As a parent to an autistic son, nothing has been more traumatizing than witnessing him go through a Sensory Meltdown.
When my son was 5 years old, patrons of our local grocery store witnessed what they perceived to be a Temper Tantrum of epic proportions. My son was flailing on the ground, kicking & screaming, while knocking things over and almost smashing his head against the floor.
Thankfully, I was able to make sure my son was safe from doing harm to himself or others. But the kicking and screaming continued for what seemed like an eternity.
Understandably, patrons were angry and proceeded to hurl insults towards me for allowing this to occur. That experience gives me goosebumps to this day. In the heat of that moment, I recall cringeworthy feelings of resentment towards my son, something I will feel guilty about for eternity. I also recall a sense of pure rage toward the heartless people in the store. Finally, I remember hating my life and wishing things were different.
Of course, since then I’ve had time to digest what happened. I forgive myself for the flood of very-human emotions I experienced during that traumatizing event. I understand that MY SON WAS SUFFERING much more than I – and that is why he had a Meltdown.
Equally as important, I’ve learned a lot about how the autistic brain processes their world and I am more prepared to lovingly deal with the challenges of raising an autistic son. I am now in a position to share my wisdom to others with autistic loved ones.
First of all, my son was not throwing a Temper Tantrum. My son experienced a “Sensory Meltdown”. His reaction was a product of his nervous system being OVERWHELMED and flipping over into “Fight or Flight” mode. The result is what onlookers saw as a Temper Tantrum.
An autistic brain is wired differently, thus it interprets the outside world differently. Many things that are insignificant to our brains, can be very distressing for my autistic son. This can be as simple as “regular” lighting appearing agonizingly bright. Similarly, the beeping from the checkout counter can be ear-scorching to his delicate sense of hearing.
A more complicated example occurs when the voices of patrons behind us become intimidating and appear to “close in” on my now-frightened son.
In an autistic mind, unwelcome stimuli quickly builds up, becomes painful, and eventually unbearable. If left unchecked, a Sensory Meltdown results. The “accumulation of painful stimulus” is akin to the build-up in a nuclear reactor, where dangerous levels of pressure have been exceeded, eventually leading to – BOOM! – an emotional explosion.
Hearing his father say “no” when he pointed to a bag of crisps, ended up being “the spark that ignited the flame”.
If there is one thing you should take away from this blog, it’s that:
Loving someone with Autism is about making their world as comfortable as possible.
“…and that means keeping them calm”
Remember, the world from our point of view is often excruciating for them. And that’s why we see so many different coping mechanisms in the Autistic. They are just trying to get comfortable in their uncomfortable world.
So we must find a way to neutralize the overwhelming stimuli that can overload their senses and cause meltdowns.
In other words, we must keep the Nuclear Reactor at a stable pressure. From a physiological standpoint, that means keeping their Nervous System Calm.
And herein lies the brilliance of the Weighted Blanket and its miraculous benefits.
The way it works is fairly simple when explained by an Occupational Therapists (who for decades, have been advocating the use of weighted blankets in the management of autism).
The “embrace” from a Weighted Blanket simulates a loving snuggle between parent and child. This is naturally a very calming & soothing experience. At a biochemical level, the body actually releases calming & soothing hormones.
To an autistic brain, this “feeling of being hugged” becomes invaluable in preventing a meltdown. The calming effect of wearing a weighted blanket (even during the day) helps to lower the effects of overwhelming stimuli that can accumulate throughout the day.
Over a long period, this can be life saving. Managing stress (for all living beings) promotes health & longevity. For those with Autism, management of stress requires patience, understanding & creativity. Weighted Blankets have proven to be an invaluable resource for both parent and child!
And it should be no surprise that the stress-lowering benefits have been enjoyed by every member of my family. This is why I declare that Weighted Blanket will be the most important investment you will make this year.