Summer meltdowns can be all too familiar to parents of children with special needs—especially children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Changes in routine, group activities, and even heat can exacerbate meltdowns. And, unlike a tantrum, a meltdown is usually an involuntary response to sensory overload and not a cry for attention.
Here are five ideas to help you avoid or deal with a dreaded meltdown.
Avoid sensory triggers
Triggers can be different for every child, so it might help to take notes about what caused a meltdown to occur. Identifying the stimuli can help you dodge chancy situations, or find ways to avoid the parts of the activity that causes the most problems. For example, take earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to fireworks shows to dampen loud noises, drive instead of taking a crowded bus, or leave the store to find a more soothing environment.
Know the signs
One key strategy is to get to know your child’s signs of distress. Does he put his hands over his ears? Does she increase self-stimulatory behaviors like rocking, humming, hand flapping, etc.? Does he run from the room or say “Go!” or “Leave!”? These signs of your child’s distress can help you understand when your child is becoming overstimulated and needs help getting regulated.
Distract or redirect
If you can see a meltdown building, try doing something that usually makes your child happy. Your goal should be to focus on something that is comforting but not over-stimulating. For example, sing a favorite song, play a little game, or make silly faces.
Try to stay calm
Although it may be tempting to raise your voice or talk louder as the meltdown progresses, it’s best to talk in a soft, calming voice and avoid big or quick movements. Take deep breaths and take a few seconds to assess the situation. If possible, stop what you were doing and focus on helping your child calm down. Use simple language and short sentences and avoid forceful behavior.
Prepare a meltdown kit
Keep an emergency kit with you to help defuse a meltdown. Choose things that your child is already familiar with and has used to cope with stress in the past. It’s better to practice when your child is calm and already understands the coping strategy. You could include items like a favorite soft animal or fidget toy, aromatherapy oils or lotion, noise-cancelling headphones, or a weighted blanket or lap pad. You could also include a chewy or crunchy snack and some unscented hand wipes to help if the stimuli is tactile. A wide-brimmed hat or cap can offer some relief from social interactions, and a pair of sunglasses can reduce bright light.
We hope some of these tips will help you and your child manage or avoid meltdowns. What other techniques do you use? Please share in the comments below!