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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Autism, Meltdowns and Sensory Sensitivities

In Jennifer's story about her son Korbin she mentioned the struggle she had in dealing with the looks, comments and lack of understanding about her son's behaviour, particularly when he has a "meltdown."

What is a meltdown?

A meltdown can look like a tantrum. When a child with Autism is having a meltdown they may:

  • scream or yell
  • cry
  • fall to the ground and roll/kick
  • rock back and forth
  • hit and kick
  • flap their hands
  • freeze/become immobile
It may go on for a long time, and it will probably continue until the child adjusts to what is causing them distress, or until they are removed from the environment or thing that is causing them distress.

What can cause a meltdown?

A meltdown can be caused by a range of things that a child with Autism may struggle to cope with. However, one of the key issues that can lead to a meltdown is sensory sensitivities.

As Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) state, children with Autism can be over or undersensitive to the tastes, sights, touch and sounds that are part of our everyday life. The increase in unfamiliar sounds and sights in a public place can become overwhelming, and the experience so painful for the child, that they can only get relief in the same way any other child would if they were in pain - by screaming, crying, rocking or any other behaviour that helps to comfort them. And this will not stop until the source of the pain is removed.

To further help you understand this, and possible ways to manage sensory sensitivities, please read this great article by RelateToAutism. They have a great picture that helps to explain the sensory challenges a child with Autism may face.

Also, for a fuller explanation, read the information sheet by ASPECT.

Just a note: Not every child with Autism will experience the same difficulties. Every child is an individual.

Is the child just being naughty?

Would you call a child "naughty" if they were screaming in pain? Would you think of a child as "misbehaving" if they were pushing, flapping, kicking due to fear and anxiety?

Try and put yourself in their shoes... here's a video clip that may help you do this.

So remember...

Next time you see a mum or dad struggling with a child who is screaming, flapping, crying... ask yourself, how would you feel?

Don't judge and stare, ask "What if it were me there?"


Anonymous,  April 6, 2010 at 2:34 PM  

Thank you for your inclusive, informative and enlightening article. I hope to bring this to life in my classroom where I am still learning how to deal with one of my students who has ASD.

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