The Daughter Chronicles

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mia's behavioral problems

The hardest thing to deal with when it comes to Mia is not her disabilities per se, but her behavioral problems. Now, I don't mean that she behaves poorly, because she's a very sweet girl who's always in a good mood (that's part of the problem). But she still has some issues.

It's a strange thing, because it's somewhat easy to adapt to her larger issues. I mean, we've accepted that she can't walk and needs to work hard on that. We've accepted that she can't speak very well and needs to work hard on that. We're not happy about it, but her disability has become part of our lives, and we just move on. People often express wonderment that we can deal with it, but as I've said before, what else are we going to do? She's our child, after all. You shift your priorities and your expectations, and you do the best you can. Her situation depresses me on occasion, but she continues to make progress, so I try not to let it bother me.

Her behavior, however, is something else. What people with non-disabled children fail to realize is how pervasive the issue can be. It's not just the actual disability, but everything about her life that's affected, including how she acts. As she gets older, we think she's trying to assert her independence more, and unlike Norah, who asserts her independence in fairly typical ways, Mia does different things. As she is immobile, it's easier to keep track of her (she doesn't wander off and open drawers she shouldn't, like Norah does), but she doesn't learn as well. When she misbehaves, it's much harder to get her to stop and understand what she's doing. Obviously, all kids like to push the envelope, but Norah understands much better when she's doing something wrong and how to stop. It's true that we have to tell her certain things over and over (as with all children), but when she misbehaves, we can usually understand why she's doing it, and we are able to deal with it. I think we're pretty consistent with telling her what she can and can't do, and she's starting to learn how she should be behave. She doesn't always do it, of course, but at least she understands why we punish her and what we expect of her.

Mia is different. When she misbehaves, mostly through poking or otherwise hitting you when you're sitting near her, she simply doesn't listen when you tell her to stop. She will tell you that hands are not for hitting, but then she'll go right back to hitting. She doesn't hit that hard, and it's not because she's angry, but because you might not be paying attention to her and she wants you to. She wants attention all the time, too, so she'll spill her cereal in the morning deliberately just so I look at her. She knows what she's doing it wrong, but it's as if she can't stop herself. We're not sure how to get her to behave correctly other than telling her over and over, but even more than with Norah, because it takes so long to sink in. We know she can learn, because we've managed to get her to eat dinner when she doesn't want the food by reading to her, and when she stops eating, we stop reading. She has learned that she needs to take a bite if she wants to be read to. So that's working, slowly, and we have to start phasing out the reading, but who knows when that will happen. Another problem is that she laughs at you if you raise your voice to her, because she thinks it's a game. It's hard to make her understand the necessity of behaving because in order to make a point, you have to yell, and then she tunes you out. If you just raise your voice a little, it's not enough, but if you raise your voice too much, she stops listening. It's frustrating.

For the most part, she's very well behaved. She doesn't hit Norah too often, and when she does, it's mainly because Norah is getting in her face. They get along very well otherwise, and we're hoping, as with a lot of things, that Norah models for Mia and Mia learns something that way. Mia doesn't behave poorly that often, but when she does, it's far more frustrating than you might expect, because of this problem. I know it's tied into her injury, and that makes it even more frustrating, because I don't want to get angry at her for something she can't control. So we keep working on it. Just like the other aspects of her life, it takes a lot. She's totally worth the effort, of course, but it's still tiring.


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