He's had a ton of help.

    1,2,3 Magic has a low success rate amongst atypical kids. You can try it. Most of our kids needed unique handling and more than just a behavioral therapist.

    I would have him evaluated, and you may not get him diagnosed right at age 3.5. If he has autistic traits I'd try to get him interventions now whether or not he gets the diagnosis (this usually comes later...after the ADHD/ODD or bipolar misdiagnoses). There are social skills groups, speech for kids who have trouble conversing in a give-and-take way, and PT for sensory issues. He may not be appropriate in a regular classroom, but it really all depends on him. Usually the kids improve a lot with help, although as they age you can still tell they are different. But my son is sixteen and doing well.

    I wish you good luck. I think NeuroPsychs are the best diagnosticians. Even they can be wrong in such a young child. The earlier the interventions, for ANY probem, the better the prognosis/outcome.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2010
  3. bagels

    bagels New Member

    Thanks for the response, MidwestMom.

    He speaks reasonably for a kid his age. He's smart and knows his alphabet, recognizes some words, but isn't quite reading yet; his speech isn't especially precocious. He started speaking really early (we did a lot of baby signing). He did (still does, a little) have a pronoun reversal thing (referred to himself as "you") going on that lasted much longer than for most other kids. We've been working on turning that around, and are finally nearly there. But his speech is plenty strong. He's a pretty enthusiastic and energetic kid, at least at home and in comfortable environments.

    He engages in imaginative play, at least with toys and what-not: he loves dollhouses in particular. And yes, he plays with those toys properly (whatever that means, I guess), in that he isn't interested in dismantling them or whatever. No odd tics, clicks, noises, anything like that. He did flap his arms as a baby and young toddler, but that was purely an expression of entertainment and joy. (We would ask him if he wanted his favorite food, and he would grin and laugh and flap his arms.) It wasn't an uncontrollable habit or anything like that, and he seems to have grown out of it. That's to our dismay. It was really cute!

    So sensory issues seem to be no problem, as well as speech. I think that's why diagnosing him with Asperger's may be challenging: when one looks at the other symptoms that typically go with it, he doesn't have them (which we're happy to say.) And the attention-neediness and difficulty separating from us aren't usually listed among symptoms for autism spectrum. I think my key concern for him, apart from us not knowing how to discipline him when we need to, is whether he'll be ready for school. 2.5 years from now is a long time, but I can't imagine him currently sitting in a group of kids paying attention. Story-times at the library are currently a non-starter, though he'll participate in "circle-time" songs and games if he's sitting with one of us.

    What kinds of interventions might professionals make for kids who need help socially?
  4. SRL

    SRL Active Member

    Hi bagels, I'm glad you found us.

    We are only parents here--not diagnosticians--so please keep that in mind as you read our responses. What your description reminded me of is a child who has a neurological underlying "something" going on, but who has had a great deal of instinctive, intensive parenting. Sometimes a child like this will receive the equivalent of early intervention/therapy resulting in the delay or elimination of really severe problems. Often what happens with these kids is that they are difficult and quirky when little, but function all right while spending a good deal of time at home or in a smaller daycare/school setting that is ideally suited to their needs. Later on it's common for there to be something that will trigger more serious problems--going to school, going from half day to full day, having a rigid teacher, getting older and not being able to keep up with social demands, moving to a new home, etc--and then things start to fall apart.

    The not interacting with peers would concern me. If I were in your shoes, and had already consulted the professionals in the area, I'd have him evaluated by the school district if you haven't already done so. A good early intervention preschool can be a very helpful for kids like yours because the focus isn't so much on the academic, but on social aspects and functioning in a school setting. Even kids who are very bright but struggle in the other realms can benefit. You would need to call your local public school district and ask for special services or special education department. Make a request for a complete evaluation, then follow up with a written request. The written request is important as it sets legal timelines into motion.

    There may be other social skills options available, but that is highly dependent on the area you live in. Social skills falls under the umbrella of speech services (it's called pragmatic speech) so check around for places that administer pediatric speech therapy--hospitals, universities, Easter Seals, private service providers. Usually they would do both individual therapy where they'd do things like role playing as well as social skills groups. I'm a firm believer in working on these skills both with a skilled professional as well as at home.

    There are some social skills things you can do at home. I've heard rave reviews about the Model Me Kids DVDS.

    Also do a search on books for social skills and social stories.

    On the discipline end of things, I'd suggest backing off, especially if it's resulting in extended screaming or escalation. Whatever is going on, he clearly isn't ready to respond to traditional discipline so I'd be on the search for more effective strategies. Many of us have had good results with Ross Greene's book The Explosive Child. You'll find tips on how to adapt it to younger children at the top of this board. The overall strategy is designed to help the child and family function better until they're at a point where they can participate more in rational problem solving.

    Finally, if I were in your shoes, I'd continue to do my homework and borrow from whatever camp works. The diagnostician thinks he doesn't have Asperger's--fine, but use social skills strategies from the Asperger's camp for awhile and see if they help. He doesn't have a diagnosis of ODD, fine, but get a copy of the book I suggested and see if things improve for him. While doing your homework, you'll likely run into descriptions of other disorders (such as Nonverbal Learning Disability) and that will give you a chance to compare symptoms as well.

    Another book recommedation: What Your Explosive Child Is Trying to Tell You: Discovering the Pathway from Symptoms to Solutions by Dr. Douglas Riley

    If you have a child who shines during assessments, the video camera can be your best tool. Without his knowing, video him in the areas that you are concerned about to bring in to future assessments.

    Hope this helps. SRL
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2010
  5. bagels

    bagels New Member

    Thanks, SRL -- you've got some really useful suggestions there.

    We're planning to talk to the folks in the schools this week, actually, so we'll see how that turns out. I just reserved "The Explosive Child" at the local library (waiting for that to come in), and I checked out the modelmekids DVDs. For his age group, looks like there isn't too much yet, but the one on how to behave in public settings looks like it might actually be really useful. We'll likely order it when it comes out.

    And the video camera hints are a really good idea, as well as trying to find books on developing social skills / stories. We'll do that too.

    I feel good: we've now got a couple of new things to try. Thank you!