During a Meltdown

A meltdown is scary and lonely. A change in routine can be enough to tip the scales in sensory input and cause what is titled a “meltdown” where a person with autism or asperger syndrome temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors. They aren’t usually caused by one specific thing.

Triggers build up until the person becomes so overwhelmed that they can’t take in any more information. In previous blogs, we have addressed the complex topic of meltdowns. While the main message is to have a plan to PREVENT a meltdown, we must also be prepared if a meltdown does occur.

Portrait of unhappy screaming teen girl

I will start by outlining what NOT to do. I think this is best said coming from someone that has lived through a meltdown with neurological implications.  The following is an excerpt from a message from Mr. John Scott.

Meltdowns: What Not to Do

My meltdowns can be very frightening and confusing for those around me. I work very hard to appear as capable and composed as possible throughout each day, so when I finally lose it, people are shocked to see me act so “autistic.” I cry, scream, break things, flap my hands, and pound my fists against my head. I haven’t found the perfect remedy for my meltdowns, but I do know what makes them far worse… 

If I am having a meltdown… 
– DO NOT become angry with me or raise your voice. 

Autistic meltdowns may be frightening to observers, but at their most intense, they are nothing less than pure psychological torture for the person experiencing them. I feel as if I am caught in a war zone, terrified for my very life. My senses are on fire and I have very little control over myself. I may feel threatened by intense emotional displays. This is very dangerous. 

– DO NOT attempt to restrain me. 
I understand that my tantrums are scary, as I’m well over six feet tall, but you must remember that I am far more frightened than you are. I would never intentionally hurt anyone, but if you approach me in a hostile manner, or attempt to use any force without my permission, I may lose the last bit of self-control I have. 

– DO NOT ask me what is wrong. 
Trust me, when I’m banging my head into the wall I do not want to discuss my emotional triggers. 

– Most importantly, DO NOT tell me to “snap out of it.” 
Trust me, I would if I could. Don’t patronize or belittle me by acting as if I could control myself if I only tried harder. This is a good way to make the situation ten times worse.
You may know me from my column here on WrongPlanet. I’m also writing a book for AAPC. Visit my Facebook page for links to articles I’ve written for Autism Speaks and other websites.

CLICK HERE  for the entire posting.

I would like to add one more . . . this is not the time to say “Use your words.”  As the brain escalates in a meltdown, the ability to be rational and articulate diminishes.

So now for what TO DO?

  • During a meltdown a child most needs the opportunity to relax. Therefore, you should respond patiently and compassionately as you support this process. Offer choices of relaxing activities, perhaps through the use of a choice board. If the person is not able to make a choice, then simply present a pre-determined calming activity. Often, this might be an activity that incorporates a strong interest [e.g. video of SpongeBob or favorite song/music].
  • In some cases, it might be best to offer a way out of the situation through escaping the current stimulation of the environment. Again, a pre-determined location might be another room or other safe place [e.g. chill zone, motor lab, etc.].  However, it might be difficult for the individual to transition to another location if the meltdown is at its peak.
  • If there are others in close proximity, then it should be part of the plan to move them to a safe place.
  • Most importantly, do everything possible to keep the individual safe from him or herself. If they engage in head banging, protect their head by placing a pillow or bean bag between them and the floor or wall.

As you can see, there is little to really do during a meltdown. Again, all efforts should be made to PREVENT a meltdown.

by Lisa Rogers

A Technique to Counteract School Work Avoidance for Students with ASD: Academic Bingo Card

Work avoidance seems to be an ongoing issue across different settings and grade levels. In a previous blog, we discussed the use of a checklist with a strategic “sandwiching” of a less preferred activity in between two highly preferred activities. This strategy is often very effective in building success on academic activities that the student would prefer to avoid. However, not one thing works for every student, as you have probably discovered for yourself.

So this week, we will explore a similar strategy that is in a different format: a BINGO card!

Academic Bingo Card

This strategy was created in a staff meeting with a general education teacher and campus administrators trying to help a student complete work well within his grasp. By analyzing the data and student strengths, it was determined that he was capable of completing the work. In spite of the cognitive strengths, the student would cover his head up and not complete the academic tasks. So, with no work completed, the team was ready to try almost anything to get something.

The student liked dinosaurs and everything having to do with them. The student also liked games and so the team decided to create a 3 X 3 BINGO card decorated with dinosaurs as a starting point.

Then, the specific activities selected to go in each grid were selected based on student interest.

Resources for Parents About Bullying and Autism in School

Bullying and Autism is an issue that comes up often for parents of children on the spectrum throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remain highly vulnerable to bullying behavior. Parents, teachers, other students, and the community must be sensitive to the particular needs of these students and vigilant in bullying prevention and intervention.

