Many people may witness little Mr having a meltdown and instantly think 'what a naughty child'. I'm sure many of you reading this can relate to that situation. I'm not sure that many people who have not experienced a meltdown have the understanding of what a meltdown is, and how it's different to when a child is being naughty and having a tantrum. They are two very different and distinct things.
However, people can see a child having a meltdown in a public place, thrashing and stamping and all the others things they may do. They may see this and you know they jump to that wrong conclusion, giving you glares and stares and the rest - I love the comment I have heard so many times of 'O, someones not happy'...
This really comes from people not knowing what a meltdown is and how it isn't something being done when the child is being naughty, but when the child (or adult) has become completely overwhelmed by their current situation and just loosed control of their behaviour.
So, before I start talking about the strategies we use when little Mr is having a meltdown; given the statement I made above, I wanted to spend a moment and examine, talk about what a meltdown is, and what it is not.
There is a fantastic page on The National Autistic Society on Meltdowns which I refer to quite often. In fact, the following quote from their website really does give a great definition of what a meltdown is
A meltdown is ‘an intense response to overwhelming situations’. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses behavioural control. - The National Autistic Society.
I think that is a perfect definition really. It goes on to say that a loss of control can include things such as expression verbally (so screaming, shouting, crying, etc) and also physically (such as kicking, hitting, biting). In our experience, it tends to be both.
It's not the child being naughty or bad, wanting their own way or anything like that. It's just being so overwhelmed with the current situation. For little Mr it's usually sensory, the wrong lighting, smell, colours and so on. It could also be because we've told him and arranged to do something, then something stops us as a place is closed or some other restriction.
Both these situations overwhelm him and it builds up to a point where he just can't handle or contain it anymore and we get a meltdown.
Meltdowns are not the only way a person on the autism spectrum may express feeling overwhelmed. - The National Autistic Society
So, not being naughty, just overwhelmed with something or everything.
As I said above, a meltdown is caused, generally, by being overwhelmed. The difficulty, sometimes, is to figure out what is overwhelming them.
Sometimes it's so obvious what it could be. However, sometimes it's certainly not. The thing is, sometimes it's not even about the current environment. Sometimes there could have been a changed in their daily routine and then over time during the day, the change has built up to a point where they are suddenly overwhelmed by it.
Sometimes it is easy to anticipate what may cause a meltdown and other times not. If you can anticipate, then you can use things such as a social story to describe and put into context before the change happens. This is something we are putting into place for little Mr before he flies again, the first time in 3-4 years at that point.
Other times you can't anticipate when or what may cause it. These are probably the most difficult times as you can't work out what may have caused the meltdown.
If you are a third party who see's someone having a meltdown, maybe with a family member, carer, etc; you may wonder what to do. There are a few things that you can do that I know would be really appreciated.
These may sound like simple things that you can do if you see someone having a meltdown. It can, however, make a big difference in helping them.
I also wanted to talk about some strategies we try, and potentially you could, when trying to calm down a child in Mid-Meltdown.
Keep in mind that we are the child's parent - so this wouldn't potentially work if you were not known by the person having the meltdown.
Some of these we use ourselves, some we have heard of and not tried and others we know at the moment wouldn't work due to little Mr not wanting to keep them on. This hopefully gives you an idea of what you may try. What is good is to keep with you a portable sensory toolkit just for meltdowns. Something small enough to carry with you, but large enough to contain all you would need.
I hope that this has given you some insight and help when it comes to meltdowns. They are never nice to witness and even less fun to try and calm down your child. However, I hope that you can take something away from this that will help you when you next experience one.
Also, if you have any other suggestions, then please do add them in a comment below as I know all of us would love to try anything that could help.