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Escalator to anger - help deal with anger before the ASD/ADHD meltdown

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

One of the most useful and descriptive pieces of advice my wife or I have received over the last 3 or 4 years, has used the imagery of an escalator. Specifically in the case of Autism and ADHD .Weird or what?

We were asked to imagine that a meltdown, breakdown or anger outburst as your child being on an escalator. Now the typical and standard practice would be for you, the parent to run up the escalator after them, especially if they seemed in danger or you felt they might get lost.

When it comes to ASD & ADHD meltdowns, breakdowns or anger outbursts - the parent should imagine their child on an escalator, their anger, frustration or anxiety is rising. Why on earth would you want to go up the same escalator?

Instead, what we need to do as parents, 1 - take control of ourselves, there is absolutely no sense in joining them on an upward spiral; 2 - find a tool that will work for us to help defuse our child, each child is different, sometimes it's rewards, sometimes it's a consequence, sometimes it's just a safe place and a bit of time; 3 - use the de-escalation tool and ; 4 - later or perhaps, much later, if possible talk through what led to the escalation with our children, to see if there is a possibility that we can see an earlier trigger or perhaps if they can work out the earlier trigger themselves.

My own suggestion, is not necessarily highlighting what the earlier trigger is to the child and asking them to avoid it in the future, I'd always suggest getting them, or helping them if needed, to identify triggers themselves. I've found that if they can identify triggers themselves, they are much more likely to become aware of their own behaviour. It won't solve melt downs, breakdowns or outbursts immediately, but what I've found, is that they become less frequent. The children become more skilled at noticing how they are feeling, or what may be causing them to feel or react a certain way and perhaps adjusting their behaviour themselves after a couple of times - it's a new skill they are trying to learn and it will take time. It's a case of trial and error, basically what you are trying to do is guide and help them learn about themselves and it's a slowly developed skill.

Skill development is: 1 - Unconscious incompetence - you are unaware of the skill and lack proficiency at any level; 2 - Conscious incompetence - you are aware of the skill but not proficient; 3 - Conscious competence - you are able to use the skill but only with effort and; 4 - Unconscious competence - performing the skill is almost automatic.

These four steps are the norm for any skill development, want to learn how to kick a football? Want to learn how to drive? What about riding a bike? How about managing a team of sales people at work?

With ASD/ADHD kids I'd add in a couple of more steps 1a - Conscious awareness of incompetence - you are aware of the skill but have no idea how to develop and 2a - Conscious awareness of competence - you are aware of the skill but are trying different ways to develop some form of competency.

Children with ASD/ADHD take around 3 times longer to develop skills - again some are faster than others. This has to be a serious consideration for parents, coaches, teachers - basically anyone involved in teaching our children anything. They are far from stupid, many are completely 'out of the box' thinkers, they just process their thoughts in a different way. Extra time, extra care and extra consideration can go a very long way with them.

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