Who’s In Charge Here?

“Nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” Thomas Jefferson

If there was any doubt before, I’m pretty sure Thomas Jefferson did not have an autistic child.

We’ve been having some control issues around my house.  My son’s new favorite thing to say to me is  “Mommy, say….(insert language here).”  If I do not succumb to his directive, he repeats and repeats the demand.  Ignoring it gets me no where.  He might take a break to catch his breath but then he will launch right back into it.  Usually, the insert is some form of echolalia.  “Mommy say, ‘All charged up and ready for action!’”  A line from an electronic toy car he has.  It’s a bit of a “Simon says” kind of game only instead of “Take two steps forward,” it is “say these words.”

Eventually, I can’t take it anymore and I say, (rather loudly) “No, I’m not going to say it.” Worse yet, I will say, “You say it” which is useless because he then always says back, “Mommy to say.”  And, yes, I’m guilty of saying the actual phrase just to get some peace and quiet.  He is relentless and I am often distracted and that is not a good combination.

If he bugs asks me enough, I will ask him this, “Who’s the boss?”

“Mommy is the boss.”

“That’s right. And we don’t tell the boss what to say.”

Weirdly enough, he, sometimes, walks away after this exchange and does something else.  In other words, it works for redirection on occasion.

The other new, control behavior is that he tries to implement his own discipline.  He will do something he knows he is not supposed to do.  For example, he will flick the door handles, repeatedly in a very quick action (they are perpendicular to the door handles both at home and in the office).  The flicking noise is loud and drives everyone crazy.  If he does it at home, before I have a chance to say anything, he will run up to me and say, “Wanna put you in a time out?”  which means, “I’m putting myself in a time out.”  He will then proceed to go stand facing the wall at home.  At best, his self-imposed exile lasts about 15 seconds.  Then, he will run up to me, put his face directly in front of me and yell, “I’m sorry, mommy!  Give mommy a kiss! and kiss me and hug me.

I know the appropriate thing to do would be to wrest control of this situation by putting him into a real time out.  But really? I’m not perfect and, when I’m tired, I let it go.  This mistake has snowballed.  What happened is that, because I did not impose the discipline uniformly on the door, he has run to doors in public places, usually at therapy, and rattled the handles there, where it is much more inappropriate than at home.

You can see how his retention of control works by: (a) imposing his own brand of discipline at home; and (b) using his charm to get out of real discipline.  Doing these things at home makes him bolder to challenge me in public.  In public, my choice is to impose discipline in front of a bunch of strangers or let it be.  Doing the imposition route would involve finding a place and giving him a five minute time out, which is likely to lead to a meltdown that might last 45-60 minutes right before a therapy is to commence.  Speech and Occupational Therapy only last 45 minutes one day per week.  The alternative would be to let it go because he is about to go in for therapy which is supposed to help him with his other skills.

Well played kiddo, well played.

This autism thing?  In my house anyway, don’t let it fool you.  My kid is smart enough to manipulate, charm, control and time his antics in just the right way to hold an advantage over me.  God forbid, he’s sounding more like a lawyer every day.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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22 Responses to Who’s In Charge Here?

  1. Lizbeth says:

    He sounds like he’s been talking to your mom. 😉

    Ahhh, the contorl thing. This is where I get looks from other people when I start acting like a drill seargent to keep him in line–one little slip and he’s got the upper hand. Wasn’t there a Seinfeld episode on this??? Stay strong mama.

    Its funny you mention about the manipulation at the end. I have often said my son’s so smart he manipulates—he doens’t mean to, but he does. People think I’m nuts because they think a child would never try to turn the tables for their own intent. Its not mean spirited or anything like that—just that he’s that smart.

    • solodialogue says:

      Eek! Lizbeth – I think you’re right! I must keep those two separated… Oh yes. I can definitely see your little one doing some major manipulating..duh! (Couldn’t help myself!) 🙂

  2. Kelly says:

    Ahhhh, sweet manipulation. I have been trying to tell people: family, teachers, professionals, that Ted is a Master Manipulator. Thus far, it takes repeated exposure for MONTHS before people come up to me and say, “You’re right! He does manipulate situations.” it’s always a *palm-head* moment for me.

    • solodialogue says:

      You know, though, Kelly, we have to ask ourselves – where do they get it from? I’m pretty sure that kind of skill, cunning, and brilliance must be from the mamas… just sayin’ 😉

  3. Heather says:

    Haha, I have a NT three-year-old niece that is giving her Mom (my sister) a run for her money. I recently had her for an overnight and she started to use her manipulation skills when I stopped her and said, “At Auntie’s house, Auntie is the boss.” And now every time she comes over and starts to act up I say, “Who’s the boss?” she’ll get quiet and respond, “You are, Auntie.” It cracks me up only because I do not have that kind of pull over my own two children…they certainly are in control (sigh)

  4. Tootleslady says:

    That’s my Tootles!! I can’t wait till he is working us for money.

  5. Manipulation is definitely a developmental skill, just not the most pleasant one!

  6. Flannery says:

    Wow, we went through a very long period of “Mommy, say _______” at my house too. It was very annoying, and I was never quite sure what to do, but always had the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t comply with his demand. We also did a very long stint of explaing “who’s in charge.” He seems to have moved past making us say things, which is good. Hopefully this will be a passing phase for yours too, as he grows and learns more. Of course, that means he will probably learn new ways to manipulate you too!

    • solodialogue says:

      I’m SO glad to hear Connor got over it! Tonight alone I got four “Mommy say”(s) in an hour! I’m certain he will find many, many ways to manipulate as he gets older. I will have to find new ways to combat it…

  7. Grace says:

    My son definitely plays me, too, sometimes. The problem is I usually don’t figure out I’ve been played until after it’s all over and I look back on it. Discipline is a real problem for me. I know I need to crack down on him, I just don’t know how to do it while avoiding a huge meltdown, especially in public. Sometimes it’s just easier to let things go. Then I feel bad for being so lazy. Ugh.

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh Grace, I miss lots of it too! I know exactly how you feel! He just played me today daring me to give him a time out right before speech started. He knows I won’t waste a penny of that money on a time out… little stinker got away with that one!

  8. I feel your pain, but honestly, reading about the door handle/time out thing made me laugh. He just sounds so cute and so, so smart.

  9. Lynn says:

    You are way ahead of most people for even thinking about this stuff and attempting to put some boundaries around it. On another note, this post was way too short. Are you OK?

  10. eof737 says:

    One smart cookie; just like his mom… Oh Boy! 🙂

  11. Ahhh… sweet manipulation. Little Miss is the queen of it. I wonder if we put she and T together, who would out-manipulate whom? 🙂

  12. Tam says:

    I know this may sound stupid, and you’ve probably already done it… but have you ever just sat down and explained to him that people are more willing to comply with requests (done nicely and with proper manners, like please and thank you) than with orders? I know he has speech/language processing issues, but I can’t imagine it being nearly annoying for you if he were to ask some approximation of “Mommy, will you please say ‘And now it’s time to start your engines!'” instead of demanding “Mommy to say…!”

    It sounds like he’s trying to include you in his pretend play, even though the demanding is annoying, he may just not really understand the difference between deamanding and asking… or why one would be less aggrivating than the other.

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