4 Things Not to Do (and What to Try Instead) When You See a Child Having a Meltdown

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For many parents of children with special needs, public meltdowns are a fact of life. To better understand what does and doesn’t help parents when their children have public meltdowns, we reached out to our Mighty parents via Facebook.

Here’s what we learned:

1. This one may seem obvious, but don’t stand and stare.

When you notice a commotion at the grocery store or park, it can be difficult not to stare at first — especially if you aren’t used to being around children. But to parents who are busy caring for a distressed child, staring strangers only make a bad situation worse.

“I wish people wouldn’t act like they’ve never seen or heard a child cry until they laid eyes on my child,” Anna Perng wrote on Facebook. 

Instead — If you feel unsure of what to do, just keep walking.

This may seem counterintuitive, but many parents say that other than offering a quick smile or word of encouragement, the best thing you can do is ignore what’s happening. “Just keep it moving and let me do what I need to to keep my son calm,” Mandy Mandy said on Facebook.

Deborah Kline, whose child has autism, said she’d prefer the situation not attract any more attention than it already has. “Just keep doing what [you] were doing, as if it’s not happening,” she wrote on Facebook.

2. Don’t offer unsolicited advice or comments.

“Comments like ‘Ahh, she’s not happy!’ or ‘You need to put a leash on that one!’ are frustrating,” Melissa Cote, whose daughter has autism, said on Facebook. “Like we don’t already feel bad enough that our child is having a hard time. Now we have to wonder what others are thinking, too.”

Heather Rhone agreed. “Unless you’re going to give me a sympathetic smile as you walk by without saying or doing anything, I really don’t want you to do it,” she wrote on Facebook. “Once my child hits a certain point, there’s no amount of talking, admonishing or reasoning that’ll help. She’s got to work it out herself. ‘Helpful’ strangers are about the least helpful thing during a meltdown.”

Instead — be supportive and smile.

It’s simple, but sometimes the best thing you can do for someone in a difficult situation is smile and say something encouraging.

“Probably the best thing you can do is offer a sympathetic smile,” Elizabeth Pasten wrote on Facebook. “The most memorable people have said things like, ‘You’re doing a great job’ or commented on my patience and the techniques I use to calm down my son, like the deep pressure massage or tight hugs.”

I had a gentleman smile and say, ‘You’re doing a great job, Mom,'” Roberta Johnson said on Facebook. “I almost cried, it meant so much!”

3. Don’t try to help without asking first.

When you see a parent and his or her child in distress, it can be instinctual to immediately do what you can to try and help. But when we posed this question to our Facebook friends, several parents said they would prefer if people didn’t try to intervene without asking first.

“I never notice what others are doing or not doing because I am so focused on him,” Jennifer Brooks, whose son has autism, wrote on Facebook. “But one time, someone did intervene and while it distracted [my son], it also didn’t exactly help. I would have preferred they hadn’t done anything.”

Instead — ask first if the parent needs any help. 

Many parents don’t appreciate unsolicited help, but offering it can go a long way. Even if there isn’t anything you can do, your care and concern are what matter most. And sometimes, there’s something simple you can do to help — like assisting a frazzled mom with her grocery bags or watching one kid while the parent tends to another.

“I know I’m hyper-focused on my kid in that moment, but if my hands are full of bags or my purse is on the ground, I would love for someone to help me with my stuff, not my child,” Meghan Hanley wrote on Facebook.

In her post “When My Son Had a Public Meltdown, Everyone Stared and Judged. One Woman Didn’t,” Tanya Brodd wrote about taking her infant and 2-year-old with autism to the mall. Her older son Andrew had a major meltdown early in the trip, but Brodd was unable to console him while also holding her baby. Then a woman approached her and asked if she could take the baby for a moment while Brodd tended to her other son.

“I truly don’t know what I would have done without the help of this sweet woman,” Brodd wrote. “While others were judging me, she helped, and her compassion brings tears to my eyes to this day.”

4. Don’t assume the child is just being disobedient or refer to him or her as a bad example for your own children.

“It’s nice to hear [another parent] telling their own kids that mine is just having a hard time right now instead of being naughty,” Beth Klingbiel wrote on Facebook.