This week’s blog will point families in the direction of multiple resources available.

This first resource is quite extensive and provides a comprehensive view of bullying:

“Eyes on Bullying . . . What Can You Do? A toolkit to prevent bullying in children’s lives” 

www.eyesonbullying.org

The following are excerpts from this useful manual:

Bullying Basics

We now know that:

  • Bullying is NOT pre-wired, harmless, or inevitable
  • Bullying IS learned, harmful, and controllable
  • Bullying SPREADS if supported or left unchecked
  • Bullying INVOLVES everyone—bullies, victims, and bystanders
  • Bullying CAN BE effectively stopped or entirely prevented

Beginning in the preschool years, adults can teach children important bullying prevention skills and guide children as they practice using these skills. Social skills that form an important foundation for bullying prevention include:

  • Showing empathy toward others
  • Interacting assertively
  • Solving social problems

Bystanders also have the power to play a key role in preventing or stopping bullying.

Some bystanders… directly intervene, by discouraging the bully, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying.

Other bystanders… get help, by rallying support from peers to stand up against bullying or by reporting the bullying to adults. Look Around…Who Is Involved?

Bystanders’ actions make a critical difference. Children and adults should think ahead about what they will do when they witness or hear about bullying.

There is also an Information Sheet on Bully Prevention at the following website:

Three Steps to Recovery After a Meltdown

Recovery may involve time to do nothing at all. For some students the recovery phase involves a process that takes him or her from a semi-agitated state to a fully calm state.

child in class

Consider the following steps:

  1. Allow the student to engage in the highly preferred/calming activity without setting the timer until he/she appears to have recovered as fully as possible.
  2. Once he/she is calm, then set the timer for 5-6 minutes. If he/she remains calm and is able to transition to the next activity, then do so and watch for early signs of repeated escalation.
  3. If he/she requests more time [by giving the timer to the adult], then honor the request and set the timer for 3 or 4 more minutes. Continue until he/she no longer requests more time or staff feel she is ready for a positive transition to the next activity.

Once the person is fully recovered, then it might be possible to debrief and make a plan to prevent future escalation. Pictures and words can help to paint a clear picture and develop a workable plan.   

By Lisa Rogers

Encouraging Emotional Self-Regulation for Aspergers Youth in the Classroom: Implementing the Feelings Chart

 Now that you have created a very personalized feelings chart for a person with Asperger’s, it is time to implement the strategy so that it is effective in both preventing the escalation of problem behaviors, and deescalating a situation once it has occurred.
Feelings Chart

A key feature to this, and almost any other strategy, is to teach and review it when the individual is calm and there is no problem at the moment.  These conditions help to ensure that the brain is at its best, most rational thinking, and that the strategy is not associated with a negative or difficult situation.

The start of the day is usually a good time to use the feelings chart as the person checks in to the school routine.

Unless there has been a morning problem at home or on the bus, this is usually a time where there is a clean slate from which to build. Depending on the grade level, the feelings chart may be posted as a large visual guide of feelings, or as a personal tool in a notebook, or both. The calming activities may be reviewed along with some role-playing.

By using the feelings chart first thing in the morning, the teacher can assess where the students are in their feelings and respond accordingly.

Responses may include celebrating and reinforcing positive feelings, and offering support to those who indicate a problem is developing. If there is a problem, then help the student refer to the predetermined calming activities and identify which holds the most promise for resolving the situation.

Throughout the day look for opportunities to use the feelings chart to check-in, and prevent possible difficulties.

My experience has been that on a scale of 1-5 [with 1 being very calm and happy], once a student has escalated to a 4 or a 5, it becomes much more difficult to de-escalate.  Therefore, it is critical to intervene when students are at a 3 in order to increase the likelihood that they will be able to calm down.

The feelings chart may also be used to debrief the day at the end of school. The chart may facilitate a conversation about what worked, what didn’t, and how to make a better plan for the next day. And remember to refer to the feelings chart when the student is calm and happy. The more we celebrate those moments, the more we focus on good times and positive energy.

by Lisa Rogers

Using a Checklist & Self Evaluation to Avoid Behavioral Difficulties

Combo Strategies for Academic Tasks

Since the inception of this blog, we have explored a variety of specific strategies. I encourage all educators and parents to be creative, and mix and match to best meet the individual needs of your child and/or student. In a previous blog, we learned that mini-maps can help to prevent behavioral difficulties related to academic tasks.

Boy doing homework

Often, teachers note that a common antecedent or trigger to behavioral difficulties is the presentation of academic tasks.

The behaviors can range from a verbal protest to a meltdown when students feel overwhelmed by school work. The first question to ask, of course, is what is there about the work that makes the student feel so overwhelmed? Does the page look too busy? Is too much handwriting involved? Are there too many problems? Is it too difficult or too easy?

