One of the most important things to realize is that meltdowns are part of the Aspergers (high functioning autism) condition. Children on the autism spectrum can't avoid them. The best parents can do is try to reduce the damage. Punishing an Aspergers child for a meltdown is like punishing someone for swearing when they hit their thumb with a hammer. It won't do any good whatsoever and can only serve to increase the distance between you and your child.
In addition, meltdowns aren't wholly caused by the current scenario, but are usually the result of an overwhelming number of other issues. The one which "causes" the meltdown is the "straw that breaks the camel’s back". Unless you're a mind reader, you won't necessarily know what the other factors are and your Aspergers child may not be able to fully communicate the problem.
What is a Meltdown?
A meltdown is a condition where the Aspergers child temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors. It generally appears that the Aspergers child has lost control over a single and specific issue; however, this is very rarely the case. Usually, the problem is an accumulation of a number of irritations which could span a fairly long period of time, particularly given the strong long-term memory facilities of the Aspergers child.
Why the Problems Seem Hidden?
- Aspergers kids don't tend to give a lot of clues that they are very irritated.
- Often times, Aspergers child grievances are aired as part of their normal conversation and may even be interpreted by parents as part of their standard whining.
- Some things which annoy Aspergers children would not be considered annoying to others. This makes parents less likely to pick up on a potential problem.
- Their facial expressions very often will not convey the irritation.
- Their vocal tones will often remain flat even when they are fairly annoyed.
What happens during a Meltdown?
The meltdown appears to most kids as a temper tantrum. There are marked differences between adults and children. Children tend to flop onto the ground and shout, scream or cry. Quite often, they will display violent behavior such as hitting or kicking.
In adults, due to social pressures, violent behavior in public is less common. Shouting outbursts or emotional displays can occur, however. More often though, it leads to depression and the Aspergers child simply retreats into himself and abandons social contact.
Some Aspergers children describe the meltdown as a red or grey band across the eyes. There is a loss of control and a feeling of being a powerless observer outside the body. This can be dangerous as the Aspergers child may strike out, particularly if the instigator is nearby or if they are taunted during a meltdown.
Sometimes, depression is the only outward visible sign of a meltdown. At other times, depression results when the Aspergers child leaves their meltdown state and confronts the results of the meltdown. The depression is a result of guilt over abusive, shouting or violent behavior.
Dealing with Meltdowns in Children—
There's not a great deal of that you can do when a meltdown occurs in a very young child. Probably the very best thing that you can do at their youngest ages is to train yourself to recognize a meltdown before it happens and take steps to avoid it.
Once the child reaches an age where they can understand, probably around seven years give or take a few. You can work on explaining the situation. One way you could do this would be to discreetly videotape a meltdown and allow them to watch it at a later date. You could then discuss the incident, explain why it isn't socially acceptable and give them some alternatives.
My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums