As I prepare to talk about how to work with children on the autism spectrum with my co-workers and staff at my job, it made me think about one of the many key elements… how to handle a child’s meltdown.
What’s my job?
I work at a gym’s child care, the place where you can check in your three-month-old to 13 year old while you workout.
We’re not taking care of your kids like a school. We try to do activities with the kids, however, (IMHO) our main job is the safety of our kids.
Parents have signed them over to us for care while they’re away (within gym facility and not off site).
I am always on the lookout for safety. To me, that’s my number one job.
Well, kids play with each other. Many are still at the parallel play level, but some interact, especially the older kids.
We have toddlers who are more advanced and some that are not. We have babies that will crawl all over the place, and some that don’t yet crawl. We even have tiny ones (the ones close the minimum three month age limit).
This privilege is offered by this gym as a bonus to membership. You can go workout and not worry about your kids.
Now, kids don’t always get along. Typical kids will often try to steal toys from other kids or try to touch the heads of the babies. They will sometimes hit each other or generally behavior badly.
This is where we have to step in because we don’t want anyone to get hurt.
Safety is the key.
Yet, kids will be kids. Most parents understand this. If one toddler hits another and that child cries, but is generally unhurt, the toddlers move on, and so do the parents. They get it.
What happens when you throw a child who meltdowns into the mix?
I supposed I’m not technically talking about just kids on the autism spectrum. I believe kids that are undiagnosed can have meltdown issues (this is unconfirmed information).
Now, in preparation for my talk, I wanted to bring up a situation with the staff where you know you have a child on the spectrum and the parent has informed you that that child may have meltdowns.
What do you do?
Sticking to that one scenario…
The first key for me is safety.
Safety of that child having a meltdown and the safety of other children. Also, safety of the staff.
Safety, safety, safety.
So, if I’m armed with this valuable information for the parents, I’m looking for signs that the child may meltdown if there’s a trigger. (One such example is that the child has a very specific toy that he/she plays with, and will not accept another toy, and another child has already claimed said toy. This is an example derived from my own life when my son was fixated one a small dog toy at his afterschool care, and if another child had it already or took it, this was a trigger for a meltdown.)
So, I’m aware of things before anything even happens.
Remain calm. Speak in a low, calming voice. Shouting does not help.
Do not blame them. At my job, this may be difficult if that child hit another child. They do need to be told not to hit, yet try to make it more of a teaching moment. (“We don’t hurt our friends.” “Use your words.” “Tell the teachers what you want instead of trying to get it yourself.”
If you get angry and try to immediately blame the kid, which can trigger a meltdown. (Again, I know this is hard, you’re trying to maintain the safety of all of the kids under your care, but a meltdown from a child will only negatively impact your child care location. You strive for a calm and safe and playful location. That’s your goal every time you work.)
Offer a hug to the child. Pressure against their body may be very valuable when the meltdown is on the upswing. A hug could even stop that meltdown from getting worse. If anything, it’ll reassure the child while applying necessary pressure to their body.
But, don’t pressure them into a hug, many people on the autism spectrum do not like being touched.
If there’s a quieter part of the room, or another room, then offer to take the child away from their current location. They may be overstimulated by their location. They may need to be moved in order to begin to feel calmer. If it’s possible, take them outside.
Do not be surprised if they can’t talk to you. Don’t berate them for their inability to respond to your question. They’re shut down and communication (especially for those on the autism spectrum) is already often compromised.
If the child can talk to you, remember their responses often take an extra 3 seconds. (The 3-second Rule)
A meltdown is not a tantrum. A tantrum is when a child is (more or less) performing for attention. They want the adult to respond to them, they’re seeking something from them.
Meltdowns are not like that. They are often not even in the control of the child. They’re not seeking your approval or getting mad because you won’t buy them something. They’re bodies are so uncomfortable (somehow) that they’re getting out of their control.
If it’s possible, ask for help from your fellow staff members. If you need to physically hold the child, cross their arms in front of them, lay them in your lap, and hold them from behind. Apply pressure because that will help. Release the pressure when you feel the child calming down. A second person can talk to the child while you’re restraining them.
When the parent returns, discuss the meltdown with them. If you saw the trigger, tell them. Explain how long the meltdown lasted, and how the child recovered.
Include the child, especially if the kid is older. Reassure the child that he/she is welcome back and that this place is a safe place. We try hard for only good behavior, and you will be given another chance. We will try to work with you the next time you come to help keep you calm and happy.
Because they are welcome to come back. It’s very rare for my job to ask a parent to not bring back a child. My job tries very hard to maintain that balance between welcoming all members and keeping their facility safe. Which is one reason How to Deal with Meltdowns is so important.
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