Hmmm… some insights, but also some strange assumptions about “cause” and strategies for “dealing with”…
Autism Meltdown-Management 101: Key Points for Parents and Teachers
A meltdown is a condition where (in which) the youngster with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors. It generally appears that the youngster has lost control over a single and specific issue, however this is very rarely the case. Usually, the problem is the accumulation of a number of irritations which could span a fairly long period of time, particularly given the strong long-term memory abilities of young people on the autism spectrum. (This implies that the “cause” of the meltdown is not trivial)
Why The Problems Seem Hidden—
Aspergers kids don’t tend to give a lot of clues that they are very irritated: (We do, but these clues are non-standard and ignored)
Often Aspergers child-grievances (!) are aired as part of their normal conversation and may even be interpreted by NTs (i.e., neurotypicals, or people without Aspergers) as part of their standard whining. (Another new symptom: Aspergers whine 1. sometimes 2. a lot 3. constantly (?)
Some things which annoy Aspergers kids would not be considered annoying to NTs, and this makes NT’s less likely to pick up on a potential problem. (Only NT children count)
Their facial expressions very often will not convey the irritation. (Ditto above) Hint: ever notice the Blank Stare?
Their vocal tones will often remain flat even when they are fairly annoyed. (Goes with the blank stare)
What Happens During A Meltdown—
The meltdown appears to most people as a temper tantrum. There are marked differences between adults and kids. Kids tend to flop onto the ground and shout, scream or cry. Quite often, (Hearsay – I’d bet that the #1 behavior is yelling) they will display violent behavior such as hitting or kicking.
In adults, due to social pressures, violent behavior in public is less common. Shouting outbursts or emotional displays can occur though. More often, it leads to depression and the Aspergers man or woman simply retreats into themselves and abandons social contact. (A “logical” reaction, given the circumstances)
Some Aspergers kids describe the meltdown as a red or grey band across the eyes. There is a loss of control and a feeling of being a powerless observer outside the body. This can be dangerous as the Aspergers youngster may strike out, particularly if the instigator is nearby or if the “Aspie” is taunted during a meltdown. (An acknowledgement that it takes “‘two to tango” – ie bullies – child or adult- love to pick on Asperger kids)
Sometimes, depression is the only outward visible sign of a meltdown. (Then it’s not a meltdown) At other times, depression results when the Asperger youngster leaves the meltdown state and confronts the results of the meltdown. (A state of SHOCK may be a better description than depression.) The depression is a result of guilt over abusive, shouting or violent behavior. (This sets up a peculiar situation – one can feel disturbed, awful, guilty, contrite, etc due to one’s “bad behavior” but still be left with the UNRESOLVED issues that caused the behavior; everyone dismisses REAL HURTS AND COMPLAINTS as “not legitimate” because of the “offensive” character of the Asperger outburst. This sets up a life long recurring feedback: the ORIGINAL problem never gets addressed – the child’s feelings are routinely and automatically ignored, rejected and delegitimized by parents, teachers, and other children.)
Dealing With Meltdowns—
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do when a meltdown occurs in a child on the autism spectrum. The best thing you can do is to train yourself to recognize a meltdown before it happens and take steps to avoid it.
Example: (This sounds like a common “test” used by dog trainers to assess a puppy or adult dog being fit to be “adopted”. If you can “mess with its food” and it doesn’t growl or snap, it’s tame LOL) Aspergers kids are quite possessive about their food, (really?) and my “Aspie” will sometimes decide that he does not want his meat to be cut up for him. When this happens, taking his plate from him and cutting his meat could cause a full-blown meltdown. The best way to deal with this is to avoid touching it for the first part of the meal until he starts to want my involvement. When this occurs, instead of taking his plate from him, it is more effective to lean over and help him to cut the first piece. Once he has cut the first piece with help, he will often allow the remaining pieces to be cut for him. (What would an adult do if you rudely removed his or her plate, cut the meat into pieces, and then gave it back? Maybe Asperger kids are more adult than other children; they’ll ASK if they want help.)
Once the youngster reaches an age where they can understand (around age 4 or so), you can work on explaining the situation. One way you could do this would be to discreetly videotape a meltdown and allow them to watch it at a later date. You could then discuss the incident, explain why it isn’t socially acceptable, and give them some alternatives. (Life as pedagogy: shall the child take notes, write an essay, confess their social offenses and vow, “Never again, Sir / Madam!” Asperger children are highly sensitive to the “crude tactic” of humiliation. Please do not do this.)
