Internet Horrified by Mother-in-Law's Way of Disciplining Autistic Grandson

Looking after a child with complex needs can be challenging, but this grandma's way of dealing of with her grandson's behavior has left the internet horrified.

In a viral Mumsnet post, user Maynot explained her son, 6, has autism, which is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain that affects one in 44 children in the United States, according to the CDC.

On March 12, the mother said that a recent visit to her mother-in-law's house left her in shock. She states her son often gets rough in play when he is "overly excited."

Gran pic
A stock image of a woman consoling her son and an angry grandma. Newsweek reached out to a parenting mentor who provided tips for the Mumsnet user. nd3000 / TatyanaGl/iStock / Getty Images Plus

This isn't uncommon for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) as hand-flapping, body-rocking, chewing, or biting nonedible objects are stereotypical behaviors linked to autism. They are known as "stimming" which "acts as a self-regulatory mechanism to help relieve anxiety, anger, fear, and excitement as well as ward off meltdowns due to emotional insecurities," according to the CDC.

The Mumsnet user states it is "rare" for her son to bite and it is never out of aggression. On this occasion, he was "rough in play" with his grandmother before biting her. But what she did next left the mother feeling "shocked" and "disgusted."

She claims her mother-in-law [MIL] hit the young boy "hard on the back and shouted at him that should not bite."

She wrote: "This obviously frightened him. We tried to explain why to him we don't bite/do our usual discipline but he was inconsolable. He kept hiding behind me and asking [me] to go home.

"When I went to help DS [darling son] get ready to leave, DH [darling husband] called her out on it. He said that he understood that it may have been an old habit/instant reaction, however, we do not hit DS and to please never do that again. She said that we can parent how we want, but she will discipline as she sees fit."

In the comments, the mother doesn't disregard her son's biting but she believes there is a better way to stop him from doing it that doesn't involve smacking.

"I know how much a bite can hurt, which is why we both acknowledged that it could have been an instant reaction. That wouldn't have made it okay, but I could understand it. But it's the lack of remorse and the idea that she would be willing to do it again that is very concerning to me," she wrote.

Susan Groner is the author of Parenting With Sanity & Joy: 101 Simple Strategies and founder of The Parenting Mentor, a provider of parent coaching sessions. She told Newsweek: "It's important that the husband has a relaxed conversation with his mom," including the following:

  1. Validate that she must have been really shocked when she was bitten and that he's not sure how he may have responded under a similar situation.
  2. Provide information about their son's autism and why it's important to learn to have different reactions.
  3. Explain that autistic children need to be disciplined differently -and provide rationale. Actual articles, etc would be helpful.
  4. Tell her it's really important to him that her son gets to spend time with his grandma and he needs buy-in re this other form of discipline. Setting this boundary is very important—but shouldn't be posed as a threat.

The popular post has received over 170 responses and 75 percent of 615 poll voters have said the mom isn't being unreasonable.

One user said: "This is easily solved. Just don't let her look after your son unsupervised. I don't think you should cut her off. That is going too far. She is your husband's mother and the grandmother of your kids. If she's otherwise a good GP [grandparent] then, I think you can still work at trying to persuade her not to do it. Your son has special needs so hitting him won't actually stop him [from] doing it anyway. You probably need to explain to her that she can't hit your kids and if she can't agree to your house rules she isn't welcome. That way, it would be her cutting you off, not the other way around."

Another said: "Was it a shock reaction to being bitten or was it definitely a punishment smack? If it was the former I would give her another chance, a bite from a child that age I imagine would be painful. If she was just smacking because that's her default punishment I would not forgive her."

Newsweek was not able to verify the details of the case.

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