Thursday, July 7, 2016

What to Do When You See an Autistic Child Having a Meltdown

The chances are you have seen a family out somewhere and their child with autism was having a meltdown. You might think back and not find that memory. It is possible that you have seen this but did not know it at the time. You may simply have thought it was a "normal" family with a misbehaved child having a temper tantrum and the parents not strong enough to deal with it.

This is one of the challenges of autism, it is often an invisible disorder. If a child with Down Syndrome was having trouble in a store, people might have more grace because there are physical features that point to the syndrome. You can't always tell that a child has autism just by looking at them.

My first piece of advice is to not just assume that the situation is about bad parents and bad children. It might not be autism. It could be fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness or any number of other challenges that just as much need grace.

I hear from too many parents of children with autism that they receive nasty looks and even nasty comments when their child is having a meltdown. We have been there. I will tell you it is hard enough to deal with the child, bad attitudes by ignorant adults does not help.

Do not offer advice. You do not know the child like the parents do. You are not going to come up with a clever idea that will make a difference.

Do not just stand there and watch. You may feel comfortable slowing down on the highway to see the aftermath of a car accident, but don't rubberneck an autistic meltdown. The child is not doing this for your entertainment.

So what can you do? It is acceptable to calmly ask the parent if there is anything you can do to help. They may be willing to let you carry their bags or watch the other siblings while they take care of the child with autism. Or they might not need or want your help. But the offer is good. If they refuse your offer, walk away and say a silent little prayer for them. That is all you can do.

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