What Nobody Ever Tells Us About Meltdowns

“I don’t know what sets him off. He suddenly gets into meltdowns and attacks his father and me,” a mother says to me. “At that time, he’s as strong as an elephant. It’s painful and emotionally draining. And once it’s over, he’s fine. As if nothing happened.”

 

“The calm ‘after’ the storm,” I think to myself.

 

“He’s already 18. What will happen as he grows older? Who will take care of him,” she breaks down.

 

I feel a familiar heavy feeling in my heart, as I reach out to comfort her.

 

Meltdowns, tragically, are common in the world of autism spectrum disorder. Yet, not many people address them.

 

A meltdown is like an iceberg. We see is the tip, but don’t understand the depth. Nor do we understand what people who experience it go through.

 
 autism meltdown is like the tip of the iceberg
 

Let me get one big chunk of fallacy out of the way!

 

My dear parent, you are not to blame. You did not cause this. You are not a ‘bad parent’.

 

It’s not your child’s fault either. He is not ‘deliberately’ doing this to mess with you or manipulate you. He’s not being a badly behaved brat.

 

By the time he experiences a meltdown, things have spiraled out of control for him.

 

Meltdowns can happen for myriad reasons.

 

Let me share an experience close to my heart.

 

Vishal, one of my students, is a 20-year-old talented ‘Master Chef’. True to his calling, he cooks tasty Indian curries and snacks. Viji, his mother, jokingly says that his dishes turn out perfect. Way better than hers!

 

However, between 2010 and 2013, he developed huge behavioral issues. He would have a meltdown at the drop of a hat and could erupt anywhere. They used public transport to get to school. Viji was stressed and always on tenterhooks.

 

So much talent, so many skills- but the meltdowns robbed the family of its joy.

 

We tried several strategies – with little success.

 

Finally 2 years ago, Viji enrolled for the Family Consultation Program. Within 6 months we saw a radical change in Vishal.

 

Watch this framework of a drumming activity of Vishal and Viji which dates back to 2014.

 

 

Viji sets a simple pattern. She introduces ‘just noticeable differences’. She changes the pattern and speed of drumming.

 

Vishal perceives this and keeps up with the changes. At 3:02, she switches to hitting with a spoon. He drifts off a bit.

 

She slows down and ‘scaffolds’ by giving the right amount of support. He gets back on track.

 

At 5:19, she switches from spoon to rattle. Watch the slow down again. It takes some time for Vishal to adjust.

 

Viji guides him beautifully through this. She ensures that he doesn’t ‘go off’ the edge. With her guidance, he is able to regulate himself. It ends beautifully with shared emotions and laughter between mother and son.

 

How does this work with meltdowns in autism, you ask?

 

When people experience uncertainty, they resort to fight or flight. This response is especially heightened among children with autism. We want them to experience the uncertainty but not become overly anxious. The idea is to feel it and yet not be overwhelmed by it.

 

Practicing this through a variety of activities helps us build resilience. It helps them regulate.

 

Let me repeat this – Regulation is the key. Over time, meltdowns reduce. I say this with conviction because I have seen it work with my students. The activity is not important. Thinking, decision making, being able to take changes is.

 

You can choose from a list of activities to help them with regulation.

 

Viji worked on one of these activities every day. Lo and behold! What a miraculous change in Vishal! Enjoy this wonderful video of the mother – son duo.

 

 

Note the amount of responsibility he takes to prepare his favorite potato bhaji independently.

 

Vishal is able to manage his behavior in varied, surprising situations. Family and friends notice this and compliment him frequently. The family is thrilled. They are in a good place now. Viji’s dream is for Vishal to run a canteen someday. I know this dream will soon become a reality.

 

Follow this roadmap to guide yourself through overcoming the challenges your child faces, which could lead to meltdowns.

 

1. Take data on the meltdowns to understand why they happen.

2. Work on your child’s communication to ensure that he is able to express himself.

3. Ensure that your child gets 45 minutes of strenuous physical activity every day. Don’t compromise on this!

4. Pick any one of the suggested frameworks and build these up. Work on these for 15 minutes every day.

5. Do this for 1 month and note down the positive changes that you witness.

 

Do share the results with me. I am keen on hearing from you.

 

5 years ago, Mohit had a severe meltdown in the car. We were stuck in a traffic jam. The driver couldn’t pull over. We couldn’t get out of the car. For those 20 minutes, he was unbelievably strong. I was badly shaken when I reached home. So were Tanya and Anil.

 

Dr Rashid Merchant, a family friend, dropped in. He patiently heard me out.

 

And then he said something which I needed to hear: “Why are you moping around? You’re a fighter. So is Mohit. You’ve been through so much together. He’s back to normal now. Time for you to follow suit.” That pulled me out of my despairing mood!

 

I say the same thing to you.

 

Life is tough. But you’ve got to be courageous.

 
emotional meltdown quotes
 

Yes, get up and fight for your dreams. For your child’s dreams… Fight, because your child is trying to tell you that he needs you more than you know.

 

3 COMMENTS

  • Anupama Srivastava says:

    I wrote the first 4 lines of this poem in Hindi for my loving son Sarthak in 2004 when he was one year young. Sarthak means meaningful or fulfillment. In Jan-2009 he was diagnosed with Autism. Last year I added the last 8 lines–

    Sarthak tumhaare aagman se mere dukh kasht ho gaye,
    Meri urvarta par uthe prashna jungle sabhi nasht ho gaye.
    Tum hansoge to hansungi, rone lagoge to ro padungi,
    Tumhaare liye durbhagya se jitna lad sakungi, ladungi.
    Sansaar samajhata hai tumhe doosare jagat ka praani vichitra,
    Par mere liye jag main koi nahi hai tumse zyada ghanisht mitra.
    Kabhi maa ban kar nanhi ungaliyon se ponchha tumne mere aansuon ko,
    Kabhi beta ban kar god main khele, muskura ke sajaaya mere baajuon ko.
    Jaanti hun main tumhaare geeton ke prati aadhi se zyada duniya abhi behari hai,
    Par unke hridayon main padnewaali tumhaari chhaap bahut gehari w sunahari hai.
    Pushp ki bhaanti apne anant prem ki sugandh se vishwa ko meheka kar ho jaao amar,
    Yahi aashish liye hai sasneh sampreshit, ek vishwaspoorna swar, ek hastakshar – Anupama

    • That’s such a touching poem, Anupama. Thanks to loving parents like you, our children can look at the world with hope and enthusiasm. Here’s wishing you, Sarthak, and your family the best. Do get in touch if I can be of any help.

  • Madhvi says:

    Hi
    I have been reading your blogs for last 1 hour. Crying, smiling in between but definitely inspiring.
    Meltdowns are the worst probably, they make you feel helpless, in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
    They say with ASD you have good days and bad days; good hours and bad hours. But the fact is meltdowns are not bad hours but depressing phases, impact of which shatters. when he is in good mood or a good day as I call it, I simply start doubting ASD ! And one meltdown I am off the radar!!
    I am glad you addressed them rationally. I am going to work on your pointers.
    Thanx
    God bless you

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