This blog would not be complete without an entry on tantrums.
Tantrums are a special feature of daily life with an ASD child. Back in pre-diagnosis days, Bright Eyes would have had, on average, six major tantrums per day. I'm talking about kicking, screaming, head banging, running through the house, throwing things around and other generally uncontrollable behaviour.
"Yeah, well, whatever," I might hear parents of any other small child say. "Every kid throws tantrums."
And that is true. My oldest child was a particular expert at the pinching, hitting, hair pulling kind from the age of two. At the age of three she wrote 'No Mummy' on the wall when something didn't go her way. (Black permanent texta... a whole other story.) And up to the age of five she was having regular screaming matches with me when she got overtired, which unfortunately was a lot of nights in a row.
The difference with ASD tantrums is that they are almost completely unpredictable. I could usually understand why my daughter threw her wobblies, but I can hardly ever pinpoint the reasons that Bright Eyes loses it.
This morning, for example, we came inside the house. He sat down, took two shoes and one sock off, then just began crying. He yelled for his sister and dad (who were out at her hockey game) and then screamed "James' room, James' room" at the top of his lungs. At that point he ran sobbing to James' room where he climbed into the cot and continued to cry for the next half hour.
The other difference with ASD tantrums is that it is almost impossible to talk or reason the child out of it. Because I don't understand the cause of the tantrum, and because Bright Eyes' receptive language is poor (ie. he often doesn't appear to understand what I'm talking about), I can't say, "hey buddy, next time you feel sad, you can use words". For a start, he hardly gets the concept of 'next time'...
I think ASD tantrums are like the tantrums of a 12 to 18 month old in many ways. You're dealing with pure emotions that are out of the child's control. With a lot of older (age 2 -3) neurotypical children, you can often head the tantrum off at the pass. Or, even if you can't, you can understand what caused the tantrum (once it's over) and talk about it once everyone is calm again.
Also, you know that it's a stage that every child will go through, and good parenting with a healthy, typical child will bring most of it to a minimum within a reasonable timeframe.
The trouble the ASD is that you are not parenting a healthy, typical child. You don't know what kind of timeframe you are dealing with, and nothing you do seems to help!
There are of course regular ASD tantrums too. These might be the tantrums that happen when something is different from the usual routine. It's always touch and go with us as to whether Bright Eyes will accept having a piece of carrot or broccoli on his plate for dinner. We know he won't eat it, but we're building up to that point!
There are also the coming in/going out tantrums. Getting in and out of the house is a major deal. Going out: he has to stop playing or turn off TV, put shoes and socks on, wait for everyone else to be ready, leave out the front door, get down the steps (he likes to jump off one of the steps - it has to be holding my hand), get into the correct car - or worse, walk. If he's in a good mood, it's fine, but if he decides he doesn't want to, for unknown reasons, I can be chasing him around the house for ten minutes or so.
Coming in is a whole other ball game, and involves lots of rituals that he has to do, or else he will dissolve into screams and sobs and spend the next half hour kicking chairs. I'll describe all of this in another post.
Tantrums that we face regularly are to do with: making transitions from play to meal time; sitting at the table; eating new food; eating regular food; breakfast is always a touchy issue; going to the toilet; going out to play; coming in from play; going up the steps as opposed to the path at school; getting in the bath; getting out of the bath.
Two beauties I must describe to you. Thankfully I was with my mother in the first and my neighbour in the second, so I could manage him plus the other children.
One was at the public swimming pool. I was still stupid enough to think I could trick him into wearing something new, and as we got dressed after a wonderfully happy swim, I popped a white T-shirt over his head. "Shirt OFF, Shirt OFF" he howled. Silly me thought, "No, I'll persist. He has to learn!" and I kept the shirt on. He howled louder, the women in the changeroom started staring and my blood pressure went up and up and up. He tore all his clothes off, wouldn't put a stitch on and ran through the pool complex like a demented little soul, me running after and my poor mum managing the other two (dressed) children behind. In the end I picked him up sniffling and screaming, under one arm and carried him kicking to the car.
The second memorable tantrum came just recently after church. For some reason he had it in his head he wanted to go home in the red car, but I was in charge of our itinerary and travel arrangements and we were walking! The trip home was noisy (him screaming "Red Car Red Car Red Car") and violent. He dropped to the pavement, banged his head on the concrete, was carried part of the way kicking, then threw himself in a rosebush once I put him down. It took 20 minutes to make a five minute walk home and my neighbour very graciously wheeled the pram home and took the other children inside.
I'll talk about how I deal with tantrums in a future post!