You’ve picked your child up from daycare or school and now you have to stop at the grocery store. It’s 6 pm and the store is packed with the after work crowd. They’re doing the exact same thing as you are but all you can think about is how it feels like an episode of “The Walking Dead” in the dairy aisle. Then it happens; your child starts to have a meltdown. It starts slow—maybe your kid wants a candy bar and you say no; maybe your kid is just tired after a long day and the busy environment makes for sensory overload. Either way, a meltdown is in full swing. This is a scenario that every parent has experienced and every person has witnessed, but when you’re a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you’ve probably experienced this pretty frequently. What do you do? How do you help your child relax in a busy environment?
The first thing to remember is that when a parent panics or stresses, the child reacts. This is true for all children but particularly impactful for children with ASD. The key is that you need to stay calm, just remember that every parent in the history of the world has gone through a variation of this scenario at least once. Take a deep breath and try some of these ways to help your child relax in a busy environment.
Identify and Remove Sensory Triggers:
It’s not always possible to leave a situation immediately, in the grocery store for example. Yes, you could abandon the cart and pick up take out but you’re already in line and you’ll just have to come back another day. You can be prepared with things you know block out or distract your child from the chaotic environment. Maybe bring a mobile device with headphones or a particular item that you know helps.
Try a Distraction:
This is contingent on identifying the meltdown prior to it happening. If you can identify the tell-tale signs your child exhibits before a meltdown, you can try telling a joke or making a silly face to distract your child from their stress. Singing a favorite song together or playing a game like “I Spy” can also distract your child and pull the focus onto something else.
Safety and Comfort is Key:
Sometimes you will just need to leave a busy store or noisy space. You can leave your shopping cart and try going to the restroom where it’s typically quieter or head out to the car for a little break. Find a quiet and soothing space where your child can focus on being comforted and not the over-stimulating environment you just were. If finding a quiet space isn’t an option, you can simply cradle your child in your arms until they calm down. This may take time, but it should help keep them calm.
Another great option for helping your child relax is to keep them busy focusing on something else. This can be something like a fidget toy to keep their fingers and minds busy. A chewy can also help if your child is calmed with oral stimuli and most sensory chews are easy to carry and come in many forms, strengths, and colors. Spiralz products by Chubuddy is a great option for a sensory fidget toy. Check out the Sprialz products here: