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Autistic 12.5yo niece hitting/biting/kicking her mother

(35 Posts)
Tweetinat Wed 15-Dec-10 16:12:32

I'm not sure if this is in the right place so please forgive me but I'm trying to get some information for my SIL.

My DN is 12.5yo and suffers from autism. I don't know all the details so am unclear where on the spectrum she falls and she may have other issues as well such as tourettes but again, I'm not privy to all the details. She has just been given some medication (sorry, don't know what) but it doesn't sound like its working.

She has always suffered terrible anxiety and anger problems but this used to be expressed verbally. Recently however, she has taken to being very physically abusive to her mother and the family dog - hitting, biting and kicking. Actually, it's not limited to them - anyone who tries to intervene to restrain her is getting attacked and the house is just permanently trashed.

Last weekend me and DH were at the in-laws when DN and SIL arrived from picking her up from horse riding. We heard some sort of argument going on - the jist being that she couldn't have her laptop as a consequence of something she had done. They ended up staying in the hallway with DN shrieking that she must have her laptop, kicking the walls and radiator etc. Eventually, SIL said, right - we're off home then if you're going to be like this and FIL took them home in the car. When he got back, he was very shaken and upset as DN had basically attacked her mum and the dog when they got home, bitten her mum very hard and then hurt FIL when he pulled her off the mum. SIL then sent me a text apologising for not staying (to celebrate my birthday) and basically confessed that this has been going on a while and she is at her wits end and doesn't know what to do. Apparently she called the police out a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to get social services involved, but 10days later they only just contacted her to say there was nothing they can do.

I am very worried for my SIL and obviously my DN. She is a single mother and has no one at home to help and support her. I haven't got the first idea where she should go for help - she mentioned that she wants to do a course on how to restrain her daughter safely but is not getting referred. Please, can someone please advise what they think the best course of action could be? Is there any organisation I can refer her to or has anyone else been through this and can offer any insight?

Tweetinat Wed 15-Dec-10 16:14:08

Just to clarify:

The police came out and were extremely helpful but it took 10 days for SS to contact my SIL after this.

purplepidjbauble Wed 15-Dec-10 16:23:57

I don't really know what you would do in this situation but didn't want to read and run.

Perhaps contact the emergency social services number and cry a lot? Or GP, either for DNiece or her mum?

Is there anyway you or another family member could go to their house and give her a few hours respite if you don't already?

In the short term, I would suggest clearing her bedroom of everything except the bed (curtains on velcro strips, if she pulls these down) and then, when she gets aggressive, put her in there and close the door for 10-15 minutes, then check she is calm. If not, a further 10-15 mins; if she's calm, she can come out and rejoin the family. At least that way the rest of the house would stay safe and her bedroom would be a calm, distraction-free place for her to sort herself out.

There is often a link between medication and behaviour, so a different brand of the same drug, or soemthing else int he same family, may not have this side-effect - talk to the GP/HP prescribing.

HTH. You sound like a lovely, supportive Auntie smile

zzzzz Wed 15-Dec-10 16:42:53

She's 12.5, I'm guessing hormonal and having a temper tantrum. I'm guessing that if saying "no laptop" is a standard punishment, that she is pretty high functioning. That is she has an IQ of 100ish min. So the question is, is this poor/immature rage/frustration management, or is it a reaction to whatever drug she is taking, or perhaps even an indication that some anxiety reducing medication might help? I think since your sil hasn't shared her dx with you it is hard to be of any help. What I would say is poor impulse control is not only limited to Autistic children or to adolescents but she has both going on at the moment so her Mum could probably do with a hug now and then. Your neice would benefit immensely from any one to one time the family can provide. Nothing impacts a childs behaviour more than feeling good about themselves and feeling valued by their family.

magso Wed 15-Dec-10 16:47:05

I feel for your SIL and DN. ( Ds is a tall 11 and can get very upset -!
I tried to get restraint training but was not accepted because restraint is only safe if at least 2 adults are involved. So parents are left to get on with it untaught!
There should be a section of SS for disabled children which may be able to help. (I say may guardedly!! - your dn may not be considered within their remit if she HF) Your sil could ask for a carers assessment. There tend to only offer support when the childs or parents welfare are in dire danger - so not making light of the situation!
Another source of support might be local parents of children with ASD - parent carer support groups - sometimes run courses as do the NAS ( national autistic society).
Your SIL GP may be able to refer to a challenging behaviour unit or CAMHS as available.
I hope your SIL and DN get support soon.

purplepidjbauble Wed 15-Dec-10 16:56:44

Physical restraint doesn't necessarily need 2 people, and is not necessarily an actual restraint, just a way to guide someone along.

Approach from 45 degrees to their rear, if possible. It's less threatening. Start with a hand on the shoulder so they know you're there. Slide your hand into position.

Always hold a long bone, eg forearm. NOT the wrist/elbow as that's easier to damage. Tuck their elbow between your ribs and theirs.

Put your opposite hand with the palm on top or the arm so that they can't hit you in the face. Tuck you closest foot just behind theirs. Place your closest hand on their shoulder to steer them.

I am NOT trying to train anyone to do physical restraints. I have over 5 years experience using them, but am not a trainer and do not recommend you use my advice unless it is a dire emergency as it may prevent someone getting hurt.

ommmward Wed 15-Dec-10 17:01:09

Also worth your sister thinking really carefully about her style of interacting with your niece.

For some children, conventional parenting styles lead to huge amounts of conflict. And the age when a child is getting as strong as their parents would tend to be the time when it becomes most obviously problematic. Maybe your sister could be thinking about working with your niece as a team to help your niece become as independent and safe as possible, rather than trying to control her?

Also, for some children, computer time is a really necessary part of them regrouping after a traumatic experience. Using computer withdrawal as a punishment would be a really bad idea for such a child.

And of course, how a child responds to the world around them and the family culture in which they find themself is going to depend massively on their own personality and needs. But I can say that a culture of punishment and rewards would be a total disaster in my house smile

Tweetinat Wed 15-Dec-10 19:19:04

Thank you all for responding so quickly - I had to dash and wake DS and then give him his dinner and DH has only walked in the door.

Lots of food for thought here and I will definately make some suggestions to the SIL in case she hasn't thought of them yet.

The only reason I don't know more about the dx (diagnosis?) is because we only ever see SIL when DN is there and so we don't discuss her condition in front of her. (It's not a secret with her btw - she knows she has autism but it's never nice to be talked 'about' when you're right there). I'll see if I can get some 1-2-1 time with the sister and find out what I can.

@purple - I can see where you're coming from about clearing her room out and giving her a distraction free place to calm down. I know that DN has no regard for her own possessions (has broken various Nintendo DSs and other 'treasured' toys before) but it does make SIL very upset to see her trash her stuff. Definitely one that I'll suggest and see what she says.

We have offered repeatedly to take DN for a weekend to give SIL a break but she is very reluctant to do so for some reason, so we don't want to push it. Horses are the one thing that will calm DN and I have a number of friends with their own so I was going to take her to groom and exercise them etc, but I think SIL is concerned that this might send the message that if she is naughty enough then she gets 'rewarded' with the things that she likes.

@zzzzz- Again, I can see what you're saying. I know DH and I have wondered how much of this is down to her special needs and how much is just extreme (rather than typical) teenage behaviour. I suppose we just believe that violence for whatever (or either) reason is not acceptable and want to help SIL find the best way of managing it. FIL asked my opinion over dinner and I was very reluctant to have any say as I don't want to say anything that could make the situation worse.

Re: giving DN 1-2-1 time is something that I feel very strongly about and something that I have repeatedly suggested. There is a very bad relationship between DN and the dog which (in my belief) is because she feels that SIL 'favours' the dog over her and that her needs are always secondary to the dog. SIL does call the dog 'her baby' and 'her little girl' so there is definite jealously going on and I have wondered whether the bad behaviour is an attempt to get her mum's attention. I suggested that SIL and DN go away for the day together without the dog or the GPs but I don't think they've done it yet.

Also, I wonder whether there is an 'un-healthy' dependance on the GPs. Obviously, as a single parent with a child with special needs she relies on them heavily, but they live in each others pockets. They are always with each other or texting each other (SIL and her Mum) and do things both days every weekend. Quite often DN goes to stay with GPs for the weekend and I know that in the past she has very much resented this and wanted to go home. I'm wondering whether this is affecting DN somehow as, like with the dog, she rarely has any 1-2-1 time with her mum...

@ magso - thank you for the suggestions of where SIL could go for help. I will suggest some of these to her and see whether she has tried before and what response she has had. I think she is waiting for an appointment with CAMHS at the moment, but again, I don't know for sure.

