Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA

Blog #77~Autism and Meltdowns

Blog#77~Autism and Meltdowns

I would rather write about anything else than what an autism meltdown looks like (even poop accidents).

poop icon

It’s a difficult subject, personal in nature and exposes a lot of vulnerability.  I am just one of so many dealing with these raging outbursts. My son Nick is 19 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  So, for all of the warrior moms out there in the battlefield…. This one is for you!

When Nick was in the throes of puberty, his meltdowns were horrific.  He would destroy everything in his path.  His arms slung hard hitting, kicking, biting and drawing blood with his pinching.  These intense battles became so bad and frequent that I had to take action.  I was no longer able to control my own son.  Here is what I did……

Three things we did to get things under control:

1.  Nick was put on medication, Risperdal to help calm him down and be less agitated.

2.  I called an emergency IEP meeting and insisted that the school district’s autism specialist be brought in to help out. We tracked his behavior both at school and home to figure out what might be triggering his anger.  Then we came up with a behavior plan.  You see, every behavior communicates something.  In Nick’s case, he wasn’t being heard.

3.  The autism specialist determined that the staff, Nick and I needed to be properly trained to use the picture exchange system (PECS). The pictures gave Nick a voice that autism had robbed him of.  Finally, he felt in control.  The incidences of the teenage sized temper tantrum quickly diminished.

PECS Communication Book:

photo (123)

Fast forward to the present….. Nick has been unsettled.  He is expressing it by shoving us away.  It’s like he is saying, “Hey, I am 19 years old and coming into adult age.  Back the F#&K off!”  Nick had two serious meltdowns in the past week.  Each seemed to come out of nowhere.  But there is always something brewing inside. You just have to back track and figure out what might have been the trigger(s) to set him off.

Portrait of an Autism Meltdown: The Scenario, Triggers and Outcome

(Also known as the ABC’s: Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) Here’s a sample form used to work on a Behavior Support Plan………

IMG01

Timeline of Nick’s Meltdown

A=Antecedents:

*Routine is off the past couple of weeks Nick’s Dad had shoulder surgery=added stress around the house.

*Nick has a runny nose and woke up way too early.

*Dinner at Nick’s Aunt & Uncle’s recently purchased home-new environment

*Al pulls into his brother’s driveway and has to back up a few times.  Nick hates it when you pull in and then have back up.  He thinks you aren’t going to stay so he panics, bangs on the window, pinches his cheeks and yells loudly.

*Nick’s bored and no one is paying attention to him.  He looks to stir things up. He sits down on the couch with his iPod, but doesn’t last there long.  He finds my purse and empties the contents it down the stairs. Then, he bonks poor Cali on the head with the can of tennis balls he is stimming on.

Poor Cali, retreats to the kitchen…….

IMG01 (2)

*Aunt Ali makes Nick’s favorite pasta dish, and has bought his favorite dessert. 🙂

little debbie cakes

*Oh no, I realize that once the Little Debbies are introduced Nick’s going to make a bee line to the shower. That’s his routine.

beelinne pic

*Sure enough, he strips down in the bathroom upstairs. The water doesn’t get as hot as Nick likes…. NOT GOOD, this is going to make him mad.

B=Behavior:

*He shivers and is pissed as I help him towel off.   I hand him his street clothes to put back on.  (I should have brought his pajamas.)  He flung them across the bathroom, then he proceeded to grab the tissue box, toothpaste, magazines, hand towel and hurl them as well. THIS IS IT…….

Point of no return

*I managed to contain him between the toilet and bathtub and shield myself as he lunges at me pinching, bruising and scratching my arms.  I use a towel much like a bullfighter does against a raging bull.  Only I am the one who becomes bloodied, not the bull.

bullfighter pic

*Nick is nearly my size.  There is no possible way to do *CPI Holds (see link below) on him anymore.  It’s more about getting him in a safe place and deflecting his blows.

calm down autistic child

It took 30+ minutes for Nick to de-compress from this meltdown, (most are 10-15 max these days).  I felt raw, defeated and exposed.  Nick started to work through his emotions.  He cursed, hit and pinched himself as if he was replaying the meltdown. My heart breaks a thousand times in these moments.

Consequence:

Eventually Nick showed remorse and said, “sorry”.   That’s when you know he has de-escalated.  He put on his clothes, said our apologies and drove home in silence.

THAT is a portrait of an autism meltdown!

The next morning, I brewed a K-cup and began to dissect what had happened to cause the meltdown.  Nick thrives best in a predictable environment and visual picture schedule that he can follow.

So, I go back to the ABC Functional Behavior form:

A=Antecedent (what happened before)? All the things listed above were building up inside him.

B=Behavior (Nick’s tired, confused, mad at the cold water and no pj’s, he lashes out.)

C=Consequence (After the meltdown, Nick de-escalates and apologizes and we go home.)

I’m still trying to figure out Nick’s world.  In retrospect, I should have increased his med dose before the dinner and made a visual schedule with pictures of their new home.  On the schedule put the following icons on:

“New house”

“Dinner”

“Dessert”

“All Done”

“Car”

“Home”

Or at the very least, just brought his pajamas.  So, I will re-boot and learn from this mistake just as I’ve done before.  Autism and meltdowns can be scary and brutal.  But they can also be prevented if you look ahead to the environment, and plan ahead for anything that might set your child off.

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

*CPI= “Crisis Prevention Institute offers trainings in “Nonviolent Crisis Intervention.”  The program is safe, nonharmful behavior management system designed to help humans service professionals provide the best possible care, welfare, safety and security of disruptive, assaultive and out-of control individuals even during their most violent moments”  For more Information: http://www.crisisprevention.com.

Author:

Teresa is the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 23 years old and has special needs including Down syndrome, autism and verbal apraxia. She is a parent advocate, speaker and writer who is currently working on the memoir of raising her son, Nick. You can follow Nick world on our Facebook page and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism. Find Nick on Instagram@ #nickdsaustism, Twitter @tjunnerstall.

4 thoughts on “Blog #77~Autism and Meltdowns

  1. This brings back so many memories with so many different children. I think the worst for me was a trip to Aldis with a child whose trigger was anything shiny. Things went really well till someone pulled down the shiny shade to block the sun coming in the store. A long story that involved emptied shelves, bloodied teacher and teacher’s aide and a “kind” customer that called the police to report that we were abusing a child as we were using a cpi hold to help her calm down.

  2. Teresa, you continue to amaze me. I have to admit I had no idea what you and Alan go through on a daily basis. It makes me feel so bad that I ever complain. I know God only chooses exceptional people to be the parents of a special needs child and there will be a very special place for you in heaven one day. May God bless you and all you are doing for the parents of special needs children by sharing your stories no matter how painful they may be.

  3. TJ
    Thanks for sharing! What courage! I’d be scared. Since Nick is adult and so strong do you fear for your life when he is out of control?
    Joleene

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