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children with autism

Children with Autism: How to Handle Stubbornness and Negativity


It can be immensely frustrating dealing with a stubborn or negative child. Children with special needs prevent a unique challenge, since their delays often make it harder for them to understand another person’s point of view.

Add to the picture language delays, an inability to predict consequences, and an unawareness of time, and you’re pretty much guaranteed your share of friendly fire.

A certain amount of stubbornness is normal for all children. For your special needs child, however, stubbornness and negativity are actually a good sign. First of all, they show that your child sees himself as separate from you, and is trying to determine who he is. It also shows that your child recognizes that his behavior can have an impact on the world around him, which is a critical step in learning how to navigate the social world around him.

It’s can be easy to respond to negativity by clamping down and imposing your will, especially if you’re short on time or caught in an embarrassing situation. However, if you can manage to use his defiance to draw him into conversation and interaction, you’ll not only strengthen his sense of self, but you’ll get a better response in the end.

Here are several tips on what you can do when you find yourself at odds with your special needs child:

1. Give humor a chance.

It’s sometimes surprising how a throwing in a little bit of humor can breakup gridlock. If your child is insistent on going without a coat in the dead of winter, try putting on their coat yourself. Be dramatic, exaggerating your expressions as you try to fit your grown up size body in your child’s Lilliputian-sized coat. If they refuse to put away their toys, pretend the toys are crying because they want to be put away.

2. Play dumb.

Gently push your child to express themselves by pretending you don’t understand what they want. If your child insists, for example, that she wants soda, look confused and point to the milk or the juice. The idea here is that you want to engage your child in the back and forth of communication.

Since communication can be with words or with gestures, even if your child’s entire rebellion consists of pouts, foot stomping, or angry faces, they will have learned one of the basic rules of communication: If you talk, I respond, and if I talk, you will respond.  Doing this with children who are verbal can sometimes distract them from the argument at hand, defusing the situation.

3. Take things one step at a time.

There are certain times when your child can be especially negative or stubborn. Instead of tackling everything at once, focus on one situation at a time. For example, if your child resists your help at every opportunity, insisting on doing everything on her own even though she’s not yet capable, try choosing one specific instance – such as letting her make her lunch- and working on that first.

You don’t always have to agree with her ideas, but many times when children see you are willing to give things a try, they are more agreeable to a few suggestions from you (like cutting their sandwich with a butter knife instead of the steak knife).

4. Empathize soothingly when you have to put your foot down.

Sometimes your child can’t have his way. When this happens, try and show your child how much you sympathize with them. Even if they have trouble understanding you, they will pick up your intent through your body language. If things get out of hand, reassure them with a big hug, holding them if necessary.

Many children with special needs will often need extra time to settle down after a tantrum; let them have it, and then try and spend a bit of cuddly time with them afterwards.

Use these tips on a consistent basis, and you'll be on your way not only to gaining your child's cooperation, but to a happier, more self-confident child.

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