Meltdowns: More than a Typical Tantrum

The other day, I watched a video posted on Facebook. The tagline was something like “what happens when have spoiled kids”. My heart ached as I watched this mother struggle yet maintain calmness during her son’s physical aggression.

What was more troubling was the comments made about the boy’s behavior. Many said that he should be beaten or he knows better.  I’ll admit the behaviors were bad. He was hitting and using profane language.

I thought about my child’s past and present behaviors.

In the beginning, Preston displayed extremely aggressive behaviors. It began in preschool. He didn’t always hit people but he threw objects in class. By 1st grade, he was knocking over desks and tossing chairs. For years, constant calls from teachers and countless meetings.

I made every effort to figure out why he was doing these things. I tried everything to discipline bad behaviors; timeouts, spankings, behavior charts, taking away favorite things. Some of them worked while others made the behaviors worse.

I received stares and judging glares from people when Preston had meltdowns in public. At first, I was embarrassed. I noticed people were looking at the both of us in disgust. On his end, I thought people were thinking he’s an unruly child. For me, it was easy to believe they thought I was a parent who couldn’t control my child’s “bad” behavior.

I had to get out of my head and focus on what/why my child was acting out. I had to learn his triggers. Still, meltdowns were difficult to prevent. Many of his caregivers didn’t make efforts to learn them.

At school, he had to be removed because his behavior would be deemed threatening to himself and others around him.

Some family members chose to use corporal punishment as a main form of discipline.

Meltdowns are different from tantrums. Children having tantrums are doing it to seek attention. They are careful not to hurt themselves and others.

In cases of a meltdown, children with autism have no control over their behavior. In some cases, they can hurt themselves and/or other around them.

Meltdowns are tornadoes of emotions; anger, frustration, anxiety, and overwhelmed.

It is important to know what to do and not to do during a meltdown.

Remove the child from any area that can threaten anyone’s safety. Avoid access to objects being thrown. Sometimes, physical restrains are needed. In the past, I’ve had to physically restrain Preston. I would wrap my arms around him until he calmed down. That wasn’t always easy to do because he struggled to get away from me but it helped him relax.

Be patient and keep calm. Nobody can stop a meltdown once its started. You have to wait it out. They can last for a few minutes to over an hour.

It is necessary for the caretakers to recognize and assist in diffusing the negative behavior. You have to learn what triggers these types of behavior.

Distraction is best for young children.

It is best to teach children what to do when their triggers begin to surface. Breathing techniques worked well with my son. Also, I taught him to verbally express his feelings. That doesn’t always work but it is another technique that been beneficial.

Don’t engage in conversation with the child during a meltdown. They are not hearing what you’re saying and it’s only adding to sensory overload. The behavior can be discussed once the child is calm. It be used to teach them what can they do differently.

Once you’ve learned what their triggers are, many meltdowns can be avoided. You have to be consistent. With practice and patience, children will learn to gain control over their emotions. The ultimate goal is to get the child to learn acceptable behavior patterns before or by adulthood.

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My Superhero has Autism

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Children on the autism spectrum usually has a thing that love and they’re completed dedicated to it. My son, Preston, loves Iron Man. I love what Iron Man means to him.

To Preston, Iron Man gives him strength and courage. My son, Preston a.k.a. Tony Stark is a charming, loving 12 year old who idolizes Robert Downey, Jr. He looks up to his character, Iron Man. Preston is on the Autism Spectrum and Iron Man has been his hero for over 5 years. Iron Man has even helped him during meltdowns.

He sees the good characteristics in Tony Stark and aspires to be just like him. He wants to save the world by helping others.

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Plus, he’s really funny!!

He will perform a song and dance in a heartbeat!

What I love even more about my superhero is that he’s decided to embrace having autism. He’s aware that it makes him different than the average person and wants to help others with it.

He’s become an advocate in his own right. He goes with me to every speaking engagement. Sometimes, he shares stories with the audience.

I love learning his perspective on life. He thinks outside the box and questions what is normal.

He doesn’t see the challenges of having autism. It’s a part of who he is. He’s not ashamed of it.

He loves his life and those close to him.

I’m so proud of him and the obstacles he’s overcome.

For that, Preston is my SUPERHERO!!!

Simply Different

Autism…what comes to mind when you hear that word?

Do you know someone with autism? Chances are you do or knows someone who does.

Those on the autism spectrum think differently. They behave differently. They see the world differently. They interact with others differently.

That doesn’t mean they don’t understand their surroundings.

