Sunday, March 26, 2023
HomeRelationship AdviceI(34F) am tired of autistic godson (5M) throwing temper tantrums to get...

I(34F) am tired of autistic godson (5M) throwing temper tantrums to get his way and his parents (30’s M and F) allowing his bad behavior. How can I set boundaries with them?

I’ve been friends with Bob and Susan (not their real names) for over 10 years now and am godmother to their two children (let’s call them Marlene (8F) and Sam). Now I should be clear, for the most part, Marlene and Sam are good kids and I love them very much. The problem is when Sam doesn’t get his way, he throws these horrible temper tantrums. One time, he kicked my cat after she got tired of him petting her and she hissed at him. Now kitty goes into a different room whenever the family’s over at the house. Bob and Susan don’t do anything about these temper tantrums for whatever reason.

Like most siblings of special needs children, Marlene has complained to me about feeling neglected and not as special as her brother. Since her birthday is close to Halloween (her favorite holiday), I’ve purchased tickets for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom and have arranged for a hairstylist friend of mine to do Marlene’s hair and makeup so she can go as Cinderella (her favorite Disney princess).

To be fair to Sam, I’ve made plans to take him to his favorite park on his birthday (in June) so he can play on the swings (he loves being pushed on the swings) and then take him to his favorite restaurant for a big boy meal.

Bob and Susan loved the idea of me taking the kids out for their birthdays and have given their blessing. Well that all changed when Sam learned he wasn’t going to the Magic Kingdom with his sister. After he threw a horrible temper tantrum where he hit his sister, Bob and Susan called me up and asked me if I could take Sam with us, even offering to pay his ticket.

I was pissed and put my foot down. I called them out, saying that it wasn’t fair to Marlene and that they’re responsible for these temper tantrums. I even asked them outright what are they going to do when Sam gets too big to control and he throws these tantrums.

I also told them that until Sam learns to get his temper under control, I wasn’t going to take him out for his birthday.

After what he did to my cat and Marlene, I know I need to set boundaries down around Sam. But I don’t know where to start or what to do.

Any help would be great please and thank you.

TL;DR: I finally put my foot down in regards to my autistic godson’s temper tantrums and need a way to set and keep boundaries because I’m not his parent.

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  1. Mom of an autistic daughter (4) and I will say that it’s tough. We try boundaries, routines, therapy, etc. She still will throw tantrums now and then BUT I would never stand for hitting, kicking or hurting someone else, including pets. They’re probably at their wits end too, honestly. There are days I cry all the way to work because I feel like I can’t do it anymore.

    That being said, I think you putting your foot down is the right thing to do. I have three other children and I spend each of their birthdays with just them. It’s important to make sure the neurotypical child knows they are special and important too. Being autistic does not give him the right to get whatever he wants. His parents probably do that because he’s easier to manage that way. If he’s intelligent enough to know he’s missing the magic kingdom, he’s intelligent enough to know not to hit anyone.

    Just my two cents for whatever its worth

  2. Hey, person with autism here. Unfortunately I’ve heard of this kind of thing way too autism. People with autism can have rejection sensitivity plus can lack understanding of social norms and what’s acceptable and what’s not. What kids with autism need are to have boundaries explained to them and have someone guide them with what’s okay/not okay. Unfortunately I’ve heard too many stories where parents simply don’t take the time to understand and work with their child. Instead of taking the time to teach them boundaries, it’s easier for them to just not set any. This is not good. Here’s how this turns out. When children with autism don’t learn boundaries it’s harmful to them and the people around them. They have even more trouble fitting into society and getting along with others. They have a skewed understanding of what behavior is acceptable, and will violate people and cross their boundaries. Tell them you are concerned. Learning boundaries and how to say no are a fundamental part of living within society. They need to help him to begin to understand boundaries and how to deal with rejection and not getting what they want while they are still young. Because when the kid grows up, these skills are necessary to make friends, work with other people, get and keep a job, dating, etc. It won’t be easy or fun, but as parents they need to guide their kid the best they can while they are still young, learning, and under their supervision. Otherwise it could escalate. This could mean being bullied and isolated at school, or even them assaulting another person who says no and ending up in jail where mommy and daddy cannot help them. I wish you the best of luck op ❤️

  3. Okay I should’ve added this when I made my original post.

    I took Marlene and Sam aside separately and asked them “what would be something special you and me can do for your birthday?” Marlene said she wanted to go to Magic Kingdom. Sam (who is verbal) said he wanted to go to the park and the restaurant.

