Behavior of children with special needs

Thank you to each of our Examiner readers who took the time to write, call or e-mail following last week’s article on the extreme behavior of a child that I witnessed first-hand in my home. I had hoped not to anger any parent, teacher or counselor of such a child, but to point out the severe need for parents to recognize the behavior and work to help these children reach their full potentials in life. Before letting the article go to be print, I sent a copy to one of the young mothers I trust so much in this field. She is highly intelligent, caring, compassionate and knows of which she speaks.

She wrote the following, “I just finished reading your article in The Examiner and I did not find it offensive. The child’s behavior, on the other hand, was extreme. I believe, no matter if a child has special needs or not, they need to learn what is acceptable and what is not. For my own children, I always asked myself, ‘Is this behavior occurring because of bad behavior or is it a sensory/overstimulation reaction?’ The two are big differences.

“I don’t think children with autism are prone to bad behavior; it’s more about how they are viewing the situation. For example, if we’re in a setting like a carnival or crowded children’s museum and one my guys suddenly starts crying and refuses to continue walking, I know it’s because it’s too much noise, activity, etc. and not because they’re being noncompliant.

“I’m really sorry that the family used the excuse that they needed to encourage the boy to ‘express himself’ as a reason to condone his bad manners. He has to learn impulse control and boundaries — as all of us do. I’m assuming that the child has autism? He sounds to me to be high-functioning if he can request all of those toys that he wanted. However, his behavior was not because of autism. You nailed it on the head. It was lack of parenting.

“I know many dear, dear children that have autism and have no aggression at all, my boys included. If they reach their overstimulated range (due to noise, too much visual distraction, too many people, abrupt change in routine, etc.) they will have a ‘meltdown.’ This is the point where reasoning is no longer useful; they have shut down. However, it’s not violent, per say. Typically, it involves crying and falling to ground — a physical expression of ‘I’ve had too much and I cannot process anymore and I do not know what else to do.’ Now, if you try to pick them up, it can be a struggle. They need time to decompress; they need to learn how to process their flood of feelings. For the observer, it may appear that they are throwing a tantrum and acting spoiled.

“As a parent, meltdowns are very tough because you know the child is in pain and that the issue — regardless if it seems small to you — is indeed very real and very intense for them.

“There is a huge difference between a child with autism going through a meltdown and a child who has no boundaries or manners. Also, meltdowns are not that common, at least, if the parent learns to recognize the triggers. They also seem to lessen with age.

“For me, I believe if a negative behavior is not sensory-related, then it’s just good old-fashioned bad behavior that needs to be corrected and replaced with appropriate manners/behaviors.

“There are some children with autism who may just not ‘get it.’ For example, at birthday parties Jack will see the cake and go right for it. I have to play defense and tell him, ‘no touch’ or ‘wait,’ etc. If I don’t intervene then he would have both hands in the cake and have a ball. He’s not at the point yet (we will get there!) that the cake belongs to someone else and he has to wait for us to open presents, sing happy birthday, etc., before he gets his piece.

“However, these kids do and will ‘get it’ — they just have to be taught — often multiple times. While typical child might learn party etiquette at age 3, a child with autism may learn at 5 or 6.

“Thanks again for sharing your article. I enjoyed reading it and am sorry the child is not learning to ‘express himself’ is a more pleasant manner.”

My long-time friend closed her note to me with these words, “You know I could talk all day about autism. It’s my passion.” She also shared with me that there is help available for these parents that simply perhaps do not know where to turn. She always brags on her ‘sisterhood’ of friends, teachers, medical personnel, and family members who help her in the training, teaching, and loving of her two precious sons. If you are dealing with a child who has issues of this type, please send me a quick note, and I will be happy to share your e-mail or note with my friend, who, in turn, can be of help and encouragement to you since she’s walked this road and has made such good progress.

Brenda Cannon Henley is an award-winning journalist and writer living on the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast. Having enjoyed more than four decades in ministry, Brenda shares her columns with our readers and works with churches and faith-based programs nationwide. She can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com