Parents with autistic children are no strangers to meltdowns. While it may not be possible to completely avoid them, there are effective ways to manage them. However, this requires a lot of understanding and patience from the parent. Understanding why meltdowns occur, how to avoid them when possible and the best ways to handle them is helpful for the parent and child, as well as the people around them.
Why do meltdowns occur?
Most people think that a meltdown and a temper tantrum are the same thing. They are not. Tantrums typically occur when children are angry about not getting their way. In contrast, meltdowns will occur when autistic children are overstimulated or in overwhelming situations. While the former can control their behavior, the latter cannot.
A child with autism finds it difficult to express his or her condition in an appropriate way. They lose their behavioral control and this is expressed verbally, physically, or in both ways. A child experiencing a meltdown may shout, cry, scream, bite, lash out, kick, or even try to hurt themselves. However, meltdowns are not always explosive. An autistic child may also refuse to interact, or withdraw from a challenging situation.
What should I do during meltdown?
This is why a high level of patience is called for. The first thing a child experiencing a meltdown needs is time and space to recover from the overstimulation. A common mistake that genuinely concerned parents or people do is attempting to stop the meltdown rather than wait for the child to recover. You’ll be of much more help if you ask the people around not to stare and move along.
If you can eliminate the trigger, such as a bright light or loud music, by all means do so. This may mean moving your child away from where you are to a quiet place. When this is not possible, you may need to cradle your child to calm them down. However, depending on your child’s sensitivities, touching them may only make things worse. It’s important to do what works for your child, even if that simply means taking away any harmful objects and standing nearby.
How can I avoid or minimize meltdowns?
Figuring out your child’s triggers is the first step towards avoiding or minimizing meltdowns. A journal may be useful for this, where you write down the events that took place prior to the meltdown. You’ll be able to notice a pattern that will point to the trigger. Once you know your child’s triggers, you can avoid them altogether, or take the necessary steps to help them cope should they be exposed to them.
Most children will start to show signs of distress before they have a meltdown. For instance, a child may begin to rock or become very still and unresponsive. Knowing these signs may be helpful in preventing the meltdown. A suitable distraction, such as singing your child’s favorite song or handing them a fidget toy, may be all that’s needed to stop a meltdown in its tracks.
Finally, teaching your child a few coping strategies when they’re calm, such as singing their favorite song or deep breathing, may be helpful in managing meltdowns. Remember to reward your child each time they put this to practice whenever they start to feel overwhelmed.