April 2, 2015 11:19 AM   Subscribe

My son is 8 yrs 9 mos, non-neurotypical. He refuses to do a lot of things, causing lots of issues and ugly scenes. Other parents of non-neurotypical children, what strategies do you successfully use to fight inflexibility and refusal?

Partly, its hard for me to tell what is part and parcel of being an 8 year old boy, and what is him being him.

Some examples:
- Flat refusal to do certain schoolwork (currently he refuses to participate at all in classroom-assigned reading groups and also in some homework, leading to poor grades). He is more than capable of actually doing the work, he just doesn't want to and so flatly refuses. He's also refusing to participate in a classroom-based art project. He has been assigned a book by his teacher to read before the end of the year, which he "lost" in an attempt to avoid the work and I now have to replace at some cost. To be clear: this is work that he is well within his range of skills, he just finds it dull.

- Often, flat refusal to leave the house on weekends, leading to a) us being trapped in the house on weekends, because we can't leave him home alone b) angry, ugly scenes, and c) sometimes (I'm not proud to say) bribery, which I am fully aware is only teaching him that if he pitches a fit he will get a reward. Once we get him out the door its fine, but the actual act of leaving - even with a LOT of transition support - can be terrible. (I HATE YOU. I DON'T WANT TO LIVE WITH YOU.)

- In general, a huge about of whining and complaining and shouting and fit-pitching when asked to do even the simplest thing (like brush his teeth or get dressed or put his dishes in the sink). When told it is time to turn of the TV or put the Kindle down he often refuses and then refuses to relinquish the remote or the Kindle, leading to embarrassing scenes of his father or I attempting to remove the object from his hands. In this situation threats of punishment and loss of privileges simply hold no water - "You will lose access to the Kindle for a full week unless you hand it to me right now" elicit nothing.

Often, he complains that we constantly order him around, but we only resort to the ordering when polite requests, reminders, and stronger (but still polite) requests don't work. I hate being the Mother who Shouts and Orders and Punishes ALL THE TIME but that's where it comes down to. I had visions of a cooperative family where we worked together toward a common goal, but instead its constant head-butting over simple things.

We already use lists, reminders, checklists - all the regular tools for dealing with a disruption of executive function. He takes medication to deal with impulsiveness. I try to compromise with him when possible and reasonable - a request for five more minutes I'm normally happy to indulge if it doesn't mess up the overall day. But there is no compromise in return, and I fear that I'm failing at teaching him the skills necessary to compromise and be responsible.
posted by anastasiav to Human Relations (43 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Can you clarify what the consequences of these actions are for him, aside from having a frustrated parent?
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I think we may need more clarification on your part, since I'm wondering if he is aware of future consequences, and if he even cares about what happens for the consequences?

As someone who actually was this child - I really hated the absolute lack of agency that the authoritarian school imposed. It was also deeply frustrating, because my lack of executive functioning made simple by step tasks frustrating and confusing, and it emotionally and physically hurt to 1) try to do them, do it wrong, and not be able to figure out why it was wrong 2) seeing other kids do it effortlessly and then be like, "Why can't you do it?" 3) The teacher being overwhelmed with handling other kids and I didn't feel heard. Everything was also stupid, repetitive, and not deep enough.

Combined with an early morning start time and cajoling by my mom to follow directions, the only thing that made me happy was the chance to pursue my own interests. I was happiest when I was left alone to read. Being asked to do more chores or more activities when I already didn't feel ownership earlier on in the day already pissed me off greatly. However, I didn't have the awareness as an 8 year old to communicate my unhappiness, because I thought there weren't other options...

My mom and I didn't have a great relationship growing up, and she was very worried about being too 'shouty' like you are. This continued all the way from elementary school to high school. The only reason why I was able to buy into the school system was realizing that 1) I was too smart to not go to college 2) Playing the game 3) stumbling into a really awful depression. It was only after I went to college and became a feminist and did many activities that were attuned to my heavy interests, and got extreme amounts of validation, did I feel okay. I was 19 years old by then :(

And now I'm 22 and struggling to heal and repair all the scars of that before. My mom and I also have had a really great relationship after we came to terms and talked about the difficulties that both she and I experienced, and how the system really wasn't supportive of either of us. She told me of all the times she went to parent-teacher conferences, and realizing how inflexible the teachers were in accomodating me and nurturing my talents, but also she wasn't necessarily sure how to get support either :( It's a lot.

Have you thought about unschooling, or alternative forms of education that gives the child more agency to decide their emotions? He may also be a gifted child who is asynchronously developed, so I would look that up from a resource like SenGifted.
posted by yueliang at 11:38 AM on April 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

One resource that's helped me with my kid is we have a family therapist who's judgement I trust. She is almost more of a coach than a therapist and does give advice but in a way that keeps me as the parent the authority. We've gone to her on and off at rough moments and it's helpful because she can give me trustworthy feedback on what to let go of and what to stand firm on. Other parents tend to be self righteous and judgemental and don't know what it's like to parent a complicated kid, so their judgement is suspect. Having a smart, trustworthy consultant has been great. Not a cure - all, but helpful.
posted by latkes at 11:38 AM on April 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

BTW this therapist is a parent of one grown kid who had lots of social emotional challenges and also of younger kids. The fact that she had this personal experience is probably key to her awesomeness.
posted by latkes at 11:41 AM on April 2, 2015

I think you may need more supports than AskME can provide.

