When Your Child’s Defiance is Coming From Being Neurologically Disorganized

messy garage

Over a few decades of being a homecare OTR, I have seen a lot of different reactions from parents.  And received a lot of different requests.  The most honest ones are from parents who think their child is constantly defying them.  They would like some pointers so they can stop wishing they were on a tropical island instead of in front of a kitchen island.  They would like to make a request and not have to file an amicus brief to get a positive response.

Many times, most of their push-back they are receiving is due to sensory processing issues blended with inconsistent expectations at home and school.

Let me explain.


Try to imagine that you have sensory processing problems.  The sounds of the vacuum or microwave make you jumpy.  The way your sleeves ride up and down your arms incites you to think you should go find a scissor and turn a long-sleeved shirt into a short-sleeved shirt.  The echo in the public bathroom almost makes you want to hold it in until you get home.  Something good happens, and you are giddy and unfocused for hours after.  Everyone laughs and calms down, but not you.  It is twice as hard when you are upset.

Now add to ALL of that.


Your boss sometimes cares if your work is in on time, and not other times.  Your schedule changes every day.  You never know when you will be called in, work at home, or expected to travel.  You can leave your desk a mess and be fine, or hear that you aren’t making the office a good place for others to get their work done.  Sometimes your boss will do your project for you, and then other times you will be told that you will never rise in the organization if you don’t learn to do it yourself.

Get the picture?  When you don’t have clear routines and expectations, the demand on you is magnified.  The demand on your nervous system increases.  You almost always will become either defiant or depressed.  Sometimes a bit of both.

The greater the sensory processing problems a child has, the more consistent their limits and routines have to be.  From everyone they deal with on a regular basis.  And particularly at home, where the environment doesn’t create it’s own structure.  Nobody wants to live in a facility, so there is a difference.  But consistent routines and expectations are helpful, not harsh.  These are the foundations that they need to get on track and back on track when their nervous system doesn’t help them handle life.

Does treatment help?  Is there ever an end to this need for structure and limits?

Of course, getting treatment for sensory processing issues is always the right way to go.  But if a child has ASD or many other diagnoses, including giftedness, they will always find sensory processing to be a challenge.  They need to learn that their life goes better when they create their own structure.  Not rigid, because rigid foundations crumble under stress.  But strong foundations.  Foundations that can lift them up when life is hard.


Here is the good news about sticking to routines and holding firm on limits when you would really like to let it all drop:  parents are finding that helping their kids keep routines also helps them, as parents, when they are under stress.  

Which is….all the time!

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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