Thursday, May 5, 2011

What You Should Know About Special Needs Kids - A Series... Part 3

I thought it might be helpful to look at the difference between a temper tantrum and a meltdown.  There is a definite difference and most special needs children will engage in both behaviors at various times.

I found this simple chart at Special Needs Homeschool that is a quick and easy way to determine if a child is having a tantrum or a meltdown.

Here is a simple/basic chart to outline the differences:
Temper TantrumMeltdown
Makes eye contact and watches for your reaction.No eye contact, eyes have a 'glazed over' look, pupils are dilated and unresponsive.
Has self-control and often will kick a little harder each time to try and make impact.Has no self-control and flails wildly in any direction. (Make sure the child is in a safe place by removing child or removing objects around child.)
Manipulative: For example; Sometimes will hold breath until they pass out. (I’ve seen children pass out, don’t worry, they always start breathing steadily afterward-watch they don’t hit their head!)Does not have the foresight to manipulate the situation because not thinking clearly.
Screams with some control e.g. ahhh, breathe, ahhhh, breathe...Screams uncontrollably with the sound of a thousand wolves all going at once.
Throwing things.Throwing things.
*Not a complete list, there are variations for every child.

It's important to know the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown because a special needs child will use a tantrum to manipulate just like any other kid will.  A tantrum can be used by a special needs  child to get their way the same way a typical child would.  Try using the choices from yesterday's post to head off a tantrum.  

Despite our best efforts to be proactive, to anticipate the potential for negative behaviors, to control the setting and "listen" to behaviors, something sets a child off.  And next thing you know, a full-fledged meltdown is happening and it's not a pretty scene.

What can you do?

If you are not the child's parent, you need to contact them right away.  Parents should definitely be notified when their child is having a meltdown.  An agreed upon plan of action should be in place before the first meltdown ever occurs so that caregivers are able to handle the situation until a parent arrives. 
The most important thing to remember is to remain calm.  The last thing an out of control child needs is an out of control adult.  Try to refrain from raising your voice, which tends to only worsen the situation. Many times, these children respond more to your voice quality than the actual words you are speaking.  Get down to the child's level rather than towering over him.  Speak firmly in low tones.  And try not to speak unnecessarily - less words are better than more words. 
Another important thing to remember is to slow down.  If a child has a meltdown as you are rushing around because you're going to be late for school, the extra pressure only adds additional stress to an already stressful situation.  The most important thing at this moment is to help the child get back in control, not to be on time.  So if a child has a meltdown while in your care, don't start rushing around him, trying to get his attention or distract him with TV, toys, or other things.

One technique that can be quite helpful for some special needs children is called holding.  

There are a couple of precautions before attempting this.  First, some children do not liked to be touched during a meltdown and doing so will only escalate negative behaviors.  Secondly, if you are not the child's parent, you need to discuss this option with them ahead of time.  They may prefer to do this themselves.  Thirdly, this is in no way meant to be a form of angry physical restraint or punishment, nor is it meant to be a fun time of cuddling.

Here's how holding works:

Take firm hold of the child and put his back to your chest, with his legs caught between yours.  With his arms at his sides, wrap your arms fully around his chest.  If the child is smaller, the adult can be seated but of course, the bigger the child, the more likely it is the adult will have to stand.

Using the communication tips from above, speak gently but firmly to the child, close to his ear, using as few words as possible.  Do not give in to the behavior that led to the meltdown.  

Holding is designed to be a method of calming a child and helping him to get back in control.  After seeing how it works, I think you understand how important it is to discuss this with a parent ahead of time and get some proper training to ensure you are holding correctly.  

Removing the child from the situation is important but can certainly be difficult.  I recall Emily Colson, mother of Max, a now 19 year old boy with autism tell a meltdown story.  She was in the grocery store, Max was around ten at the time, he had a total meltdown, and she literally had to lay down on top of him on the floor of the store and tell one of the bystanders to get a strong man to help her carry Max, kicking and screaming to the car.  Sometimes, you just do what you have to do.

Keep in mind that no matter how diligent you are, "one of those days" will just happen.  You do the best you can, remembering that you have lived through these days before and you will live through this one, too.  If you are a caregiver, offer support and assistance to special needs parents.  Educate yourself, talk to parents and when the situation arises, jump in and help.  It will be greatly appreciated.

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