I also have a non-neurotypical son. He's 6. I don't know what your son's issues are, but I'd strongly recommend looking into options to create a positive behavior plan within your home life.

Even if his issues are not autism, you may find that Applied Behavioral Analysis can help assist you. This Center just recently opened near you, and even though it is autism specific, they may be able to point you to resources more in line with your son's needs.

That said, I know how difficult and frustrating this is. My non-neurotypical 6 year old can be very much like this and it can be VERY HARD. When we finally found a behavior plan that worked at school, it really helped at home. If he qualifies for an IEP and has support services at school, then it's time to call one of them and ask how you can apply the school services in your home setting --- what can you do as a family that is consistent with what the school is doing. And if he is on an IEP and not making the improvements he should be, then it's definitely time to adjust the IEP because if it's not working for everyone, it's not working.

If your son is not on an IEP or has not been evaluated for one, it sounds very much like he should be in order to fully benefit from the free and appropriate education he is guaranteed.
posted by zizzle at 11:44 AM on April 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

This sounds like a job for a child psychologist.
posted by discopolo at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

To be clear: this is work that he is well within his range of skills, he just finds it dull.

You need him assessed by a qualified professional. Your son is most likely "twice exceptional" -- gifted and disabled. He is being an asshole in part because his mind is starving. This is partly because kids who are very bright and also have some kind of disability have inherent challenges in trying to get their minds adequately fed. But it is probably partly because his real need for appropriate mental stimulation is going unrecognized.

He may need to be grade skipped or put in gifted enrichment or get some kind of accommodation for his giftedness. It will be challenging to get this when he also has other issues, more challenging than it normally is.

I homeschooled my extremely twice exceptional sons and I used to be "director of community life" for a voluntary health and welfare organization that serves the gifted. At the time, the organization was trying to make the transition to tax deductible charity. They never made that transition but they still exist. There is a list of resources I used to be familiar with here: self link

I will recommend you join some kind of online group for parents of gifted kids. If you do not deal with how smart your child is, you will not be able to fully resolve this. These kinds of problems are really common with bright kids, and are more common and typically more extreme with 2xE (twice exceptional) kids.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2015 [10 favorites]

Refusal to do schoolwork, refusal to go places one doesn't want to go, and complaining about chores - the three primary concerns above - are completely normal behaviors in children of almost any age. Even neurotypical children can and do fight about these things with substantial ferocity or persistence. I know I did.

These behaviors are so common and typical that it makes it difficult to give advice without an understanding how your child is non-neurotypical.

The classic answer is to have the parent express the need to perform the activity to the child without excessive emotion, to explain what the consequences of both compliance and non-compliance are, and then to enforce those consequences after the child acts. It sounds like you're doing your best to do that.

In my opinion, the most common issue with discipline is that the positive or negative incentives the parents use are ineffective, because they are either not adequately linked with the behavior, not consistently applied (so the child takes neither a threat or a promise seriously), or the ones offered do not matter to the child. A substantial amount of work is usually necessary to find both punishments and rewards that are not only fair and appropriate but also resonate with the child. Without knowing more about your son, we can't reasonably provide recommendations for that.

I do have one recommendation, though. In the Kindle situation, make the punishment something clearly related but that doesn't involve wrestling the Kindle away, as you really should avoid initiating physical struggles. "If you don't put away that Kindle in one minute, your DS is getting locked up for the week." "If you keep using that Kindle after (end time), you're going to get (bland, less favored food) for dinner." Similarly, with the remote, you shouldn't wrestle the remote away - you either state a consequence that will take effect but doesn't involve the remote itself, or, if absolutely necessary, you pull the TV's power. Try and let the consequences of the behavior do the talking, without escalating the situation verbally or physically.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2015 [33 favorites]

I think family therapy could be a good idea or even individual therapy to address some of your parenting issues. I'm a reformed/reforming yeller, too. My mother was too. It's a parent problem. Yelling can be very harmful.

I think eight-year-old kids are still so very young and it's important to pick your battles. My kids are neurotypical. My nephew has autism and my sister (his mother) is a behavioral therapist and has follow through down to a science. I do not, so I watch what comes out of my mouth. Never say what you won't do. When you say you will take the Kindle away for a week, will you actually do that?


1. The child is right. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JooO_c3tBs4 (Naomi Aldort's book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves is a very good book. A must read).

2. Empathy and Investigation. You may think the child should be doing something because you said so or he knows better. Instead of shouting orders it might help to talk with him and ask what's going on. If he has autism this may be more difficult Your child sounds frustrated and it sounds like he isn't being heard or understood.

