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How to manage meltdowns (autism)

(27 Posts)
SouthernNorthernGirl Tue 23-May-17 18:51:14

My DS is having meltdowns most nights now. He will hit, shout, throw things.

Once he starts off, he can't be reasoned or calmed. We have routines, schedules, now and next boards, charts, menu plans.

I'm utterly exhausted. It's affecting us all, and DH & I often disagree on how to deal with it.
I'm so sad for DS too. I just want to help him. He's high function, and in mainstream.
I feel like we are very alone in this too.
I'm told that it's bad behaviour by family as he behaves just fine out with them. Or that he just needs to burn off a bit more energy etc.

I know my post is a bit all over the place - I'm shattered as he's just had another meltdown, which resulted in DH having to break through the bathroom lock (DS locked himself in there for 40 minutes and just wasn't going to come out)

Please someone advise sad

Justanothersingledoutnumber Tue 23-May-17 19:08:28

As you've discovered there is nothing you can do once a meltdown is in progress, just make sure he doesn't hurt himself or others.

you will need to 'prevent' before he get's to melt down point, basically find the triggers that start him off, these can be many things that slowly build up over the course of several hours and reduce / remove them.

Justanothersingledoutnumber Tue 23-May-17 19:09:29

as for locking himself in the bathroom, if he's going to be safe in there i would have just left him.

SouthernNorthernGirl Tue 23-May-17 19:17:31

Just Thanks for the quick reply.
We do try our best do prevent his meltdowns, we have all the things in place as mentioned in my OP.
This is why I'm asking for advice. However, we have 2 other DC and their needs count too, so sometimes it doesn't work.
Such as tonight - we had left him in there and carried on with what he doing. However once DD needed the toilet, he had to come out, and that was all their was to it. I couldn't just let her wet herself, to keep him happy in the bathroom. I need to put her needs forward too.

Justanothersingledoutnumber Tue 23-May-17 19:34:04

Yes i agree, it's far easier to suggest than put in to practise.

Do you know the things that lead to the meltdown today, working back from the thing that finally set him off could help?

SouthernNorthernGirl Tue 23-May-17 19:47:36

Today, it started because he wet himself. He did this just as DC were about to sit down for dinner. I told him to get freshened up, and get clean pants, and that we would have a shower after dinner (so as to keep to the routine)
DH went to help him in the bathroom, DS was rude to DH, who told DS not to speak to him that way. Cue meltdown, and locked door.

Shybutnotretiring Tue 23-May-17 22:38:32

Perhaps get rid of the lock on the bathroom door? Ours fell off ages ago and to be honest i am glad. They have lots of sulks/meltdowns behind slammed/semi-barricaded doors but I think i would really worry if they could lock themselves in. Once they locked me out in the garden. I was utterly furious. I find it very hard to know what to do when DS shouts/screams at/grabs DD (although sometimes she deliberately winds him up). He did it the other day and I just put him in the garden (lucky it's summer). Worked better than I expected (bit of a gamble as i thought there was a chance that in his fury he might break a window).

SouthernNorthernGirl Wed 24-May-17 10:06:16

Shy I think we are just going to leave the lock. It won't be replaced, and that'll prevent that from happening again.
It is hard to know what to do, I agree.

SouthernNorthernGirl Wed 24-May-17 10:06:59

I meant in the middle of a meltdown. It's hard

NellieFiveBellies Wed 24-May-17 10:24:56

You can't do anything during a meltdown. It isn't like a tantrum as you know. I understand completely how desperately you can feel like you need to Do Something, like if you could find that magic Something you could take control and end or manage the meltdown. But that isn't possible. Once the meltdown occurs it's already too late. You can't do anything except understand that this is your child suffering. Keep telling yourself that it is the manefestation of how overwhelmed, overstimulated and stressed they are. It isn't them behaving badly, kicking off or in any way doing anything to or at you, it is them so stressed and overwhelmed that they cannot cope.

When it happens to mine I feel absolutely terrible for them because I know how they are feeling and what is happening in their mind and to all their senses that has led to this stress response. The bombardment they feel they are under.

