HOW CAN I HELP?
Some children with autism may seem to have different behaviour that
challenges those around them more frequently than children without autism.
This is because they see the world differently and this can be overwhelming
for them to deal with. Sometimes, the only clue we have that something is
wrong is from their behaviour.
‘Our son chooses to challenge every boundary. It is hard to say ‘no’
to everything so we pick things that matter and get them right first –
the rest can wait.’
Meltdowns or shutdowns usually occur in three stages: rumble, rage
Rumble – This is the start of the behaviour. It is often called • the ‘trigger’
or antecedent. It is important because the child is building up to the rage
phrase and there are often ways to defuse the situation. These
behaviours may initially appear to be minor (fidgeting, foot tapping,
making faces, etc) but once identified, they will help you work out the
best way to intervene and develop ways to help your child from reaching
the rage phase.
• Rage – This is the ‘acting out’ or meltdown. This is a natural biological
response where your child has reached maximum stress level causing him
to go into instinctive ‘fight or flight’ stress response. The child has little
control at this stage as this behaviour is regulated by hormones. Common
behaviours often include screaming, hitting, biting, destroying property, etc
but the child can also become withdrawn. It is important to stay calm and
make sure that your child is safe, as well as those around him.
• Recovery – This is the stage when the behaviour has passed. The child
may be tired and sleepy, may apologise, may deny the behaviour
happened at all, or may not remember anything about it.
WHEN YOUR CHILD’S BEHAVIOUR CHALLENGES YOU,
IT IS IMPORTANT TO THINK:
Why did he behave like this? What may have caused it? Sometimes it is easy
to see what has triggered the behaviour. It can be simply because someone has
said ‘no.’ It may be more complicated e.g. related to sensory issues or the need
for a predictable routine. It may be that he has misunderstood but is unable to
communicate this in a verbal or rational way. Often it may be something in the
environment that we have not considered.
A meltdown is probably an instinctive response to extreme and
overwhelming stress which leaves the child incapable of returning to
a level of calm at that time.
Think of this behaviour as an iceberg. When we see an iceberg, we see just
the tip of it that is above the water. The largest part is under the water and
cannot be seen. The behaviour that we observe is the tip of the iceberg. The
many causes for the behaviour have been unseen or misunderstood by us.
It is important to work out the function of the behaviour. What does the
child get from doing it?
e.g. I scream and shout = Mum or Dad take me out of the shop.To a
bystander, this may look as if the child is ‘spoilt’. However, there may be
many logical reasons for this behaviour that we have failed to understand:
adverse sensory experiences – too hot, strange smells, too bright; the shop
was too busy; too many strangers. A child with autism may not be able to
express this in a way that would be expected from a child who does not
Try to monitor and record behaviours over one to two weeks to see if any
patterns occur. It is important to consider each child as an individual when
deciding on how to give or remove rewards for good behaviour.
- if you reward a behaviour you will • see more of it.
- if you ignore a behaviour you will see less of it.
To help learn new behaviour it is important that your response is clear and
consistent. YOU MUST RESPOND IN THE SAME WAY EACH TIME.
‘Once boundaries are established they work really well but it does take time
and effort to get them up and running.’
HERE ARE SOME WAYS OF SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD:
- Be positive and praise good behaviour. Make sure the praise is given quickly and clearly so that your child knows what you are praising them for. However, also be aware that some children with autism dislike praise as it draws attention to them and the emotion maybe overwhelming.
- Don’t try to change too much too soon. Tackle only one thing at a time. Start with whatever will be easiest to change first.
- Consider the way you communicate with your child.
- Depending on your child’s stage of development, you may be able to help him to understand and change behaviours by explaining about other people’s thoughts and feelings. Social Stories are useful (more advice is available by contacting The Pines).
- Use calendars and other visual information to help them understand the concept of time.
- Plan ahead for activities and changes to routine.
DEALING WITH FREQUENT BEHAVIOUR THAT CHALLENGES CAN BE
STRESSFUL AND OVERWHELMING.
‘Boundaries = wars. I have to come around the side of her, not at her.’
Whenever possible, try to make time for yourself in order to help you relax
and regain energy. You may need support and encouragement during
these difficult times.