3. Yelling goes in one ear and out the other. I use one word when my kids are distracted and I need them to do something. "Shoes" "Shower" "Homework" etc.
posted by Fairchild at 12:04 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I can't give you targeted advice about your specific situation but I just wanted to say that there are many who consider Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to be abuse, so if you pursue that route with your son, make sure you see and are comfortable with the therapy he's receiving.
posted by Nickel at 12:09 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

ABA therapy is often coupled with PBIS (positive behavioral intervention support) these days. Those who think it abuse are looking at its history and not its present incarnation.

ABA is not necessarily a solution for everyone or everything. No therapy ever is. But as one tool in an arsenal of tools, it can make a profound difference for the family as a unit.
posted by zizzle at 12:18 PM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I empathize; this sounds a lot like my son. If it helps, things got better when he hit middle school and both had developed more maturity and was better challenged by schoolwork.

Consequences are meaningless for some kids; mine would decide he didn't care about whatever we removed from him in those circumstances.

What worked best (and I can't say it worked awesome; they were terrible years, but this was the only thing that seemed to help even a little bit, other than allowing him to direct his own activities as much as possible) was spending as much positive time one-on-one with him as possible. Playing Settlers AGAIN or wrestling or listening to him ramble about his inventions, etc. with full attention and patience kept our relationship from completely breaking down despite all the stress, and sometimes I think contributed to him behaving more reasonably because he remembered somewhere in the back of his mind that his father and I did do good things for him and just might be worthy of respect.

Godspeed. Feel free to memail me if you think it might help.
posted by metasarah at 12:24 PM on April 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't want to derail the thread, but I work in the field and there are still many, MANY, people who are practicing ABA as it was originally conceptualized. Like the site I linked said, there are also lots of therapists who are nominally ABA therapists but are actually doing good things with children. That's why I said to make sure you actually see the therapy that's being performed and make sure you're comfortable with it.
posted by Nickel at 12:26 PM on April 2, 2015

Response by poster: Ok, a few clarifications:

- He has a good team, and a diagnosis and an IEP and in school accomodations. He gets OT, PT, and school support. He is fully verbal and super intelligent (yes, likely "twice exceptional"). That is fully covered. I hear the suggestion of a family therapist, but oy! the idea of YET ANOTHER therapy appointment seems awful. Particularly since talking about himself is one thing he REFUSES to do ("What songs did you sing in Chorus today?" "I'm not answering your boring questions.")

- Unschooling or homeschooling is not an option, because work. We offer a lot of enrichment opportunities, but he largely tries them once and then refuses them. His mind may be "starving" but he doesn't seem to want to feed it with anything other than gaming YouTube videos.

- Consequences are almost always loss of privileges, which is pretty much always tied to screen time because its the only thing that really motivates him. He is aware of future consequences but doesn't seem to much care. Reward systems (sticker charts, even money) have historically had zero impact. I worked in an ABA preschool for years, and in the lingo I would say that we've never ID'd a motivator for him EXCEPT screen time.

- We almost always try to include him in things like chores vs. assigning them to him (ie: lets put away your laundry together, can you help me move these chairs so I can vaccuum, please help me load the dishwasher, etc.). I do spend a ton of time (too much time, in some ways) giving him agency about what he wants to do, but my hope is that there is way to find balance and compromise between what he wants and what he must do, and that give and take doesn't seem to be there yet.
posted by anastasiav at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you are doing a good job. My kids don't care about loss of privileges either. They will sit in their rooms happily without technology and they are very much into technology.

After your follow-up, I don't have any good suggestions except for advance warning and ignoring whining. I used to get in trouble and have massive power struggles when there was refusal and uncooperation. Now I just say less. Explain once, give a friendly reminder and just do do with it. If they are crying all the way to the car, so be it. Ignore the best you can, I guess and put a positive spin on things. We are going to have so much fun on Saturday on our outing. I have a kid who never wants to go anywhere so I give him a day in advance to process that he won't be playing video games all day on Saturday.
posted by Fairchild at 12:45 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

If screen time is a powerful motivator for him, can you give him more screen time as a reward for doing the things he has to do but doesn't want to do? When my daughter was young, she was very much like you describe, and I'd use a double-tiered reward system wherein once the thing was done, she'd get her reward no matter what, but if she did it willingly without fighting, she'd get a bonus. So for example, when she had pinkeye, she would get a Jolly Rancher after the ointment went in her eye even if she kicked and screamed and hollered -- but if she was calm and let me put it in WITHOUT fighting, she'd get two.

Make this offer before the fighting starts so that the "bribery" aspect doesn't come into play. Maybe something like "If you do all your schoolwork, you can have 20 minutes of screen time afterwards. If you do it all right now without fighting, fussing, or delaying, you can have 45 minutes of screen time afterwards. There will be no screen time until your schoolwork is done, though." And then no matter how much he screams, hollers, tantrums, rolls around on the ground, whatever -- you just stick with it emotionlessly, leave the room if you have to.
posted by KathrynT at 12:50 PM on April 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

My son matches many of the things that you describe plus a dose of explosive.

If it helps here is what had worked and not worked:

Nurtured Heart - total fail. Just didn't work for him.
You Can't Make Me (but I can be persuaded) - Some degree of success. Our most effective way of getting buy-in from him is to try to get him to believe that it was his idea.
Reward/token system - fail - he can figure out a reward system and will game it in his favor.
Spelling out consequences - helps relieve some problems on the far end, not in an "I told you so", but that the consequences aren't a surprise, but can also ramp up anxiety. So for example, for homework, it becomes a matter of getting on his side (wait - who the hell are you and what have you done with my parents?) and saying, "sure no - you don't need to do this. Not at all, but here's what will happen..." be realistic and avoid exaggerating.
For mealtime, when he can be at his worst, we've started to live by "you don't have to eat" as a response to everything. We taught him how to cook eggs. He knows how to make cereal.
posted by plinth at 12:59 PM on April 2, 2015

With screen time motivation, we have had success with a ticket system. Each day starts with so many tickets, which might be lost or gained based on behaviors. Also, I hear you about adding another appointment, especially if it's something that might be met with more resistance from him, but how about therapy for YOU? I find my therapist is extremely helpful in providing me tools to work through difficult situations in various relationships in my life, as well as other stressing situations, of which this is certainly one. Even if your son isn't there, your therapist might help you schuss out what works and what doesn't or provide some additional tools for your arsenal.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:00 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the clarification, he's a lucky kid to have so much care and support in all of those ways.

I second the "say less" affirmation. It might be more powerful for him to realize that there is an absence, and that his lack of committing to actions may actually help in him realizing that he has to take responsibility for everything else. When he is no longer in sync with the rest of the household or school, he may start feeling left out and then start looking for the positive aspects of the situation to contribute. Letting him fill in the gaps on his own is important. Leaving the room, setting your conditions and boundaries, and leaving is really helpful. Reverse psychology also sounds silly but it works too...

These are tactics that my mom used with me when I was particularly unable to name my needs but also was extremely uncooperative. I still giggle actually when I think about it, because I realized that I was just so clouded from all of my own confusion and it was another way my mom decided to stop trying to take responsibility for overly guiding my direction, when she herself wasn't entirely sure what to do sometime. I had to work it out on my own, and suffer the consequences in the meantime for not figuring it out faster. I'm really glad that she allowed me to fail.
posted by yueliang at 1:01 PM on April 2, 2015

Perhaps your family can celebrate a Screen Free Week together. It won't solve all of your problems, but eliminating screen time in a way that isn't presented to your son as a punishment might be a good way of getting him to find other ways to entertain himself. Long-term it also might be worth considering limiting his screen time to a fixed number of hours a day or week or until after all of his homework/chores are done.

During summer vacation my cousin gives each of her daughters (they are both close to your son's age) seven hours of TV that they can watch a week. Once they use the hours up there is no more TV for the rest of the week. The time doesn't roll over, so if they don't use the hours in the week, they can't carry the time over into the next week. She has found that they tend to save up their hours during the week to "splurge" on weekends, but by the time the weekend rolls around, there are usually more interesting things to do than watch 7 straight hours of TV.
posted by TheCavorter at 1:04 PM on April 2, 2015

Is ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) on the table at all?
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:14 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No
posted by anastasiav at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2015

Response by poster: I mean, he's had a huge bundle of evaluations over the years, and its never come up even once.
posted by anastasiav at 1:23 PM on April 2, 2015

Can you speak to what his diagnosis is as well as strengths and deficits? That can help clarify a response.
posted by kinetic at 1:28 PM on April 2, 2015

Response by poster: I'd rather not put all his technical info on the internet. He's spectrumy, and has issues with impulsiveness, along with some more technical issues with his handwriting. He struggles with reading social situations and making friends in general. He's the classic weird smart kid in a lot of ways. Eye contact. That sort of things. He's wickedly intelligent and very empathetic (but shows it in strange ways). Amazing imagination. High level reader and very interested in STEM things. Math is easy. Bored in school and many of his social things come from struggling to make connections over things his peers are not yet ready for. Clumsy. Still cannot ride a bike safely (partly due to balance and partly due to his tendency to be distracted). Very attached to me and concerned for my approval (despite what my husband calls my Mr Rogers approach to parenting). Dislikes being in big box stores (probably sensory) but doesn't have the classic sensory issues (tags, etc.)
posted by anastasiav at 1:37 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

He is fully verbal and super intelligent (yes, likely "twice exceptional"). That is fully covered.

If he is refusing to do work because it is dull, no, that part is not fully covered. When my youngest was in 3rd grade, every night, we spent an hour tearing our hair out trying to get him to do 10 minutes worth of math work. When he was properly assessed and found to be at 4.5 grade level in math and then given 4th grade math, the nightly fights stopped. He began doing his math without complaint.

You are describing behavior that is consistent with a child who is being asked to do schoolwork well beneath their ability.

- Unschooling or homeschooling is not an option, because work.

Please note that I did not suggest you homeschool. I suggested grade skipping or enrichment. I additionally suggested you join an online support group. In the past, these were typically email lists.

We offer a lot of enrichment opportunities, but he largely tries them once and then refuses them. His mind may be "starving" but he doesn't seem to want to feed it with anything other than gaming YouTube videos.

