Seeking Supportive Moms Advice for Difficult 3 Year Old

Updated on September 23, 2010
B.C. asks from Carterville, MO
6 answers

First off, I really don't want to be told by half a dozen moms that I am not disciplining him enough. I am really hoping for some advice that is sensitive and helpful. If there are other moms who also happen to have special needs kiddo's all the better since they will have more of an idea of what a typical day is like in my shoes. I also appologize for the length of this post...

Alex turned 3 June 5th. Prior to turning 3 he had a full year of intensive therapy, in the beginning we had therapists here sometimes several days a week, everything from ABA therapy to speech therapy, we opted out of the other therapist as I could never really figure out what good she was doing and we were already over run schedule wise. Long story short Alex went from having a diagnosis of Autism on the table to having that taken off and being diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Once he was more verbal things got so much better, we felt like things were going so smoothly, almost no temper tantrums, reasonably well behaved. We had a child who listened and acted as a child his age is pretty much expected. When Alex turned 3 his therapy didn't stop until about 2 weeks before his pre school started. Alex goes to school from 7:10 when he boards the bus to 11:45 when he gets off the bus...he only goes Monday through Thursday. Ever since school started ( which he loves!!!) we have seen a steady regression...he doesn't want to take a nap ( although he is tired and will sometimes fall asleep much later and then want to sleep until 7 or 8 pm and I cannot wake him, I have tried!) I cannot handle this terrible schedule, I miss the schedule that WORKS and I have no idea how to get him back on one. When he does nap it is so obvious how much smoother the evening goes. If it were just simple, it sounds simple enough I suppose, but there is no making him, he will just scream and tantrum. He acts as if he asks for something and says please it should be automatic, this can be anything from asking for cookies for lunch or breakfast ( no way that will happen, I do not give in) but the result is the same...tantruming. We have seen him regress back to almost as much tantrums as before the therapy, before he had words...and I just don't know what to make of this because I felt like we had made such great progress. Also, he gets into EVERYTHING and I just am so frustrated...what do you do with a child who is so defiant at such a young age? My sister does have an autistic child who is not high functioning, and her theory is he is working so hard at trying to fit in and do what he is supposed to at school that he is stressed out and feels comfortable knowing he is safe at home which allows him to act out with out fear of reprisal ( ??) Not sure I buy that a 3 year old has such a complex thought process...I just feel like we have taken such a huge step back from where we were and if any moms have any suggestions or advice I am all ears, because I am so frustrated with the way things are going right now. I do not want to take him out of school, he loves it and it is good for him ( he is in a small classroom of like 6 other kids who also are special needs) I just don't know how to fix this and its stress day in and day out for me and it cannot be good for him, heck his tantrums exhaust me I cannot imagine what it must be like to be in his little shoes.

****Alex received services/therapy through First Steps, First Steps only works with children through age two, as soon as they are 3 they "transition" them. In Alex's case he was approved for the school district's program. I guess as ignorant as this makes me for admitting, in some ways Alex had learned so much in the span of a years time, I guess I thought he was "all better" I think I felt this way because my niece who has Autism is not high functioning and I just saw my own child suddenly as being more typical and so close to being caught up with his peers...I knew he was still behind socially, I guess I just assumed he was going to "catch up" It looks like I have some reality to deal with. Alex does have insurance I will be looking into seeing if there is anyway I can get him some continued therapy, I just know in our current financial situation that if it is going to cost out of pocket we are in trouble and I better do all I can to educate myself so that I can better equip my son.
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answers from Columbus on

The Autistic spectrum is a wonder. Just when you think you have it all figured out, it is going to change because it is a devleopmental disability, and he is a moving target. The adjustment to PDD-NOS just means that he has gained enough skill that he cannot be said to have clasic Kanners Autism, which is terrific, but he is still on the spectrum.

You do not say what kind of therapy you are accessing now. He still needs speech and langaguge therapy because he needed so much help to learn to talk, he will need direct instruction to continue to develop his langague skills in a more typcial way than he can do by himself. His logic is still autistic and he will continue to need to be taught things that other children pick up on without instruction.

I don't know what therapy you droped, I am assuming it was maybe Occupational therapy? That could be part of your answer, and you are seeing why he needed it because he cannot self sooth and sleep well when he is over stimulated as he is right now. The other therapy that would be appropriate would be play therapy and behaviroal therapy, and if you accessed this, he may learn new strategies to trantrums. First thing I would advise you to do is to go back and see if that therapy you passed on will be helpful now.

My other sugestion is that you examine why he is in this schedule to begin with. If what you were doing was working, was it that he turned three and he was offered an IEP to be implemented in a public school? If that is the case, then you need to call a new IEP meeting and lay this out his regression, because this means that the placement and the content of his program is not appropriate.

