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Shake it up! We Have a Meltdown.

It started when she was in 1st grade. There had been evidence previously, but the pattern had not been consistent. When it did show up as a pattern, it was fairly obvious what the problem was – something was too loud, too scratchy, too crowded, all of the “too many’s” that kids on the spectrum have. But first grade was the benchmark for the predictability.  

Usually, on Thursdays, she had reached her limit, though occasionally she could hold it together until Friday. On these Thursdays, I could have been serving a make-your-own sundae bar, brownies, and milkshakes for dinner, but it wouldn’t matter. She would dissolve into a sobbing, heaving, shaking, pool of tears at the dinner table for 30 minutes at least. At first, we asked her what was wrong – this was met with the sniffling “I don’t know” over and over and over. It was heartbreaking. We quickly learned that the only thing to be done was to remove her from the dinner table to a quiet place and let her cry it out and regroup. To let her be in a place free of sounds, and light, and stimulation, to let her system calm down. For the rest of us, those dinners were exceptionally quiet. Even when she was soothed enough to come back and eat, the mood was somber. Maybe we all realized that this stillness was needed, so as not to trigger another meltdown, to let her remain in the quiet, to let her nervous system work it through. I don’t quite remember how long this lasted; I sometimes think your brain purges those memories as a kindness. But I do know that they eventually reduced in frequency and intensity. 

Some have dubbed this “The Delayed Effect” and likened it to a soda bottle. Your kid wakes up and you have run out of her favorite breakfast food (shake the bottle). She gets to school and there is a substitute teacher (shake the bottle). The one girl that she spends time with is absent, so she is alone at recess (shake the bottle). The kid that she sits next to at the lunch table is chewing really loudly (shake the bottle). There is a fire drill at school and the bell is shrill and they don’t shut it off for what seems like an eternity (shake the bottle). But you know what? The bottle still looks the same on the outside. The teacher is not seeing any challenging behavior because she is doing her best to hold it in until she walks in the door and the cap explodes from the bottle and all the pent up energy and frustration that has been effervescing and building all day long blows up and you are left to clean up the mess. 

Soon, my intuition had developed so keenly that I could now tell when she had a particularly rough day just by the look on her face, the color in her cheeks, the desperation in her eyes. Subtle differences that I seemed to be the only one to recognize. I knew when she was about to lose it. This recognition helps me to help her. It allows me to provide her with the tools and quiet that she needs to work her way through it. There are still rough days, but who doesn’t have rough days? Who doesn’t have days where you want to curl up in a blanket on the couch and pet your dog?

With the recent start to school, I’m wondering if the transition has been difficult for other children and families who struggle with the same issues. How long can they hold it together and what can you do to help your child through these rough days? Hopefully, you have been able to secure some accommodations at school, but either way if this behavior sounds familiar to you, read on.

Is there a “safe” space in your house? A crash pad? Can your child walk in the door and go to a place that is sensory free to ease the cap off the bottle and let the pressure escape slowly? What should you put in this crash pad? Ultimately, you know what soothes your child the best, but some suggestions are:

· Weighted Blanket

· Swing

· Mini-trampoline

· Fidget or sensory toys

· Noise-canceling headphones

· Light music

· Curtains to shut out the world

· Dim lighting

· Some simple meditation exercises

· Deep breathing

· A hot shower or bath

This list is not exhaustive but meant to get your brain thinking through what can help your child so that you can create a crash pad in your home. The key here is to allow the decompression to happen without adding anything else to the mix. That means holding off on the homework, the activity or errand, and changing the schedule to include this much-needed time. It might mean forgoing the after-school activity altogether. The more you can work this into your regular schedule, the easier these transitions become and with that, life becomes just a little bit smoother.

*The stories in these posts are a compilation of discussions that I have had with parents throughout the years.

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