Meltdowns And Punishment—
One of the most important things to realize is that meltdowns are part of the Aspergers condition. (We have the acknowledgement that meltdowns are not INTENTIONAL) You can’t avoid them; merely try to reduce the damage. Punishing an Aspergers youngster for a meltdown is like punishing someone for swearing when they hit their thumb with a hammer.
It won’t do any good whatsoever and can only serve to increase the distance between you and your youngster. My advice? Write this down and place it where you can see it EVERY DAY. READ IT. Believe it.
In addition, meltdowns aren’t wholly caused by the current scenario, but are usually the result of an overwhelming number of other issues. The one which “causes” the meltdown is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Unless you’re a mind reader, you won’t necessarily know what the other factors are, and your Aspergers youngster may not be able to fully communicate the problem. (Or has been ignored so many times that he or she has given up.)
Every teacher of Aspergers students and every mom or dad of an Aspergers child can expect to witness some meltdowns. On average, meltdowns are equally common in boys and girls, and more than half of Aspergers kids will have one or more per week. (Hearsay again. Pay attention to YOUR child, not made up anecdotal guesses)
At home, there are predictable situations that can be expected to trigger meltdowns, for example:
family activities involving siblings
family visiting another house
interactions with peers
mom or dad talking on the phone
visitors at the house
Other settings include:
Hmmm… this focus on locations is “strange”, especially as it includes EVERYPLACE a child may “go” and is vague, generalized and “barking up the wrong tree”.
Meltdowns are “triggered” by exasperation, frustration, and total overload of sensitive sensory receptivity – “flooding” of the senses by environmental stimulae. This can happen anywhere that there are “people” who (from our point of view) have “blunted sensory capabilities”. They hear, see and sense nothing: an atom bomb detonated in the room wouldn’t get their attention.
From time to time, all Aspergers kids will whine, complain, resist, cling, argue, hit, shout, run, and defy authority figures. Meltdowns, although normal, can become upsetting to parents and teachers because they are embarrassing, (the truth lies here) challenging, and difficult to manage. Also, meltdowns can become particularly difficult to manage when they occur with greater frequency, intensity, and duration than is typical for the age of the Aspergers kid.
There are nine different types of temperaments in Aspergers kids: (I have never encountered this set of “labels” in any other article or paper.)
1. Distracted temperament predisposes the Aspergers kid to pay more attention to his or her surroundings than to the caregiver. (The narcissistic obedience thing)
2. High-intensity level temperament moves the Aspergers kid to yell, scream, or hit hard when feeling threatened. (Like any HEALTHY animal)
3. Hyperactive temperament predisposes the Aspergers kid to respond with fine- or gross-motor activity. (Some kids are fidgety or run around like young animals.)
4. Initial withdrawal temperament is found when Aspergers kids get clingy, shy, and unresponsive in new situations and around unfamiliar people. Yeah – use jargon instead of simple English; like other children, we may hide behind mom’s skirt, clasp her hand, and not say anything to a stranger until mom or dad reassures us that the person is “okay”. Being “shy” in a hypersocial world is a crime)
5. Irregular temperament moves the Aspergers kid to escape the source of stress by needing to eat, drink, sleep, or use the bathroom at irregular times when he or she does not really have the need. (No other human beings demonstrate these behaviors: the U.S. does not currently have an obesity, alcohol / drug addiction, or other stress-induced self-destructive epidemics.)
6. Low sensory threshold temperament is evident when the Aspergers kid complains about tight clothes and people staring and refuses to be touched by others.
(Okay – this drives me nuts! Where did social typicals get the idea that children OUGHT TO ALLOW any and every adult to “handle a child’s body”? Isn’t this exactly what children are told NOT TO ALLOW in order to protect themselves from pedophiles, rapists and child abusers?)
7. Negative mood temperament is found when Aspergers kids appear lethargic, sad and lack the energy to perform a task. (This is ridiculous – again – no other human beings do this.)
8. Negative persistent temperament is seen when the Aspergers kid seems stuck in his or her whining and complaining. (No “normal” children ever whine or complain – all those kids, in the line at the grocery, who not only whine, but scream, screech, throw packages, run at 90 mph down the aisles, run into and knock down displays and old people, ARE ASPERGER)
9. Poor adaptability temperament shows itself when Aspergers kids resist, shut down, and become passive-aggressive when asked to change activities.
