There are many parts of parenting that we would rather not have happen- stomach bugs, dentist appointments, braces.. the list can go on for a while.
If you’re a parent of a child (or children) with ASD and/or ADHD, a couple of things on that list probably includes shutdowns and/or meltdowns. Neither are fun and we would do just about anything to wipe them off the map. I know I would. Julian’s had both and there’s nothing fun about them.
Let’s take a look..
A shutdown is when the following things occur with your child:
- may not move, blink or speak
- may appear as avoidant, escaping or ignoring to others that may not understand what is going on
- may find a dark, quiet space to get away
- curl into a ball or fetal position
Why do these occur?
- Extreme stress
- Sensory overload (noise, visual are usually the biggest trigger)
A meltdown is when the following things occur with your child:
- potentially dangerous and/or aggressive behavior (kicking, biting, screaming, yelling, throwing, etc. Julian almost broke my nose during one when he was smaller) Self- injury is also possible.
- Destroying property
These can be stopped, or at least lessened, if you learn your child’s triggers. For example, Julian hates Bath and Body Works because of the many different scents. I avoid taking him in there if I can. If I absolutely have to take him, I am in and out within minutes. We went to the outlet in Daytona Beach, and we were out as soon as he said, “Mom, we need to go, right now.” That’s his code phrase for “I’m done and we need to go.” I already knew what I wanted. This comes from years of knowing my son, plus he had a massive meltdown when he was younger in the middle of our local store.
It may take a few incidents and some tears but learning your child’s triggers is the best thing you can do for everyone. My personal motto for this is “Know your kid”. Your child’s triggers may change as they grow, but some may stay the same.
The reasons for meltdowns are pretty similar to shutdowns. It depends on the kid and situation. Julian is more likely to have a shutdown than a meltdown these days, but I wish he didn’t have either one. He still has bursts of anger, but he’s 12 and there’s a thing called testosterone. Public meltdowns are the worst, and any parent that’s had to deal with that knows that awful feeling. Everyone in the area is staring at you and your child, you just want to go, and all you really want is your child to calm down.
From a parenting perspective, watching your child go through either is heartbreaking. I spent many days crying because I couldn’t stand to watch Julian throwing things, screaming and scaring his siblings. I was relieved when he finally stopped having meltdowns. It hurts my heart when he has shutdowns because I can’t reach him. I have to wait for him to speak- he’s a quiet kid and expressing feelings isn’t easy. I try to put myself inside his brain and remember he lives in a different world than the rest of us.
What Can You Do?
If your child is having a meltdown:
- Assess the situation. Is everyone safe? Is there anything you need to move to make the area safer? If so, move toys and other objects out of the way.
- Move other people out of the room that don’t need to be there. This is the most important thing. If your child self-injures, make sure they can’t hurt themselves. If your child is becoming truly dangerous to themselves or others, please take them to the closest emergency room or call 911.
- Don’t try to reason with a child that is verbal if they are screaming or yelling at you- they are well past that point. If you want to try to talk to them, you may want to wait until they are calm.
- Remain calm. This is very important. Things can get a lot worse if you become agitated. Your child needs you to remain calm.
- Limit communication. Your child has enough going on in their mind.
- Give your child time to recover. Meltdowns are exhausting. They can talk later.
If your child has shut down:
- Give them the space and quiet they need, as long as they are safe. They may or may not respond to anyone or anything until they are ready, and this may take some time.
- Don’t rush them, this may make the situation worse.
- Give them any sensory supports they may need.
- If they want to talk afterwards, let them talk.
These can be difficult moments, no matter when or where they occur. It’s our job as parents to understand and try our best to guide and love our kids through whatever they bring us.
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