Recently my frustrated husband had a conversation with Cole where he told Cole that he was behaving like a selfish child and that he was only thinking of himself. It got me thinking and I realized that in many ways it’s true, he is selfish. It also made me wonder if this is something that is common amongst kids with special needs. By nature of their condition(s) they require additional attention and care, sometimes at the expense of someone else’s needs. It’s just a reality of their lives.

I don’t think that Cole is inherently selfish or narcissistic but I think it’s hard to not exhibit these tendencies when you’ve had people (your parents) basically catering to your every need for your entire existence and bolstering your self-esteem at every opportunity. Because he isn’t physically able to provide some of the niceties or support or even comfort, he’s not really developed a strong means of expressing empathy, sympathy or emotions using other tools. The toll of some of his brain injury also makes it hard for him to completely have a handle on his own emotions or his interpretation of other people’s feelings.

At the heart, Cole is a loving, kind kid but some of his behaviors feel manipulative and selfish. He doesn’t often recognize the impact his behavior, especially bad behavior, has on the other people around him. He’s not prone to big tantrums or anything that dramatic especially in public, but he does express anger and frustration with some choice actions like teeth gnashing, biting, and striking out with his arms or legs, often directed at his dad and me. It’s not pretty and it’s not something we condone but it’s also not something we’ve yet figured out how to maneuver. Punishment doesn’t serve us well because he doesn’t care to associate the punishment with his action.

Sometimes his lack of recognizing that there are other people who likewise matter simply translates into outright rudeness. We might be on the phone with his grandparents and when he tires of the conversation or feels ignored, he reacts with frustration by grinding his teeth and vocalizing by shouting or whining. He’s unwilling to accept that not every conversation will be about him or will interest him.

I can’t help but wonder if this something we haplessly fostered. All children become the center of their parents universe, but when you have a child who needs you for everything, the tendency is to pour everything into them and unlike typical children, who gradually become more and more independent, your child continues to need your dedicated attention, which can also be a source of frustration in their own desire for independence. You want to make their lives as rich and full as possible, and you want them to feel loved, cared for, and empowered. But where is the balance?

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