3 things parents need to know about meltdowns
It can be scary. The day your child turns against you. What did you do wrong? What could have triggered this anger, this aggression? But have no
fear. Take adeep breath. Here are three things to make you feel OK with your role as a parent again.
- It’s not your fault.
This might be a no brainer but it is incredible how the feeling of guilt can swallow you whole when your child has a sensory meltdown in front of you, and usually in a busy public place. Those eyes might be judging you and boring down into the back of your neck, but take no notice. They have no idea. They are only thinking the way they are through limited knowledge. That’s all. It is far from your fault whatever has triggered off your child at that moment. It could be something that happened five minutes ago or five weeks ago. Whatever it is, it is nothing to do with you or your actions. The aggression is out of anxiety or stress overload. Stay tuned and loving. Your child will resume normal service when the time is right.
- Your child isn’t naughty
You child is suffering what we would call a wiring fault, or, as some prefer, a different type of wiring to the rest of the world. It allows them to feel a hundred times more than the rest of us. We have receptors, right? Sight, hearing, taste, smell. Well, what happens is that every day there are roughly 9 million bits of information floating around us at any one time. Our filters in our receptors take in on average around 126 of those 9 million. It is my firm belief that children on the spectrum, like people with PDA take in a heck of a lot more than just 126 bits. They take in thousands perhaps. This is what we know as sensory overload. When this happens, your child will go into a state of that overload which causes anxiety. The body needs to release that state of anxiety that’s building up and it comes out as aggression, shouting, violent actions, movements and anger. Some people might become introverted to deal with their stress. It this case, they will become withdrawn, quiet, avoid eye contact or any other form of communication. Either way, they are experiencing too much information and need to get away from it as quickly as possible. Don’t forget the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum; a tantrum is when a child is in control of the behaviour. A meltdown is the opposite.
My son Jon (aged 7, pictured left) tends to walk away suddenly while he tries to control his anger. As he has got older, he will tell me he is feeling anxious and that he needs to leave. He will take himself into a place away from the overload to deal with it. It is about then he will ask that no one approaches him and talk to him. My job is to ensure his safety so I move with him but I keep my distance from him to give him space to calm down. Other around you will think he is being naughty. He is not. He is just dealing with a lot of information too quickly and needs to find a place to chill out. You child is doing exactly the same but in their way. As PDA people get older, then tend to find a way to deal with their panic attacks and may tell you what they need and what they don’t need to calm themselves down.
- Your child desperately wants to fit in with the world.
True. So very true. Sometimes the anxiety of feeling that they can’t fit in weighs them down making meltdowns even worse. The world around your child is very scary to them. A lot more scary than it is for the rest of us. There are a multitude of sounds, smells and feelings that are all trying to hammer their way into your child’s brain all at once, or at least, that’s how it feels to them. Don’t think for a minute that your child just wants to terrorise the place and show you up (that was how I used to think, I will admit that!) They do want to fit in and sometimes, don’t like being different. There may be a rule of thinking that suggests that the world needs to change. That could be true, but when Jon stands at school with 15 of his fellow buddies from the ASD unit, there is a resounding desire to simply just, be normal. What we mustn’t do is fuss over them. If I had a pound for every time Jon has shouted ‘stop fussing Mungie!’ Then, well, you know the rest. So for the parent still trying to understand what happens when their child kicks off; let me introduce to you My Four ‘S’s
- Stuff it: Does the request really need to be done? Is it worth a meltdown?
- Space: Keep your child in easy reach if there was danger ahead but give them some space to come down. Instead of guiding them to where you want them to go, try just letting them go where they want to. You will find they will calm down a lot quicker.
- Solitude: A difficult one when your instinct as a parent is to want to reassure them, but this won’t help them calm down. They are trying to get away from the sensory overload, you will be giving them more if you add your voice to it. No matter how gentle it might be.
- Soothe: When you child is willing to come back and join you, reassure them that they are not in trouble. Don’t shout at them, don’t judge. Just soothe. A child can be where their brain might want to reach that state of anxiety again, so tread carefully at this point and offer a hug or a hand to hold.
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Michelle Hatcher is the author of the Progress Pentagon parenting courses and founder of the best-selling : Unleashing The Positive Mind Masterclass. She is a certified CBT Therapist, NLP Practitioner, mother of 15 year old Jon who has Autism and PDA and certified Life Coach.
She is also a member of the Complimentary Medical Association, the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists
and The Association of Integrative Psychology. Her autobiography, How To… uncovers the secrets of Autism and how to overcome it plus it tracks her life as a mother of an Autistic child, how she developed her best-selling courses using CBT and NLP with Autism. She is also a public speaker on Autism Awareness.
She lives in Wiltshire with husband Nick, son, Jon and three cats; Apple, Missy and Augusta.