I’d like to take some time to dedicate a post purely to explore the way that autistic girls (and some boys) do not often melt down in public. This is a really common and typical thing for girls on the spectrum to do; along with copying or mimicking their peers to “save face” and get by socially.
So many times across the last few years of my journey as a mother to girls on the spectrum I have met other families who think their daughters may also be spectrum dwellers but are unsure because their girls seem to “keep it together” whilst out/at school.
However it may be just as soon as they’ve climbed into their parents car after a day at school and BAM! They’re melting down. They’re screaming; they are angry; they’re lashing out at their siblings. And chances are they’re doing around you and not at school or out elsewhere is because you’re their safe space, their touch-stone, their security. They trust you to the point of being able to unfurl their coils and release what they have pent up all day long.
So why does this happen?
I’m going to say it really simply: it happens because these girls are overloaded. If they have been at school for six hours and they have not had energy-burn breaks and quiet chill-breaks scheduled into their every day at school; they have not had an outlet to unload or recenter or recalibrate – and so they do so when at home.
Fellow Mum of a daughter with ASD Renee Bugg from About A Bug put it best and it’s stuck with me for ages: think of a cup. Now think of every single stimulation or trigger (noise, tactile, heat, crowds, change in routine, anxiety etc.) adding to the cup…when too much is added, it overflows – and that is when a meltdown occurs. NT (neurotypical) people siphon their water out automatically – people with autism cannot.
This is why it is crucial for girls (yes, and some boys) on the spectrum to have sensory outlets that allow them to burn off their pent up energy and also things that calm them down. Every child’s sensory outlet is different. How to find out what your child’s sensory preferences can be discovered by having a thorough Sensory Profile assessment done through a qualified Occupational Therapist. Learn what stimulates your child and what overstimulates them; what they seek and what they avoid. Once you know these preferences, you can access resources to make your child’s life (and yours and your family’s) a heck of a lot better.
Simple things that my daughters use at kindergarten & school to manage better (along with the breaks as described above) are the following:
- Ear plugs – Sno likes to wear the clear silicone variety. They’re discreet and she keeps them in a little plastic container in her pocket of her shorts. She puts them in during assembly or noisy group time.
- Fiddle toys – stretchy lizards purchased from cheap shops, tangle toys from various online shops, zip-bracelets, plastic coils from the hair section which can be discreetly worn on the wrist, Theraputty.
- Weighted lap toys – Sno has a weighted lizard which she uses for proprioceptive input during seated work. It can go on her lap or on her shoulder.
- Tight socks & shoes – Also provide deep pressure and calming proprioceptive input.
- Chewy necklace & Camelback chew-spout water bottle – Oral input, great alternative instead of chewing shirts, tags, back pack strings.
- Visual aides – copies of the weekly timetable, photos of teachers, photos of processes, photos of where things go/how to do things, photos of new guests. Visual aides reduce the amount of “unknown” and therefore a lot of anxiety.
- Move’N’Sit wedge/optiball – these can be used for seated work and allow the child to remain sitting but also gives them input through subtle movement.
- Quiet Space – A dedicated space with perhaps a bean bag, hidey-hole with cushions, pop-up tent. To be used alongside whatever tools your child uses to chill out. One of my girls is an avid reader but also loves audio books and meditations (Lori Lite is a fav); another likes to zone out with a screen or do puzzles or play with mini-animals.
If your child’s school is saying to you there is “nothing they can do” because they don’t seem to “see” or experience the brunt of your child’s melt downs then that is, simply – bullsh!t. Because if they were doing enough for your child, then you would not be the one copping their melt downs. If they were given adequate breaks throughout the day; then their cup wouldn’t be overflowing after school.
Believe me when I say that it’s worth investigating. And when you find out you need to have a meeting with the educators involved in your child’s life – maybe bring along the OT, and share the recommendations you require to be put in place so that everyone is on the same page.
I can guarantee you’ll find yourself home with a much happier, settled autistic child if you do. Information really is power; and small sensory modifications put in place throughout a school or kindergarten day can make an enormous difference.