People with this neurodevelopmental disorder often demonstrate restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped interests or patterns of behavior. When these patterns are disrupted or something unpredictable happens, your child can feel overwhelmed with stress, which can lead to a meltdown. Making sure your child is supported and comforted before, during, and after a meltdown is key to getting through it safely.
Accept That This Is Happening
The more you resist the meltdown, the more anxious your child might feel. During the heightened emotions of a meltdown, your child will pick up more on your state of mind than anything you say or do. Resisting, punishing, or getting stressed out could make things worse. Acceptance can help you stop denying the situation and find ways to embrace positive change.
Draw Nightly Epsom Salt Baths
If your child is comfortable taking a bath, add a cup of Epsom salt to the tub each night. Epsom salt has been known to relax the body and reduce stress. A nightly Epsom salt bath can actually help build a foundation of relaxation that may, over time, help lessen the length and severity in your child’s reaction to overstimulation.
Create a Sensory-Safe Space
When your child is on the verge of a meltdown, removing stimuli that can feel overwhelming can hold back the tipping point. That’s where a calm, low-sensory room can come in handy. Consider decorating a bedroom with soft colors, few distractions, dim light, comforting textures, and limited clutter to create a relaxing environment.
Breathe Deep and Slow
Coach your child to engage in some breathing techniques to lower the rising heart rate and blood pressure that often accompanies a meltdown. Slowing down the breath and breathing with intention can help kick off a calming response throughout the entire body — and mind.
Prepare for Triggers and Routine Disruptions
As best you can, help prepare your child for an upcoming disruption in routine or schedule. If you know going to a certain place can be a trigger for a meltdown, put a plan in place — and practice it — to help your child prepare for the stimulation they may encounter.
Break Out a Distraction Toolkit
Some children with ASD find the distraction of certain stimuli enough to stop or even ward off a looming meltdown. Put together a toolkit with several of these sensory distractions, such as a crunchy granola bar for oral stimulation, a soft hoodie to create a cocoon-like feeling, and sunglasses to help offer privacy and limited light stimulation. Noise-canceling headphones can also help reduce stimuli and create a sense of safety, too.
There are a lot of good reasons to try simple, holistic, and behavioral approaches to addressing ASD meltdowns, but it’s always a good idea to consult your child’s doctor or therapist before initiating a major change. While it can be tiresome to work your way through meltdowns, you’ll be grateful when you arrive at a solution that makes life a little easier.
for Children on the Autism Spectrum
Contributed by Jenny Wise from Special Home Educator
Many parents emphasize safety at the expense of experience and hands-on learning, but you can establish a yard in which your child may flourish and grow without fear of injury.
Set physical boundaries
One of the most important steps you can take is to set clearly-distinguishable boundaries so your child knows where he can or cannot go, and what’s okay to touch and interact with. Autistic kids learn a lot through touch, but there are some things that aren’t safe to lay hands and fingers on, such as poison ivy, rose bushes, sharp-edged tools, and heavy equipment. There should be a strong fence preventing your child from wandering out of the yard, with a gate that can be securely locked. Use fencing also to separate your child from any harmful plants, and be sure your garage and tool shed are locked.
If you have a swimming pool, pond or creek in your yard, there should be some kind of barrier protecting your child from injury or drowning. Pools in particular should be fenced off with a gate and lock. Teach your child to swim as soon as possible (kids often learn as early as 4) to reduce the likelihood of a tragic accident. Remember that kids on the autism spectrum often have difficulty processing verbal instructions. Visual cues, such as a red “stop sign,” or some kind of alarm are usually the best ways to deter an autistic child from venturing into a dangerous area.
Sensory play is very attractive to autistic kids. Set up a sandbox with toys your child can use to build castles, roads and anything else that stirs his imagination. Just handling sand and letting it run between his fingers can be a positive experience for an autistic child. Bubbles can also provide hours of entertainment and creative fun. Combine soap, food coloring and water to create homemade bubbles and use a strainer or some other kitchen object with holes in it to create bubbles of all sizes, shapes and colors.