    Now I’m an annual pass holder for both Universal and Disney and can get pretty good deals on tickets. The family are aware of this. If Sam had said “I want to go to Disney” or “I want to go to Universal”, I would’ve taken him but I would’ve made sure he would’ve been okay with the level of stimulation (earplugs, safety leash, knowing quiet places to go, etc). If he changes his mind, then we’ll do as he wants.

    I apologize for any confusion.

  4. For those saying these are meltdowns and not temper tantrums…there’s a huge difference between Sam having a meltdown and Sam throwing a tantrum.

    When Sam has a meltdown, he hyperventilates, cries and tries to find a corner to go hide in. These generally last for several minutes even after the trigger has been removed.

    When Sam throws a tantrum? He lets out this banshee like scream, grabs things nearby and throws them. It always stops whenever someone gives in to what he wants.

    He’s broken several toys, not just his but Marlene’s, always when she doesn’t want to play with him. He’s broken open display items at stores. He’s kicked, shoved, pushed, spits on other people….the list goes on and on.

  5. So I entered my stepson’s life when he just turned six and he wasn’t diagnosed until he was almost 10. It’s hard as hell to know how to do the right thing. I started with discipline and structure but realized that structure was more important. I had to teach the older kids that we will ALL will have to share with the youngest. I ended up in therapy for something unrelated but learned coping mechanisms and better parenting strategies. Now after four years, he’s made amazing strides where he only has a really bad meltdown one every few months. It takes an untold amount of patience and understanding before you can figure out the best way to help. You need to be fair to both kids and FULLY explain the choices that you made. My kid will always ask for a dollar limit for things when I tell him he’s earned X for good behavior or for dealing with something I know is difficult for him. The unknowns of things makes him hyperfocus on them. Explain as much as you can in detail to him. If he doesn’t understand he should ask why but it’s easier to do it before it happens than afterwards.

  6. I’m gonna go against the grain a bit. After reading your comments and being an autistic adult myself, you’re right in setting boundaries. Obviously we don’t know exactly what the parents are doing but letting it get physical at all is not okay and is setting up a bad precedent.

    Kids aren’t stupid, autistic kids aren’t stupid, treating autistic kids like they are special and letting them get away with things when they are young only leads to them being worse as they get older. I get it, he’s 5, life is hard when you’re 5 (genuinely), it’s even harder when you don’t understand why everything makes you upset. It’s also the time you need to learn, need to be given coping strategies, and need to have a level of understanding that not everything is for you and not everything will go your way.

    The parents need to start talking to child therapists that are familiar with autism and get a handle on the situation. Tantrums and meltdowns are normal but you cannot let them result in violence. They need to find coping methods that work at calming him down and making sure that they are communicating with him and finding ways that help him communicate his feelings with them.

    Boundaries to set up are going to include low to no contact with the boy specifically until the parents get a handle on his behaviour. Not letting him in the house with your cat because he’s already made her very afraid. Not rewarding him for behaving badly or giving him what he wants to avoid a tantrum.

  7. I’m on the spectrum, so, normally in this case I would say to give the child as much grace as possible because, more often than not, they don’t know any better. In this situation, however, this is entirely the parents’ fault. They had no business telling Sam (especially if the event isn’t until next month! Even then, they didn’t need to tell Sam). Now Sam has a whole month to pout about how his sister is going to Disney and he is not. Violent behavior (for whatever reason) needs to stop. Let’s hope this helps get things started in changing the behavior.