@ommmward - you make a very good point about parenting styles and I know that this is something that I think SIL struggles to know what is the best. In the past SIL has not tried to withhold Nintendo DS/Laptop as a form of punishment so this is 'new' from what I can gather. Clearly it is causing much conflict and I know that the GPs are urging SIL not to bother as it is 'not worth the aggro'. I know SIL carried through the threat on Saturday as she is also worried about not following through on her actions and the message that that would send also. Do you have any suggestions on good books that I could buy for SIL about discipline for children like this? I think the reason SIL resorted to witholding the laptop is that DN cares about nothing else. She just carries on regardless. I think she feels trapped into conceeding to her every tantrum and any other consequence is just ignored and she wants some way of controlling the situation.

Oh my, this post has turned into an essay. I'm very thankful for all the advice.

Tweetinat Wed 15-Dec-10 19:19:47

Sorry, in my post GPs refers to grand parents...

purplepidjbauble Wed 15-Dec-10 23:15:41

If taking away the computer stuff works, go with it. You can either keep the peace and she learns that her behaviour has no consequences or you can be big bad mean mummy - but only for a week or so, until they learn what to do to avoid it happening again wink

ommmward Thu 16-Dec-10 09:42:24

Hmmm. Google Alfie Kohn or maybe Jan Hunt, the NAtural Child Project. See if that helps. Or Deborah Jackson LEtting go as Cchildren Go. THat's the kind of vibe I'm talking about

embracingtangents Thu 16-Dec-10 10:26:18

For an autistic child who lives totally in the present, with no concept of future time, taking the laptop away for a week is too long. To the child this is like taking it away forever.

My DD is eleven. The strain of autism, puberty and starting secondary school has been enormous. We have seen the worst behaviour ever from DD this term. So you have my sympathies OP.

DD uses laptop to calm down/chill out. DD looks forward to laptop time after a hard day at school.

I have found that treating DD like a much younger child seems to be bringing her round. I help her more than ever now, with everything and frankly I spoil her a bit which goes against how I believe you should bring up a child. BUT DD has Asperger's Syndrome which means she is super sensitive to what she perceives as unfair or unjust. (Is this why your DN isn't getting on with the dog?) DD is also super sensitive to critisism.

I think the laptop can be used to your SIL's advantage, but with a more gradual approach e.g. DN is allowed an hour, but will lose 15 mins if x behaviour occurs, then 30 mins etc.

Could your SIL phone CAHMS for an emergency appointment? Explain how badly things are going and the violence that is now happening?

Good luck OP

zzzzz Thu 16-Dec-10 11:14:58

I totaly agree with the "treating like a much younger child" from embracing. DN sounds like she is functioning on a much younger emotional level and expecting her to behave in a NT way and have the sort of impulse control a NT child would have is just unrealistic. This is really the challenge, emotional maturity many years behind peers, but still all the same stresses and hormonal issues. I feel for her. Imagine dropping a bright NT 6 year old in secondary school and then complaining about their reactions.
The violence has to stop, but a week is way to long for a 6 year old, and that sounds about where she's at, for any form of punishment. I would still come at it from the building up her happiness and self esteme, and I think the other behavior will become more manageable.

purplepidjbauble Thu 16-Dec-10 23:21:46

Following on from what embracing said about being allowed an hour then taking away time...

I have had a lot of success with AS teens using a token system. So, for everything you want them to do they earn time on the computer - just like earning money to do jobs.

So, for example, getting up, washed and dressed in school uniform by 8:00 gets 5 minutes. Eating breakfast and cleaning teeth by 8:15 gets 5 minutes. Packing school bag with lunch, drink and correct books by 8:30 gets 5 minutes.

That's 15 minutes to look forward to by the time she leaves for school smile and can be continued when she gets home.

Set a maximum time for how long she can use it (an hour is reasonable on a school night) but no minimum. So, if she earns tokens to the value of 1 hour per day, she doesn't have to use those tokens that day - she can save them up and have extra time at the weekend.

Also, you can give special bonus 10 minute tokens - for eating 5 pieces of fruit or veg in a day, for doing the washing up, for getting a good grade at school...

Play money could be good, or make your own from thumbnail pictures of something she likes (cover of her favourite computer game?) with the number value on.

Keep the things she needs to do to earn a token the same every day, and have them written down were she can see them.

HTH smile

purplepidjbauble Thu 16-Dec-10 23:22:45

Oh, and make sure Mum has control of the power cable - tokens can be exchanged for use of the cable for a set amount of time wink

zzzzz Fri 17-Dec-10 10:02:01

Purple I like that plan! You clever old thing. I'm thinking pebbles in a jar here, nice a visual.

embracingtangents Fri 17-Dec-10 10:28:59

Good post purple.

