As the mother of a child with autism, I can tell you with no false modesty that I have mad meltdown skills. My son was three at his diagnosis, and at that time his vocabulary consisted of a handful of words – and they weren’t always used contextually. He had tantrums dozens of times a day, and often for no cause that I could define or for the most innocuous reasons: his shirtsleeve got wet when he washed his hands, the smell of the cleaner they just used on the counter at the drugstore set him off, or I gave him his sippy cup with the wrong color lid.
Once he started with tantrums, it would often move into full-on meltdown, and a lot of the things I did with his sister when she misbehaved were ineffective. A time-out didn’t work because he threw himself from the chair. He self-harmed, which was another issue entirely. It was frustrating for both of us, but eventually, I learned how to read him, and I learned how to manage him – and me, in the process.
Here are a few of the things that I learned in managing serious meltdowns:
Stay calm. My mother once told me “It takes two people to have a fight.” If you’re screaming as hard as your child is, you’re letting him know you’re out of control, too. He needs your stability right now. Take a deep breath, reach down into that well of inner strength and remind yourself that you need to address this from a place of love, not anger or exasperation. I know that’s not easy to do – especially if you’re out in public and everyone’s giving you the “Hey lady, control your kid!” look, but you’ve got to do it anyway.