This behavior is consistent with serious 2xE problems. He tries them once and then refuses because they don't work for him. This strongly suggests that his strengths are masking his weaknesses and a lot of work hits him in a weak area in a way that makes it just NOT work for him. We tended to burn through a lot of resources with my sons. If it didn't work, they quickly rejected it. If it did work, they slurped it up in record time and asked "can I have more?"

So, for example, I bought "The Cartoon Guide to Genetics" and that was my grand plan to keep my oldest occupied for the next six weeks. He read it in 3 hours. Half of it got read in the car on the way home from the bookstore while I ran errands. His brother read it over the course of the next three days. I felt like a fool for spending the money and wondered why I hadn't gone to a library instead. I could not keep my oldest in science resources. I resigned myself to looking for what we called "science snacks" because he just gobbled up good science resources like it was candy and just could not do a lot of other stuff. The fact that he either rejected it or inhaled it meant there was a chronic dearth of science resources, no matter how hard I researched, networked, and generally looked high and low.

The gaming YouTube videos your child favors are information dense but pre-digested. This works really well for some 2xE kids. Both of my adult sons to this day watch a lot of "Let's Plays" -- which could be described as gaming YouTube videos. When my oldest son does not get adequate mental stimulation, he starts losing his mind and making folks around him crazy. He was 16 before we finally had enough pieces in place for him to stop being a pain in the butt all the time.

- Consequences are almost always loss of privileges...

All of the details you gave (loss of privileges, stars, etc) are fundamentally manipulative approaches to behavior modification. It seems to work okay with a lot of neurotypical people who have sufficient flexibility that if they just feel socially motivated, they can make the push and get it done. But it has a poor track record with gifted kids who are often very high minded and have a strong sense of ethics or even just logic and don't like it. It has an even poorer track record with 2xE kids who outright lack the flexibility required to rise to the occasion.

Finding things that worked with my sons very often involved figuring out what the sticking point was and removing it from the equation. It took a lot more than just lighting a fire under them. They often simply could not do some thing that seemed simple to me. It was not simple to them. They just lacked some particular ability. Trying these very common manipulative approaches to dealing with them was akin to yelling louder at a deaf person in hopes they would hear me or offering stars to a blind person if they could just suddenly see. It just didn't work and putting more effort into it didn't make it suddenly work.

Consequences also worked best if they were inherently tied to the thing I wanted to happen. Let me give you an example of what didn't work well and an example of what did work well:

Their dad liked to take away video games as punishment for behaviors that had absolutely nothing to do with video games. This really bombed with my sons and it basically taught them to hide bad behavior from their dad. If he walked in on them fighting, they both closed ranks and lied to their dad and claimed it was a play fight and resumed fighting after he left. It bred resentment, distrust and disrespect for their father.

In contrast, I only took away video games when the game itself was the source of the problem. So, if they were fighting because of the game they were playing or if they were fighting about which game to play, that could result in me locking up the video game. If they could resolve their issue and come to an agreement, I would give the game back (something their dad would not do -- he just kept it for some arbitrary amount of time in order to cause suffering because he operated on a punishment model and I operated on a discipline model).

So I would take the game and lecture them that games were for having fun and they were doing it wrong. They learned from that to not fight over a stupid game and, instead, to negotiate which game to play, negotiate who went first, and not have a big fit if they lost and so on. They learned to treat games more lightly and enjoy them and not get all wrapped around the axel about them. That was the goal I wanted to accomplish and it went really well.

I'm sorry you are dealing with such a challenging situation. I used to hurl myself on the bed and cry when my oldest was little. It took a long time to get answers that made sense of the situation.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:02 PM on April 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Since he's spectrumy, you're looking for specific advice as opposed to general parenting stuff because as you know, he doesn't respond to typical parenting approaches.

A few things I'd try: get him a pet that gives him responsibility and ownership, something that is all HIS, something he can bond with.

Next, reverse the screen time/consequences approach. Instead of taking it away, he has to do X, Y, and Z to earn it. Every day resets to zero, and he is always given a choice of what to do to earn 5 minutes. Does he want to use the Spongebob toothpaste or bubblegum flavor? Does he want to vacuum or put his clothes away? Always offer a choice and let him earn 5 more minutes each time.

Once time is earned, he can't ever lose it. This way, he's earning things for doing well but he still has choices.

When he has screen time, provide him with a timer. I know he's young and with executive function issues I would bet his sense of time is not strong. A timer will help him understand what 5 minutes feels like, etc. When he has 10 then 5 minutes left, he gets reminders, not warnings. The reminder shouldn't be that he's about to lose screen time, instead it's a reminder that in X minutes he will give you the screen and then he can either (whatever works) have ice cream or have M&Ms. Again, make it a choice.

About leaving the house, you need to get out and do something he enjoys. Use that memory to preview, preview, preview. "Remember when we did ____ when we went out last weekend and had so much fun? Today we're going to ____ and you can get Skittles or Nerds!" Also, think of places to go that are not overstimulating, like bowling alleys, malls, big stores, crowded anything. Science museums maybe? Kayaking?

