Little Known Ways to Understand (Explosive) Children

Why do children with autism have such explosive meltdowns?  How can I understand the explosive child?”

the explosive child

Parenting children with Aspergers and autism is not a job for the faint of heart.  Of course, you never knew you were signing up for this, did you? :)

As a parent, have you ever been talking to another adult/parent of a typical child?

Suddenly your child starts loudly letting you know that s/he wants to go home, please stop talking.  As you ignore your child, the complaining gets louder and turns into a tantrum.

Or, you’re in a store and your child becomes fixated on a certain item s/he wants.

You move away from that area, and all chaos breaks loose.

Concerned adults stare at you, and some of them mutter something about how spoiled kids are these days.

These are trying circumstances, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg!

They don’t see the day in and day out struggles over homework, getting ready for school, getting ready for bed, getting out of bed in the morning, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, and so on, and so on, and so on!

The purpose behind this article is to give you a paradigm for better understanding characteristics of children on the autism spectrum which make them particularly vulnerable to explosiveness, meltdowns, and tantrums.

I want you to know that you are not a bad parent!  Understanding is the first cornerstone in better parenting your child while maintaining your sanity.

Ross W. Greene is the Director of the Collaborative Problem Solving Institute in the Department of Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Codirector at the Center for Collaborative Problem Solving, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

His research centers around treating children who are typically disruptive, explosive, and irritable.  These children can have many different diagnoses, not just autism.  What they share in common, though, are some characteristics that are vital for you to understand.

As a side note, remember that “the apple may not fall far from the tree.”

I know, I know, your defenses are up.  “Not me,” you say.

But keep an open mind, and remember that sometimes, as parents, we may also share some of the characteristics of our children.  For example, we may complain that our children are so inflexible.

However, are we just as rigid sometimes in our parenting?  Food for thought :)

As a parent, you may be asking, “What should I do with my child?!”

Instead, Dr. Greene suggests that we ask a different question:

What cognitive factors are contributing to my child’s learning disability in the domains of flexibility, adaptability, and frustration tolerance?

The key of Dr. Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving Model for parenting explosive children is to understand that each child may be lagging in one or more of five different clusters or “pathways”. Therefore, you must understand that your child’s difficulties are due NOT to poor motivation on the part of the child, or due to your adult ineptitude. Rather, it just means that your child is lacking some specific cognitive/emotional skills in one or more of these five areas. It’s very relieving to understand this, because in the understanding lies the solutions.

5 Pathways

The following list of pathways is taken from the Pathways Inventory, listed in Chapter 1 of Dr. Greene’s book, Treating Explosive Kids.

The first pathway is in the area called executive skills.


Once you understand these pathways, you will want to identify the situations in which your child blows up or “loses it”.

Take notes on the situation, and see if the situation is such that highlights difficulties in any of these five pathways.

Become curious, a parent detective if you may.  By becoming aware of situations and what trigger the meltdowns, you will be developing a sense for why your child is melting down.

In future articles I am going to share Dr. Greene’s approach to helping your child develop the skills necessary to better cope, and to diminish the frequency and intensity of the meltdowns.

For further reading, you may enjoy this book from Dr. Greene: you can purchase it or check it out at your local library.

photo credit: christine (cbszeto) on Flickr Creative Com

What about you?  Does any of this resonate for you and your child?  Does this make sense?

I look forward to hearing your comments.

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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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