15 comments on “Meltdowns: triggers vs. root cause

    • It’s not necessarily about overall energy levels. It’s about how hard a person has to work to cope with or process the everyday tasks and experiences of life. If you imagine two people who start their day with the same number of tokens, the autistic person will use more of them throughout the day and risks running out of them sooner. What his energy level looks like when he runs out is a very individual thing. He may be exhausted and just want to sleep. He may be restless and need to run a few miles to recharge his token supply. Having a full supply of tokens doesn’t necessarily mean that he is full of physical energy. It means that he has sufficient ability to cope with the demands of life.

      Does that make sense?

  1. Thank you! I can see how token theory applies to my 11 year old Aspie!!! I am going to share this with his teachers this fall!!

  2. Thanks for a great post! Love the train analogy! Great how you relate your fears of hopping out of the way…and of looking for ways of circumventing the issue, and of noting how your child is beginning to recognize root cause- that alone is reason to rejoice!

    • A couple of weeks ago, Nick got grumpy with me over some small thing… and a few minutes later said, “Mom, sorry for snapping at you. I think I might need food.” You better believe I rejoiced!

  3. Funny how your token theory match my “patience points”
    When my kids were little I explained to them I had a finite amount of “patience points”
    When they presented annoying behavior – whining, fighting among themselves whatever – I would ask:
    Is this behavior worth my patience points?
    Some times the answer was no and we would use my remaining patience to go to a park instead…
    Sometimes the answer was yes. I respected that very much so. I taught them that some causes are worth standing for. It taught them the value and the cost if those causes and that they were important too.
    It also allowed me to raise my kids in a more respectful and peaceful environment. I don’t have autism, just, many, many traits ;) but i believe that the finite amount of patience is true for everyone – specially parents! I don’t remember last time my autistic kid had a meltdown and he is a 17 year old hormone bag!
    As for the previous comment about autistic people having less energy or less endurance… I don’t believe so. I believe they just have different buttons to push
    It absolutely does not cost me anything to cut the label from the back of the tee shirt for my (non autistic son) but it saves quite a few patience points from him! Surprisingly my autistic son could not care less about the labels but having strobing lights oh my! Patience points run fast on that issue!

    • I don’t believe that autistic people have less energy or endurance, but that they spend more tokens than most people do on the same tasks. Going to the store, for example, causes Nick to spend more tokens than I would because of the sensory input he has to process, leaving him with lower energy afterward than I have (assuming we both started out about the same).

      My NT daughter is also the one who needs her clothing tags cut out. :-)

  4. Lovely post. Great explanation of meltdown and I love the distinction between trigger and root cause. My boy is only 7 and holds his stuff together like a champ at school (aka uses ALOT of tokens) and this could really help us, help him, to have enough tokens left so that the transition from school is not so rough.

    Thanks again!

  5. This is so helpful. We are taking the steps to get my son diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome … Reading blogs like this make me feel so much at home with other parents. Up until this point, parenting my son, I felt alone…now, reading others experiences, I feel like I can parent him better. Thank you!!!

  6. Wow. This is incredible. I have an 8 year old son who is going down the path of being diagnosed as Aspergers. I too, find prevention the easier option. His “outbursts” always happen for a reason, and I try and make sure to prevent them. His behaviour always comes down to lack of sleep, lack of food or sensory overload. Sometimes there are triggers, but more often there are root causes. I also find if my son is coming down with a cold, his behaviour sky rockets! Its really refreshing to hear that its not just us going through this. I am new to this whole Aspergers thing. Its been a very hard parenting ride! Especially when all the “professionals” in our lives have been incredibly unsupportive – saying the reason he behaves this way or that way – is my fault as a mum and somehow I have caused his outbursts. Thanks for what you have written – its been very helpful to me as a mum.

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