How to Avert a Sensory Meltdown in an Autistic Child

I’ve always loved the term ‘prevention is better than cure’ and never was there a more apt phrase to describe my daughter’s sensory meltdowns. In short the best way to avert them, is to identify the triggers that send her into meltdown mode, and prevent them from happening.

It’s been almost a year since our high functioning autism diagnosis, and my hubby and I have been trying to identify P’s triggers ever since. By knowing the things that cause her to feel overloaded, we can ensure that we avoid them or at least keep them to an absolute minimum. During our most challenging times, where sleep has been practically non-existent and I’ve spent all day long putting out mummy fires, there has been little energy or inclination for doing this. It has, at points, felt like an impossible task, but it hasn’t been for nothing. P was having multiple meltdowns every single day just six months ago, and now she only has two or three a week. That is progress you can’t argue with!

As I’m sure most parents will agree, averting a meltdown is much better for the family than having to deal with the fallout during and after one.

How to Avert a Sensory Meltdown in an Autistic Child

Some triggers are pretty obvious – too much screen time, hunger, tiredness, feeling overwhelmed and overloaded. Other triggers aren’t as easy to spot…

Siblings. The biggest challenge in my family is that our younger children (2 & 4) can be triggers for P (almost 7). Just the sound of them making excited noises, or playing happily can send her into meltdown mode if she’s already feeling sensitive. Other times she can erupt in the middle of a game. If the three of them are playing and P starts being overly controlling, then I know I must step in for everyone’s sake. If P is in a pinchy or name calling mood, then it’s vital to separate her from the little ones, give her some extra love, calm her down, and do everything I can to make her happier. If it goes too far and she’s become violent, then the only solution is keeping her away from her brother and sister altogether.

Being ignored. P absolutely hates me looking at my phone for anything longer than quickly replying to a message or checking something online. Feeling like she’s being ignored is a huge problem for our girl, and it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with this. I thought I needed to teach her to have patience, but I now see how much it irritates her, so I was the one who had to change tact. If I have to quickly check something then I’ll announce what I’m doing to make her feel included. If I have to get the laptop out to work then we speak about it in advance, and agree a time limit. Sticking to that time rigidly hasn’t come easily for me, but I’m getting much better at it. 

Water. We figured out that P’s evening bath was one of her major triggers, so we stopped her from having them, and she now has a shower in the morning instead. We have to also limit the amount of time she is in the shower. It’s clear that P loves being in the water, but has issues getting out of it.

Not enough warning. Which brings me nicely to my next point. Switching tasks can be incredibly difficult for autistic children, and P needs lots of notice when change is on it’s way. I saw an infographic recently which likened an autistic child switching tasks to having tendrils pulled of their head. I knew it was bad, but didn’t get just how bad it could be, and it explained a lot!

Over watching. As well as overload triggers, being under stimulated can cause us huge problems too. P scares easily (which is a blog post in itself), and is very particular about the films she will watch. She won’t even watch Frozen because of being afraid of Elsa freezing everything at the start of the film, and the giant snowman in the middle of it. We learnt a while back that when she has over watched a film it will become a trigger, but she’ll still ask to watch it. If I’m aware that a film is in danger of being over watched, I ask about ten minutes into it whether she actually wants to carry on watching or if we should choose something else. Most of the time she’ll tell me she wants something else instead.

Food sensitivities. Then there are P’s many food intolerances, which I’ve written about heaps before. Sticking to a mostly Paleo diet helps keep her level, and we always pay for it on the odd occasion that we don’t. This means her diet is free of all grains (not just gluten), cows dairy and refined sugar. 

It’s worth saying here that all children are different, and will have various triggers, which will probably change as they get older; and as I’ve already mentioned, knowing P’s triggers haven’t completely eradicated meltdowns from our lives. It has helped us immensely though, and hopefully this post will come in handy for someone else, somewhere else too.

Thanks for reading, and very best of luck to you and your family 🙂

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