Is your special child having an unexplainable reaction to bubbles?
He is not the only one. It is typical for children to experience fears as they work their way to self-discovery and self-sufficiency. Part of their curiosity and eagerness to engage with what is happening around them can open doors to new mind-boggling experiences. Being scared of bugs, thunder, and the dark is not unusual in most children.
However, uncommon fears have been linked to children who are on the spectrum. Dr. Leo Kanner, who is considered the father of child psychiatry, realized the connection around 70 years back. He wrote a paper entitled, “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.” He interviewed kids with autism and cited how specific noises and moving objects can elicit fear and panic to these children. Some of the examples he cited are swings, elevators, gas burners, egg beaters, and running water. One of the children also mentioned about getting scared of the wind.
A study published in 2013 did further research about the unusual fears of children with autism. The sample consists of 1033 children who participated. The irrational fears were disclosed by the parents. Out of the 1033 children, 421 children (41%) experience it. The number of fears reported summed up to 92 types of different fears. Fears surrounding mechanical things, weather, and heights comprise more than half of the 421 children. The most prevalent of all these unusual fears is fear of toilets. Most of the unusual fears cited in the study were already mentioned in Kanner’s book.
Children who have autism see, feel, and react to the world differently than those who do not have it. Typical inevitable things like weather changes or routine adjustments are bearable for children with autism. However, it can be really scary, stressful, and enraging for children on the spectrum.
Why is Your Child Scared of Bubbles?
You happily head home hoping to surprise your child with a new bubble-blowing toy. But instead of getting fascinated by it, he just went on a full-scale tantrum.
Or perhaps, during bath time, you decided to make things more fun and blew up a bubble with the suds. Instead of getting a positive joyous response, your little trick was met with frantic shouts and a panic attack.
What Is Going On?
Fear of bubbles is quite rare but bear in mind that every child with autism is different. They react based on their fears or what upsets their sensory system. Kids on the spectrum get disturbed by different things, so you can’t expect the same type of unusual fear from everyone with autism.
Fears can either stem out from experience or can be sensory-based. Misinterpretation is a possibility. Exaggeration of facts or wrong information can be triggering.
Sensory fears might be linked to the aural, tactile, or visual nature. For instance, the sound of a whistle is probably too high-pitched for the ear and it might be irritating. Seeing himself in the mirror or a puddle can be disorienting.
The orb-ish look of the bubble may be too odd and bothersome for him. Or it is also possible that he does not like the feeling when it touches his skin before bursting. People who have autism experience heightened sensitivity. It can either be with just one or with more of the five senses – sense of hearing, sense of sight, sense of sound, sense of smell, sense of touch, and sense of taste. Body awareness and balance are also affected. However, some people with autism may also have under-responsiveness to different stimuli.
If the problem is from an experiential source, it can be more difficult to identify the real reason. Maybe he saw one of his mates cried after a bubble popped in his eye. Maybe they associate a scene in a sad movie or heard a story about bubbles that make them antsy and emotional. The possibilities are endless, but knowing how to handle the situation can bode well for you as a parent of a child with autism.
How to Respond When Your Child Gets Scared or Throws a Fit?
Being a parent to a kid on the spectrum, it is a lot more difficult to guess the root cause of meltdowns and tantrums that happen almost daily. Since the situations always vary and the environment might be a contributing factor, predicting possible triggers is not at all easy. While parents of neurotypical children can easily minimize tantrums and meltdowns by removing these trigger factors, your child is a bit more unpredictable. This makes conducting a proactive approach rather impossible.
First, you need to understand that reactions are different. Autistic tantrums and meltdowns rarely come from the same source. Knowing the difference will help you understand which actions to take.
What is Temper Tantrum?
A temper tantrum typically happens when you deny your child of something they want for themselves. It can either be an activity or a toy. Tantrums can be seen in kids from one to four years old.
Temper tantrums most likely occur due to frustration. At this stage, development is underway. Some toddlers want to be independent, but the limitations on their motor skills and cognitive prowess inhibit them from doing so. There is a small possibility that your kid’s reaction to bubbles might be from his lack of ability to control the situation. Maybe he desires to blow the bubble by himself, but you did it yourself.
If the cause of the reaction is from not being able to do what he wants, do not give in. Children who throw a fitting rage to get their way, neurotypical or atypical, will recognize that this behavior is wrong sooner or later if you ignore them. Awarding them with attention is like a nod to this unwanted behavior.
How to Respond Properly to Temper Tantrums?
For children with autism, skill-building is essential. This three-step approach can be used to manage tantrums thrown by children, atypical or neurotypical.
