We call meltdowns TSUNAMI'S, the anxiety and state of mind is similar to the slow steady emotional wave that overwhelms us and can leave devastation in it's wake. Some children live their lives going from one tsunami to another to another. Others experience them daily or weekly, for each jelibean the pattern is different. Let's explore further.
WHAT STARTS A TSUNAMI?
1. I've asked my kids and their most common trigger is FRUSTRATION. Imagine your child in the classroom trying REALLY hard. If your child has for example Dyslexia, s/he will quite obviously have difficulties in specific areas. With jellybeans you see it may not be as obvious, it may be a particular lesson that's coming up, a break time that proved stressful or just trouble ruling a margin on a page. It can be the smallest of things to trigger the feelings of frustration. Frustration when accompanied with increased stimming is a sure fire way to see the early warning signs.
2. COVER UP. This is also a common reason for a Tsunami, the time your little jellybean HAS done something wrong and is so angry with themselves that the anger is overwhelming and they get so cross that they punish themselves and others. Apologies are hard when your skin is leaking like a colander, your arms are flinging and flanging and your face is screwed up like last week's homework. The Tsunami is in a kind of bizarre apology, a recognition that they know they've done something that they shouldn't have. They are very sensitive and even when they have been a little devil, most know it and do beat themselves up.
3. SENSORY OVERLOAD. This is the most common reason in jelieans who may have over-sensitive reactions to their surroundings - to light, heat, clothing, sounds, smells. Remember that to these jellybeans it may feel sometimes that every single thing in the room is trying to attack them. Why? Because they actually CAN'T filter anything out. Everything can hits them too hard and too fast, all simultaneously sometimes. They may feel too hot (remember their thermostats can be set far too high), and at the same time they can hear the neon light making a deafening buzz. Someone in the room is chewing a sweet and that sounds in their ears like a whole swarm of bees. Dinner is cooking and your jellybean can smell every ingredient, just as if he had his nose right inside every cooking pot and saucepan. Light is coming through the window and dancing about all over the place like pieces of blinding broken glass. And you're speaking to him and your voice sounds as if it's amplified so loud that it's completely distorted - it's like having his ear next to an amp at a rock concert. Is it any wonder he suddenly starts to scream and shout at everything just to STOP AND SHUT UP AND GET OUT OF HIS FACE?
4. INFORMATION OVERLOAD. This is a particular problem to jellybeans who may not be able to listen for very long. Did you know, some jellybeans actually can't listen and look at the same time? They have to do one or the other, but may not be able to do both simultaneously. So, if you're giving too many instructions too fast and these instructions are complicated and involve shifting between listening and looking, and if there's an emotional edge to what you're saying, too, that puts your jellybean's brain into free fall. It's like a computer crash.
The best way to cope is to deal with them, and trust me they need dealing with. TSUNAMIS are DANGEROUS. It's as though we lose control and although we may be sort of aware of what we're doing we just can't stop. As a parent you really do need to alert everyone to Tsunami-spotting and try to stop it before it runs its full course. It comes on in waves, sometimes out of nowhere, and CAN be halted in the first wave, which lasts about 20 to 30 seconds, but after that it's as if we're drowning under successive storming and crashing waves of panic, fury, frustration. Our brains go down under it all. It's a very scary experience, for us, as well as anyone who may be around, and WE NEED HELP PLEASE!
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP - WITHIN THE FIRST 20 SECONDS
1. Speak to us and tell us firmly and in a single word that we are getting out of control.
2. DON'T TOUCH US!!!!!! Touch puts us into even more overload.
3. Don't give us a lecture - we can't HEAR.
4. Leave us alone, let US have the last word.
5. LET US RUN, if necessary, out of the door, upstairs to the bedroom or to lock ourselves in the bathroom.
6. When we emerge SAY NOTHING about it, ignore us when we reappear, we are probably a bit sulky still so let us be. We will communicate with YOU when we are ready.
WHAT CAN THE TEACHER IN THE CLASSROOM DO?
1 Don't Panic. Speak clearly and firmly - just one word is best.
2 Distract the jellybean with something that they are good at. SUBTLY
3 Remove the jellybean from the classroom with one adult to a quieter more private area.
4 Allow the child to STIM and don't crowd them, just be kind and keep them SAFE.
5 Allow the child to let off steam physically, allow them to RUN and run and run, the playground being preferable to the school car park.
6 Reassure and stay in the background. The child will wind down.
7 Don't threaten with anyone or anything.
Finally on Tsunamis, DON'T TOUCH. Unless you are invited to, try and avoid the temptation of hugging a distressed jellybean, even when you think its safe, it MAY NOT BE!