Parents of toddlers know that tantrums are par for the course. Along with the sunshine — watching as they develop specific interests, acquire language skills and express their love for us and their siblings — a lot of rain is going to fall in the form of screaming, kicking, throwing, biting and collapsing to the ground and refusing to get up. With so little power in their hands and so few verbal skills to express themselves, it sometimes feels like any little thing can put small children right over the edge.
Most empathetic people out there will smile at a parent in the midst of a tantrum, throw them an encouraging look or (my personal favorite) lean over and whisper, "I've been there. It gets better." But if you're mom Amie Carter, and a video showing your child in the midst of throwing a colossal tantrum in a parking lot has been posted online, the internet trolls will always drown out the voices of reason and empathy.
This 2010 video (the original version appears here), which has racked up more than 10 million views and has gone viral again in recent days, shows a nervous-looking but incredibly patient Carter attempting to get Jayden into their car after a day out at a restaurant.
Props to the Facebook user who changed his original post from one that criticized Carter for not disciplining Jayden more harshly to one that promotes compassion after he learned Jayden was diagnosed with autism shortly after this video was shot.
The comments are a different story. Here's just a sampling:
In this case, Carter doesn't give a fig what the trolls think. Even better, she would rather they slam her and how she handled this incident than ignore it, because her son, who was almost 3 at the time this video was shot, has special needs, and she wants to bring awareness to mental illness.
In fact, Carter told SheKnows that the entire reason her then 8-year-old daughter filmed this episode was that a neurologist had asked her to video document Jayden's behavior because they were in the process of trying to get a diagnosis for him.
"We had decided to go out to eat," Carter says, explaining the incidents that led to the one we see in the video. "When we got to the restaurant, Jayden noticed the crane game, where you can win a stuffed animal. He obsessed with wanting to play it during dinner. I found five quarters to give him and told him that if he stopped bugging about it, he could use the quarters before we left. What led to it? He didn't win anything, refused to leave, and I at least got him to the parking lot. Then she [Carter's daughter] decided to record it. Jayden's doctor had asked for us to start video documenting his behaviors. This was actually the first time that I could not get him in the car."
Doctors were able to determine that Jayden is a "very special boy, and with that comes special needs," Carter says. Although she says his specific behavior plans and accommodations are lengthy, she summarizes his condition: "He is in a multi-categorical classroom at school. He has had five years of in-home services from our local CMH, which consists of a therapist, a psychologist, a CLS worker, a respite care worker and an OT therapist. He also sees a psychiatrist."
Considering the struggles that Carter, Jayden and their family have faced over the years, the negative reactions this video received may have surprised Carter, but her reaction provides the model of compassion society desperately lacks.
"A pacifier at 2-1/2 years old is not all that uncommon," Carter says. "Especially given his special needs. I had many more things to worry about at the time. Jayden didn't sleep the first two years of his life. He had colic, and he also had seizures as a baby."
More important, she says, even the most negative comments bring awareness to mental illness and prompt people to think about what they and others are saying about both the children and parents who live with them day in and day out.
"The negative aspect it received only reminds me of how uneducated society is regarding mental illness," Carter says. "With that said, those of you who understand and support my efforts: thank you. Your support and positive responses give me the reassurance I need to know I'm not alone and to push to help one family at a time. To those of you who choose to speak and offer violent solutions based on something they choose to not understand: It breaks my heart to know how hurtful and mean some of you are. And more importantly, how wrong you are. I am a Mother Warrior, and I will not stop fighting for my son as well as many others who deserve to be understood."
Carter's advice to parents raising children with autism and other special needs is to find a local NAMI chapter in their area. She took the organization's free six-week basics class for parents who have children under the age of 13 with mental illnesses, and says it changed her life and encouraged her to become a NAMI instructor.
This video and the story behind it shows us how easy it is to sit back and criticize a parent for not "controlling" their child in a way that makes us feel safe. By passing less judgment and trying to support one another and understand a parent's personal struggle, all parents and families will be better off.
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