It sounds like his school is not entirely onboard with his disability. What's the goal? For him to read? Then he should be allowed to pick a book. To do an art project? Again, he should be allowed to do his own. It may be time to call a Team meeting and talk.

And as far as therapy, no spectrumy little kid wants to talk about their day or feelings; it's stressful and makes no sense to them.

Lastly, overall...the less words you can use, the better. Don't overwhelm, say it once, maybe also write it on a whiteboard so you can say it once, leave the board, and walk away. Kids on the spectrum can be easily overwhelmed by what they perceive as too much talking. So be careful about that.

For years I was an elementary autism specialist; please feel free to memail me if you want other tips. This will get better.
posted by kinetic at 2:07 PM on April 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

To be clear: this is work that he is well within his range of skills, he just finds it dull.

Are you sure it's dullness? I was a lot like your kid, I think. Aspie, smart, flat-out refused to do stuff I didn't want to.

Reasons why I didn't do school-related things were usually because I thought they were silly, insulting, or somehow demeaning*. In 4th or 5th grade my class had to perform a "history of music"-themed performance. It was silly and insulting because it was stupid "educational" lyrics put on top of classical music, fake Beatles tunes, and general awful kitchiness. I was even required to be part of a "solo". This was where I refused- there was no way. It was not going to happen. They capitulated and let me "sing" in the choir the entire time. It was still awful but I at least exacted some compromise.

Give me a project I remotely liked, or book I remotely enjoyed, and I was on board. Building models of a modern harbor? So down. Draw an imaginary city? Can do. Read The Hobbit? Yeah, man. I'll probably resent having to answer Book Club questions, but I will read it.

With screen time motivation, we have had success with a ticket system.

A teacher (2nd grade?) tried this on me and my class, except the motivator was Red Vines. I resented it mightily. Hate hate hated it. Worked on everyone else, though. On the plus side, I wasn't motivated by Red Vines so I just gave all my tickets away and made friends. Not sure how that would have worked with screen time.

*You must think I'm a joke! I'm not going to be part of this system... I'm an adult! You can't buy me, hot-dog man! is not far off
posted by BungaDunga at 2:41 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Are you sure it's dullness

That's what he tells me over and over. In the case of the book and the reading group cited above, he's asked to read a book aloud to his peers for 5 minutes, then listen as they each read to him for 5 minutes. They get to pick the book. In the case of the "lost" book, we're trying to get him to read the god damned Phantom Tollbooth which seems like it should be a perfect pick for him in so many ways, but he has refused to even open the book for reasons he cannot really explain.

Reading something assigned - even if you hate it - is an essential skill, and one he needs to master. I'm all on board with letting him fail if that's what it takes, but I'd prefer to find a way to encourage him to succeed even though its not his choice.
posted by anastasiav at 3:05 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

In the case of the book and the reading group cited above, he's asked to read a book aloud to his peers for 5 minutes, then listen as they each read to him for 5 minutes.

It's not the book, it's the peers. The other example you mentioned has to do with working with other kids. I would guess that he's overwhelmed by the peer expectation, not the work. It's possible for him to meet academic expectations without forcing him into a social interaction that causes him anxiety; the teachers need to get it right.

But he says dullness because kids don't have the vocabulary to say what it really is.

Reading something assigned - even if you hate it - is an essential skill, and one he needs to master.

No, not at his age it's not. If they want him to read, then let him pick the book. I teach high school and and even at this age we make arrangements for kids on the spectrum about reading material. At his age they want him to read.

A lot of what you describe seems like situations where he has no control. I think it will only help if people start letting him have some agency in his life.
posted by kinetic at 3:29 PM on April 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

I hate being the Mother who Shouts and Orders and Punishes ALL THE TIME but that's where it comes down to.

This isn't intended to be a panacea for all of the problems you list or anything but one thing that was a turning point for me was when I realized I'm the mom who yells every morning and after having a particularly bad morning we had A Talk about how that's a really sucky morning.

Anyway the solution we've been having success with is that we queued up a song to play each morning at 7:55 and that's the signal to do x,y,z -- so it's not me propelling us forward anymore, it's the song. It's much more pleasant (it's a They Might Be Giants song; playful, fast-paced, kid-friendly, fun).

Although I now have that particular song playing in my head all day, most days.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:06 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Recently when I got a lot more strict about certain things, it triggered the massivest freak out. In retrospect I wish I'd warned her first. So if you decide to implement a major parenting strategy change, I do suggest you give a heads up first.
posted by latkes at 4:46 PM on April 2, 2015

I would get a family therapist for six appointments - maybe even an online one so you and he can do sessions together without the struggle over leaving the house for appointments - and ask them to help you mutually negotiate a discipline plan. I have different strategies for each kid of mine - one needs just a list of tasks and positive encouragement, the other one, I had to hold his wallet hostage last night so he would walk the dog. Completely different approaches that would flip them out if I tried on the other, but they work - kid does job, kid is reasonably happy and not angry at the discipline. Part of that is sitting down together when we're both in good moods and negotiating standards and motivations and consequences, with the parent getting to veto but not dictate the plan.

