Preventing Meltdowns in Children


Many children experience meltdowns in an academic setting and at home. Some of these children are on the autism spectrum, others are not. Finding the underlying cause helps to prevent meltdowns.

One underlying cause relates to dominance. For example, a child may have a mixed dominance – that means some information enters the system through the right ear or eye and other information enters the left ear or eye. That information goes to different parts of the brain and the individual must look for it crossing from one hemisphere to the other. While looking for the information, at the very least, he takes a very long time finding it. At the worst, he gets frustrated or melts down. When the meltdown relates to dominance the solution is to establish a one-side dominance.

Another underlying cause relates to sensory perceptions. What seems like a normal sensation, visual, auditory, tactile to us may not be for this child.  This child may have hyper auditory reactions to sounds that register in a “normal” range.  Further, a light touch may activate a violent reaction. Neurodevelopmentalists recommend activities that stimulate these senses to normalize the response.

While working on these underlying causes with a neurodevelopmentalist, one may create an environment to aid in preventing these meltdowns. Using visual strategies are especially helpful for these individuals in knowing what will happen and what will not happen as well as making good transitions.  Visual tools work well because they can overload easily with auditory input. Even though visual input usually works better than auditory, one can provide a “too busy” visual environment. Organization helps, but do not overdo it.

Visual calendars / schedules and timers can help the individual know what to expect and to change from one activity to another. You can Google “visual timers” to see the great variety of timers available. Each one will provide a unique solution for different settings. If a child needs to understand the passage of time, analog or other types will help. Digital types do not help for all needs, but one certainly needs to be able to use all kinds.

Rules or Expectations should be visually posted in age/developmentally appropriate ways. Remember the appropriate number of rules will vary for individuals. You need to post, review and refer to these rules when you correct the child. This helps the child know what to expect. Unpredictable situations set them up for meltdowns.

Linda Hodgdon, expert in this area gives, “12 Essentials Every Classroom Must Have for Autism and Asperger’s Success”.  Do not try to implement all of these essentials all at once. Add one at a time. Starting with a personal schedule for the individual usually works best.

For more information.

Highlights of Webinar by Dr. Martha Burns” Neurobiology of Autism (Sponsored by Scientific Learning)


Dr. Burns covered recent research on the brains of individuals with autism. While she discussed some complicated genetic factors one thing that researchers have observed is that the brain of individuals with autism have a unique development of long trace fibers. This white matter runs along divisions of the different lobes and actually intersects with many areas of the brain.

Burns reported that research supports the following contributing factors to autism: age of parents, environmental chemicals and other neurotoxins, immune factors. What surprised me was her denial that any research connected vaccinations as a contributing factor.

Mind Institute is developing a test that will identify antibodies that exist in some, but not all individuals on the autism spectrum. Others are working on a scan of the eye that can identify those who are at risk in the early months of life. Early identification and intervention produce hope for families.

Researchers also recognized value in specific therapies’ as well as computer software (such as Fast ForWord).While computer software provides a valuable contribution other areas of intervention must include: perceptual and sensory.

More and more new research leads to a greater understanding of the underlying causes of autism spectrum disorders. Not only does it explain why new technologies work, it also explains why interventions used as early as the 1930s by founders of the neurodevelopmental approach work. All of this leads to more effective interventions and hope for families.

A Book Review: Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder by Karyn Seroussi

Miles Seroussi’s development began normally, but abruptly came to a halt. Early diagnosis of autism sent his mother, Karyn, on a journey of research and recovery. She found some researchers that believed autism to be a biologically based condition.

Among these researchers she learned from Bernard Rimland, PhD, Director of Autism Research Institute. He wrote the forward for this book saying that while it reads like a detective story, it accurately chronicles her family’s journey. Rimland’s book Infantile Autism published in 1964 laid to rest the pernicious theory that unloving “refrigerator” mothers caused autism. In spite of studies related to vaccinations in general and the MMR in particular, the medical establishment fails to confirm the connection in at least some situations. Further, studies regarding the benefit of Vitamin B6 for many children with autism are scoffed at or ignored by poorly informed physicians.

