Peace After the Storm
A child with Asperger's having a melt down is a frightening, upsetting event to witness if you've never spent much time with them. My boys were banned from the Boys and Girls Club after one of them threw himself on the floor and started spinning and howling. The people that run the place were afraid they would accidentally harm another child while having one of these "fits".
I've been trying to think of a way to explain why these "melt downs" occur... these kids are born with an enlarged Amygdala the part of the brain that controls fear. They live in constant fear because of this. For children, as with most people, fear responses are generally of three types: crying, and "fight or flight." Thus the child with asperger's syndrome will either start howling (crying very loudly), crawl into their favorite hiding spot or explode. During an explosion they will fight anything, or anyone,that they feel is frightening, or upsetting, them in anyway. During these fights they can be very impulsive. They may have learned all of the safety rules you've ever taught them but during a fight the safety rules seem to have disappeared from their minds completely.
Step One: While the meltdown is happening remain calm, anger, and loud angry voices, only make a melt down worse. Make everyone, and anyone, ignore what is happening, and move away from the child. They don't like having these meltdowns anymore than an epileptic enjoys a seizure. Having others witness a meltdown embarrasses, and humiliates, them,
Step Two: The child in melt down is like a skittish horse and trust needs to be achieved. You are the person that your child trusts. If you aren't present then have thier teacher, counselor, or another adult, that they may (somewhat) trust be with them at all times. After everyone else has moved away have the person that they trust get down on the floor at the same level as the child, a couple of feet away. Then speak to the child in a soft, somewhat slow, monotone, voice. Ask them what's wrong, or what happened that made them upset. A normal voice may be to loud, and normal speech patterns may be to quick. Ask in as many ways as you can think of, they will eventually understand what you are asking and answer you. Be sure to leave plenty of time between questions so they don't become even more overwhelmed.
Step Three: the child will eventually move to a sitting position, you also need to move into a sitting position. Gradually move closer to the child and speak to him in your soft, slow, monotone voice. Try to attain eye contact and once you have it it's up to you to maintain it. Remember the eye contact is for your benefit, not the childs they don't need it to communicate with you.
Step Four: Once the child has started communicating with you ask them if they'd like to move to a safer/more comfortable place. They will usually want to be left alone once they've calmed down. give them a safe spot in the house, and at school, where they can go to calm down. Make sure it's some where that someone can keep an eye on them but gives them a sense of privacy at the same time. My sons had a beanbag in the school counselors office that they could sit on, or crawl under, and one had a laundry basket at home that he would pull on top of himself. After awhile they will be able to recognize when they are beginning to feel overwhelmed and be able to go to thier safe spot before a melt down has a chance to start.
Step Five: Give the child time to calm himself. Every once in a while gently ask the child if he wants to come out of his spot and join you, or rejoin his class.
Step Six: Once he has come out of his spot ask him if he'd like to talk about what happened so you can fix the problem. If you're able to fix the problem fix it, but don't make any false promises to fix something you can't. Be honest with your child. A broken toy can be fixed - a broken heart is much harder to heal.
Step Seven: Once he has decided to rejoin others totally ignore the event act as if nothing has happened. If the child is at school you as a teacher need to inform the parent/s that a melt down has happened and vice versa. Sometimes the effects of a melt down can last all day with the child being grumpy or unresponsive. He is usually trying to come up with a solution to the problem himself, and if there were witnesses especially from his own peer group he will be embarrassed, humiliated, and ashamed.
Step Eight: Punishment is not an option. If the child could control these melt downs then they would never occur as I stated before - I liken them to siezures and treat them accordingly. Punishing the child for a siezure/melt down will only cause resentment and self hatred. Remember as the child ages the melt downs will occur with less frequency and with less severity.
Step Eight: Your biggest plus is a great deal of patience, use it. There have been times when a melt down with one of the boys has taken me more than an hour to get them into thier safe spot.
Finally, if you feel stressed out - hey- you're perfectly normal in that regard!
"We assessed differences in parental reports of parenting stress, child behavior problems, and dysphoria in 150 families who had children with autism (n = 30), behavior disorders (n = 30), Down syndrome (n = 30), or normal development (n = 60). We measured stress with the Parenting Stress Index, child behavior problems with the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory, and dysphoria with the Beck Depression Inventory. We controlled data for sociodemographic differences across groups, and results indicated the following: (1) Parents of children with autism and behavior disorders experienced statistically and clinically higher levels of parenting stress than parents in the other two groups. (2) Parents of children with behavior disorders reported that their children presented behavioral difficulties that were statistically and clinically more intense and numerous than those of all other children. (3) Mothers of children with autism and behavior disorders experienced statistically and clinically higher levels of dysphoria than mothers in the other two groups, which appeared to be specifically related to the stresses of parenting exceptional children rather than to personal dysfunction. In contrast, mothers of children with Down syndrome did not differ from mothers of nondisabled children on any of the measures. Finally, no major effect of the children's age or gender was found across the four groups, except for the fact that mothers of younger (less than 7 yrs, 5 mos.) autistic children reported greater dysphoria than mothers in the other three groups."