Sunday, July 19, 2009

Managing Meltdowns

Meltdowns are a familiar word to parents and caregivers of children with autism and autism spectrum disorders. They are similar to tantrums, but are usually more intense and often have a longer duration. Some causes of meltdowns are due to sensory issues, others can be caused by a disruption in routine and the ensuing anxiety this produces.

Meltdowns are a part of our everyday life with Little Guy. On a good day, he may only have a handful. On a bad day, between one and two dozen. As a result, I've tried several methods to see what works best for Little Guy in these situations. Here are a few things that seem to help calm him and bring a measure of peace back into the house:

COUNTING Little Guy loves numbers and enjoys counting things. If he is having a hard time transitioning between activities, counting often helps to calm and prepare him for what's coming next.

STAYING CALM I find that if I can keep it together and speak in a soft voice, it often helps Little Guy to calm down sooner. This can be very hard as the day wears on and you're over 10 meltdowns, but it's so worth the effort!

DISTRACTION I find this works better in the early stages as the meltdown is just beginning.

GIVING OPTIONS Having a sense of control is so vital to these kids, especially the ones who experience high anxiety. This is especially helpful in situations where the overall decision cannot be compromised. An example of this might be the need to run some important errands, and the child must accompany you. Obviously, they have no choice whether or not they want to get into the car, but you could say, "Would you like to walk to the car, or should I carry you?" That way, they are given a sense of control over the situation. Once in the car, you could carry it further by saying, "We need to go to the store and the bank. Where should we go first?" This approach really helps Little Guy manage his anxiety over changes in our schedule.

VALIDATING/LABELING THEIR EMOTIONS It's okay to feel upset, overwhelmed, or frustrated; we all feel that way occasionally. Saying phrases like "I can see you're upset that you can't get the toy to work the way you wanted" helps these kids to begin realizing what it is that's making them feel disregulated. It also helps them to begin recognizing different emotions by putting a name (mad, sad, upset, scared) to what they are feeling.

RECOGNIZING THE EARLY SIGNS We are sometimes able to head off a meltdown before it begins by reading Little Guys "cues". These can include physical agitation, facial expressions, aggressive behavior, and changes in vocal inflection. By intervening when we first see Little Guy headed for a meltdown, we can often soften it or stop him from having one altogether.

Each child is different; these are the steps that seem to help our son. If you are having a problem with meltdowns, I suggest you try many options and find what works best for your child.

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