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Autism at home

Every family requires different kinds of support and advice. However, there are some areas which many families with an autistic member will need to learn about. Below you can find topics which are frequently encountered by families.

We also have our online training courses suitable for parents and professionals. We are continuously building our range of courses to help families learn about different areas of life including school and education, home life, help with specific diagnoses and more. You can find more information on courses available and why our training is for you here.

Don't forget we also have a selection of free resources which be found here.

Meltdowns & Shutdowns

What is a meltdown? Whether you are parenting an autistic child or working with them, understanding meltdowns is absolutely critical when it comes to providing them with the right support. Meltdowns occur when an autistic person becomes overwhelmed by their current environment. If they find themselves in a situation where they are experiencing sensory overload, they may be unable to communicate their needs in a calm and measured manner. A meltdown is different from a tantrum. An autistic person is not in control of their behaviour during a meltdown. They may shout, scream and lash out to express their pain and discomfort. This is different from a tantrum which is when someone uses their behaviours to get their own way or express dissatisfaction. A meltdown has no underlying aim and is not premeditated. Shutdowns Meltdowns do not always present as aggressive and violent actions. "Shutdowns", also known as "silent meltdowns", are when an autistic person becomes extremely quiet, silent and withdrawn. A shutdown is a form of meltdown where a person becomes extremely still rather than outwardly aggressive. They do not respond to any kind of request and these can actually prevent the person from recovering and regaining their verbal abilities. Shutdown can feel like you have lost your voice and any ability to communicate. On the inside the person could be desperate to explain how they feel, but the skill to communicate just isn't available. As people come out of shutdown they may be able to communicate by writing whilst they wait for their voice to return. Recovering from a shutdown can take hours or longer. Animals have been known to help an autistic person out of shutdown. What causes a meltdown? Many factors can contribute or trigger a meltdown. See below for a link to our free download explaining the possible causes of a meltdown. How to support someone when in meltdown When supporting someone through a meltdown, remember: Remain calm - getting agitated and frustrated will only prolong the meltdown. The person is not in control, they are in pain and need unconditional support. Do not bombard them with questions, demands and verbal communication - this will only contribute to their sensory overload. If in shutdown they may even need to be left alone. Keep them safe from self harm as much as possible - these acts of self harm are to show frustration, pain and are not conscious decisions when in a meltdown. Do your best by removing harmful objects and making the environment as safe as possible. Provide love and care - when the meltdown has finished the person will likely be exhausted, emotional and in need of support. Provide them with their favourite comforts and show them that they have not been judged for experiencing a meltdown.

Child screaming, looking angry and having an autistic meltdown which they are not in control of.
Child in shutdown or a silent meltdown, sat down quietly hunched over their knees

For general information on what causes a meltdown, please view our free handout here

Safe Spaces

Child relaxing in a swinging chair as their autistic safe space at home
Outdoor shed with fairy lights, an example of a different type of autistic safe space in the home

A safe space at home. Most parents with an autistic child will be told about the importance of having a safe space at home. It's true, it is very important but don't panic! No one expects you to go building new rooms or adding a whole new wing to your house. You don't have to dedicate a whole room for a safe space. Of course it has its advantages, but there are many ways you can incorporate a safe space on a smaller scale. What is a safe space? A safe space is an area which has the strict rule that only the child in question may use it. This means that none of their belongings will get moved while they are away from their space, everything will be predictable when they go to use it and they can relax in knowing that no one will come into their space while they are there. If you are going to use a safe space for your child you must ensure that other members of the household understand the importance of these rules and adhere to them without fail. A safe space that is unpredictable in appearance and does not make the child feel safe when they need down time, is not a safe space at all. Safe spaces are hugely effective in helping a child to regulate their senses and emotions. Depending on the person's autistic profile, they may need toys and objects to help calm them, or ways of stimulating their brain and senses into working. Different kinds of safe space A safe space can take lots of different forms. It very much depends on the needs of the child, but some ideas for smaller spaces include: A swing chair (closed or open) A hammock A den under a table A parent's bed A tent A corner of a room only for that child Of course in some cases (particularly when the child has sensitivities to sound) parents may feel that children need more permanent spaces in which they can regulate their senses. If you don't have a spare room, you could consider applying for funding/grants for spaces such as: Garden playhouses Purpose built sensory safe spaces Permanent indoor play houses Renovation of spaces such as under the stairs High beds with built in safe spaces underneath There is no one size fits all approach to designing a safe space. Every autistic person is different and unique. Plenty of adults (including us here at Autability) have our own safe spaces in the form of offices, their own bedroom or garden buildings. In order for the space to a be a success, it must be tailored to the needs of the autistic person.

