Dr Sonali Kataria (MBBS, MD, DNB, MNAMS, Autism Specialist)
Parent of a child with ASD
Center-Head, Sunrise Learning Noida, www.sunriselearning.in)
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, then you definitely know about “meltdowns”
You must have gone through several of these storms !!
And the pain and the agony that they cause (to the child, as well as to the parent !!)
Remember the child GOES THROUGH THAT STORM, alone and scared !!
While the parent is a HELPLESS SPECTATOR, wishing and hoping for the storm to end.
But that pain and agony should not affect the inner peace of a parent.
The parent is the UNIVERSE for the child !!
The child looks up to the parent during a “happy time” and during a “crisis”.
So the parent needs to be CALM and COMPOSED even during the roughest of the storms that the child goes through.
So that the child can find his “comfort” and “composure” in his UNIVERSE !
Parents, please REMEMBER, “THIS WILL PASS” !
When your child is having a meltdown, you can do the following:
1. Stay calm and relaxed (YES YOU CAN !!)
2. Speak MINIMALLY !!!
3. Speak “it’s okay” softly in a comforting voice (to let him know its okay, everything is okay, everything will be okay)
4. If possible, sit down quietly next to your child, without speaking anything
5. Keep your body language relaxed, despite the “crying” screaming, and howling child next to you.
6. If your child is self-hitting/ thrashing etc, PROTECT YOURSELF and give space and cushioning to your thrashing child (WITHOUT THE ANXIETY).
Remove all dangerous objects from the site QUIETLY.
Convert this place to a SAFE COOL RELAXED PLACE.
If the child is using his hands to hit himself, try your best to HOLD HIS HANDS QUIETLY, or provide some distraction to the hands, like dough, clay etc (but NO SPEAKING).
If nothing is available, try to squeeze a tube of moisturizer on the hands to distract his hands from hurting himself (BUT NO SPEAKING). Only comforting words like, “it’s okay” !
7. No crowds, and no asking “What happened?” “Why are you screaming ?”
If he knew, and if he could tell, he would never be screaming !!
8. If you have an access, play the Gayatri Mantra/ Om chants/ any soothing music that the child likes.
AFTER THE MELTDOWN IS OVER: DO 2 THINGS:
1. DO AN ABC ANALYSIS to find out the trigger. Once you identify the triggers, MODIFY THE ENVIRONMENT to avoid all possible triggers. (www.sunriselearning.in)
Some VERY COMMON TRIGGERS are heat, prolonged waiting, hunger, lack of sleep, repeated failures at a task, inability to express, sensory overload- loud sounds, bright lights, crowd, too many smells, too much touch from too many new people, too many sudden changes, too many instructions, too many expectations, a big sudden change without prior information or mental preparation, some unpleasant words used by someone etc).
Identification of the triggers can help to PREVENT such conditions in the future.
2. Create a 5 step social story for your child, for MANAGING STRESS, and start teaching this COPING STRATEGY to him, whenever he is in a good happy connected mood.
This social story can be taught (2–3 times everyday) for 3 months, before a child can actually begin to apply it, when he is struck by a crisis (to avoid a meltdown).
The SIMPLE 5 STEP PLAN FOR MANAGING A STRESS SITUATION:
1. GO OUT IN FRESH AIR/ COOL PLACE (get away from the trigger),
2. TAKE 10 DEEP BREATHS or COUNT TILL 10 or OM CHANT 10 times or PLAY MUSIC on your ipad
3. DRINK COOL WATER
4. DO WHATEVER HELPS YOU TO CALM YOURSELF (jump/ run/ eat a snack/ listen to music/ play with a sensory toy/ watch a visual timer etc)
5. GIVE A HUG TO MOM & GET BACK TO WORK or take a nap !!
This 5 step coping plan can actually be taught to all the children.
They can be taught to carry their SENSORY BAG that they can learn to carry at all times, that can have their coping stuff (like a sensory toy/ ipad for communication or listening to music/ a towel/ a bottle of water etc).
It might take a while for the child to understand and learn these COPING SKILLS, but once learnt, it can really help to prevent many such catastrophic meltdowns !!!
Best wishes and a happy journey ahead!