Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pass the Pinot #4: Tantrums

Who isn't mortified by tantrums? I mean the public ones. I'm not nearly as bothered by the ones that occur in the privacy of my own home, where if I completely lose my shit and have go into the garage and start beating myself over the head with a tire iron at least no one is there to witness it. Not that I've ever done that.

But to get back to my original question, there does seem to be a sub-species of mothers who are completely unfazed by their kicking, screaming, writhing, ape-shit progeny. You've seen them. They look like Zen masters exuding an aura of complete calm while their toddler tears at them and sends clumps of their hair and the odd shard of jewelry flying through the air. How do they do it? Or more specifically, what are they on?

It's just not me. It may be because of Audrey's autism that I am overly sensitive and cringe at the thought of her sticking out any more than she already does because of her behaviors. But truthfully I think I would react the same way if I had a typical child. It's just the way that I was raised. My mother wouldn't even let me and my three siblings dine in at McDonald's for fear that we would offend the sensibilities of their notoriously refined patrons. And this was before the days of the drive-through. She had to go in and order food to go while we waited in the car. Is it any wonder that I want to curl up and die when Audrey acts out?

With typical children, you hope that they have grown out of tantrums by the time they hit 50 pounds. When they are toddlers, it's fairly easy to chuck them into the stroller, strap them in, and leg it to the car. When you're dealing with an 8 year old autistic child, it's a lot harder. What are you going to do when they are too big to be physically dragged out of the mall? Call security? Carry a tranquilizer gun? You've got no choice but to ride it out.

Autistic children tantrum over many of the same things as typical children, but also over a whole battery of other situations mostly having to do with any change to their routine. So they may melt down if you go to a different Target than usual, or rearrange the furniture, or color your hair. Lost on them is the fact that you've gone to a different Target because you don't feel you can show your face at your usual one after the last scene that they made, you've rearranged the furniture to cover the spot on the carpet where they've repeatedly smeared their poop, and you've colored your hair because you've gone completely white from parenting an autistic child.

Sensory overload can also cause tantrums in autistic kids. When Audrey was a toddler, she would completely lose it over the sound of another child crying. And when you have a toddler, there is pretty much always another crying toddler wherever you go. Now at 6 years old, she has done a 180. If another child is crying, she goes right up in their face and start laughing her head off. This is considered by her therapists to be just as inappropriate of a reaction. But I call it progress because in my book it's much more age-appropriate for a 6 year old to act like an insensitive jerk than a tantruming brat. Here's hoping that those aren't my only two choices going forward.


  1. Thanks for finding my blog! I'm now following yours! How weird that we both have girls that are the same age on the spectrum (I guess it's not really that weird, but still). Anyway, I really enjoyed this post. And I can so relate! Nice "meeting" you!

  2. Thanks Cheryl! Yes, unfortunately, not that weird anymore...except it appears that we both stopped procreating after birthing our extra-special daughters! Nice meeting you too!

  3. I have just read a bunch of your are a fantastic writer! I will absolutely be back and will be adding you to my blogroll tommorow. I found you through Mom Loop Friday Follow- and am of course following you as well:)

    I am SO with you on tantrums- I get SO SO embarrassed. I doubt anyone cares my daughter is pitching a fit as much as I think they do- but all the same I just want to be swallowed by the earth!

    Be back soon:)


  4. Maybe I'm odd, but by the time my oldest was 2 1/2 I was so over being embarrassed by tantrums in public. She'd had some good ones, and I'd noticed the stares of others, but I'd stopped being bothered. I wasn't about to let her 'win' by leaving the store when she got upset, so I stayed through it. Plus, because of my special ed teaching background I've seen some GREAT tantrums and when Violet would throw one I always would think, "that all you got?" (that is just so wrong!) And now when I see a mom in the store with a tantruming child looking all embarrassed I just smile at her and say, "We were THAT child yesterday." And we'll most likely be that child tomorrow, too.

  5. @Kim: You are one of those Zen masters that I was talking about! I think the special ed background does give you an advantage...