Its reassuring to read that you have had success with this with AS teens.

I read about this in Brenda Boyd's books.(Parenting a Child with Asperger's Syndrome 200 tips and strategies) She calls it the token economy.

Someone on here mentioned Tony Attwoods "Scales of Justice" not long ago and I'm starting to work with that too. (So thank you to the person who posted that!) I think this will be good as DD has a huge sense of injustice and and feels she can do no wrong!

How are things today OP?

purplepidjbauble Fri 17-Dec-10 21:11:00

Thanks, guys, glad you like it!!

I've had a bit of experience of writing reward schemes when I worked in residential education. It's a bit ABA, I think.

Find what motivates the person. A meal out, money, new lego, a weekly magazine, time on the computer or a particular game...

Decide what you want them to learn. For example, personal hygiene routines (you don't want to institutionalise a person, but some things are just easier if you get into a habit) so, a token for: having a shower, brushing hair, brushing teeth (twice a day), putting dirty clothes and towels in the laundry, putting clean clothes away properly, making the bed... Thats 7 already, which could add up to 70 minutes of important wind down time at the end of the day.

Decide how long you want them to do it for before you up the stakes - 3-4 weeks is pretty reasonable.

Some children respond well to short term reward - what I do today earns me a lego man or brick. Older kids might prefer to work towards a bigger prize - I had a very successful one with a 15 year old working on emotional literacy, he earned a magazine every week. Or, they might want a big prize. So 6 months work could earn them a whole Hogwarts Express lego set in one go...

Tweetinat Sun 19-Dec-10 18:09:35

ommm & embracing - thank you so much for those book suggestions. I think I will buy some of those for my SIL and see how she gets on. The 'scales of justice' on sounds interesting - DN sounds exactly like your DD in that regard embracing.

Just to clarify, I don't think she's tried taking the laptop away for a week - I think it's only been on an evening basis on the days she has been particularly bad, and I totally agree that taking it away for such a long period wouldn't work with DN as she wouldn't connect the punishment with the 'crime' as it were.

I think you have it on the money zzzz and embracing that she is functioning at a much younger emotional level and your posts have really helped me understand that much more clearly. She had really grown over the last 12 months physically and it's really easy to fall into the trap that she's becoming a teenager and as such needs to start behaving less like a child and more responsibly. I will definitely suggest to SIL to think about this. I'm not sure what NT means though if someone would mind clarifying!!!

purple - I love your token system and am actually quite excited as I think it could really work with her. She's quite competitive and I think this would really encourage her to get on with what she needs to do without her feeling nagged into it.

I haven't spoken to SIL this week as my DS and myself have been ill and the snow completely scuppered our normal saturday evening together, so I'm off to send her an email now with all your suggestions.

I'll let you know how she gets on...

Tweetinat Sun 19-Dec-10 18:27:37

embracing - I've just looked for the Tony Attwood book you've mentioned but can't find 'Scales of Justice' - do you happen to know the exact title? Thanks

purplepidjbauble Sun 19-Dec-10 18:34:58

I really hope it works, Tweetinat. Will you let me know?

I'm not a parent to an SN child either, I work with adults with learning difficulties and have worked with kids in the past, but the lovely folk here let me hang about and are very supportive. Stick around!

ommmward Mon 20-Dec-10 11:32:42

NT = neurotypical

Tweetinat Thu 02-Jun-11 13:08:57

A very long time later and I have an update for those interested!

DN and SIL spent 6 weeks in a residential centre having a combination of indivdual, group and family therapy. Was a tough 6 weeks and the build up was horrendous as DN was adamant that she wasn't going; she punched a hole in the wall at one of the visits and it took 3 people to get her in the car for the first few times... However, 2 weeks in and she didn't want to come home at the weekends and by the end she was very sad to be leaving her friends.

The improvement in her behaviour though has been phenomenal! She has turned a corner and is trying so hard to control her temper, be polite and considerate. It's amazing. She has up as well as down days (don't we all) but the violence is no longer there and the arguments are much less.


signandsmile Thu 02-Jun-11 19:28:32

thank you so much for coming back and updating, I remember your original post.

Eveiebaby Thu 02-Jun-11 20:57:41

What great progress smile- thanks for updating it is very interesting to hear outcomes of situations.

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