Do you remember the horrific story of Alex Spourdalakis with his severe aggression and meltdowns?
Alex’s story really hit home because our family has experienced a hell similar to the one they were living.
It’s hell when you are being attacked and at the same time afraid for your child’s life because be may have to be hospitalized or institutionalized. It feels like hell when your child is like an angry wild animal that is not influenced by logic nor consequences. It is utterly exhausting when every support expert or doctor you consult has little to offer. It can seem quite hopeless to say the least.
Aggression and Meltdowns: Violent in a Flash
My son, Jake, had aggression and meltdowns periodically as a child. As puberty approached, at times, his demeanor began to take on a more sinister turn. These violent “psychotic” episodes began as he approached his 11th birthday and increasingly worsened as puberty set in.
Jake would switch from a sweet, happy, amazing young man to an “I want to hurt and destroy” state within minutes and often without any apparent reason. Despite enormous efforts to keep things calm, my husband and I were black and blue and our house was being destroyed. After a desperate five-day hospitalization, Jake received the additional diagnosis of Intermittent Explosive Disorder on top of severe autism. The nature of severe autism makes it even more challenging to address the explosive disorder because of the significant social and communication challenges involved.
Discover Peace and Harmony
While there is no simple answer, my family discovered a bumpy path back to peace and harmony to which I thank God daily. As Jake is approached his 18th birthday, he is was sweet and gentle 98% of the time. When he did begin to experience aggression and meltdowns, we felt much more capable of helping him settle back down. Here, in a nutshell, are the steps we took that seemed to help most:
Create a Safety Plan for Aggression and Meltdowns
The book Outsmarting Explosive Behavior by Judy Endow was extremely useful in helping us to recognize the signs and stages of explosive behavior. Recognizing these signs and states increased our awareness of how to best respond to aggression and meltdowns. The book explains what is going on for the child at each stage. It details how once the child is at the fight or flight point, the behavior is beyond conscious control.
At this fight or flight point the autonomic nervous system instinctively goes into survival mode. The objective is to brace for the explosion and hopefully help the individual de-escalate back to a calmer state where they are able to regain self-control. Even if your child cannot actively participate with the visual program the book offers, the information and brainstorming process about what does and doesn’t help at each stage is helpful in creating an individualized plan.
Often typical responses are perceived as a threat to the out of control person and unintentionally keep them in an explosive state. Making a plan to use non-threatening voice tones, postures, and responses that show care and respect will help the individual de-escalate more quickly. Visuals, foods, medications/supplements, sensory needs such as dimming lights may also help.
An on-call person, aware of the plan, may be needed for a female who cares for a male who is prone to attacking due to the difference testosterone can make on one’s strength.
As of this publication, a gently used version of Outsmarting Explosive Behavior is listed in Special-Ism’s Classifieds.
Make the Environment as Safe as Possible
You may have to make some major home adjustments such as locking the door to the garage, putting away things that could injure someone if thrown or used to hit someone, putting all glass items away or keep them covered with a protective barrier, and have large pillows available to protect yourself.
For my son, we discovered through brainstorming that he needed to eat more frequently. Giving him regular snacks every 2 hours is something we still do to this day to ward off aggression and meltdowns. If he starts getting belligerent, we start handing him food even if he is at first refusing to eat. It is amazing the difference we have seen this have on his moods.
Remove MSG, excitotoxins and other non-food chemical additives from the diet as much as possible. We have seen these to be a huge trigger for aggression and the causation of headaches that my son develops after eating foods containing these. (3)
Explore Special Diets
Medications and Supplements
Learn about the medications and calming supplements available for aggression and meltdowns. When a human being’s body is going into fight or flight too often or too easily, that essentially means their neurotransmitters (2) are spiraling out of balance.
If going the medication route, know the side effects – often they increase the need for food, cause weight gain and blood sugar issues which can create a vicious cycle. The benefits need to be weighed with the drawbacks.
A long-term nutritional balancing plan is ideal, if possible, to prevent having to continually increase the dosages and add new drugs with more side effects.
We have had wonderful success by implementing Dr. Amy Yasko’s discoveries at Holistic Health International. We used genetic testing, urine, hair, and stool testing to guide us to a place of calm. Yasko’s book, Autism: Pathways to Recovery, was a welcomed resource for our family. Within the book, the information on the Glutamate – Gaba balance was most important for us and I recommend that anyone dealing with aggression to seriously consider exploring the Glutamate – Gaba balance.
Power of Prayer
Last, but not least, pray for answers and have faith things will improve. It is hard not to despair in the midst of frustration and fear that can result from such extreme behavior.
Don’t focus on the fear, instead focus on your love for this child and each and every sign of hope.
Autism has much to teach the world. We are learning about how our amazing bodies work. We are discovering how human beings can relate to one another by being creative and supportive in our interactions. We are unearthing the understanding that each and every one of us can afford a moment to open our minds to learn and grow together.
Ask God to bless your journey, and I pray this helps sheds some light on your path back to calmer days.
1) “CBS and Autism Media Channel: A Prelude To a Tragedy The Case of Alex Spourdalakis.” Web log post. AGE OF AUTISM. AGE OF AUTISM, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.
2) Cherry, Kendra. “What Is a Neurotransmitter?” About.com Psychology. About.com, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.
3) Love, Amy, NTP, CGP, CILC. “Excitotoxins, MSG and Its Hidden Names” Real Food Whole Health. Real Food Whole Health, 18 May 2011. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.