Help your child stop having meltdowns!
You heard me. You can help your child stop having meltdowns!
How? I hear you ask.
By following my tried and tested techniques from a woman who has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and who is also a Special Needs teacher working with pupils with ASD.
Preventing your child having meltdowns isn’t going happen overnight. But if you follow these techniques, you will be able to spot common triggers, recognise when it’s time to discuss what happened during the meltdown with your child and help others to understand your child better.
This may not stop all meltdowns as there will always be new experiences and sensations that cause anxiety and lead to meltdowns, but it will help you to figure out what is causing your child’s difficulties and how to stop this happening in future.
First things first.
This is not a quick fix. It will take time and effort but most of all understanding.
You must accept that your child does not want to have a meltdown. Believe me, as someone who has meltdowns they leave you tired, exhausted and emotional. Not a state anyone wants to be in.
If you don’t understand this, you may find it more difficult to spot what causes your child’s meltdown and recognise the different phases. So, are you ready to start?
1) Phases of a meltdown
Meltdowns can be split into 4 key stages:
Before: What happened immediately before the meltdown started? Learn how to spot the triggers specific to your child.
During: How is your child acting now? Is it a shutdown? Violence? Self-harm?
Point of no return: There will be a point when it’s not possible to calm your child down from a meltdown and it will be necessary to let it run its course. You will learn how to recognise this and what to do.
After: What does your child do that lets you know the meltdown is over? Learn when is the best time to talk to your child.
Each time your child has a meltdown, write down what happened. Each column should have one of the following titles:
Something will have triggered your child’s meltdown.
No! I hear you cry. He was fine then just suddenly started screaming.
Believe me, something that has happened in the previous 5 minutes will have led to the meltdown. It could be something someone said, something sensory, an unexpected situation or a change in routine. Here are a few examples to give you a better idea.
Jack was going shopping with his Mum. Jack was happy, knew about this and was expecting it. Mum put on his shoes and went to the kitchen to get her keys. When she re-entered the living room Jack was crying. Why?
Two things could be happening here. Perhaps his shoes are on too tight – sensory issue. Or it could be something was on the TV that upset him whilst she was out of the room. Perhaps the child was suddenly worried about something before he went out but was unable to put into words what happened.
Sarah is a thirteen year old teenager and has decided that she wants to wear her hair in a plait for school. Her Mum braids her hair and sends her into school. When her Mum arrives to collect her from school, her teaching assistant tells her mother that she’s been very upset all day at school but that they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
This could be a sensory issue, despite the fact Sarah asked for her hair to be plaited. Perhaps she thought it looked pretty but didn’t realise how tight it would be and that it might hurt to have her hair so tight. It could be a sensory issue in that her neck was perhaps colder than normal with her hair tied back.
Whilst these are just examples, they are issues that affect those with Autism more than you might realise. When thinking about what happened before the meltdown, don’t rule anything out. Write it down.
Every child with Autism will ‘meltdown’ in their own unique way and it’s important to recognise how your child reacts during a meltdown. This will help you spot when your child is in the early stages of their meltdown and give you a chance to intervene and stop it getting worse.
Think about when your child has a meltdown. What happens? Do they shut down? This means they can’t speak about anything and may cry, sometimes silently. Sometimes they may retreat to a ‘safe’ space. This may not be what you would recognise as a safe space but somewhere they feel is safe.
Perhaps your child reacts differently; perhaps your child becomes more violent when they have a meltdown. They may throw things or scream whilst covering their ears. Maybe they suddenly start to cry without any obvious reasons.
It is important that you are able to recognise the different stages so that you will know when it’s possible to divert the meltdown or when it’s too late. Write it down.
3. Point of no return
The point of no return is when the meltdown has gone so far that you are unable to help them by solving the problem. This is what makes a meltdown different to a tantrum. If a child is having a tantrum, they will usually stop when they are given what they want. In Autism this is not the case. If something has caused a meltdown e.g. a change in routine, even if you offer to change it back again it is unlikely to stop the meltdown.
Try and figure out how you know when you’re child has reached the point of no return. Is it when their behaviour gets worse? Is it after a certain amount of time? This may take time to spot. Just remember to write it down.
This is very simple. What happens to let you know that the meltdown is over? Do they approach you? Do they calm down and become less violent? Do they stop crying? It is important to know when the meltdown is over. Also, make a note of how long the meltdown lasted. This way you will know what to expect next time and if the meltdowns are getting shorter.
Only then can you explain what happened to them. Depending on the cause it may be an explanation. For example,
“I know that we have dinner at 5pm but Mummy was running late. Sometimes people can’t help being late even if they really don’t want to be. In future Mummy will tell you if she is running late and what time tea will be ready. Okay?”
It could be that you need to explain why their behaviour during the meltdown was unacceptable.
ONLY DO THIS WHEN THE CHILD IS CALM.
I can’t stress this enough.
It might take 2 hours for the meltdown to stop but if you try to explain something when someone is still having a meltdown it is very unlikely they will take it in. We are so completely focused on what has upset us that it just isn’t possible to take other things in properly. It might be that you wonder why your child keeps throwing things when they have a meltdown, when you have told them not to. Think about WHEN you told them. When they were calm? Or when they were still having a meltdown?
Write down how your child behaves when they’ve calmed down and are no longer in a meltdown.
Your next task
So you’ve watched a couple of meltdowns and filled in your table. What now?
Now look for patterns in the cause of your child’s meltdown. Are there issues when it’s anything to do with their feet (sensory issue) or is it when people are late? Be aware of what causes your child meltdown and share this with the people who are involved with your child.
You could also write a help-sheet to give out to people to work with your child. Tell them what the stages of YOUR child meltdown are. Every child is different and meltdowns differently. Make sure that your child’s meltdowns are understood and helped properly.
Phew! So that was a long one! Don’t forget to subscribe (box in menu) to get more updates on helping your child. You could also let me know in the comments if you have any other advice on dealing with meltdowns. I’d love to hear.