Just when I think I am wasting just a little too much time online, trying to find answers that don’t exist to help me understand my child, I get lucky and stumble upon a goldmine of information.
I know my 5 year old very bright, highly sensitive daughter is selectively mute in her community preschool. I know that aside from not speaking in certain social settings due to anxiety and fear of social embarrassment, there are other associated behaviors, such as negativism and oppositional behavior, and temper tantrums, and meltdowns particularly at home.
What I haven’t been able to understand is why. In May of 2008 the neuropsychologist I took my daughter to had given me the diagnoses of neurodevelopmental delay in a specific area of cognitive functioning – her limbic system of her brain. There were specific neuropsychological tests that she took that helped pinpoint the right area. These were targeted by certain activities of the McCarthy Scales of Children’s abilities and answering questions from the NEPSY test.
Over the summer, things improved dramatically enough so that I didn’t think I’d need to start the therapies suggested by the neuropsych. There were few meltdowns, barely any oppositional behavior, and an overall happier child. We spent lots of time at the park and outside. It was that way for 2.5 months, until school began again.
I have heard of the book, The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene before, but really didn’t know if it would apply to my five year old, because I thought the book was for more extreme cases of oppositional behavior (you know, the kind where kicking and hitting were more of a problem). I didn’t realize that there was a lot of things to apply to a child like mine, where anxiety was a problem at school, and emotional meltdowns, lots of tears, minor (but very annoying) outbursts of anger was happening not just once a day but multiple times a day.
A friend of mine sent me this link to a care-giver handout that accompanies the EC book.
It goes a long way to help me understand why my daughter is having so many emotional upsets lately. Her neuropsych did explain to us that she did have a neurodevelopmental delay in the area of the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain), but I really didn’t understand what all that entailed. This handout really explains what’s going on, particularly under the heading Emotion Regulation Skills and Cognitive Flexibility Skills.
“Because of a variety of factors, most of these children lack the crucial cognitive skills that are essential to handling frustration and demands for flexibility and adaptability, or have significant difficulty applying them when they are most needed.”
“EMOTION REGULATION SKILLS:
This refers to the cognitive skills one uses to control, modulate and regulate emotions, outside of the context of frustration. It is important to note that this is different from separation of affect (our ability to put feelings aside so we can think clearly in the midst of frustration).
What do we see with children who have difficulty in this domain: chronic grouchiness, irritability, fatigue, anxiety and agitation. These chronic states make dealing with frustration difficult. These children can often find the energy to look good in certain situations, only to fall apart later.
COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY SKILLS:
Children who have difficulty in this area are wired in rigid, black and white ways. They are literal and concrete in their thinking and see things as their way or the highway. They often adhere to predictable routines/rigid/inflexible rules in order to feel ok. They become totally lost when things don’t go just as they expected or the way they went the last time. Although they may be very bright verbally, they have poor skills when it comes to handling the “grays” of the world.
Children who demonstrate these difficulties typically have great difficulty in the social arena. There is no area that requires the ability to see the “gray” more than social situations.”
My daughter is just like this above. I know now that I can’t ever say we are going to do something fun unless I’m 100% positive we are going to be able to do it. Otherwise she really feels I broke my promise. The way I see it, she IS inflexible at times, and can’t roll with the changes. It’s also why I have to be careful what I tell her, otherwise she will believe it to be written in stone just because I said it.
Anyway, I just had to share my discovery. I plan on getting the book the Explosive Child from the library. For now, I printed the pages out to help my husband and myself understand her meltdowns better.
On a positive note, I took her with me when I got her younger sister evaluated for speech issues at the preschool screening (and this was also after I found that link and read the information). She was at first happy to see that Ms B, the teacher’s aide in class, was there. But then my 5 year old became angry that her younger sister E got to spend a lot of time at Ms B’s table, and she just had to sit there and watch. I thought she was going to have a meltdown right there, but I was able to talk her through a little bit of her feelings, and we avoided a major problem. She still complained a little bit, but she was able to use her words and we were able to solve the problem rather than have her throw a fit. She was feeling happier after I suggested she give a picture she drew with crayons to Ms B.
It’s a lot harder than it seems to actually help her through the emotional upsets. Anger is trickier for me to handle than sadness, because I can always hug the sadness away and let her cry in my lap. But anger is harder, because I can’t just hug it to make her feel better. I actually have to try and allow her to have her feelings, make sure she isn’t disruptive while having them, and actually try to solve the problem so that the situation is defused. Especially in a situation where I really can’t leave the premises, like yesterday. If I were to leave the building, E would have been freaking out. Fortunately, things resolved to her and my satisfaction. It’s probably the first time I actually solved her problem without resorting to leaving a situation or making things worse. That handout actually helped me stay able to focus on finding a solution she could live with and not get upset myself with not knowing what to do.
So anyway, I just thought I’d update and share what I learned. Maybe it would help others too.