June 25, 2018
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My 4-year-old grandson is misbehaving — could it be autism?


Q. I’m concerned about my active, headstrong 4-year-old grandson. He is cute as a button but he has had behavioral issues since he was 18 months old despite getting timeouts and limits. His speech is delayed; his fine motor skills are poor; his impulse control is shaky; he can be rough with smaller children and he often ignores people when he’s playing with a toy. And since he wants to know how his trucks and trains work — and his parents want to keep him busy — he has many, many toys.

My daughter — an at-home mom — is worn out and worried, especially about autism. Family and friends give her their opinions; his teachers ask for an evaluation and his doctor says he may need medication. This freaks me out, because I don’t think a growing brain should get Ritalin.

Also he has touched my breasts several times and those of a 12-year-old family friend. This mortified my daughter because he knows that breasts are for breastfeeding and that he must keep his hands to himself.

My grandson — a tall, strong boy — has many positive qualities however. He dresses himself, goes to the toilet alone, sleeps at least nine hours a night, eats many foods (and a little chocolate) but he doesn’t drink sodas and he hasn’t had any allergies or unusual illnesses.

He likes to have fun too. He plays outdoors, reads books; goes to pre-K; knows his letters, numbers and colors; counts to 99 and enjoys the family’s two goofy, sweet (and ill-trained) dogs. He never mentions having any friends, however, although he plays with the 6-year-old girl next door.

My grandson did, however, have some big changes this year. Although he quickly adjusted to his new house and to the long hours required by his dad’s new job, he’s been scared of loud noises ever since a smoke alarm went off one night.

The biggest change was the arrival of his baby sister seven weeks ago. We give him extra attention but he wants more whenever she is being breastfed or even held. Should the parents medicate my grandson? Should they get a private evaluation? Please point us in the right direction.


A. You’ve saved the best for last, haven’t you?

Your grandson does have some problems but his little sister is his biggest one. A new baby always shakes up an old baby, especially if he has behavioral issues. And why not? She gets presents, she gets picked up when she cries and she enchants everyone he loves. This boy must feel as unloved, unwanted and unnecessary as an old shoe.

Your grandson will feel better about himself — and keep his hands away from your breasts — if your daughter asks him for help before he asks for her attention and if she tells him that he is the best present his little sister could get. He rocks her cradle better than anyone, fetches her diaper faster and he can even teach her to talk. The more people talk to her in the first three years, the bigger her vocabulary will be and the higher her I.Q. And the more time he spends with her, the more she will adore him.

All he has to do is sit next to her, face to face, and say the same word over and over without taking his eyes away from hers. Once she sees how his lips and tongue work she’ll try to move her lips and tongue the same way and she’ll soon try to make the same sound. A baby can’t wait to talk.

His parents will still have to work on their son’s behavioral problems. Medication may suppress them but look at his diet first. The wrong foods probably cause more trouble in children than anything else.

Because his behavior fell apart when he started eating regular foods — and because 62 percent of regular foods are processed — you need to cut out all additives, preservatives, oranges, tomatoes and other salicylates for five or six days to see if he acts better. If not, look at his dairy intake. Lactase dissipates in most children around the time they’re weaned and then they may not be able to digest the lactose in dairy products. To check this out, his mother should switch him to lactaid milk and have him skip ice cream and cheese for a month. If he still acts up, let him go gluten-free for as long as two months, to find out whether his gut can process the gluten that’s in bread, barley and rye. If not, he may feel — and act — miserably.

And if he still misbehaves after these home evaluations? Have him examined by an experienced ADHD tester and do what he says.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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