I’m not trying to get all high and mighty here. After all, I’ve only been an “autism dad” for 4 years or so and I certainly don’t have all the answers. However, with the help of a large number of very patient people, I have figured out a few things I’d like to pass on to other dads. The first thing I learned, and have really had to revisit here recently, is that I need to lower my voice.

My son is an overreactive kid. What that means is his sensorium is like a Ferrari: You give it a little gas and it revs super high. He gets that honestly, as I have a high revving sensorium too. Growing up I was always the kid causing trouble, running for no reason, etc. As an adult that translates into a guy who laughs loud, talks loud and does just about everything loud. What that means for my son is that I’m constantly pushing his buttons and driving him toward a meltdown.

We’ve had some meltdowns this past week, mostly in reaction to a program we had in place that wasn’t working from him. It reached its peak last thursday, when he had a half hour screaming, kicking meltdown at home and a second 20 minute meltdown later that day at his program. After debating all weekend my wife and I elected to pull him from the program and start extinguishing behavior on our own, which we have had success with in the past. However, I had forgotten a few things that I needed reminding about.

First off, approaching a meltdown situation with a large, booming voice means you fail before you even start. Feeding into that overworked and exploding sensory system with loud noises, fast movements or any sort of aggressive posture is the prelude to a more catastrophic meltdown. I’m still working on changing my body language to engage that way, but its coming. However, the one piece of advice that makes it easier is this: lower your voice almost to a whisper.

Whispering makes a couple things happen. Mainly it helps me calm my tone, which in turn takes my mood down a notch. Second, it makes my son stop what he is doing and listen to hear what I’m saying. It slows him down a little, which is the start of what we want. We want him to slow down a lot! However, it also surprises him because he isn’t used to hearing something soft in the middle of his meltdown, something comforting when he is in a place beyond where he would ever feel comfortable. Bringing someone out of fight or flight is hard, but this one thing is a step in the right direction.

I wish I could take credit for this, but this advice actually came from our therapist who worked in a residential setting for years. He has helped us understand how this situation looks from the perspective of the person melting down, which has been invaluable in understanding how to help our son. Again, its not the answer for everything, but its a good answer for a common situation.