All children have meltdowns.
It's a part of growing up; maturation of the central nervous system. As we get older, so we outgrow the typical meltdown.
Autistic kiddies, however, have the added bonus of sensory meltdowns.
What are these?
Well, allow me to give you a visual crash course first :
I do want to stipulate two elements in this video that I do not approve of :
1. The full body restraint
2. The asking him if he is sorry and to apologise
I will explain why, shortly.
Firstly, let me just explain what a Sensory Meltdown is.
I am having a chat with Gabriel. I am telling him what our plans are for the day. While doing this, my brain can ignore/filter out the TV playing in the background, the plane flying overhead, the flickering neon lights above me and the rumbling sound of the kettle.
Gabriel's brain cannot.
He takes in all of these sounds, smells, sights etc. all at once. This means his brain needs to process all of this information pretty much immediately. This, in turn, causes stress chemicals to build up in his system due to anxiety. As these chemicals continue to build up, an eruption is inevitable - his body needs to release this build-up in some way.
The result? A sensory meltdown.
Many autistic adults have described it as their body taking control of their minds. They are often fully aware of what is going on, but they cannot control what their body is doing. This can include self-injurious behaviour.
Gabriel will bang his head on the wall or floor, or hit himself on the head. He also tends to thrash out with his legs and lash out at the closest person in his reach.
It's not a pleasant experience for the recipient or viewer, but most of all, it is not a nice experience for Gabriel. Often, after a meltdown, he will utter the words "oh no," and be very teary. This is when we reassure him that we know he cannot help it. That is why I have an issue with point 2 of my Youtube video link. I don't believe it's fair to make the individual feel even more remorseful than they already do.
Sensory meltdowns can be triggered by a multitude of factors - hunger, tiredness, frustration, pain, sensory overload etc. And imagine being unable to verbally communicate the aforementioned as well?
Most of the time, Gabriel will make a certain frustrated verbal sound and then we know to spring into action.
What action you may ask?
To try and resolve the problem that is leading to the meltdown, which often involves redirecting him to another task. But mostly, to protect Gabriel from hurting himself or anybody else.
This takes me back to point number 1 of the Youtube video that I disagree with. Again, many autistic adults have stated that they absolutely hate being restrained. Protect the person from injury while they are in the process of a meltdown, but don't forcefully try and stop it. There is a need and reason that it happens.
A meltdown can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours. The latter is usually due to pain or illness. It can also happen very seldom or very often each day.
The interesting thing here is that Gabriel's mood is so much better after he has had a meltdown (and no longer teary). It's as if his central nervous system has flushed itself of the stress chemical build up and he is feeling relaxed again.
As a parent, I would have to say that meltdowns are the most challenging part of autism. They are physically and emotionally exhausting.
I can only imagine what Gabriel experiences and how hard it is for him!
The scientific and healing community is still looking into methods to help assist in reducing meltdowns (some horrific and some very helpful).
Until then, we will continue to hope, be patient and make our little angel feel safe and loved.
After all, he is our champion :).