Understanding Special Interests and Aspergers

How to find the balance and productively use them at home and in class

Q:Dear Lisa,

“I have a son diagnosed with moderate to high-Functioning Autism who is currently enrolled in public Middle School. Though he is going through a natural teenage rebellion, I feel his autism is playing a huge role in the challenges he (and we, his parents) is currently facing. He struggles to communicate and he has poor receptive language, so even though he is very verbal- a lot of times he misunderstands. And then he misinterprets and he gets very angry.

He has been on meds since he was 5 to maintain mood. In the last few months he has become increasingly consumed with the computer, staying up late, wanting to sleep late, and only coming out for food. I know how to do all the schedules and what not, but he doesn’t care or want to comply. He is 6 ft tall and 250 pounds. He has an excellent teacher that provides structure in his Total Language Communication class.

Our son Trevor is addicted to technology. When we (his parents) as well as his teacher at school try and limit on-line play time he has become angry to the point to hitting the teacher and his father.

He ran away from home but the police brought him back that same day. I hate the computer! But he plays Minecraft online and has friends that he talks to. It is like his only source of socialization. So we are at a point where we may need professional support to help him get motivated to do something. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. please help!”

-Rebecca

A: Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for your very specific question that I’m sure many will relate to very closely. This is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked from both parents and educators.

In an Interactive Autism Network (IAN) questionnaire of 250 adults with ASD, 84 percent reported having a special interest or topic. A majority of those said they enjoy activities or develop relationships based on their topic, or have a job or field of study related to it. Some, however, said their interest sometimes gets in the way of success at work, school and in relationships (45 percent), or has gotten them into trouble (23 percent). Common interests include animals, computers, music, science and science fiction.

Famously, Temple Grandin Ph.D., who has Autism, turned her special interest in animals into a notable career as an animal scientist and designer of livestock handling facilities.

Using Topic Cards to Develop Social Skills in ASD Youth

Topic cards are similar to scripts in that they can help students engage in a variety of topics, beyond their own interests. They are different in that they include just a few words that describe a topic that launch a student or group students in a particular direction. 

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

A teacher had created a special lunch group to help a student at the middle school level engage in appropriate teen conversations. She had one main interest and it would dominate every conversation. Her interest was in princesses and everything having to do with them. For most young teen girls, princesses were not much of an interesting topic for them.

Strategies for Solving Math Word Problems

Depending on the grade level of your student or child, a math word problem may involve simple addition to complex rate problems, and everything in between. This week’s blog will explore as many different resources as possible to support word problems in a comprehensive way.

mathwp6

We will begin with several instructional strategies that are relevant for any content area:

  1. Chunking
  2. Graphic Organizers
  3. Steps of the Process
  4. Visual Guides
  5. Models of Correct Work
  6. Video Modeling
  7. Incorporate Interests
  8. Technology
  9. Pneumonic Devices
  10. Preview Learning

The first website that I offer is http://www.brightstorm.com/math/. This site has video demonstrations of just about every type of math problem in algebra, geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry, precalculus and calculus. You can also enter your own problem and get a solution. For $4.99 a month, you can get an interactive online tool that will show you the steps to solving any math problem you enter.

Example: Word Problems Using Systems of Equations

Preventing Meltdowns: Part two

There is nothing amusing about “the meltdown”. It is reflective of a complete loss of control of the person with an autism spectrum disorder. It is often loud, risky at times, frustrating, and exhausting.

Here is a video that explains meltdowns from the perspective of someone living with autism.  Feel free to share with others, as it is available through youtube.

 Ask an Autistic: What is a meltdown?

One might say that the loss of control overtakes the child. They need their teacher or parent to recognize this and help them to regain control, as they are unable to do so on their own. A child with autism in the middle of the meltdown desperately needs help to regain composure.

Moreover, it becomes critical to learn to recognize when the meltdown is imminent.

In this way, you can both work to prevent a meltdown. The individual with an autism spectrum disorder needs to learn how to recognize the feelings of escalation and then actualize strategies to de-escalate before the crisis ensues.

LRfeelingschartThat is why a “feelings chart” or “emotion rating scale” can be such an important strategy.

Notice the left column of this particular feelings chart. It should be reviewed when calm to help identify the internal and external indicators that emotions are changing. The right hand column is just as, if not more important, in that it helps to identify calming strategies for that particular individual.

It is best to intervene early in the escalation process to increase the likelihood of a successful solution to the situation.

We are not “giving in to” or “reinforcing” negative behavior when providing one of these calming strategies, but rather throwing a lifeline to someone that is unraveling neurologically for many possible reasons.

by Lisa Rogers