Wednesday, May 4, 2011


All parents know and dread this word. We've all been there. They happen all the time. They happen for reasons. They happen for no reasons at all. They just happen.

Tantruming is probably one of the most common complaints of parents to children on the spectrum. They happen ALL THE TIME. "Neurotypical" kids often grow out of the phase of experiencing them daily or weekly or at a frequency of any short measure of time. Not autistic children. They may learn to control their impulses that come out as a tantrum as they grow. But they usually continue to face those same stimuli that bring on the screams and the kicking and the rest of the behaviors that are seen in 2 and 3 year olds. And they may or may not be able to maintain control.

Has anyone here had a day where everything around them seemed to be defined by tantrums? Or a day where the entire 24 hour period appears to be a single tantrum broken up by brief periods for a child to muster up the energy to continue? Or children? I have, and if you parent a child on the spectrum, I suspect you can say the same. Those days are HORRIBLE! Those are the days you just don't want to get out of bed. Those are the days that you want to call in a "Do-Over". Those are the days that test us in every possible way. And often, those are the days where a co-caregiver has to work late or is out of town and you have 1,000 things to do.

There are some things that Autism Moms do to avoid those days. We have our routines and predictability which usually soothe our children. We know what our kids like and what is a near-guarantee to set them off. We know what rewards typically work best. We know how to read the signs that a tantrum is brewing, many times before they even start and can take some steps to minimize the fallout. And we have our defenses. But they still happen. And they happen often.

The world is a busy place. And life happens fast. We see it on television. We see it in the workplace. We see it on the playgrounds. We see it in the schools. And often we contribute to it. We have to get this done so we can run off and do something else. But my children don't always do things the way others do. One of them generally prefers to go slow. He embraces the moments. He takes it all in. He can't be rushed. But, at the same time, you have to get through activities. That's often where Simon's bad days begin. When I need him to go faster than he is willing to go. And once we start down that path, it becomes very difficult to turn back. But on the plus side, he has very definite tantrums. They are hard and intense. And they will last however long the cause exists. And we may or may not ever learn what that cause is. But once he's done, he usually returns to being happy. That is, until the next starts.

Rachel, on the other hand, wants to go fast. She wants me to speed up the bedtime songs and gets upset when I refuse. Her catch-phrase over the last couple of months is "Faster!". The faster the better. And because of it, she has a lot of fun playing with Daniel and rushing around throwing the ball and jumping on the trampoline. But her tantrums are different. They come out of nowhere. She can be perfectly happy and then all of a sudden, the world has crashed down upon her. I mentioned already that Autism Moms can often see a tantrum coming. Not in Rachel. There's a phrase that I learned on the Sci-Fi show, Babylon 5. "Do not try the patience of wizards for they are subtle and quick to anger." (quote found That works for Rachel as well. And when she gets angry, LOOK OUT. The tantrum comes and it is here to stay. She can draw out a tantrum for hours with just short breaks to gather the energy for the next wave.

I hate tantrums. I won't sit here and throw a tantrum of my own to express that sentiment, but you can take me at my word. I look forward to the day that I won't have to cope with them. Unfortunately, that day is a VERY long way away......


  1. sometimes you just have to throw your own tantrum. And you are not kidding the massive melt-downs happen when everyone is busy and no one can help.

  2. I am heading into the 48 hour mark for Tantrumville. We go through spells also. We can go a few days and everything is great and then we can have three straight days of meltdowns. This week has been unusually hard. I agree...they always seem to happen when you have a full plate and no one to help out.

  3. My son has tantrums daily. Some worse than others. The worst ones are always at the gas station. He absolutley HATES when we have to pump gas. Its not just crying, he gets to the.point that he turns beet red, loses his breath, and violently flails around, trying to bust out of his carseat. He has done this as long as I remember. Im trying to figure out if its the sounds, the smell, or my husband getting out of the car that bothers him. Its very hard to deal with. His other tantrums on the top of his "worst" daily tantrums is, he HAS to walk up and down our sidewalk steps multiple times before he will willingly get in the car. He never wants to stop. He would be happy walking up and down those stairs for hours.

  4. I love walking with my 4 year old son Michael. It's quality time. He loves walking...endlessly. Problem is even as severe as his autism is (he's 4 and is just now forming words) he's smart enough to know when we're headed home and the 8-alarm, go screamin'and boneless meltdown occurs with 3 blocks to go. My family says it looks like an abduction trying to get him back home on foot.