Prevent an Embarrassing Public Meltdown and Help Your Child With Autism Feel Safe


We care about our children. At times we may feel helpless to understand the path of serious self injurious behavior (SIB) or screaming and yelling that draws unnecessary attention to our child and ourselves in public and often we become the recipients of rude comments. Do you often ask yourself, how can I help my child?

Five days a week I use to take a small group of children with autism for a walk in the community surrounding their school. Everyday we re-entered the school through a back door. Everyday the young lady in the group would stick her fingers in her ears and begin screaming and kicking the door and end up laying down on the concrete entry way.

I could not fathom what was distressing her or what she was communicating through her behavior. There was no apparent change in environment, sounds, temperatures, visual stimulus that I could ascertain. Was she protesting going back into the school into the classroom? It took myself and several others to calm her and get her in motion again. The behaviors increased and intensified over a period of weeks.

Finally, I decided to do the walk alone and to attend very carefully to the surroundings. As I approached the back door of the school, I heard a very quiet low steady hissing. The boiler room was located probably 10 yards from the door and the sound was coming from a vent on the other side of the fenced in area.

The next time we went for a walk I carried a pair of headphones with me and helped the young lady put them on just prior to arriving to the back door area. She entered school quietly and proceed to the classroom. She was permitted to carry the the headphones on future walks and put the headphones on prior to entering the building without incidence.

Eventually, she learned to regulate her behavior and quiet her response to an adverse auditory stimulus. Many people question the appropriateness of allowing a child to wear headphones in public. I question the appropriateness of SIB. Today, people walk around with ear buds, and I-pods. There are many appropriate types of ear plugs available to help others who have intense auditory sensitivity that are not visually noticeable and socially acceptable.

The next time your child has a meltdown or before your child has a meltdown… try to be a detective. Note the environment, the situation, try to ascertain the “why” of the behavior. Is your child’s behavior a response to sensory input or an attempt to communicate a protest, frustration, or a request for help?

Try to keep a journal, write notes. What happened prior to the behavior, during the behavior, and after the behavior. How did you and others respond and what could be done differently. Are the consequences reinforcing the behavior? Remember, as parents you are the experts and you know your child’s behaviors and patterns better than anyone on the planet. Information about your child’s actions and behaviors can help others help you help your child design interventions that really work.

About Mary

Hi! I have been providing services for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ages 3 through age 27, for twenty years. I also teach teachers and other professionals strategies and interventions to improve and develop communication skills, social understanding skills, and replacement of stereotypical behaviors. I try to create an awareness and empathic response with professionals working with families and caregivers living with the unique differences and challenges of ASD. My other goals include educating the public about ASD. ASD is a label that provides a common ground for discussing treatment, strategies, and other interventions to help the child or person. The label is not the child and vice-versa. Over the years I have observed many children develop communication skills, experience social success, and decrease and change stereotypical behavior into productivity. The children I work with are unique and wonderous. Like you and I they have specific interests and strengths that are valuable assets to their Quality of Life.
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