‘Mummy, I PROMISE not to go crazy bonkers today.’
How my heart melted to hear those words..
The Boy was referring to his meltdowns because he was going on a play-date.
The last play-date was back in November and resulted in me having to carry him out of my friend’s house kicking me and screaming. OH picked us half way home and The Boy proceeded to scream and kick the back of OH’s seat. He fought OH as he carried him across the road and into the house. It wiped him (and us) out for the rest of the day. As meltdowns go – it was one of his worst.
Most autism parents will know what a meltdown is and they will experience challenging behaviour on a daily basis.
What is challenging behaviour?
- Self-injurious behaviour – any activity where a person inflicts harm or injury on themselves.
- Physical challenging behaviour – hair pulling, kicking, punching, biting (or in his case, ninja kicks)
- Pica – eating or mouthing non-edible items like dirt, stones and stuff.
- Smearing – people smear can be due to medical or sensory reasons.
The important thing to remember about challenging behaviour is that it has a reason.
- Difficulty in processing information or what I call ‘busy head’.
- Unstructured time – for instance – at school this would be playtime or free-play in the classroom.
- Over or under sensitivity to sensory stimuli like noise, light and smells.
- Changes to routine.
- Feeling unwell
- Being hungry.
If a child struggles to communicate it leads to frustration, anxiety and anger resulting in a meltdown.
What is a meltdown?
A meltdown (or going crazy bonkers) is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed and any number of reasons (or combination of) can cause it.
Some people make the mistake of thinking it’s a tantrum but there is a massive difference between a child who is having a hissy-fit over not being able to get their own way and one who is out of control due to sensory overload.
A meltdown is the last straw.
What can you do to help your child during a meltdown?
- Never punish your child for having a meltdown.
- Speak calmly – never raise your voice or shout.
- Do not reward your child for calming down after a meltdown as this may lead some children to understand that meltdowns get them what they want.
- Try and talk to your child about the meltdowns once they are relaxed and receptive.
- Sometimes it’s necessary to restrain your child but this must only be in situations where they could harm themselves or others. The Boy sometimes likes to be held firmly but other times he can’t stand to be touched. If he is in danger, we have no choice but to restrain him. This is incredibly upsetting as a parent.
- Learn to understand when your child is becoming overwhelmed.
- Distraction can sometimes stop a meltdown it it’s tracks.
- Establish routines and stick to them. Prepare your child for changes to routine as far in advance as is possible.
- Pick your battles. Try not to sweat the small stuff as you’ll need your energy for the big ones.
- A hungry child is a meltdown waiting to happen.
- Reward positive behaviour – when they get it right in social situations, BIG IT UP!
- Keeping a behaviour diary can help to identify some of the triggers.
- Teach your child relaxation techniques.
When The Boy goes ‘crazy bonkers’ he becomes aggressive. Being 4ft 2 and strong he is capable of doing some serious damage. This is the part of his autism which I struggle with and unfortunately it’s his most problematic area.
The Boy isn’t a naturally aggressive child. His default setting is to make people happy so for him to lose control means there is stuff going on in his head that he is unable to process.
How it began
The Boy’s behaviour was noticeably different early on and people put it down to the ‘terrible twos’ but I instinctively knew it was more than that – I just didn’t know what.
One day (aged three) he had an epic meltdown. One minute he was smiling – the next he was yanking out my hair and hitting me in the face. My bewilderment only seemed to spur him on. I understand now that the change in my facial expression must have upset him even more. I needed to put some distance between us so I put him in his room (removing anything that could hurt him) and closed the safety gate. Then I sat on the stairs and listened to his tirade in a state of shock. I had never experienced anything like it. He threw his toys down the stairs then I heard the door slam off it’s hinge. Three years old and he could take a bloody door off?
This doesn’t bode well for his teenage years!
*hysterical laugh* *makes mental note to go open-plan*
At that point I did what instinct told me to and held him. He was shaking with rage but I wrapped my arms and legs around him and rocked him back and forth. Initially he fought me but slowly calmed down. He slept for four hours afterwards which was unusual for him as he only usually manged half an hour but he was exhausted. As he slept I sat and stared at the wall. My mind was in tatters and my heart was heavy. Something definitely wasn’t right and I was scared. At that time I was keeping a journal so it was documented and four years later it’s hard to read.
A few weeks later he started nursery and the manager recognised the autism straight away. With our agreement the child psychologist was brought in to assess him. A year later he was officially diagnosed with ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder.
The rest is history.
To see our child lose it in spectacular fashion is hard to say the least. We’re not talking feet stamping tantrums here – we’re talking total and utter loss of control. It rips my heart out to hear him scream that he hates us but I know at that point he needs our love more than ever.
Our lives revolve around preventing meltdowns but it’s not always possible and the ones which happen in public are a whole different kind of stress because people can be judgmental and unhelpful b**tards.
I have meltdowns but mine are mostly silent. I shut down whereas The Boy explodes. For me it’s like having too may tabs open on the PC and everything locks up. The only way to remedy it is to shut down and re-boot. For him, it’s like the entire thing blows up.
Four years on and the meltdowns still happen but not as often because he is developing coping skills where he can take himself off to his quiet place when he starts to feel overwhelmed. Progress is slow but it’s progress and that can only be a good thing.
He may not be able to promise me he won’t go ‘crazy bonkers’ again but I can promise that we will still love him when he does.
“The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways”. ~ Unknown