Sunday, February 27, 2011

Anatomy of a Meltdown

The typical meltdown for a 2-3 year old lasts 5-10 minutes. At least this is what I hear. Pink P almost never melts down (I'm knocking on wood as I type this). Sky, on the other hand, melts down so epically and so thoroughly, that the experience can last an hour or longer. Even now. So, it'd be helpful to come up with an anatomy of a meltdown, wouldn't it?

Some disclaimers. First, it's never actually possible to predict a meltdown. That's what makes them so much fun (and by fun, I mean horrifying). Second, everything you know about parenting and handling a tantrum in a younger child will usually not work when your spectrum kid is melting down. Third, the variables involved in determining length and severity of a meltdown are too complicated to untangle with any certainty.

Take today's meltdown. Now, since it's the weekend and our school day routine is out of sync, I could predict that the risk of meltdown was slightly elevated. Wake up, early play time (and by early, I mean 5:30 a.m.) and breakfast all went well, though, so it looked like smooth sailing. Then came time to make beds and get dressed, and somewhere along the way, things started to fall apart. Thing is, by the end of an epic tantrum, we usually can't remember exactly what triggered it to begin with. Anyway, Sky started to resist my requests to get dressed and make his bed, then he started to yell, then to throw things (fortunately, he throws pillows mostly--we're in the process of trying to step down this particular behavior). We have three choices when Sky is in full-meltdown mode. None of them are good choices. We can ignore him(which has a 50/50 rate of success). We can try to contain him and talk him through it (also about 50/50 in terms of effectiveness). Or we can employ tough love by putting the offender and or his most beloved toys into time out. Depending on his state of mind, this can either work right away or make the tantrum exponentially worse. So we usually end up employing some combination of all three of these approaches to varying degrees of success. And after experiencing several of these meltdowns, what becomes obviously clear is how incredibly little control any of us has on them and how incredibly disruptive they are.

The good news, if there is any, is that it's possible to figure out a lot of the triggers and control for them. It's even possible to intervene effectively on some. But, it's a long exhaustive process. As he gets older Sky is much better at controlling himself so he doesn't get to meltdown stage, but not always. Any spectrum moms out there with sage advice? I'm all ears!

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