When your child has SPD, meltdowns are going to happen. No need to panic – they just happen. And for those folks who think it’s a tantrum, you know in your gut, it’s not. Meltdowns are different than tantrums. They are bigger, they go on longer, they are…MORE in every way. I like to think of Sensory issues like this: if your typical child has a tantrum, then for SPD kids, it will be MORE. If the typical child has frustrations with wearing certain kinds of clothing, then SPD kids will find them overwhelming and intolerable. Everything a typically-developing child does or can do, SPD kids do too…just MORE and BIGGER.
I wished that someone had been there to help me figure this all out while it was happening. I had many days where the meltdowns lasted for hours and no one could understand what me and my daughter were going through. For those of you who are going through this, I would like to offer my best Mama advice on meltdowns.
1. Meltdowns are GOING to happen. Your child is reacting to things in her environment, whether seen or unseen and she cannot help it. As a Mama, you get really good at looking for those unseen, subconscious things and you become aware of the wind, the rain, the temperature, the noise level, the tastes, the weight of objects, amplified sounds, different environments than home…the list goes on. All of a sudden, after several failed attempts, you’re becoming a pro at identifying “what’s eating” your child. But there will always be those times where you still have no idea what happened or what’s going on. And your child may not have the words to express. My best advice: ride the wave with her. Don’t try to stop a meltdown while in progress. It’s already too late. Be strong – this too shall pass.
2. DO set your child up for Success. Be your child’s biggest advocate. Do things and go places where he will thrive and do well. Challenging environments are ok to try for brief periods of time, however intolerable environments are only setting your child up to fail. As an SPD parent, I want to see my child succeed and do well, encourage her self-confidence and show the world her best side, with her dignity preserved. Keep this goal in mind with all of the activities that you try. Prevent as many meltdowns as you can by keeping his success in mind, but when the meltdowns happen, go through it with him.
3. Meltdowns are accomplishing a purpose. Sometimes, even I forget this one when we’re right in the middle of “meltdown city”. For typically-developing children, sensory information “goes to the back” – to a subconscious level of function. For example, if it’s sunny, our bodies interpret that information and regulate our body temperature to cope with indoor and outdoor temperatures, most of the time, without much interruption. It becomes a subconscious thing. For SPD kids, the brain is not always feeding them the correct information regarding their environment. Therefore, interpreting temperature changes, weights of objects, how something appears, how it feels, movement, how loud, space awareness, how much pressure, how, how, how…isn’t always correlating to reality. It can be scary and overwhelming when reality is not jiving with her experience. Meltdowns allow some “steam to blow off”, if you will, when brain regulation isn’t always doing this for her. The simplest way I can put it: meltdowns are necessary to cope.
4. DO trust your natural maternal/paternal instincts. They are there for a reason. Trust yourself and do what’s best for your child. If getting outta there is the best solution, DO IT. If taking a break is the best, DO THAT. If something doesn’t feel right, trust it and find a solution. You are the best voice that your child has. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
5. Read “The Out of Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz, and Lucy Jane Miller. Also, “Sensational Kids” by Lucy Jane Miller. These really are a must-read for any parent with SPD kids or if you’re just in the beginning stages of identifying SPD in your child. They spoke the words that I needed to hear when our lives were upside-down.
6. Avoid Stimulants. In some cases, your pediatrician may tell you to avoid food stimulants including: red food dye, MSG, caffeine, preservatives etc. Do check with your child’s pediatrician, as I don’t even pretend to be a medical doctor, but it is something that may be helpful to ask about. In the early stages of identifying SPD, we had many a meltdown due to food stimulants. This could be an important factor for your family too.
7. Wherever possible, use naturally-derived products. This may sound like I’m endorsing something, but in actual fact, I’ve had to change my tune on this one. It wasn’t too long ago, that you’d find me down the laundry aisle, sniffing the beautiful smells that come packaged in that clean laundry fantabulous scent! And I love me some pretty-smelling cleaning supplies. However, my daughter absolutely cannot handle an awful lot of scents-based products on the market now. You many find that you’re buying all natural, un-scented…on nearly everything in your home. I even found that on most levels my baby girl was sensitive to a lot of “chemically” things like butane (spray-on) sunscreen. WAAAAaaaay-bad reaction. SPD kids can be sensitive to a lot of things. Something to keep in mind when shopping at your supermarket. If you’re not sure if a product you’re buying is ok for your child, the best way to find out is have him come with you. Ask him about the scent, perhaps even the texture (if applicable) – believe me, your child will tell you! If this could potentially cause a meltdown for your child, it may be best to request a sample from the company first before buying.
Meltdowns are a continual part of coping for SPD kids. As a parent, I have learned to face them head-on with compassion and understanding. I will update more on this parenting issue in further posts.