We've all been there. You head into the grocery store and right when your cart is full and you're waiting in line, your child goes berserk! He can't stay one more minute in the checkout line and right when his voice hits a decibel that can crack a mirror, you realize you can't stay there either. Preventing meltdowns is difficult enough, but trying to prevent meltdowns in children with autism is like trying to decode a ticking bomb. And just when you think you've got a strategy in place, voila! You're back to square one. So let's take a look at some behavioral strategies that can be used to prevent meltdowns and keep everyone sane.
Structure is Key to Executive Function Control
Most of us thrive on some form of structure. For those with sensory integration disorder, autism, or neurological differences, having structure in place can create calm and security. The unknown can cause an autistic child, teen, or adult to experience behavior problems. So if you're going to change things up a bit, be sure they are aware, if possible. And try your best to keep the routine steady and consistent. Using timers, clocks, or regular schedules can help tremendously.
Sensory Diet is at the Heart of Meltdown Prevention
We're often asked, "Is it sensory, or is it behavior?" We tend to think a regularly fed sensory system will have fewer meltdowns and outbursts. Keeping sights, sounds, textures, smells and motion incoming and from the right sources, can feed a starving sensory system and minimize what may seem like bad behavior. If you are not sure how to implement a good sensory diet or how to improve an existing one, check with your local sensory savvy occupational therapist or sensory guru to help you understand tools and environments that can help.
Tokens and Rewards Encourage Positive Behavior
Though good sensory integration may be at the heart of preventing meltdowns, having a behavior management system in place can also help individuals with autism learn to navigate their school, home, and social system with a sense of well being. Using a token board or some other type of reward system can reinforce good behavior and healthy social skills.
Play Every Day to Create a Sense of Wonder
It's probably our 7th sense, the sense of wonder. But where we come from, it may as well be the first. Creating opportunities for play, not only can prevent meltdowns in children with autism, but it can boost endorphins, encourage social interaction, and build self esteem and motor skills, just to name a few. Play means interaction with our environment as well as with those nearby. Play is simply an ageless embracing of time well spent.
Give Yourself a Hug
Remember that everyone has a bad day. So if you're having one of those "I'm going to pull my hair out days", or, "I'm going to pull my child's hair out days", remember to take a step back. This too shall pass, and a nice day in a multisensory environment can do everyone a whole lot of good.