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Autism………………Tantrums(part 1)

After I entered the world of Autism when my son was formally diagnosed, everywhere I turned, I kept hearing one word again and again - Tantrums. Kid’s Tantrums is the most discussed subject by parents of kids with Autism, books and websites dedicate quiet a lot on this subject. Of course, I have the same experience with my kid. During the initial days I was really clueless when he screamed or went berserk.

If I recollect following are some of the situations where my son could lose his control. For e.g., Haircut, nail cut, Brushing, Eating his unfavorable food, sound, smells, change in routine, visiting new places/person.

When my kid threw tantrum, the immediate situation was very difficult to manage. However I realized behind every scream/tantrum a hidden message or feeling is communicated there.  Let us recollect

our first day at a new school,

our first visit to a posh hotel,

our first interview,

our first day at work etc.

All our firsts would be accompanied with some tension and anxiety. So is for any kid and a kid with Autism. All our first experience is accompanied with tension and anxiety, even though we know to communicate, know how to behave, know how to make decisions. Our Kids have limited communication, limited socialization, and sometimes limited understanding about a situation and the anxiety is natural and inevitable.

My insight on this came when I was talking to my son’s speech therapist.  I was sharing with her that my son was screaming through the day and for everything. I was tensed and worried a lot. But she said softly, “I think he is on the verge of talking”.  That response made me think and then I started to interpret` his screams and tantrums as sensible communication. So whenever my son screamed, I learnt to hear it in my mind as

“Mamma, I am scared”,

“Mamma, I don’t like this”,

“Mamma, I don’t want this”.

“Mamma, I want this”

Here I want to mention an experience about another special child’s communication challenge. When we were in UK, my husband got speech therapy training. As a part of the training, the speech therapist visits home and takes a video shoot with our kids and how we parents train our kids. Then she used to display the videos in the training session, so that each parent had an opportunity to see other kids and how other parents work with their kids. In one such video session, my husband got an opportunity to see a mother who trained her little kid diagnosed with autism and with other difficulties too.

This kid always had to lie on his bed because of his other difficulties and he was non-verbal too. His mother flashed a visual card of the activity she was about to do before doing that activity with the kid and then did the activity. The mother could not detect any response from the kid and neither the other parents who were watching the video. The therapist rewinded the video to the place when mother flashed the card.  The kid’s eyes went wide as if in a grin as his mother’s activities were of liking to him. That was the interaction and communication that kid was doing.  The therapist reminded to be aware of all possible avenues that the child uses to communicate.

If “look expression” is a communication in the above example, what about the story of Helen Keller who could not hear, see and speak. And yet she learnt to understand and communicate her wonderful experiences to the world. This all prompted me to think, why I can’t teach my son to communicate. I thought if he communicates his basic needs or his positive/negative emotions it will reduce his frustration and hence tantrums.

When I started to manage his tantrums, my son’s only communication was to lift my hands to point something he wanted to eat. So I decided to give a word whenever he screamed, hoping he would use the word and reduce the screaming. Actually we adults could be saying things like, “I don’t want this” or “I want that” or more lengthier and complex sentences to express our wishes.  But my son had not begun to speak a single word and he had many suppressed emotions. So the first simple word that fitted most of the situations was a “No”.

Whenever he threw tantrums, I said “No”, sweetly to him as if prompting him to say that rather than shouting.  After a point of time he learnt to say “No”. Whenever he felt frustration, instead of screaming, he started using the word “No”. I respected his “No” and changed my actions that would suit immediate need. E.g. Like withdrawing the food that made him tense. This negative word “No” gave me a positive approach with my son for communication or speech.   After this training, he flooded me and my husband with enough No’s to sink the worldJ. The number of No’s he said in a year or two exceeded all the No’s I would have said in all my whole life. But that “No” was like a life raft to him in a sea of confusion and frustration.

So according to me the so called “Tantrum” is because of the inability to express the kid’s anxiety, feeling, dislikes and don’t wants. The magic word “No” helped channelize many of the situations positively. But was “No” adequate to help all the situations, defintitely it was not. I will share more of other approaches that I am doing to manage my son’s tantrums. 

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Please click the following link for a comprehensive documentation of my journey with Aakash: Click Here
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