In the no-parenting-book-gets-it world of autism, a lot of figuring out what works is just trial and error. I was reflecting tonight, after a few meltdowns, that it's actually getting better. A year ago, the kind of meltdowns Janey had tonight would have lasted much longer and been much more severe. A lot of that is just Janey getting older, but I think we have learned a little more about what works for her. I know what works for Janey might not work for any other kid with autism, but I thought it would be worth writing about anyway, just in case!
Idea Number 1----Quiet it all down. When Janey is melting down, crying, screaming, it creates chaos, both just from her meltdown but also, I've realized, some from our reaction. It's very hard to stay calm with her kind of meltdowns, which can lead to her hitting herself, biting herself, tossing things, screaming in an ear-piercing way---you probably know what it's like. So lately, our very first response is to eliminate all other noise that we can. If the TV is on, we turn it off. If music is playing, off also. We talk as little as we can and in as low voices as we can. I find sometimes actually having everyone but one adult leave helps, just because it keeps us from talking to each other (but the other adult stays close by, because you never know when she will need two of us to keep her safe). I also turn off lights. When everything else is calm, it seems to help Janey get control, or at least not be more irritated by the sounds around her.
Idea Number 2 ---- Soothing predictable actions. With Janey, what I often do is rub her back, or if she is too upset for that, even just tap next to her on the bed or couch, something rhythmic and even. Once she is quiet enough to make it worth the while, I sometimes sing a lullaby while rubbing her back or tapping, with the same verses being repeated over and over. I think it gives her something new to focus on that, something that can quiet whatever is inside her mind making her upset.
Idea Number 3 --- Sleep or eat. Usually, when Janey loses it, she's in one of two states without realizing it, either hungry or tired. She doesn't seem to know herself always when she's feeling either of those. If it's close to bedtime, I do what I can to get her to sleep. We are lucky in that she falls asleep pretty easily (staying asleep all night is more of the challenge, usually). If it not bedtime (Janey never naps), we get her eating. Although she asks for food all the time, when she's really upset, she doesn't seem to realize she's hungry. So we just get food into her any way we can. We offer her any of her favorites, we run to the little store nearby to get what she might want, we do whatever we can to feed her. That works very well, often.
These ideas don't always work. Sometimes, Janey is going to melt down and we aren't going to be able to do a thing about it. That is just about as hard to deal with as it always has been, or more hard, really, because Janey is bigger. But as the years go by, I think we are very slowly learning Janey, and maybe she is learning us, too.