Parent Abuse is Domestic Violence


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 126 · Duration: 00:13:07

Parent Abuse is Domestic Violence

Parent Abuse is Domestic Violence

What do you do, when you have a young adult at home who is on the Autism Spectrum and will assault you if you set limits?  

And if you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come on over to my website, click on either For Families or For Treatment Programs, then click on any podcast and scroll down to the end where it says “submit your question” and enter it there and why not do it today.  And while you’re there, download a free copy of my Parental Burnout Recovery Guide.

In April of 2018, I posted a podcast titled My Failure to Launch Son where I gave an example of the kind of talk a parent can have with an unmotivated low performing young adult living at home. 

Catherine recently listened to that podcast and she writes:

If I were to have this discussion with my son, who is very similar, I would be in grave danger.  He would lash out at me and hurt me.  What do you do to motivate a violent son who is on the autism spectrum without putting yourself in danger?

Thank you, Catherine, for this vital question.  I say vital because there are too many families out there where violence is a real threat. It’s important to note that the threat of violence is violence.  It has the effect of putting people on high alert and so stress chemicals are released into the body that go along with fight, flight, and freeze responses.  It’s no way to live.

The Danger of Not Setting Limits

These situations don’t develop overnight.  Situations where violence is happening or being threatened evolve over time.  Today we’ll save the discussion of violence or threatened violence in a couple's relationship for another podcast, and talk about a teenager or young adult using violence in their home.

Catherine, for whatever reason, you’ve been giving away your power and not setting limits for a long time and now your son is like the 800 lb. guerilla. You know the old saying, where does an 800 lb. guerilla sit?  Anywhere they want to.  I’ll just guess that your son, who is on the autism spectrum, has always been difficult to set limits with and you’ve looked for ways to avoid conflict and keep him content.  I’m sure it’s more complicated than that but most likely some version of that is accurate. 

You’ve heard me speak of Control Battles and that’s what this is and has been. He got angry and hostile when he didn’t get his way, and you tried to manage him with some amount of accommodation.  He controlled you with anger, you controlled him with accommodation. Now that he is older, things are less flexible and his violence or threat of violence is more serious, perhaps even life threatening.

And so you’re thinking, great Neil, thanks for the insight but what the heck do I do now?  Good question. I’ll offer some ways you can think about the situation with your son, and some things you can consider trying. 

It is not your job to motivate your son. It is your job to love and support your son, and as long as he’s in your home, set limits with your son.Click To Tweet

Your question to me is “how do I motivate my son?”  It is not your job to motivate your son.  It is your job to love your son, which you do, support your son, and as long as he’s in your home, set limits with your son.  So these are the bigger questions and it’s important for you to know that loving and supporting your son, means setting limits with him because where he is now is a dead end. He needs to accept that you are not going to enable his lack of development or his threat of violence any more.

Yes, I hear you loud and clear. Setting limits right now is dangerous for you and your safety and getting out of an unsafe situation is vital. 

It’s also important to think about this from the other vantage point; that your son, who has special needs, is not learning critical skills, social skills, emotional skills, and he is not being prepared for life.  I don’t know where he is on the spectrum, but regardless, he is not learning life skills and developing his potential for independent living.  And we want him to achieve his highest level of potential.  I’m sure your son has received services to support him through his childhood and adolescence and now he needs services as a young adult and you need to think about how to access them.

I recommend that you talk with the professionals who helped him before and they can tell you about services and programs for young adults.  Go and talk with the appropriate mental health organization and professionals and find out what services they have for him.  You may be thinking, “that’s great, but he won’t go.”

Getting Law Enforcement and the Mental Health Community Involved

Okay, Catherine, got it!  Here is another thing we need to think about.  Violence and threatening violence is illegal. No one, not even your son, is allowed to physically hurt or threaten to hurt you.  That’s against the law.  Many police departments and law enforcement agencies have working relationships with the mental health community. Here are some things you can try.

Go to your local police or law enforcement agency and tell them what’s going on. See if they’ll come to the house, maybe with a mental health professional and talk to your son about violence and what will happen if he hurts or threatens to hurt you, and options that the mental health community has for him.

Now at least they will know about the situation and if you need them, they can respond in the best way. 

Now you say that if you tell your son that things need to change and tell him the changes you expect, that he might hurt you physically.  Then what I recommend is that you write your expectations and the changes that you require down in clear bullet point form and let him know that you will respond to any threat or display of violence by dialing 911. 

Many parents in your position will say, “I don’t want to call the police on my kid, I don’t want to get them in trouble, they’ll never forgive me.” 

And that’s why situations like yours often go unresolved and sometimes ending tragically.  You are not calling the police on your kid.  You are doing what needs to be done, getting help when help is needed.  The justice system does not want to criminalize or lock up a spectrum disordered young adult.  They want your son in the mental health system, not theirs. So their job is to help you get him there by making it known to your son that he needs to work with his mental health to avoid working with law enforcement. 

Now about those mental health services. No matter what, do not agree to once a week individual counseling as an acceptable treatment response to your son’s level of dysfunction.  He needs a more intensive program than that such as day treatment.  He needs a plan for what he is going to do out of the home and he needs services to be able to work towards that goal. 

Changing Your Dynamics at Home

Here is the critical piece that many mental healthy programs will leave out if you let them.  The two of you are going to need a plan and support for how things can go forward in a healthy way while your son is at home.  How he’ll deal with limits and how the two of you can talk, discuss, and negotiate in a healthy way.  How your relationship can be non-violent and healthy.  In order for your son to effectively utilize the services they will offer him, the dynamic at home, with him being the 800 lb. guerilla will need to change.  Otherwise, he’ll go through the motions and not invest or get anything sustaining out of the work.

Catherine, a big part of this being successful is you changing your role in the Control Battle.  You need to get out of accommodation as your way of managing his anger and put him in charge of managing his anger.  The two resources you can use to support you when you do that is the mental health and law enforcement communities.

The two resources you can use to support you is the mental health and law enforcement communities.Click To Tweet

You will need to be a strong advocate to make sure that he gets what he needs and you get the support and physical and emotional safety you need.  By changing your mindset and empowering yourself, you’ll be helping both yourself and your son.

 Catherine is not alone in dealing with a violent young adult or teen in their home.  As therapists, we can help these families by first helping them know that they are entitled to a physically and emotionally safe home. Without looking to make anyone a perpetrator or a victim, empower them to link up with the best resources.  And anytime violence is involved, law enforcement must be considered.  And any real and sustained change will require change in the family dynamic, not just change within the youth.

Thank you, Catherine, for your important question.  If you are a parent and would like to consult with me, or if you are a behavioral treatment program of any kind and would like to find the missing piece that will improve outcomes in your program, come to my website, and give me a call or shoot me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

And please, take care of yourselves!  You need it.  You deserve it.  You’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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