Meltdowns seem to be the perfect storm of all things we can’t control. Frustration, emotional over-sensitivity, circumstances outside our control, and a brain malfunction all come together at one time to create a super-storm we can’t stop, any more than we can stop a tornado. [more…]

ADHD meltdowns have become common occurrence

I’m afraid ADHD meltdowns have been far too common in our family as of late. I’ve been able to link their increase to a new medication and stop it at once, but the scars of these episodes of fury, grief, and fear take a long time to fade.

Ricochet’s latest meltdown — Saturday afternoon in the mall parking lot on a family road trip — really blindsided me and Mr. T. He had been doing well for a couple days and was excited to go on this little spontaneous road trip. We took the kids to Character World, a store in a mall about an hour from our home. They had been wanting to go for quite some time. We gave them each $20 to spend there because they both had good midterm reports from school.

Ricochet couldn’t find anything he wanted. He decided he’d much rather buy a Nintendo DS game he’s been wanting at GameStop instead. Mr. T walked him over and they looked for the game together, but it was $35. Ricochet didn’t have enough money to purchase it. When the boys met up with us girls again, Ricochet seemed to be handling the disappointment well. Little did I know it was actually festering and cycling in his mind as he walked the crowded mall corridor quietly beside me.

We ordered sandwiches before getting back on the road for our next destination. As we sat in the booth and waited for our food to be ready, the begging started.

“I’ve been waiting for that game for like two years,” Ricochet stated. “I can’t wait any more.” Tears followed.

“You have to earn the rest of the money before you can buy it,” I reminded him.

“No, I can’t wait. I’m not gonna wait.” There was a long pause. “I’ll clean all morning tomorrow to earn the other money if you let me buy it today,” he said.

I reminded him once again that he had to have the money before he bought it.

Then the spiral began. He slithered out of the booth and down beneath the table into the darkness. The sandwiches came and we asked him to come up and eat, to no avail. The rest of us ate as quickly as we could to leave the restaurant before the explosion we feared was imminent. By that time, Ricochet was adamantly refusing to come out from under the table, despite the fact that his dad and sister were already out the door.

I remained calm, but was firm in instructing him that he must come with me to leave at once. His tone of voice was now sharp and jagged and his face appeared as though he was wearing a Halloween mask — that mean, vile look was not my sweet Ricochet. I began my count to try to entice him to come out. When the pressure was really on to leave the restaurant with me, he turned more aggressive. Suddenly, the table was being kicked with great force, catapulting it into my side and almost knocking me down onto the lady sitting at the neighboring table, trying to ignore the madness and eat her salad in peace.

I was beginning to fear there was no way out of this one. The restaurant was packed and a very public, very embarrassing scene was unfolding, with me as co-star. I desperately didn’t want to be in the spotlight. I pulled the table out and exposed him curled up on the floor, thinking that would prevent him from kicking the table into others and adding to the casualty list. His face contorted like a vampire being exposed to the light. I had never seen anything like this from Ricochet before, and I had to work to stay focused on the task at hand and not fall apart myself.

Once I exposed him, I was able to get him up and out of the restaurant. We walked very quickly over the warm asphalt to our car. Mr. T and Warrior Girl were already inside, but Ricochet refused to join them. I stood outside and tried to reason with him. It was deja vu of the Goodwill meltdown of 2010 (chronicled in my book, Boy Without Instructions) — me standing outside pleading for Ricochet to get in the car, while the rest of my family sat inside frustrated, embarrassed, and angry.

Before too long, Mr. T came out and lifted Ricochet into the car, thinking we were still in temper tantrum territory for not being able to get the game he wanted that day. I knew we had long ago fallen from tantrum into meltdown. At that point we just had to wait for the meltdown to cycle and for the storm to pass.

This meltdown was different from all that came before it though. This one was much more sinister and violent. Ricochet was literally writhing in his skin. He kicked and punched the outside of the car and the seats, once inside, with great force. With such force, in fact, that I feared he was going to break his hand or foot. I begged and pleaded to try to calm him down. I tried to talk to him in as soothing a manner as possible. I knew his brain was stuck in this awful place, but he was so much more volatile than we’d ever seen before. I was truly scared for him and began to fear we may need to take him to a hospital. The end was still nowhere in sight, so I asked Mr. T to take Warrior Girl back into the mall — I didn’t want her to have to witness any more of it. I was beginning to get scared and I knew that meant she was already very scared.

After another 10-15 minutes, Ricochet was beginning to come out of the meltdown and calm. He drank his Sprite until it was all gone and then continued to gulp the air through the straw, almost obsessively. I couldn’t convince him to stop. I asked Mr. T to bring more Sprite and he arrived back at the car with it a few minutes later. I filled up Ricochet’s cup and he still sipped through the straw obsessively.

I tried for a good 15 minutes more to get him to talk to me. He would moan and make signs with his hands, but he would not speak. We decided to go ahead and hit the road again, even though I had not been able to coax one word out of him. Many frightening thoughts overtook me as I stared out the windshield, over the highway, and into the horizon. Terror set in. This meltdown had been so much more intense and violent than any before. What if it actually damaged his brain? What if it was a seizure?

We pulled off to fuel up about 20 minutes later. As we entered the parking lot, I heard a sweet little voice ask from the back seat, “What are we doing here?” I have never been so relieved. Ricochet was talking again. A few minutes later, he began the apologies and remorse, as usual — another sign that these meltdowns are anything but within his control.

Despite his doctor asking us to continue with a half dose just that morning, I have not given Ricochet the anxiety medication since that day. Obviously, it was not going to work for him, no matter how small the dose.

Author: Penny Williams

Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD: Boy Without Instructions, What to Expect When Parenting Children with ADHD, and The Insider’s Guide to ADHD Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.