Tami is a freelance writer and artist. She has also been a licensed and certified massage therapist for over 15 years.
Meltdowns are not from bad parenting, it's autism.
My kids come running into my home as I am getting dinner ready. “Mom, some lady just called the police on Nolan!”. Upset and extremely concerned, I go outside to see my 6-year old son sitting on the porch steps, with tears streaming down his face. The other children and the parents filled me in while I tried to comfort my poor little boy. They said that Nolan was outside, screaming and crying at the top of his lungs and that they tried to get him to calm down, but couldn't. Then, they said, they saw a lady on her phone, looking over her balcony and saying loud enough for them to hear her tell my address. She was calling the police. One of the mother's that saw the whole thing happen, yelled up at her, “what's your problem?” and the woman went back inside, not answering. I just shook my head and said, “Not again.”
You see, my son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. Since then, thanks to the countless therapies and a lot of persistence, he has really improved and is now mainstreaming into the school system. He has friends, he goes to birthday parties, he is just a regular kid. Except for one thing. When he is overstimulated, he can be a little out of control. He screams and cries. He is unable to be comforted, he has a hard time regulating his meltdowns. Typical people, when overwhelmed, can just leave a situation and take a break. But people on the spectrum have a hard time knowing when to leave and find ways to calm down. So, hence the meltdown. Right now, we are looking for therapies to help us with Nolan when this happens so we can calm him down and teach him how to handle overwhelming feelings. But this neighbor didn't care. She wasn't concerned about my son. If she was, a simple, “Is everything ok?”, would have been all she needed to do. What she really wanted to do was scare my son into shutting up. Well, it's not going to scare me into being quiet. This isn't the first time I've had to deal with people feeling inconvenienced with my son's autistic behavior. I've been yelled at, gotten letters from people complaining, and several visits from the police.
When my son was about to be diagnosed, he was barely 2. Just a little toddler. He had this ear-piercing scream that would actually hurt when you heard it. And he screamed. All the time. Sometimes it would be just a quick little scream because he was excited, other times it was because he was upset. He didn't talk then, so this was his only effective way of communication. Now, I consider myself a very reasonable parent. If I heard a loud screaming that went on for a while, I'd be concerned. Just as a human, I'd be concerned. Like, what's going on next door? Are they torturing a toddler or something? I get it. But after the first police visit, and they came in, saw the baby isn't being hurt in any way and that this is just what he does because of his living with autism, I'd just leave it alone and maybe close a window if it was too loud. There isn't anything you can do about this sort of situation. We all live close together and have to learn how to coexist. But calling the police every single time my son makes any noise? Now you are just being a jerk and trying to intimidate us. I explained to my neighbor that he has autism and can't help it, and, I added, “we don't like it either.” (his screaming).
After the police would leave after doing their well-check, I'd just sit on the stairs and cry. Why? Why are people like this? We weren't doing this on purpose. It's not like we enjoyed the screaming ourselves.
Using the police as a sort of go-between for your minor inconveniences, (and that is what it was!), is not what the police are for. Stop calling the police for small annoyances you can handle yourself. There are several things you can do. 1. ask the neighbor directly if you can help, 2. close a window when the screaming is too much for you, 3. turn on/up the TV. Sorry, but the reality is we all have to learn to live with each other. If you don't like that, then move somewhere where you won't be disturbed. Living in an apartment complex, you are going to encounter noises. Just a fact of life.
Fast forward 4 years when my now 6-year old is crying because he thinks the police are coming to put him in jail. This child can't help that he had a meltdown, which, by the way is DIFFERENT from having a temper tantrum.
Meltdowns are not due to poor parenting. They are not due to a misbehaving child. They are a result of over stimulation and is a method of purging feelings and thoughts that are overwhelming the mind. In other words, the person can't help it. There are therapies out there that can help teach the person and the caregivers other ways to express frustrations, and our family is working on that. In the meantime, less opinions would be nice. It's hard enough to deal with this part of parenting a child on the spectrum, we could use more support and less judgment to how we are doing as parents. Parenting is very tough and I think we can all use more support.
As for the bitch, er, I mean lady who tried to scare my son into shutting up? I left behind some educational materials on autism on her doorstep. I hope she read them!
The filled mind from East Orange on October 09, 2018:
This was a very enlightening article , and really helped to understand not only what autistic children go through on a daily basis, but also help me see the real challenges the parents also face. This sitiation can happen to parents who dont have autistic children , but have children who have melt downs because their too young to process and express their feelings. How dare anyone call the police!
Jaye Robinson from Michigan on October 07, 2018:
Wow. Relatable story