  8. On behalf of Marlene, thank you. At least one person knows what parenting should be.

    Also, look out for Marlene as the abuse in the following years will increase and she might want to escape sometimes and spend a few days in a safe place.

  9. I’ve never dealt with children with autism but I have dealt with adults with autism and other learning difficulties.

    I’ve seen the difference in behaviours of those that are allowed to do behave how they want without any consequences and those that have consequences introduced.

    I know it can be difficult sometimes to explain things to those with autism but I definitely think that some behaviours should have consequences ie. If he hits someone he should have to have a time out and then have it explained to him why they are linked.

    Obviously everyone oa different but there needs to be some kind of management in place for these behaviours, and frankly allowing him to get what he wants any time he acts this way will only encourage him to keep acting like it in the first place.

    I work with someone who has sever learning difficulties and is non verbal but there is a huge difference in the behaviours they show depending on the staff that support them, because with some staff they are well aware they can get away with whatever they want and with other staff they can’t. And that’s someone who as an adult has been suggested as having the mental age of a toddler.

    You definitely do right by pointing this out to the parents and I hope that they will pay attention to what you’ve said for both their children’s sakes.

    I would also say that saying you won’t take him out for his birthday possibly won’t work though, as sometimes autistic individuals can struggle to link together events that are so far apart.

  10. I know what happens- he gets bigger and he starts beating the shit out of you with the fucking brain function of a toddler in an adult body.

    My 6’2” 200+lbs autistic (mild, MILD!) beat the shit out of me my whole LIFE growing up. Picking me up and slamming me knees first into the hard wood floors, broken noses, etc. My parents didn’t do shit!

    Thank you! Thank you for setting boundaries on that little shithead

  11. It’s up to the parents to curb poor behavior, this was a great start, but you’ll need to work with them on it. Since he’s special needs, seek out some advice particularly for autistic children.

    Also, it sounds like you have some skewed amount of “special “ in the proposed special days for birthday activities. Autism doesn’t make you stupid. His outburst is not okay, but neither is taking one kid to Disney and the other goes to a local park… that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to get upset over.

  12. I have an autistic step son 11 who behaves like Sam. I’ve been trying for years to encourage my partner to stop pretending he doesn’t understand or whatever when he does unkind and abusive things. My partner and SS mum just don’t bother really. Now he is nearly 12 and regularly getting excluded from school for abusive behaviour. They just claim the school are in the wrong and don’t understand… Even though he is in a specialist setting. It’s painful.

  13. it sounds to me like an autistic five year old may need some guidance beyond what his parents are giving him. these sound like meltdowns, not tantrums, and he is probably often overwhelmed and not sure how to place his emotions. as an autistic person i feel for him and i would recommend his parents do more research and get him some therapy (NOT ABA!!!) to help manage these emotions. however, i also feel for his sister and i think it’s nice of you to take her for a special day, and you should do so regardless. my sympathies lie with the children in this situation, not the adults. sounds like they’re both suffering at the hands of undereducated parents.

  14. Does the family have any outside help? Not just for the son, because this is a road the whole family needs to walk on together. You’re very right in putting your foot down. I’ve worked with special needs children, and unfortunately sometimes parents can hinder their developemental growth unintentionally. It’s a complex net that a professional could help solve and the family could feel better as a whole.

  15. Oof, 5 is a rough age for kids on the spectrum. My son was really hard to handle until he was about 8. Poor kid needs to be in therapy right now on how to cope with his emotions.

    I would just be honest with them and tell them that you can not be around his tantrums anymore. Its acceptable, and boundaries are fine. If they get offended thats fine too. But I would try to sit them down and have a discussion about it first, use I statements about your feelings.

  16. Not saying you’re wrong, but keep in mind that being autistic is about the only thing many doctors will even attempt to diagnose until a child is 5 years old. There may be more to it. They may only just now be able to open that door with doctors if they have further concerns. And even still, many drs prefer the children to be in daycare/preschool/school before going very far with a diagnosis.

