For starters, let me just say that an autism meltdown is NOT the same thing as a temper tantrum. Not even close. To an uneducated outsider, they may appear similar, but trust me, they are not. I found this helpful graphic on Snagglebox to make things easier to understand.
For us, the biggest difference would be the last one: Calming Down once the situation is resolved. It can take days to recover from a meltdown, during which your child is obsessing over whatever it was that put him in that state to begin with. Yesterday, we experienced a full-blown, out of control meltdown. Fortunately, Bryce is very good at controlling himself and even settling himself when something is upsetting to him. Read: loud noises, fire drills, taking off his socks, having to turn off his favorite game and more. But every once in a while things get to be too much and he has to just let it out.
Several weeks ago, Bryce smashed his finger in the heavy double doors at church. This in itself was a traumatic event. It was gushing blood from under the nail and he was a wreck. It finally stopped bleeding through band-aids the next day, but he wanted to keep it covered. Thus began a new obsession: band-aids. He had to have it covered at all times. He REALLY freaked out when I was changing the band-aid one day and the old nail fell off. Oh my goodness. You would think I tried to kill him. After that, he was even more insistent about keeping it covered up until the new nail grew all the way in. Do you have any idea how long that takes?!? We have been through an entire box of band-aids this summer.
Yesterday after swimming (we managed to convince him to “let it have some air” when he bathed or swam) I was looking at his finger and the skin is raw and taut. On the pad of his finger he had two small sores where the skin was just completely rubbed away. That’s when I put my foot down and informed him we were not going to wait until his finger nail was as long as the others. He was going to have to get used to not having it covered anymore.
Cue the hysterics.
There is NO reasoning with someone who is in the throes of a meltdown. There’s not much reasoning with an autistic person anyway. His mind works so differently from ours. I was at my wits’ end after a good twenty minutes of pleading and weeping. I finally told him that if he wanted to cry and be upset that was OK, but he had to do it in his room with the door closed. So he did. I had to go in a couple of times and tell him that screaming was not OK, but other than that, I left him alone. When things seemed to quiet down a bit, I went back in his room and offered him some lunch (food: my secret weapon), but I told him there was to be no crying or talking about his finger when he came out. It still took some persuading, but he came out to eat with us. We watched a cartoon and he finally settled down during lunch.
For the rest of the afternoon, he kept asking me if his finger had enough air yet. And I stayed firm: “NO, you are not going to get a new band-aid. Stop asking. You’ll get used it.” We cut down all his other nails short so they are closer to the length of the new one growing in. We talked about new nails growing. We practiced using the finger instead of holding it straight in the air awkwardly (of course, it’s his middle finger). And I think we conquered it. This morning he said to me, “Don’t worry-my nail will grow up soon.”
Yes, it will. And so will you. *sniff*