Family therapists are problem solvers and negotiators/mediators more than talk therapy type stuff. This is a problem they can help you and your son figure out the framework for this.

Also the homework and screen time - if it works as a reward, do it. I totally bribe with videos and books and game time in different ways (one kid I confiscate devices for bad behaviour, another gets to pick shows within a very restricted time slot as too much screen time makes the kid go kablooey, another has unlimited time after completing all homework and revision because he's self disciplined enough to handle that as an incentive).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:50 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the case of the book and the reading group cited above, he's asked to read a book aloud to his peers for 5 minutes, then listen as they each read to him for 5 minutes.

I was an advanced reader as a second grader, and found listening to other children read aloud SCREAMINGLY BORING. (I did not actually scream. I did cope by reading ahead, which means I read the ends of some assigned books six or seven times.)
posted by yarntheory at 4:53 PM on April 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

Yeah, there's no real reason he should have to be reading aloud or listening to others read if his level is high enough for The Phantom Tollbooth!
posted by bookworm4125 at 5:54 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

He sounds a lot like one of my kids at that age. Two things that helped for us were one - asking her how she would feel about the consequence rather than just threatening the consequence. Helping her identify that connection made a big difference although we struggled with teachers who thought it was emotional blackmail. It wasn't - it was framing things in a way that actually mattered to her.

The other thing we did was agree with her on a code word - like a safe word - that we would use when she was ramping up to get very upset and wound up. She chose the word and agreed it was her special private reminder to stop and think and take some deep breaths. This worked better over time but it really did help.

We did end up shifting to an alternative very supportive school situation at around that age and it made a huge difference as well. That 8-11 or so age range was honestly harder than the teen years with that particular kid. From what you're saying you may find the same experience - it will likely get a lot better as your son gets more agency and learns more how to advocate for himself about how he is feeling and what he needs.
posted by leslies at 6:08 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds so much like my nine year old son. He's neurotypical, an absolute angel at school, and has been diagnosed with ODD, so not the same issues, but the behaviors are very very similar. Things have been getting a bit better for us, but we're still deep in the struggle, so I can't tell you what works, but I can tell you what we're trying.

The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child is supposed to be research based rather than just some guy's opinion, and it was very helpful. I wouldn't say we're using the Kazdin method, but it's definitely influenced our approach. We've used some of his techniques with our non-ODD (just stubborn) kids as well and seen some benefits there.

We generally try not to respond at all when he's being defiant or aggressive and just focus on encouraging the little glimmers of good behavior we get here and there. If he's being nasty, we send him to his room until he can act better. No other consequences, since any response at all on our part tends to escalate the behavior. Don't feed the troll. It doesn't sound like your son is as aggressive as ours, so isolation in his room might not be necessary. Disengaging when he's defiant helps us to keep our cool as well. It's super frustrating when your little boy flat out refuses to listen to you and there is not a freaking thing you can do about it. He's not the only one struggling with feeling powerless - and it can be rage-inducing for both parent and child. Sometimes it means he gets away with something he shouldn't, but helping him learn to get along in the long run is more important than whether this particular dish got put in the dishwasher or this particular homework assignment was done on time.

The threshold for good behavior is very low. For example, "Thanks for cleaning up your dishes right away when we asked you to! Good job!" We let it slide that he's actually supposed to clean up his dishes without being asked and that he grumbled about how much his life sucks the whole time he was doing it. We're focused on improvement over total defiance, however slight the improvement may be. It's bothersome to praise him for things that should be baseline behavior, but we have to remember that for whatever reason, it ISN'T baseline behavior for him right now. It's really hard for him to give up that control and let someone else be in charge.

When he refuses to leave the house, Kazdin recommends, and it works for us most of the time, focusing on baby steps. When he says he won't go, don't engage. Just say, "We're not talking about that. Right now I would just like for you to put your shirt on." Once he does, praise him and move on to the next step. When he starts the refusal again, say "We don't need to worry about that, just go ahead and put your shoes on." He's more likely to agree to each little step if you're giving him attaboys rather than arguing with him about the BIG THING he doesn't want to do. And by the time you're ready to actually leave the house, he's been agreeing to so many little things, it's not such a big thing any more.

HabitRPG is a productivity/habit-building app that we've been for our whole family using with some success. You have a character that levels up, finds pets, and goes on quests by completing tasks. It's not designed for kids, but it is kid-friendly and it appeals to our game loving boy. For our other kids, we use it for normal chores and kid behavioral issues. For him, we've got things like "Pleasant Morning," "Be Nice," and "Listen to Parents." When he does one of those things, he gets XP & gold for his character, which he can spend in game for equipment or for custom real world rewards that we create just for him. There are other apps out there that are designed for families, but they are either a bit too little-kiddish for him or they have the kids compete against each other or something that would not work for us.

