Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dealing with aggression

I'm looking for your suggestions today. We've been dealing with some aggression issues with Bitty lately. I need your opinion on which of these I should choose to protect myself from his onslaughts:

I'm thinking the stormtrooper armor is probably the way to go, it looks like it allows for more flexibility while still offering face protection. Hehe :)

Seriously, though. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I do not remember "punching bag" listed on the job description for "mother." Maybe I missed it somewhere in the fine print. I would've signed up anyway, of course, but I would've been prepared with some better self-defense moves.

At least he offers a 1-second warning first. "Hit!" (whack). Some days, as soon as he hears me walk in the front door, he comes running over with a jubilant, "hit!" and a big grin on his face, only to give a swinging punch to my leg. Sometimes hitting isn't quite enough to get his point across, so he adds "frow!" and throws things at us.

Or his latest (and my personal favorite), he hits me and then holds out his hand, "kiss mah boo-boooo." Sure thing, bud. So sorry you hurt your hand from smacking me(!) Maybe you should kiss MY boo-boo.

I'm not the only one he beats up on, but I seem to be his favorite "target." I try not to pick him up when he's in one of those moods if I can avoid it, because it's rather hard to block someone from smacking you in the face while still holding that someone.

I understand aggression in the context of a meltdown. Been there, done that. With both Bearhug and Cuddlebug, but Bearhug in particular would go into a rage, running around shrieking and grunting, tackling everyone as hard as he could or swinging his arms wildly to hit anyone in his path. Sometimes I worried because he was getting big (he was 5 and big for his age) and I wasn't sure how I would handle his hitting, pushing, and kicking once he got bigger. I remember many times having to put baby Bitty into his crib (which Bitty hated) to keep him out of harm's way while I tried to deal with Bearhug. Mostly that just meant trying to keep him from hurting himself or anyone else until he calmed down. He threw things sometimes too, I remember once he threw his night-light at his bedroom door, shattering it.

Once he calmed down, it was as if nothing had happened. One minute the storm was raging, and in the blink of an eye it was blue skies and birds chirping. He'd go on about his business, seemingly with no recollection of what he'd been doing just a few minutes earlier. Meanwhile I was usually a wreck by that point. As he matured a little more, he started saying, "sorry, Mama" when it was all over. And then he finally stopped having rages like that at all. Thank goodness.

But Little Bitty's aggression is different. Granted, he has those rages sometimes too where he just goes ballistic. But I'm talking about the times he's just hitting and throwing for no apparent reason, and he's not upset or melting down. I think it is at least partly sensory-driven. He seems to crave the intense sensory input he gets from hitting and I know his pain tolerance is higher than most people so he probably doesn't realize that it hurts. (Despite his "kiss mah boo-boo" routine, I think that just came from me asking him to kiss my boo-boo as a way to try to communicate that it hurts when he hits us).

Our latest strategy is to try to replace "hit" with "hug." So when he comes over and says "hit!" and I see that arm swinging, I'll say "hug!" and grab him (quick, before he can swing) for a big, tight squeeze. Our hope is that this will give him the sensory input he needs without hurting anyone. And it also helps that it's hard for him to hit us while he's giving us a hug. He certainly can't reach our faces that way :).

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes we argue. "hit!" "no hit!" "hit!" or "frow!" "no throw" "frow!" (insert flying train here) (duck and cover).

I know we're not the only ones dealing with this. I make jokes about it but in reality it is truly exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Short of actually investing in body armor, I'd love to hear any suggestions y'all have.

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Meg on April 29, 2009 at 11:04 AM said...

My son was a lot like Bearhug with his meltdown rages, including the throwing. Boy am I glad that stage is (almost) over!

I love the substitution you're doing with LB, a great way to show him appropriate physical contact. If he really seems to need that hitting sensation though, maybe get him a kid sized punching bag (a real one with weight to it, not a clowny/air-filled type) that he can use. Explain that it is the only thing he's allowed to hit, but that he can hit it as much as he wants.

Definitely sounds like a sensory issue you're dealing with, good luck!

Andrea on April 29, 2009 at 11:39 AM said...

We did all that you are doing until Reid got to be bigger and his unpredictable outbursts became the primary barrier to his leaving the house. At age 14, I finally succumbed to a medication (Abilify) that has dramatically reduced the aggression and explosivity by 99%. Until then, you might also define safe and "unsafe" for him. Reid had a teacher who modeled this for us by telling him she would intervene if he was being unsafe. (ie. restrain him which he hates). "If you cannot control your own body then others will have to control it for you." That is truly the way of the world as we prepare them for adult life. As he approached adolescence I was able to see this reality. He is so much more confident, secure and sociable now on the Rx. Peers do not duck and cover or scatter in fear, when he enters a room or boards the school bus.

Sticky (not too) on April 29, 2009 at 1:10 PM said...

That stuff is so hard! I love the hug instead idea. Sounds like a great way to try to get him used to a "choice". We had a bit of that and one of the mothers I met in a parent support group had it a lot worse. We tried the "you hit, you sit" approach. Most of the time, the aggression was really focused on Mom. Nice, huh? So I explained that hitting (biting, kicking, throwing) was hurtful and so not allowed. If he "hit" (hurt) he had to sit on the step. Because it happened places other than an home - "you hit, you sit" would happen whereever we were - grocery store...where ever. We got the point where he did understand that having to sit wasn't worth it. The important part - for us -was that there was no discussion, no barganing. You hit - you sit. Then quiet. Just a minute or two. Enough to let him remember he had hurt me and off we would go.
I don't know if that helps, or even if it would work for you...good luck, sweetie

Amazing_Grace on May 7, 2009 at 6:52 AM said...

Back at 5 Minutes For Special Needs you posted that you wanted any suggestions for dealing with aggression. Here is something that I hope might be of some help:

lonestar on May 7, 2009 at 8:26 AM said...

Thanks everyone for the suggestions and encouragement!


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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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