One of the hardest parts of parenting an autistic child is the occurrence of emotional outbursts or meltdowns. Here, we delve into five key reasons behind these explosions, shedding light on the internal experiences of autistic children and offering insights for parents to better support their child's emotional well-being.
1. They are never starting at 0
Autistic children don't begin from a baseline of zero stress. Their internal stress counter is frequently higher due to sensory sensitivities, changes in routine, social expectations, and the effort it takes to mask their true selves to protect themselves from correction or bullying. Understanding that your child carries a higher load of stress from the outset can provide context for their reactions and help you offer the right support.
2. Reliance on Co-Regulation:
Co-regulation is a fundamental aspect of human interaction, where individuals influence each other's emotional states. Autistic children are especially adept at picking up on the emotions of those around them, especially their parents and direct caregivers. Maintaining your own peace and calm is crucial, as your child's emotional regulation is often linked to your own. Authentic calmness from you can have a significant positive impact on their emotional well-being.
3. Sensory Overload or Understimulation:
Meltdowns might be a result of sensory overload or understimulation. Pay attention to signs of sensory distress and provide sensory supports to help them manage their environment effectively.
4. Too many people.
It’s not discussed enough in Autism parenting circles, so let’s change that—people are often difficult for Autistics.Crowds are overstimulating but interacting with people is unpredictable, requires intense focus, and comes with anxiety about self-monitoring and watching for cues from other people and then doing mental labor to interpret them. Autistic people can not just ignore others (even when it looks like we are!) and the effort can cause stress. Combining that with another stressor like sensory overwhelm, and holding it together may be impossible..
5. The Toll of Masking:
Masking, or concealing one's true self to fit in, is a common practice for autistic individuals in social situations. This effort can be exhausting and depleting, leading to emotional exhaustion. When your child returns home, they might feel more comfortable to let their guard down, potentially resulting in emotional reactions. Encouraging them to unmask and providing a safe space can help alleviate this burden.
Understanding the underlying reasons behind your autistic child's emotional explosions is a crucial step toward providing effective support. By recognizing the impact of stress, sensory experiences, co-regulation, social challenges, and masking, you can create an environment that fosters emotional well-being. Empathy, communication, and a willingness to adapt your approach are key to helping your child navigate their emotions and thrive on their unique journey.