February 7, 2014

The Meltdown

The meltdown happens nearly every day around here, with varying levels of intensity and duration, and sometimes multiple times a day.

Perry has made sooo much progress since I met him a year and a half ago. I am thrilled about that. Eric and I celebrate his steps forward. It was so exciting the other day to hear him say his own name while looking at family pictures together! He's trying to communicate and interact more. He is using more words. We are seeing more functional play. I am happy with this.

But there are moments, those meltdowns, that are so, so hard. Really hard.

I hope that someday I will be glad that I wrote about this because it will only be a faint memory and I will laugh at this time in our lives. But from what I've read, children with autism sometimes continue to have meltdowns through their teens, or maybe even adulthood.

Meltdown's around here look like this: a trigger {being told no, moving his bike when he didn't want it moved, can't find his keys, overwhelmed--sensory, etc.}then spitting, biting (people, couch, toys), throwing himself around, head banging, hitting, scratching, screaming, crying, knocking everything over, throwing anything within reach.

It can get really scary.

Sometimes you can catch it and recenter him by distraction or a comfort item, but sometimes you just can't, and many times it escalates too quickly.

These meltdowns are not just tantrums. When tantruming a child will look around a bit to see if getting attention, won't hurt himself, and will stop as soon as goal achieved. During a meltdown a child doesn't care if anyone is watching or not, doesn't consider safety (not even of self), and will continue until they tapper off slowly. If a child wants a cookie and is told no, the tantruming child will stop if the cookie is given to him. The child who is having a meltdown will continue even if the cookie is given to him.

Today, while at gymnastics, I was able to successfully ward off two almost meltdowns. A lot of times I can tell he is about to lose it (wandering more, dumping/throwing toys, spitting), but I have to be on my A-game and, like I said, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Today I saw the signs at gymnastics and gave him "chewy" (sensory chew object), which he refused at first, and led him to an area without other kids to give him space. He then took chewy and was doing well again. At the end of class, I saw him out of sorts again and helped him get his sippy cup and gave him chewy again. He sat in my lap until he was calm and could join in the last few minutes. It worked.

I prevent whenever I can--with routines, music, new toys, his comfort keys, picking battles, chewy, snacks, weighted backpack, etc.

I catch it whenever I can--holding him, blankets, redirection, chewy, giving him space, etc.

But I just can't always stop it. Many times at home I feel like we are all in a bit of danger when he meltdowns. Things get thrown and knocked over and people get hit. Right now our best plan during a meltdown is to remove him to his room. Which means that while removing him I will most likely get bit, hit, scratched, head butted, hair pulled, or all of the above. It takes a lot of energy to get him to his room. And then his room gets destroyed by his banging and throwing.

We have tried a lot of things, but now we are looking into weighted blankets, other things to chew, safe holds, earphones/music, etc. If any one out there has experience with this and suggestions we will take them!

With all my heart, I love this boy. I'm just not a fan of the meltdowns.
Jenna said...

Wish I had a solution for you, lady. :) Love ya!

The Kovar Family said...

A few things: First, you are so strong and I have seen such a change in Perry over the past year. That can be directly attributed to how attentive you are. Second, I know how hard this is, personally. Anyone who has been in this situation has felt the emotions of love, fear, worry, hope and despair. (Simplified, I know.) In my (so far) six year journey, I can tell you all of those feelings are still there… but I learn with each milestone improvement. Third, the meltdowns are probably going to continue and they usually take on a different face as the child matures. I don't know if you remember, but I used to talk about how I felt Charlie would always be a toddler socially. He is still a toddler socially. But he's a late-stage toddler now. The change happens, very gradually. What I find is that I realize the improvement is made when we are in a regression and I start to feel hopeless. That's when I realize how great things have been. That's when I know I just have to hang through the regression. Fourth, you have already mentioned a view to what has been the biggest key for us… the zones. We think in zones all day, every day. The blue, the green, the yellow, the red. The meltdown happens in red. But red is never where the child starts. We have identified what helps Charlie (and us) in each zone, what is okay, what is not okay, both overall and in individual processes. Spelling it out, including the warning signs, has made a huge change for us. We used to live in red 90% of the time. Now I would say we are there between 5-10%. If you want to know more, I can share volumes. Fifth, if you are like me you will never regret writing these things down. I guard sharing intimate details because I don't want to betray Charlie by sharing his story that he might want to later have kept private. But I share my side, and it helps me tremendously to read what I have written. Sometimes its the only way I realize progress has been made. I love you. And Perry. (And the rest of your kids, too.)