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Health Centre

Tackling Behavioural Problems

Watch a small, normal child with a parent. There seems to be an endless stream of communication aided by touch, eye contact, verbal communication, and signs. Sometimes the participants are not even aware they are communicating. Communication is a need and is very reassuring for a child.

In a child with a disability, some of the communication channels are cut. In a child whose motor functions are limited, the possibility of running and hugging the mother may be limited. If there is speech or visual impairment, the problem is so much more complicated. So it is quite natural that spastic children exhibit behaviour problems. They can throw tantrums, thrash about on the floor, use harsh words in a loud voice, or be listless.

Possible causes and solutions for behavioural problems

  • Frustration: The inability to do what they like leads to frustration and anger.

    Help the child to feel a sense of achievement. Help the child to do things herself.

  • Inability to communicate: Sometimes due to their disability they cannot communicate with people around. So a child, who cannot walk freely, has aural or visual problems, tends to demand the mother’s presence in its vicinity continuously.

    Keep the child involved. Quite often mothers are happy to leave the child by herself and get a break from the many things she has to do for the child. This is understandable. However, you can keep the child involved by just talking to her, making frequent eye contact.

  • Boredom: Most spastic children do not have neighbourhood playmates. Even siblings do not want to spend too much time with them.

    There is little chance of a spastic child with limited mobility having a gang of friends to play with. Try and invite a group of children of the child’s age once a week or so. They can bring their indoor games and you can arrange some fun things to do. Do not worry that your child may not behave properly or not relate to the other children. Initially this might happen. But quite soon children get used to each other.

  • Short attention spans: Many of those who are immobile let their attention wander. In all young children attention spans are short. But they soon learn to sustain it. In some spastic children it improves with age.

    Position the child straight up and talk directly to the child. When you are teaching the child something, take the child to a bare corner of the room. Switch off the TV or any noisy gadgets in the room. Try to increase the attention span gradually.

  • The child may be hyperactive:

    Consult your doctor. Medication may be advised.


Enforcing discipline with respect to a handicapped child becomes difficult. This is primarily because of our ambivalent attitude to the child. In some homes, there is too much negative feedback and this creates further discipline problems. In some other homes the child is infanticised. “ Oh the poor thing! He can’t understand.” Ideally the child should be treated much like any other child.

  • Temper tantrums: Ignore them if you can. If the child is being destructive, tell him firmly but directly that the behaviour has to stop. Tell him something he likes will be denied to him.

  • Criticism: You will find yourself correcting the child on many occasions. But this has to take the form of an explanation rather than criticism. Too much criticism will have a retaliatory effect. The child is likely to do something that is not acceptable, on the sly.

  • Socially acceptable behaviour is learnt: You have to help him learn self-control.

  • Don’t get into shouting matches with the child: He will think it is OK to shout and that the more powerful wins.

  • Don’t give in when the child is throwing a tantrum: Get him to stop the unacceptable behaviour. Reason things with him. If you give in when he shouts, it reinforces the behaviour.

Sibling Behaviour

The other children in the family with a handicapped child should be taught to accept the child. Truth about the condition of the child must be explained to the other children. Otherwise the following problems may create tensions in the family.

When Young: The brothers and sisters of the handicapped child may find that parents are giving too much attention to the handicapped child and may feel jealous. In a family where the handicapped child is ignored or taunted, the other children may also do it, adding to the torment of the child.

Children may also be ashamed of their sibling especially in the company of their friends who might stare or giggle or say rude things. This feeling of shame may continue into adulthood when youngsters are dating or receiving proposals of marriage.

As Adults: Siblings resent the handicapped child as they feel that eventually the burden of care may fall on them. Try to involve the siblings but also provide for the handicapped child so that he may not be totally dependent on them.

Don’t hide the fact that there is a handicapped person in the family when you receive marriage proposals for the siblings. In the case of the spastics, it is not hereditary or progressive or contagious. There are many institutions coming up for the care these children. Explain all these to the people concerned so that there is no confusion later.


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