Monday, September 30, 2013

The need to punch someone

School started a few weeks ago and we are in the middle of the transitional time where the boys are getting used to their new schedule and they’re becoming acclimated to their new teachers and classrooms. It is always a challenge, but school is always such a welcome experience following the less-scheduled summertime.

Over the past couple of months I have noticed that the boys were starting to fight more. At first it was kind of cute in a way. This is because in the past they weren’t really interested enough in each other to spend the time and energy to play together, much less fight. Their autism experience meant they didn’t choose to have interactions with each other unless it was necessary.

As they began to have small arguments and sibling rivalry, I was excited for those neurotypical moments. In my mind, it was part of their development and they were learning what it meant to be brothers. They appeared to be going through something that all siblings go through when they just rub each other the wrong way simply because they live together in the same house day after day. I know what that’s like and so does everyone else out there that is not an only child.

Their fighting became more intense as the summer continued, and it also became physical. It got so bad that at the end of summer it seemed that we were dealing with daily screaming matches, hitting or kicking that always led to someone getting hurt or brought to tears, and the eventual slamming of doors and yelling through the walls to continue the argument from their different rooms after I had to forcibly separate them when I couldn’t take any more.

In many regards, Prince Charming has been the instigator of most the fights. Although, Monkey is not innocent and often pushes all the hot buttons that quickly trigger his little brother. You would think that Monkey would just clock Prince Charming because he has been training in karate for a year now. But, what I found was that Monkey would often fall victim to the aggression that came from Prince Charming when he had turned into a Grumpy Badger. Monkey wouldn’t defend himself and would eventually get hurt to some degree; but I’ve found that about half the time his “hurt” is for dramatic purposes in the hope that it will get his brother in trouble.

After a particularly rough week last week, I sat down with Prince Charming to have a talk about what had been going on between him and his brother. I had been thinking that some of the fighting had to do with his need for sensory input on his body (a.k.a. “proprioception”). He had been hitting his punching bag in his room a lot more recently, and I wasn’t sure if it was due to anger issues or sensory issues or both.

This is the punching bag
that Prince Charming uses.
He doesn't use the gloves.
(Affiliate Link)
We had a really nice chat, just the two of us, hanging out on my bed. I let him do most of the talking as I led with certain questions to try to open him up.

After a few minutes I asked him, “Honey, why do you keep hitting your brother?” 

The response I got was quite surprising.

“He makes a really great punching bag, Mommy.”

It struck me as funny and I immediately started to laugh. He got a case of the giggles because I was laughing, so we had a good chuckle for a moment.

Then I asked him, “What do you mean by ‘he makes a great punching bag’?”

“It feels good when I punch him.”

“So, do you like punching him to make him cry, or do you like the way it feels on your hand?”

“It feels good on my hand. He’s softer than my punching bag.”

“Oh, I understand! It makes your body feel good when you are hitting something, and hitting him feels nicer than hitting the punching bag.”


“I have an idea about something else you could do that might make you feel the same way but wouldn’t hurt your brother. Do you want to try it with me?”


He got really excited. I demonstrated how he could put couch cushions on the floor and try to punch straight down to see if he could feel the floor through the cushion. He showed me that he’d like to try it a different way than I suggested, and he was happy to try it out.

When we are in the throes of a bad day because the boys are fighting incessantly and I feel like I’m at the end of my patience and ugly mommy is going to pay a visit, it is so easy to automatically go to the behavioral side of the equation. But, if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have missed the clues he gave me about the fact that his sensory needs were not being met.

Obviously it isn’t okay for him to hit or hurt his brother, and there are consequences for his actions when it happens. But, it was more than that. And, that’s the point. As parents of children with autism, we need to keep our eyes, ears, and minds open to the possibility that there is more going on than what we see in front of us. If we can seek clues that lead to the function of the behavior, we will be able to better work with our children in guiding them to a more appropriate outcome, and it will also help us keep our sanity intact for another day.

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