My grandson has Asperger’s and though he has a pretty good handle on his emotions now at age 13, there was a time when he had meltdowns on a daily basis and sometimes they occurred several times each day.
Children who have Asperger’s often experience overwhelming emotions that they can’t control.
As a result, meltdowns are quite frequent in children with Asperger’s Syndrome… and they aren’t pretty! Aspie meltdowns appear to be “the mother of all temper tantrums.” They can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more.
The meltdowns can be triggered by a variety of different things, but emotional and sensory overload are the most common triggers.
Meltdown is not the same as a tantrum. Tantrums are caused by someone not getting their own way and then “acting out”, in order to try and get what they want. Meltdown is triggered by sensory overload: hypersensitivity to things such as noise, heat, etc. This leaves the person with A.S. feeling irritable, agitated, and stressed. Source
By the time the meltdown is over, both the Asperger child and the caregiver are totally drained of energy.
However, don’t get your hopes up. The meltdown can recur at the least provocation later on during that same day, or the next day, and possibly even in the next week or so.
Asperger’s meltdowns are the way that a child with Asperger’s Syndrome releases pent-up and overwhelming emotions and frustration.
In reality, anything can cause an Asperger’s meltdown. It can even be a very minor incident that triggers the release of pent-up emotions. You can only guess when meltdowns will occur, how long they will last, and how severe they will be.
My Experience With Asperger’s Meltdowns
In my grandson Brandon’s case, were able to teach him some behavior management skills to help him work through his meltdowns, but it took several years for him to learn how to put these skills to work.
The biggest meltdown Brandon ever had in my presence happened quickly. All of a sudden, he was crying and screaming because he had no green toys.
Since he had dozens of green toys, I tried to reason with him…to no avail. He continued in this manner, so I left him to his own devices thinking some quiet time would do the trick. I checked on him frequently but the meltdown continued for well over an hour. He laid on his bed, screaming, crying, and flailing his legs. Though I knew that being alone can sometimes give an Asperger’s child a chance to get himself under control, I felt helpless and guilty because I had no way to help him in his predicament.
I eventually realizes that Brandon’s meltdown really had nothing to do with green toys. At my wit’s end, I went into his room and in a very firm voice told him he had to tell me what was wrong. To my surprise, he told me he was being bullied at school. This was a breakthrough. It’s very difficult for those with Asperger’s Syndrome to communicate their feelings. Why? Because they have no idea how to tell you what’s wrong.
How To Help A Child Through An Aspie Meltdown
First and foremost, caregivers need to realize that a child with Asperger’s Syndrome will experience both major and minor meltdowns over incidents that are a part of daily life.
Always be patient when a child is experiencing a meltdown. Talk to him and create a code that tells him his behavior is acting inappropriate. It could be as simple as placing your hand on his shoulder, or even using a codeword. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t always realize appropriate behaviors.
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t like change. This alone can present a special challenge to caregivers and educational professionals. Asperger’s children flourish when they are on a rigid schedule and changes are explained to them in advance. This includes everything from rearranging the furniture to moving their school desk, because the slightest change can bring their world crashing down.
Asperger’s children don’t always respond well to affection and some dislike being hugged or touched. Others dislike certain textures in clothing and food. Brandon has experienced all of these things but we eventually realized his most extreme meltdowns were caused when he was too hot or his hair was too long. These things sent drove him over the edge.
Every child is different and Asperger’s children are no exception.If your child experiences Asperger’s meltdowns, watch carefully for triggers and do your best to avoid them. Most of all, listen carefully to what your child says and try to read between the lines. This may be the only indication they give to their sensory difficulties.
More About Asperger’s Meltdowns
- Parenting A Child With Asperger’s: 200 Tips & Strategies
- Dr. Tony Atwood Presents: Asperger’s Syndrome (DVD)
- Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s
- Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals
- The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome
- Can I Tell You About Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Friends and Family
- Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage & Meltdowns
Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt