--Guest blog by Vlad Kogan, Nevada Autism Center
Are meltdowns creating a daily struggle in your home? Autistic children can face a more challenging everyday life than typically developing youngsters, especially in the areas of sensory processing and communication.
Meltdowns can occur in children with autism when they are having trouble communicating their needs to others or are overwhelmed sensorially, emotionally, or informationally. Here are five strategies to keep in your back pocket for when things get out of control:
1. Keep your cool. If you manage to stay calm and collected through a meltdown, you have won half the battle. Modeling calming techniques, such as deep breathing or a self-hug, can help your child pick up some tools to help them regulate while taking advantage of your self-soothing methods. The main goal is to reduce high-energy emotions and not add fuel to the fire.
2. Identify the trigger and change the environment. Consider your child’s environment during a meltdown. Because meltdowns can often originate from sensory overload, reducing the triggers for overstimulation can help (think about lighting, loud sounds, or uncomfortable temperatures). If there is an audience to your child’s meltdown, it’s best to get your child to a quiet, calm space where they can regulate alone with your help.
3. Lower the demand. Start with a shorter period of time and visual cues that indicate what activities must be completed before a break is given. Prior to taking a break, try cutting back the demand on their task. Try alternative methods of communicating with your child, and if they can express their need appropriately, allow them the ability to take advantage of it. This can often help them meet the task again in a renewed frame of mind.
4. Redirect. Redirect the child's attention to a more effective approach to achieve his wants. If they've lost the ability to reason, you may want to try to distract them from the situation for a while so you can simplify it and see if it helps them settle. Personal interests, fidget toys, new activities, and other sources of stimulation are great distractions. Even looking out a window can provide some great opportunities for connection and diversion.
5. Address the problem later. A widely held theory dictates that meeting a person’s most fundamental requirements must come first before moving on to more sophisticated objectives. For example, if a child is overstimulated, sitting quietly and listening to an instructor can be challenging. Like children without autism, those who are chronically hungry or exhausted and either don't realize it or can't successfully communicate their needs for food or sleep are not in a prime position to learn anything new or engage effectively with others.
Your child’s physiological necessities must be met before any other behavior can be considered. Trying to logic your way out of their meltdown will be pointless: their fight or flight response has been engaged, and your child will be unable to effectively reason through a problem until the meltdown has passed. It’s important to be patient, not punish, and be present and available for support.
As a parent, you can reduce the frequency of your child’s meltdowns by attempting to meet all physiological needs through practical tools such as sensory therapy, visual aids for communication and scheduling, and environmental accommodations.
Bridge the communicative gap with your child by utilizing visual tools, additional clues, and clear language and by directly teaching them how to convey their needs to others.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.