There are many kinds of bird feeders that are easy to assemble and make a great warm weather project for autistic kids. Buckets and plastic cups can be used to make bird feeders, and an autistic child will enjoy the feel of various kinds and textures of seeds in their hands. Once your bird sanctuary is set up, spend some time identifying the different kinds of birds that come for a nibble, and write down as many as you can. Make sure your child has a good, sturdy pair of gloves before undertaking any backyard project for protection against cuts and scrapes.
Set aside some backyard family time and go camping together. Enjoy stargazing, cook s’mores, and play games together while you enjoy being in the fresh air and falling asleep to the soothing sounds of crickets chirping.
How to Create an Autism-Friendly Environment for Children
Contributed by Jenny Wise from Special Home Educator
Our homes can be the safest places we know. However, for children on the spectrum, they may contain stimuli that can be overwhelming, or hazards that are not seen as dangerous by inquisitive little ones. Here are ways you can make your home both comfortable and safe for your child.
Try to minimize stress brought on by surroundings as this can itself cause both danger and discomfort. Keep your home clutter-free and well-organized with an emphasis on roominess, as tight spaces and mess can be overwhelming to an ASD child.
Baby gates offer another layer of protection. Their versatility can allow gates to both keep your child away from areas that are unsafe, but also prevent unwanted wandering, such as from their bedroom. Gates and locks are effective, but alarms may still be necessary. Place them in areas of flight risk so that they can alert you whenever something is opened without authorization
Consider Service Dogs
Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning they can accompany your little one to places as diverse as buses and restaurants. They can be an expensive commitment, however, organizations specializing in providing autism service dogs may offer advice on grants or fundraising. Find out more about financing a service dog here.
Decorate the walls in soothing colors and patterns. Use sounds and textures that you know they respond positively to. Make this their space, a place where they can feel at their most comfortable, and where they can explore their senses at a pace that suits them.
There is no single template out there that is guaranteed to work with all kids. After all, ASD children have their own unique needs and sensitivities. Regardless, there is plenty you can do to make your home a sanctuary where wandering and hazards are guarded against.
Images Courtesy of Pixabay.com and Pexels.com
Contributed by Dr. Steven DeLisle
Start Early and at Home
The best way to get your child used to the dentist is to nurture healthy oral hygiene habits from an early age. Starting at home, right in the bathroom, helps to familiarize your child with the tasks of brushing teeth and flossing. You can also stress how essential these habits are for a healthy mouth and a happy smile.
Turning it into a fun activity is okay. Let your little one pick out a colorful toothbrush that features a beloved character. Pick out a flavored toothpaste, as well. Stress gentleness as you teach your child brushing and flossing techniques. You can create a chart to help your little girl or guy to remember when to brush throughout the day and evening. Put it together with colors and characters that appeal to your kid.
Play Pretend at Home
Children with ASD often fear the exam room and everything that happens in the scary dentist's chair. Practicing at home can ease those fears exponentially. Playing the part of the dentist, you can teach your child what to expect and how to behave. Practice opening up and saying “ahhh,” lying straight and still, and not fidgeting.
Be Proactive about Sensory Overload
The sounds and sensations at the dentist can trigger anxiety and fear in children with ASD. They can close their eyes, but that doesn't do much to erase the feeling of metal scraping across their teeth or a bib circling their neck. You know what affects your child, so proactively prepare before the first dental check-up and be mindful of any potential challenges related to the environmental factors of the building as a whole.
Noise-canceling headphones are helpful for children who can wear them comfortably. Either way, soothing music that your child loves can drown out the sound of various instruments. Bring along any toys or meaningful touchstones. Read a story to soothe those jangled nerves. Dress your child in loose, comfortable clothing. For children who hate bright lights, bring along their favorite sunglasses.
If your child experiences intense anxiety when introduced to your dentist’s office, you may want to consider sedation dentistry as an option. During this kind of procedure, your dentist administers nitrous oxide, oral sedation, or IV sedation before treatment to alleviate anxiety and leave your child with little to no memory of the procedure. While sedation dentistry is fairly common, it’s important to consult your dentist and your doctor prior to scheduling a sedation procedure.
