Children can be viewed as innocent, giving beings
who can do no wrong. They can also be perceived as completely self-centered
when born, and the process of growing up viewed as learning to not
be so self-centered. As any experienced parent knows, both of these
can be true at different times, and the truth lies somewhere in
the middle, regardless of whether a child has autism
Most manipulation of parents by children is within
the range of normal daily experiences. Children (and adults) often
use manipulation as a tool. It is learned and continues to be used,
since it has been effective. All people manipulate at some point
and in our society this is often rewarded. Parents, teachers and
therapists use manipulation to change behavior.
Manipulation operates at a complex level of cognitive and behavioral
functioning. Trying to get what you want is not manipulation by
itself. A child with profound autism might be screaming simply because
they are in pain and need help repositioning. Parents or teachers
may label them as manipulative, “She knows it is not time to go
out” and then ignore the screaming. The result is that the child
remains in extreme pain and adults become frustrated and angry.
Manipulation is often confused with frustration and parents need
to be careful to not mistake manipulative behavior for those that
arise from the nature of autism or Asperger's syndrome.
Forms of manipulation
Manipulation is an indirect attempt to avoid or
obtain something in exchange for not losing emotional control. Manipulation
can lead to assaultive behavior. Remember beneath every manipulative
demand there is a legitimate request. Manipulation can take a variety
In this case the child who is manipulating starts
by making a calm but unreasonable request, given the circumstances.
When the person’s requests/demands are not met several behaviors
can occur such as: Yelling, banging, stomping, property destruction.
ignoring of tantrums is a common management strategy.
Playing the numbers
In this case the person who is manipulating attempts
to “play” people against each other hoping that in the confusion
the request/demand will be met. Group care settings or brothers
and sisters provide an abundance of opportunities for this sort
In this case the child who is manipulating brings
in related, but irrelevant matters, which leaves the parents wondering
what the child really wants. The key symptom is often the parent
feels confused about what the client really wants.
Manipulation is a power play, convincing people
to do what you want them to do without actually controlling them.
When parents, teachers and others feel powerless, they may try and
overcompensate by becoming controlling, which results in the child
becoming more involved in the manipulation. The unprofessional dynamic
is that both the child and staff become engaged in a win-lose situation.
If parents do not understand this dynamic, they will not understand
the reason for effective detachment. Not detaching from the behavior
leads to an increasing power struggle, often resulting in overly
controlling strategies being used, such as punishment.
It is difficult to detach from manipulative behavior.
Under every manipulation is an unmet need that must be identified.
This requires disengaging from the behavior rather than the person.
Detach from the behavior and redirect the person. Remember it is
not the need that is the issue, it is the behavior a child is using
to meet the need that is the issue in manipulative behavior.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
This autism fact sheet is under copyright of autism-help.org