Jennifer Lovy, whose son has autism, agreed. “It drives me crazy when parents use Evan’s meltdown as an opportunity to show their child how not to behave or to reinforce their child’s exemplary behavior,” she wrote in her piece, “What to Do (and Not Do) When Your Child Sees Mine Having a Meltdown.” “I can guarantee my son isn’t upset because I won’t let him have a cookie or because it’s time to leave the playground. More likely, he’s bothered by a sight, sound or smell that you or I barely notice but to him is an all-out assault on his nervous system.”

Instead — if you’re with children of your own, talk with them about why the other child might be having a hard time.

Some parents, like Lovy, say they would prefer if parents explained what was going on to their kids rather than shushing them or avoiding acknowledging the situation. “The next time you see a child with ‘bad’ behavior or physical differences, it’s OK to use him or her as a teaching tool. Just do it the right way,” she wrote. “By avoiding their questions you’re actually showing them there’s something wrong. Instead, use this as an opportunity to educate your children; often, a simple explanation will suffice.”

Editor’s note: Some responses have been edited and shortened.

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How Companies Are Finally Recognizing the Value in Employees With Developmental Disabilities

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Something curious is happening in corporate America. Business leaders are discovering a whole new source of talent they never realized existed: people with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Of course, this population has been there all along. But now that their bottom-line value is beginning to be understood, best-of-breed companies are competing to capitalize on the myriad opportunities presented by hiring people who, until now, have been roundly ignored.

For people with developmental disabilities, unemployment is still the frustrating, overwhelming norm. But the compelling advantage for everyone involved in disability inclusion is why the United Nations General Assembly chose employment as the theme of the 2015 World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, when it launched an employment “Call to Action” inviting businesses to commit to employ people on the autism spectrum.

Decades ago, protection was the paramount concern for people with developmental disabilities. Employment, when it happened at all, typically centered around sheltered workspaces, where community interaction was minimal at best.

But across the country, the evidence is becoming inarguable: getting the best out of these individuals stems from an inclusive, not exclusive, environment. And inclusion doesn’t just serve people with disabilities; it has profound benefits for companies as well.

“More and more companies out there are realizing there’s an untapped pool of talent that makes for very good workers,” Peter Bell, President and CEO of Eden Autism Services, told me. “Employers are becoming interested in hiring these people not because it’s charity, but because it’s the right business decision.”

The United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN) grew from this intersection between capitalism and disability, with a focus on helping businesses increase performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace. The organization’s driving ethos is that business responds to its peers; if a company’s competitors are showing positive returns to their shareholders, that company will want to follow suit.

“Everyone is striving to build an inclusive culture,” Jill Houghton, Executive Director of USBLN, said. “As companies are on that journey, we see how it drives innovation, morale, better customer service, better problem solving — everything increases for the better as a result of inclusion.”

#1Michelle InsideView

The nonprofit sector and progressive thinkers within companies are developing exciting new ways to advance the growing interest in employees with disabilities. “There are these mountains of innovation that are happening,” Williams noted. Many of these leaders “have their hand on a different part of the elephant. It’s stunning.”

What kinds of mountains and elephants are we talking about?

The Arc of Jefferson County in Alabama serves many people who have been institutionalized for behavioral issues and can’t pass background checks in the interview process. So the nonprofit began building its own separate businesses (yes, you read that right), ranging from a bakery to a shredding company, all for the intent of training and employing its own people. President and CEO Chris Stewart calls their wildly entrepreneurial approach “a belief in the dignity of risk.”

The Arc of Indiana in Indianapolis has taken this approach one step further by committing to build a Courtyard by Marriott hotel which will house a training institute to provide a postsecondary opportunity in hospitality, food services and healthcare.

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Ryan works at Carson Manufacturing, an Indianapolis-based company that makes emergency sirens. His supervisor says he is very independent, professional and competent.