Karyn also learned that Paul Shattock and Karl Reichelt had identified neuropeptides. Her husband, Alan a researcher for Ortho, a division of Johnson and Johnson began a study to confirm that these neuropeptides were casomorphin and apha-gliadin with the idea of developing a routine neonatal or postnatal diagnostic test to identify autism much earlier.

In addition to these and other researchers, Karyn was doing her own work with other families, like theirs, that were doing home-based behavioral programs. Through the official research and her case studies, she found a number of factors that were true of many or some of these children in about ten families.

  1. Gluten – by using an elimination diet they discovered that in most cases their children did better without gluten.
  2. Dairy – they observed that many of the children had difficulty with dairy –especially casein, but some with lactose.
  3. Other food allergies.
  4. Yeast –many of these children had suffered from many ear / other infections and received many antibiotics – thus encouraging candida. Nystatan and / or probiotics deal with this.
  5. “Leaky gut” -all of this results in a condition that prevents nutritional absorption.
  6. Vaccinations – while Karyn did not begin with this belief she later realized that this was a factor for many.
  7. Genetics – a predisposition to a weak immune system may cause the assaults listed above to overwhelm the system and lead to autistic behaviors.

Part of what brought Seroussi to the conclusion of the genetic factor was her own health. When she listed her symptoms, she realized that they matched the symptoms of food allergy and yeast overgrowth: extreme fatigue, disorientation and “brain fog”, diarrhea and bloating, joint pain and morning stiffness, always feel cold, sleep disorder, intolerance to pain, difficulty exercising, sugar cravings, caffeine intolerance, back pain, frequent muscle spasms, clothes and shoes feel uncomfortable and restrictive.

In the second part of her book, the author presents the diet that has helped so many. Others have achieved results from different diets, however, Seroussi has produced a work that brings to light many of the factors that contribute to the condition we call autism and pervasive developmental disorder.

Confirming this journey of research and recovery led to the disqualification / discontinuing of special services before Miles went to school. As he entered kindergarten, his mother only told the teacher of his food allergies. Later, when she mentioned it to the teacher, he was amazed. Also, what every mother loves to hear, “I love you mommy,” has brought joy to this mother’s heart.

How Our Auditory System Affects Learning – Underlying Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Auditory Processing Disorders

Today, we are faced with many labels or conditions that affect learning. Many have a partial underlying cause in our auditory system including autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, developmental delay, dyslexia, central auditory processing disorder, and auditory processing disorder.

Hypersensitivities to sound may cause an individual to shut out sounds as a defensive mechanism and behave as if he were deaf. On the other hand the same sensitivity may cause another to scream and hold her ears. Learning will be impeded until these sensitivities are normalized.

Another difficulty arises when there is fluid in the ear. Since the Eustachian tubes in young children are more horizontal, fluid can build up and bacteria can form in this warm moist environment. Pressure from the fluid can cause pressure and pain – an ear ache. Repeated ear infections during the first two years of life can greatly affect development of the auditory system. During an infection, the individual hears as if under water and the sounds are not consistent. This in turn can cause receptive auditory problems as well as speech problems. Treating these ear infections without antibiotics or tubes will greatly enhance learning.

Difficulty following oral directions and learning to read using phonics represent just two problems reflected by low auditory sequential processing. When an individual has low auditory sequential processing they cannot remember a series of information long enough to use that information. For example, an individual should be able to look up a phone number or be told a phone number long enough to dial the phone. When parents ask their children to do a short list of chores and within minutes they have forgotten what it was they were to do and they engage in another activity – often play, parents often assume that this is disobedience. It could be disobedience, but it could also be low auditory sequential processing. When a child sounds out a relatively short word, but at the end cannot say the word, it is often due to low auditory sequential processing. Optimally, the solution for these difficulties is not accommodating a deficit, but increasing the auditory sequential processing.

