Showing posts sorted by relevance for query meltdowns, shutdowns, and tantrums. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query meltdowns, shutdowns, and tantrums. Sort by date Show all posts


Meltdowns vs. Shutdowns and How Parents Should Respond

"Are shutdowns actually avoidance behavior, in other words, the child is simply trying to get out of doing something uncomfortable? And how is it different than a meltdown? I'm not sure exactly where to draw the line between intentional and involuntary acts with my 10 y.o. (high-functioning) son."

When it comes to dealing with a child who has High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger's (AS), there aren't too many differences between meltdowns and shutdowns. Both are extreme reactions to everyday stimuli. Both tend to be the result of long-term unresolved issues rather than the more obvious triggers, and both are almost completely out-of-the-control of the youngster rather than being used as a means to an end (which would be either a tantrum or emotional blackmail).

Some kids on the autism spectrum are more prone to meltdowns while others lean more towards the shutdown reaction. It's possible to do both, but this depends greatly on the root cause of the problem. There's a personality component to the reaction with HFA kids who are more sure of themselves or more fiercely independent leaning towards meltdowns rather than shutdowns, but again there's a wide variance depending upon the feelings brought on by the trigger. Some events can make even the most confident youngster on the spectrum doubt himself or herself.

What exactly is a shutdown?

While a meltdown could be described as rage against a situation, a shutdown tends to be more of a retreat. Behaviors which manifest during a shutdown include:
  • rolling oneself into a ball or fetal position
  • crawling under objects
  • lying face down or completely under the covers on a bed
  • gaze avoidance tends to increase significantly
  • conversation may be non-existent

As with meltdowns, in a shutdown situation, the youngster may act irrationally or dangerously. Unlike a meltdown however, the harmful activities are almost always directed at oneself. The youngster may attempt self-harm - and may even be suicidal in some cases. He or she may be more likely to take reckless risks (e.g., attempting to jump out of a bedroom window).

What causes a shutdown?

As with meltdowns, the cause of a shutdown tends to be cumulative, and the trigger may bear little resemblance to the actual problem. The real problems associated with shutdowns tend to lean towards depression, loneliness, poor self-image and poor self-worth.

In younger children, a shutdown may be triggered because of a simple breakfast issue (e.g.,  they were given something they don't like). In this case, the cause may actually have nothing to do with breakfast at all, but rather it may be symptomatic of the youngster's frustration at not being able to make himself understood.

What does a shutdown look like in adults on the autism spectrum?

In grown-ups, shutdowns can result from extreme events (e.g., losing a job, marriage break-up, etc.), but they can also have very small triggers, which simply remind the person of a larger pain (e.g., a small incident at work can provoke some long-term insecurities and cause a retreat).

A shutdown will move some form of emotional pain to the center of the adult's focus, and he or she may start contemplating "what if" and "if only" scenarios. These thoughts are always counter-productive, because you can't change the past, and they usually only make the person feel entrapped by events. During a shutdown, the adult may collapse into a heap and will generally not have any contact with anyone.

What can be done?

Think of the fight-or-flight response. When a child shuts down, he is in flight mode. In other words, the child is trying to protect himself/herself from real or imagined harm. So, your objective as a parent is to think in terms of assuring the child that he or she is not in harm's way. Here are a few tips to achieve this objective:

1. Children on the autism spectrum often shut down as a result of being teased, rejected or bullied by others (e.g., siblings, peers, etc.). Thus, it's very important to counter any negative messages your son is receiving from others. If those negative messages are coming from teachers or other family members, then you may need to get involved yourself.

2. Unlike meltdowns (where it's best to leave the youngster alone - but in a safe place), it's generally helpful to talk in a soothing voice during a shutdown. Just make sure that you're careful what you say - and keep things positive. The only thing to remember when soothing your son during a shutdown is that you're still dealing with a child on the autism spectrum. Don't try to force eye contact, and don't touch him without either being invited to do so - or being cautious to see the reaction first.

3.  Send him a text message (assuming he has a cell phone) voicing your concern. In this way, you are less likely to elicit an immediate and defensive reaction. The advantage of a text message is that it allows stepping away from the situation and invites reflection and thought.  

4. When your son is in shutdown mode, don’t talk directly to him. When possible, let him overhear you expressing your concern (in a non-critical and non-judgmental way) to someone else (e.g., a spouse). In this way, you are giving your son a chance to understand your concern with no immediate response called for on his part. Your son is more likely to hear your words as concern rather than an attempt to control. You are giving him an opening to talk when he is ready.