Communication is Key
Not only do you need to communicate with your child, but you should both feel free to talk to the dentist, the hygienist, and everyone else who works in the office. Don't let your child feel scared or unsure about anything. For each visit, remind the office that your kiddo has special needs.
Maintaining a healthy diet for your child is necessary, too. Avoid foods and drinks that cause cavities. More than anything, preparing your child for what to expect is the best way to ensure that going to the dentist isn't a distressing appearance.
Author Bio: Dr. Steven DeLisle is a pediatric dentist who specializes in sedation dentistry and has experience treating children with special needs. He is the founder of Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing pediatric dental practices in the country.
Contributed by Lucy Wyndham
Keep The Noise Down
Sound can be a major trigger for people with Autism, and it’s difficult to know which sounds can cause a person to have a meltdown. If possible,design individual rooms within your building to be soundproof.
These rooms can help people with ASD to feel comfortable in your space. This is particularly important if someone with Autism may work in your office.
Make it Feel Like Home
Florescent lights and cubicles can be difficult to be around, even for people who are not on the Autism spectrum. However, buildings that feel like stereotypical offices can be especially triggering for people with ASD.
To include people with developmental disabilities, you may choose to make your space feel more like a living room. Consider ditching overhead lights, adding comfortable seating, and other home-like touches. Just like your living room, you don’t want your office to be too hot or too cold either. Think “comfortable living room,” and you can help invite people with Autism to enjoy your space.
Provide Alternative Ways to Communicate
Many people with ASD have difficulty communicating verbally. However, this doesn’t just affect people on the spectrum. In fact, 7.5 million people in the United States alone have trouble communicating verbally.
It can be simple to help people who are not as skilled in communication. Simply providing paper and pens can help people feel more included. Remember that someone who is nonverbal may have trouble asking for the paper in the first place, so it’s better to keep supplies in a place where anyone can access them.
There are plenty of ways to include people from all walks of life in your building. Not only is it the compassionate thing to do, but it is also relatively easy. Make the change to your space today.
4. Eye contact can be extremely difficult, even confronting. Often, a person with autism can focus much better on what you are saying if they don’t have to look at your eyes.
5. There is a difference between a tantrum and an autistic meltdown. A tantrum is deliberate, when a child does not get something they want. A meltdown comes from an instinctual place, due to being overwhelmed – there is nothing deliberate about a meltdown. Where you deal with a tantrum through discipline, when someone is having a meltdown, they need to be protected and supported.
Remember, a person with autism is first and foremost a person. They may have a different abilities and unique challenges, but they deserve to be accepted and loved as every person deserves to be accepted and loved.
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Guest post by Cathy Dodge-Smith Ed.D.
Licensed Davis Autism Facilitator/Coach
I had one little seven-year-old in my office who was not very interested in what I had in mind for our agenda. For over an hour, he wandered around, chatted incessantly, touched things, and was generally in his own world. Even though he did address me from time to time, or ask me questions occasionally, he was not interested in my responses, often not even waiting for my reply. Finally, he stopped in mid-stream, came to my little table where I was waiting for him, and looked me in the eye and said clearly, “OK. What are we meant to be doing?” I told him what I wanted him to do, and he sat right down and did it. He was totally with me for about five minutes, and then got up and was “gone” again.
As individuation becomes more stable, the fleeting moments of orientation gradually expand, and the amount of time spent “gone” gradually is reduced. This is not something I am doing; it simply happens as the client becomes more comfortable being in an oriented state, and knows how to get there voluntarily.