Another major underlying cause for many of these children (and adults) is metabolic – diet / nutrition related. Often these children have what is called “leaky gut syndrome” meaning that nutrients cannot be easily absorbed for use in the body. Many options arise to consider. Elimination diets often remove the offending foods. Other diets work to resolve the issue; some by fixing the leaky gut and others by restoring a balance among nutrients. Families should research the alternatives and find the one that fits their family.

Neurodevelopmentalists look for underlying causes of the missing pieces in development and recommend activities and resources for families, guiding them to solutions.

A Book Review: Too Wise to Be Mistaken, Too Good to Be Unkind by Cathy Steere – Dealing With Autism

Years ago a lady from my church invited me to a seminar given by the neurodevelopmentalist that she worked with to help her son, Drew. I had been looking for a way to further my education with the goal of having better solutions for families who came to me with learning challenges. With my M.A. in Special Education I worked with home schooling families, but I noticed that the tools I had learned with that Master’s were primarily accommodating the learning challenges rather than eliminating them. I wanted to help more so I had begun a search for a way to actually help families in a meaningful way. This timely invitation led me to the neurodevelopmental approach.
That lady was Cathy Steere who has shared the story of her family’s journey with autism. When you read her book, Too Wise to Be Mistaken, Too Good to Be Unkind, you will know why I have been studying and applying the neurodevelopmental approach in my work ever since.
Amazingly, David and Cathy Steere did not have a diagnosis of autism until Drew was almost four years old. They felt like they had lost so much time, but the beauty of their story is that they had been faithfully following God’s Word in the training of Drew. They had focused on building his character and disciplining him according to God’s direction in His Word. All of that made the individualized neurodevelopmental plans that their neurodevelopmentalist, Cyndi Ringoen, eventually wrote for Drew much more efficient. Often, parents have to begin with getting behavior under control before they can make any progress at all. By not knowing they were dealing with autism, but knowing what the Bible taught about the nature of man and the nature of God, they proceeded with God’s plan for Drew and later their second son, Elliot.
Whether or not there are learning or behavioral challenges, any parent will find encouragement as you read this account. For those who are facing any sort of challenge, you will find comfort in knowing that God has given direction to parents in the form of principles. God will lead parents to professionals who can come along side to give encouragement and tools to work with your child to meet his needs. By reading this book, you will learn how the neurodevelopmentalist looks for missing pieces in development and teaches parents to do activities that stimulate the brain in a way that encourages that development.
Personally, I cry with the Steeres every time I read Cathy’s book. Some are tears of sorrow for the difficult times they experienced. Others, are tears of joy when Cathy wrote about the first time Drew ran to her for comfort, giving her his first awkward hug. Though often taken for granted, that simple action in a child with a condition like Drew’s, is a milestone in development. I count it a privilege to work with families like Drew’s because of the perseverance of these parents in researching and following through on whatever it takes for their children.

To order your copy:

Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspective of Autism

A Book Review: Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships
Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspective of Autism
By Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron Edited by Veronica Zysk
Future Horizons, Inc 2005

One of the most difficult areas for individuals on the Autism Spectrum is to navigate social relationships. This is especially true for high-functioning autistic individuals and those with the more specific label of Aspergers. “Age appropriate” expectations are not met and anxiety and other emotions run rampant. Two well-known individuals on the autism spectrum have collaborated in this book addressing this important issue. While they do not come from the neurodevelopmental approach there is much that can be learned from this book. Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron represent two different types of autistic individuals, thus reminding us that everyone is an individual even those who have been diagnosed with the same condition.
Grandin sees in pictures, maintaining an immense database of pictures that she has categorized as if on a well-organized hard drive. Therefore, the book has been arranged in Acts and Scenes as if in a play that she can visualize. On the other hand, as Barron grew up he developed his own a set of unwritten rules that he designed and expected everyone to follow. When people unknowingly broke the rules, he was angry. After telling their stories and introducing themselves to the readers, they give their ten main unwritten rules with personal examples and many sub-rules. Here are their ten main rules:

  •  Rules are not absolute; they are situation-based and people-based.
  •  Not everything is equally important in the grand scheme of things.
  •  Everyone in the world makes mistakes; it doesn’t have to ruin your day.
  •  Honesty is different from diplomacy.
  •  Being polite is appropriate in any situation.
  •  Not everyone who is nice to me is my friend.
  • People act differently in public than they do in private.
  •  Know when you are turning people off.
  • “Fitting in” is often tied to looking and sounding like you fit in.
  • People are responsible for their own behaviors.

