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Kids on the Spectrum: Crisis Intervention Tips for Parents and Teachers

Crisis events and explosive behaviors from kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are among the most challenging and stressful issues faced by parents and teachers. Explosive behaviors such as property destruction, physical aggression, self-injury, meltdowns and tantrums are major barriers to effective social and educational development.

Such behaviors put these kids at risk for exclusion and isolation from social, educational, family, and community activities. In addition, explosive behaviors place a heavy burden on families, particularly as these kids grow from preschool into school age. The definition of explosive behaviors depends on whether the behaviors are considered from the perspective of an HFA or AS youngster - or from the perspective of a parent or teacher.

From a kid’s perspective, explosive behaviors include (a) confusion about the effects and consequences of many of his behaviors, (b) engagement in restrictive and repetitive behaviors and interests that may limit the youngster’s ability to learn and to fit in with peers, (c) severe difficulty in initiating and maintaining social interactions and relationships, and (d) the inability to understand the demands of a parent or teacher and to communicate his needs and wants.
==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

From a parent’s or teacher’s perspective, explosive behaviors include aggression against self or others, destruction of property, lack of compliance with - or disruption of - classroom routines, meltdowns and tantrums. Thus, parents and teachers need to first understand that, for the child on the autism spectrum, “coping” behaviors are often disguised as “bad” behaviors.

Here is a list of what parents and teachers should do during crisis:

1. Allow the youngster, whenever possible, to make choices as you move through the crisis intervention steps; however, do not offer choices if they would compromise what you are trying to achieve.

2. Anger, fear, and anxiety can also have an impact on behavior. Moms and dads who are going through a divorce, a health crisis, a job change, or a move might think they’re handling everything and there’s no reason for their youngster to be concerned. But if you’re stressed about something, chances are your youngster will be, too – particularly if he’s powerless to do anything about it, or even communicate his concerns.

3. Being hungry, tired, or thirsty can make your youngster cranky. Poor sleep or coming down with a cold could easily explain unusual behavior. A chronic illness or low-grade infection could make her irritable. If your youngster has a pattern of crankiness at a certain time of day, try offering a piece of fruit at that hour to see if it makes a difference.

4. During a crisis, many of your youngster’s behaviors may not make obvious sense (i.e., they don’t seem to serve any clear purpose). But, for example, your youngster doesn’t spit all over the walls and windows “on purpose” to make you angry. Assume for a minute that “crazy” behaviors like this do make some sense, and that your youngster is sending you coded messages about things that are important to him, and your job is to break the code so you can “read” the messages.

5. During crisis, always use a calm voice and demeanor, but convey firmness.

6. Give your youngster headphones so he can shut out the confusing sounds around him.

7. Help the youngster to see you as a problem solver. Let him know that you are aware of how difficult the situation is for him. Tell him your job is to help with this difficulty. Explain clearly that your help does not mean avoiding the situation or doing it for him, but rather helping him to do it (e.g., "You have a problem, and I am here to help you solve it").

8. Instead of looking at the behavior as “bad,” look for how the context or environment is out of step with your youngster, and explore what you can do about it.

9. Keep your goal in mind as you go through the crisis intervention steps, creating new rules for responding in the future.

10. Look aggressively for all possible sources of pain (e.g., teeth, reflux, gut, broken bones, cuts and splinters, infections, abscesses, sprains, bruises, etc.). Any behaviors that seem to be localized might indicate pain. If he always likes to sit curled up in a ball, for instance, or drapes his belly over the arm of the couch, that might be because his stomach is hurting.

11. Make it clear to the youngster that you are in control; don't plead or make second requests.

12. Practice/rehearse what has been decided as the appropriate solution to the problem. This may involve completing an activity, accepting a change, or restoring the environment after a meltdown.
==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

13. Rather than telling your child what you don’t want him to do, direct him to what he should be doing instead. For example, instead of saying “stop pulling your brother’s hair,” say “put your hand down.”

14. Safety is a major priority during a crisis. Take the youngster out of the situation as soon as possible.

15. Say what you mean and mean what you say at all times during the crisis. Be very concrete and specific as you talk to your child.

16. Some behaviors, especially those that seem particularly odd, unmotivated, abrupt, or out of nowhere, may be due to seizures. If you are concerned about this, keep a very careful record of what you observe, see if your youngster’s teachers have similar observations, and discuss it with your pediatrician.

17. Some things in your youngster’s surroundings are changeable and some are not. Sometimes the problem is a well-meant gesture that’s actually counter-productive (e.g., a teacher popping a mint in your child’s mouth to keep him quiet, unintentionally rewarding him for being loud in class). Sometimes just figuring out what the problem is can help you do something about it. Your refrigerator will always make humming noises, but if you realize that sound is distracting your hearing-sensitive youngster, you can help him set up a quiet spot to do homework. Sometimes you will find a mismatch between what’s expected of your youngster and what he can actually do.

18. Record the outbursts the way an anthropologist might record the actions of a newly discovered native people. Suspend your judgments (what you think you know). Many behaviors are set-off or triggered by an event. Maybe it only happens when you turn on the fluorescent light in the kitchen. Perhaps he’s more likely to have meltdowns on chicken-and-noodles day in the school cafeteria, or after you’ve just turned on the lights because it’s getting dark outside. What time do these events most often happen? Does the same thing often happen first? Just as you might suddenly feel hungry as you walk past McDonald’s, there are “setting events” in your youngster’s life (i.e., things that “set off” difficult behaviors). You can use a diary or log to try to identify these setting events for some of your youngster’s most difficult behaviors.

19. Stay on topic during the crisis. The youngster may bring up extraneous or unrelated issues to try to justify his behavior. Ignore or interrupt irrelevant comments. Respond with: "That doesn't make sense, I can't pay attention to that," or "That is off the topic, so I will have to ignore what you are saying," or "I can't help you with your problem while you are talking about something unrelated to the current issue."

20. Try to identify any food allergies or sensitivities that might be bothering your youngster. Diarrhea within a few hours of eating a particular food could certainly indicate an allergy – so can red, flushed cheeks or ears. Many parents report that their youngster’s flapping or repetitive behaviors go away when they cut out certain foods. An elimination diet can show you for certain whether specific foods trigger pain or unusual behaviors.
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