autism awareness

Hitting – He Didn’t Learn It From Me

Wow! look at that unruly child hitting and the parents doing nothing.

I bet they spank and hit at home.

Well, where did he learn it from?

That child needs some serious discipline.

These are actual thoughts I’ve had seeing toddlers hitting and smacking other people. And now I’m sick to my stomach because my sweet little boy is hitting too and none of these statements apply. We’ve never, ever raised a hand to him. He didn’t learn it from me, or school, or YouTube .

The truth is, despite trying to find a balance between discipline and self regulation, he’s going through a lot of changes and this behavior started spontaneously. But it’s not the first time we’ve been through this.

When our autistic son was about 15 months old, before he had language or any means of communication, he started hitting us and his therapists. He would even hit himself in the face and on his head. He was frustrated, uncomfortable, tired, or whatever mood that wasn’t super happy resulted in a slap. It was heartbreaking! He was stuck in his own mind, hurting himself, and pushing us all away.

Through very intense Early Intervention though, we worked through it. Using hand-over-hand methods, providing appropriate communications, offering choices and replacement behavior, eventually the hitting stopped.

A few months ago, now at age three, he’s hitting again. This time he’s lashing out at other kids and teachers in preschool.

I’m worried the other parents will take action. I’m worried he’ll get kicked out of preschool, the school that provides developmental services he desperately needs. I’m worried we won’t be able to get it under control like we did when he was a baby. Why do these behaviors keep rearing their ugly heads back in our lives? Why can’t he just have an easy time and play with other kids?

Our teachers have given such an amazing insight to his life in school. In complete opposite to the sweet, giggly boy we know at home, at school he’s defensive, severely cautious, and on high-alert. There’s tons of noises, unpredictable toddlers everywhere, and adults giving him directions and requests. This isn’t an environment he can control, where he can hide if he’s overwhelmed. So his hands go up.

Now we’re working with his teachers to help him adjust, learn to cope, and use language when he needs a break. But it’s frightening and frustrating to be a mama in this situation. He’s such a sweet, loving boy, but is anyone else getting to see that? I feel the need to constantly apologize and defend him – this is not who he is, we’re working through it, it’s not from anger, please just give him a moment.

Have you been through this with your autistic child? What worked for you?

*If you have any concerns about your child’s development, contact your pediatrician, or school district special education department for an evaluation.*

Previously posted at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine.