Preventing Meltdowns: Diversion Tactics for Parents

When it comes to parenting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are a few scenarios that are fertile ground for meltdowns. Some examples include (but are definitely not limited to):
  • all afternoon shopping trips
  • an endless car ride
  • long wait at the doctor's office
  • slow service at a restaurant
  • too many homework problems

These are moments where a meltdown is coming on fast, but can still be diverted. These are the times when moms and dads need “diversion tactics” (i.e., a supply of items and ideas that can fill a moment or turn a head).

While diversion tactics come in handy with any youngster, it's particularly imperative for kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are often significantly less able to amuse themselves, negotiate transitions, or avoid meltdowns. A parent needs to be quick, versatile, creative, and resourceful to keep things running smoothly. Planning ahead can help.



Here's how to make sure you always have plenty of tricks in your bag:

1. Your diversion tactics should do one of these (and preferably more than one): Soothe, Entertain, and Distract. They must be deployable at a moment's notice, especially in stressful situations. The space of time between the need for soothing, entertainment and distraction, and the onset of complete disaster can be brutally short.

2. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be actual items (i.e., things you keep in your purse or pockets for emergencies). It doesn't hurt to have some on hand at all times (that's why most of these are small) and then to load up with extras when you know you might need them. Some possibilities (depending on the age of your ASD child) include:

• Animal crackers
• Coins
• Crayons/coloring book
• Deck of cards
• Dice
• Doll
• Fidget toys
• Finger puppets
• Flash cards
• Hard candy
• iPad
• iPhone
• iPod
• Keys
• Little notepad and pen
• Magnetic travel game
• Photos
• Pretzels
• Puzzle book
• Raisins
• Small storybook
• Stickers
• Toy cars

3. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be ideas that you can implement without any need for props. You may have to go through a few before you find one your ASD youngster will run with, so keep a list if you can't keep them all in your head. Some possibilities include:

• 20 Questions
• A is for ..., B is for ...
• Blowing a raspberry on his or her arm
• Clapping games
• Getting a drink from a water fountain
• Hide something in fist -- guess which hand?
• I Spy
• Let youngster choose what to do next
• Looking out window
• Math facts
• Play with youngster's hair
• Pushing hard against each other's hands
• Rock-paper-scissors
• Saying something silly
• Taking a walk
• Tell me three things you did today
• Tickling
• What color am I looking at?
• Whispering secrets
• Word games where each person adds an item, alphabetically, and the next person must remember the whole string of words

Putting together a good list of diversion tactics is one thing, maintaining it is another. As your ASD youngster gets older, changes interests, gets bored with some things and taken by others, you'll want to keep changing and replenishing the tactics in your "diversion kit." Remember, the objects don't have to be big, they don't have to be fancy, and they only have to be able to run your youngster past a bit of boredom, anxiety, or a little rough behavioral spot. But they do have to soothe, entertain, and distract.

Note: If you only have a couple diversion tactics, they can fade with overuse. The more tactics you've got in your “bag of tricks,” the better.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

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