5. When your son shuts down, sometimes the best thing you can do is whisper, because it is so different from what he normally hears. If you get down at his level and whisper, then he has to pay closer attention to what you're saying in order to hear you. He will be very curious as to what you're saying (e.g., "I see you're upset. I want you to know that I'm here to listen to you when you're ready to talk. In the meantime, you are safe and nobody is going to hurt you.").

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:


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Parents’ Comments:

•    Anonymous said... my son has shutdowns more than meltdowns i never knew there was more than one kind... thanks for the post makes sence now weve been told to grab and hold him when hes trying to hurt himself since it can get serious. he still managed to bang his head good last one we had. does anyone else see a kid that doesnt remember what happened in a shutdown? ours claims he cant remember its what led us to the therapist saying something is wrong... they said aspergers. he was missdiagnosed for years
•    Anonymous said... My daughter is also more prone to shutdown more than meltdown as she has such a beautiful and caring nature. She has now learnt that rather than going through the frustration of trying to explain herself verbally, it's much easier for her to draw a picture or act it out (the arts, both visual and performing, are a life long obsession) and she asks for visual cues when she can't understand whats being explained to her, or she simply says "I don't understand, can you please show me another way?" So she is basically overcoming her difficulties her own way to avoid frustration.
•    Anonymous said... My 4-year-old is just like this. I hadn't read anything about shutdowns before, but this is exactly what he does when he is distressed (hides under the bed, curls up on the floor, etc.).
•    Anonymous said... My 8 yr old has meltdowns at home, but he will shutdown at school, so that's when I get a phone call to come and get him.
•    Anonymous said... I don't know what's worse. My 5 year old has the mother of all meltdowns. It's so hard. However I'm sure that it feels helpless when your child goes into shutdown mode.
•    Anonymous said... Thank you so much for sharing this!
•    Anonymous said... I had not read about shutdowns before either - this is so so helpful!
•    Anonymous said... I must admit I hadn't realised shutdown was a thing, my son has meltdowns, but they are few and far between just now, he seems to have switched to shut downs instead. His self harming behaviour is not present during shutdowns, just meltdowns. I would rather deal with a shut down, but after reading this I realise I still have a lot to do :) Thank you x
•    Unknown said... Thank you so much for this information. Both my husband and son were diagnosed with HFA. I am learning much about the issue surrounding the disorder, and through mistakes and life experience. I hope this article helps others as well.
•    Upside Down Cake said... I can tell you shut downs are pretty horrible. When I have one I can't even talk. People around me will think I'm being rude but I'm not, I literally have no control. For me I normally get them with too much stimulation but they can be the result of a build up of stress. I also have partial shut downs which can last for days and leave me needing my bed the whole time. I find these partial shut downs are caused but stress and I can face going out or having contact in any form with the outside world. It is nice tho if there is a calm caring person around to make tea and give sympathy. During these partial shut downs I am totally drain and I suffer with a lot of pains, my arms go numb too xx
•    Multiple Me's said... My aspie had a total shutdown for 6 months in school and his teacher never communicated that to me. He was then placed in a gifted class and struggled to catch up. Meltdowns and shutdowns were his entire life until he was diagnosed with a new mood disorder and treated. Once I put him in online school, he became a different boy and started articulating what had happened in his mind for 2 years. The poor child was in such pain, yet at 12 yrs was able to finally start talking and so intuitively it was shocking. That was when we finally got the ASD (aspie) diagnosis. His schooling caught up, straight A's for two years, advanced classes, and even high school math credit in 8th grade. We're able to work through meltdowns and shutdowns quickly now because we both look for triggers and work them out. I wish I had this article when he was a toddler and either started his violent meltdowns or seemed secretive and stoic and wouldn't cry or talk. He still doesn't cry, even when hurt, so I know he continues to escape.

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The Family Contract: How to Set Effective Boundaries for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“How do I set clear boundaries that I can enforce - and my child with high functioning autism will obey?”

The key to setting effective boundaries is to involve the entire family in the process. Get everyone on the same page. This is accomplished by implementing a “family contract” in which the house rules - and the consequences for violating those rules - are clearly explained and written on an actual contract.