Around age 2, some Aspergers kids will start having what I refer to as “normal meltdowns.” These bouts can last until approximately age 4. Some parents (thinking in terms of temper tantrums) mistakenly call this stage “the terrible twos,” and others call it “first adolescence” because the struggle for independence is similar to what is seen during adolescence. Regardless of what the stage is called, there is a normal developmental course for meltdowns in children on the autism spectrum. (The “we’re more adult than other kids” thing. Could someone please “congratulate us” for being more mature about being independent, instead of “condemning” this behavior?)
Aspergers kids during this stage will test the limits. They want to see how far they can go before mom or dad stops their behavior. At age 2, Aspergers kids are very egocentric and can’t see another person’s point of view. They want independence and self-control to explore their environment. When they can’t reach a goal, they show frustration by crying, arguing, yelling, or hitting. When their need for independence collides with the parents’ needs for safety and conformity, the conditions are perfect for a power struggle and a meltdown. A meltdown is designed to get the parents to desist in their demands or give the child what he or she wants.
WOW! What happened to meltdowns being INVOLUNTARY reactions to sensory overload? Neurotypicals must revert to seeing every human behavior as being socially motivated: a power struggle for status and control.
Many times, Aspergers kids stop the meltdown only when they get what is desired. (A projection of typical manipulative neurotypical behavior onto an Asperger meltdown.)
What is most upsetting to parents is that it is virtually impossible reason (???) with Aspergers kids who are having a meltdown. Arguing and cajoling (lies, threats, punishment are not “reasoning with”) in response to a meltdown only escalates the problem.
By age 3, many Aspergers kids are less impulsive and can use language to express their needs. Meltdowns at this age are often less frequent and less severe. Nevertheless, some preschoolers have learned that a meltdown is a good way to get what they want. (OMG! This is so ignorant! And from whom do “social” children learn this manipulation? – Neurotypical adults!)
By age 4, most Aspergers kids have the necessary motor and physical skills to meet many of their own needs without relying so much on the parent. At this age, these young people also have better language that allows them to express their anger and to problem-solve and compromise. Despite these improved skills, even kindergarten-age and school-age Aspergers kids can still have meltdowns when they are faced with demanding academic tasks and new interpersonal situations in school.
It is much easier to “prevent” meltdowns than it is to manage them once they have erupted. Here are some tips for preventing meltdowns and some things you can say:
(These are tactics that “work” on NEUROTYPICAL CHILDREN. Asperger kids are SMART.)
1. Avoid boredom. Say, “You have been working for a long time. Let’s take a break and do something fun.”
2. Change environments, thus removing the Aspergers kid from the source of the meltdown. Say, “Let’s go for a walk.”
3. Choose your battles. Teach Aspergers kids how to make a request without a meltdown and then honor the request. Say, “Try asking for that toy nicely and I’ll get it for you.”
4. Create a safe environment that Aspergers kids can explore without getting into trouble. Childproof your home or classroom so Aspergers kids can explore safely.
5. Distract Aspergers kids by redirection to another activity when they meltdown over something they should not do or can’t have. Say, “Let’s read a book together.”
6. Do not “ask” Aspergers kids to do something when they must do what you ask. Do not ask, “Would you like to eat now?” Say, “It’s dinnertime now.”
7. Establish routines and traditions that add structure. For teachers, start class with a sharing time and opportunity for interaction.
8. Give Aspergers kids control over little things whenever possible by giving choices. A little bit of power given to the Aspergers kid can stave-off the big power struggles later. (Neurotypicals see EVERYTHING as a struggle for power; this is hierarchical social system thinking that is ALIEN to Asperger types.) (e.g., “Which do you want to do first, brush your teeth or put on your pajamas?”).
9. Increase your tolerance level. Are you available to meet the Aspergers kid’s reasonable needs? (Being a parent is just like being a dog owner) Evaluate how many times you say, “No.” Avoid fighting over minor things.
10. Keep a sense of humor to divert the Aspergers kid’s attention and surprise him or her out of the meltdown. (OMG!)
11. Keep off-limit objects out of sight and therefore out of mind. In an art activity, keep the scissors out of reach if the child is not ready to use them safely.
