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My Son's Meltdowns Have a Reason


My 8-year-old with autism is able to keep it together at school. He rarely has a meltdown. However, at home it is a different story.

It is always in the back of my mind to try to prevent him from being overwhelmed. This includes making schedules and sticking to them. If I say we are leaving somewhere at 1:05, then it better not be a minute later. Also, we try to avoid overly crowded or noisy places. Although it takes a lot of patience, preventing the meltdown is better then trying to stop it once it is happening.

Recently we were at a playground waiting for a friend, but the play date was cancelled and he got upset over the change of plans. He started crying in the middle of the playground without caring what anyone else thought of him. This went on for a while.

He was disappointed, and he talked about it for the rest of the evening.

At the time he was crying I thought, “Please don’t do this to me. I am exhausted from work, it’s almost a holiday, the play date was rescheduled.”  Somehow, his being upset felt personal, like a misbehavior, although I know it wasn’t. I stayed calm throughout the meltdown; a skill I can at times demonstrate and at other times not so much.

Instead of getting mad, I hugged my son and told him I knew it was disappointing — he was looking forward to his classmate coming over. I thought about the times when my own plans have changed and how frustrating that can be. I thought of how all children have such little control over the events of their lives. Basically, I tried empathy rather than trying to stop the whirlwind of tears.

Emotions come and go for all people. When I looked at this behavior for a child who has big and overwhelming feelings, I softened a little.

The crying passed, as it always does. Sure, I was still frazzled with trying to control it. However, I didn’t feel the meltdown was directed at me. He was not being manipulative to get what he wants. He was simply experiencing feelings that were too big for him to handle.

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Getty image by BrianAJackson