I helped at Brock’s Halloween party at his school last week. The specialist was telling me that she didn’t believe he was autistic, that she saw no evidence of it. And, as a parent, I want to hear these words. I want to believe they are true. But, I know they aren’t. She sees the evidence. But, she also sees the loving side of Brock and thinks this means he is not autistic.
Here’s the one thing I know. Autism is a big spectrum. And, no two children are the same. Brock has a great capacity for love. He is now having positive friendships and interactions. These appear to be normalizing. However, he has tantrums that are autistic. And, his specialist sees these. She just doesn’t understand their difference from a normal tantrum.
Let me describe a normal tantrum. I am familiar with these, I have two other children. They wanted something. If they didn’t get it, they threw a fit. I let them. After a while, they learned that their fit did not get them what they wanted. They now beg, or argue their case about why they should receive what they want. But, they don’t throw a temper tantrum.
Brock is different. Most times, we cannot tell what started the tantrum. There isn’t something he wanted. It could be a loud noise or a large crowd (both of which are triggers). But often, we cannot tell what started it. And, he isn’t good at articulating this, either. But, once it starts, he cannot regain control. It is like a switch is flipped, and he is powerless to stop. With most of these, he just goes until he runs out of energy. He isn’t looking for some object. And, even if he was, giving it to him would not stop the fit. I have learned to not give him anything during his tantrum. Because even if it is his favorite toy, iPad, candy, he is going to throw it. He cannot help it.
I have been able to talk him out of fits. I have even done it over the phone. I try to reconnect the rational part of his brain. I will bombard him with choices that he likes. At first, he will emphatically say “no” to everything offered. But, as he regains control, his “no” becomes less forceful…. Do you want to go outside to play? Do you want to watch Peep Wide World? Do you want to play with the dog? Do you want ice cream? Eventually, he regains control and picks one of the options that was offered. “Yes, I want to go outside.” And, the episode ends.
I also do better than most because I see his body tensing and redirect before it gets out of control. Large crowds are unnerving to him. He needs space to regroup. Loud noises are also a problem. We go to a County Fair parade every year. I try to leave before the fire trucks go by. They all think it is great to put on their sirens for such a cute little boy. The problem is, their sirens are really loud. They bother me, and I don’t have sensitivities. But, to Brock, they are unbearable.
I don’t know if these tantrums are a forever thing. Maybe he will learn techniques to help him keep control. I hope so. But in the meantime, I will do the best I can to teach him calming techniques and to remove him when I have the chance.