The Meltdown

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Article first published as The Meltdown on Technorati.

Parenting a child with Autism has it's benefits. Children tend to be quiet much of the time because of their focus on their current project. But then there is the dreaded meltdown.

Children all have tantrums at some point, pushing their boundaries, testing their limitations, and trying to deal with their frustrations. But children with Autism have an additional cause: over-stimulation. It can happen at any time, and for any reason. Often it is caused by loud and unfamiliar noises, bright and/or flickering lights, or anything that is not part of the routine. This may sound like a typical tantrum that any child can have, but it is not. It's not something the child can control, but rather something that takes control of the child.

Luckily, there are ways to head off a typical meltdown. Helping the child focus on something to block out the cause of the meltdown is important. One way is to use music to block out strange noises. Many parents will pull out noise-cancelling headphones and turn on a favorite tune to help their child.

Others will provide some visual stimulation, such as pulling out a portable device and start a favorite video. Video games, favorite TV shows, and puzzles can all help a child visually block out the distraction and gain control.

Some need some tactile stimulation to help them gain control. Often this comes in the form of deep pressure on the limbs or around the body. My son responds to this very well. I press on his arms with my palms, giving him a constant, even pressure that helps him focus. I'll also give him deep pressure through bear hugs, which he absolutely adores. Autism service dogs are pretty much the same thing. When a child is close to a meltdown, the dog will press up against the child for short intervals, giving the child the same benefit of deep pressure.

What's interesting, and this is just an observation, is that methods of learning seem to run parallel to the methods of managing a meltdown. Perhaps it could be a way to help parents and teachers identify the best way to teach their child.