In a previous post, I shared the meltdown countdown that Christopher experienced at a birthday party. Christopher is on the autism spectrum (ASD) at a moderate-to-high level of functioning, depending upon the stressors in his environment.
My first step was to develop three social stories with photos and diagrams to prepare him for a systematic plan to deal with strong feelings. He read all of these out loud to me. If I felt that he was losing the meaning due to rapid or inaccurate reading, he reread that section. He was also required to circle answer choices and scribe his own words. Using an adult pen was quite a hit!
Social story #1, Strong Feelings, provided a framework for understanding that we all have strong feelings and how we deal with them is important. I described his strong happy feelings (which look quite manic and lead him to grab and mishandle items) as well as his strong angry feelings (which lead to shrieking tantrums). I also described the consequences of his being out of control, including how yucky he feels. I had photos for all those feelings; Christopher preferred to put his hand over the one which showed his overwhelming sad feelings.
Social story #2, Understanding Strong Feelings, provided a common language for talking about the intensity of his feelings. I used a scale from 1 to 10, with 5 being a safe limit for him. The story also outlined what behaviors are associated with increasing levels of intensity (6-10). He was able to select appropriate descriptors for each level, such as increased movement and talking. He also demonstrated great insight about his inability to respond to verbal directions once he reaches a 7 or 8.
Social story #3, Making My Plan for Dealing with Strong Feelings, engaged Christopher in the process of developing his actual plan. I wrote that he would be expected to take his plan to a safe place, read it, and pick at least one strategy. When he was finally calm, he could rejoin the group or activity. Christopher was required to select from choices I included in the social story and/or add his own. I had included only choices which required movement, since he becomes extremely active when upset. Christopher wanted to include options such as playing his favorite video games or playing on my tablet. I explained that he could access those types of activities once he calmly rejoined the group. I also told him that I didn’t think my tablet was safe when he was at a level 9 or 10. His eyes widened and he agreed. He did say that listening to music on an iPod could be calming. I added that to his list of possible calming actions. Then I took photos of him roleplaying all 5 choices. This photo is “curl into a ball, hug myself VERY tight, and count to 100.” He counted by 10’s, so we will see how this works out in “real life!”
*Let me know if you are interested in reading the social stories*
Next step? Share completed plan with Christopher and role play. Stay tuned for details!