HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Dealing With Meltdowns That Are In Full Swing


"I read your article on preventing meltdowns, but what can be done when a child is already in a meltdown? My autistic son (high functioning) will experience meltdowns that can literally last for an hour or more."

There are a number of ways to handle a meltdown in a child with high-functioning autism once it has started. 



Some simple strategies include the following:

1. You can positively distract the youngster by getting him focused on something else that is an acceptable activity. For example, you might remove the unsafe item and replace with an age-appropriate toy.

2. You can place the youngster in time away. Time away is a quiet place where she goes to calm down, think about what she needs to do, and, with your help, make a plan to change the behavior.

3. When possible, hold the youngster who is out of control and is going to hurt himself or someone else. Let the youngster know that you will let him go as soon as he calms down. Reassure the youngster that everything will be all right, and help him calm down. Parents may need to hug their youngster who is crying, and say they will always love him no matter what, but that the behavior has to change. This reassurance can be comforting for a youngster who may be afraid because he lost control.

4. Unlike a meltdown, you can ignore a tantrum if it is being thrown to get your attention. Once the youngster calms down, give the attention that is desired.

5. Try to intervene before the youngster is out of control. Get down at her eye level and say, “You are starting to get revved up, slow down.” Now you have several choices of intervention.

6. Think before you act. Count to 10 and then think about the source of the youngster’s frustration, his characteristic temperamental response to stress (e.g., hyperactivity, distractibility, moodiness), and the predictable steps in the escalation of the meltdown.

7. Talk with the youngster after she has calmed down. When she stops crying, talk about the frustration she has experienced. Try to help solve the problem if possible. 

8. For the future, teach her new skills to help avoid meltdowns, such as how to ask for help. Teach her how to try a more successful way of interacting with a peer or sibling, how to express her feelings with words and recognize the feelings of others without hitting and screaming.

9. Remain calm and do not argue with the youngster. Before you manage him, you must manage your own behavior. Spanking or yelling at the youngster will make the meltdown worse.

10. If the youngster has escalated the meltdown to the point where you are not able to intervene in the ways described above, then you may need to direct him to time-away (not to punish, but to remove him from the current environment). If you are in a public place, carry your youngster outside or to the car. Tell him that you will go home unless he calms down. In school, teachers can warn the child up to three times that it is necessary to calm down and give a reminder of the rule. If the youngster refuses to comply, then place him in time-away for no more than 1 minute for each year of age (again, not to punish, but to remove him from the current environment).

Post-tantrum management:
  • Do not reward the youngster after a meltdown for calming down. Some kids will learn that a meltdown is a good way to get a treat later.
  • Explain to the youngster that there are better ways to get what he or she wants.
  • Never let meltdowns interfere with your otherwise positive relationship with the youngster.
  • Never, under any circumstances, give-in to a temper tantrum (which sometimes looks like a meltdown). That response will only increase the number and frequency of the tantrums. Also, when the youngster on the autism spectrum has become accustomed to successfully manipulating parents with tantrums in the past -- but then doesn't get his way with today's tantrum -- it can often escalate into a meltdown. Now the parent has two distinctly different problems (that may look the same) to address.
  • Teach the youngster that anger is a feeling that we all have and then teach her ways to express anger constructively.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

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