Sunday, June 28, 2009

Can Aspies Make Good Parents? - Part 2.5 Meltdowns

I've titled this post 2.5 because I forgot to talk about meltdowns and their effect on children in my last post and because I really wanted to move onto the positive things - which I'll do in post 3.

There are lots of reasons why meltdowns are not healthy in the family environment but the worst are;

Anger Issues and Danger
The worst thing about meltdowns is that the aspie is not 100% in control. They will sometimes lash out at antagonists and throw or kick things. If an aspie has a violent meltdown around their children, there is always a chance, however slight, that someone could get hurt (or at the very least, the kids could learn some choice new phrases).

In my case, since having kids, I've had to adapt significantly. I've had to work harder to identify and avoid meltdown triggers before they happen. Since I'm the world's worst handyman and since the only thing that really causes me issues nowadays is a failure to meet my own perfectionist expectations, this means I don't try to fix things which are beyond my means (almost everything). - and I stay completely away from fixing anything mechanical. There are experts for that kind of thing. If I feel a meltdown coming, I'll try to vacate the room or house.

Luckily for me, my kids generally aren't triggers and no amount of bad behaviour on their part triggers them.

That said, I figure that I've had one too many meltdowns in their vicinity when I see my behaviour and/or language reflected in their own meltdowns over toppled lego towers. It doesn't matter if meltdowns are rare - they still make a massive impact on watching children.

it doesn't help with the building of respect or proper role models, for children to see their parents "lose control" in either meltdown or shutdown (sensory overload) scenarios. Not only do they lose respect but they also detect it as a great way to wind their parents up.

They will take advantage of the situation and see how far you can push mom or dad. I remember doing that to my own parents. Now, of course, I can see how awful my behaviour must have been but when I was little, it was just a way of getting a good fun reaction out of mom or dad.

Meltdowns in Public
One more thing to be wary of if you are an aspie parent who is prone to meltdowns or shutdowns is public perception. You and your children might know what is normal and what is not but others around you don't.

In this day and age, it might only take one public incident with a few onlookers to have child protective services debating your right to be a parent.

As I mentioned before, the best thing to do is to avoid the triggers. Sometimes its easier said than done though, particularly in places like crowded shopping centres. In these cases, you can;

  • Retire to the car
    Don't drive in an agitated state. Just sit there until you feel better.

  • Go to a cafe or food court
    Find a seat but keep apart from your children (if there's a play area around, consider letting them play while you regain your composure - distanced but still with the kids in sight. In this case, you're probably not removing them because of the risk of harm - or even the issues with them seeing you. You're simply doing it to minimise the distractions in your immediate area and allow you to concentrate on "self-healing".

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind
    If your kids are old enough (and sensible enough) to stay in a play area with you out of sight, you might consider retiring to a restroom or some other such private location until the episode is over.
Of course, the good news is that most aspie parents have their meltdowns and shutdowns under pretty good control. After all, most aspie parents have had 20+ years to get to know their triggers and their calmatives.

Unless an aspie has a recent history of violence, meltdowns are not a cause for concern. Shutdowns too aren't usually dangerous except that they reduce the amount of supervision and thus need to be avoided in dangerous areas (near busy roads with small children etc).


Rachel said...

My meltdowns have always been private (i.e. at home), so I've never had to deal with the issue of public perception. And I've also tried to steer my way so that I could hang on until my daughter wasn't at home before I let my emotions run free.

As a result, she's not seen most of my meltdowns, and I don't believe the ones she's seen have caused her to lose respect for me. I think she was confused as to why they happened (as was I, before I got a diagnosis). She was never the trigger for a meltdown, so I was able to stay mindful and tell her that my emotional state was not her fault. I grew up feeling that my parents' emotional states were *constantly* my fault, and I'd made a commitment to never let my daughter fall into that trap. So, even in the midst of a meltdown, I was able to say, "I'm having a hard time. It's not anything you did." That's incredibly important for kids to hear.

Interestingly, I've never had a problem with my daughter taking advantage of a meltdown, but that, along with her ongoing respect for me, might be a more prototypically female response. After all, women are expected to be emotional.

I'm also fairly small, so my meltdowns wouldn't have the same impact as if I were a big guy. I think the situation is more difficult for Aspie dads as far as meltdowns go. It sounds like you've handled yourself well.

StatMama said...

Excellent post, Gavin. Your open and honest portrayal of what it is like to be a parent with AS is really a benefit to all who read it.

Angela said...

Sometimes triggers come in the form of certain people. Not that people make us feel a certain way because each person has to take responsibility for their own feelings in my opinion.

Struggling with boundaries makes it harder to take certain people though, certain kinds of people in my opinion.

Melody said...

