When your child says "I want to kill myself" -

When your child says “I want to kill myself”

Elliott came downstairs this morning to let me know that Emmett had said something that really upset him.  I assumed this was just more bickering and perhaps a bit of tattling.

However, I was completely caught off guard when he told me that Emmett said “I want to kill myself”.

For those of you that don’t know, Emmett is our 4 year old little boy. He was officially diagnosed with #Autism about a year and a half ago. 

One of Emmett’s challenges has to do with speech and communication.  While he has made great strides he still struggles with expressive language and can be very difficult to understand.  This makes him very frequently frustrated and understandably so.


Apparently Emmett had become very frustrated with himself over something he was working on.

He reached a frustration level where he began hitting himself – this is something he learned from watching his oldest brother- and he shouted “I want to kill myself”. This pretty much freaked Elliott out and he came to get help.

I immediately sat down with Emmett and asked him what was wrong.  He was just very frustrated because he had lost something and couldn’t find it. 

I was pretty sure that he didn’t really want to kill himself or for that matter even understand what he had said. Having said that, I wanted to take this seriously, without making a huge deal out of it.

I basically, told him that nothing should ever make him so frustrated that he wants to hurt himself.  If he does get that frustrated, it’s my job to help him through it. 

I explained that it makes me sad when he hits himself and even sadder when he gets hurt. 

I pretty much left it at that.

That was totally shooting from the hip and I don’t know if that was the right thing to say. 

I mean really, how many 4 year olds say that they want to kill themselves? My guess is that he heard this during one of Gavin’s tantrums and just sorta filed it away for another time.  I don’t think he had any idea what he was saying. 

This is one of the things that Gavin’s behaviors have led to. 

Of course Gavin isn’t responsible for Emmett actions.  He didn’t make him do anything. However, Gavin has a huge amount of influence over his brothers and they not only look up to him but also learn from his example.  When Gavin gets mad he hurts himself.  Unfortunately, the boys have been witness to this far to many times and have learned that you hit yourself when you get angry or frustrated. 

Believe me, we have tried to counter this but it just doesn’t work out well.

I’m pretty sure that’s when he learned to say “I want to kill myself.” Gavin has been known to say that when he gets angry with us as a means of trying to manipulate us.

Like I said, I wanted Emmett to know that we don’t hurt ourselves when we get angry and that it makes me sad when he does hurt himself.  I reinforced how much I love him and tried to show him how to better handle his frustration going forward.  He knows that I’m there for him and for know, that should suffice.. I hope.

I’ll be honest with you.  It’s heartbreaking to hear those words come out of a small child’s mouth, let alone my own small child.

I’m also frustrated and angry because this is the impact Gavin has had on his younger brothers.  Instead of being a positive influence these are the things he’s taught them.  They never seem to pick up on the good things Gavin is very capable of doing.

We will of course let Dr. Patti know about this next week but for now, I think it’s dealt with.

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Ironically that very statement is what started us on our journey into the autism world. My then 7 year old daughter came to me one day out of the blue and said mommy sometimes I just want to kill myself. Remaining calm on the outside and screaming on the inside, I asked her matter of factly why she feels that way and if she had thought of how. She had thought about how which surprised me even more. We are extremely strict about what our children read, hear, see and watch in all forms of media. The next day after I dropped her off at school I had made an appointment with a play therapist and had her in within the week. She is now 10 and we have made some strides but we have also met with roadblocks. When we are having a bad aspie day in our house, I remind myself that she likely doesn’t have much control over her reactions. Her meltdowns manifest because of anxiety or overstimulation. Of course it doesn’t help that my hubby most likely was misdiagnosed as ADHD as a child and has aspergers, my oldest is a sensory seeker, then my aspie, followed by my anxiety/ADHD kiddo, and my baby who just turned 5 and we know he is not “normal” but can’t quite put our finger on what he is dealing with. I am so blessed to have him in the special needs program for preschool because of an articulation issue. We too often wonder if his aspielike behavior is modeled or real. Only time will tell!