    You’re not wrong to want to do something for your niece. It’s very kind of you. If the parents want both of their children to go, they should arrange their own time to take their own family that doesn’t interfere with your gift to your niece.

  17. I’m the mother of a 9 year old autistic son. We realised very early on that he was probably autistic (not diagnosed until he was 6 but we suspected from the baby stage) and sought help and advice on how to deal with him.

    Meltdowns due to overstimulation are different to temper tantrums. What you’re describing is a temper tantrum and they need to be treated as you would treat any child. the parents need to learn to say no and stick to it. autistic children need to learn about boundaries just as much as any child, and the earlier they lay them down, the easier it’ll be. That violence is wrong is a very good boundary to instill very early.

    I take both my children out separately for 1:1 time. The birthday offer is a good one and stick with it – but treat the children fairly and do it for both of them.

  18. They’re not tantrums, they are meltdowns. It is emotional disregulation which is one of the traits of autism. Why does it occur with the word no. Because he had incredible difficulty regulating his emotional response. He is also 5, 5 year Olds are also not good at regulating their emotional response. Can he become spoiled if he doesn’t get assistance learning how to do this? Yes. But is he spoiled right now, I doubt it.

  19. If he keeps throwing tantrums and getting what he wants, he’ll see it as a reward and keep the behavior. Their parents need to get it managed and help with how they threat him.

  20. Autistic adult (diagnosed when i was 13) here (27M), I never had the issue of inflicting violence on anyone in my youth or adulthood due to overstimulation or meltdowns. However, my older brother (31M/Autistic as well) from childhood to adulthood has had a history of getting violent if he’s upset and the only thing that has ever stopped this violence since he hit puberty was if someone was around he believed to be physically stronger than him like myself defend themselves or others he might assault.

    I don’t know them personally, but I can say that if they use his autism as an excuse to enable bad behavior it will not only continue but it will get worse like my brother (he’s had excuses made for him his entire life because he’s autistic and as result he’s 31, never had a job, never had an IRL friend and never dated, doesn’t have a driver’s license or car, isn’t in college or any type of trade school, he still lives with my parents as he has his entire life, sleeps all day and plays video games or watches porn all night) while I on the other had never had excuses made for me and as a result I graduated high school a year early, got my first job and driver’s license at 17, bought my first car at 24 (went back to college at the same age), lived on the opposite end of the country as my parents for years with little support maintaining independence and self reliance until I moved to NY to stay with my parents over chronic health issues until later I fell in love with my GF and we got an apartment a year after we met, I work full time and just got back into college again after a 2 year hiatus from school brought on by my health issues and the covid pandemic. When I have meltdowns there’s never violence (it’s usually a lot of stuttering and a shakiness so basically a panic attack and I need to lie/sit down to catch my breath and clear my head). Despite all our differences my brother and I are both classified as high functioning and low support needs, the only difference is my mother enabled and made excuses for his poor behavior using autism as a justification, while simultaneously placing normal and reasonable real world expectations on me to function and self regulate.

    My point is if excuses are made for him starting at a young age and continues into adult he runs the risk of turning into the stereotypical loser living in mommy’s basement who never grows tf up or worse he could end up in prison for assault.

  21. OP- I’m so glad Marlena has you.
    Being the “normal one” in a family that regularly throws you under the bus to pacify the special needs sibling can cause lifetime emotional issues and inability to form close emotional ties.

    No matter what, please continue to be there for her? She needs your help as “Her Grownup” so she knows there are people who won’t sacrifice her needs/abandon her for another’s needs.

  22. Without boundaries, there is no structure, no respect, no communication. Its his way because his parents have failed him in being a healthy parent. This is not healthy for child or adults. Sounds like to me you’re having to set boundaries with parents and child.. you two girls go and watch Disney and enjoy your time. Sam will either learn or he want. A Disney fun birthday gift will not change Sam, so no he can not go.

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