I was once working with a young woman (26 years old) on the concept of “time”. When I talked about the earth rotating and us being on it,, she looked up with a beautiful expression on her face, and said the she suddenly felt “OK” and more balanced and connected being on this earth. She then told me that she gets goose bumps when she gets oriented, that things look so much clearer, not all fuzzy and shimmery. Her mother told me that, a short time later, she had arranged to meet my client for dinner at a restaurant. “Usually she is at least ½ hour late and is often annoyed when I call her. This time she calls slightly before she’s due and tells me she’ll be there in 10 minutes. And she is!” This represented a huge change for this client, one that may enable her eventually to become employed. She has always lost any job she could find because she could never be on time.
Davis Autism Approach is a natural, drug-free, and respectful way to assist an autistic individual in developing the capacity to participate fully in life. I feel honored to have been able to participate in its development, and to experience the joys its implementation bring to autistic individuals and their families.
Guest post by Dr Angela Gonzales
Licensed Davis Autism Facilitator/Coach and Workshop Presenter
What is a Meltdown and what is a Tantrum?
To understand this, we need to understand a little (don’t worry, very little) about neurotypical childhood development.
In neurotypical childhood development, there are stages. The end of the first stage of development occurs in neurotypical children around the age of two. The end of this stage is ushered in by the onset of individuation (a fancy word meaning the realization that we are separate, individual units from all the things and people around us). With individuation, we realize that we have personal wants and don’t-wants, and we decide it’s time to let everyone around us know what those are. The behavior that arises from this realization has been termed the “Terrible Two’s.” This period is characterized by Tantrums. You know what those are – when a two-year-old wants candy at checkout and you say “No,” yelling, crying, dropping to the floor, turning red, holding their breath, etc. ensues. There is some level of conscious control that is occurring during a tantrum. If the behavior is reinforced, it will continue. If the behavior is disciplined, consistently (not just the one time, people!) it will cease.
A Meltdown is something totally different.
If I see a lizard in my office, I am going to scream (I know this to be true because it has happened more than once). If someone steps on your foot, you are going to pull it away. You will not think about it first, it is instinctual. I cannot tell you why I scream when I see a lizard in the office and not when I see them outside, but I do. The response is generated from somewhere other than my conscious self. It is again, instinctual. You cannot tell me enough times not to scream when I see it for me not to scream.
When someone is having a meltdown, we cannot talk them through it! You cannot rationalize someone out of a meltdown because it is generated from that visceral place of instinctual response. It also doesn’t matter whether you think whatever has ‘triggered’ the meltdown is a reasonable thing to have a meltdown about. You do not get to determine that unless you are the one having the meltdown. Meltdown triggers are specific to the individual. It could be the texture of the mac-and-cheese, the fact that someone is too close to them, the feeling of the tag from a shirt, the smell of the neighbor’s cat, the sound of the bubbling spaghetti sauce… the possibilities are endless. So, the question then is, “what do we do”?
What does that mean?
It means, that if your kiddo is having a meltdown, remove them from the stimulus, protect them from more triggers, make their surroundings physically and emotionally safe, and do what you know calms them. Most of all, regulate your own response. Stay cool and even-tempered in your actions and emotions. These individuals respond more to how you are ‘being’ than what you are saying or doing.
If your child or student is exhibiting behavior that you know precedes a meltdown, remove them from the stimulus, attempt to redirect their attention and give them whatever they use for self-soothing. Again, get yourself in order – stay cool and even-tempered.
In the future, avoid those things that trigger meltdowns. You know what they are – because all parents are the world’s greatest project managers.
If, on the other hand, your child is having a tantrum – this is the time to remain calm and firm. If you told them they can’t have the candy at the cash register, then please do not give in. Remain consistent and let them know that if they continue the negative behavior (say this in ‘little kid’ terms) then (fill in the blank) is going to happen. Then if they continue, the (fill in the blank) has got to happen.
The more steadfast you are in your consistent response to tantrums, the shorter the terrible two’s (or terrible fourteens) will be.
Hope this helps. Love you all.
Remember, keep it simple.
To find out more about Dr Angie and what she offers, you can go to her website: Dr Angie's Place
My mother told me that, as an infant, in 1942, I was called a Kanner’s baby. Doctor Leo Kanner coined the term autism in 1943. I think this is why I was never actually labeled autistic; I’m older than the use of the word, but not older than the research done by Dr. Kanner.
