Helping Your Other Kids Cope with Their "Special Needs" Sibling

"My autistic son (high functioning) is 11 and my youngest son is 4. My 11-year-old verbally attacks my 4-year-old and my 4-year-old just stands there looking dazed and confused. How can I get my 11-year-old to stop doing this and how can I protect my 4-year-old from it? It is really starting to take a toll on my relationship with my husband. (The 11-year-old is his stepson and the 4-year-old is ours together.) Not to mention the toll it is taking on my 4-year-old. He loves his brother so much and wants nothing more than to spend time with him. His feelings get so hurt when his brother yells, screams, calls names, and tells him he hates him. I have tried sending 11-year-old to his room, talking to him, taking things away, watching the situation and trying to stop it before it happens, but it happens so quickly, it’s hard to see it coming. What can I do?"

First of all, find a time when you and your husband can sit down and have a talk with your 11-year-old, without the 4-year-old being present. Calmly, each of you should tell him how sad and upset you feel when he yells and screams at his little brother.

The goal is to make him feel guilty about this behavior and to understand that it is unacceptable. Point out to him how awful it would be if you and your husband acted that way toward him. Ask him how he would feel if you yelled, screamed, and called him names. Be specific describing such a situation to help him understand how bad he would feel. Then make the point that his little brother feels the same way.

Tell him that he cannot continue yelling, screaming, and calling names and that if he does, he will be punished. The punishment should be “time out” in a room (other than his bedroom) alone for 15 minutes with no fun activities available to him, following by apologizing to his brother.

Do this every time he acts inappropriately. Each time after his time out, sit him down and explain again why he must not act this way and that it is unacceptable. Find out why he had “a meltdown.” Help him find an alternate way that he could have handled the situation. Have him practice it. You may have to do this many, many times.

To stop verbal abuse, you may need to use other forms of behavior modification as well. You must determine the need that your son’s behavior fulfills and teach him a replacement behavior. For example, if he yells when his brother uses his things, teach him to come to you with a single code word, and when he does, help him handle the situation. This takes time. If the youngster is severely out of control, then removing the youngster from the situation is required. As you know, this may be easier said than done.

Behavior modification should be started early. You may need the help of a counselor or psychiatrist to help you deal with this now before it escalates into physical abuse. Hopefully your 11-year-old will learn to communicate the cause of his anger and get his needs met by doing so. Unfortunately, kids who get what they want because of misbehavior are likely to continue and escalate such behavior.

Your son may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or another disorder in tandem with high-functioning autism. Some theorists claim that ODD is a result of incomplete development; the ODD youngster has never completed the developmental tasks of normal kids. The youngster is stuck at the 3-year-old level of development and never grows out of it. In this case, medical intervention may be necessary.

Another theory about ODD is that it is a result of negative interactions, possibly interactions that occur away from home. This theory states that having successfully used anger and abuse as a way to get needs met, the youngster continues to use it.

ODD does not usually occur alone. About 35% of ODD kids have an affective disorder and 20% may have a mood disorder, such as Bipolar Disorder. Other ODD kids have personality or learning disorders. It is imperative that your son is evaluated for other disorders.

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Here's what other parents have had to say:

*   Anonymous said... Social stories on sharing, correct behavior, controlling outbursts, etc.. are a good start. it seems the communication level is way off between the brothers. the age difference is the most obvious, but also, how they approach one another. It's hard for the 4 yr old to understand AS, so he'll approach his brother when the mood strikes, not knowing if his older brother is even approachable at that time. I see this with our 15 yr old son & our 6 yr old son w/AS. I would suggest that you ask your son's doctor/therapist about Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT). We did this for 6 months & it made a world of difference. It teaches you & family how to communicate with an AS child, how to set rules/boundaries & discipline efforts that really work!! I was amazed at the positive changes in our lives!! It takes a month before you see changes, but stick with it... positive changes will come!! Praying for your family!!

•    Anonymous said... I have given my daughter a trashcan and told her to say her words in it.That way everybody knows that it is not intended to hurt them,just an Aspie out of control.So when she needed to say things she could grab the trashcan.Incidentally I don't think we have need of the trashcan much anymore.Same thing when I taught Kindergarten many years ago and the potty mouth years emerged.I just told they kids they could only say those words in the bathroom and to feel free to go to the bathroom and say them to their hearts content.When they figured out it wasted their playtime they quit.Of course,there were not Aspie kids but the daughter and the trashcan are.

•    Anonymous said... Recommend reading and applying 'The Explosive Child' by Dr Greene - explains why rigid, chronically inflexible, easily frustrated children have meltdowns & how to handle situations

•    Anonymous said... This is one of my biggest struggles with my 13 yr old and 8 yr old. This has always been very difficult to deal with, and hard to figure out where to even start. For me it is not his choice in words, but seeming apathy and dislike for her. She asks often why he hates her, and has begun to take every word he says personally.

•    Anonymous said... About protecting your 4-year old- watch for the pre-signs that your son is having a hard time, or escalating- sometimes they go from 0-10 with no warning, but try to find out what his triggers are and remove them. For example, the trigger may be video games, so remove all electronics preemptively. If he becomes escalated- remove your 4-year old immediately to another room, and back away from your son- do not give him any verbal, as he most likely cannot process verbal information when he is escalated coming at him. Give him space most importantly, and remove your other children from the room to protect them. We have been fortunate to have home ABA services and it has changed our home environment completely, we have 2 other young children which their lives have also improved since the therapy in the home. This is long-winded, but I really hope your son gets the services he needs smile emoticon

•    Anonymous said... My 12 year old aspie will verbally attack his 11 year old sister. She has learned over time to (with our direction) that he doesn't mean it, and doesn't have control. When he triggers, she's trained herself to walk away. When she was younger we used hand signals. So when her brother would start to escalate we'd give her the signal and she would walk away. It took some time for her to understand the signal, but once she was old enough to understand her brothers behaviors she walks away before he escalates. They play together extremely well now! There are still times when she has to walk away, but she knows what will trigger his behaviors and is in more control.

•    Anonymous said... Thank you so very much for all of the invaluable information! I am on the site and I am also going to post more here on the page.

•    Anonymous said... We use many strategies from Michelle Garcia Winner on socialthinking.com to help our son know what is expected, what is unexpected and that other people form their opinion of you based on your actions within social situations. Writing it down in a chart helps our son "see" it. Hope the information is helpful for you.

•    Anonymous said... You need to get a home ABA therapist to help your son, this is not done intentionally and is not in your son's control- he needs to be taught these things explicitly and in a supportive, understanding, therapeutic manner. Your school system is required under IDEA to provide these services to you as part of his IEP- they will typically give you a bank of hours, such as 25 hours at a time. But, the important thing is- not all BCBA's are the same- you need to have someone who knows what they are doing, i.e. experienced, Master's degree prepared at a minimum and with the BCBA certification. Hope this helps, but just remember that your son is not doing this on purpose.

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