Meltdowns with Older Autistic Kids

At age eleven, my son doesnʼt have many meltdowns anymore. Heʼs at an age where heʼs learned how avoid them, for the most part. Heʼll get worked up, but typically a meltdown doesnʼt occur and/or he doesnʼt get so upset that he reaches meltdown status. We also help to keep his meltdowns in check.

Therefore, Iʼm happy to report that, at this age, a meltdown is rare for my son.

Recently, however, he did have a (good old-fashioned) meltdown.

What happened?

The main reason for his meltdown was due to a consequence.

We have large consequences and small consequences.

What are they exactly?

The smaller consequences amount to “you canʼt go to the dog park today“ or “you canʼt have a soda today“ or “you canʼt go outside before going upstairs for the night.”

As a general rule, I always try for the smaller consequences. Sometimes, I even make them up on the spot. For example, my son was squirming and being a bit of a brat when I was helping him work on his book report one night. His cousin was coming over later that day. I said to him, “If you donʼt concentrate on your book report, Iʼll call your Uncle and tell him not to bring your cousin over.” I made up a consequence in order to get him to focus on his book report.

And, I meant it. If he had continued being a brat, I would have called off the play date.

Iʼm pretty darn good at following through with the consequences.

Now, thereʼs one “big“ consequence that looms in my sonʼs life. This one is the one my son really hates. And, I think many autistic kids would also hate it. The loss of his electronics.

What are my sonʼs electronics?

Like many children with autism, my son takes comfort and is very attracted to his “electronics.” This means having time on his computer, his iPad, his Wii, and his DVD player. We call those things “his electronics.”

Mostly, his electronics are for the playing of games, even though my son will also look at the Weather Channel and/or look up things on Wikipedia.

Still, the electronics consequence is the big one for my son.

What happens with the threat of the consequence being “no electronics“?

The threat of losing his electronics is the big one. I only threaten the electronics consequence when itʼs something that warrants the big consequence.

What would warrant that threat?

A few years ago, it would have been if my son hit his aide or a facilitator.

Or, if he had a meltdown at school.

Or, if he had to be removed from class for being too disruptive.

Fortunately, my son is past that phase, especially at school.

Now, at age eleven, the big consequence threat will involve the forgetting of homework and a general forgetting of his “big boy“ responsibilities.

What are his “big boy“ responsibilities?

Again, at age eleven, my son is becoming more and more independent. He wants to walk himself to school, make his own breakfast, and go to the boys locker room at the pool to take care of himself.

He also wants to no longer have a school aide (the goal is the end of this year).

I do not object to any of this. He is eleven, after all, autism or no autism and he should have more responsibly by this age.

And, we believe he can be more independent. My husband and I support his ambition to become more independent. We have given him chores like he now feeds the dog and takes out the trash.

I add his chores to his weekly behavior at school and give him a weekly allowance.

Which he has to earn.

All of this is proper child development.

Therefore, I reserve the big consequence for the things that deserve it.

Are there problems with this approach?

Yes. Problems stem around the very fact that my son (like my autistics) value their electronics time above many other things. Electronics are taken very seriously!

So, what happens is…My son gets very upset with even the threat of losing his electronics.

What happens if/when I have to follow through on my threat?

Sometimes, I have to follow through on my threats. I am a parent, after all.

Plus, I wonʼt avoid a big consequence just because it may create a big reaction in my son.

If a big threat is truly warranted, I will impose the big one.

Now, of course, my son is still learning how to control his reactions—as well as how to completely avoid meltdowns. Heʼs not perfect.

And, turns out, the loss of his electronics still leads to a meltdown like it did the other day.

His meltdown (like most) started small and built up and it took him quite a while to calm down.

Worse, his daddy had to help him calm down because I had become the “bad“ parent — I had imposed the big consequence.

We did resolve the issues and everyone talked about what happened.

Would I impose “the big consequence“ again?

Yes.

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