If you put him in a typical preschool, then you should contact your school district and request an evaluation and therapy, and maybe preschool services from them, depending on what he qualifies for. Start reading about advocacy at, you will need to learn to navigate this system.

If this is a public program, you may be seeing part of the reality of public serivices. That is, public services are not required to maximize your son's potential. You will always need to supplement his treament plan with private services if you want him to be more than functional in a classroom setting, which is all the school is accountable for. Get him into additonal speech, ot, play therapy, behvioral therapy, medical care (see a psychiatrist to manage his medical needs related to autism, sleep wake disturbances are frequently issues that can be treated sucessfully and will help him be comfortable and make progress) and a little later, seek social skills classes. All of these services are private and are the repsonsiblity of the parents, not the state, because Autsim and ASD stradles the medical-educational boundaries, we get confused about what is the schools responsiblity. They have to educate him, you have to do the rest.

One thing that helped me emnensly when mine was going from the nonverbal to the verbal stage was this: tell him what you want him to do instead of what you want him to stop doing. Easier said than done. Instead of "no screaming" say "use a quiet voice" and a child with langague based processing issues will be much better able to do what you say. One of the things Occupational therapy would help him do is to make his body do what his langague, and the language you use, instructs him to do. It is a complicated issue, called motor planning, and it is universally weak for kids with ASD's. You can't see it as an issue, until he has a melt down over something. OT is not just learning ot hold the scissors, it is so, so much more! If you have not had his motor planning and executive function assessed, ask for this from your developmentalist, and if you have yet to get a full evaluation from a Developmental Pediatrician, get an appointment to have it done. You will likely need to repeat this a few times as he ages, but it is worth knowing how he functions based on data.

Remember too that he thinks in concrete terms, and his melt downs over not getting the cookie when he says please could be his reaction to not having that ABA enviornment where he could predict what would happen when he did something right. If you do something for your son once, he expects it every single time. That is autistic logic. Since he got the food reward in ABA when he used please, he expects it. Please does not mean to him what it means to you, because the idea of manners is not there for him, it litterally means, I say please, get cookie. You changed the rules the way he learned them. It can be fixed, but through therapy and time. It just means that he can only generalize what he learns so far, which is also expected with ASD. Most of your frustration in teaching him in the future will be in getting him to make those essential connections and generalizations of specific knowledge to other similar circumstances. They do not do that without instruction, and for most kids, you just don't have to teach that, they make those connections and generalizations naturally. He sees novelty (a new situation) in almost everything he does, and does not use the information he gathers in simular situations to navagate the next one. It is almost like every time is the first, and for him, it may be. Your job is to know, via the evaluation data, how severe this issue is for him at any given point in his development (again, he is a moving target, thus, why you will need periodic reevaluations.)

I have two on the specturm. They can be polar opposites in some ways. One of them assumes that the world does not know the common sense facts that she has been taught, so she has to explain everything she knows to everyone. She will tell you the most obvious detail, because she really does not know that all the rest of us did not need to learn that, we just knew. The other one assumes that we know everything she knows and is thinking at the time. She has no clue what we need to be keyed in on before she begins to speak, and leaves out critical details, because she thinks we already know. Both issues require theraputic intervention, and they are both autisitic logic. You will learn how your child thinks, and when you can pull out his private evaluation data, and point to a number and then ask the school for an accomodation or a therapy to help him in school, you will be in a much better place, and so will he.

Reading is your key to a lot of this. Wrightslaw has an article about tests and measurments and how to understand them. That will be helpful. But if you are just getting started, I would just start reading everything about PDD-NOS on the site, and all about preschool and advocacy. Mel Levine wrote a book called "All kinds of Minds" that may be helpful, it discusses a great many differences with brain function.

I would also say, your SIL is not far off. Our kids do save up the behavior for us, and dump it out when they get home. We will not kick them to the curb, and they know it, and school for them is terribly hard work. They have to think about and concentrate on things we don't even know we know.

Finally, if no one has mentioned this to you, you should know that care givers should take extra good care of themselves. We are at high risk for exhaustion and depression, and more than half of us will need our own psychatric care at some point in our lives, so don't hessitate to seek help for yourself if you feel hopeless or sad or the whole situation overwhelms you. You are in very good company and there is zero shame in seeking help. Your son needs you to stay healthy.


