When it comes to your child having a public meltdown, there’s no magic recipe that will work for everyone, but some suggestions usually apply. If you haven’t managed to prevent the behavior by avoiding known triggers or re-directing with a preferred activity or snack, stay calm. Of course, you may feel extremely upset, so please remember to breathe deeply to be able to think clearly. The most important goal is always keeping the child and everyone around them safe. Once the safety issue is addressed (for example, always travel with a head-cushion pillow), here are some tips that I have found helpful:
1. Avoid speaking during the meltdown. Most kids with autism have some degree of auditory processing difficulty. They will likely not absorb anything you say, and in fact any talking—EVEN SOOTHING WORDS OR SOUNDS—while they are upset will only increase the intensity of the outburst.
2. Wait it out. Watch it out. Sometimes, the best and only thing to do is nothing. While it feels like it is lasting forever, it is probably going on for five to minutes until the intensity begins to reduce. Observation provides insight into what is actually taking place during the outburst. What brought it about? Is your child having a seizure? This information is often important to note because it will help you to identify trends and potential interventions.
3. Educate the onlookers. Your autistic child’s meltdown is likely to attract a crowd of onlookers; maybe even hecklers. While you’re facing the worst moment of your day, you’ll hear all kinds of feedback, mostly unsolicited parenting advice. However, remember, it’s usually because they are uneducated about autism. You may well be tempted to start to cry, scream an obscenity, shut down, or otherwise lash out. I get it! Instead, though, turn to the crowd and say, “My child has autism and he is having a very hard time right now. He can’t help this. Stay back!!” Remember to keep your own self-talk non-judgmental and soothing, while acknowledging anyone who speaks kindly and tries to help.
4. Above all, stay calm and neutral. Your child is in distress. He/she is so blessed to have you there to watch their back when they need it most. You are an awesome mom and, remember, this too shall pass.
Read more on autism and parenting from Heidi here.