Sensory processing at home

How an individual’s brain processes sensory information can change according to the environment, events that have happened or are due to happen. It is important that parents and carers have a good understanding of their child’s sensory processing in order to be able to support them. Sensory challenges are everywhere. Parents and carers of those with autism are often very quick to think about sensory stimuli when they take their child out to new environments or to school but these sensory challenges are present everywhere including the home and it is important to keep this in mind so that you can ensure your child is not over or under stimulated. Below are a list of ways our senses can be effected in the home environment. Sight This doesn’t just mean physical lamps and lights, although these obviously have a potential impact. Natural light can have a huge effect. Some people with autism struggle more on dull days, whilst others can’t process when the sun is bright. They may want to have curtains closed so they can remain comfortable and regulated. Sound As with light, there are obviously several appliances around the home that are triggers for auditory processing challenges. More obvious ones are vacuum cleaners, washing machines and DIY tools but it can also be the less obvious noises such as a heating pipe or a small buzz of an electrical appliance. To a neurotypical person this may be hardly audible but to an autistic person can cause genuine pain. Other noises such as siblings playing or pets making a noise can also be a cause of distress. Touch Modern homes are filled with so many tactile objects including flooring, furniture, curtains and bedding to name but some. For some people with autism they may have a preference for one sort of texture whilst others may seek out a variety of different textures and deliberately avoid others. Always bear this in mind when buying furniture flooring or even a new car. Don’t forget that touch isn’t just something we do with our limbs, it is also related to the texture of food and this can be a major factor in an individual with autism being able to eat a varied and balanced diet. Smell Over recent years there has been a boom in the use of candles, oil burners and diffusers in the home to add frangrance. Make sure the scents you use are not causing any discomfort and if you are using essential oils check whether they are natural stimulants or relaxants. These can have huge effects, especially on those with ADHD. Cooking smells can be delicious but will also be a potential challenge for a neurodiverse person and in extreme cases could induce nausea. Taste Most food is consumed in the home and a an autistic child needs time to process new tastes as well as having a preference for familiar food which the are comfortable with. We will have more resources on this coming soon. Vestibular & proprioceptive These senses are really put to work in the home environment. This includes when a person is having to shower or bath, sit at a dinner table and spend time with other family members. Shower pressure can cause genuine pain, including when it is running softly. Check what your child's preferences are and research other products such a instant shower gel that requires no additional water should you need to. These senses can overload or be stimulated by playing, jumping and running so be wary of what games and toys may not be helpful for keeping your child regulated. Trampolines, swings and pools can be a blessing or a curse. Limit time spent on them if they cause your child to become stressed or overloaded. Interoception This sense is effected wherever you are as it stems from an internal system. You may find though that the awareness lessens when there are more sensory challenges present in the household. Children may not realise they are hungry or need the toilet. They may not undertsand that they feel ill or are hot for example. Always check these things and give gentle reminders to help them along.

Person waving with symbols for taste, sight and smell surrounding them, indicating senses they find overwhelming as an autistic person

Knowing your child's sensory profile is essential in supporting them through daily living. If you want to learn about your child's sensory profile, click below.

Child look at bubble tube with the text "Discover your child's sensory profile in just 10 simple steps" with the Autability logo.

For general information on what each sense is, and how it can affect an autistic person, please view our free handout on sensory processing here

Stimming at home

A moving hand to represent autistic stimming

Stimming, or stimulating behvaiour, is essential for most autistic people to regulate and process. Stimming can take many forms and whilst being a great release for the person who is stimming, it can be irritating and disruptive for other members of the family. It is important that stimming is allowed because it helps to prevent meltdowns and shut downs. As well as understanding where the stimming should take place it is important to understand that stimming can happen at any time, but is more likely to happen before or after an exciting or anxiety inducing event, such as visitors coming to the house. Always allow stimming in a safe space. It is essential that stimming is always allowed in the child’s safe space and that everyone in the household understands this. Having a safe place where your child can stim is also important to avoid them hand flapping or jumping in the kitchen which could cause an accident. It is important that your child understands that they are allowed to stim and not to tell them off for it. If you need to stop them from stimming then positive refocussing or redirecting them to their safe space would be the best course of action.

For more information on what stimming is, and why it's so important, see our free handout on stimming here

For more information and ideas on understanding and supporting an autistic family member, check out our books here.

3 books entitled, "Parenting Rewired: How to raise a happy autistic child in a very neurotypical world", "Autism & Anxiety" and "The Wonderful World of Gwen" all by Charlotte Chaney and Danielle Punter
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