Friday, October 15, 2010

Autism and Meltdowns: What Does the Person Experiencing the Meltdown Feel?

Does a person with autism know, that is understand what is going on during a meltdown? Note: This scenario is very close to my heart so to personalize the experience "G" represents a person with Autism.

When G is upset she goes into her own little world, (a corner so to speak). She is so overstimulated or angry or mad that she is unable to feel anything at this point. She feels no pain (this is when G can pull out her toe nails and not even be aware of it). This is why aggressiveness happens, she has to get feeling back, The accepted terminology to "slap out of it", by doing self-injurious things, (slapping own face, beating head, pulling out toenails, punching self). At this same time if another person gets in G's face she may slap, push, or punch that person not even being aware that she is doing this.

My experience is that she does know she is out of control and is unable to regain a grasp on reality, without intervention. During the meltdown itself, I am of the impression that she possesses no knowledge of her surroundings or of pain. As the parent I take steps to intervene and stop the meltdown before self-injury occurs.

Because she is unaware of what she is doing, I distract her by making a very loud noise; a whistle or striking two metal pan lids together works very well. Another effective way is using a gentle spray of water landing in such a way that the mist is felt, but she is not drenched. Other tricks that have worked for me to stop a meltdown is to start laughing out loud at something, not her. I like to use a comic or magazine ad, my laughter piques her curiosity and the meltdown stops as she joins in the laughter. As a last resort, I throw a tantrum, the shock of my behavior and that spark of interest in my silliness will stop her quite quickly. Once the meltdown stops it does not resume.

Without a doubt the best strategy is to prevent the meltdown in the first place. Although it is not always possible, when I first notice that she is tuning me out, and getting agitated I need to take action. One method I use is to start singing-she does not like my singing, but it moves her attention from whatever was bothering her to my singing which short circuits the meltdown. Another method is to ask her a question such as what in the world is that on her arm? Of course she looks and sees nothing abnormal and then I will say that it must have been a shadow but I was sure that I saw a dog on her arm, she then will tell me how funny I am, but the meltdown stops.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or a licensed therapist. I am the mother of a child with an autistic Spectrum Disorder. Although I have spent many hours doing research and could cite many authoritative research papers, I am using my own personal experience in dealing with my daughter and the many, many other children I have met during the past 25 years.It is from these encounters that I am basing my article.

Patricia M. Hines invites you to visit her blog at This blog is about motivation, positivity and information about Developmental Disorders (Autism, Rett Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), Childhood Distegrative Disorder and Aspergers Disorder), other Neurological Disorders plus my own personal reflections on life. Please feel free to add comments or suggestions on the blog. Thank You.

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