12. Make sure that Aspergers kids are well rested and fed in situations in which a meltdown is a likely possibility. Say, “Dinner is almost ready, here’s a cracker for now.” (Dog parent again)
13. Provide pre-academic, behavioral, and social challenges that are at the Aspergers kid’s developmental level so that he or she doesn’t become frustrated.
14. Reward Aspergers kids for positive attention rather than negative attention. During situations when they are prone to meltdowns, catch them when they are being good and say things like, “Nice job sharing with your friend.” (How much more “phony” can this reward / punishment psychology get?)
15. Signal Aspergers kids before you reach the end of an activity so that they can get prepared for the transition. Say, “When the timer goes off 5 minutes from now, it will be time to turn off the TV and go to bed.”
16. When visiting new places or unfamiliar people, explain to the child beforehand what to expect. Say, “Stay with your assigned buddy in the museum.” (Sure: This will block all the PHYSICAL triggers in the environment that cause meltdowns)
There are a number of ways to “handle” a meltdown that is already underway. Strategies include the following:
1. Hold the Aspergers kid who is out of control and is going to hurt himself or herself (or someone else). Let the Aspergers child know that you will let him or her go as soon as he or she calms down. Reassure the child that everything will be all right, and help him or her calm down. Moms and dads may need to hug their Aspergers kid who is crying, and say they will always love him or her no matter what, but that the behavior has to change. This reassurance can be comforting for an Aspergers kid who may be afraid because he or she lost control. (Aye, yai, yai! NONSENSE. This is neurotypical thinking.)
2. If the Aspergers kid has escalated the meltdown to the point where you are not able to intervene in the ways described above, then you may need to direct the Aspergers kid to time-out. If you are in a public place, carry your child outside or to the car. Tell him that you will go home unless he calms down. In school, warn the Aspergers student up to three times that it is necessary to calm down, and give a reminder of the rule. If the student refuses to comply, then place him in time-out for no more than 1 minute for each year of age. (This is neurotypical insistence that the Asperger meltdown is “disobedient, manipulative and intentional.” This “lab rat psychology” doesn’t work on typical children)
It’s that point again: Neurotypicals are idiots!
3. Remain calm and do not argue with the Aspergers kid. Before you manage her, you must manage your own behavior. Punishing or yelling at the child during a meltdown will make it worse.
4. Talk with the child after he has calmed down. When he stops crying, talk about the frustration the he has experienced. Try to help solve the problem if possible. For the future, teach the child new skills to help avoid meltdowns (e.g., how to ask appropriately for help, how to signal an adult that he needs to go to “time away” to “stop, think, and make a plan” …and so on). Teach the Aspergers kid how to try a more successful way of interacting with a peer or sibling, how to express his feelings with words, and recognize the feelings of others without hitting and screaming.
Just tell the child to STOP BEING ASPERGER. Act normal. While you’re at it, tell black people to stop being black, and gay people to stop being gay.
This stupidity is guaranteed to produce incredible hurt and frustration in any Asperger, adult or child.
5. Think before you act. Count to 10 and then think about the source of the Aspergers kid’s frustration, the child’s characteristic temperamental response to stress (e.g., hyperactivity, distractibility, moodiness, etc.), and the predictable steps in the escalation of the meltdown. (Yeah – don’t be a parent; be a cold, distant psychologist)
6. Try to intervene before the Aspergers youngster is out of control. Get down at her eye level and say, “You are starting to get revved up, let’s slow down.” Now you have several choices of intervention.
7. You can ignore the meltdown if it is being thrown to get your attention. Once the Aspergers kid calms down, you can give the attention that is desired.
8. You can place the Aspergers youngster in “time away.” Time away is a quiet place where he goes to calm down, think about what he needs to do, and with your help, make a plan to change the behavior.
9. You can positively distract the Aspergers kid by getting her focused on something else that is an acceptable activity (e.g., remove the unsafe item and replace with an age-appropriate game).
1. Do not reward the Aspergers kid after a meltdown for calming down. Some kids will learn that a meltdown is a good way to get a treat later. (Intentional neurotypical manipulative behavior interpretation, AGAIN.
2. Explain to the Aspergers kid that there are better ways to get what she wants.
3. Never let the meltdown interfere with your otherwise positive relationship with your child. (What relationship: your kid is being treated like a lab rat!)
4. Never, under any circumstances, give in to a meltdown. That response will only increase the number and frequency of the meltdowns.
5. Teach the Aspergers kid that anger is a feeling that we all have, and then teach her ways to express anger constructively.