Mother and blogger in her own right, we welcome Fi (aka Blessed Mama) from Wonderfully Wired. As part of our ‘Love In’, Fi has been invited to share her opinions on a national newspaper article which caused quite a stir entitled Two Flat Whites and a Bawling Child Please. The Discordia community are fans of Fi and the work she does promoting equality for her children. Find out why with her guest post “When a Child Screams in Public”.
When a Child Screams in Public
No one is ever handed a user guide when they first become a parent, because raising kids is all about trial and error. Sometimes you get it right first time around, but mostly – we make a hash of things and then learn from our mistakes! We ALL do!
But here’s the thing; nothing fires me up more than a stranger thinking that they know better than me when it comes to parenting my child and voicing those opinions to me. We’ve all seen those awful supermarket tantrums and I admit that my child has had some whoppers in public places, but the difference is; my child isn’t always doing this to be a brat.
Because; my child has autism.
But the hardest thing is – my kid looks like any other kid. Autism isn’t detectable simply by looking at his facial features and this is why most of us autism parents are constantly being berated for our lack of parenting skills and judged harshly on that which is not obvious.
The truth is that most children with autism have a sensory system that very quickly goes on red alert when they are exposed to loud noises, crowds or bright lights. These kids lose all control over their emotions, physical reactions and body movements when they are mid-meltdown and are unable to just “snap out of it”. These meltdowns are nothing like the average run-of-the-mill tantrums but most people are unable to recognise the difference.
And why would you unless you live with it?
If you see a child pitching a fit in public, always give the benefit of the doubt to the parents, especially is the child is over 5 because it’s not common for older children to tantrum with this kind of frequency as in autistic children.
These kids behave like this because behaviour IS communication and some children are unable to convey their emotions or wishes in any other way.
So, what can you do to help the parent if you happen to witness a meltdown?
Well firstly, If you are just an onlooker, tread very carefully because most of us are so exhausted from years of sleepless nights and don’t have the brain space to take on another piece of well intended but unwanted advice, but if you do notice what appears to be a meltdown and really want to offer assistance, there are things that you can do.
Stand back and ask yourself 3 questions.
- Is the child using actual words or are they repeating the same phrase or word continuously in a loop?
A typically developing child having a tantrum usually screams abuse to the parent who is not giving into their demands, but an autistic child is rarely able to talk at all during a meltdown.
- How is the parent responding to the child?
If the parent is trying to calm the child and is oblivious to everything BUT their child; chances are that you are not witnessing a typical tantrum but something more.
- Is the child looking around to see if his/her behaviour is getting a reaction?
Autistic children don’t have meltdowns as a means of manipulating the parent and they are generally unaware that they are attracting attention. Typical children throw tantrums to get their own way and stop once their demand is met.
Now, here’s what you can do if you notice a parent struggling with their child.
Offer to sit with them and wait for the storm to pass because meltdowns need to be waited out. Let the parent know that you are not assuming anything or digging for information but that you just want them to know that they’re not alone. Having someone understanding come alongside offering to field off unwanted glances and judgments is always welcome. Sometimes…. that’s all we need.
But be careful offering anything that may seem judgy or critical, instead, offer real help without commenting on what you are seeing. Offer to carry their bags, watch their other children, find them a quiet corner and direct them or simply ask: “Can I do anything at all to help you?”
If you are a friend of the family – it is a little different.
The best advice I can give is: show a genuine interest in learning about autism. I am always thrilled and am more than happy to share what I’ve learned and I appreciate people taking an interest in learning about my child instead of avoiding the elephant in the room.
Ask your friends what THEY would like you to do to help the next time that their child melts down in their presence.
But most of all; Be there.
Cry with them, laugh with them and promise to walk alongside them for every step of this journey they have been given..
That is the ultimate gift.