The Arc San Francisco capitalizes on the city’s tech sector and progressive spirit to help train and employ more than 700 current participants. Through customized approaches to community-based employment for competitive wages, The Arc SF is working with corporate giants such as Salesforce and Twitter to integrate people with autism and developmental disabilities into their companies.

As word of the success of these programs spreads, the competitive nature of companies takes root and spurs other businesses to figure out how they can get into the game and connect with people with developmental disabilities. “The idea of diversity is being redefined,” Meredith Manning, Director of Communications for The Arc SF, said. “This is really working.”

Houghton is the first person to tell you that the growing corporate interest in disability inclusion doesn’t mean that businesses are lowering their expectations. Quite the opposite. “Sometimes we underestimate people’s abilities,” she said. “Sometimes in the name of helping people, we hold them back. But businesses, they’re just looking for good employees. I see powerful success stories every day. And I believe that business can help motivate the change for people with disabilities.”

In his address about 2015 World Autism Awareness Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged public offices, corporations and small businesses to create life-changing opportunities for people with autism and help them successfully integrate into workforces around the world.

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Eden Autism Services adult participants on the job at Wawa take a break from stocking shelves to meet with Eden’s President & CEO, Peter Bell. Wawa, a big supporter of Eden’s employment program, has been employing participants with autism from the organization for over 35 years.

Ann Cameron Williams, CEO of nonprofit consulting firm ao Strategies, agrees with this directive. “I would challenge every company out there to take on a person with developmental disabilities as a part of their staff,” she said. “Not just working on the periphery but being fully integrated into their organizations. It’s amazing what people can do if given the chance.”

Williams also encourages parents to talk to their children from a young age about college and careers, which is easier to do if diversity is visible within the community. “If more kids with developmental disabilities grow up taking it for granted that they will get jobs, just like everyone else, they will have more power to self-direct their paths,” she said.

“People with autism — or any developmental disability — want more, and they can do more,” Dr. Glenn Motola, CEO of The Arc San Francisco, said. “We need to stop poor-streaming people into jobs that are great for starting out but shouldn’t be the job you have to keep for the rest of your life. Let’s raise the bar on expectations, support people with real-world, adult learning and advancement opportunities and create the inclusive future we know is possible.”

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Pursuing her dream to be a journalist, Michelle hosts her own podcast, A View From My Window, at The Arc of Indiana. Her goal is to interview Anderson Cooper.

So today, look around at your place of work. And if there aren’t any employees with developmental disabilities on your team, ask yourself why not. For everyone who interacts with your business, the inclusion of people with autism and developmental disabilities would, by all accounts, be transformative.

Clarification: This article’s previous headline read, “How Companies Are Finally Recognizing the Value in Employees With Intellectual Disabilities.” Per the writer’s request, “intellectual” has been changed to “developmental.”

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What Autism Is at Our House

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Sometimes this autism thing puts families and therapists in a little group, or club, and only we know the ins and outs, the rules… I post on Facebook and I blog about our lives, our trials, misfortunes, our joys and our triumphs. All in hopes that someone will be reading and will connect with us.

I want the people who don’t know as much about autism to feel a little closer to us, to not feel so out of our loop. I want people to understand our struggles and to share in our victories, small and gigantic. It makes my heart happy when someone comes up to me and says, “I read your post. It really helped me understand…”

Autism and my daughter, Emma’s, lifelong delays have varied throughout the years. We were told so many conflicting things when she was an infant and toddler. I stopped listening to “experts” and dove head first into books and the Internet. I learned how to make social stories, flash cards, replace chewing kitty litter with an apple instead, and on and on… until I found a knowledgeable occupational therapist and then a speech language pathologist that helped us on our journey. Then there were more therapists and pathologists and teachers and counselors. Many of these people are more than just professionals to me — they have become like family.

I am definitely one of those moms (and dads) who cringe when we hear someone say, “God chose you because you are special/strong/blessed, etc.” I want to scream when I hear that. I’ll keep religion out of it. But really, no. I just happen to be someone who loves my children a lot and would never hurt them. I’m pretty average, but I go above and beyond when necessary to do for my kids what needs to be done. It’s about that simple.

