Using Wellness to Avoid Meltdowns with Children on the Autism Spectrum

My first port of call is to say that this is not a guide to meltdowns or a quick fix and nor am I promising that this will work for every child. However, upon saying that, my next statement is that as a mother of two children, both of whom have autism, and being someone […]

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My first port of call is to say that this is not a guide to meltdowns or a quick fix and nor am I promising that this will work for every child. However, upon saying that, my next statement is that as a mother of two children, both of whom have autism, and being someone who has attended seminars and parenting classes to help my understanding around behaviours relating to autism, some may say I have a bit of knowledge (plus extensive experience) around the subject.

Yet I know some of you have the question: what is autism? And so, I shall answer…

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurological disorder that affects the way in which people view, communicate, and interact with their surroundings. One in 100 people have an ASD diagnosis meaning that statistically there are around 700,000 children and adults with the disability in the United Kingdom. [1]. ASD presents differently within each person, and so it is important to remember that no two people are the same who have autism and not to assume anything.

So, what is a meltdown? [2].

A meltdown is a coping mechanism which a person with autism has developed unintentionally when they are feeling overwhelmed by a situation. There are many factors that could lead to a meltdown; an individual could be over stimulated, it could be because of a busy environment, noise, a change in routine or that something hasn’t gone the way it was hoped to and due to the difficulty in explaining how they feel, a meltdown occurs. [3].

A meltdown can be displayed in several ways: fight, flight, or freeze. This is because when the body becomes overwhelmed, the adrenal glands in the brain make and release the “stress hormone” cortisol into the body. The cortisol level increases the heart rate and blood pressure which impacts upon how a meltdown is presented. [4].

And once again, as previously stated, ASD presents differently with each person, therefore a meltdown will also present differently. Being aware of this will help when it comes to using wellness to avoid or limit a meltdown.

Now, after explaining to my thirteen-year-old daughter that I was writing a blog on wellness and autism, she gave me a handy tip of one thing that you should avoid saying to those with ASD: “My friends son has autism, so I know what its like….” Whilst you mean well, you don’t actually know what it is like, nobody does but that one person and as stated previously no two people are the same.  I feel as though this is a good place to start because you being mindful is an excellent beginning to using wellness in the life of a child on the autism spectrum.

However, if you are unsure what wellness actually is, then have a read of my blog 5 Top Tips for Beginning Your Wellness Journey (thriveglobal.com) [5], as this will give you a good idea of where to start.

Techniques

Wellness techniques are important to change our minds and body from feeling negative stress to embracing positivity however techniques that work depend on the individual.

Below are techniques that I use with both of my daughters depending on how they are feeling, some we use prior to getting ready in the morning and some we incorporate in the evening depending. Other techniques can be used, so make sure that you do some research.

  • Breathing exercises and focusing on the body
  • Exercise – what does your child enjoy? Dance, yoga, football, kickboxing?
  • Give your child a massage, help their bodies to relax.
  • Meditation
  • Speak softly to your child to create a relaxed environment.
[6]

Firstly, decide which techniques are ideal and explain this to your child.  Do this when both you and your child are in a good place. Not when stress levels are high or mid-meltdown, but when the situation is calm.

Whether your child is non-verbal or not, keep the conversation going. Explain wellness to them, tell them the plan and ask for their input. If non-verbal then use your knowledge and explain why you are using certain wellness techniques and how you know your child will love those techniques.

Take your lead from your child and include what they like. Do they like touch? Would specific sensory accessories and toys be ideal to use? A weighted blanket or duvet set? Would they benefit from the use of mindfulness cards?

Ensure you create the right environment for you and your child.  If you are at home, dim the lights, use soft music or environmental sounds if your child likes these.

Remember to take your time.

Do not rush! Many children who have been diagnosed with ASD, benefit from structure and so adding wellness into their routine slowly will help to build up a positive relationship with the idea of wellness. Are you using the techniques in the morning, during the day, after school or in the evening? Are you going to use a specific place for focusing on wellness? Whenever and wherever you are adding wellness into the routine, ensure it is doable.

And bear in mind, this change isn’t going to happen overnight.

Once you have completed your wellness routine, reflect upon it. Discuss if you can, which bits your child enjoyed and what they didn’t.

Adding these techniques in to the life of an autistic child gives them different coping mechanisms if their bodies or minds are feelings stressed instead of going into a meltdown and they have worked for both myself and my girls. 

Pre-meltdown tip

Something to keep in mind, if a meltdown is building up and you have actively been doing wellness, take a look at grounding. Grounding is a distraction technique that uses the senses to focus the mind elsewhere which lowers the cortisol level.  If your child is becoming heightened, try the following:

Say “Can you tell me 5 things that you can see?” They name 5 things, if they don’t participate then you name 5 things. Continue with “4 things that you can touch?”, “3 things that you can hear?” “2 things that you can taste?” and finally “One thing that you can smell?” And this can help to redirect the attention of the mind.

If you have any tips or would like to discuss anything mentioned in this blog further, do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected]

References

  1. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism?
  2. https://images.pexels.com/photos/2128817/pexels-photo-2128817.jpeg?auto=compress&cs=tinysrgb&dpr=2&h=650&w=940
  3. https://www.rdiconnect.com/what-is-an-autism-meltdown/
  4. https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/beware-high-levels-of-cortisol-the-stress-hormone
  5. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/5-top-tips-for-beginning-your-wellness-journey/
  6. https://www.pexels.com/photo/cute-ethnic-children-with-young-mom-meditating-together-with-closed-eyes-at-home-7353021/
  7. https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-wooden-framed-hour-glass-7954867/
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