Sensory Overload

Raising Chase, we’re faced with numerous challenges.  Physical, psychological, social, dietary, etc.  We have been slowly overcoming them.  Chase is speaking more, using more sentences, and engaging in short 2-way conversations.  He’s in full time school now, and is starting to become more social.  He’s certainly still awkward when in social situations, but over time that will work itself out.

People with autism, have their senses work differently on their psyche than neurotypical people do.  Often, these senses go into overload, and the person can’t cope.  Undesired outcomes, flickering lights, loud noises, water to the face, or maybe even certain textures can all cause the senses to go into overload.  When this happens, a meltdown will ensue.

We have 3 children, all boys.  Chase, the middle child, isn’t our first foray into raising children (nor the last).  My other boys do sometimes throw  tantrums, but lets not confuse going on the floor kicking and screaming, with an autism meltdown.  On the surface they look similar, but a meltdown can also lead to violent behavior, both towards themselves and others.  They are uncontrollable, and often heart-breaking.

Lately, Chase has been getting meltdowns with a higher frequency (at least that’s what it feels like).  A few weeks ago, at my parents house, he started to act strange.  The neighbor was mowing his lawn, people were asking Chase a bunch of questions, and he started to  disagree with everything, yelling more and more, and eventually just started to kick and scream.  I realize this wasn’t him just being defiant, but rather him not able to control what was going on inside his head.  Quickly I went from telling him sternly to stop, to grabbing him, hugging him tightly, and running to the back of the house where it was quiet.  Hug him tightly, rock back and forth and “shhhh” softly in his ear.  After a short while, he calms down, and back to himself.

This past weekend we went to a family festival event.  Firetrucks, construction vehicles on display, bouncy castles, foam pits, good times for any family with kids.  As soon as we get there, a ladder firetruck is gleaming for us to visit.  As we approach I can see Chase getting excited.  A few minutes later it was too much (yes even happy times can trigger it), and he starts to tremble.  I can see the veins popping in his neck, and the meltdown ensues.  One of the worst ones in recent memory.  It took me quite a while to calm him down.

Yesterday, he came home from a car ride, but wanted to ride more.  He eventually came out of the car, got into the house, and when his dairy free frozen yogurt didn’t slide out of its container as intended, I could see the veins, and head tremble again.  Before it was too late, I quickly went into motion and started to hug, rock, and “shhhh” him. That’s when it starts to hit me.  This is Autism.  This is what makes life so difficult.  Something normally easy to deal with, is not the same for them.  During a short period of time, a few bad calls, and his emotions run him over.  As I’m rocking him, I start to tear up.  How is he to grow into this world, if he can’t control and cope with his emotions.  If I’m around, I can calm him down, but what if I’m not there?

A few minutes later my wife walks in and says: “We need to figure out a way to get him to stop these meltdowns.”  That’s the problem.  I looked at her, and in a sobering voice said: “We need to figure out a way to stop his autism.”

We discussed it, and tried to figure out what to do in each situation.  Sometimes it’s a meltdown, others is just a classic child tantrum.  Normally a child tantrum you just ignore, and it goes away – following the old mantra that you don’t feed into the attention seeking  tantrum.  But a meltdown should not be ignored since this is not the child being defiant, but rather the child being overtaken by emotions and senses.  I have heard other parents of autistic children say that there child started to do better, when he/she figured out how to cope with the meltdowns and sensory overload.

Side Note:  Parents of children with autism, are far more qualified to give advice than all doctors put together (unless the doctor also has an autistic child).  Simply put, no doctor understands what it’s like until you have lived it.  Period.  No book will teach you experience, and you can run studies and sessions all day long, but if you don’t live in my house for weeks and months on end, you don’t know what it’s like.

I’m up to hearing what others have done.  What do you do to figure out a meltdown from classic child tantrum?  What do you do when a meltdown ensues?  What do you do, during a classic tantrum?  I’m asking for help here.  Right now, this is the part that tears me up the most, and if Chase is to grow into our society, he needs to be able to cope with this… daddy won’t always be there to calm him down.

Chase, you can do this.  We will figure this out.  Impossible is nothing!

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