A meltdown is an intense reaction or response to an overwhelming situation. It is an emotional eruption of feelings or a complete loss of behavioural control and it isn't done manipulatively.
In fact, a majority of meltdowns are caused when a child or even an adult has a sensory overload meaning they have become distressed by certain tastes, textures, sights or/and sounds.
Meltdowns are a heart-wrenching experience for both parent and child and if you have a son or daughter with special needs, there is a high chance you will have experienced them in the past.
Many parents mistake tantrums for meltdowns and boy are they wrong. While they can look alike, a tantrum is pretty much a bid for attention and they are pretty typical for toddlers and preschoolers. Tantrums can be pre-planned in the most awkward of situations and in some cases, a child having a tantrum has control over what they say and do.
With a meltdown, the child has completely lost control. It is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed and for some children, it occurs when they are getting too much sensory input all at once. They may scream, attack others, break things and even try to hurt themselves.
So how can you help calm down a meltdown?
As a parent, it is essential to identify and recognise signs of a meltdown in a bid to keep your child safe and to help them regain control and prevent them from causing harm to themselves or others.
Identify and remove the triggers.
It is extremely important as a parent of a child with special needs to be able to identify and be aware of your child's sensory sensitivities. Knowing your child's triggers means you will be able to avoid situations such as overcrowded shopping centres.
Distract your child.
Unfortunately, this will only work if you know the tell-tale signs or your child's triggers. If so, you can distract them by doing something they enjoy but that is not over-stimulating at the same time. It could be something as simple as singing to them or a deep pressure rub on their back.
Be their safe place.
If you are in a situation where you can't lower the music, dim the lights or remove your child, cradle them in your arms and rock them gently and soothe them. Be empathetic and tell them they are safe and loved. It may take some time but eventually, they will calm down.
Before leaving the house, pack a bag with a few sensory tools. When your child becomes overwhelmed you can offer them their favourite teddy, fidget toy, noise-cancelling earphones, a body sock or even a back massager. Having these items ready can help defuse a situation and may help your child.