Many children, when faced with difficult situations, are vulnerable to becoming helpless in the face of adversity. When faced with a situation that causes sensory overload or another symptom that taxes their unique neurological wiring, a special needs child’s emotional trauma may manifest in the form of a meltdown. This practice of giving up rather than using alternative ways to solve the situation is called “learned helplessness”. This term, coined by psychologist Martin Seligman, is used to describe the behavior of a person that feels powerless in present, controllable situations due to prior experiences in which they had no control.
Learned helplessness is characterized by inaction. If your child is struggling with learned helplessness, they may believe that they are incapable of getting past their anxiety. Take for example a child’s poor performance on an English test. Instead of taking their score as an opportunity to learn what topics they could understand better, the child may start to believe that they performed poorly because they are unintelligent and will always fail in English. The child may then procrastinate on assignments, avoid studying for tests or fail to participate in classes because they believe their scholastic fate is sealed.
As parents, we must teach our children how to be optimistic, breaking that belief to resist habitual negative thinking and constant giving up.
“The Loving Push”, Temple Grandin