My son has daily meltdowns from sensory issues

My son struggles with some sensory issues, and exhibits inflexibility and perfectionist behaviours. Since starting primary school, the demands of school have escalated such behaviours, leading to daily meltdowns—hours of screaming, self-harm and incessant erasing and rewriting. However, in school, he is a model student! The whole family’s life has been put on hold, and we are centred around keeping him calm and safe. I feel this is not fair for his older siblings whose needs may have been sidelined. I’ve considered taking him out of school, but many say he will outgrow this behaviour. Will he? How can I manage things better?


At The Well

Ai Jin says

Dear Exhausted,

When you mentioned that he is a model student at school, are you saying that he behaves better at school? If so, I wonder why? While it could mean that he is capable of some self-control, I suspect that he could be holding in emotional stress. The home becomes a safe place to release the repressed emotions that have been built up from facing various challenges at school. The meltdowns are a sign that his emotional and psychological capacity is overwhelmed by external demands, and he has limited coping resources, unable to self-soothe and self-regulate.

If this is affecting the family, it seems to indicate a level of severity to the issue at hand. As you mentioned that your son may have some inherent sensory issues, may I recommend you seek consultation and assessment from a child psychologist or child counsellor to ascertain what may be happening and learn intervention strategies that could help him. Meanwhile, support him to find healthy ways to manage his stress, such as going outdoors to play, going for a swim, or engaging in activities that he enjoys; provide downtime and encourage short naps in case he is tired.