Wow. This brings back memories. Didn’t think I’d ever hear of someone else wanting to off themselves so young. You have such precocious children. 
I’m an aspie. Sort of. OCD runs in my family, as does extreme social awkwardness, and depression. Going back several generations. I’m in my late-20’s now, so aspie diagnoses didn’t exist when I was a kid, but I was diagnosed with OCD and depression. 
Anyways, on to how this is relevant to your post. I was in counseling from ages ~4-14. Give or take a couple of years at the end. My parents, whose marriage was decidedly on the rocks because they were having financial, career, and social difficulties along with an incredibly fussy child (me), had been going to counseling before they decided I should join in on the fun. 
I started going after the first time, around age 3 or 4, I earnestly looked into my mother’s eyes and said, “I want to be dead.” I even went through a phase in elementary school where I periodically wrote and rewrote suicide notes. My mom wasn’t very happy when she found a couple of the discarded ones I wasn’t careful about hiding. 
I can assure that when I was that age I had some inkling of what I meant. And I more or less meant what I said. It just wasn’t necessarily what people around me heard. I meant, “I’m not happy, and the reasons I’m not happy are out of my control. For reasons beyond my control my parents are unhappy and struggling. And my emotions are so sensitive that I feel physical pain when they and my sister are unhappy and upset. For reasons beyond my control I’m incredibly awkward, prone to emotional fits, don’t know how to deal with my younger sister, don’t have any friends, and am incapable of just being like everyone else. And these things that are beyond my control don’t look like they’re going to ever get any better. They look like they’re only going to get worse. If this is life, I don’t want it. I didn’t sign up for this. I don’t deserve this. I want to be dead.” 
I didn’t say it because I wanted attention. I didn’t say it because I was trying to manipulate anyone. I certainly didn’t say it because I’d heard anyone else said it. I said it because I honestly didn’t want to exist. I was hurting and didn’t know how to regulate my emotions or expectations. I didn’t know where to find happiness or peace.
Well, other than when doing the silly little activities that comprised my happy comfort zone. Playing with matchbox cars. Building legos. Watching ghostbusters. But anything that disturbed that could lead to everything going to hell in a handbasket. Someone else touching my legos? Instant tantrum. Someone else moving my matchbox cars which I had organized across the entire kitchen floor, even if it was just my mom because she was making food so I wouldn’t starve? Huge tantrum. Telling me I had to stop watching ghostbusters? Probably easier to just forget about whatever you planned to be doing the next several hours because that’s how long it’ll be before I stop being a threat to myself. Repeatedly pounding my head across walls, doors, and floors was apparently a particularly favored way of venting my unhappiness. 
It was many years of fairly concentrated effort, on the part of parents, grandparents, teachers, therapists, friends, girlfriends, and myself, before I started to have the tools to help regulate my own emotions. It’s still an ongoing process, though it’s been 5 years since my last major depressive episode. 
But that’s probably sounds pretty depressing. So if you’re looking for hope, here’s some. Despite dealing with suicidal thoughts, heavy depression, huge amounts of self-hatred, and heaping tons of social difficulties, I’m still alive at 28. No attempted suicides, either. I’m in my last year of a Math PhD program, and I have a job as a computer programmer at a major tech firm lined up. Despite my difficulties I’ve lived on my own, successfully made friends and developed a social life, and generally been OK. 
Well, except that spending your entire life struggling with suicidal depression tends to color your sense of humor. Suicide and depression become something of a joke. This can lead to awkward exchanges. 
I don’t know how much of my experience relates to what Emmet is thinking or feeling. But I just wanted to throw it out there as an aspie who did say, “I want to kill myself” at 4 years of age and totally meant it.


my 10 year old has also been threatening to kill himself for many years… and it is horrifying and heartbreaking. In all the years I have never gotten used to hearing it and I doubt I ever will. 
He is our oldest and his actions definitely affect our younger two. Oh my heart. 
I’m so sorry those words came out of your 4 year old.

Suzi Shumaker

My 10-year-old aspie started threatening suicide in first grade. He has gone a lot farther in the past few months. My reaction? I tell him that I’ll never forgive anyone who hurts my child. That gets an apology and a promise…until the next time.

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