- Identify What is Causing His or Her Reaction
Some kids will readily throw a tantrum to gain attention or insist what he needs. Sometimes it is just because a parent said no to them. When you find out what are your child’s intentions, you can respond better. For instance, you gave your child with autism a pink popsicle and gave his sister a yellow one. He preferred the yellow one, so he threw the popsicle to the ground, propped right next to it, and started kicking and yelling. Walk up to him and acknowledge that he is upset, but tell him that you will talk to him only when he is calm. Follow through with what you said to explain how he could have handled the situation better.
- Positive Reinforcements Go A Long Way
High-fives and cheers are good ways to show that you acknowledge their good behaviors and performance.
- Introduce Problem-Solving and Self-Soothing Techniques
Having a difficult time managing impulses and tolerating delayed gratifications are some of the reasons why children throw a tantrum. Find ways to help your child develop problem-solving and self-soothing techniques whenever you get the chance. Tantrum moments, however, is not a good time for a lecture.
What is Autism Meltdown?
This one is more typical in kids with autism. Having a meltdown is their response to situations where they can’t control how they feel. They look for someone they trust to calm and reassure them or will only to stop when they are physically and emotionally exhausted.
Meltdowns can sometimes arise after a tantrum, but more often than not these is triggered by overstimulation. Familiarizing yourself with your child’s sensory signals can help you identify meltdowns. Most likely, children with autism who are scared of bubbles have overstimulated sense of touch or sense of sight. The texture and sensation of being in contact with a bubble can be too irritating or foreign. Seeing a floating bubble can be confusing as the child might find it hard to grasp why he can see through the floating balls.
When overstimulated, the central nervous system of a child with autism gets all wrapped up because of the stimulation. For that matter, he is unable to digest the rest of the situation. Think of it as traffic in the brain. We all know how annoying it can get. Imagine a traffic-free road where you can enjoy a long drive. Then all of sudden, you turn on a corner and bam! Lines of unmoving cars, you thought you drove into a parking lot. It is bound to make you antsy. Suddenly, the lack of mobility zooms your focus on loud voices on the streets, loud horns, and the heat of the sun.
During this period, as with all anxiety-causing and stressful situations, the Autonomic Nervous System helps increase the amount of body’s cortisol, triggering a fight or flight reaction. For people with autism, a road rage is in order. Overstimulation is not linked to a behavioral problem, but it rather a physiological reaction in nature. They process the foreign situation and triggers as life-threatening and so they go into an extreme panic.
What to Do When Your Child Has a Meltdown?
Every child with autism observes situations differently depending on their acquired skills, communication abilities, and sensory sensitivity. This means it is impossible to find just one solution that can help autism meltdown management.
While avoiding meltdowns for good is not possible, there are some ways parents can reduce stress and anxiety for a child on the spectrum. Try these practices to improve your child’s coping mechanism.
- Dedicate A Period of Quiet Time
This period can be used as downtime to calm the nerves. He might have an easier time dealing with situations that can happen as the rest of the day unfolds.
- Leave the Area
When your child starts to show signs of a meltdown, leave the area. No questions asked. Instead of calming him down in the park after seeing two kids blowing bubbles, take him home.
- Stay Calm
Maintain eye contact and use easy and simple words when communicating. A gentle touch and hug can help them feel less alone.
- Keep Your Child Safe
For seemingly out-of-control situations in public, give your child some space but ensure that he is safe. Ask people to stop staring at your child. Having a group of people watching your every move when you are overwhelmed is not ideal.
- Try Incentives or Distractions
Play a short game or present another toy. When your child starts having a meltdown due to bubbles, why not reach out for the rubber ducky and start making those funny sounds he likes so much. Playing a bit of music and rewarding him after he calmed down is a great way to acknowledge good behavior, too.
- Invest in A Sensory Tool Kit
Some stuff that you might want to include in your kit are sunglasses, crunchy snacks, a hat or cap, hand wipes, scented hand lotion depending on preference, fidget toys, and headphones. On a Netflix series entitled Atypical, the teenage main character always uses his noise-canceling headphones whenever he feels too jittery and absorbed in the situation.
Other Uncommon Fears
Unusual fears were categorized into two: an uncommon fear that is not typical in kids in the general population and a common fear that was made unusual due to an obsessive, irrational, and intense reaction of a child with autism. In some cases, the severity of anxiety and stress can immobilize a child and his family. Some kids with autism would rather stay at home than struggle with socializing and the constant panic about a potential trigger.
Unfamiliar situations, things, and people can send a child with autism in a fleet of panic and anxiety. Most parents already know what can affect their children. Therefore, in time it becomes easier to reassure them. Whatever the nature off the unnatural fears are, children and adults dealing with autism can be conquered. It may take some time of getting used to, but more likely than not, all your child needs is some time. Be patient and supportive as much as you can.