Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Q&A- Meltdowns, Tantrums, and Shutdowns from an autistic perspective

I have received two very important questions regarding meltdowns. The first one was from a few weeks ago when I said I'd do some video type of blogging on my FB page, and the other was via email. I do think that I may be able to cover more material in a quicker way if I were to do a video, but I am not up to it at the moment for a variety of stress, and health related reasons. Sometimes, it is nice to use chatting as a way to convey a large quantity of info more efficiently, but sometimes I just can't get the words out verbally, so typing is what I have to do.

The first question I have received is:

"How do you tell the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum?"

I have thought long and hard about this one. The short, and quick answer is there isn't one.

Let me explain.

My philosophy is with kids in general is that they typically do the best with the skills they have. Every behavior is a way of communicating something. Today's world seems so hellbent on forcing children into complying. It seems that the better behaved one's kids are the more effective you are regarded by others as a parent. I find that this is erroneous, and based on a belief system that all kids are here to fit our molds, and not have days where they are human with their own needs. Plus, it's often that we are only judged on what people might see in public for a short time, which says virtually nothing about the way we conduct most of our lives behind the scenes.

What I find most often with autistic kids is that a tantrum almost always turns into a meltdown due to the overwhelming emotions that come with a meltdown. With both of my boys it seems that not getting something they wanted might spark a tantrum, but quickly moves into a meltdown where even if I were to give in to what they wanted initially it would not matter. They suddenly cannot be calmed by anything. I do see that in a desperate attempt to not even go there in the first place many parents of ASD kids will just not ever say no to begin with out of fear of the impending meltdown. That is also not a desirable way to deal with the situation. Kids need to be taught how to handle strong emotions when they arise, and they can't practice if they never get the chance.

Equally, as important... don't say no, then stick to it with veracity to prove your point if your kid cannot handle that situation. Sometimes, we don't know if they can handle it, or they want something that is impossible to give. If they're already seeming vulnerable I try not to even get into situations that might cause a tantrum/meltdown. Like, I know that Beans cannot handle walking past the pool while it is open, and not going. That is beyond his ability to comprehend, so I make sure to avoid the pool area while on foot. Once I say no to something I mean no, and will not go back, but I try to be sure I mean NO before I say it. If I can avoid certain situations that I don't think the boys have the emotional skills to handle I will, instead opting to work on building up to those challenging situations.

The very, very worst thing that one can do is not ever try little situations that might give a child the ability to be successful in handling the situation, thus they never learn how to manage their emotions. An example I see a lot is parents that say they never go out to eat, or virtually leave the house with their autistic child. This is not doing anyone any favors in the long run. This all or nothing thinking leaves the autistic child with no exposure to the outside world, and no opportunity to learn in small steps how to behave, and handle oneself in public.I know that it can be difficult, awkward, embarassing, and even unsafe if you have a runner, but if done in small enough steps it can be done. I take all of my kids with me to the grocery store, and to restaurants alone, and it is usually fine. We didn't get there overnight. This took years of work to get the point my boys can behave in places like restaurants,and other public places. I wrote a short tutorial about this HERE

Question two: What are shutdowns?

This question was a hard one to answer. I don't really know how to describe them, but I will try.

What do they look like: