“Why are you upset?!?”
I had no idea why my son was suddenly fighting a meltdown. The tone of my voice betrayed my frustration, my stress, and my feelings of trying to juggle so much at once this week. In other words, the tone of my voice only made the meltdown escalate faster.
If you are a parent of a child with autism, you understand that meltdowns sometimes happen for obvious reasons and sometimes they happen out of the blue—at least from our perspective. This one made perfect sense to my son who was feeling overwhelmed and blindsided by something unexpected.
If you’re a parent of a child with autism, you also know that sometimes you are a saint in your response. Sometimes you are patient and calm and work the problem. Sometimes you know what tricks to give your child to deal with their frustration and help them calm.
And then there are other days. Days when your frustration at having to explain something for the ump-teenth time is just too much. Days when you just can’t handle one more moment of them freaking out about something you have calmly explained over and over and over again. And, if you are a single mom like me, it also makes you angry that you are the only one to deal with this.
This was me on this night. And partly because I just couldn’t handle it and partly because he was overwhelmed by so many things, the meltdown lasted over two hours. That’s just how it goes sometimes.
I’m thankful that this is not normally how I react. But I’m honest enough to know that it happens more than I’d like. The stress of having a special needs child is incredible. And doing it without my late-husband here has amplified that stress. My child or your child doesn’t choose to meltdown. It is beyond their control and logically you can know this while simultaneously wanting them to control it.
So I promised you hope for the meltdown, didn’t I? I’ve been dealing with them a long time and I’ve picked up a few tricks to surviving the meltdown when you just feel in over your head. On this particular night, here’s what I had to remind myself:
- Breathe. It may seem obvious but how often have you gotten upset and realized you need to stop and breathe? Me too. It helps our kids calm down and it helps us. Take a moment to gather your wits and breathe deeply. Count to ten if you need to calm your nerves. Breathing deeply helps us reset and helps us calm the tone of our voices.
- Remember they aren’t doing this on purpose. They feel just as out of control as you do. Sometimes we can forget this. Reminding ourselves that this is a result of autism can help us have more patience and compassion.
- Reach out to a friend or spouse for help. On this day I texted a good friend. I just needed to vent my feelings of being overwhelmed, of being tired of dealing with this, and even of being mad at my late-husband for dying and leaving me as the only one here. Telling someone how you feel can help you process and even calm down enough to handle the situation with grace. Or, in the case of a spouse, you may be able to take a break and let them take care of things. Find good people to be on your team.
- Be gentle with yourself. I need to remind myself of this one often. I want to get it right every time. I want to always be calm, always understand, and always be creative in helping him. I love him madly and know this isn’t his fault. But I’m human and my stress is just as real as his. So is yours. Be gentle with yourself when you don’t react perfectly. Apologize if you lose your temper or escalate things. Your children need to see your modeling apologizing and making amends just like anyone else.
God gave me a special needs child, not because I was perfect, but because I am the best mom for him. I trust that. I believe that about you too. You can do this. You won’t always get it right, but having a plan for how to react when you feel overwhelmed can give you a fighting chance to survive autism meltdowns with hope.
Next week I’ll talk about some strategies to helping your child de-escalate from a meltdown. Not all of them work with every child but many of them are solid things to try and see if they help your child.
Have you recently discovered something that helped you weather the storm of a meltdown? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We are all in this together and knowing that can give us hope.