Those who are not on the autistic spectrum are sometimes called “neuro-typicals.” These rules are generally learned by neuro-typicals with little or no effort. How? I would say that it is a combination of being inherent, direct teaching as with parents and children and by observation. Those on the spectrum (ASD) think differently enough that they do not learn these rules at what is considered the “age-appropriate” time. It is hard for neuro-typicals to understand why those on the spectrum have not learned these rules. Grandin and Barron have produced a book that helps parents, teachers and friends to better understand and help those on the autism spectrum. Most importantly, Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships provides credible help for those on the spectrum.

The Asperger’s Difference

Asperger’s Syndrome is on the autism spectrum.

Center for Spectrum Services produced the DVD, The Asperger’s Difference to highlight briefly what it is like for these individuals.

Asperger’s Syndrome brings strengths as well as weaknesses.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome? (as described by 3 young people who have AS)
Affects the brain and how one thinks.
Social Skills
Way the brain is wired

Challenges/ Weaknesses

  •  Social skills – making and keeping friends, understanding unwritten social rules
  •  Communication Skills – making eye contact, face-to-face conversation
  •  Processing – understanding what people say; slow reaction time; difficulty understanding metaphors; strong in literal thinking
  •  Conversational skills – mind goes faster than they can talk or the other way around; they interrupt; they are annoyed when they have something say and can’t
  •  Computer communication can be easier because there is a degree of anonymity and you can edit what you want to say before you send it
  •  Passionate interests – can’t stop distractions; using a timer can help
  •  Perfectionism – wash hands too often; “Perfectionism and procrastination are enemies.”
  •  Organization –
  •  Fidgety – can’t sit still
  •  Sensory Sensitivities – sensory overload
  • Emotional Control – temper tantrum
  •  Targets for teasing and bullying
  •  Isolation and depression

Positive Aspects / Strengths

  •  Bright
  •  Musical ear / creativity
  •  Memory – long term statistics; doesn’t need to study hard for tests
  • Language and memory for movies
  • Visual learning / imagery
  •  Sensory strength – very observant
  •  Good citizens – following rules

Self Advocacy -Sometimes you have tell people – it is your choice:
1. Ask: What is the nature of the relationship?
Can have positive and negative effects
Longer term relationships – more important to tell
Trusted – potential girl(boy)friends once you know them
2. Ask: What is the purpose of the relationship?
Professor – to get help – “Get all the help you can get, but don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy.”

Temple Grandin, the Movie

Temple Grandin, the movie.   Recently, a friend asked me if I had seen the movie, Temple Grandin.  I have read at least one of her books, Thinking in Pictures, but hadn’t even heard of the movie. After my friend left, I went to and placed it on hold. Ronnie and I watched the movie and then watched the movie again with the audio commentary. We decided that a friend of ours would benefit from seeing it. So we watched the movie two more times one without and one with the audio commentary. All three of us wanted to watch it again without the audio commentary. Ronnie and I watched it 5 times and I had it checked out twice from the library so I think it qualifies for a movie we could buy. Temple Grandin is an adult autistic individual who has done very well in life — she has a Ph.D. in Animal Science, teaches at Colorado State University as well as travels speaking on autism. While some of her thoughts do not reflect the neurodevelopmental approach, I highly recommend the movie for the following reasons.
1) It is very well made.
2) The acting is excellent. Temple said in the audio commentary that Claire Dane did an excellent job of becoming Temple.
3) But more importantly, it gives those of us who are not on the autism spectrum an understanding of the kinds of sensory issues that those on the spectrum face everyday. The movie also talks about how Temple was teased and laughed at for being different. Hopefully, our understanding will help us be more kind.
4) Our friend, who is on the autism spectrum, could relate to Temple and agreed that it was well done.