Screen Time Parental Controls is something we have just started using but I already love it. Unfortunately, it's not available for kindle yet, but they're working on it. The kindle parental controls might have similar functions. It lets us set limits for not only total screen time, but what apps he can use at what times of the day. And it lets us lock up his tablet remotely either temporarily (at dinner time, for example) or for longer periods if he loses it as a consequence. No more physical struggles to take it away from him. So far, it seems to be reducing the conflict. He objects less to a pop-up screen telling him his time is up than to a parent bossing him around and telling him he has to get off now. He doesn't like it, but I'm hopeful that it will lower the anger and resentment levels. It doesn't work on the TV or computer, but if it removes conflict from one little part of our lives, it's helping.
posted by Dojie at 8:38 PM on April 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

I wanted to reiterate and speak to the importance of earning screen time as opposed to it becoming something he loses.

I'm sure you know from ABA, there needs to be a desired reinforcer. For your son it's screen time. That's great; it makes this easier.

You need to reframe screen time as something he earns for doing the right things, not something he automatically gets for existing but can lose if he doesn't follow your (arbitrary to him) rules.

This method works much better than punishment because it shifts the focus of your parenting to the positive. When he does something well, he is rewarded. When he doesn't do it, he doesn't get punished, he just doesn't earn the thing he wants.

As to he doesn't help move chairs when you're vacuuming, etc., why should he? What's in it for him? He doesn't care how dirty the floor is. What I'm saying is that your expectation is assuming that he has the same values as you. He doesn't. So taking away something he loves because he didn't do something he couldn't care less about makes NO SENSE to him.

It's critical to shift the focus to giving him a reason to do things. If he can earn screen time for moving chairs, he's SO much more likely to do it because now you've given him an incentive.

Try having him earn screen time and see if that helps. I think it will.
posted by kinetic at 3:08 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

My mom worked with young autistic kids for 30 years, and one of the things she says a lot is that if you need a kid to do something, then you shouldn't phrase it as a question. For instance, if you need him to put his coat on so you can take him to school, you shouldn't ask, "Are you ready to put your coat on now?" or even ,"Can you put your coat on now?" Instead, you make a statement and then give him a choice about relatively inconsequential things: "Ok, it's time to go. Do you want to put your shoes on first, or your coat?"

She also says you have to be really consistent. If the consequences are frequently different for the same actions, then they won't make sense to him. It may feel like you're giving him a break by not making him do chores one day, or by giving him 10 more minutes of screen time just because, but that sets up a pattern for him that is basically: the rules change all the time, so it's worth pushing the rules today in case today is a day when you'll give in.
posted by colfax at 3:53 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do not have your 8-year-old, but I have a similar 8-year-old.

My son has off-the-charts ADHD, is very bright, and struggles a lot with impulsiveness and rage. More outgoing though, and not on the spectrum, AFAIK. I could have written your sentences about huge fights over small things. Homework...dear God. Our worst explosive moments have had him punching me in the mouth and putting his fist through a glass door.


Write that on your hand if you need to every morning. Seriously.

You've gotten tons of good advice and I don't know if I can add anything too specific. I just wanted to offer empathy and encouragement. And also to remind you to stop expecting normal.

I had visions of a cooperative family where we worked together toward a common goal, but instead its constant head-butting over simple things.

You've got to let that go for now. You are in triage mode..and may be for awhile. Pick your battles. One of our (many) providers recommended a book on ADHD to us whose primary lesson for me was swtiching your mindset to a "disability" focus. You don't want to - because your kid is awesome - but you need to. Count on the fact you're going to face a battle over teeth brushing. "Normal" has left the building....do triage.

If he doesn't do a lick of homework before high school...what's the worst that can happen? (We got "no homework" written into our 504 at school.)

If he doesn't brush his teeth....he's going to have a long and painful cleaning at his next dentist?

If he doesn't pick up his room ....he lives in a mess?

Do the baseline that you need for health and safety for everyone, but let other stuff go and let yourself off the hook.

It will get better. Hang in there!
posted by pantarei70 at 10:50 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some more ideas:

I try to compromise with him when possible and reasonable - a request for five more minutes I'm normally happy to indulge if it doesn't mess up the overall day.

You've got to stop doing that. What you've taught him is a negatively reinforced behavior. He argues, he gets you to go away.

In a young spectrumy-type of kid, they don't perceive this as compromise. They see it as much more black and white. You told them to do something, they argued, they got to keep doing what they wanted.

So you've got to reverse the procedure. Have him start at zero and he earns X minutes for doing things. If you do his consistently, you'll see that "extinction burst" where the negative behavior increases but you will be shocked at how quickly he stops doing it as long as you hold firm.

And something I forgot but suggest to parents of my students is for you and the other parent to find a therapist to work with. Books are great, but even 2 sessions with someone can give you a gigantic toolbox.
posted by kinetic at 6:33 AM on April 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

"We know you know this. We know you know you know this. Your teacher doesn't know you know this, so you have to do not so your teacher knows you can do it. Then you can get something more interesting to do."

When this clicked, it helped. And it did result in more challenging work for our son. It took a lot of repeating and a lot of his teacher saying the same. But it worked for us.
posted by zizzle at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2015

All of kinetic's advice in this thread is spot on, especially this comment.
posted by hush at 8:21 AM on April 8, 2015

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