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Jul 022011

One writer referred to meltdowns for ASD children as “neurological storms.” That conceptualization can help us in trying to be supportive when a child is overwhelmed and melting down, as an alternative to being angry and judgmental. I have seen with some ASD children who are prone to melting down that there are certain points of no return. Once that breaking point is reached, the only way out is through the storm. So, naturally, for anyone else in the same boat, if I am not taking this metaphor too far, we want to try to prevent getting to that point of no return. Ideally, we would like the child to be able to get to the point that they recognize the warning signs and are able to initiate a calm down plan. This can be a tall order!

So today, I’ll talk about one strategy to support this kind of self regulation. I love the idea of setting up a special calm down spot, that the child has participating in creating. The spot It might be a large cardboard refrigerator box that the child has decorated and furnished as a get away hut. It might be a beanbag chair or a pile of pillows in the corner of a their bedroom, or in the corner of another quiet room (especially if they share their bedroom with a sibling). This spot would be kept equipped with a box or basket of calming supplies, such as stress balls, other fidgets, a book to read or a picture to look at, drawing or writing paper with markers or other writing supplies, items that appeal to the senses (something that smells good like scented lotion, something that tastes good such as hard candy or gum, something that feels good to touch such as a stuffed animal or fuzzy blanket), and an ipod or CD player so that child can access music or a story or a relaxation exercise. A side note: if your child is old enough to make use of this, download a relaxation exercise onto an ipod or other MP3 player. You can search for “guided relaxation” or “guided meditation” on iTunes.

Once the spot has been set up, we don’t want to wait until the next meltdown time to send the child there! Instead, set up a routine of asking your child to go there as enjoyable break points in the day. Build it into your reward system, so that the child can earn points or tokens towards a reward for going to their calm down spot when asked (you will use this more later!)and spending time their practicing their calming skills – maybe for five to ten minutes. That way, the child develops a routine of taking a break and using skills to self soothe. As the parent, you might need to make sure that the spot stays stocked up with supplies so that when it is most needed it is well equipped.

After the child has gotten used to using their calm down spot regularly, and enjoys their time there, you can move towards watching for the meltdown warning signs and when you see the very first signs, tell your child to go to their calm down spot and practice their calming skills. If you catch it early and there hasn’t been any serious acting out yet, you may remind them (if indeed you have set this up previously) that if they go to their calm down spot when asked they can earn a token for their reward plan.

I also have a YouTube video on this topic.

If your child has a special spot, or if you set one up after reading this, tell us about it in the comments.


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  2 Responses to “Preventing meltdowns for an autism spectrum child with a calm down spot”

  1. thank you my 6 yr son is not an ASD child, but we have been having some behavioral issues. after a very rough day of a severe meltdown, i felt like i didnt know what to do anymore i was in tears. i had just gotten him a new gadget that has water and coloured oil in it that drops down in little beads , and he just sat there quietly watching it playing with it and calming down he then told me two kids in his class have a calm down spot, and that he feels like he wanted one. i immediately loved the sound of it. a positive enforcement instead of a negative time out so long story short my research landed me on this page and you have encouraged me to try this out

    • Thanks for the comment. Let me know if it helps. This kind of strategy can help with any child who is struggling with regulating emotion (who wouldn’t want a nice cozy spot to go to when needed?).

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