Friday, September 19, 2008
Tantrum: Typical or Not?
Most of the time I have no idea why my daughters start a tantrum. It is usually only in hind sight, I can hypothesize what led up to the tantrum although, I never know accurately why or what instigated the revolting reactions known as The Tantrum.
Before I go on, let me clear up what I am talking about when I say tantrum. Because, a lot of kids have tantrums. They usually throw them when they didn't get their way or maybe when they didn't have enough sleep or are hungry. And, to a stranger, that is what our daughters' tantrums might seem like at the moment. But please, let me elaborate.
Let's take Sienna's tantrum from this evening as an example. Sienna came home from first grade, just as peppy as could be. We got out our Halloween decorations and started placing the pumpkins and scarecrows throughout the house. She was bright-eyed and spunky and at about 4:00 or so, she asked if she could watch some TV. I said no problem and off she went to watch some Hannah Montana.
It was time for dinner around 5:00. We typically eat at the dining hall where Fred teaches school. Fred quietly and gently announced to Sienna that we would be leaving for dinner in a few minutes and then, What? What just happened?
Sienna starts screaming. She normally loves to go to the dining hall for dinner but for some reason, tonight, she started screaming, "NO! NO! NO! I don't WANNA go to the dining hall. I don't WANNA go to the dining hall. NO! NO! NO!" Fred walks away and finds me. We both are shelter for one another when this sort of thing happens. I asked him with sarcasm, "What did you do to her?" He replies, "I just told her we were going to dinner." I could hear her wailing upstairs, screaming the same phrase over and over. I think that she could be in a heavy metal band with those lyrics. Do they even still have heavy metal bands? I digress...
So, I walk upstairs. I think I can help. WRONG! Nothing I say works. In fact, she tries to kick at me and misses my face by a chin hair. Not that I have chin hairs, I don't.
I walk away, reminding her we will be leaving in five minutes. I also remind her that going to the dining hall isn't a choice but how she behaves is a choice. "Do you think you are making the right choice?" Uh-Oh. Now she's pissed. She crawls after me like I am prey and tugs on my shirt as if she wants to fight. I calmly remove her hand and tell her that I will see her in the van. I tag my husband to take on the next phase with her while I get my other daughter shoed and place her in her car seat. We then wait inside the quiet and safe van. The door to the garage flings open, I think Sienna kicked it open. Fred is carrying her to the van. She is screaming, arms and legs flailing all around. We pull out of the drive way. Same as it ever was... one of my favorite sayings from a Talking Heads song bounces and mumbles around in my brain. These thoughts humor me while I hold steadfast to my own sanity.
I press the button on the sun roof to close it. Her screaming can penetrate through the body of the van and our neighbors don't need the sun roof opened to make the acoustics more clear. Thankfully, it is a quick two minute drive. Normally we would ride bikes but obviously that would be difficult today. We all get out of the van, all but the tantrum-tiger. The students from the private school walk by looking polished and proper and look at us. The faculty also look at us. I am always aware of the public eye watching carefully. I feel judged as if I am a child abuser. I swear to you that I am not. Although, there are times when we lose our tempers and we yell at her. I feel bad about those times because, if you realize and accept that she does have PDD-NOS and how difficult it is for her to maintain and manage her moods, then yelling at her when she struggles like this is equivalent to screaming at a disabled person in a wheelchair to get up and walk. Fred calmly tries to reason, negotiate, bribe. No can do.
She now has gained her composure but she sits stiffened, chin downward, staring at us with her eyes rolled up so all we can see is the whites of her eyes. A good look for the album cover of a heavy metal band. Wait... they don't make album covers. I am totally dating myself. I mean, a good look for an iTunes thumbnail... I'm telling you, I have to entertain myself during these crisis situations.
Somehow, we manage to all go into the dining hall. However, Sienna remains at the door, as if to make a statement to remind us she didn't want to come to the dining hall. She sits on the floor and then starts to growl and scream. "I WANNA GO HOME. I WANNA GO HOME. I WANNA GO HOME."
A nice lady from our community who volunteers at the private school walks by and says, "Well, sometimes you just have to ignore it." This nice lady also happens to be a Kindergarten teacher from Sienna's school. The same school that claims that nothing is wrong with my daughter. She shows no sign of autism or any other pervasive developmental problems at the school and that, "only the mother must need parenting classes and counseling." This is a phrase that the school's psychologist shared with my husband before our case conference last year. This phrase haunts me daily - and sometimes at night it wakes me up from a deep sleep.
We eat, put our dishes on the rack. Luckily, there were only a total of six of us in the dining hall tonight so we weren't too embarrassed. We are able to bribe Sienna to get in the van with a cookie. She of course was supposed to get in control by the time we got home. But she didn't gain control, so she lost her chance with the cookie. Good thing, because I need all the comfort food I can get right now. Sienna stomps in the house then starts hitting her head saying, "I'm a bad girl. I'm a bad girl..." Over and over again.
Is this typical? People say, "Well, all kids have tantrums right? Your kids are just normal. Maybe they are hungry, or tired or maybe you just expect too much from them or you don't discipline them enough."
Do you really think that the tantrum that I just described in this story is typical? It is for us. It is a typical tantrum. It happens when we don't expect it and then they don't happen when we might expect it. I am living on the edge of the unknown every minute of the day with both my daughters. I could share a typical tantrum that my two year who is also on the spectrum does too. I will save that for another post...
What makes our family dynamics more challenging is that our family and friends don't accept our issues as atypical. We aren't allowed to talk about it, get any sympathy for it, any respite. We are constantly judged by the public when we try to run errands. We don't do anything for fun anymore because something might go wrong. So, we stay home. We don't even go to church any more. Talk about the worst place to feel judged as a parent! Then we are judged because we are told that we don't expose the girls to enough that we don't go out enough. It is a never ending problem that every person we know is trying to suggest or give advice. Until you walk in my shoes, don't judge a mom with children on the spectrum. If you know someone who has a child on the spectrum, don't try to fix it. Don't try to minimize it.
And, a public message brought to you by a mom on the verge to losing her mind:
If a child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, they cannot out grow it. It is not something that the parents did to them to cause it, and it is not contagious. Remember this.