Disrespect and Manipulation
2002-2003 Teresa Kellerman

Q: It is so amazing that these kids have such similar behaviors. It seems they are so good at knowing what pushes our buttons. Isn't that abstract? It puts me over the edge sometimes when he calls me a f---ing bitch. I wonder where they get it when we certainly don't model behavior like this. I still can't figure it out.

A: Where DO our kids get these behaviors when we certainly don't role model them? I had to think about this for awhile, because it has really bugged me over the years. I'm such an analyst, I have to find answers, I'm so compulsive about it. I don't like to think that I am what the first four letters of the word analyze spell, but maybe I am, when it comes to understanding and helping others understand our kids' behavior. LOL

First of all, I think the disrespect is mostly a matter of impulse control. In our house, RESPECT is the number one rule, the only rule that matters, the rule from which all the other rules flow. We don't call each other names, we don't hit, we TRY not to yell and if we do we try to apologize and make things right as soon as possible. Johnny really tries to be respectful. Nobody ever uses the F word in this house, and names like "bitch" and "asshole" are reserved only for reference to the "helping" professionals who screw up my kids' lives. But I have to be honest and admit I have used those names occasionally. And he hears them elsewhere I'm sure. So I cannot be totally surprised when I hear John call me a bitch when he is mad at me for reminding him once again about inappropriate behavior, usually in a whisper so maybe I won't hear, but I do. I wonder how many times he has whispered "bitch" at me that I did not hear. LOL. Also, if I am honest, I have to admit there are lots of times I would like to call someone a bitch or an asshole to their face, but I don't, because I have impulse control. Our kids don't have the "brakes" to stop the impulse to say how they feel. Sometimes they can control it, but most of the time they can't. Or maybe most of the time they do control it, and we just don't know how many times they are able to keep their mouth shut when they really want to scream an obscenity at us. The times they can't control it are the only times we are aware of it.

Their gift of being able to "tell it like it is" can be a curse when they are being honest with their negative feelings, but that is the gift we treasure most when they are feeling appreciative and loving toward us. No problem with wrapping their arms around us and saying, "I love you." That does not apply to the kids with RAD, I'm only talking about classic FASD with frontal lobe damage that interferes with inhibitions. That's what is happening when they yell out "F...ing bitch!" or whatever they are feeling at the moment.

The other thing I was thinking about was how manipulative our kids seem sometimes, which makes them look smarter than they really are. I heard a speaker once who asked everyone who had been manipulative in the past 48 hours to raise their hands. I and a few other brave persons raised our hands. He said everyone should raise their hands because everyone gets manipulative sometimes. I had to agree, this is normal human behavior, necessary too! Think about it - We manipulate people and situations in order to get what we want or what we need. It is a matter of survival really. Manipulation is only wrong when we are underhanded and dishonest about it or when others might be hurt by it. But most of the time, manipulation is healthy and helpful. Like when I call my son Chris real nice like and talk small talk with him, and ask him over for dinner, then ask him to help take care of Johnny for me. I can be manipulative with a teacher or professional too, if they have the power to grant funding or services that my kid needs. You can bet I will be doing a little brown-nosing to help ensure that things go favorably when they are making decisions that affect my kid. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, unless I am dishonest or hurtful in some way. I think it's kind of cute when our kids try to be subtle about it but of course they aren't, we can see right through them. LOL

Johnny is not quite smart enough to be manipulative, but Karie sure is, and her IQ is lower than John's, but she sure knows how to try to get what she needs or wants. She's not always successful, but I have to give her credit for trying. In fact, she tried for two hours this morning to get me to change my mind about a consequence I gave her (no frozen yogurt tomorrow because of an incident last night). I finally had to hang up on her, she just wouldn't stop trying to talk me into negotiating a different consequence. This is one time I can't give in, and it was really tough, believe me. But her powers of manipulation (or persuasion might be a kinder way to phrase it) are really effective with some people. She's like a little lawyer! LOL

PS: A note to the professional attempting to help children affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol, on behalf of all the parents who are unfairly judged based on their children's behaviors:

Children with FASD are vulnerable, naive, immature, and prone to getting into trouble with their poor communication skills, lack of impulse control, underdeveloped conscience, and poor judgment.

Children with FASD tend to exaggerate to make a situation look better or worse than it actually is. They tend to tell a person what they think that person wants to hear. They will embellish a story if it gets the attention of the listener. They are sometimes accused of lying, but they are more often just filling in the blank spaces, or touching up an otherwise real account, but they can at times make up stories just to see someone's reaction.

Attachment disorders are common among children with FASD, and manipulative behavior is common in children with attachment disorders. Professionals in the field of attachment disorders often refer to the affected children as "masters of manipulation."

Please, if a child with FASD relates something to you that sounds unreasonable or unfair, check with the parent to determine how much is true and how much is the child's attempt to manipulate a reaction from you. This is a common trait among children with FASD. In spite of the fact that most of the time they are telling at least partly the truth, keep in mind that it may not be entirely true. Keep in mind also that if you are hearing tall tales about the children's home life, the parents may be hearing tall tales about the teachers or therapists.

Unfortunately, many parents of children with FASD have been falsely accused of physical or sexual abuse of their children. By the time the truth is revealed, jobs are lost and reputations are ruined, and many families are devastated and broken, beyond healing, all because of false stories related by children and wrongly interpreted as true.

I invite you to get to know the family better so that you can be assured that they are not abusive or dysfunctional. Most parents of children with FASD are judged as being overly strict or overprotective, but it is the close supervision and seemingly unreasonable restrictions that keep these kids safe. They are at high risk of being lured into unhealthy or dangerous situations. Most parents are trying to apply the kind of parenting style that is recommended by FAS experts to prevent serious secondary problems.

Your taking the time to learn about FASD behaviors is appreciated. Hopefully you can understand the rationale behind parenting techniques that you might question. You are encouraged to take some time to read the articles at this website: www.fasstar.com/fas

Updated February 14, 2003
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