At that conference I attended last week, one guy asked a question that I think plagues all parents…but especially those on the autistic spectrum (ASD)…and most especially those of us blessed with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).
What can you do for them when they have a meltdown?
I will get around in a few Mondays to that, but first it is important to know/understand what a meltdown is…and more importantly what it is NOT.
A meltdown is NOT a temper tantrum.
A meltdown is NOT them testing your boundaries.
A meltdown is NOT them trying to manipulate you.
Then what the heck is it, you ask?
A meltdown is a panic attack.
And that is the hardest thing for parents to get…to understand. Simply because of the intense pressure and anxiety creating stress that society places upon us to control these monsters, make our children behave.
I know. I understand. I live it.
But let me help you to put this into perspective…
Seven years ago I had a miscarriage that left me clinically depressed with anxiety and panic attacks. I was forty-five years old with a BS in Health Education, including a background in psychology. I had been through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and learned all kinds of positive self-talk and coping strategies. I had managed multi-million dollar accounts, babysat drunk celebrities and planned parties in the country estate of Duke…
And yet one day I found myself wandering the streets of London with my heart pounding, my chest so tight that I could barely breathe, my palms cold and clammy, everything around me was painfully loud and bright…and my whole body was shaking with great sobs that I could not stop.
This educated, once highly successful woman with all these ‘coping strategies’ could NOT cope. That is anxiety. That is a panic attack. It does not matter who you are or were. Where you have been or who/what you know.
In that moment you are helpless and out-of-control. Even…especially…your own control.
So a couple of years later when I read in Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance by Phil Christie et al that meltdowns in my daughter were not temper tantrums (I knew that much already…but not what they were) but rather PANIC ATTACKS, I cried. I sat on our couch and cried my eyes out in guilt for all the things I had tried/done to stop her.
It was one of those light bulb moments in life when I realized…
If I as an educated forty-five year old woman could not control myself during a panic attack, how the H-E-double hockey sticks could I expect a six year old (at that time) little girl to?
I never again saw or managed a meltdown the same way. It was an instant transformation to empathy and understanding.
Let me give you another analogy…
One of my freaky fetishes is…volcanology. Amateur anyway. One of my fav movies is the BBC docudrama Super Volcano about the eruption of Yellowstone. And if there is a documentary on the subject…I’m there. One of the first things that I learned was that beneath every volcano is a reservoir.
A couple of things to understand about reservoirs:
- Each volcanoes is different. Size. Shape. And even the content of the magma is different mixes of rock and gases.
- …but this is the important one, folks…WHEN THAT RESERVOIR FILLS WITH MOLTEN/ERUPTIBLE MAGMA, THAT VOLCANO IS GOING TO BLOW!!! There is nothing that the volcanologists can do except get any people around to safety and sit back and enjoy the fireworks. And learn…each and every volcanic eruption teaches them more about the nature of eruptions…and gets them one step closer to understanding and preparing for the next one.
What is that reservoir though? Hmmm….that sounds like a good place to stop for today. And to pick up next Monday…