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Keep Calm It's Only AutismMeltdown CardMeltdown cards are business cards you can give out when your child is having a meltdown in a public place.   People can't see the autism and may be quite judgemental, often out loud.   This can be really stressful for parents.

Instead of getting cross, handing out a meltdown card will often trigger an apology and possibly some sympathy.   Often they will then say "Oh my cousin's boyfriend's sister has a boy with autism and he does strange things as well".

Meltdown cards usually say something simple like:

 "My child has autism and is having a meltdown. I'm sorry if this has caused you any distress, I can assure you I'm not enjoying it much either. If you'd like to learn more about autism, please visit the National Autistic Society at http://www.autism.org.uk".

They can also be used in non-meldown situations, such as when your child comments loudly on someone's weight, skin colour or physical disability.   At these time slightly humerous ones like the Keep Calm one can diffuse a sticky situation nicely.   I made it using a free website called the keep calm-o-matic.

If you Google "autism meltdown cards" (images) you'll see loads of other examples out there.   You can make your own on the computer and print them yourself, or you can order 250 business cards from VistaPrint for £9.99.
 
Meltdown vs Tantrum
Looking for a reaction?
Communicating what they need/want?
Aware of their own safety?
In control of their behaviour?
Able to calm down once the situation is resolved?
 
 
The Meltdown
This is a story I wrote about a child having a meltdown in a supermarket.   I think there was supposed to be a point but I got a bit carried away with the narrative!
 
SupermarketMum is in the supermarket, normally she goes when the kids are at school, but it's the summer holidays and they've eaten her out of house and home and she simply has no choice.   Plus Johnny has a paediatrician appointment this afternoon and the social worker is coming at four-o-clock to feedback from the respite panel.   So she had to get it done this morning, and she had to bring the kids along, including Johnny who has autism.

Little Johnny hates the supermarket, it overloads his senses, and makes him very anxious.   He hates the noise of the fans in the freezers, the trolleys, the tannoy, the people talking, the tills beeping, it's just too much.   He's also overwhelmed by the colours of the products on the shelves, each item trying to stand out against its neighbours.   The flourescent lighting is like a strobe to him and he jams the peak of his cap as low down over his eyes as he can.

Peppa PigHe's just about holding it together, not getting much sleep last night isn't helping much, with no school to tire him out and the lighter evenings and mornings, he's finding it hard to get to sleep at night and stay there.   As the supermarket aisles tower in over him, he tries to relieve some stress by flapping his arms and hands, hooting and singing loudly, and doing his special sensory feedback walk.

Then he sees it.   The DVD aisle.   It has a Peppa Pig DVD he hasn't got!   He needs it more than anything else on earth, and he needs it now.   He can't even consider life without it.   Suddenly he is stood right in front of it.   He takes it from the shelf.

Meanwhile, Mum (remember her?) has been desperately trying to avoid going near the DVD aisle, she's already had to buy four Peppa Pig DVDs this week (it's not as if every episode isn't already saved on the Sky box at home!) and can't afford yet another one!   Unfortunately the supermarket in their wisdom put it next to the cereal aisle and she really needs cereal.

Mum's not had much sleep either.   This summer holidays malarky is really tiring, and she's been up all night with little Johnny most nights for the past two weeks.   She's also just about holding it together.   Parking was a nightmare.   She fought for months to get that blue badge for Johnny, but some lazy so-and-so without a disabled badge or even kids with them nicked the last disabled parking space to avoid walking two hundred yards across the car park.

And now Johnny has started his weird noises and ministry of silly walks impression again.   Everyone is looking at them.   Faces up and down the shop turn their way, some with worried frowns, many with a look of disgust, especially when they see he's not a toddler.   People hurridly vacate the immediate vicinity, the security guard casually does a walk past.

Feeling her anger rising (judgemental, small-minded idiots, they should try living her life!), Mum hurridly grabs the boxes of cereal, then guides Johnny back the way they came.   He didn't notice!   She got away with it!   She feels her anger lessen, the unfamiliar feeling of hope creeping in to replace it.   Maybe this time it will be different!

But then Johnny stops dead in his tracks, hands cease their flapping, the echo of the last whoop fades away.   Also fading away is Mum's embryonic feeling of hope, dashed to pieces on the rocks of Peppa Pig.   He spotted it.

In the flash of an eye, Johnny twists out of her grip and somehow ends up in the DVD aisle holding a Peppa Pig DVD clutched to his chest before she can react.   Desperately trying to control her rapidly returning anger and frustration, Mum strolls up to him, plucks the box from his hands and places it back on the shelf.   She knows what is coming, but she carries on, running on instinct and the small, insane fragment of hope remaining in her that he'll just accept it.   She tries to propell him back out of the DVD aisle.   "No Johnny, you've already had four this week, we can't keep buying you DVDs, we can't afford it".

Rewind a few seconds.   Johnny is holding his new Peppa Pig DVD.   Inside he is celebrating his victory, he has a new Peppa Pig DVD!   He can't wait to get home to watch it.   He can put the box next to his other Peppa Pig DVD boxes.   He hadn't realised how incomplete his collection was without it.   He hadn't realised how incomplete his life was without it!   Oh wonderful day!   Oh fantastic....what just happened?   Where did it go?

Now, just like Mum, Johnny had momentarily been experiencing a very nice feeling replacing a very horrible feeling.   In fact for Johnny the horrible feeling had been utterly disintergrated, blasted away to complete nothingness, blown beyond nothingness as all memory of it had gone as well.   And the feeling that replaced it was a blazing rapture that took over his very being.   A rapture that was then suddenly smashed to smithereens on the rocks of "NO!".

Reality comes crashing back in.   Anxiety comes crashing back in.   The sensory overload comes crashing back in.   All of this along side a feeling of loss, emptiness.   His world has ended.   Johnny doesn't understand emotions, he cannot modulate them.   They overwhelm him.   They do it now.   His rational mind shuts down under the onslaught, fight or flight kicks in, and you can't flee from not having a Peppa Pig DVD.   Let the meltdown begin.

Here it comes.   Mum prepares herself to do battle as the screaming, crying, throwing ourselves on the floor and kicking and biting and chucking stuff from the bottom shelves begins.   People look again.   The security guard alters his course.   And then it happens.   The old lady tuts, and then the middle aged lady (who clearly doesn't have children as she's had time to do her hair and makeup and coordinate her outfit before coming to the shops) says "Some parents shouldn't have children if they can't control them".

Now it's Mum's turn for a meltdown.   The stress and the tiredness and the anger and the frustration push her beyond breaking point.   She now tips over into fight or flight as well as little Johnny and, rational mind shutting down, she also fights.  Glaring at the old lady, she shouts at the middle aged woman that her child has autism and then tells her precisely where to shove her helpful comments, her fancy hair, her makeup and her coordinated clothes in the most emotionally satisfying language possible.   She then bursts into tears.

The security guard picks up his pace, looking concerned.   Shop lifters, drunk people, those he can deal with.   But emotional women?   Lordy!   He glances around for help.   One of the checkout ladies is hurrying over.   Phew!