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Lack of Communication breaks my Heart

I have been thinking a lot about the source of the Tantrum Tot’s meltdowns lately.  I’ve been noting when, where, and how the  meltdowns begin and observed that much of it starts when he is not communicating well.  The Tot has begun making me repeat everything he says to me.  For instance, if he says, “Mommy, the airplane”–he loves planes–or “Mommy, choo choo,” he does not stop saying it until I repeat him.  If I do not repeat what he says exactly he get extremely upset and starts screaming.  I was a bit baffled at first but I think I have figured it out.  He is verifying that I understood what he said!!

We were driving in the car the other day, and he was trying to tell me and Hubby something.  It sounded like he was saying, “I want to play play,” which means he wants to go to the park.  But that was not it!  He said it over and over and over again until he was screaming and I was in tears.  I did not understand (and still do not know) what he wanted.  I couldn’t figure it out.

The Tot was getting so frustrated that he could not communicate what he wanted to say to us.  He started crying, and saying, “Mommy….(repeating what he was asking for)…Daddy…” He called every one of our names in the vehicle and was so frustrated and having a meltdown by the time we were down the block because no one understood him.  It broke my heart not knowing what my baby was trying so desperately to say.

The meltdown that followed was heart wrenching because I know that he didn’t want to be having a tantrum, but he was so frustrated that it was all he had left in him to do.  I hated it; I cried; and I still do not know what he was asking for that day in the car.  It hurts when you cannot understand them, and when you realize that the behaviors are partially because you “don’t get it.”  Hopefully, as the Tot learns to communicate more effectively, he will be less frustrated and angry.


Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. 🙁 awe
    i get mad at my son in the car because sometimes i cant hear what he is saying, and hes 6! and typically a very loud kid! hmph.

  2. As a family, we all feed off each other’s energy. My little guy tends to repeat himself for reassurance that we heard/understood him as well, generally getting louder with each repetition until the desired result (or complete chaos) is achieved, as well. Often his parents and/or brother are talking at the same time, and it can get Tense. At least you are understanding where he is coming from. You are not alone. I am willing to lend an non-judgmental ear/ loud mouth (your choice) for troubleshooting in these situations.

  3. Hi there, does Tot has ASD as well? As I was reading this I was remembering a tape my mom had of myself and her talking when I was around two. I got very upset with her when she got very upset with me because I had taken my shoes off (or “see-oohs” as I said it) and what was interesting to me was that I was mimicking her upset behavior in a way.

    Does Tot do this? Like on the tape, my mom says “You put your shoes back on” and my tiny voices sounded just at her pitch when I said “No. NOOOO-NO!” (Just as she used to say to me) It was an odd tape but I wonder if he is picking up on your tone if he is suddenly very upset.

    I re-read your post just now to try to pick up a clue. Did he get upset when he first said he wanted to “play play” or did he get upset when you were confused? My only suggestion, if one is wanted at all, is if he uses that term again and he seems calm, if you haven’t already done so, you could ask Tot “Tot, what is play play?” or “Can you show me play play?” and see if he points something out in the house that he brings to the park versus being in the park.

    Not sure if that makes any sense. Hang in there

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