At our house, in our little world, autism isn’t puzzles pieces and primary colors, nor is it Autism Walks or t-shirts. I have a car magnet — that’s about as loud as we get. We have formed a pretty tight community with friends and school employees, and I think we all do a wonderful job of advocating for Emma and teaching her how to advocate for herself.

Autism is laughter. Tears. Screaming. Jumping for joy. Dancing. Singing. Kicking all the stuffed animals off the bed. Lying on the floor, refusing to move. Learning to tell jokes. Deciding that she can wash her hair all by herself. Three days in a row of being kissed, for the first time in years. Telling her I love her and getting no response. Taking deep breaths. Listening to her tell me the same things she told me yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Teaching her how to apply eye shadow the right way. Watching movies together (and her asking me questions throughout the whole movie). Autism is praising her little brother for being patient with her, when he would rather yell at her.

Autism is a lot of explaining. Repetition. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy. Love.

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A version of this post originally appeared on Do It Yourself Kinda Girl.

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For Anyone Affected by Infertility, This Is Dedicated to You

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Many people know little about the emotional, spiritual, ethical, medical and financial difficulties of infertility. I learned the hard way through my own personal experience. Fertility is not something we’re comfortable discussing. When we or someone we know is suffering, we tend to keep silent. Silence creates barriers for authentic communication about what we’re experiencing and can cause feelings of isolation. We need to learn how to talk about infertility. Doing this well requires tenderness from families, friends, doctors and communities.

Being tender means being educated about how to respond. Sometimes when people share their experience, the response is either hurtful or unhelpful. Learn how to be sensitive so you can ease someone’s burden instead of making it harder. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association has some excellent resources for family and friends, including a section on infertility etiquette.

Being tender means being empathetic about individual experiences, listening and respecting our decisions. Each person is unique. For some, the risks of certain options are too high. Others will analyze their risks differently. Some families are comfortable with treatments, adoption or other options that are not acceptable to others. Some of us who could possibly conceive will decide not to because the options offered are unacceptable to us for whatever reason. The emotional, physical, spiritual and or financial burden we would have to endure may be too great. This is still a form of infertility.

Trust us to make the decision best for us. Be supportive of our desires even if you don’t agree. Getting educated and then making these life-altering decisions doesn’t make our situation any easier. No matter the outcome, we need your tenderness as we navigate this challenging emotional path. Your tenderness is a gift which could give someone the bravery to speak about their experience. This is helpful for them and for the community because infertility is something we need to talk about.

I wrote the following poem about my emotions regarding not having biological children. It’s my way of speaking up. It’s dedicated to all those who are affected by infertility.

Through all the tears that I have shed
And all the dreams I’ve made
I can hear your little voice in songs
Sweet child I did not have
You would’ve had your father’s eyes
And probably his smile
Perhaps I would have named you Nora
Or you might have been Eli

I will not see you learn to walk
There will be no wedding cake
You will not waltz in daddy’s arms
Or keep us up at night
They’ll be no picnics on the lawn
No fairytales to weave
You will not read my childhood books
Or play with my old toys

Not only all romantic things 
Of childhood treasured dreams
I also grieve to miss your tears
Your little hand in mine
As I’d comfort all your pain
Or tend your fevered frame
No one will ever break your heart
As you would have broken mine

Someday, I will stop saying “if” and “yet” 
And start to say “don’t” and “won’t”
And if someday you might find
Another gateway to this earth
Through someone else’s womb
And someone else’s arms 
Love from me who gave you birth
Though only birth in dreams 

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13 Years Ago, He Tried to Kill Himself. Now, He’s Reunited With the Stranger Who Saved Him.

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When he was 15, Mark Henick stood on the ledge of a bridge in Nova Scotia, Canada, and intended to take his own life, according to CTV News. Then, a stranger stepped forward and grabbed Henick just as he let go of the railing. The stranger spoke to him, calmed him and eventually led him off the ledge.

Thirteen years later, Henick, who is now a mental health advocate, set out to find the man from the bridge. Thanks to Twitter and Canadian TV station CTV Canada AM, Henick was reunited with the man who saved his life.

