Ruth Temple holds her granddaughter, Rowan Lily Hampson, 5, as she gets home from school in front of their Ashland home. pennell photo - Bob Pennell

Living with tantrums

Nothing Ruth Temple did could put an end to her 5-year-old granddaughter's tantrum in the middle of the auto service center at the Wal-Mart store in Grants Pass, where they were waiting for an oil change.

"It was about an hour it lasted," said Temple, whose granddaughter, Rowan Lily Hampson, lives with her in Ashland. "It was January, cold and rainy, so I couldn't take her outside. The clerks kept coming up worried that she had fallen out of a shopping cart. Parents were looking at me like 'What's wrong with you?' "

Rowan, whose outbursts can happen as many as three or four times a week or as little as once a week, is one of hundreds of children in Jackson County with explosive episodes often caused by disorders such as autism or post traumatic stress disorder.

"They usually lack certain skills," said Laura Willey, local family support specialist for the Oregon Family Support Network. "If they understand these areas they can learn to respond appropriately before the child blows up or has a meltdown."

The OFSN and Jackson County Mental Health will offer a 10-week workshop beginning April 24 to help the families of children with explosive episodes understand triggers, cope with and decrease outbursts. The workshop is based on the book, "The Explosive Child" by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., one of the guidebooks for the Collaborative Problem Solving approach.

The author identifies five skills many children with explosive outbursts lack, including skills for language processing, emotion regulation, cognitive flexibility and social interaction.

"It's important for parents to understand their child has a disability, not that they're deliberately misbehaving," Willey said. "This is something I had to learn about my own daughter."

Willey's daughter, now a seventh-grader on the honor roll who has a form of autism, was misdiagnosed for five years with therapists early in the process suggesting that new parenting techniques would alleviate some of the problems.

"It's frustrating when you know something's wrong with your child and no one is getting to the bottom of things," Willey said. "Parents need to educate themselves and become their own advocates."

Children with explosive conditions can have a range of symptoms including patterns of arguments, refusing to comply with rules, frequently losing their temper, uncontrollable tantrums and physical and verbal aggression.

"We don't know about the roots of these symptoms," said Maureen Graham, division manager for Jackson County Mental Health. "It can be a combination of genetics, developmental features such as what happened to the fetus, environment and events after birth."

Jackson County Mental Health serves about 100 children with oppositional defiant disorder, about 100 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and 120 with post-traumatic stress disorder, some of the conditions associated with explosive outbursts and meltdowns.

Some but not all children with autism also can exhibit explosive behavior.

There are other children who have explosive episodes or meltdowns who have not received a particular diagnosis.

The county's mental health statistics don't reflect the overall numbers in Jackson County as other organizations such as Community Works and Children's Advocacy Center also serve children with such disorders.

The OFSN has been holding support groups for children with mental, emotional or behavioral challenges since January 2007. So far, about 30 families are involved in the meetings, which convene at 6:15 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the First Presbyterian Church, 85 S. Holly St. in Medford.

Participating in such groups can help educate parents and remind them that other people are experiencing the same challenges, Willey said.

Her daughter's explosive episodes have ebbed as Willey has learned the triggers and she and her daughter have developed coping skills.

"For instance, I know (my daughter who has autism) has hypersensitivity to heat, so if she's been exposed to the heat I don't ask much of her," Willey said. "If I push her too hard I'm asking for trouble."

"Most of the time when she's had a bad day at school, she just goes to her room and spends a couple of hours by herself," Willey said.

The right medication also helps, she said. That can be a process of sampling different medications and therapies until one combination works.

"The last outburst was on the Fourth of July when she locked me out of the house," Willey said. "It was a hot day, and we had come back from the parade. Heat is one of her triggers."

Rowan, at her tender age, also has devised ways to ease her sensory sensitivities characteristic of autism, including standing on her head on a cushioned armchair and throwing her legs over the back.

"That pressure seems to give her relief," Temple said.

Sometimes when Rowan has an outburst, Temple uses hugging as a way to calm her.

Jumping on a trampoline and swinging can also help bring relief.

The techniques don't work every time, Temple said. But they have helped.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or

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