1) Make sure you are perfectly calm. The child with sensory issues feeds off your mood. This is put as number one for a reason.
2) Assess the situation and figure out what is bothering the child. If you can, remove the child from the situation which is affecting the senses (ie., the noise, the crowds, the bright lights, etc).
3) Try to distract the child with a joke/funny story/magic trick/funny act. At the same time speak in a low, comforting tone.
4) Try to get the child to take a warm bath for deep pressure relaxation. (Don’t forget the epsom salt. 🙂 )
5) Give the child a deep pressure massage and include joint compressions.
6) Quickly turn on happy music to change the atmosphere. The child can sing at the top of his lungs with the music or lie down to listen, tightly rolled in blankets.
7) Whip out out a fun, creative, sensory activity- play-dough or painting or a mini-trampoline works if you’re at home. Silly putty, a doodle pad or etch-a-sketch, if you’re on the go.
8 ) Set out a crunchy snack- apples, celery, carrots, or pretzels.
9) Offer some chewing gum. Chewing releases stress and anxiety.
10) Pick up the telephone to talk to grandparents or favorite relative, or pull out the video camera. Chances are the child will stop because his behavior will be on display.
What not to do:
1) Don’t try and talk sense to the child. He/she will only hear some of your words, forget about your facial expressions or tone of voice.
2) Don’t punish him for not being able to stop the meltdown. Children don’t like having meltdowns, they already feel like they are being punished.
Both of these only allow the meltdown to build in intensity, by increasing the frustration, stress, and anxiety.
Meltdowns occur when the child feels forced into a sensory experience he cannot handle. Much of that is the child losing his sense of self. Distraction or quick sensory activities will work best to avoid the oncoming meltdown.
A word of caution: Once the meltdown is happening, there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can remove yourself from the room considering the child is safe, and wait until it subsides.