“The Melt-down on Steroids!”
This particular moment in time has been set in my heart as my turning point. He was 2 years old and we were in the middle of a power struggle. The meltdown that ensued was monumental and indicative of things to come. He was screaming at and hitting me and I decided it was time for punishment. I tried the typical time out on a chair, stern talking about behavior, I’m sure I even tried spanking at some point but it continued to escalate and quickly. I took him to our small bathroom and shut the door. He broke!! Screaming, he ripped the wall paper off the wall, tried to yank the toilet paper holder out, slammed the toilet lid down over & over. His original reason for punishment was quickly forgotten…..this was a 2 yr old melt down on steroids.
My original priority was swept away by the now urgent need to calm him down! I took him to his room hoping that the comfortable familiarity would redirect his attention away from his frustration. Little did I know, this melt down was too far into the cycle and it would take hours to come down from the adrenaline rush he was experiencing at that moment. His rant continued as he ripped the curtains off the windows, took his mattress and threw it in his closet, sheets & clothes went everywhere. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy completely engulfed me!! This was bigger than me and I had no idea what to do.
I finally went into his room, set him on my lap and held my little boy tight as the tears streamed down my cheeks. His eyes were crazed and he screamed and wriggled and tried to get away, but I held firm. I desperately wanted him to feel my love for him through the craze!! The tighter I held on, the more he seemed to calm down. After this incident I talked to Dr’s, friends, anyone who would listen and was assured that this was the terrible 2’s. It would take me three more years to get his diagnosis of autism.
When approaching discipline with an autistic child, your approach has to be from a different mindset. This is what I have learned for the younger years…. (teen years is a different ball game) At least, this has been my experience…..
- They couldn’t care less about social graces and societal expectations. They are motivated by logic pure and simple. It is imperative to take the time to answer the why, and not with “because I said so.”
- Unexpected events are the bane of their existence. I have learned to say what I mean with more exactness. Going to the store after school means “right” after.
- Picture schedules and routines go a long way in helping younger kids know what is expected and what to expect. I have definitely had to learn to compromise on this one.
- Punishment is not part of the equation- it doesn’t get results. What does work? Calm down or thinking time. Send them into their room with toys. I would give my son a stack of books (he liked to read) for calm down time and tell him when he had looked through each book, he can come out of his room. It worked!
- They live in a fight or flight world. That switch is always on, so maintaining an emotional balance is a priority. Know exactly what your “most important’s” are and pick your battles. Write them down so that in the heat of the moment you can reset your expectations if necessary.
- The melt down is a cycle and once it has begun, it is almost impossible to stop it. It’s like a movie reel that has to play to the end. Prevention is the focus. You have to learn the triggers and be willing to acknowledge their inability to cope. It is their disability just as much as blind man being unable to see.
- Compromise is not really a word that they understand. I can compromise or I can help them see a new way, but they struggle to let go if they don’t understand why.
I had to throw away all of the things I was taught about parenting. It’s not about obedience and respect as much as it is learning to work together under their terms. It is important to know that an autistic child is ALWAYS working to keep control and stay calm. They will need more leeway on things of little consequence, especially while they are young. The good news is that continued efforts do yield results. They can learn coping skills and behavior management but it is a slow and steady process, not a sprint to the finish.