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3 Tips to Avoid Meltdowns

April 18, 2013
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People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families are familiar with the term “meltdown”. A meltdown results from a child completely losing control of his or her behavior. When an individual has such an outburst, it cannot be stopped with rationalization, and can put the child’s safety, as well as the safety of others, at risk.

In the book Outsmarting Explosive Behavior, author Judy Endow lays out four common stages of a meltdown. She titles them:
1. Starting Out
2. Picking Up Steam
3. Point of No Return
4. Explosion
Appropriate to the labels, stages three and four are when it is extremely difficult to rationalize and control the individual who is in meltdown mode. In fact, a “fight or flight” mentality emerges and reining the child in is near impossible.

The best way to avoid a meltdown is to stop it before it starts. In a previous post we discussed how keeping a daily journal, listing emotions and behaviors, may reveal patterns that expose root problems leading up to meltdowns.

Now, we will learn three additional habits to avoid meltdowns.

1. Regulate Sensory Stimulation

By designing daily activity plans, parents can help children with autism receive the sensory input they need to remain emotionally balanced. It is crucial for children with autism to have structured days. Organization allows them to apply focus to activities that are beneficial for their mental development.

Having a plan that deliberately infuses each day with healthy activities to promote stimulation, and calming practices to encourage peacefulness, will benefit the child immediately and in the long term.

2. Celebrate Victories with Visual Rewards

One way to encourage positive behavior, and prevent a child from getting to the first stage of meltdown, is to offer visual rewards on good days. By setting up a calendar that documents healthy emotions, positive attitudes, and small accomplishments, a child can feel recognized for behaving appropriately.

After so many “good days,” perhaps a tangible reward (like an ice cream treat, or a new toy) will seem appropriate. If a child knows about this reward and can think about it before entering the first stage of a meltdown, it is possible he or she will identify toxic emotions and correct behavior.

3. Talk About Heart Needs and Emotions

There are many approaches to avoiding meltdowns before they begin. Because each child with autism is different, and reacts to situations and emotions in unique ways, the best technique to helping a child identify and avoid inappropriate behavior is to talk about why he or she feels a certain way.

A mental health professional can help a child realize why he or she lashes out and treats small triggers as catastrophic events. Gaining a sense of self-awareness may not always be enough to escape an onset of difficult emotions, but it may lead to developing more self-control in the future.

Let’s Talk About It

Do you have a child who is prone to meltdowns? Have you had any luck averting these types of episodes before they begin? If so, what do you do?

How do you feel when someone close to you enters into meltdown mode? If you struggle with meltdowns, do you feel comfortable sharing about what you experience during this state? If so, please submit a “reply” below.

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