Quite a nice post to read. Unbeknown to me, I wish I had realized you were writing about Aspie parenting. I've been doing very brief series of Aspie parenting as well (but more along a public perception line). Hope you don't mind that I linked to your blog!

Gavin Bollard said...


I'm always happy to be linked and to link to related topics.

My aim has always been to simply increase knowledge and tolerance of aspergers out there - and hopefully to give aspies and their loved ones some much needed encouragement and tips.

Linking helps me to realise those ambitions.

Please check out Melody's site.

There's quite a lot of good Aspergers parenting information on it.

Abby said...

Hello Gavin. I found the link to this blog from the wrongplanet site. I'm "the_wife" that just joined the forum.

This post is very helpful to me as I don't always understand my husband's reactions to what I feel are "minor infractions". With him, it seems that it's all either wrong or right, where I see different levels of wrongness. For example, one of the kids tracking mud into the house will get the same reaction as if the same kid walked in smoking marijuana (never happened by the way!). Maybe it's just a case of overload.

John said...

As an Aspie & a Stepfather, I found that when the kids get to be teenagers, they will deliberate provoke you to try and cause the meltdowns in order to get their way. he trick is to understand what they are attempting and head it off before the trigger is pressed. Once pressed its too late.
My wife is very good at preventing their attempts and recognizing meltdown stage. When this happens she takes control and I am free to withdraw.

Crystal said...

To be honest, this is part of the reason that I've said before that I'm not really planning on having kids. I don't completely trust my ability to control my own meltdowns and keep my kids from suffering from them. My mother (who is an undiagnosed Aspie) always had trouble with this and as a result my brother and sister and I had a tumultuous childhood.

I'm actually gauging it a bit by my cat, as silly as that might sound. I'd never hurt her (albeit I've "spanked" her before), but I've yelled at her or grabbed her roughly when I was having a meltdown and she happened to get in the way (or I was having a meltdown OVER her, like in recent times when she took to poo-ing on the furniture instead of in her litterbox!) and later it freaks me out. I think I'm getting a lot better about it though, I just hope I haven't inflicted irreperable damage or anything. I love my cat. =( lol

Gavin Bollard said...

I've never once hit my kids during a meltdown though admittedly I've yelled at them. As you get older, the early meltdown symptoms start to greet you like old friends (enemies) and you just know when you've got to get out.

My biggest concern has always been around having a meltdown where I can't withdraw. For instance, if I was at the park with the kids, I can't run off and leave them there.

Luckily, such environments aren't conducive to meltdowns - at least, not for me.

just me said...

My husband & I just found out a few months ago that he has aspergers. He always knew he was different, but we just figured out why. His kids ARE his biggest trigger. (It's a second marriage for both of us) He's fine with my kids, but horrible with his. I feel so bad for his children. Before we knew about this whole aspergers thing I had even suggested him giving up his rights to his kids. I'm really scared for them. But now that we know, we're starting to work on the anger meltdowns.

I'm linking to your blog. I just started a new one :)

Anonymous said...

I'm in my 40s, recently diagnosed, and I DO NOT know my triggers. I don't even know when a meltdown is coming on. Learning about those things comes with long-term help. Help is not easy to get. It depends partly where you live, but it also depends on the philosophy of the official helpers in your area. In my area, the philosophy of A.S. case workers is "Everybody else has to adapt to people with Asperger syndrome, so we don't have to help you, we don't have to give you social skills training, it's society's problem." Even if you have been diagnosed a long time ago, it doesn't mean you have been able to get help.

kristi said...

Great tools...we are always guessing about my son and try to do new things so he can adapt better.

damo74 said...

I've written earlier on my meltdowns. As I become more socially aware and test new hypothesis in the world, I am finding new triggers. The main underlying causes are overstimulation, breaking my routine or change.
To me its though my whole world has shattered and I need to pick up the pieces.
As for the parenting side, I have found that I have a deep caring side and enjoyed raising an ex's kids (not mine) for a little while. I separated myself from the feeling when she was around. Then when it was safe I could release. Thats when the gym is vital for me. anywhere other than the gym and I am scared of myself. (110kg natural bodybuilder.)I go hard until there is nothing left. Thinking about it now, I am substituting one emotion for a surge of endorphins.

Anonymous said...

My father was dx with Bipolar disorder, but here recently after my son was dx with autism he recognizes a LOT of himself in my son. The sensory issues, people not messing with his things, clothing preferences, bathing issues, etc. He has started to think, and my mother too, that he infact is not bipolar at all but rather has aspergers syndrome ( did not exist when he was dx). They both have been able to start linking his outbursts to events and things around him. He used to have "meltdowns" when our house would become unorganized. I remember him yelling and screaming getting us to clean up the house, but he was never physically violent. It did, however, put the fear into us that we better not make my dad mad because the yelling was very scary.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Finally finding information to help me out. Thank you guys so much.