Calming activities to prevent meltdown at home

What is a Meltdown?

Meltdown can be termed as a condition that is expressed in the form of behavior by the child with autism. As a parent, it may be worrisome but this is considered as one of the ways the child responds to the stressors. Meltdown takes place when a child is overwhelmed by an external or internal factor. Hence they express in a form of behavior like, crying, shouting, screaming, kicking, throwing objects, biting, etc., which are sometimes uncontrollable. This behavior is temporary until the child gains stability by dispensing their energy or until the factor is identified and managed appropriately. It is important not to IGNORE the behavior caused due to meltdown.

What is the difference between Tantrums and Meltdown?

It is necessary to understand the difference between meltdown and tantrum because the behavior for both the terms are more or less the same and most of the time meltdowns are mistaken as tantrums.

Happens due to anger or frustration and the behavior is to seek attention Happens due to sensory, emotional or information overload. Changes in routine and communication difficulties may also give rise to exhibit unusual behavior.
Have control over their behavior and the behavior lasts for a short period. Does not have control over the behavior and lasts longer than tantrums.
If the behavior is ignored, the child may stop displaying his/her behavior. If ignored, no changes in behavior happen.
This can be managed using reinforcements.
This cannot be managed using reinforcements but it can be reduced by minimizing the stressors or when the child gets tired.

Stages of Meltdown and its management:

Stage 1: Defensive stage/Build up stage

During this stage the child tends to be restless and shows one or more of the following signs like reduced attention, nail-biting, rocking, flapping hand, tapping feet, screaming, crying, agitated, etc. When the changes in behavior are noted precisely along with the identification of the triggering factors, the child can be prevented from the meltdown. This can be done by providing simple instructions, only if needed. Otherwise it would be helpful to divert the child from the source by giving the child’s favorite toy or sensory toys, providing headphones to alter the sounds they are not comfortable with, and engaging them in a safe physical activity. Encouraging the child to drink more water can also be done to reduce stress during the defensive stage. The parents or caregivers need to stay calm and focused at this stage to prevent the child from entering the meltdown stage.

Stage 2: Meltdown stage

When the symptoms are not identified in the previous stage (build-up stage), then the child gets into the meltdown stage. At this stage, the child exhibits uncontrollable behavior. The only and essential step that can be taken during this stage is to ensure the safety of the kid and the surrounding people or relocate the child from the current situation or environment.

Stage 3: Recovery stage

Following the meltdown, the child would be physically and emotionally exhausted. Providing water for the child will help in reducing the cortisol level in their body. During this stage, the child may fall into a deep sleep.  

Points to remember:

  • Do not try to stop their behavior.
  • If the child shows self-injurious behavior like self-biting, provide the child with a chew tube to avoid harming themselves. Similarly, for headbanging behavior, protect their head by placing a pillow behind them.
  • Do to try to teach new skills.
  • Stay calm and do not panic.

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