My 6 year old son was diagnosed with Asperger's in January, we've slowly been coming to terms with the diagnosis. It wasn't a complete surprise. He's always been a stubborn and difficult to manage child, but the last couple of months his behaviour has gotten almost unmanageable.
He has very frequent meltdowns, sometimes we see them coming, sometimes we can't. When they start there is no going back, he will scream, throw things, turn furniture upside down, lash out, kick, hit, spit and scratch and it takes him a long time (30 mins plus) to come out of it. Afterwards, he's always tired and sends more compliant. It's almost like Jekyll and Hyde. The meltdowns and defiance is mostly triggered by refusal to cooperate, "do as he's told" It is almost impossible to discipline him without all hell breaking loose.
We are really struggling cope, we have 2 smaller children, who also suffer. The whole family seems constantly on edge and the relationship with my husband is deteriorating because it too. Does anyone have any advice on how we can get our son to listen to us without him kicking off? Or any useful resources out there? We really need help.
Thank you for listening
"The meltdowns and defiance is mostly triggered by refusal to cooperate" - I suppose the place to start is: what sort of things are you asking him to do?I'm asking because it's possible that the reason he is so resistant is that there are some sort of sensory issues making it impossible for him to carry out some tasks comfortably. Hypersensitivity to certain stimuli comes with the condition, so e.g. if you're asking him to go into a certain room and to your son that that room is too loud, or too bright, or has a particularly unpleasant carpet texture, you might encounter serious resistance even though in your mind (not experiencing the stimuli in the same way) it's a very simple thing you've asked him to do.
Many people with aspergers are very averse to confrontation, so that in itself could be a problem. Have you tried a behaviour management system that is more reward than sanction based? It would have to be something tangible- say a sticker chart (I used to react very well to stickers at that age) and when he gets X amount he gets a reward (a trip, or a toy or a book- if he has a particular topic of interest you could base it around that?). You would have to explain clearly what he gets a sticker for and be consistent with it. Consistency is very important.
The meltdowns are also kind of part of the territory. There comes a point when external stimulus gets too much and the autistic brain literally can't process it, so it comes out in an explosion of emotion. In my experience there's very little point trying to stop a meltdown once it's started. That said, I find pressure helps calm me down more quickly or prevent one when it's close to happening- see if he will wrap himself in a blanket when things get too much. This has the bonus side-effect of keeping him safe from hurting himself lashing out.
He's more compliant and quieter when it subsides because he's emotionally and physically exhausted. It's THE most draining thing to experience.
Sure a mod will pop in at some point to direct you to the most useful pages of the NAS website. Also who diagnosed your son? They should be able to put you in contact with sources of support if you need them.
Thank you for your message, some really helpful things in there. The sort of things we ask him to do are standard things like, "time to turn off the telly and come up for your bath" "time for bed" . He will just say, " I won't, not doing it" and there is nothing we can do or say to get him to come up. We've tried stickers in the past and he could not care less. But it's worth trying again. Punishment definitely doesn't work, neither do ultimatums or bribery. So coming up with some sort of reward system is probably the best bet.
The wrapping up in a blanket is a good idea, but how do I get him to do that once he's already having the meltdown?
CAHMS diagnosed him, so I will give them a call to see what they suggest.
Thank you again
With regards to following instructions from my parents, talking from experience, when in my childhood I was a bit apprehensive so I was going against most of the rules they set out for me, in time they realised punishing me was just fueling the fire but they still asserted some discipline because one of my parents was in the armed forces so they know how to discipline (though questionable how much).
As soon as you said a 'rewards system' thats exactly what my parents laid out, they would assign points to different household chores, like making the bed, tidying the bedroom or hallway, washing the dishes or doing homework and getting good grades. Each point would either allow extra time to go outside and play, more computer game time. I remember me not having enough points to do anything because I had one of those rough days so they decided to take away my only source of entertainment by taking out the power from my room (discipline gone too far tbh).
We have information pages here on the NAS site for both challenging behaviour - http://www.autism.org.uk/about/behaviour/challenging-behaviour.aspx - and meltdowns - http://www.autism.org.uk/about/behaviour/meltdowns.aspx. These go into some of the potential underlying causes of these behaviours, have advice on what strategies you can employ to reduce the frequency and severity of meltdowns, and have links to various other external resources which be able to help, as well as our NAS Helpline.