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Ugg PDD-NOS is Autism, I hate when people say that becasue it confuses the heck out of everyone. My 8 year old has the same diagnosis, 1st join your local Autism support group. Next learn all you can about Autism. My daughter is 8 and your son sounds a lot like my daughter. My daughter will get so out of control we put her on medication and is on the Daytrona patch and Risperdol. Keep her getting the ABA therapy, his fits are not going to change easily or that fast. You need to keep him on the therapy and keep working with him. As he gets older he will change, some things get better and some get worse but if you don't have him in therapy to unlearn his bad behaviors things wont get better. The reason your child regressed is becasue you took out the ABA.

Plus you need to be teaching him life skills.

Oh and one thing you need to know is if you met 1 person then that is it you met 1 person with Autism. They are all going to be different and have their own quirks. They call it a Austism spectrum spectrum becasue these kids range from very low functioning to high so that people don't realize they even have Autism.

Well meaning people who don't understand Autism will give you advice and most of it doesn't work becasue as you know you already tried it 50 times.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

From your post, it sounds like you are looking for ways to help him take a nap so he can be the sweet, well-rested, thriving boy you know. We have a 3 year old in a similar situation. This works for us most days (not always, though!). It sounds mean, but this is through a LOT of trial and error:

We sing and pray with him, read him a book, and put him in his bed. In his bedroom are ONLY his bed, mattress, sheet, and blanket, as well as the clothes he's wearing. (He gets into everything, too!!!) We do use a humidifier sometimes, but he usually leaves it alone. Then we leave the room. There is a child safety lock on the INSIDE of his door so he can't come out. Sometimes it takes a bit for him to calm down and go to sleep, but he will take a good nap, and the night is much better.

When he doesn't take a nap, my husband and I have to plan to take a lot more time with him in the evening. He throws temper tantrums or gets his feelings hurt very easily. We then have him come sit on our laps, and even though he has the words, he can't use them at those times. So we help him. We give him the words. We say things like, "You are really upset because your little brother has the book that you wanted to read." Or maybe, "You don't want to eat the tuna melt sandwich because you thought we were going to eat pizza tonight." Once we help him identify with words why he is upset, then we can talk to him about how to be okay with the way things are. It is a long process, and it requires more patience than I think I have some days, but it really is worth it to see him calm down, relax, take a deep breath, and return to being the sweet little man that I know him to be.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

You almost sound like your talking about my little tornado. My 4 year old tornado is also is in the Autistic Spectrum. She never had tantrum and now she is displaying some. Be comforted with the fact that you are not alone.

Sometimes we focus do much on the dx the we forget that they are 3 (in my case 4). Some 3 year olds are just difficult. They all say terrible Twos but Threes are much more worse. This is a time when they are trying to exert their will coupled with the dx it becomes a tad bit more challenging. Children like ours are often rewarded when they talk. They are more black and white so when he didn't get the cookie of course he'll throw a fit .I do applaud you for not giving in.

Like yours mine is more "human" when she naps but more often than not she doesn't and she becomes a tasmanian devil. Uber hyperactive, climbing and wrecking things. My advice for this is to hold off napping if he is past a certain time. I don't let mine start a nap after 330p ( there are days when you probably just give up and let them nap at 5p LOL). By then I do everything I can to keep her up.

Also kids like ours are not very keen on changes in their routine. It usually takes 2 weeks for kid to get back in sync and sometimes even a couple of months. he just started school and ended his therapy sessions. Those are 2 changes. So just hang in there and give it time. I am sure everything will back into place.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I don't know if this helps, but my 2 oldest, neither of whom is technically special needs, are both willful intense children. They regress like all get out whenever there is change. And if the change includes something like school, no matter how much they like it, we have weeks of challenging behavior at home.

The thought process may not be complex, but I think the emotions are. So much so that they aren't sure what to do with them! You know how it feels good to take off your shoes when you get home after a long day out? I think this is how kids emotionally "take off their shoes."

I'll be honest - I thought ALL kids did this!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

if you have used therapy in the past, then why aren't you using it now? Your child is in help!

I truly believe he's overtired & fighting the naps. Whether your child is special needs or not, some type of checks/balances needs to be in place at home. You need to set your pattern & stick to it. This does not mean you have to be harsh, you simply have to be in control.....not your son. Do NOT let his issues/needs control your whole world.

This is not an issue of discipline or lack of it. This is an issue of you being MOM. My son was diagnosed with a degenerative hip disease at age 6. The house rules were modified, but still he KNEW he had to follow them. With our days rotating around physical therapy, home exercises, swim, & doctors.....we had to have rules/boundaries to survive.

I think your last sentence says it all! You "cannot imagine what it must be like to be in his little shoes".....yes, feel compassion, feel empathy....but do not let it rule your life. You have to be MOM....& sometimes that means seeking help & enforcing rules. & honestly, his tantrums are based on his need to feel that control from you. Hope this helps!

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