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We accept that emotional dysregulation is a common feature of autism, HOWEVER, we can reduce the frequency and intensity of emotional meltdowns by developing insight into triggers, protecting ourselves from triggers, practicing alternative ways of coping with difficulty, utilising behaviour change rules and practicing key tasks of distraction, self soothing and care.
What causes severe emotional dysregulation or ‘meltdown’?
• Biological predisposition (physiological arousal, neural circuitry, genetics)
• Sensitivity to change and environmental stimulation
• Difficulty reading social and emotional cues
• Poor problem solving and abstract reasoning
• Lower inhibition
• Cognitive rigidity; poor flexibility
• Alexithymia; a limited emotional language
More specifically, emotional ‘meltdown’ may occur with the following ‘BUILD UP’:
• Internal state (e.g., fatigue, illness)
• Sensory (e.g., loud noise, touch)
• Lack of structure
• Demanding / unfamiliar task
• Having to wait or not get what I want
• Threat to self esteem
• Unmet need for attention
The actual MELTDOWN may include problem behaviour such as physical or verbal aggression (to others / objects), self – injury, threats, crying uncontrollably, screaming, running away or bolting.
During the RECOVERY phase, its important to practice self soothing, grounding, have time out to breathe, engage in sensory activities and finally…when everything has settled down again, creating a plan for repair.
Each individual has a unique set of vulnerabilities and strengths so it’s important to reflect on what things in myself and my environment make me vulnerable to ‘meltdown’ and then consider ways to reduce vulnerability in the future. In addition to this, its helpful to have a good repertoire of Emotion Regulation skills to be more effective during the BUILD UP phase, to reduce the intensity of the MELTDOWN and enhance the RECOVERY phase.
Melbourne Centre for Women’s Mental Health provide structured programs of treatment including Skills Training for Emotion Regulation in Women with ASD.
Book online with a psychologist for your intake assessment at www.melbournecentreforwomensmentalhealth.com.au