Behavioral Meltdowns

In my previous post,, I described my approach to sensory meltdowns.  Basically, a sensory meltdown occurs when the individual is overwhelmed and unable to process their surroundings.

Then there are behavioral meltdowns. These are more like temper tantrums – at a significantly higher level. The individual typically wants or doesn’t want something. For an individual with communication challenges, these can be extremely frustrating. There is a sense of urgency that they’re not being understood. The behaviors tend to escalate because the need is not being met. Oftentimes, a behavioral meltdown escalates into a sensory meltdown.

When Mike was little, he did a great job using meltdowns to get his way. There is power in meltdowns and it’s an easy tool.  He barely had language, so I was constantly reinforcing his requests. When I tried to deny them, he would protest, oftentimes leading to behavioral meltdowns.

While a behavioral meltdown can be challenging, there is only one way to reduce their occurrences. The child must be taught to understand “NO”.

Sounds easy enough – LOL! Trust me, I have bought the toy to avoid the meltdown. I have conceded the fight on many occasions. It’s embarrassing for parents and with therapy appointments to get to; it’s often easier to give in.  Then it occurred to me – Mike is smarter than that.  He can learn to deal with ‘NO’. Actually, he HAD to learn to deal with ‘no’.

I also had to come to terms with my own guilt.  I had moments where I felt so badly for Mike’s struggles that I would have bought him an elephant, if it had made him happy. I tried to compensate for his challenges with things.

At some point, I finally recognized that I couldn’t afford to fulfill his every demand.  Furthermore, I was harming him by doing so.  Eventually, someone is going to tell him “no”.  Did I want that to occur when he was 60 or 200-pounds?

I have always been conscious of the fact the Mike was going to be a large man. I knew that I had to be very consistent and follow through with consequences.  I had to maintain control and leadership over Mike to keep him safe.

So, I started out on my quest. Since most meltdowns seemed to occur when I was rushing and/or carrying my then, toddler daughter, I planned opportunities to practice teaching this skill. I brought him to stores during the morning hours when the crowds were minimal and my daughter was at preschool.  I selected stores that sold desired items.  In essence, I set him up to have a behavioral meltdown.  At first, I allowed him to select one small item, which would be given to him when he calmed down. Since I planned these life-lessons, I was able to remain calm.  I was prepared to block-out the stares and ugly looks from random strangers.  I was prepared to spend as much time as we needed to ride out the meltdown. Since leaving the store without the desired item was a challenge, I was prepared to carry him to the car and soothe him there. I lived in Washington at the time, so dog days of summer were not an issue.

My focus was on remaining calm and comforting my child while he learned that life was not going to always give him EVERYTHING he desires. I utilized the same calming techniques described in my posting, Meltdowns.

Since these outings were educational – I maintained a random pattern. I didn’t want Mike to get anxious every time I took him to a store without his sister. As we progressed, I included my daughter during the outings.  Since she was used to receiving ‘guilty-mom’ items too, it was a learning experience for her, as well. At times, I would allow desired items.  At other times, I did not. Which I might add, is life!

Today, Mike rarely has meltdowns with me.  He understands that I follow through with consequences and I’m not scared of him. I am able to refuse certain inappropriate video games or movies he requests. He has the opportunity to earn desired items and/or wait for the next gift-giving holiday.  Which, I might add, is life!


3 thoughts on “Behavioral Meltdowns

  1. Consistency and follow-through make all the difference, don’t they? I will work with sensory meltdowns and hold steady with not-getting-what-he wants scenarios. It has gotten so much easier now that he is is able to comprehend more and has interests I can use as consequences.

    Great post, thank you!

  2. Interested to learn that you used to live in Washington, which is where we live and when we moved here they were finally beginning to look at ASD fpr my MWB — before that he lived with an alphabet soup of diagnosis, that didn’t really fit, nor did treatment for it work (sometimes it made it worse). I’m finding a lack of resources here for young adults, especially those more functioning. I love your daily encouraging posts and sharing the moments with Mike — because, it makes me feel less alone. Thank you.

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