Understanding a devastating meltdown from start to finish 

My goal with this post is to help you understand the meltdown process from start to finish. I’m hoping to reinforce that meltdowns are not behavioral problems. Meltdowns do not require discipline, and aren’t indigicitive or bad parenting or a bad child. I am using an example that happened in our lives recently, to help you better understand meltdowns. 

We went to the grocery store in order for Emmett to pick out his birthday cake. It was a momentary lapse in judgment, and believe me, I paid the price for it. In truth, Lizze, Emmett, and I paid a price for it. 

The store had tons of ice cream cakes, but the only white or yellow cakes had a graduation theme. The theme was only plastic decorations that could be easily removed, but in his eyes, it would always be a graduation cake, and he needed a birthday cake. 

We must have spent thirty minutes in front of a ten-foot wide freezer, trying to convince him that if he liked the white or yellow cake, it would be okay, even if it had a plastic graduation hat. 

Unfortunately, our logic was flawed because as Emmett pointed out, if we removed the plastic graduation hat, there would be a mark on the cake where it used to be. 

Obviously, we couldn’t have that… 

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This led to a very public meltdown because he was completely overwhelmed and unable to make a decision. It was something that we just had to work through. Getting angry or upset at him serves no purpose. It can be embarrassing at times, but I don’t really care what anyone thinks. 

All we were able to do was help him work through it. We had to remain as calm as possible, and provide as much comfort as he would allow us to. 

What I should have done was leave him in the car with Lizze, run in and pick out the cake myself. That may have proved to be a better move, but who knows. 

It’s important to understand that Emmett was not trying to be difficult. It’s that his brain is hardwired in a way that is far less flexible. His way of thinking is very rigid and very literal. 

When he looks at a cake and sees it was made for a graduation, it could never be a birthday cake. He simply can never see it any other way. His world is very black and white. There’s good and evil. There’s right and wrong. There’s on and off. He doesn’t see anything in between. 

The cake situation is simply an example of how these ridged, hardwired views impact his life. 

Another example of something Emmett wouldn’t be able to wrap his brilliant brain around would be doing something wrong for the right reasons. To him, it’s either right or it’s wrong, and there’s never any in-between. This is one of the many things that make daily life a real challenge. 

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As frustrating as this is for me as a parent, one thing I never lose sight of, is how much more difficult it is for him. He’s the one who’s physically going through this. 

When the meltdowns inevitably happen, he’s the one who’s so overwhelmed and unable to process anything, that his body has to physically purge. It’s like a computer freezing up and rebooting. 

Meltdowns are involuntary reactions and are not punishable offenses. 

Meltdowns are not the same as tantrums. 

Tantrums are meant to manipulate behavior, and meltdowns are a means of survival. 

In the end, we found an acceptable solution. Emmett got his very own mini cheesecake, and the rest of us had the ice cream cake that he won’t touch. It was funny because he wouldn’t allow the candles to go on his cheesecake because they would blemish the surface. The candles went on the big cake because he wouldn’t have to deal with eating a blemished cake. 

It was far more work than I ever thought it would have been, but seeing him happy on his birthday, is worth every hair that turned gray in the process. ☺