Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teaching our autistic kids to handle meltdowns

Children who live with autism and have meltdowns and sensory overload need to learn how to live with their conditions. This is important because a child with autism is going to eventually become an adult with autism. That makes it our job as parents to teach our children how to cope with their conditions for the best chances in life. Certainly you wonder how we do this? I have some suggestions.

First, please bear in mind, this is geared toward our higher functioning kids with sensory disorders.

Knowing your feelings. Recognizing how we feel is a major key in intervention of an overload. Talk to your child about how they feel when they get angry or frustrated. Frustration is a key element in overload and I consider it like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. A feeling of deep frustration or inner rage that doesn’t appear to have a reason is a cue toward overload. The body starts to feel tense and it can build quickly. Recognizing when this feeling is coming on takes practice. But once you know where it is in yourself, you can take steps to avoid or control it.

Know when to take a break. Anyone who has a sensory disorder should have a safe place to retreat to and take a break. This should not be a time out area. It should be a place to practice cooling down and just taking a break to let a sensory overload diminish.
It should be a comfortable place with comfortable things. This is where to go when they’re getting so upset they just can’t bear it. It should not be a crutch to avoid dealing with problems however. You will have to find the balance for that in your child.

Problem solving on it’s own is a longer process than for a typical child. It will take patience and one problem at a time. Having a protocol taught for those over the limit times is one major step in the right direction. Also take note that each child will learn their limits at a different pace, so don’t give up.

Some good items to have in the cool down spot are pillows and heavy blankets. Pillows are great for squeezing and allow your child to exert the adrenalin buildup from an overload in a safe way. Blankets are good to hide under, block out extra sensory and can be squeezed as well. You can find items like body socks and weighted blankets online made just for our sensory kids. There is even a Ning website called Sensory World and I highly advise it. For some kids a fan is a nice thing too. It cools the air and acts as a white noise generator to block out other annoying sounds. I use one myself as does my son.

So, talk to your children about how they feel and specifically about knowing when they are too upset. Set up a safe place for cool downs and make sure they understand it is not a punishment. Take it all one step at a time and in good time your child can learn to slowly control some of their conditions. Enough that they may be have a really good shot at a decent adulthood.

1 comment:

Heather Babes said...

Good ideas, Dave. Especially the "cool down" areas.

My sons have chosen their bedrooms (I'd advise every parent who can to make sure each autistic child have their own rooms) as their "cool down" areas. We have radios, fans, extra pillows, blankets and what not already in their rooms..

My oldest, T, uses load music since he is hyposensitive, and B, my hypersensitive kid uses a pillow/blanket over his head and screaming as a meltdown preventer LOL

And I love loud music too .. wearing head phones and pushing them into my ears to block EVERYTHING. 5 minutes of that and I'm good :)