Before we had our daughter diagnoised we use to have rages, tantrums, and meltdowns several times a day. Seriously. They were long, loud, and I didn’t always handle myself properly. I couldn’t help my own daughter when she was in this state. Eventually her rages were so bad, we had to resort to medication. I felt horrible about this, however nothing else would help her… and with the medication it basically made her very sleepy. It wasn’t pretty… and I won’t sugar coat the experience. I had to essentially hold her down and make her take a pill. It was horrible and my heart broke for my beautiful daughter. When this occured it would take everything from me. I always felt like I had nothing left to give after these situations, however, when you have other children… it’s not so simple, so I had to hid my emotions from my other children. It was one of the hardest things i’ve ever done. I remember feeling tons of emotions. Sad- for my daughter, anger, worry.. I physically would become tired after dealing with a rage because it would take so much out of me. I felt so horrible for my daughter because if I felt this way, and I wasn’t experiening the rage… how on earth did she feel?? I know a hell of a lot worse than me. I can’t even begin to think of how difficult these experiences were for her. Usually, when these occured we would go to our local children’s hospital. ( I am not even going there right now … that’s definetly going to be a blog all it’s own).
I am writing this in parts because if you can understand the differences between meltdowns, tantrums, and rages I feel it will give you a better understanding of a child with high functioning autism. Let me tell you this- A child doesn’t want to get this out of control. A child doesn’t think it’s fun to get their parent to the point where they sit on their bedroom floor and cry uncontrollably. A child does not choose to get to the point where at 7, they feel like they would be better off dead. So lets start there. These situations are not brought on because a child is “bad”. These situations are brought on because, as for my daughter… she struggled with knowing her own feelings, thoughts, actions. She went from 0-100 in a second. She didn’t know how to calm down, she couldn’t do anything except- express how she felt… and the expressions often came with agression, loud yelling, spitting, upset/ scared siblings, and exhausted parents.
Let’s start with tantrums. I feel like this is a popular word most people understand. Being a parent with a daughter on the spectrum, I often will hear this word from people when my daughter is losing control of her emotions. Looking back (a few years) my daughter had tantrums, most kids do. There were things she would want, and couldn’t have, and sometimes she didn’t like that! When my daughter was in calm state, and she wanted something she couldn’t have, yes absoolutely she could have a tantrum, just like any other child. However, because my daughter struggle with reasoning, and not understanding her feelings or emotions… it would go from a tantrum to more than that very quickly. I couldn’t tell what my daughter was experiecing, and often I would think she just started with a rage.
Tantrums for us are when my daughter wants something and can’t have it, or wants to do something (usually right away) and can’t. It is usually not too intense,(for us anyway), but if not helped right away it can lead to more. A tantrum these days may consist of, her having a great idea.. but it just doesn’t work for the family that day/time. If you can see the tantrum from her point of view, you could see why she would be upset. She makes a wonferful fun plan in her mind, that would bring her lots of joy. She tells me this plan (usually consists of spending money), and even though she took the time to tell me this plan, and give me good reasons, she is told no. For people who do not understand high functioning autism, or for those who may think my daughter is “spoiled” and thowing a fit, this is when tantrums go further. She needs to understand exactly why we can’t do what she wants, and she needs help making her idea a plan when it works for everyone. From years of hard work, research, and keeping track of issues, I now can fully tell when my daughter is having a tantrum. Infact, she has them ALL THE TIME. I would go as far as to say she has tantrums between 1-4 times a day. It all depends on her mood, my mood, how she is spoken to, and whats going on around her. When I notice my child at the start of a tantrum, I take her to a quiet place, let her explain herself, and help her figure out a solution. Here is a strong example of something that would cause a trantrum for my daughter.
Daughter: (Spends time in her room making a plan so she can do something to make herself happy, because she is probably “bored”). Comes out with the idea that she is now not going to be bored because of this amazing plan she has created. She may say,”Mom, I was watching a youtube video and they put these really cool beads in their slime. I can’t put the beads they have in my slime because I really love the slime I have now, BUT I NEED to go out and buy more slime stuff AND these beads. It will be the best slime ever! Can we go RIGHT NOW and get all the slime stuff”??? (At this point she is super enthusiastic and eager.
Me: That sounds awesome! I love that plan, lets do it on the weekend! We just bought slime stuff yesterday, so we don’t have money for more slime supplies right now.
Daughter: Tells me 50 reasons why we should go spend money on more slime stuff, and if we can go on the weekend why can’t we go now.
Me: I know you are upset that we can’t buy more slime stuff, play with the stuff you have now, we just went yesterday, and today I am not going out to buy anything.
Daughter: **Now extreamly frusterated, and tantrum has started.**
She doesn’t want to be told no. So, at this point she will usually tell me she hates me, call me names, cry, scream….
It could go one of two ways.
WAY 1- I think before I speak to her, tell her again that I love her plan and that we can do it, it just has to be a day that works for all of us. We make that plan together (even though she is still angry and “hates” me. If she asks again after our final plan making .. I simply say- I have already told you the plan. Getting her to write out the plan often works because she can look at what we will do, she can look on the calendar for the date… she has all the info she needs and no longer needs to repeatedly ask me questions about it, that would further made her worried or upset.
WAY 2- This is the way I use to handle it.. because I didn’t understand my daughters needs before she was diagnosed and I could only try my best. Also, family or friends of the family may handle it this way if they don’t respect your childs diagnosis, or they don’t take the time to educate themselves on your childs dianosis. Child comes to you with said plan, you already bought slime stuff the day before. Child comes to you super excited, however you are annoyed your child doesn’t appreciate the slime stuff you bought yesterday, and now you are upset because you said no, and your child is mad. Now your child took their frustration out on you, dad, brother, sister .. whoever it may be. And now they are in trouble for acting out. And now need a time out… and doesn’t want to because they were bored and thought of this great plan you don’t want to do. So now this tantrum is turning into much more.
Tantrums can be stopped, or helped. There is a reason your child is having a tantrum. As a parent, it is your job to figure it out and help them. Especially when your child doesn’t know how to say- I’m angry, this makes me mad, I don’t understand. For us- it can come out in swear words and yelling. (It’s not okay, and she is getting so much better understanding her emotions) however, if you can see your child getting upset, and help them before they explode, you can help them through a tantrum!