“Moira is so rigid! She wants everything her way and no other highway! Her siblings are fed up that her choices always seem to rule and her friends are tired of being bossed around. She is so self-centered and it is all about her. She keeps everyone hostage so that if some event does not go her way, there is great upheaval and no one gets to enjoy anything that we plan together as a family. It is like she has no empathy for anyone else. We know she has her sweet moments and we see glimpses of a softer nature underneath, but these moments are so spread apart that for the most part she leaves us exasperated.“
This is the lament of some of our parents on an almost weekly basis, though in varying degrees of occurrences. It is a tough behavior to deal with as most families simply want to enjoy their home and activities together and need the flexibility of changed schedules, venues and activities based on everyone’s needs. Many families reach out to behavioral therapists to “curb” the behavior or to drive this behavior to extinction. It frequently ends up getting worse rather than better. This is because it may manifest under the “behavior” category, but the reasons for this behavior is the key to planning the correct intervention.
The number one reason for this rigidity in behavior is that Moira may be struggling with anxiety. This anxiety may be rooted in aspects of her development with regards to emotional milestones. Children have to develop through several layers of emotional stepping-stones that would provide a rounded maturity that would prepare her for her social sense of self. Every typically developing child has to face different fears and anxieties as they grow into understanding their world and sometimes they can be stuck in facing these fears making the “fantasy” of their fear becoming larger than life. Because she is cognitively developing, we do not see this emotional developmental delay that is causing unreasonable anxiety and it is holding her back, disenabling her to match her cognitive IQ with her emotional IQ.
A second reason, very close to the first, is Moira’s sensory profile. Her sensory experiences may be causing her to respond to environmental stimuli in ways that are causing great physical insecurity. If she is not comfortable with the lighting in a room, the sounds in the background, the “feel” of her clothing, the taste or texture of food, she may respond with rigidity simply as a way to control her experiences. As she cannot rely on her body to interpret these experiences well, whether it is under registering it or over registering the information, she would need to contain the experiences she is exposed to in order to gain better control over a situation.
Because she is cognitively developing, we do not see this emotional developmental delay that is causing unreasonable anxiety and it is holding her back, disenabling her to match her cognitive IQ with her emotional IQ.
A third reason would pose the possibility of Moira having motor planning difficulties. Our brain tells our body how to move and how to arrange activity in a sequential manner while continuously adapting to new and novel changes in a fluid and flexible way. Moira may have difficulty adapting to a new motor plan and therefore tries to gain control by doing everything the same way or not tolerating changes very well as she has to renegotiate her troubled body each time to adapt to the change. What becomes automatic for other children, as their developing bodies grow into new and different experiences, never really becomes automatic for her. Think about learning to drive a car. It is almost like you have to face the learning to drive over and over as you never seem to get the hang of it. There are too many variables to consider and the adjustment each time asks too much of her.
All three reasons can be addressed by a thorough evaluation and it can be addressed. As Moira may be quite intelligent, families will mostly try the behavioral routes first because it does not make sense to them that they know she gets it, why does she not change or adapt to other’s expectations. But what they do not know is that she has no idea that her body and emotions are responding in a different way than theirs. She is unable to tell them what is really at the core. All she knows in her subconscious, is that it feels better if she could simply control or “boss” everyone so things could go her way and she could protect herself from having to adapt to too many unexpected changes. Most of her behavior is rooted in self-protection and it requires specific intervention to reach the core of her issue and to start change from within. There is no child that does not want to feel successful, no child that at the core does not want to please their parent, but if their developing systems are at war with expectations, the first human behavior they will turn to is self protection. And this is true for all of us, we all have this instinct in times of trouble and Moira is no different. There is always a root cause and the answer does not lie in addressing behavior alone.