My son has an autistic friend. Is he teaching my son poor ways to deal with his emotions?

Carlene - posted on 08/11/2012 ( 6 moms have responded )

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My son is 2, he has a friend who is a little older who is very autistic and often throws tantrums like I've never seen. Lately my son throws the same kinds of tantrums and I can see so much frustration built up inside him. Right now he is an inconsolable wreck of screaming, kicking and pinching himself. Was I wrong to let him spend so much time with this other boy? He's even kicking his legs out in the same way.

They spend quite a lot of time together, and he had never before shown even the slightest signs of autism. Now he's behaving so similar.

Sometimes he wakes up just screaming. Like now... it's been an hour an a half straight of this!

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Anne - posted on 08/11/2012

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They're called "the terrible twos" for a reason; at that age, kids are learning how to use their bodies to control the people around them. Is there any chance that your son is in pain from teething or something that he ate? Can you hide around the corner and watch to see if he stops pinching himself when he's lost his audience? My son isn't autistic but he used to have the sort of tantrum you're describing. Sometimes at that age it was almost impossible to buckle him into his carseat because he'd make himself rigid scream bloody murder. That was usually just when he was over-tired, though, or really wanted something that he couldn't have. You weren't wrong to let your son spend time with his autistic friend, and I'm sure you know that it's not contagious. Your son should be able to learn better ways to manage his frustration more easily than his autistic friend, though. Once he's grown out of this stage, you'll probably have more compassion than most people about what his friend's mom is dealing with.

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Chaya - posted on 08/11/2012

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Tell your son repeadtedly, that the friend has special needs and he doesn't know how to handle himself well yet, please treat the friend as if your son were the older brother. That may take some doing, so you'd need to repeat yourself

Cherish - posted on 08/11/2012

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I am assuming the boy w/autism is non-verbal?Does your son talk?How much time do they spend together?Is he around other children that are his age that are developing "normally"?
My youngest son has severe autism and I am VERY aware of what the tantrums can be like.Honestly I can see where you would be concerned.Typical children learn the most from peers.
Obviously like Anne said you can not "catch" autism,but I too would worry that he is learning how to handle his emotions poorly from the 4 yr old,and being 2 there is no way he can understand the reasons behind the 4 yr olds behavior.
I agree that it could be the terrible 2's,and that having tantrums is normal.But he could be also learning to have "worse" tantrums from the 4 yr old.
I think that if it was me,I would not see the 4yr old for a couple weeks,then see what your sons tantrums are like.After a few weeks,visit w/the 4yr old again,and if the tantrums got markedly worse,I would probably spend less time w/the 4yr old until your son was older.
Or come up with a plan to leave,or distract your son while the 4yr old had a tantrum

Anne - posted on 08/11/2012

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That's great to hear, Carlene! I can relate to kids of that age learning the wrong ways to get attention. I actually had to limit The Berenstein Bears and Arthur because their episodes show kids/bear cubs doing something inappropriate before teaching the moral of the story and my son only noticed the fun/wrong activity, not the moral. That was pretty frustrating. He figured out that consequences weren't as fun when they were given to him instead of t.v. characters, though. You, and the mom of your son's autistic friend, will each learn how to divert your sons from negative behavior in the ways that work best for them. I'm glad the boys are friends, and that you have support from your husband ; )

Carlene - posted on 08/11/2012

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Thank you for the quick and thoughtful reply, Anne. I really needed to hear that because I was so caught up in the moment and his screaming woke up my husband. People tell me it's all about the terrible twos, but then I got worried since children learn to deal with things (among other ways) by watching others. I thought I might be allowing my son to be emotionally stunted by gaining poor ways to deal with his emotions at an early age.

My son loves this other boy and, in his own way, the other boy has expressed how much he enjoys being with him too.

... the screaming stopped. My husband went to go sit with him while he freaked out. Seems like something worked.

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