I think the best thing to do is to stay calm, don't try to 'manage' the meltdown iyswim, just remove as much stimulation as you can and let it run its course. With my youngest, any attempt to talk to him or touch him will result in you bleeding! Heavily! He cannot cope. And that's what this is about. It is heartbreaking.

Change the lock to one of those ones that can be opened from the outside by a coin.

Does he have a 'safe space' he can retreat to? Somewhere he can go to where he won't have anyone try to talk to him or anything? That he can retreat to any time he begins to feel overwhelmed and you all agree that that's ok - even if it is during dinner, or whatever? Maybe with sensory items such as lights or a weighted blanket?

SouthernNorthernGirl Wed 24-May-17 10:35:14

Nellie thanks for your post. I do feel terrible for my DS when this happens. I just want to help him.
He has bedroom to go if needed, though he does share it so I feel as though I'm always kicking my other DC from the room. I just can't manage to keep everyone happy.

Shybutnotretiring Wed 24-May-17 10:43:20

That's what I try to do. It's just that I worry that if you are a 7 year old child like my DD and your brother screamed, shouted at and grabbed you while your mother just stood there surely that couldn't help but f* you up. so in those circumstances I feel I have to separate them.
Distraction/humour can help but more at the heading them off at the pass stage. The other day SHE was about to meltdown and I started pointing out something I hoped would be of interest. He said to her 'you see what she did there, she just changed the subject'.

zzzzz Wed 24-May-17 14:47:54

WAS he rude to dh, or was dh tired of the wet clothes and faff?

Is it really that he and dh are struggling to cope with each other?

I find the terminology "meltdown" tends to remove sympathy so I don't use it. I would characterise it as "overwhelmed" or an anxiety attack. Seem framed in that way you are far more likely to support than "manage" the loss of control.

SouthernNorthernGirl Wed 24-May-17 15:09:52

Shy I'm not sure I understand your post fully. <tired emotion>

zzzzz He was rude, in that he told DH he couldn't make him get changed, and told DH to get out of the bathroom.
Maybe they are struggling. TBH, I'm struggling. I'm trying my best, and yet it's never quite good enough. I just can't do the right thing, no matter what.
I agree actually, and will try to use overwhelmed as the term.

Justanothersingledoutnumber Wed 24-May-17 15:13:42

What caused him to wet?

What happened before this, did he have school?

Is he masking at school and letting it all out at home?

SouthernNorthernGirl Wed 24-May-17 15:42:28

I don't know - he wets quite often - mainly when he's engrossed in something.
Yes, he had school. He doesn't mask at school. He has a lot of help put in place there.

Justanothersingledoutnumber Wed 24-May-17 16:03:26

I actually think it's pretty common.

Have you tried giving him choices to reduce the demand?

So in this situation it would be "do you want to change yourself or have DH help you?"

zzzzz Wed 24-May-17 17:34:42

How old is he?

Rather than focus on this event what about giving him and you some tools to deal with it?

When will it be ok for him to refuse help changing?
When will he be allowed to insist on privacy in the bathroom?
How would you and dh like him to phrase those requests?

It's REALLY important to empower him to say these things. He will, because of his disability, need to push for autonomy and privacy and being able to do so politely and appropriately is a huge gift (and will keep him safe).

Make a list of the skills he needs to learn, and help him get there. You will all feel enormously better to be heading towards a good place and the less great days won't be so hard for all of you.

Life is often similarly challenging here. It is the nature of ASD and so very draining for everyone. My ds doesn't really respond well to being told not to do things. It quickly descends to loggerheads. We make faster and frankly happier progress by asking him TO do things. Like the shift from tantrum/meltdown to overwhelmed/anxiety attack, it's a subtle difference but it allows us to be happy.

Polter Wed 24-May-17 19:01:03

Has anyone suggested you read 'The Explosive Child' book yet? It really is very good.