They simply process things in a different manner.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is neurological. Their brains are “wired” differently. People with autism have difficulty processing societal norms. This doesn’t mean they lack empathy. They just may not always know how to act or respond. Sometimes, behaviors are displayed because they have no other way to communicate their feelings.

People with autism often don’t recognize non-verbal gestures or cues. Mostly because they don’t always make eye contact. Looking away aids in processing verbal communication.

Those on the spectrum require patience. Sometimes, it takes them longer to process information and complete tasks. For those who are verbal, they may repeat the question asked to them. It’s not because they don’t understand. Repetitive speech is a processing mechanism.

Social interaction is challenging for many with autism. It is imperative to understand that. Many people with autism can feel overwhelmed in social situations. They want to engage but may not know the proper way to do it. There are various social skills practices to help them learn and it requires many hours of practice. Even though when they have acquired some social skills, chances are there will be times when they fail to execute them.

Routines are helpful in functioning day to day. It is important to know what to expect and when to expect it. For some, sudden changes are hard to handle. Unexpected changes in routine can cause a meltdown because it pushes them out of their comfort zone and have little time to process it.

It is important to listen when they speak. People with autism are extremely literal. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Don’t assume they are attempting to say something else.

Most importantly, those on the spectrum deserve to be treated with dignity respect. Their feelings, just like anybody else, are valid. They don’t need sympathy. They need love, understanding, and acceptance.

Don’t think of someone with autism as weird or odd…they are Simply Different.

 

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Social Media and Adolescents

I was having a conversation with a few friends about the rise in children, particularly under 13, being cyber-bullied and committing suicide. With my son in that age group, I couldn’t help but think of why a child would want to take his or her own life.

I grew up in an era when it considered “children being children” and bullying was a “normal” part of childhood.

Now with social media, bullying is on a larger platform. Plus, once it’s placed on the internet, it becomes permanent. I’ve always been fearful of the possible teasing my child would have to endure with having a physical scar and not fitting in the “typical” category. Because of that, I decided to turn his differences into his strengths. He gets excited when he sees someone with an autism ribbon on their car or watches a commercial in spreading autism awareness.

Preston has a surgical scar on his head from ear to ear. He’s had seizures, developmental delays, and will live with autism for the rest of his life. It’s no secret that children can be cruel to other children.

Now, he just turned 12. His teen years will soon be upon us. This is the time when he will be begin to find his identity. According to Erik Erikson, a German-born American psychoanalyst, my son is in Stage 5 of development; Identity vs. Confusion. During adolescence, children begin to explore their independence and develop a sense of self. Socialization is necessary to achieve that goal.

Preston still prefers to play with younger children, but he can hold his own in a conservation with adults. I’m so proud of his ability to verbally express his feelings especially since many professionals previously told me that he would never be able to achieve that.

Yet, there is still a challenge of associating with his peers. He struggles in communicating with those his own age. Children in the same age group have developed interests outside of toys and cartoons but he still enjoys them. He’s aware of social media sites but has not yet become interested in participating at this time.

Today’s youth spends a lot of time on social media sites. I dread to think about what my childhood would’ve been like if the internet and these sites existed then. Children often seek acceptance from their peers. What child doesn’t long to be in the “popular” crowd or the “cool” one? There is an innate feeling to fit in amongst common peer groups. There are too many fighting videos involving adolescents that have gone viral with even more taunting comments. Not all attention is good attention.

I know there will come a time when he will want a Facebook page, a Twitter username, and/or a Instagram account. Yet, he still desires to connect with his peers. He yearns to have friends who will engage with him.

Preston is growing up in a microwave world but living life like an oven. It is taking him more time to discover his surroundings and how to navigate life. How do I assist my child with coping in this type of environment? I’m aware that I can’t hold his hand for the rest of his life. Although he thinks “outside the box”, he has to learn how to adapt to society. Social media sites have become an important part of our world.

He will, one day, he will have to face the pressures to fit in. I have talked to him about peer pressure. I’ve informed him of the positives and negatives about social media websites by actually using various sites. Afterwards, we converse about it. I’m teaching him to make good choices, yet I realize that I will have to allow him to make decisions on his own. He needs to find his identity in the world. He needs to gain friendships with his peers. He needs experiences to work towards independence. Having autism can make those achievements more complicated.

Will he ever form friendships outside of family? Will he be accepted by his peers? Will he make right or wrong choices in picking who he calls a friend? Will he become a subject of cyber-bullying once he’s allowed to be on social media? These are just a few questions that constantly dwells in my mind.

Ultimately, the challenge is allowing him to discover who is and how he can become a productive member in our society. My hope for Preston is not to lose himself in attempting to establish relationships with others when exploring his potential and capabilities.

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