Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Autism Meltdowns: Intervention And Prevention Techniques That Work

Meltdowns can be difficult and frightening to children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA), as well as to their parents and siblings. However, the good news is that with just a few critical changes, the household can move past such episodes fairly easily. The affected child will feel more in control of his or her feelings/reactions and will, hopefully, come to trust that help will always be there.

Here are a few simple strategies that parents and teachers can use to lessen the intensity and frequency of autism-related meltdowns:

1. Initiate some dietary changes: There is no specific diet for AS or HFA children, but removing certain proteins may relieve symptoms. The gluten-free, casein-free diet has the most research and is one of the most common dietary interventions. About 25% of young people on the autism spectrum find relief and improvement with this diet. It excludes gluten, casein, the protein in wheat, and the protein in milk. In theory, these kids improve on the diet because incomplete breakdown of these proteins creates a substance that inflames the gut. Research has shown improvement, and parents anecdotally report success when these two proteins are removed from their child’s diet.

2. Provide a safe zone: A large closet or a pop-up tent can be effective in calming your youngster by providing her with some “alone-time.” Place soothing objects inside (e.g., bean bag, soft blanket, favorite book, iPod, etc.).

3. Teach “cause and effect” early in your child’s life: “Experiential learning” can be difficult for kids with AS and HFA, and it will become increasingly challenging as the youngster matures and grows. If the results of behavior are felt early in life, it will create resiliency for these children. Thus, make a connection between your youngster's misdeed and the discipline that results (i.e., cause and effect). Let him experience the negative consequences of his poor choices whenever possible.

4. Employ diversionary tactics: Creating a diversion will take your youngster’s attention elsewhere, thus possibly avoiding a meltdown (e.g., taking a walk, singing a song, making silly faces – anything that makes her laugh).

5. Identify “meltdown triggers”: Do some research on your child’s triggers (especially if they aren’t obvious) to determine what factors were in place that resulted in a meltdown. Create a list of things going on before behavior took a turn for the worse, and see if you can find some patterns.

6. Identify some sensory-soothing techniques that work for your child: Find out the colors, textures, sounds and feelings she finds peaceful (e.g., pastel colors, squeeze balls, white noise such as a fan blowing, etc.).

7. Break down large tasks into smaller chunks: By breaking down a particular task into workable steps, you are ensuring your child’s feeling of success, thus raising his self-esteem. The more he has mastery over his environment, the better he will feel about himself.

8. Consistently focus on the positives: Little everyday occurrences that are often ignored need to be noticed and brought to the child’s attention in the form of acknowledgment and praise (e.g., finished eating her vegetables, picked her coat up off the floor, started doing homework without having to be asked, etc.). It's always better for children to feel good about the things they are doing right, rather than to be punished for what they are doing wrong.

9. Be a good role model on how to maintain composure: In the face of adversity, always aim to stay calm – and seek a calm environment to encourage de-escalation.

10. Transfer control: As often as possible, allow your child to be in charge of his responsibilities, rather than stepping in and taking over or over-assisting. In the short term, it may seem easier to simply do things yourself, but that's only if you want to continue doing this for your child for the rest of his life. Balance your decision to give the responsibility back to your child by maintaining a supportive and caring attitude, rather than being the “bad guy.”

11. Work as a team: When creating “house rules” for your AS or HFA child, do so WITH her, not just FOR her. In this way, she will buy into the process and will be more likely to cooperate. Social stories and visual cues about the rules can be quite helpful. You can place pictures or text in a place your child normally sees so she can easily access the rules. It’s good to put words next to pictures so the child can learn to associate the meaning.

12. Think structure, structure, structure: Children with AS and HFA need – and even crave – routine and structure. They handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine.   A predictable routine allows these kids to feel safe and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives.  As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes (e.g., walking to school by themselves, going to sleepaway camp, paying for a purchase at the store, etc.). Of course, many changes can't be avoided. But that's why you need to offer your child a predictable routine as a foundation in his life – so he can rise to the occasion to handle big changes when he needs to. While helping AS and HFA kids feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well: structure and routines teach them how to constructively control themselves and their environments.

Other benefits to having a significant amount of structure in your youngster’s life include the following:
  • Structure helps moms and dads maintain consistency in expectations. If everything is an argument, the parent often ends up settling just to keep the peace (e.g., more computer time, more TV, go to bed an hour later, skip brushing teeth for tonight, etc.).  With a consistent schedule, the parent is more likely to stick to healthy expectations.
  • Structure allows children to be in charge of themselves. This feeling increases their sense of competence.  Children who feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to rebel and be defiant.
  • Structure allows children to learn the concept of "looking forward" to things they enjoy, which is an important part of making a happy accommodation with the demands of a schedule.  For example, your child may want to go to the playground now, but she can learn that the family always goes to the playground in the afternoon, and she can look forward to it then.
  • Structure eliminates power struggles because you aren't bossing your youngster around.  A particular activity (e.g., brushing teeth, napping, turning off the TV to get ready for bed, etc.) is just what family members do at the designated time of day.  Mom stops being the bad guy, and nagging is greatly reduced.
  • Structure helps children cooperate by reducing stress and anxiety for everyone.  Everybody knows what comes next, they get fair warning for transitions, and no one feels pushed around.
  • Structure helps children learn to take charge of their own activities.  Over time, they learn to feed the dog, brush their teeth, pack their backpacks, etc., without constant reminders from the parent.

One of the biggest challenges for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders is dealing with negative behaviors. If meltdowns are an issue for your AS or HFA youngster, the techniques listed above should provide a significant amount of relief for all family members.

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers and HFA Children

1 comment:

Full Spectrum Mama said...

VERY thoughtful and thorough post.
As a parent on the spectrum with a child on the spectrum I have learned ways to stop my own meltdowns (Mostly internal) as i have learned to help with his...The main thing for me is sensory and social breaks where I need quiet, dark, etc.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

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