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Meltdown Prevention: Parents’ Quick Reference Sheet

In the initial stage of a meltdown, kids (and teenagers) with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s exhibit specific behavior changes that may not seem to be related directly to a meltdown. 
The behaviors may seem minor (e.g., may clear their throats, lower their voices, tense their muscles, tap their foot, grimace, or otherwise indicate general discontent). They may also engage in behaviors that are more obvious (e.g., emotionally or physically withdrawing).

During the early stage of a meltdown, it is crucial that parents intervene without becoming part of a struggle. The following interventions can be effective in helping your youngster regain control with minimal adult support:

1.  Ask teachers to create a “home-base,” which is a place in the school where your child can “escape.” The home-base should be quiet with few visual or activity distractions, and activities should be selected carefully to ensure that they are calming rather than alerting. At home, the home-base may be the youngster's room or an isolated area in the house. Regardless of its location, it is important that the home-base is viewed as a positive environment. (Note: The home-base is not “timeout” or an escape from classroom tasks or chores.)

2.  Display a chart or visual schedule of expectations and events, which can provide security to kids on the spectrum who typically need predictability.

3.  Help your youngster to focus on something other than the task or activity that seems to be upsetting.

4.  Inform your child of schedule changes ahead of time, which can prevent anxiety and reduce the likelihood of a meltdown.

5.  Make use of a short diary that lists your child’s meltdown triggers, and what interventions seem to work (most of the time). In this way, you get to really know your child. This is crucial, because the wrong intervention can escalate - rather than deescalate - a behavior problem. Furthermore, although interventions in the early stage of a meltdown do not require extensive time, you must understand the events that precipitate the target behaviors so that you can be ready to intervene early and teach your child strategies to maintain behavior-control. 

Of course, you want to “intervene,” but you also want to teach your child to recognize her own frustration and have a means of handling it. You simply can’t be available all the time. There will be occasions when your child will need to use self-control strategies without parental or teacher support.

6.  Move near your youngster whenever he is beginning to “rumble” (i.e., gearing up for a meltdown). Often something as simple as standing next to your child is calming. This can easily be accomplished without interrupting an ongoing activity.

7.  Pay attention to cues from your child. When he begins to exhibit a “precursor behavior” (e.g., throat clearing, pacing), use a nonverbal signal to let him know that you are aware of the situation (e.g., an agreed-upon “secret” signal, such as tapping on a table top, may be used to alert the youngster that he is under stress). A “signal” may be followed by a stress -relief strategy (e.g., squeezing a stress ball).

8.  Remove your youngster (in a non-punitive fashion) from the environment in which she is experiencing difficulty. At school, the youngster may be sent on an errand. At home, she may be asked to retrieve an object for a you. During this time, the youngster has an opportunity to regain a sense of calm. When she returns, the problem will typically be diminished in magnitude - and you are on hand for support, if needed.

9.  Walk with your youngster without talking. Silence on your part is important, because a child on the autism spectrum who is beginning to “meltdown” will likely react emotionally to any adult statement, misinterpreting it or rephrasing it beyond recognition. On this walk, your child can say whatever she wishes without fear of discipline or reprimand. In the meantime, you should be calm, show as little reaction as possible, and never be confrontational.

10.  When your child is in the initial stage of a meltdown because of a difficult task - and you think that he can complete the task with your support - offer a brief acknowledgement that validates your child’s frustration and help him complete the task. For example, when working on a math problem, your youngster says, “This is too hard.” Knowing he can complete the problem, you can refocus his attention by saying, “Yes, the problem is difficult. Let's start with number one.”

* You may want to print this article and keep it with you, or post it on the fridge.

==> Parenting System That Stops Meltdowns Before They Start

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