In a family contract, parents agree to do certain things, for example:
  • encourage the child to achieve in all areas of life
  • hold the child accountable for the choices he makes, and ensure that he experiences privileges and unfortunate consequences that go with each choice
  • listen, and not overreact or judge the child for things that don't make sense to her
  • love the child for who she is
  • make themselves available to the child whenever he or she needs them – even when they are “busy”
  • never view the child as a failure, even when she makes mistakes
  • provide a comfortable, safe and mutually respectful place to talk honestly
  • provide the child with housing, food and clothing

In exchange, the AS or HFA child agrees to do certain things, for example:
  • apply himself in school and other activities
  • avoid threatening to do harm to self or others
  • avoid the use of drugs and alcohol
  • be honest, even when he or she doesn’t feel like it
  • be respectful towards everyone in this home
  • keep her promises and strive to be trustworthy
  • talk to parents when he is angry, upset or confused

All of these stipulations are written into the family contract, which is then placed in a visible area of the house to be reviewed and revised as often as needed.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

Regardless of the developmental stage of the AS or HFA youngster, some basic principles can help guide the process of developing an effective family contract: 
  • An effective family contract does not instill a loss of trust, shame, negative guilt, or a sense of abandonment; rather, it instills a sense of greater trust between the youngster and the parents.
  • The purpose of the contract is to help the child internalize rules, organize himself, and acquire appropriate behavior patterns.
  • The temperaments of the youngster and the parent require flexibility. Kids with “special needs” and developmental delays need additional accommodations.

Kids raised without reasonable limits will have difficulty adjusting socially out in the real world. In a family contract, rules are established so that the AS or HFA child can learn to live cooperatively with other people in the family. This is a crucial skill for kids on the autism spectrum because (a) they already have social skills deficits by virtue of the disorder, and (b) we are all social creatures by nature, and therefore must learn to get along (e.g., at home, school, work, and the community at large).

Here are a few tips that will help promote an effective family contract:
  1. Just concentrate on two or three rules at first.
  2. Allow for your youngster’s temperament and individuality.
  3. Apply consequences as soon as possible.
  4. In general, it is more effective to anticipate and prevent undesirable behavior than to punish it. Thus, when possible, deal with the difficult behavior in advance - or away from - the actual misbehavior, not in the heat of the moment. An “away-from-the-moment” discussion can help prevent undesirable behavior by giving you the opportunity to teach your youngster the desirable behavior in advance. 
  5. Apply rules consistently.
  6. Avoid nagging and making threats without consequences.
  7. Do not enter into arguments with your youngster during the correction process.
  8. Ensure that your youngster knows the correction is directed against the behavior and not him or her as a person. 
  9. Always guard against humiliating your youngster during the corrective process. 
  10. Model forgiveness and avoid bringing up past mistakes.
  11. Ignore unimportant and irrelevant behavior (e.g., swinging legs while sitting at the dinner table).
  12. Know and accept age-appropriate behavior (e.g., spilling a glass of milk is not willful defiance for a 4-year-old, whereas refusing to wear a bicycle helmet after repeated warnings is willful defiance in a 6-year-old).
  13. Make the consequences brief (e.g., time-outs should last one minute per year of the youngster’s age, to a maximum of five minutes).
  14. Mean what you say – but say it without yelling at your youngster. 
  15. Be sure to prioritize. Safety always comes first, correcting behavior that harms people and property comes second, and unwanted behaviors (e.g., whining, tantrums, interrupting etc.) comes third. 
  16. Reinforce desirable behavior (e.g., praise positive behavior and “catch” your child being good).
  17. Make consequences realistic (e.g., grounding for two weeks may not be feasible).

 ==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

How do you know whether or not you have an effective family contract in place? It’s effective if you are accomplishing most of the following:
  • your child can tolerate discomfort when necessary
  • discipline is applied with mutual respect in a firm, fair, reasonable and consistent way
  • your child is assertive without being aggressive or hostile
  • it fosters the development of your youngster’s own self-discipline
  • your youngster always knows that you love and support him or her
  • it helps the youngster to develop a healthy conscience and an internal sense of responsibility and control
  • it helps your youngster fit into the real world happily and effectively
  • it teaches and guides the child, and doesn’t just force him or her to obey
  • your child is considerate of the needs of others
  • it protects the youngster from danger
  • your child is able to postpone pleasure
  • he or she is able to respect your authority - and also the rights of others

The bottom line is this: Social skills deficits are what give children on the autism spectrum the most problems in life. This is why it’s so terribly important for them to get acquainted with social order as soon as possible. And the best way to accomplish this goal is through the ongoing use of a formal family contract. In this way, when the child begins school life and encounters the list of “school rules” to abide by, the idea of following established rules - and receiving consequences for violating those rules - will not be a foreign concept to the child.

