After my son was diagnosed with autism then subsequently myself I decided to do this piece for those who’s child may be diagnosed with autism or you may only have the suspicion that they are on the spectrum.
Apart from concerns about your child’s communication and social skills, they may also display self stimulating behaviours and melt downs. These behaviours may display as pacing, rocking, jumping and spinning. They may have oral stims they use to regulate themselves from humming, singing, shrieking, repetitive speech or screaming. They may sniff, lick and spit. They may also have self injurious behaviours such as chewing their hands and mouth, head banging, pinching themselves and punching solid objects.
The need for stimming is to regulate, ground and self calm.
Children with Autism will access stimming to trigger a part of their brain that releases endorphins to control their environment and also for enjoyment. Your child needs to exhibit these behaviours to make sense of the world around them and feed their vestibular, proprioceptive, olfactory, visual and auditory senses. Some of these will need to be re directed such as the spitting and chewing which can both be helped with chewy tubes specifically made for oral sensory seekers. Helmets to protect their head during a head banging episode will help as will crash mats and a punching bag with gloves for heavy priopreceptive seekers. Trampolines, spinning chairs, swings and exercise balls to bounce on help with the vestibular seeker.
A meltdown may occur for a number of reasons including frustration and sensory overload.
My child may sink to the ground screaming in a busy shop and there’s good reasons for this. It’s busy, bright and there’s lots of sounds. To help with this, I give him ear defenders or headphones with favourite music playing will cover the beeping and general background noise. Tinted-lensed glasses also help with the bright lights as will a low brimmed cap or a hooded top. Lastly a small handheld timer with an extra fifteen minutes added on to our approximate time shopping just in case I see a friend and stop to say hello. This helps him greatly as he feels slightly more in control. I also give him a shopping list written or with visuals.
Now if you’ve tried these things and they have not worked and your child is having a meltdown…I need you as a parent to remember this:
Disassociate yourself from their autism.
Sounds callous doesn’t it? It’s anything but.
Too often I read parents blogs where the parent is asking what should they do if people stare? Some parents feel embarrassed and their reaction is to drag their child out of the shop. By all means if your child is wanting to leave do so and swiftly. But if they need a minute to feel the solidness of the ground beneath them to ground them and if they need to scream to let it out, allow them that. It’s not about you, it’s about your child.
If your children hit you in a meltdown it’s not about you. It’s about THEM showing you the pain inside they cannot outwardly communicate any other way be it verbally or not. If they are outside having a meltdown and there’s muttering made by passers by and stares given…ignore them. If they are judging your parenting skills they do so out of ignorance and your only focus should be your child, block others out of your radar.
Your child in a meltdown state is angry, their flight or flight mechanism has kicked in and they may react violently if they believe they are threatened in any way. This is where you yourself come into your own as their guardian and advocator. Here’s what I recommend:
- Do not touch your child unless they seek it as some children like to be held firmly when they are distressed.
- If you can try not to touch them as in a meltdown touch can feel incredibly intrusive and cause your child to strike out indiscriminately.
- If they are self injuring guide the hands down to their sides and only ever restrain your child of they are at risk of hurting themselves or others.
- Try if possible to move them to a quiet place and keep language minimal as in this state it’s hard if not impossible to comprehend any communication attempted.
- It’s not for you to take blame and wonder what you may have done wrong nor place the blame on your child.
- Meltdowns can be brought on by a temper tantrum and feeling out of control can trigger one.
- They are never intentional and the individual should not be reprimanded but rather advised how next time to avoid one.
It can be hard when you are on the spectrum yourself, like me, to deal with another’s meltdown as it can trigger a lot of anxiety and overload within yourself. I make time for myself to retune. I love to have a warm relaxing bath with bubbles and stim on the effects of the water. I also have a very soft teddy bear I like to stroke for tactile feedback to help ground and regulate myself. It’s about knowing when you are at your limit, breathing deeply, taking a step back, and reminding myself that this is my child’s issue. My responsibility is to keep him safe yet respect that he is feeling like this for a reason. It is not a reflection of my parenting.
Disassociate yourself from your children’s autism and act only in their interest. It’s their autism and their behaviours and your job is to help them cope.
*Emma Dalmayne is from London, UK. She is an autism advocate and keen campaigner against MMS. She has Aspergers and children on the autism spectrum. Emma loves to write and has a book in the works. She runs a helpful Facebook page for caregivers, parents and autists called Aspierations and Information.Share