I’m sure every parent has to deal with some annoying habit or behavior from their child. I think this is more challenging when your child has limited or no verbal ability. I try to think that everything she does has some purpose behind it, no matter how strange it seems to me. It can be hard to strike a balance between figuring her out and not spending all my time analyzing every move she makes.
Dealing with her sensory seeking behavior is easier for the most part. She usually seeks out the same types of activities, and if I let her or redirect to something similar she usually gets it out of her system after 10 minutes or so. Even a year ago she could spend 20- 45 minutes jumping on the trampoline, laying/rolling on the beanbag or under cushions.
She has been really obsessed with water play. She will not let me do the dishes, wash my hands or anything involving the sink by myself. She actually shoved me and said my turn. This gets old quick, but it is better than playing with her saliva on the window which was a favorite activity just a few weeks ago. Sometimes when I have totally had enough water play I can redirect her to play dough. I think school is partly to blame for this obsession. They have a water table and the teacher has them wash dishes and cars and dolls and their clothes. She makes it very fun.
The chewing seems to come and go in intensity. Sometimes I think it is in reaction to being overwhelmed. Other times I think it is boredom. She is getting better about not chewing on her books, chewy toys and access to toothbrushes have helped with that. She also understands that she is not supposed to chew on books and will stop when she is caught. What drives me crazy is when she chews on her sleeves. I don’t know why those slimy sleeves bother me so much, but they do. She was doing that all the time over the summer. Now it seems like she only does it when her sleeves are wet. And of course she hates having her sleeves pulled up to play in the water, so with all the water play her sleeves are wet fairly often. I have found the cure is to change her shirt. She can’t stop chewing on the wet sleeve, but she doesn’t chew the dry shirt, at least for the moment.
One of the most difficult behaviors to decipher is throwing. Throwing things just for the heck of it can be fun, at least for small children and definitely R. She likes to hear the sounds that different objects make, and she likes to watch where and how the objects fall. She will throw things in anger, or sometimes it seems like she throws things just to exert control over something.
When she throws something in anger, I try not to show a lot of emotion unless it she’s tossing chairs over (thankfully that phase is mostly over) or doing something dangerous. I have been working for years now on getting her to say something instead of throwing, hitting or screaming when she is angry. I started with just saying Ohh or Arrggh, now I’ll say Hey or Stop. I am hearing her say hey spontaneously occasionally. I’m sure it will take a long time for her to learn to express anger.
The throwing that seems to be for no reason, or when she sweeps everything off a table or a shelf can be maddening because of the mess and because of my desire to know what she is thinking. Autism Mommy Therapist wrote about her son in the post Ninety-Nine Questions, and this helped me come to a better understanding about this type of behavior. She writes:
I try to derail him from his compulsions to reorganize and recatologue because he can’t ever seem to force his configurations into coherent order. His attempts,sadly, seem only to leave him in greater distress.
With R., I don’t get the sense that she is in distress, it is like a restless seeking. Sometimes she seems more frustrated than others. But the idea that this behavior is an attempt to reorganize her world seems to be accurate to me. It helps me decide how to respond. I would like to let her do what she wants, to an extent. At home I’ll let her go to town with one group of items – the contents of her toy box or a book shelf, but I will put them away when she goes on to the next group. Some people say that you should force the child to help with the clean up, but that is counter productive with R. at this point. I find if I put things away, she will join in at least half of the time. And I have actually seen her put a few things away on her own, although she does then often knock them back over.
This kind of throwing behavior is usually the worst on rainy days off when we are mostly stuck inside. I think it means she is bored. She is usually quick to become frustrated or angry during those times. Often after school and therapy she just seems to want to do what she wants, she wants to knock things over and throw. But she is incredibly happy, laughing, talking and singing, and engaging in some appropriate play along with the throwing.