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Thursday, April 30, 2015

What to do about hitting???

I'll start by saying that from what I've read, the majority of kids with autism are not aggressive.  By saying that Janey is, and that her hitting and other aggression are becoming a big problem, I'm not saying that's a trait most kids with autism have.  However, some do.

I say this because I think there's a reluctance in the autism community to really talk about aggression.  We don't want our kids with autism labeled as being aggressive.  I can understand that.  But for those of us with kids that are indeed prone to acting out aggressively, talking about it openly is important.

Janey lately has taken to hitting me whenever she is denied something she wants.  As you could guess, that means a lot of hitting.  Any request that's reasonable and do-able, I do respond to positively.  However, as anyone whose ever had children knows, not all requests are like that.  When Janey wakes at three in the morning and wants to go to the store, or when she decides she wants to wear a bathing suit to school, or when she wants to watch her TV show during the one hour of the week that Freddy is watching a show, or when she wants Daddy to come home immediately in the middle of a work day---well, we can't always say yes.  And more and more, our saying no is met by her whacking me hard in the face.

The problem with almost all methods I've seen cited for dealing with hitting are that they assume two things Janey doesn't really have---impulse control and an understanding that other people have feelings.  I can say firmly "No hitting.  That hurts me."  Okay, but for that to do a bit of good, Janey has to be able to think before she hits, and she has to care that she hurts me.  At this point right now, both of those are beyond what she can demonstrate.  I'm not saying she can't control herself at all, or that she has no compassion.  I'm saying when she is angry, whatever amount of control and compassion she does have are out the window.  When she is calm and  happy, she might be able to use some self-control and to be very sweet and caring toward me, but when she's calm and happy, she's not hitting.

The other big theme I see often used in talking about dealing with aggression is to figure out the cause, as if somehow doing that will fix the problem.  Well, in most all cases, I know the cause.  The cause is being told no.  It doesn't take rocket science to understand the cause of Janey's aggression when she says "Want to go to the ice cream store!" and I say "Not right now" and she hits me.  I don't think there's a hidden reason or a lack of communication there.  She states plainly what she wants, I saw no, and she hits me.

So---how do I deal with this?  For now, what seems to work best is a riding out the storm method, a "least said, soonest mended" kind of thing.  As hard as it is, I try to react minimally to being hit.  If I show pain or anger, that escalates everything.  Janey is hugely responsive to tone of voice and to the mood of a room.  So my natural instincts, to scream "STOP HITTING ME!", put things into a state where it's very unlikely Janey IS going to stop, or going to understand why she should stop.  If I can walk away, ignore her as much as possible and try to as quickly as possible get things back into a good mood state, the net results seems to be a reduced amount of hitting.

However, it's not always possible to stay calm.  Janey is getting bigger all the time.  Her hitting isn't just a nuisance---it hurts.  It hurts a lot, and as she gets bigger, she is going to be able to do serious damage.  And even if I somehow are able to remain calm, I can't expect the larger world to do the same.  I get the brunt of Janey's hitting, but she's certainly been known to hit her brothers, and occasionally, kids at school, teachers and staff and more.  How can that be dealt with?  Frankly, I just don't know.

I don't enjoy writing about Janey being aggressive.  I wish more than anything that the whole issue would just go away.  But I don't think it's fair, to me or to Janey, to pretend that it doesn't exist.  As she gets older, more and more I am going to need help with this.  I'm going to need help to physically stay safe, and keep Janey and others safe, and by being honest now, I hope I can help us, and others with kids like Janey, get that help.

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