Sensory melt downs

Yesterday, Jude went back to school after what felt like the world’s longest ever school holiday. Honestly, I can barely remember last term, it feels like a lifetime ago plus I think my brain has burnt out a lot of distressing memories to preserve any sanity that is still intact.


BUT, he didn’t go without a bang. So for his finale moment, for an hour between 7 and 8am, Jude had the mother of all melt downs. I made him come with me to take Elsa to the bus stop and during this time he cried, screamed and tried to hit me the entire journey there. Once home, I managed to get him into his room where he turned into a Demon Child, spitting, yelling, pushing furniture over. It took an hour but once he’d calmed down it was like flicking a switch and all of a sudden he was lovely, smiling and asking me where his packed lunch box was. Eh?! Did I miss something?


Jude and his post-melt down puffy eyed face.




I’ve been reading about sensory melt downs recently, how they occur, learning how to detect trigger situations, etc. and it’s all very complex. If I take yesterday morning, there were literally no triggers. I merely asked Jude if he’d like to come with me to drop Elsa at the bus stop and he started throwing things across the dining room! The only thing I can imagine caused this outburst was his anxiety about going back to school; it was obviously harbouring in his mind like a pressure tank waiting to explode.


I have been focusing my reading largely on how to help the individual during a melt down and one suggestion that stuck in my head because of its particular poignancy was this:


  • Reduce input and add structure

The writer suggested that the panic responses that are triggered pre-melt down can stop a person from being able to communicate properly, it interrupts their attention and propensity to remember things. So if you start ranting and raving or even talk incessantly at them as an attempt to calm them down then actually it’ll have to opposite effect and send them further over the edge.

Techniques to try are: minimising the amount of sensory input i.e. talking very little, speaking quietly, using very simple sentences that focus on what you want them to do rather than on the negative, turning down the lights and cutting out any additional noise. These last two are a bit of a revelation to me so next time I’ll be sure to close his curtains, turn off the lights and shut his door so he cannot hear the rest of the family.


I’ve found that recently when Jude freaks out and goes beyond all level of normal comprehension, the best way to calm him down is to simply lie on his bed, tell him to lie down with you (he rarely does this straight away but if I bear-hug him he’s happy pretty quickly) and then say nothing at all. I did this a few days ago during a melt down and within fifteen minutes I was making up a story for him and he was laughing away and back to normal. Jude LOVES made up stories, especially ones that begin  –


and involve a boy named Jude.


So sensory melt downs are an interesting phenomenon.


Do you have any experiences to share?


Spectrum Sunday

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