When Devin first came to live with us, it seemed like he was constantly having meltdowns over one thing or another! Before we started to suspect that he had autism, we were clueless and chalked it up to bad behavior. We tried time outs, sitting on his bed facing the wall, reasoning with him — nothing seemed to work!
What Devin’s Meltdowns Were Like
Even at the age of 4, Devin’s meltdowns were like a scene out of a bad movie! He would throw himself on the ground screaming at the top of his lungs when we told him it was time to head home from playing at the park. We were in a local store one day and I told him he could not get something that he had asked for; my daughter, who had gone to a different part of the store, came running when she heard him screaming because she knew what it meant! And if you tried to pick him up to get him away from wherever you were, he would kick and hit and try to bite you! He might have only weighed 35 pounds, but when he got mad you would have thought that he was 10 or 12 years old!
I Became Devin’s “Safe Zone”
By the summer that Devin was 6, it became apparent that I seemed to be his “safety zone.” No matter who he was upset with, if he could find me he would come running up to me and attack me!
Fourth of July Incident
We went to a friend’s farm for the Fourth of July and had taken a few fireworks out there with us. My daughter helped Devin use the items that we had brought for him and everything seemed to be going well. Just before it turned dusk, my friend Judy came up to me and said that Devin was a little bit upset with her because she had caught him trying to throw a lit sparkler to the roof of the house and she had stopped him. She said she did not yell at him — just explained to him why he could not do that and took the remaining sparklers away from him (we found out later that someone else had given him some of their sparklers). She said he looked at her and said, “I hate you!” and then walked away. As she finished telling me this, Devin came running around the house to where I was, threw himself at me and started hitting and kicking at me. When we finally got him calmed down, I asked him why he was mad at me. He pointed at me and said, “Not you — I mad at her” and pointed at Judy!
At Devin’s next psychiatric appointment, I told him about the Fourth of July incident. He was quiet for a moment and then explained that often individuals like Devin would single out one person to vent their frustrations on because they knew that this person would still love and care about them no matter what. Evidently I was that person for Devin! He could hold it together in school or wherever he happened to be if I was not around but as soon as he saw me, I would definitely know if something had upset him!
Working with Behavioral Therapy
We started working with Kristy, Devin’s behavioral therapist, to find ways to calm him down once he became upset. We also started reviewing what had happened prior to meltdowns to try to determine some common triggers that we could try to avoid.
For example, to avoid meltdowns when it was time to leave an activity that Devin enjoyed such as playing at the park, we would announce to Devin when it was 10 minutes before we had to leave so that he had some warning. We would then remind him again 5 minutes later so that it was not a complete surprise to him. The warnings did not always prevent the meltdowns, but they did help in many instances.
Kristy also started taking him into the community herself and coming up with situations that would upset him — staging to have a friend meet her so that they could “visit”, teaching Devin that sometimes he had to wait for people to finish what they were doing.
We also made a point to try to avoid shopping outings when the stores would be busy, or at least try to have someone to stay at home with Devin when we could not avoid the busy times. We also started letting Devin take one electronic item with him if we knew we were going somewhere that might cause boredom or restlessness (teaching him, of course, to have the volume turned off or very low).
After a Meltdown
When meltdowns did occur, we would offer a quiet activity to help calm him down. Sometimes just sitting on the front steps and watching traffic go by would pacify him. Other times it was sitting in the rocking chair with one of us. Rubbing his back in a circular motion also seemed to help at times. We did not stop the meltdowns completely, but learning how to deal with them and how to sometimes prevent them definitely made life a bit easier!
If you would like to comment, tell about how you have dealt with meltdowns, ask a question or suggest a topic for me to blog about, please feel free to comment below! I appreciate all feedback!