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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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When Tantrums in Kids on the Autism Spectrum Become Unmanageable

"Any advice for dealing with a child on the spectrum who flips into severe tantrums over the slightest change in his routine?"

Some kids with Aspergers and high-functioning autism (HFA) are more likely to have temper tantrums than others. Causes that contribute to a youngster's tendency to have tantrums include:
  • age and stage of development
  • fatigue
  • stress in the youngster's environment
  • temperament
  • whether underlying behavioral, developmental, or health conditions are present (e.g., ADHD)

Also, a youngster may be more likely to have temper tantrums if moms and dads react too strongly to difficult behavior or give in to the youngster's demands.

Temper tantrums are normal behavior for most kids, and there is no reason why kids with Aspergers and HFA should refrain from this stage of development. But how do you know whether or not a child's tantrums are "normal"? When tantrums escalate to the point of violence, is it still just a "tantrum," or are there deeper issues that need to be investigated?

Temper tantrums are one of the most common problems in younger kids on the autism spectrum. They may appear to go into a state of rage, panic, anxiety or fear for no reason at all. This might involve screaming, crying, resisting contact with others, or pushing others away. Unfortunately for children with the disorder - and their parents - temper tantrums and destructive behaviors are especially common.

It is more difficult for moms and dads to “prevent” temper tantrums in these kids. The youngster may seem inconsolable during the tantrum, and the episode might last a long time and consist of more aggressive behavior (e.g., hitting, biting, pinching, etc.).

Also, the satisfaction (i.e., emotional release) that typically accompanies the end of the tantrum for "typical" kids rarely occurs in Aspergers and HFA kids. Similar episodes of panic, anxiety, rage and even aggression might be seen all through childhood, adolescence – and even adulthood.

Paying attention to the things that trigger a tantrum can help parents act before a youngster's emotions escalate beyond the point where he can control them. Identifying the cause of the behavior is very important. There is almost always some yet-to-be-unidentified trigger that brings on challenging behavior.

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

Causes for challenging behaviors:

As with such behavior in all kids, there may be any number of causes. There might be underlying reasons (e.g., feeling upset, anxious or angry) and immediate triggers (e.g., being told to do something). In Aspergers and HFA however, tantrums are directed by frustration.

Children on the spectrum often rely on ritual and structure. Structure is a method that helps define the world in terms of set rules and explanations, which in turn helps the child function most effectively. Most kids with the disorder find their own methods of imposing structure and maintaining consistency. They need this structure because the world is confusing.

To these special needs children, the world is complex and almost impossible to understand. The information they receive through their senses might be overwhelming and hard to bring together into a strong whole, and there is likely to be an additional learning disability that makes it hard to apply cognitive skills to all these areas at once.

When some form of structure or routine is disrupted, the world becomes confusing and overwhelming again (e.g., feeling homesick, losing a comforting toy when feeling alone, starting a new school year, etc.). This disruption of structure might be obvious (e.g., having a collection of objects disturbed, being made to go a different way to school, getting up at an unusual hour), or it might be hidden (e.g., subtle changes in the environment which the youngster is used to).

Some of these triggers might be out of the control of the child or his parents. Some might be avoidable. Others might be necessary events, which can be slowly introduced so as to limit overt reactions.

Generally, one of the most significant causes of challenging behavior is a communicative need. For children with profound difficulties in understanding others and in communicating with them, it is hardly surprising for frustration, anger and anxiety to build up.

It is also quite likely that challenging behaviors will directly serve as a form of communication. Natural temper tantrums (e.g., in response to changes in routine, or requests to do something the child does not want to do) may well become usual reactions to those involved.




Frequent temper tantrums:

If your youngster continues to have frequent temper tantrums after age 3, you may need to use time-outs. A time-out removes the youngster from the situation, allows her time to calm down, and teaches her that having a tantrum is not acceptable behavior. Time-out works best for kids who understand why it is being used.

Most kids gradually learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to tantrums. They also usually improve their ability to communicate, become increasingly independent, and recognize the benefits of having these skills.

Kids who continue to have temper tantrums after the age of 4 usually need outside help learning to deal with anger. Tantrums that continue (or start) during the school years may be a sign of other issues (e.g., learning difficulties, social skills deficits).

Talk with a health professional if difficult behavior frequently lasts longer than 15 minutes, occurs more than 3 times a day, or is more aggressive. This may indicate that the youngster has an underlying medical, emotional, or social problem that needs attention.

These are not considered typical temper tantrums. Difficult behaviors may include: biting, hair pulling, head-banging or inflicting self-injury, hitting, kicking, pinching, scratching, throwing or breaking things, etc.

Does your child do any of the following?
  • behavior does not improve after 4 years of age
  • hurts himself, other people, or objects during a tantrum
  • tantrums frequently last longer than 15 minutes
  • tantrums occur more than 3 times a day

Do you, as the parent, experience any of the following?
  • have concerns that you might hurt your youngster when trying to hold him back or calm him down
  • have problems handling your youngster's behavior
  • have serious concerns about your youngster's tantrums
  • need help with learning to cope with your own feelings during your youngster's temper tantrums

Counseling and/or medical treatment for temper tantrums may be recommended for kids who: 
  • regularly have tantrums after 4 years of age
  • have long-lasting and frequent temper tantrums
  • cause self-injury or become violent

This is where support is needed both in the form of direct interventions related to the behaviors, and in advising and helping moms and dads manage episodes in ways that can be applied at home. These difficulties can be improved slowly through education and other interventions.

Moms and dads can help by making an effort to manage the environment so that the child is more comfortable (e.g., providing structure, avoiding distracting information when engaging in tasks, allowing personal space where necessary, etc.). Challenging behavior serves a communicative conduct. In this case, the cause for the behavior must first be identified before teaching and developing other means of communicating.


==> Click here for more parenting advice on dealing with tantrums, meltdowns and shutdowns...

Articles in Alphabetical Order: 2010

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content