One Sunday afternoon and autism.

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It started, as many things do, with something small. A glass of water. I had no idea it would end with a hole in the wall.

Earlier, after a peaceful Sunday afternoon, Eldest attended a swim party. On the way home I asked her to head straight to the shower. Otherwise, Rachel would think we did the unthinkable–went swimming without her.

Rachel knew, though. She can smell chlorine on a year-old swimsuit. At first, she didn’t seem to react beyond babbling more than usual. But with her communication issues, it is hard to tell.

Her frustration became apparent, however, when she stared straight at me and dumped a glass of water into the carpet. Things went darker from there. In less than 10 minutes we had a hurricane in the kitchen–water dripping from the countertops. And a tornado in the closet, complete with a foot-sized hole in the wall.

While I don’t endorse her tantrum behavior, I’ve realized I don’t give Rachel enough credit. Even though she is nonverbal, Rach is far more sophisticated than I realized. I believe she was sending a message: you take Sister to all kinds of fun places and not me.

I wanted to send my own message back: but everything is so difficult when we go places. I still have to chase you sometimes. You make loud noises. I have to be hyper vigilant every second. I feel like autism has taken us hostage. I get so tired.

But life is what it is. No one asked Rach or I how we felt about our situation. So, we have to make the best of it.

Since Rach doesn’t get invited to many parties, I need to do things with her during those moments. It’s difficult because I have my own set of goals to accomplish. Letting the dishes, my blog, the laundry, or other things go makes me feel as though I spent all my time running backwards. But I have to think about how she feels in those times, too. Big sister does seem to go all kinds of places while she sits at home.

Yeah. It stinks. But life has a tendency to hand us all lemons. They may be sour, but lemons are one of the healthiest foods around. And some of the best desserts in life are made with them.

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Autism and surviving tantrums.

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!

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Discipline and autism—it doesn’t always make sense.

By Jennifer Dyer

The other day in Rachel’s special needs gymnastics class, I had a great discussion with one of the moms about discipline, specifically regarding tantrums.

Common sense says to intervene in a tantrum, especially if the child needs to be moved. Screaming in the living room? Go to your room if you want to cry. Screaming at bedtime? Shut the door and give consequences if the behavior continues. Refusing to go to school? Perhaps a swat or some other consequence. Screaming in a grocery store? More of the above…

But what about when an autistic child is having the tantrum? The other mom and I agreed that sometimes intervening only exacerbates the situation. In both of our cases, touching or trying to move our autistic child during a tantrum is asking for a back injury and a longer tantrum.

It was interesting that the next day featured one of THOSE kinds of mornings. Rachel didn’t want to get out of bed. Each time I went to her room and talked to her she snarled and fussed at me like the grouchy lioness I’d just seen at the circus. I kept trying, but Rachel kept getting more irritated.  She finally dashed into my closet and set up camp in there. And she had no intentions of leaving. Ever.

Eldest and I tried and tried to get Rachel out of that closet, but she wasn’t budging. I called a neighbor to take eldest to school and then I thought about what to do next. I pray for wisdom all the time and at that moment I felt as though I should get my dishes done. I called Rachel’s teacher then tackled the kitchen sink. About half an hour later I heard Rachel cooing in her bed. I put on a smile and told her it was time for school. Would you believe she stood up, grabbed blankie and headed for the car? I stared after her. Was this the same child from earlier? It was as if she had switched personalities. And all of this happened AFTER I left her alone—i.e. without any nagging and intervention from moi.

We arrived at school an hour late, and Rachel walked in as if nothing had happened. Why? I have no idea.

I worry that I spoil her when I let her get those tantrums out of her system, but when I ignore her they end faster and she takes less time to recover. Plus, she is unable to communicate her needs. At times like this one I must take a step back and think about all the reasons Rachel may have issues. Maybe she was cold all night, but her sensory system had just now registered it. Maybe her throat hurt and she didn’t know how to handle it. Maybe those Ritz crackers she snuck the other day were just hitting her system and making her feel out of control. It could be anything and maybe in ten years she will be able to tell me why. But in the mean time I have learned that sometimes the best intervention is taking a step back and re-evaluating my next move.

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