Friday, June 18, 2010

Autism meltdown preparation

If you have a child with autism you may know this feeling. The feeling of anxiety over going to public places for fear of a meltdown or erratic behaviors from your child. Behaviors that others just don't understand. But since we know that meltdowns are going to happen, can't we plan for them?

What I'm suggesting is a safety protocol or plan of action to help you deal with meltdowns either before they can happen, or during.

With very small children you can bundle them up and whisk them out of the way in order to deal with a fit. It's fairly common practice. Larger children aren't so easy to pluck up and walk off with.

Mind you, this is not to assume this will work with every autistic child. It's likely to be more effective with the higher functioning children. So results may vary.

First, if your child is communicative with you, work on establishing an understanding of how they feel. Make sure they know they can tell you when they are starting to feel overwhelmed. The drawback is that you mustn't let this become a catch all for your child to get out of things that you simply have to get done. Appropriate behavior is still expected. You're going to have to be a little bit of a sleuth to figure out what actually triggers sensory overloads in your child. So we aren't talking about a fit because they wanted a toy, that's a different matter.

Practice keeping an eye out for places you can retreat to for a cool down period. This could be a bench or a side hall. Maybe even outside. Ideally it should be away from the main bulk of any crowd and somewhat secure. In a severe pinch, a privatized public restroom can work. That means you can lock the door for one person use. (Be aware that lots of noise from such a place will bring authorities) Use these areas as a place to calm down and gauge whether or not you simply need to leave. Practice clear communication, not only in your expectations, but in them telling you how they feel.

Look for signs of meltdown. This is likely going to be one of the hardest things to do. With many of our kids, almost anything could set them off because they have difficulty processing the world around them. Look for signs of frustration that don't make sense to given situations. This could be in jerking motions, stalling, starting to raise voice, sudden wavering in voice etc. It will take practice but can be done with diligence.

Also, before going out anywhere, discuss what to do when upset with your child. They need skills to use in order to help themselves calm down and refocus. Again, not going to work with all of them and will take extra practice with most. For some, just sitting quietly will work. For others, it's been suggested to sit, put their arms around themselves in a hugging form, close their eyes and take long deep breaths. It can work, but all you can do is try. For our kids on the spectrum, isn't just about anything worth a try?

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