(edited June 2017)
I did up this poster in 2015 when I was trying to find ways to cope with my child’s meltdowns. After working with my child for a few years, I have come to have a better understanding on what is a meltdown, for some, “tantrums” “outburst” or what my son’s ex-teacher once coined as “rages”.
I have also learnt that prevention is better than cure so I have re-edited this post to add the prevention strategies that parents or caregivers can use, to prevent the meltdown from occurring in the first place.
Prevention is better than cure
In order to prevent a meltdown from occurring, the parent and or caregiver should know what is the trigger for the child, that is to say, what causes it?
For example, my son loves to press the buttons for the lifts. So, when he doesn’t get to press them, some of the ‘warning signs’ (as stated below) will appear.
Some of the common warning signs of a coming meltdown
- pacing back and forth
- increased self-stimulation behaviors
- freeze or stiff body movements
- focusing on that topic that affects him or her
- stuttering or heavy-breather speech
- some do become mute
Keep a log book or occurrence log
During the first six months when I was trying to find ways to deal with my son’s meltdown, I kept an occurrence log. I would record down in my organizer whenever my son has a meltdown. It is a simple log. Simply write down the day, date, time, event (what triggered it) when the meltdown occurs. For me, I also noted down what calmed my son down.
I also got the teachers and grandparents to take note of when these meltdowns would occur. After three weeks, I realised that a few things ‘tick’ him off:
- not being able to press the lift buttons
- not being able to watch the trains depart
- not being able to take lifts when we arrive in new places
- bad ‘surprises’
- things that he loves taken away from him abruptly
- Mondays are his worst days
What can you do about it?
Give him what he loves in small quantities
Over the years, we have developed the ‘3’ times rule. In my note book, which I carry with me wherever I go, I will always draw three squares. Before reaching the station, I will tell C,
C, you have three times to press the lift buttons today. Okay?
You have the get the child to agree with you prior to going out and always be prepared to show them the notebook if necessary. After the pressing of each button, I will visually and physically show him that I am crossing out the squares.
Remember, our kids are highly visual, so whatever you want to say, show them or write to them instead of saying. This ‘3’ times rule applies to all the other triggers that I am able or willing to work with him on that day.
Use Social stories
Below is a sample of a social story I wrote for my child. He used to shows signs of a meltdown or would literally meltdown when he is left alone to complete a task. To work with this meltdown, he would read this social story every time before we head to school or when we do work at home.
Giving them a choice that is still within your acceptable choice
For example, C dislikes vegetable, so instead of saying, “eat the vegetables during meal times, I will say, C, you can choose between carrots or spinach.” This seems to go down easier for him.
When the plan changes, explain to the child prior to reaching the place
Nobody likes bad ‘surprises’. Our kids with autism are the same.
If we are going somewhere and the plan changes, I will explain to him in the car prior to reaching the place using my 1, 2, 3 technique.
C, just now mummy said,
- 1 – go shopping centre,
- 2 – take lift to 5th level,
- 3- buy tickets to movies.
Now, we change to
- 1 – go to shopping centre,
- 2 – take escalator to 5th level,
- 3 – buy tickets to movie.
We will take the lift when we finish watching the movie because there’s too many people by the lift. It will be faster to go by the escalator
Upon his agreement or approval, I will take out my notebook and write down the changes
- 1 – after movie, take lift
- 2 – go toilet
- 3 – go for dinner
After the movie, I will take out the notebook and show C that we are going to take the lift now. Basically, what you promise, you should deliver. C has a great memory on good things but a better memory on sour situations. So, if I do not deliver what I promise, he might break down even weeks later when something triggers his memory on the event.
This is why keeping a notebook works well for me. I have in it, my squares, my schedules, social stories, circles system, C’s doodles, etc.
Change the way you deal with the child
To be honest, I used to shout at C and ask him to stop it. Perhaps I was frustrated and we were in public’s eyes. Over the years, I have realised shouting do not work as I have mentioned, my son remembers the events clearly, and he might break down again on the same event weeks later.
Also, I realised he has learnt to parrot those ‘shouting words’.
How to subdue a meltdown?
take a deep breath first (or a few) and remain calm.
lower my body and speak at an eye level with my child.
speak in short sentences. “I know you are upset.” “Okay.”
slow down my speech.
put my palm on my child’s heart/chest as I am speaking to them.
let my child talk.
always assure my child that I know he or she is upset.
use distractions that may distract them from what is upsetting them.
For C, he tends to bring a toy out, which is normally one of his trains or other transport vehicles. Some times, taking the train out and playing the train helps.
Use humour to get the child to smile or laugh.
For my son, me making funny noises or mimicking the characters, Gerald or Piggie from the books by Mo Willems work at times.
Continue to walk while holding his hand.
Sometimes, I realised just walking and holding his hand for a while helps. It helps to calm both of us down. I would normally proceed to hug him or put my palm on his chest when I do this.
Tell him we’re going to go to one of his favourite places
For example, sometimes when my son is having a meltdown, I would tell him,”Let’s go to the toy shop now and look at toys.” Note: if you say you are going to do it, you have to do it.
Rule of thumb
never ask them what is wrong.
never ask them not to cry.
never shout at them.
never pull them away aggressively.
As an adult, you should ensure the place where the trigger occurs is safe. If your child gets physically violent, sometimes it’s better to disperse the crowd than to pull your child away. This method works well for my ASD student in the classroom. There are times my ASD student will leave with a time-out card, there are other times, we literally have to vacate the classroom and let him or her calm down first.
I am not an expert in this but just a mum who is trying her best to cope with such situation. These are the 16 rules, strategies or ‘tips’ that I have learnt over the years and I hope they will be of use to you too.
Last tip – Never lose heart.
Feel free to comment below and I will do my best to share any other strategies that have worked for me. I would love to hear what works for you too!
It is important to know the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum. Do read my entry on ‘What is a meltdown?‘