The Dreaded Autism Tantrum

I have chosen to title this post “The Dreaded Autism Tantrum” instead of just “The Dreaded Tantrum.” Those familiar with autism understand what I mean. There is a difference between a tantrum from a neurotypical child and a tantrum from a child with autism.

My dear sweet daughter decided to throw the mother of all tantrums at Sea World today. Thankfully it was near closing time and we were already on our way towards the exit because I knew this was one of “those” tantrums. You know the kind…escalates to a point of hysteria…nothing calms them…you’re running the things your occupational therapist told you your child uses to help them calm through your head wondering which one is going to work this time? Should I hang her upside down knowing that at times that has helped her calm down? No no, I don’t want someone to think I’m doing something malicious to her. Should I just start bear-hugging her even though she’s fighting knowing that this is my own version of the squeeze machine and has worked in the past? I tried that – not only did it not work but I nearly got a head butt in the process. I was whispering in her ear asking her if she wanted squeezes and she was screaming at the top of her lungs, spit drooling from her mouth, hair a mess and not saying a single word – just sounds. We tried to have her walk, we tried to carry her, we tried everything and nothing was helping.

Of course this entire time people are looking, pointing, and whispering too each other. I heard about my spoiled child even though the comments weren’t directed at me. I saw the disappointed looks and heads shaking. What a horrible mother I am with a child of nearly 3.5 having a complete meltdown. What a horrible mother I am not being able to stop this meltdown. What a horrible mother I am picking her up and holding her. What people don’t see is a child who can’t communicate what her problem is. What people don’t see is a mother who’s only goal with this tantrum is to keep her sweet baby girl from hurting herself. Having a high tolerance for pain isn’t all that nice; I fear her slamming herself on the ground and gashing her head so instead I hold her, tightly, and whisper in her ear that mommy loves her and we’ll get through this one. Daddy was awesome too; he took his turn holding her and assuring her that we loved her and she was going to be alright. You know what else is awesome, my 5 year-old son just sat happily in his stroller playing with his new manatee stuffed animal completely oblivious to our ordeal. This is normal for him, he’s not embarrassed by it nor should he be. This is his baby sister and sometimes she just does this.

To those people reading this that don’t know what an “autism tantrum” please take a few minutes to think about this post next time you see a child having a break down in public. You don’t know what might be going on – instead of shaking your head at the parent, give them a warm smile, they need your support.

This post originally appeared on my Mutterings of a Mindless Mommy blog on March 15, 2007. Although it is a dusty, neglected blog it still contains a lot of posts from the early days of my family’s autism journey. This post was made just a few months after my daughter’s diagnosis and I remember that day vividly. Even my son, who was just 5 at the time, remembers my daughter’s meltdown. The photo above was from my daughter’s first day of her second year of preschool in August 2007. No tantrums that day!

About Melissa

Melissa is the mother of two children on the autism spectrum and strives to provide information about all aspects of autism through her blog, The Autism Education Site. Follow Melissa on Twitter. Like me on Facebook.

© Melissa Hincha-Ownby and The Autism Education Site, 2008-2014.


  1. Charlene Lauder says:

    I have a son who is severely autistic and non verbal. Once when he was playing in a McDonald’s play area, he threw the biggest fit and did not want to go home, and i was beside myself trying to take him out of the room. One lady kept glaring at me , I just got the feeling she thought I was trying to kidnap him , and that he wasn’t my child. I did not say anything but all I could think in my head was “Lady, if I was going to kidnap a child it sure as heck would not be THIS one!”

    • Hah Charlene, that made me chuckle – good for you using a little humor (even if it was just internally) during such a stressful time!


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