Helping Your Child Communicate
How To Prevent Meltdowns
For parents, dealing with ASD meltdowns can be exhausting. Preventing them can be a better strategy than trying to respond to them.
Sometimes you can use the information you know about the child to avoid common triggers:
- Know the childs sensory sensitivities such loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells
- Know the daily routine such as reading a story before bedtime, eating a certain food for breakfast
- Know the childs favorite things/places such a dinosaur toy, favorite blanket, a specific shop/store
Once you have these pieces of information, it will be easier to identify meltdown triggers and avoid them as much as possible.
For instance, if your child does not like a specific sensory input like bright lights, but you are in a public place where there are bright lights, try to redirect your child to avoid this area.
It might be necessary to improvise if you can not avoid a meltdown trigger. If you need to skip breakfast because you need to leave early for a trip, pack the childs breakfast so he/she can still eat it on the way.
Averting a meltdown may not be possible at all times, but here are a few ways to try to prevent them:
Ways To Manage An Autism Meltdown On The Go
Adults with autism usually develop effective coping strategies for managing meltdowns. However, many will tell you they do better when they experience a meltdown at home, where theyre in a comfortable, familiar environment.
Likewise, most parents of children with autism know how to handle a meltdown at home. They know their childs routines and preferred ways of self-soothing.
When youre out and about or traveling, however, easing a meltdown can be a major challenge. Its easy to feel like every eye is on you when your child is wailing or kicking and screaming on the floor. As an adult, it can be tough to find a private, quiet space where you can decompress if you feel overstimulated.
Fortunately, there are several ways to manage an autism meltdown when youre out of the house. Here are six tips to keep in mind.
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Techniques For Avoiding And Managing Meltdowns
Children with autism can have a tough time managing their behavior. Even high functioning children can have a meltdown in situations that would be only mildly challenging to a typical peer.
Children with more severe symptoms can get very upset on a daily basis. Meltdowns and anxiety can make it very hard to participate in typical activities or, in some extreme cases, to even leave the house.
Its not always easy to calm a child with autism, but there are techniques that can often be successful. Some require a bit of extra equipment that offers sensory comfort. Some of these items can be used in settings like school or community venues. If they work well, theyre worth their weight in gold.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
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Dont Wait For A Diagnosis
As the parent of a child with ASD or related developmental delays, the best thing you can do is to start treatment right away. Seek help as soon as you suspect somethings wrong. Dont wait to see if your child will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Dont even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier children with autism spectrum disorder get help, the greater their chance of treatment success. Early intervention is the most effective way to speed up your childs development and reduce the symptoms of autism over the lifespan.
When your child has autism
Learn about autism. The more you know about autism spectrum disorder, the better equipped youll be to make informed decisions for your child. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in all treatment decisions.
Become an expert on your child. Figure out what triggers your kids challenging or disruptive behaviors and what elicits a positive response. What does your child find stressful or frightening? Calming? Uncomfortable? Enjoyable? If you understand what affects your child, youll be better at troubleshooting problems and preventing or modifying situations that cause difficulties.
Dont give up. Its impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder. Dont jump to conclusions about what life is going to be like for your child. Like everyone else, people with autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities.
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Theres A Difference Between Forcing Behaviors And Encouraging Independence
Ive learned from experience that trying to force independence is counterintuitive, whether or not your child is autistic.
When we push a child, especially one prone to anxiety and rigidity, their natural instinct is to dig their heels in and hold on tighter.
When we force a child to face their fears, and I mean screaming-on-the-floor petrified, like Whitney Ellenby, the mother who wanted her autistic son to see Elmo, we arent actually helping them.
If I was forced into a room full of spiders, I would probably be able to detach from my brain at some point to cope after about 40 hours of screaming. That doesnt mean I had some kind of breakthrough or success in facing my fears.
I also assume Id store those traumas and theyd invariably be triggered later in my life.
Of course, pushing independence isnt always as extreme as the Elmo scenario or a room full of spiders. All of this pushing falls on a spectrum ranging from encouraging a hesitant child to physically forcing them into a scenario that has their brain screaming danger.
