Aspie meltdowns are usually an overload of the sensory system. Meltdowns are NOT temper tantrums although they may look like one. Explore the difference in my article, "5 ways to Spot an Aspie Meltdown (versus a temper tantrum)."
Avoiding Aspie Meltdowns:
- Routine: Repetition allows our brains to focus more on what's new and different and focus less on what's routine. For example, those of us who drive may recall getting to a location and not really remembering the drive there. How did we do that?! This typically happens when we are taking a very familiar route - we go on "autopilot." Our brains relied on the routine sights and sounds that were familiar and attended more on the differences. It's like a little brain break. Aspies brains have greater difficulty processing sensory information (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, motion, etc.), so the more auto-pilot, the better! When routines are disrupted, the sensory system can become overloaded which = meltdown.
- Structure: Routines are about repetition. Structure is about knowing what's next. You can build structure into your day even if you can't follow a routine. Any time we are doing something new and different, Abby regularly asks questions like "How long will we...," "When will we...," "What will we..," etc. The more structure I can give her, the better. Social Stories, a concept created by Carol Gray, are scripts developed to rehearse various scenarios in life before they happen (and sometimes after they happen to prepare for next time). Scripting is a form of structure that is very beneficial.
- Sensory Breaks: Because the sensory system of an aspie is working overtime ALL THE TIME, breaks are very important. These breaks may mean reducing sensory input (quiet time with lights off), but for others, it may mean increasing sensory input (cranking up the volume on the radio, jumping on a trampoline, tight hugs). Sometimes getting strong sensory input can help calm the body. For more, see: "5 ways to Have a Sensory Break."
- Less talking: Avoid a big verbal dialogue with an aspie who seems headed toward a meltdown. Conversation is often very difficult for aspies, and requires a great deal of mental energy. Don't try verbal reasoning. A meltdown is not a mental choice - it's a physical "traffic jam" of the sensory system. You might try asking, "what do you need right now," but don't press for an answer if you don't get one.
- Know the triggers: In my article, "5 Ways to Cause an Aspie Meltdown," I discuss the various triggers than can cause a meltdown - sometimes we neurotypicals cause them without realizing it. It's very important to know these triggers, and to avoid them, when possible. For example, one of Abby's triggers is last-minute cancellations or changes in plans for something she's excited about. This can be a trigger for all kids, but for aspies, it can be HARD to process the change, and voila - meltdown. So, my solution for this is to avoid telling Abby about upcoming events (like a visit to Grandma's) until they are happening, particularly if I think there is a possibility of change or cancellation.