Saturday, June 27, 2009

Spectrum Saturdays: Tantrums


In Autism circles, you'll sometimes hear people talk about "meltdowns". Meltdowns aren't like regular tantrums. They sweep a child away in a way that a tantrum does not. Tantruming kids want attention and will look to see if they're getting it. They tend to not hurt themselves, and the tantrum can be stopped if the parents give in.

Meltdowns are totally out of the child's control. They happen and the child doesn't care if anyone is looking, if they get what they want, or anything else. Sometimes something has set them off, like a tantrum. But sometimes they're just really overstimulated.

I know so many Spectrum moms who've felt judged when their child has had one of these meltdowns in public. It's why I tell people not to assume that a screaming child is being naughty. There may be things going on that you don't know about. And I can't tell you how many moms have been hurt by people questioning their parenting when the truth is that they're doing the best they can with a special needs child.

So, I told you last week about Ciaran's big breakthrough. He wants things now, and he's making choices. With the advice of his speech therapist we've been offering him lots of choices to encourage those verbal skills he's picked up. And, truly, he's still picking up more words. It's totally amazing.

Of course, it seems that with every breakthrough, there ends up being some downside. And this time I think Ciaran is really getting the idea that there's so much he still can't communicate. And it is seriously ticking this child off. He had no less than 10 tantrums before lunch today. Now, he didn't have meltdowns (thank goodness) but a frustrated tantrum in a 40 lb. 3 year old with limited verbal skills is still a sight to behold. If you're lucky, you'll find earplugs.

With Ciaran, I see tantrums (as well as meltdowns) as something to help him through. He doesn't have the words or the social skills necessary to stop himself. So, it's up to me. It's not like he knows better and isn't doing it. He honestly doens't know what to do to communicate his frustration. Right now I spend a lot of time holding him tight and verbalizing for him. "You're really angry/frustrated/sad/etc." so that he can start putting feelings with words.

I don't know if this is the right thing to do, but it's what feels right to me. And I tend to think my mommy intuition is pretty good where this kind of thing is concerned. Of course it's only fair to admit that sometimes, I wish I could throw myself on the floor right next to him and scream, too. I'm only human and I get frustrated. But, we'll get through this as we get through all things. Through Him who strengthens us.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Phillipians 4:13

The Ribbon


  1. Ciaran is such an interesting name! How do you pronounce it?

    What a blessing it is that Ciaran has you for a seem very tuned in to his needs and emotions. As much as his autism has been a struggle and challenge for you and your family, I have no doubt that this precious little boy is a blessing to YOU, too...praise God, from whom ALL blessings flow! :-)

    We have a couple in our church family who have a daughter with Asperger's Syndrome. The girl's name is Sara. Her parents have been her advocates for years, learning everything they could about Asperger's, fighting to get treatments for Sara, sending her to special camps, etc. Well, Sara graduated from high school a few weeks ago. She was so proud, as were her family and friends! She will be attending our local community college this fall.

    All of this to say that I forsee great accomplishments for Ciaran, as a result of the early intervention therapy he is experiencing.

    Hang in there, little mama. :-)

  2. I find myself really being able to identify with so many of your posts about autism. As far as I know, my daughter isn't autistic but she sure does do a lot of things that match these posts you've been doing on Saturdays! Rejeanne has a significant speech delay and she has meltdowns. There are times when her inability to say what she needs just frustrates her so bad that she doesn't know what to do with herself. She'll scream, claw at her skin,and pull on her hair during the worst ones. The more usual ones involve her screaming, running to her room, slamming the door, and returning when she feels better. I'm really glad that she absorbed it at age 1 when I told her bedrooms were the appropriate venue for fits. Anyways, she recently learned to say "hello" and "bye" consistently when people come and go. Along with that, she is no longer freaking out everytime someone enters or leaves the house. This has eliminated at least 6-8 scream/run/return events a day!! I'm really thankful that I didn't treat her "drama" as tantrums from a bratty kid for the last 2 years. I'm glad I was able to recognize that her lack of speech was probably frustrating her and causing the behavior.

    Anne, you are right to trust your intuition with Ciaran! Thank you so much for sharing these behavioral things that most people would maybe view negatively. I feel much less alone in my feelings and worries about Rejeanne when I read your spectrum posts and things about Ciaran.

  3. Hi, Beth!

    Ciaran is pronounced with a hard C. It's an Irish name. Like Kiaran (Kee-ruhn)

    My oldest son has Asperger's too. And, it's true, with good intervention they don't have to be held back at all.

    Claire, I posted on your blog. =)

  4. Tantrums at my house increase with pain and illness. I grab a flashlight and do a throat check, for starters. A GREAT book that explains tantrums, calling them "flare ups" instead, is, "The Fabric of Autism," by Judith Bluestone.

  5. Thanks for the book suggestion, Penny. I'm always looking for resources that will help me understand and parent my boys better.


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