Wednesday, October 7, 2009

i've got a henry

Every parent faces the force of their kid's incredible will. Children's ability to scream, whimper, refuse to move, and fall to the floor like a Birmingham protester is shocking, especially as these moments are prompted by seemingly insignificant desires. Can going home now instead of 5 minutes from now really elicit a 9.7 on the tantrum Richter scale? Yes. Can running out of pretzels usher in the a meltdown so seismic that readers of the Scofield Reference Bible will think the end has come? Yes.

Martin has fits and tantrums and meltdowns like any other kid. But autism changes the dynamics. It affects the way things bother him and his ability to handle being bothered. It also affects how we must react. As Martin has developed verbally, it's easier for him to talk about what upsets him and we have a better time comforting him. But we still have moments where everything comes unhinged and there is no comfort to be had. He just doesn't understand why tonight's walk only goes around the block when last night's walk ended at a park. He is undone when going to the zoo last Saturday does not mean we're going to the zoo this Saturday. Sometimes we can explain it and he seems to get it. Other times, like on tonight's walk, it provokes only sadness, then insistence on his way, then yelling, and then the protest that includes laying flat on the ground and screaming against the universe's injustice.

Two years ago, even one year ago, I always knew that - in moments like these - Martin just didn't know what was going on. He was frustrated and confused. But now, I'm pretty sure Martin understands, he just doesn't like the reality he has apprehended. And because I've only ever been his parent, I can't tell if he does this at a rate that's fairly normal or if we have a boy with a great talent for non-violent resistance on our hands. If it's the latter, I'm happy to send him out to protest the world's evils in their many formats. But really, I'm not up to it when it comes to humdrum things like what's for dinner.

My life feels like that Far Side cartoon where the young Patrick Henry sits at the dinner table and says, "Give me peas or give me death." I thought that was funny. I don't think I noticed Patrick's frowning mother sitting next to him.


  1. Just an aside (which most of my comments generally are anyhow).... I find that kids can either throw a temper tantrum or they can't. J' is amazing. Flailing, kicking, screaming, throwing, crying, creating cruel things to say.... S. just can't There have been a couple of times where he has watched his sister throw a grand one and then he has tried and it is pretty clear that he just doesn't have it in him. He tries to flail his arms and it looks contrived, he looks around too much to see if we are noticing, and then hangs his head, looks a little embarrassed, and stops. Neither D. or I ever threw them. But, I think that all of us that aren't able secretly wish that we could.

  2. @e. ingersoll.... don't be too shocked if one day a full fledged tantrum does come out of S. I had dubbed my oldest a "stepford child", minus the freakiness ... BUT... I remember two distinct times when my jaw dropped because low and behold I did not recognize the tantrum throwing child in front of me. So even those that appear to not have tantrum throwing genes can whip one up on occasion. Also, the entrance of teen years wiped away all "stepford child" status, which we are happy about... most of the time.