The news has been full of sad stories around autism and how we should feel sorry for that poor parent or carrier. I just want to try to add my thoughts on this, you may not agree but here is something you may need to know.
Meltdowns are not temper tantrums!
Many people included parents of children with ASD do not understand the difference.
A temper tantrum is mostly when a child hears the word ‘No’ or when they do not get their own way.
The child often checks to see that you are watching.
They want attention; be it negative or positive.
They will try to get what they want from the explosion.
They do not (as a rule) hurt themselves.
The upset can end as quickly as it starts.
They are always around a goal/ self-agenda. An example here can be the temper over not having that bag of sweets. If that bag of sweets is given to the child then the temper/ tears and screaming stops quickly. My daughter could scream really well, and it was a battle of wills. She would look to check if the temper tantrum had worked, and if not, she would throw herself to the floor. I can still shudder at the thought!
Meltdowns are different, and this is really important to understand.
The child with ASD does not look for or care if you are watching. They can and do hurt themselves and others. The end of a meltdown comes when it has blown out, usually the child has hit exhaustion, there is no easy stop switch. Sweets just don’t cut it! They can happen due to sensory overload that you may not see. Our child in a meltdown has lost understanding and awareness. This is ten times harder than a normal temper tantrum, please bear in mind just how scary this is for the child, and I add here, for you. I hope you can begin to understand the total terror for the child.
Hold that thought, and try to follow me as I place in an analogy here.
Tetris the game sends blocks of colour down the screen for you to ‘build a wall of colour’ now they can come quicker and quicker and leaving gaps between them until the screen is full….. game over. If you can think of this as we all have screens that have to deal with incoming information, we each have our own size screen, and each has the blocks falling at different rates. Some people will fill their screen fast, others slowly, but the end or in our case is a meltdown if too much has filled the screen. If, as the child, your understanding, tactile, spatial awareness, sensory overload and just keeping up with the daily overload of understanding what is going on can fill their screen fast! It may be that the school day has been more than enough of ‘holding it all together’ the blocks just keep on falling faster and quicker and often as the parent, we only see the last ‘block’,’ but it is in the whole; we need to see those blocks from last week still may be having an effect on what can be copied with today for the child.
Now I am not saying give the child everything they want, when they want, but start to see past the meltdown, to think what happened last week that could have added to this meltdown? We as parents do have the ability to stay in control.
1. Think about their sensory visual needs
2. Think about their sensory hearing needs.
3. Think about their lack of emotional control or their being over whelmed with emotions. Most ASD children have a huge amount of empathy far from the believed perception. Often this leads to taking on everyone else’s ‘feelings’ and having no where to place this.
How we can help:
You can’t avoid all meltdowns so start by accepting this fact. Do not take it personally.
You can begin by seeing if there is a pattern, what happened days before and on the day? This is time-consuming but, the payback can really be worth any work you may do.
Have a safe place for any meltdowns where there are minimal things around that can hurt the child or you. A soft play area in their bedroom can work well. Try to allow the child to help decide where this place is, and what can help them after all they do know what is best for them, or at least what can help. I am not talking about a ‘punishment area’ but a space to gain a rest from all that input.
While in a meltdown talking doesn’t work well, so stay calm and quiet. By all means turn your back if the child is hitting out.
Do not join in. While this can seem obvious such extreme emotion can become a chain reaction.
Intervention can help early on with sensory support, visual support and helping the child manage emotional overload. All this takes time, but great things can be achieved with small steps in the right direction. My son found that if things where just at exploding point he couldn’t say but he could hold a red card, that means I need space and peace now! A weighted blanket could really work. A calming room with the right lighting can work for your child. A walk can help.
Tell someone else who may be able to help. Set yourself up a small group of people you can share with, other parents going through the same thing can help. Just having someone at the end of the phone can be enough. Setting up a sitting circle can allow you to get a break as well as breaks for others in the circle, not for money but for equal timed breaks. Ask for help from professionals. Seek help before you feel you can’t cope. Proactive is always better than reactive.
As both you and your child learn to understand when these meltdowns are coming you both with time, can reduces the impact they have. My son is now 19 and yes he can still have meltdowns but now he is not violent, something I thought would never happen BUT we have worked on the triggers and as he has grown older and gained in his understanding of what the hell is happening, the violence’s to self and others has gone, most the time.
In the black moments when my son was little and very violent I would wonder if it would ever end, I was covered in bites/ bruises and just so tired of it all. You need to be active at being proactive and not just constantly dealing with the meltdowns but starting to see why and what can be done before the meltdowns. It took a long time to understand meltdowns are not temper tantrums. I hope this helps someone to understand the BİG difference and start being proactive not reactive.
I hope this helps someone out there and if that happens I will be happy. There are lots of information out there and this is just my thoughts.