Meltdowns. They appear among toddlers of all ages, sizes, and temperaments. The problem is “B” isn’t a toddler anymore. She’s 4.5 almost 5 years old. Yet the meltdowns we deal with when she’s in fight-or-flight mode take me back to the two-year-old toddler hitting, kicking, and screaming stage.
For the longest time, I thought her reactions were solely behavioral. After all, “B” is very perceptive and has strong vocabulary skills. Because she always spoke so well for her age, my husband and I would forget that she was only 3 or 4 and treat her like she was going on 6 or 7. During her meltdowns, we’d try to talk her through it and rationalize with her. We’d use the disapproving tone and place her in time out expecting her to get over herself. None of these tactics worked well. In fact, they often intensified the problem. She’d hit, kick, cry, hyperventilate, scream in our faces, and stomp her feet so hard I thought she’d fall through her bedroom floor. The things we were doing were obviously not working. It was time to ask our OT/professionals some questions, talk to parents of sensory challenged kids, and figure out what we were doing wrong.
I’ve been fortunate to recently find a support group online filled with parents who have children with sensory challenges. We can share stories, give advice and support, and educate others about sensory processing disorder and other sensory behaviors. I was very blessed to meet Angie Voss, a Sensory Occupational Therapist turned author, who has written sensory books, created a website, and continues to manage a blog all dedicated to helping others understand sensory challenged children.
She recently wrote a fantastic blog post that helped my husband and I recognize that the meltdowns “B” has are not intentional and malicious. It’s almost always part of a sensory driven need or function. Angie mentioned that most kids with sensory challenges want to please adults. “B” is a people pleaser through and through. The slightest disapproving look or tone in one’s voice crushes her sensitive spirit. Please take a moment to read Angie’s blog related to “meltdowns.” It is a very easy read and explains the ins and outs of what people perceive as “defiant” behavior. http://www.understandingspd.com/1/post/2012/01/meltdownspar-for-the-sensory-course.html
After reading Angie’s article, we discovered that a lot of “B’s” behaviors are probably due to the fight-or-flight response. Especially her reaction to food and the entire eating process. Change in routine is another big one and the inability to maintain self-regulation. One of the biggest eye-openers we have discovered is to avoid talking to “B” during her meltdowns. Her brain is not ready to comprehend what we are telling her. She doesn’t have the ability to process our words at that time. No amount of discussion or negotiation will work until she can settle herself down.
It’s through Angie’s books, blog posts, and trial and error methods as parents that we’ve discovered the best way to handle “B’s” meltdowns is to let her go to a quiet place and calm herself down. That or the trampoline seems to be the best methods we’ve found so far. Feel free to check out Angie’s sensory website (complete with a sensory item store) http://www.understandingspd.com/ and her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/UnderstandingSPD/146380788726817?sk=wall
I am eternally grateful to have found a group of supportive experts and parents in this field. I’m constantly learning and growing as a mom and as an advocate for my daughter. So thank you Angie and other sensory moms for reaching out to strangers connected by lovable children affected with sensory difficulties. Your support means the world to parents like me!