Handling an tantrum with an autistic kid

by beagooddad on January 2, 2009

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I’ve noticed BeAGoodMom doing something recently that I think if pretty genius.

Pookie has been having some trouble with transitions. Especially with things like turning off the Wii to go to bed or turning off a cartoon to go to dinner. Tonight, we were playing one of the new Wii games the kids got for Christmas; Rayman Raving Rabbids. Pookie loves one of the specific games within the game that involves trying to trace food shapes using the Wiimote. He and Geetle are both getting pretty good at this particular mini-game.

Anyway, I told him that we would play one more round where each of us would take a turn and then get ready for bed. At the end, he started yelling when I turned off the Wii. These type of yelling spells normally last between 15-30 minutes and there is flat out nothing that you can do to stop them. Firmness, gentleness. Ignoring. Hugging. None of it helps calm him down at all. It’s his way of expressing that he is pissed.

During these sessions, he’ll say things like “Let’s go to the library” or “Let’s go swimming” or “Let’s go to Mamaw’s house” or “Let’s go to the carnival” (that last one was new tonight). He knows that the answer will be no which will give him new reasons to yell. We had been just ignoring him so that he never gets that new reason to yell. It doesn’t end the situation but it does prevent new full steam outbreaks.

So back to BAGM’s genius thing. Pookie said something like, “I want to go to the carnival” and she calmly asked “What’s at the carnival?” I can’t remember the specifics but he did give an answer and she asked another question based on that answer. It really didn’t seem to shorten the yelling spell but it was a moment of definite calm talking in the middle of it.

In case you missed it, she’s doing at least three things here.

  1. Redirecting the yelling – those moments of calm talking give him a chance to break the immediate yelling cycle. I’m sure there will be times when he gets excited about what they are talking about and completely forgets to start back up with the yelling.
  2. Improving communication skills – anytime Pookie can get exposed to a question and answer moment is good for developing his communication skills. There is nobody even close to as good as BAGM at having conversations that involve more than one question/answer and this is just more practice for them.
  3. Learning to be angry – Pookie completely understands that he is allowed to be angry. It’s an important emotion to be able to express. But it is also important for him to learn that even when he is angry, he should be able to talk about it in a rational manner. These calm conversations during his angriest moments are a great opportunity for him to learn that it is possible to talk calmly no matter how angry he gets. And also that we are ready to talk calmly with him no matter how angry he is.
  4. I’ve noticed her doing it for a little while now but just tonight realized exactly how genius what she is doing actually is. And now I can start trying it, too, which will just give him more practice.

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