Monday, August 18, 2008


It's taken me a while to get to this topic. I have a lot to say about it, but it's hard to know where to begin. Dh and I spent a lot of our time over a span of about 4-5 years living in what I can only describe as "meltdown he--" (trying to keep this G-rated, but you get the idea). Cuddlebug and Bearhug were like Jekyll and Hyde, inclined to have frequent meltdowns, sometimes several times a day, each. They often came with no warning, and for reasons unknown to us. BH and CB didn't have the communication skills to tell us what was wrong. Even when we started to figure out the warning signs, for a long time there was still nothing we could do to prevent the meltdown. It was like being stuck on railroad tracks, seeing the train coming right for you and being powerless to move out of the way or stop the train.

Before they were diagnosed, we figured it was just the "terrible two's", although they started around 15 mos, and there was no end in sight when they reached age 3. What we couldn't understand was why people stared at us the way they did when it happened in public -- wasn't this supposed to be typical 2-yr-old behavior? And yet, apparently it wasn't, because we never saw other kids their age (or any age) having the same kind of extreme meltdowns that we experienced on a regular basis.

It usually started with throwing themselves onto the ground, then rolling around screaming hysterically, and it could last for anywhere from a few minutes to well over an hour. They were very strong for their age, so it was a challenge trying to pick them up and carry them out when it happened in public.

As time went on and their communication skills began to improve, we started getting little clues as to what triggered their meltdowns. Reading about autism and sensory issues also helped give us some ideas of what to look for -- things like any kind of change in their environment (no matter how small), anything that could lead to sensory overload, anything unexpected in their routine, etc.

Somewhere around age 4½ - 5, we started to see a slowdown in the frequency of meltdowns, although our concern at that point was how big they were getting, which made it increasingly difficult to manage when they did have a meltdown. Fortunately, with time things have greatly improved. Part of it is we have learned what to avoid and how to spot the signs and take evasive action. Part of it is that the boys have learned how to recognize when they are reaching their limits and how to use more appropriate coping methods before they get completely overwhelmed.

Now, at age 7, full-blown meltdowns are relatively rare for BH and CB. Not to worry though, Little Bitty has obligingly taken over where they left off... Thankfully, his meltdowns are typically not quite as intense, although they tend to last longer -- it's not uncommon for LB to have a meltdown lasting over 2 hrs. The good news is, at least now we know it does [eventually] get better!


Anonymous said...

My hats off to you for enduring so many years of intense meltdowns. I also have difficulty picking my 4 yr. old off the ground in public - I cannot imagine trying to handle two. I suppose you get used to the tantrumming to a certain extent, but emotionally, it can do a number on me. Sometimes I sing - not for her, but for me mainly just to stay calm. Next time we're in the middle of a meltdown (and my 20 mos. old decides to join in), I will think of you and take comfort!

Anonymous said...

my 5 year old is nonverbal and cannot communicate his needs. This can be very frustrating for him at times. By now (like you) I have figured out what sets off a meltdown. I try to get to it fast before full blown meltdown happens. Sometimes I am not so fast and all he** breaks loose. I usually have to let him lay there and take a break and leave him alone. Of course I keep an eye on him but I cannot touch him. He has to bring himself out by relaxing himself. But meltdowns arent near as bad the older they get as you have said. Thank goodness :)

lonestar818 on August 20, 2008 at 6:26 AM said...

@rhemashope - that's a good point, sometimes half the battle is trying to keep ourselves calm, it's hard because meltdowns can really fray ones nerves (as you know!)

@Lisa - that's pretty much where we are with Little Bitty, he can ask for a few things but usually takes a lot of prompting and once he's upset it's not going to happen. We usually have to just try to get him somewhere where he can't hurt himself and leave him alone when he's having a meltdown (keeping an eye on him too of course).


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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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