“Please don’t be afraid. He’s just a little boy.”
Like many children on the Autism Spectrum, Sam had incredibly traumatic tantrums. His tantrums would seemingly come from nowhere, last for absurdly long periods of time, and would drain everything out of our family. Tantrums would occur at home and last for hours, tantrums would occur in public and carry on even after we removed Sam from the situation, tantrums seemed to be never ending. Since I am six foot two inches and Angie is five feet two inches, I would often be the one who would physically have to remove Sam from public places so that he would be safe and to keep the public from creating a stir.
It’s devastating to try and mange through tantrums that can occur with a child who has Autism. Your heart races, your stomach aches, your ears and face burn with unbridled energy that is trying to escape. You want to run and never look back. Then (in a matter of minutes) you look at your child and realize, he is a child who is scared, frustrated and confused. There is ALWAYS an antecedent. With Autism, the antecedent may not be common, or the same every time, or easily identified, and this makes behavior management difficult.
When the community is unaware, uneducated, and unwilling to recognize that because a child doesn’t “look” different, does not mean that something more is going on than just a child “misbehaving”. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the whispers, “That boy just needs a good spanking.”, “What horrible parents. They can’t even control their baby.”, “I bet they wish they had the receipt so they can return that one.” People think you can’t hear them, but they are wrong. The words and attitudes are biting and painful to hear. Before long, you begin to feel sorry for the people that make these comments. Clearly, they are close minded, unaware, and mean spirited towards others who are clearly in need. A child with Autism doesn’t want to tantrum or be upset. They don’t want to feel scared and afraid.
As I would walk out of public situations when a tantrum would overtake Sam, I use to think to think to myself and scream internally, “Please don’t be afraid. He’s just a little boy. He’s not a monster. Stop looking at him that way.” As I grew in Autism and became a better-equipped parent, I learned to no longer care what others thought. Our family must go out in public, we do not have to lock ourselves up at home, we belong too.
The next time you come across a child who is tantruming uncontrollably and who is inconsolable, stop and ask:
1) Is it possible this child may have Autism?
2) How can I help? If the parent is trying to gather their things or attempting to get out of the building: a) smile easily, look them in the eye and reassure them it will be ok, help them pick up their things, b) hold the door for them as they struggle to get their child SAFELY out of a challenging environment c) simply say, I understand, is there anything I can do to help you ...this is easy and will truly help the situation.
3) What do I really know about this child, this situation? Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume the child is being bad. Don’t assume that the parent is a bad parent. Don’t assume the child has Autism. Simply recognize the child is upset, do all you can to ignore the screaming, block it out, don’t make faces or whisper your irritation to someone else. You have no idea what might be going on. For all you know, that child may not have slept in 20 hours, they may have had 4 or 5 tantrums just like this already during the day, that child and parent may simply be holding on to even the most slim level of hope.
It was difficult, very difficult, when the public, friends, and even family would look at Sam when he was upset as if they were afraid of him. Not all children or adults on the Autism Spectrum experience tantrums. Additionally, tantrums can still occur in teenagers, adults, and even seniors who have Autism. Autism is a complex neurological disorder. No two cases of Autism are identical. My son Sam has Autism. Sam is not the “Autistic one”. It is with pride and honor that I tell you I am of parent of two incredible boys. I am a parent of a child with Autism. I am not afraid.
April is Autism Awareness Month.