Autism Meltdown Tool #1: Slow It Down

One of the skills of an Autism Mom is our lightning quick reflexes. Our kids move quickly and so do we in hope of staying at pace or just a half step behind. But sometimes, it is just as important to know when and how to Slow It Down.

This is especially true when you are feeling triggered. When we are feeling triggered, our brain releases chemicals into our body to enable us to fight or flee. Our bodies are in a stress response and a central feature of a stress response is speed. Our talking, moving, breathing and thinking all get faster. All in service of keeping us alive. This is essential if you are outrunning a tiger. But much less helpful when you are quarantining with your 13-year-old who is refusing to log in for afternoon classes.

In these cases, our lightning quick reaction of shouting at our child to “do it now” or cajoling them with threats of lost video time are not keeping us alive, they are keeping us in conflict with our child, ourselves, or both.

This is why it is important to create space between the trigger and our response. As the Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, put it, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

How to slow it down

When safety permits, in this space between the trigger and our response, we take every opportunity we can to slow it down. Here are some do’s and don’ts you can use to adjust your response:

  • Don’t stay and fight
  • Do walk away and breathe
  • Don’t respond immediately to each outburst or provocation
  • Do count to 10 or 100 before responding
  • Don’t project what is happening now into the future (i.e., “if he is doing this at the age of 5, what will it be like when he is 10, 15 or 20”; “if she can’t take turns now, she will never have friends”)
  • Do stay in the present with reminders like, “right now, it is like this”
  • Don’t impute character traits based on behaviors (i.e. “she is a bully”, “he doesn’t care about us”)
  • Do remind yourself that behaviors are not personal
  • Don’t try to be a mind reader (i.e, “other people think he is weird,” “other people are judging us”, “other people have it easier”
  • Do stay out of other people’s business

Repeat this is often as needed to create, maintain or return to a neutral state.

Harness your power

The more we do this, the more we interrupt our patterning and create new neural pathways, and new and more intentional ways of responding when we are triggered.

The more we do this, the more space we create between the stimulus and our response. And therein lies our power.

We can’t control Autism. We can’t control our kids. We can’t control other people.

We can control ourselves. Of course, there will be times when we don’t pause, and we react.  And when that happens, we will give ourselves grace.