I didn’t even know if Mike was real for most of this time,” Henick told the outlet. “I didn’t know if he was something I’d just made up in my mind. To see him and to finally have my arms around him again, it was something else.”

Get the full story, and see their touching reunion, in the video below:

 

 

h/t Reddit Uplifting

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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What to Do (and Not Do) When Your Child Sees Mine Having a Meltdown

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We special needs parents are used to our children being used by other parents as examples and teachable moments. It happens frequently, and I’d like you to stop.

“I’m so glad you know how to behave in public,” you whisper to your child. Only it’s not always a whisper. I hear you loud and clear. Even if I don’t hear your words, your disapproving glances convey your message.

Every time I’m out in public, I’m on high alert for you, and I carefully consider what I’ll say when you try to use my son’s seemingly bad behavior to teach your child about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Sometimes I’m able to explain to you that things aren’t always what they seem. But most the time I forget my script because I’m too embarrassed to talk to you.

Evan, my 9-year-old son, has autism. He doesn’t look any different than his typical developing peers — until he has a meltdown. Then he looks more like an out-of-control toddler than a third-grade school boy.

It drives me crazy when parents use Evan’s meltdown as an opportunity to show their child how not to behave or to reinforce their child’s exemplary behavior. While your intentions may be good, there’s a better, non-judgmental way to teach.

Instead of comparing behavior, ask your children why they think the other child is acting that way. Most likely, your child will say that the kid is being bad. An open-minded parental response is to point out that maybe the tantruming child just got hurt, is scared because he thought he lost his mom or any number of alternative explanations. While this may or may not be the reason for the child’s meltdown, at least you’re teaching your own children that they shouldn’t be so quick to judge because things are not always as they seem.

I can guarantee my son isn’t upset because I won’t let him have a cookie or because it’s time to leave the playground. More likely, he’s bothered by a sight, sound or smell that you or I barely notice but to him is an all-out assault on his nervous system.

Almost anything can set off a child with autism, from the sound of a fly buzzing to the smell of a banana. Some kids are bothered by the slightest change in routine. I know a girl who insists on always using a particular door to enter her school. If that door happens to be locked, she screams, cries and refuses to go through another door. Without knowing the whole story, a passerby can come to any number of incorrect conclusions.

My other favorite situation is when children are told, “It’s not polite to stare,” and their questions about another person’s looks or behaviors are sidestepped or redirected. I see this or hear about it mostly from friends whose kids have noticeable physical differences such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.

Your kids are curious, and that’s a good thing. They aren’t judging. They don’t mean any harm. They’re questioning something new. By avoiding their questions you’re actually showing them there’s something wrong. Instead, use this as an opportunity to educate your children; often, a simple explanation will suffice.

When my kids were younger and a friend would ask about their brother’s unusual behaviors, their response was simple but telling. “His brain works different,” they’d say.

Please don’t feel bad if you can’t answer your children’s questions. We don’t expect you to have all the answers. How are you supposed to know exactly what cerebral palsy, autism or Down syndrome are?

While I obviously can’t speak for everyone, I think most parents don’t mind answering questions about their child’s differences — especially if those questions are from another child. We know you may not be equipped to answer them, and we’d rather see you ask. Then, when your children meet someone with a disability or someone who looks different, they’re less likely to be afraid.

So next time your children want to know why someone is in a wheelchair or why he talks a certain way, why not take them over and begin a dialogue? You could start by saying, “Hi, my name is Jen and this is my daughter Jessica, and she just asked me about your son’s wheelchair (or she was wondering about his hand flapping).” By doing so, you’re not asking a direct question but instead starting a conversation and allowing the parent to respond in a way most comfortable for them. If you don’t want to approach them, you could say, “He was born that way, just like James was born with autism or Nathan was born with allergies.” Then you could add something your children can relate to such as “I wonder if he likes to play with Legos too.”

So please, next time you see a child with “bad” behavior or physical differences, it’s OK to use him or her as a teaching tool. Just do it the right way.

This post originally appeared on Special Ev.

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