==> Methods for dealing with meltdowns, shutdowns, and tantrums in these "special needs" young people can be found here...


Is There a Link Between GI Problems and High-Functioning Autism?

“Is there a link between GI problems and high-functioning autism? Our son has frequent constipation, and we’re wondering if this has something to do with the disorder.”

Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders do occur in some children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (e.g., chronic constipation, diarrhea, irritable and inflammatory bowel conditions). However, the link between GI issues and autism is up for debate.

One study from the Mayo Clinic found no apparent overall link between the two, although the researchers did find that some individual GI problems are more common in kids on the autism spectrum as compared to their “typical” (i.e., non-autistic) peers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that kids on the autism spectrum are 3.5 times more likely to experience chronic diarrhea or constipation than their typical peers. Some researchers propose that toxins produced by abnormal gut bacteria may trigger or worsen the symptoms associated with the disorder.

Furthermore, researchers report that the GI activity of some young people on the spectrum differs from that of typical children in two major ways: 1) their intestines are home to abnormal amounts of certain digestive bacteria, and 2) their intestinal cells show abnormalities in how they break down and transport carbohydrates. In addition, it has been suggested that some of these children have abnormal levels of certain bacteria. Bacteria play an important role in normal digestion, and abnormal levels have been associated with intestinal inflammation and digestive problems.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

We also know that alterations in how intestinal cells break down carbohydrates can affect the amount and type of nutrients that these cells offer to intestinal bacteria. Such alterations may negatively impact the makeup of the intestine’s normal community of digestive bacteria. These findings may explain why some parents of kids on the autism spectrum report that special diets and probiotics improve both their child’s digestion and his or her behavior.

Treating GI Disorders in Kids on the Autism Spectrum—

1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Behavioral modifications include avoiding food near bedtime, eating smaller meals, avoiding foods that tend to trigger symptoms, and elevating the head during sleep. Also, medications can be implemented (e.g., antacids, Pepcid, Zantac, Nexium, Priolosec).

2. Chronic diarrhea: Treatment will depend on the cause. For example, if diarrhea is due to food allergies, lactose intolerance or celiac disease, it’s usually treated with dietary restrictions. Also, medications may be warranted in certain circumstances.

3. Chronic constipation: This condition is often addressed using behavioral management, which includes dietary changes (e.g., increasing fiber, eliminating constipating foods), and management of toileting behaviors (e.g., teaching a child to sit on the toilet after meals). In addition, supplements can be used to alleviate constipation (e.g., soluble fiber, laxatives such as mineral oil, magnesium hydroxide or sorbitol).

4. Casein- and gluten-free diets: Many moms and dads of kids on the spectrum report that behavior improves when their youngster eats a diet free of the proteins gluten (found mostly in wheat, barley and rye) and casein (found in dairy products).

5. Probiotics: In addition to eliminating casein and gluten from their child’s diet, many parents have reported that probiotics (i.e., the "good" bacteria) help lessen gastrointestinal distress.

How Parents Can Help—

You may want to consider consulting with a dietary counselor (e.g., a nutritionist or dietician). If so, bring the counselor a 3 - 5 day “dietary history” by writing down what was eaten and how much. The counselor will review the history to determine whether there is a risk for nutritional deficiency. He or she can then work with you to add foods or supplements that address potential gaps in nutrition.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

In addition to providing a history of what was eaten and how much, create a list of the specific symptoms and behaviors that you would like to work on (e.g., your child’s tantrums, meltdowns, shutdowns, inability to sit quietly during class, problems sleeping at night, etc.).

Recruit the assistance of teachers, babysitters, and others outside the family to help you accurately monitor targeted symptoms and behaviors – and verify your awareness of changes. If a consensus is reached that improvements are indeed occurring, then continuing the dietary changes will be worth the cost and effort.

Note that improvements may be due to the removal of just one of the aforementioned proteins (i.e., gluten or casein) from the diet. Some parents report improvement with a gluten-free diet alone, while others report improvements with just a casein-free diet. In addition, improvement may be due to dietary changes other than the removal of casein or gluten (e.g., the new diet replaces processed foods high in sugar and fat with healthier foods like fruits and vegetables).

Also note that a strict casein-gluten free diet requires hard work and can be costly (e.g., parents will be faced with the task of sending or bringing special meals and treats whenever their child eats away from home, it may be difficult to eat from the menus in a restaurant or school cafeteria, birthday parties may present a challenge, etc.).

==> More information on diet and children with ASD can be found here...


Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2010

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...