Hope this will be of some help,
Ross - mod
Sorry for the late reply! Been offline for a while.
So something immediately jumped out at me about your reply! Both the examples you gave of instructions that have upset your son are when you are trying to get him to change activity, which is a classic area of difficulty for autistic people.
We tend to be so hyperfocused on the thing we are doing that an interruption to our train of thought can be really jarring and upsetting, even physically uncomfortable. There is a real need to finish the task or thought in hand. I still struggle with this in my late 20s and as a child, before I'd learned to cope with the disjointed feelings a sudden need to change activity evokes, it was practically impossible to get me to do so without provoking an extremely defiant response.
Something that might help with this is a very clear and consistent timetable of evening activity- maybe visual in nature. At school, a lot of autistic children have a visual timetable with icons representing things they are doing at certain times- you could make something similar for home. Get him involved in making it if you can too- e.g. picking the pictures.
I wasn't diagnosed until I was 17 so I never had any deliberate aides like that, but something that we came to organically as a family that helped me was a few prompts at intervals before the activity is to change- maybe half an hour before, then ten minutes, then five minutes (a bit of trial and error might be needed to find what works best for him).
Just a gentle "[Son's name], in half an hour it will be time to do X, please start getting to a point where you can finish what you're doing." (You don't need him to respond to this at all and you can make it clear beforehand that that is the deal so there is minimal pressure on him, it's just a reminder to wind down)
To put it metaphorically, changing activity/train-of-thought as an aspie is like landing a plane. If you just turn the engines off and point the nose straight down you are going to crash! There are steps you need to go through before landing if you want it to be smooth- extend the flaps, lower the landing gear, etc. etc.
Also, re. the blanket, it is something you will need to introduce before a meltdown situation happens.
E.g. "Sometimes you get really upset and find it hard to cope- someone I spoke to who feels like that a lot does this and it helps her feel safe and calm. Do you think you might like to try it next time you feel overwhelmed?" then keep blankets in strategic locations around the house!
NAS37524 said:, he will scream, throw things, turn furniture upside down, lash out, kick, hit, spit and scratch and it takes him a long time (30 mins plus) to come out of it.
Hi sorry to post this you probably know but just in case you don't i wanted you to know that the things he is doing, he can't help it. He isn't making a choice to behave like this. He feels as upset about it all as you do if not more because he has no idea what's going on. It's no good punishing this behaviour because that just makes the confusion and unfairness of it all so much worse.
This. I've had meltdowns like this even as an adult (always, thankfully, at home. Also always when I've been fighting it all day) and it is the WORST. Once it's got going there is no hope of control.
Then it's over and you're confused and exhausted and embarrassed and your limbs hurt where you've been punching/kicking the floor without even registering it. It's worse as a child because you don't even have the capacity to bottle enough of the day-to-day stress up that it happens at home. You do it in public too and then people are staring at and talking about you in a very negative way and it just adds to the despair of it all afterwards.
Thank you all for your replies, it's much appreciated. I'm sorry Emma and Song that you are still struggling with this even after all these years. Big hugs to you.
I know my son can't help his meltdowns but it does not make it less frightening, frustrating and sometimes downright dangerous for everyone in our family including him. It's heartbreaking and I wish that there was something I could do to help him communicate and cope with his feelings. He's only little now but the thought of what he could be capable of when he's bigger fills me with fear in all honesty
It's ok- I honestly think I'm doing pretty well. I have a job, a partner, I'm living independently with a bunch of pets to keep me busy! Life's fine. ^^
I completely understand you being worried about when he gets bigger. For my part I often ended up lashing out at my parents and especially my younger sibling (to the point of leaving marks) and as I wasn't diagnosed until I was quite old he didn't understand and thought it was great fun to wind me up until I did what he saw as "throwing a tantrum" and what to me was a deeply overwhelming, uncomfortable and frightening experience. Obviously that led to a great deal of animosity at the time.
We have a very friendly and supportive sibling relationship now but it has taken a long time and a lot of active understanding for us to get to that point.
The great advantage your family has is that you know why what is happening is happening, so you can access the support and information that is out there for you to help him through it as things crop up (including this forum!).