Friday, September 3, 2010

Have We Hit the Teenage Years Already?

My son is changing. Gone are the days of automatic obedience. O.K., it was *never* automatic, but he's definitely challenging us and rules more and more, and often now just decides he's going to do something and does it without considering whether or not he should seek permission.

His anger is also getting worse. Or maybe it's his way of expressing that anger that's getting worse. I'm not sure which one is true. Now Jeff has always struggled with anger - it's his "go-to" emotion, for one thing; the one that seems to come out no matter what other more subtle emotion might be at play (frustration, fear, loneliness, embarrassment). As a toddler, anytime he got hurt, mad, scared, disappointed, he'd deal with it by hitting his parents. We spent nearly two years trying to get him to do other things except hit us - lots of time outs, removal of things from around him, sticker charts and rewards, etc.. We finally told him, when he started hitting his preschool teachers, that he would earn one spanking on his bottom for that, because we just couldn't figure out what else to do. Oddly enough, the threat of a swat worked - he only hit his teacher twice after that. Received two separate swats, and he was done.

Wish that would work as well now. Well, O.K., not really. I'm not really a spanker, don't like the idea of it, but know that 90% of parents do it at least once, and I have done it on occasions like that. But what do I do with a 9 year old who now is having increasingly physical reactions to anger again? He stomps, he bangs, he slams doors, he throws things in his room. Nothing has gotten broken yet (including him), but I'm sure it will. And I find it kind of scary.

I would like to say I'm one of those perfect moms who never raises her voice. I'm not. I try to stay calm and rational. Sometimes it works. Other times, I, um, raise my voice. I don't scream. I don't say mean, nasty insults. But I do get mad and I yell. So I know where it comes from and how it feels. I still struggle with anger, too. But not like this. In my HEAD I want to bang things and break things and hit things with a baseball bat. In real life, I don't. I do tend to go for the cookie dough... but that's another issue entirely.

So I'm not sure what to do with this kid who now feels he's old enough to make decisions on his own, but breaks down into fits of rage that are totally inappropriate. Last night he and his sister got into a fight while a babysitter was there. She sent both of them to their rooms to settle down. After a few minutes, he announced to her he was done being in his room and was coming out. She said, "Um, no - you're not." He screamed he hated her and slammed his door very forcefully and threw a fit in his room. My Lord, what do I do with that? Luckily the babysitter was very calm and told him when she was here, everyone was expected to treat everyone else well, and that her rules must be obeyed. And she had him stay in his room until he was calm. Exactly as we would have done. So she wasn't fazed. I was aghast and appalled, but she seemed fine with it all. Bless her.

But I don't know what to do now. Certainly there will be a consequence for that behavior choice, but Brett and I haven't figured out what it will/should be. And will it make a difference? When he gets lost in his anger like that, it's like he can't control himself. Last weekend we went to a church festival for kids (luckily not OUR church, and you'll see why...). Jeff decided he wanted to go in the bouncy castle with a slide. When he got to the bottom of the slide, however, I could tell immediately from his face that something was wrong. I thought perhaps he'd scraped himself on the slide, until he stood up and screamed "STUPID IDIOT!" at whomever was behind him. I said, "No! Jefferson, come here!". And he came running at me, crying, yelling that the kid behind him had pushed him, and lifted his arms and hit me. Hit me. His mom. I retrieved his shoes, as it was clear to me now that we had to leave, and as we were walking to the car, even as I was saying we don't call people names like that, he turned around again and screamed "STUPID IDIOT!" toward the slide area. I lost it and yelled "NO!" at him. In front of all those nice church people talking about God's children. I was mortified by it all.

I was also flummoxed. What to do with this? He stayed in his room for the day. We talked to him about name-calling and about hitting me ("sorry about that," he mumbled in response to my sadness at being hit, so at least he knew that was wrong). And we asked him how old the kid was who'd pushed him. "Probably four," he said.

Four? A four year old? And you're screaming "stupid idiot" at him? Granted, the kid should not have pushed Jeff. And had he been calm enough, we would have stayed there to work it out. As it was, I cried in shame. And I've been watching as the reactions seem to have gotten stronger, more intense, and over what seems to us to be ridiculous stuff.

I asked him this morning if he thought his behavior toward the sitter was appropriate."No," he muttered. "I was angry in that moment." I told him that's not an O.K. reaction to being angry, to which he replied, "I wanted to get my anger out but I don't know how." That's often his response these days - he needs to get the anger out but can't figure out how. I guess that's a small sort of recognition.

See, here's the other thing: I *know* anger issues are a major struggle for people with Asperger's. I've read that time and again. What I haven't read is how to really help with it. We have worked with Jeff a lot on things to do to calm down - run, jump, pound a pillow, count in his head, deep breaths, etc. We even had him work one on one with an occupational therapist to try to help him recognize when he's getting too worked up, and teach him some things he could do to calm back down when it was happening. But he doesn't do any of those. It's like he goes from 0-100 in a second, and all those options to slow himself down, they go right out of his brain. We know giving him time to calm down is about the only thing that works, but what do we do with the fits and violence?

I seriously wonder when I see these fits, when I hear him talk about how it's always someone else's fault, if I have another Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold on my hands. It's scary to me, how much anger this kid has and how little he sees his own culpability in it (or in the things leading up to it). He can bang his head on a cupboard and be convinced the cupboard leapt out and hit him - and that he has to pay it back and teach it a lesson. I spend a lot of time explaining that inanimate objects are, in fact, inanimate, and cannot think or do anything. He remains unconvinced.

I'm going to look into a counselor to help him and us with this issue. But in the meantime, it's scary to me, to have a 9 year old kid acting like this. We haven't even fully hit the tween years, much less teenagehood and actual puberty. If he's this prone to anger and physical reactions now, what's it going to be like when the testosterone is fully unleashed?


  1. Could it be stress that is causing him to be more angry lately. Change can cause stress, how is the school year going (all what 8 days of it)? From my experience, kids act out more when they are stressed. Maybe when he is calm talk to him about school and see if something there is bothering him. Or maybe it is just being back to school, and all the change related to that is bothering him. Just a thought! (((HUGS)))

  2. Anne, I HIGHLY recommend the book The Heart of Anger, by Lou Priolo. One of my children seemed to be overly angry when they were young and so I read it, and I thought it was fabulous.

    -Donna Clyde