As someone who has meltdowns I just don't think 'overwhelmed' comes close to how it feels, meltdown for me is the step beyond overwhelmed when you feel totally out of control, it's really scary to experience and very hard to describe.

zzzzz Wed 24-May-17 19:07:36

That's what overwhelmed means confused

zzzzz Wed 24-May-17 19:14:57

Sorry, that sounded aggressive, which was really NOT what I meant blush.

I expect if you use the term "overwhelmed" in less than overwhelming circumstances then it loses meaning.

It means being flooded to the point you cannot control yourself or find a way out. For me "meltdown" is something angry and hot and dangerous to others which is not what happens to me or ds or my other children when overwhelmed. (That said I am not autistic, I have been terrified and I have benn hopeless though, but perhaps that is different)

Polter Wed 24-May-17 21:14:04

IMHO, it's the overwhelm/overload that results in meltdown (implosion or explosion). The overwhelm isn't the result, it's the cause.

I know you don't like the term zzzzz, and you don't have to use it, but it is widely used by the autistic community and nothing else is quite as universally used to describe what happens.

zzzzz Wed 24-May-17 21:22:49

Only if you consider it a unique behaviour/experience of autistic people. If you consider the event to be a human not an autistic one, then I sincerely doubt it is a common (or indeed helpful) way to describe it.

I don't think autistic specific terminology is helpful any more than I think characterising perfectly standard human reactions as "autistic" is. It belittles what is felt and experienced. My son shakes, or flaps or indeed screams because he is in distress, just as I would if I felt the same level of upset/stress. Until people realise that, they are never going to appreciate how very much he endures.

littletwofeet Wed 24-May-17 21:40:02

Sometimes going back over the situation and discovering the trigger (DH asking him not to be rude) and trying to work out of anything could have been done differently can be helpful.

Sometimes you'll find it was completely unavoidable and other times you may think it could have been handled differently.

DS being rude, was it just because he was upset/angry/frustrated at the situation and struggling to express himself so was rude to DH.
For some children, just acknowledging their anger can help, so DH saying 'I know you're really cross at having to get changed before dinner'.
Would DH have been better to let the rudeness go and then spoken about it after dinner (sometimes being hungry can make things worse).
When DS told DH to get out of the bathroom, if DH would have just got out, could that have avoided the meltdown maybe. DH could then have said to DS later on, that he is happy to leave him alone if he wants but next time to ask politely and not be rude.

Maybe DS was annoyed and embarrassed and just wanted DH out the way and shouted rudely to get out instead of asking nicely (I know I've done similar with DC when on an important/stressful phonecall for example and snapped at them to go instead of asking nicely).

Sorry, it sounds like I'm blaming your DH, I'm not. I just mean to have a think about whether it could have been avoided in any way. Sometimes it can't though.

OneInEight Thu 25-May-17 06:58:25

First, it can improve. At one stage ds1 was having a couple of meltdowns a day (age 10). Now at fourteen it is rare (well he has the occasional one at school but seldom at home).

For us what has made the difference is:

1. Getting support right at school. For ds1 this means he has a statement and a place at a specialist school for children with an ASC. But actually just an awareness of the school of what makes your son anxious and supporting him at these stages would help immeasurably.

2. At the same time as getting the school support right we have changed how we manage ds1 and his brother (who also has an ASC). Understanding that the behaviour is normally anxiety led rather than naughty - think of the meltdowns as panic attacks helps you deal with them calmly rather than over-reacting. Putting less demands on them particularly when they are stressed. Putting less demands on them when we were stressed (swopping parent is a good technique for this so if one of us hears the other getting irate they take over). Accepting ourselves that it didn't matter if we were a few minutes late for school relieved a lot of stress in the mornings which meant more often we actually not only got there on time but the ds's arrived in a state ready to learn. Prioritising things - so for us locking themselves in the bathroom (and it did happen a few times) was actually a much better option than them hitting us or breaking stuff (happened more than a few times).

There are courses on anger management that are really good. I went to one run by NAS. I would suggest both you and your dh attend if you can find one near you. Lots of useful techniques.

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