WHEN THREE IS TOO MANY

Meltdowns can be common for those on the autism spectrum. A meltdown can come from over-stimulation, changes in expected outcomes, the inability to transition tasks or be flexible, and is very different from a temper tantrum.

Here is a great explanation by Autism-Causes:

Meltdown vs. Temper Tantrum

Meltdown vs. Temper Tantrum.jpg

Early after the Navigator’s diagnosis, we came to realize that three events outside of his normal routine could trigger an overload meltdown.

That day we went to a naturalization ceremony, then out to dinner, then a movie. Boom.

The ceremony required us to be at the courthouse at 2:00 p.m., along with her family, and the families and friends of an estimated 60 people.

We were all standing in the lobby outside of the courtroom, with tall walls and floors of gleaming granite.

The sounds of people talking, children waiving small flags, laughing, crying and dodging between people, feet shuffling, purses being set down, picked up, flowers in crinkling plastic were bouncing off of every shiny, flat surface. 

We waited for 90 minutes before we were allowed in the courtroom, and the ceremony took another hour.

Naturalization ceremonies are truly wonderful and I have had the privilege of attending four in my life. As a citizen of the by birth, it is profoundly moving to watch people choose to become citizens.

It is a respectful, solemn, and quietly joyful proceeding, which requires sitting still, not playing on electronics, and attention being paid to what is said.  Not an enticing environment to a child in general.

When the ceremony was over – much later than we anticipated – went to dinner at a local fast-food restaurant. 

It was brightly lit, lots of noise as people ordered food, employees made the food, served drive-through customers, the soda machines being used by customers filling their cups, the doors opening and closing frequently, employees cleaning tables, customers using the restroom.

When we finished eating and went to see the movie.

Movies are marvelously intense experiences. You sit in the dark, watching gigantic imagery accompanied by gigantic music and sounds.

It can be all-encompassing and all-engrossing and, of course, that is why most people go to the movies, to relish that experience.

For my son that evening, it was one experience too many.

On our way out of the theater he saw the candy display and demanded that we buy him candy. We told him “no” and down he went.

He started yelling, pulling away from us to get back to the candy counter, kicking, biting, and scratching when we restrained him. My husband lifted him over his shoulders and carried him to the car.

He screamed and yelled as we tried to get him into the car, jamming his feet and hands on the door frame so we could not ease him into the back seat.

After my husband gently put our thrashing child into the back of the car we got into the front seats and quickly locked the doors.

I turned on some quiet music and waited.

Our son tried one door in the back, then the other. He screamed and threw himself around the car. When he tried to get out my door and couldn’t, he collapsed into my lap, sobbing. 

I soothed him until finally he was himself again.

“I am so sorry, Momma. I don’t know why I do that.”

I smiled and wiped the tears from his face.

“It’s ok, baby. What do you say we go home?” I asked.

“Ok,” he answered, and then paused. “What if I do that again?” he whispered.

“Then we will deal with it,” I answered. “We are a team.”

That was the first time we realized that three events in one day is too many for our son.

We have seen the “three is too many” play out a few more times, with less intense responses, and we are careful to make our plans for no more than three out-of-the-ordinary events or intense situations in one day. 

three


Also published on Medium.

8 Comments

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  3. I know how this is. We know what typically triggers some of his meltdowns. and a lot is caused by sensory overload. We have had to hold him down a couple of times to keep him from hurting himself or us. But patience is usually the key, patience, calming music, low lights. Love how you handled the situation.
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    • Thank you! Seeing the patterns is so important, isn’t it? Also, as he has gotten older and better able to understand what he experiences, we have asked him about his triggers and how we can best help him. Getting his feedback is a key part of that “team” for us.

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