I read a blog post today that started me thinking about behavioral problems.  The point that got me thinking is that bad behavior needs to be investigated to decide if it is a sensory problem or an attention seeking problem.  Sensory problems need accommodation while attention seeking problems need to be handled as they would be with any typical child and should not be tolerated. 

This is something we do automatically now.  We identify what triggered the meltdown and work on accommodations like using noise cancelling headphones, limiting our daily errands to prevent overload and printing out a daily schedule to help G with his school day.  Whining,  bad manners, excessive arguing and defiance are not tolerated and have immediate consequences.  But I find there is a third, gray area. 

We struggle with physical meltdowns.  When G gets overloaded and is triggered, his meltdowns involve charging another person, hitting, kicking, headbutting, punching – you get the picture.  It has always been difficult to deal with but as he gets older and bigger it is becoming increasingly important that we teach a more appropriate way to express his frustration.  Society is not going to care that G is autistic if he is assaulting someone when he melts down.  So we work to identify triggers and teach G how to deal with them.  We are teaching him to identify the signs of mounting frustration and are trying to teach him how to express himself before he gets to the breaking point.  We’re also trying to teach calming techniques and make sure he has the ability to leave his classroom to cool off in the hallway so he feels he has an escape route.  But when he fails to handle stress and reacts by hurting someone, he gets punished. (by punish I mean we take away privileges, in this case he loses all his technology privileges and has to earn them back with good behavior) We don’t let his autism become an excuse to escape consequences. 

This is such a tricky area for us.  My gut reaction is to say it isn’t his fault that he melted down because he’s autistic.  And G doesn’t always remember what happened while he was in the throes of a meltdown – it’s as if his brain shuts off for that period of time.  But a classmate doesn’t care that G is autistic when they’re being hurt, they only care that they’ve been hurt.  And the parent of the classmate is pissed that their baby was harmed, as I would be in their shoes.  So when G is calm, we talk about what triggered his meltdown and how he could have avoided getting overloaded.  Then we describe his actions during his meltdown, in case he doesn’t remember, and explain the consequences for those actions.

I always feel bad for punishing him in these situations, but I also feel it is very necessary.  Over the past couple years the physical incidents have decreased from a daily/weekly occurence to just a couple times a year.  He doesn’t melt as frequently as long as his accommodations are followed and his verbal queues for breaks are respected.  When he does break down, he usually runs from the room to escape or he devolves into a nonverbal shrieking fit.  Sometimes he screams that he wants to kill people, which may be a problem as he gets older but is a positive step right now because he’s using his words instead of striking out.  He only gets physical once or twice a year, which is progress.  

Yet I still worry that we’re doing the right thing.  Do you find yourself in situations like this?  What do you do?  Is it effective in stopping the physical aspects of meltdowns?

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 11:53 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. We do exactly the same as you, there is a punishment for this physical type of meltdown. We also take away priveledges and help him with calming techniques. I think you’re doing the right thing.

    Just my personal opinion, but I agree 100% with “Society is not going to care that G is autistic if he is assaulting someone when he melts down.” I believe that it’s part of our responsibility as parents to teach our kids what appropriate behaviour is, and hitting and charging and physical outbursts aren’t acceptable. Andrew is starting to have these physical outbursts more and we want to nip them in the bud asap. I wouldn’t tolerate it from my ‘neurotypical’ children (and don’t, one of our 9-year-olds is always getting physical with the others), so I can’t tolerate it from Andrew, autism or no.

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