Does your child have meltdowns? Have you been told to look for the “triggers” so you can tell when a meltdown may be approaching before it actually arrives? If you have no idea how to do this, you are not alone. Professionals tend to give great advice but speak to parents as if they are speaking to a colleague that is familiar with all the terminology.
As a speech language pathologist (SLP) I used to be guilty of this, too. It’s important that if this happens, you, the parent, ask questions. Be sure you understand the advice you are given!
If you said yes to the questions above, chances are your child with autism also has sensory processing disorder (SPD) and has a hard time coping with the world around them. Sights, sounds and smells can be overwhelming to your child and can send them into overdrive and then into meltdown mode.
If you aren’t sure, it’s worth looking into as 75% of children with autism have been found to have SPD according to the SPD Foundation. (It is noted that the reverse, however, is not true. In other words children with a primary diagnosis of SPD, do not necessarily have autism).
Here is a list of 12 signs of sensory overload, which are important to recognize in your child.
- Loss of balance/co-ordination
- Skin flushes/goes pale
- Child is verbalizing STOP
- Child steadfastly refuses activity
- Racing heartbeat
- Stomach distress: cramps, nausea, vomiting
- Profuse sweating
- Child becomes agitated/angry
- Child begins repeating (echolalic)
- Stimming occurs
- Child lashes out
If this occurs stop the activity and consider how often and during what type of activity this occurs. In the moment you can also try to change up the environment, when possible. For example, if you are in a busy grocery store, find a quiet corner or walk away from your cart, mention you’ll be back in a minute and take your child outside or to the car for a break. You can also try things like noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses with a blue tint as that tends to be calming.
If your child tends to become overwhelmed in school, it is important that the school be familiar with your child’s triggers and how to de-escalate them quickly to avoid a meltdown. They should also know the plan for how to help your child if they do enter a meltdown. These are important parts of your child’s school plan or IEP. Be sure to share this list with your child’s school team! Here is a link to download the list as a PDF:
12 signs of sensory overload PDF <– click on that link!