By Jennifer Dyer
As I write this Rachel’s screams and protests echo down the halls of her therapy clinic. Why? She wants to go to the potty. But not just any bathroom. Not any of the five bathrooms available in the therapy clinic. Nope. She wants to go across the campus and use one in the school that is attached to the clinic. As to the reason, I’m not certain. It could bring back memories of a simpler time in her life. Or perhaps it has better acoustics because it is large and filled with storage containers. Maybe she just wants to use that one. Whatever the reason, I told her no and I am having to enforce it.
These sorts of tantrums are common in our family. Rachel—seven-years-old as I write this—is over 4’ tall and weighs 70 pounds. She is strong, agile, loud, opinionated, and stubborn. Long after most children would have given in, she continues to scream and protest. Worse, she cannot be bargained with or disciplined in the manner one might with other children. From what I have read and observed of strong-willed children, Rachel could rule as their dictator for life.
How does a parent manage and survive these sorts of tantrums? Sadly, I don’t always have the answers, but here are some things I have learned:
Let others help you. Today I had trouble physically with Rachel because I didn’t want to drop her iPad (used for communication). A therapist offered to help me, but I turned her down because I didn’t want to make her late to her next appointment. I did, however, ask her to find the therapist we were waiting for. I should have let her help me, though. I accepted help, though, when our therapist arrived and told me I could go. I went. Fast.
Pick your battles to the extent you can. Believe me this one is hard. Sometimes I need Rachel to do something, such as get into the car immediately, but I know I cannot manage it on my own. I either have to wait until I have help or find a way to get her into the car without causing a fit. When this has worked, it has involved me enticing her to chase me with a toy she wants, putting food into the car, or letting her have my iPhone once she steps into the car. This may sound like the wimp’s way out, but there have been days before school where Rachel and I have had thirty minute wrestling matches that could have been avoided if I had chosen a better method to get her out of the house.
Have a strategy in mind. If you are heading to the park or mall or somewhere else where you know a meltdown could occur, go armed with toys that soothe the child or possibly have another adult around who can help you. This does not always work, and I’ve done a lot of praying for help in the moment. Trust God to answer those prayers.
Have a sense of humor. Okay this one is tough, really tough. Not everyone understands what autism entails. There are even people who cling to the idea that children with autism simply need some better discipline and they will be fine. My best advice about dealing with those people is don’t. You have enough stress in your life without letting others hurt you. Find something to laugh about once the situation is over. Life is much more fun when laughter is involved. I keep humorous books all over my house to help me keep my perspective in the tough times. I also have comedian apps on my phone in case I need a quick giggle. And I try to look for a bright side. (For example: Yes, I just fought a big battle with Rachel, but my biceps are quite toned…)
Be consistent. This is difficult for me. My ability to pick battles often depends on my energy level. Some days I can enforce rules that require a lot of energy on my part, but other days I lack energy and strength. Those are the days I take extra vitamins and supplements for energy and must pray for more strength. I am choosier about battles with Rachel, and I might not go on an outing if I lack other people to help.
Learn from your past. Allow your mistakes to be your greatest teacher. Listen to other parents and learn from them, as well.
Keep other parents with special needs children close. Support each other and learn from each other.
Be calm and honest in the midst of trials. I try not to get defensive toward others around me when Rachel is having a tantrum, and I am honest about Rachel’s autism. Most people accept this, but a few will not understand. Again, don’t let that get to you. Also, do your best to keep your voice even and your manner calm. Easy? No, but it helps. I believe children feed off the emotions of their parents.
Keep your perspective. Many days, such as today, I focus on the fact that all things are temporary. True, some trials seem to last forever, but as my mentor used to say, “This is but a blip on the screen of eternity.” So, when you face the various trials of raising a special needs child, take comfort. Heaven is a wonderful place!
The ultimate idea is to keep a support system around you. Pray continually. Don’t do this alone.
Hang in there, my friends!