Autism in Our Home: Emotional Reactivity

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Emotional Reactivity.

Emotional Reactivity

I saw this phrase when our son and I were at one of his occupational therapy appointments. It’s a pretty big word, but basically means, “Freak-outs that result in huge meltdowns!”

Well, at least that is my unprofessional, “mother of a special-needs child” opinion.

When our Little Man was first having these meltdowns, I thought were just really bad temper tantrums. Something that boys do. We have 2 daughters who are older than our son, and I have one sister. So I have no idea what it’s like to have a little boy in the house.

Obviously, this is not a normal way for little boys, or girls, to behave.

Yes there is always the occasional tantrum. Some kids have temper tantrums more than others. But here, I’m talking major meltdowns. It may be hard to know the difference between the two. I found this amazing infographic on Pinterest that helps explain how tantrums and meltdowns are 2 very different issues.

Tantrums vs Meltdowns

The meltdowns in this home usually occur first thing in the morning or evening time, like right before bed. These are the times when our son is not medicated or his medications have worn off. 

The following is a typical morning scenario:

Because our son does not sleep well, he is usually up around 6:00 am, every morning of the week, regardless of what time he went to bed the night before. Sometimes he’s up even earlier, like he was the other morning at 4:11 am. Other times he sleeps in. Usually on Sunday mornings because that’s the one day my husband has to be out of the house around 6:00 am. 😉

When he wakes up he is HUNGRY. (Due to his food aversion, he does not eat well so he’s “starving” after a night’s sleep.) And he wants something to eat and drink now!

We get him something to eat and drink and then move on to the next thing which is tablet or TV. He tries to turn the TV on but the remote doesn’t work. He tries again, and keeps pressing the button while getting more and more angry. At this point I intervene and say, “Connor, what do you do if you need help with something?” Sometimes he’ll ask for help and sometimes he’ll keep on trying the same thing over and over again which keeps feeding his frustration.

This results in instantaneous anger and frustration.

If we can catch him before his frustration erupts like a volcano, we do have some calming strategies we have in place, ready for times like these.

Calm Down Box

Belly Breathing

Music, like my Pandora station on my phone

Bounce on the Yoga Ball

Tear paper

Pop bubble wrap

Hit a pillow

Snack, like a sucker (sucking things is calming for him)

As long as it does not hurt himself or anyone else in the house, it’s fair game. All of the strategies above we have tried. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

Once the frustration turns to anger, there’s no calming him down with any of these strategies.

This is where the meltdown officially begins.

He throws the remote. He throws things off the coffee table. He takes his cereal and dumps it on the floor. He takes his juice and knocks it on the floor. He pushes or shoves anything in his path, like a hamper full of laundry, or he dumps his backpack all over the living room. He yells that he hates us, and “You’re the worst mother in the world!” or “You’re so mean!”.  And by this point the rest of the house is awake.

We will at least attempt a few of the calming strategies that I’ve mentioned above, but honestly, once this cycle begins, 99% of the time it only ends when he has finally worn himself out so much he is completely physically and mentally exhausted.

And his Dad and I are too.

I wish I had some great solutions for this type of behavior and thinking, but I do not. Sometimes, if we catch his outbursts before it begins, the calming strategies will work. But most of the time, it’s way too late.

When we are trying to get him to calm down and he won’t, we have to take him to a safe place, like his bedroom or our bedroom. He has been known to completely destroy his room when he has these fits of rage. As long as he’s not hurting himself or anyone else in the house, we let him go. Maybe some of you don’t agree but he needs to get his aggression out somehow and calm down, and until we find a better solution, destroying his room may be the only answer.Remaining calm is most difficult - Autism in our home emotional reactivity

On top of the strategies I listed above, there are 2 other strategies that have helped him the most with his emotional health:

  1. Medication, and
  2. His father and I remaining calm.

Medication is easy and simple, aside from the days, weeks, or months he decides to boycott his meds for no apparent reason. Medicaton helps him become more self-aware so he knows when he’s getting mad and he can either ask for help, or we can notice the signs early and intervene before it gets too bad.

Medication also keeps him from getting completely frustrated. Without his meds, when he would become so completely overwhelmed, he would say things like, “I’m such a bad boy! I’m terrible! I’m horrible!” That was heartbreaking! I never want to hear my children say those things about themselves.

Remaining calm is by far the most difficult thing for me to do when he’s in the middle of a humongous meltdown. If you’ve read any other portion of this blog, you know all too well that being calm is not in my nature. I worry and stress about almost everything. But I can tell you, in my experience, all of my children, and my husband, feed off of my calmness or lack thereof. I know that I need to remain calm if I am to be an effective mother who helps their child.

If you have meltdowns in your home, what calming strategies or plans do you have in place to help your family and yourself? Please comment below or leave a message on my Facebook page.

Next on the blog, I’ll be discussing sensory issues in our home.

I look forward to sharing more of our family with you. 🙂

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  1. Pingback: 6 Tools to Help Calm Your Anxious Child – Living With Real Joy

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