A number of children who attend Therapy Space have meltdowns when they’re out and about, especially in places where they might be exposed to overloading sensations, such as loud noises, bright lights and too many people jostling near them.
When a child has a meltdown family members can feel very embarrassed by it, especially if it takes place in a crowded place, such as a busy shop or on public transport. People who witness the meltdown will not, of course, know the reason for it. They will not know that sensory processing disorder might have triggered the meltdown and nor could they know how difficult dealing with it can be.
Some of the families I see have experienced people being rude and staring when their child has a meltdown, which, of course, adds to any tension they might already be feeling. As a result, some families feel very guarded when out and about with a child who might go into meltdown. Others might even find that they withdraw from certain activities.
One strategy that some parents have used for dealing with unwelcome reactions is to inform the disapproving onlooker exactly what is causing the meltdown. Some might even hand out a printed card. There are even cases of people printing information on the T-shirts worn by the child.
However, there are measures that can be taken to try and mitigate against meltdowns in the first place.
All the stories in the ‘Meltdown Kids’ series deal with a child having a meltdown and propose strategies that can be adopted to mitigate against them. Key to these strategies are planning in advance and understanding what helps to regulate the child, such as, for example, sucking on something or biting into something crunchy.
I would suggest that families and/or carers allow their children to take devices such as tablets around with them as this will help them to zone into a ‘freeze’ mode of sorts. This means that they will be less aware of what’s going on around them and, therefore, be less bothered by stimulatory stresses, such as noise, lights, etc. Tablets are often frowned upon but they can be lifesavers for families. When it comes to little children, covering the buggy with a dark cloth or a sarong for a short period can also help. As a therapist I know it is essential to calm the physical body to help the child become grounded and pulling up against gravity can be helpful. So if there is anything close at hand that a child can climb up, such as a tree or a climbing frame, that can really help.
I wonder how you respond if someone reacts negatively to your child having a meltdown. How easy is it not to care too much what other people think?
Please give us your thoughts on how you cope as I know it can be very distressing for you as parents.