My mother told me that as an infant, any physical touch from her would set me off. Even when she was trying to nurse me I would try to scream and suckle at the same time. She was so afraid that I would choke that she had to find a way of feeding me without touching me. Being my mother must have made her life a hundred times more difficult than that of other women. But in spite of everything, she loved me.
My father on the other hand was just the opposite. When he came home from WWII, he was surprised and ashamed to find that he was the father of a mentally deficient child. He never found a way to effectively deal with his own feelings, let alone how to deal with me. There is evidence of 27 broken bones in my body from the beatings he gave me out of his ignorance, frustration, shame, and hatred. I don’t have actual memory of most of the beatings, or of being an autistic child; but I do have a sense of it.
Way before I started working with autism or had any understanding of it, I referred to myself as having come from a void. My sense of the void was not as existing as an individual, but as existing as both nothing and everything at the same time. There was no sense of being an individual, so there was no “me”. There was no sense of identity. Without a “me”, there was no basis for memory or knowledge.
Somehow—by pure luck or by the grace of God—around the age of nine I began to individuate and develop out of the state of oblivion—out of the void. In hindsight, I can see there was about an eleven-year delay in my early development. Also, in hindsight, I can see there were three phases that I had to go through to become a human being.
First, I had to individuate, I had to stop being everything and nothing and become just one thing, my body. Second, I had to develop an identity for the thing I had become. And third, I had to adapt to the world of being human and become socially integrated.
So there are three phases our “seed” must go through in the process of becoming human— individuation—identity development—and social integration.
I think all “normal” humans, in the first few years of life, go through this same sequence naturally. Although identity development and social integration are never totally completed, there has to be enough to allow the individual to exist as a human being. I also think that some individuals either fail to start or sufficiently complete one or more of these three phases, and therein we can find autism.
If you are “normal”, you’ve already done it—you did it naturally, and you did it totally by chance. If you happen to be autistic, you haven’t completed it yet. The Davis Autism Approach is a guide for making it happen. It will provide you with a different understanding of autism and it will provide you with a strategy for helping your loved ones participate more fully in life and find their place in human society.
I would like to say that my experience of being a “Kanner’s baby” provided insights into finding a “solution” to autism, but I can’t. It did provide a different foundation for looking at the condition. My history provided some understanding of what must be done, but nothing about how to do it. However, it did provide me with something that may have been even more important. It provided me with an undeniable purpose for being alive.
Once my identity began to develop and my memory began, my primary desire in life was to become a real human being. I could see that others were something that I wasn’t. My primary task, from the beginning, was to find a way that would allow me to be “normal,” or at least appear to be. If I could find my own way through this chaos and if I could provide a “map” for others of my kind to follow, then there would be value in my existence. The Davis Autism Approach is my best effort at providing that map.
Individuation is what takes place during early childhood development when a child becomes aware that he is a separate individual, with opinions and feelings that are different from those held by others. We usually see this taking place by the time a child is two, and has developed a sense of himself as an individual, has a mind of his own, and thus, rejects suggestions or requests made by others. We refer to this as the “terrible twos”, even though we know it is a healthy and desired developmental step!
Children with autism either fail to complete this step in development, or regress after beginning down the path. This can be seen in many ways – including lack of verbal ability; the inability to use pronouns correctly; sensory sensitivities; and a lack of a sense of self, to name a few.
Ron Davis developed a simple, effective method to enable individuation to be completed for autistic individuals. In the Davis Autism Approach, we assist the individuals to become oriented to the world. They need to have brought all of their senses into alignment so they are aware of their environment, their perceptions of the world are accurate and they begin to experience themselves as separate from others. We use a variety of orientation methods, auditory, visual or kinesthetic, depending upon the individual's strengths.
Then we assist the individual to create a clay model, which can represent them self, right throughout the program so that the individual can begin to integrate the fundamental life concepts into their identity, as the concepts relate to themselves in the world.