When we let our children get comfortable at their own pace and they finally take that step of their own volition, true confidence and security grows.
That said, I understand where the Elmo mom was coming from. We know our kids would enjoy whatever activity if they would just try it.
We want them to feel joy. We want them to be brave and full of confidence. We want them to fit in because we know what rejection feels like.
A Good Treatment Plan Will:
- Build on your childs interests.
- Offer a predictable schedule.
- Teach tasks as a series of simple steps.
- Actively engage your childs attention in highly structured activities.
- Provide regular reinforcement of behavior.
- Involve the parents.
Choosing autism treatments
There are many different options and approaches to ASD treatment, including behavior therapy, speech-language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nutritional therapy.
While you dont have to limit your child to just one treatment at a time, its unlikely youll be able to address everything at once. Instead, start by focusing on your childs most severe symptoms and pressing needs.
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Asking To Leave Or To Take A Break
If your child asks or signs to leave the area or take a break, the situation or environment may be overstimulating.
As your childs guide, working with your childs communication skills will help them to understand when and how to express to you when they are in need of a break, even though they may not be able to understand or express their own level of anxiety.
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Recognizing The Motivation Or Purpose Of The Tantrum Behavior
Here are a few examples of motivation children might have:
- to get attention
- delayed access to what he wants/needs
Once you identify WHY your child is tantruming, you can respond more appropriately.
Recognize your childs needs in the moment, without giving into them.
For example: Bobby wanted to choose the TV show but his sister put on Sesame Street before he got to the remote to turn on Dora. Bobby is now on the floor kicking, yelling, and crying . Bobby wanted to choose Dora as the TV show but didnt get his way . The adult could calmly, concisely respond with I see that you are because you didnt get to choose your TV show. When youre calm, well talk about it .
When Bobby calms down, he can then be engaged in conversation about how to solve the TV show problem but he does not get his Dora TV show immediately.
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S For Handling The Tantrum
Caregivers who are familiar enough with the autistic child to know that a temper tantrum is imminent can attempt to diffuse the situation by re-directing the childâs attention to something that holds his or her interest. However, sometimes a tantrum will occur so quickly that the child is already lashing out physically before an adult can take steps toward prevention. The most important guideline for parents, teachers, or other adults to keep in mind when handling temper tantrums is to remain calm at all times. The child with autism who is having a meltdown will often become more upset if the adult also loses control of his or her emotions.
If the child is in close proximity to other children or adults during a meltdown, it is best for the caregiver to quickly relocate the child to a spot that is free of objects that can be thrown and isolated from people who could be hurt. The caregiver should allow the child to work through the tantrum but should not call special attention to the behavior. Often, a child with autism will resolve their temper tantrum fairly quickly and without much incident, though health professionals can be consulted if the tantrums are frequent, long in duration, or excessively violent in nature.
How To Differentiate A Temper Tantrum From An Autistic Meltdown
It can be easy to mistake a temper tantrum for a meltdown as they both have similar symptoms. However, you need to accurately differentiate between the two in order to fully support your kid with his struggles.
When trying to understand whether your child has a temper tantrum or a meltdown, pay attention to these signs:
- Temper tantrums usually happen in front of other people, while meltdowns may occur without an audience as well. If you ignore a child that has a temper tantrum, the behavior will most likely stop immediately. However, autistic meltdowns occur as a response to an overwhelming situation that causes loss of control regardless of an audience.
- Tantrums usually hold a goal behind them. The child wants something and starts showing off in order to get his desired outcome. Tantrums tend to be triggered by fatigue or illness, while meltdowns can happen in any type of external stimuli overload. Autistic meltdowns are not goal-oriented they are a response that manifests through loss of control.
- Unlike tantrums that come with anger and frustration, autistic meltdowns stem from a feeling of overwhelm. Temper tantrums are usually handled with incentives or distractions these strategies might not work for meltdowns.
- Tantrums usually happen during childhood and adolescence, while meltdowns can occur at any age.
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Talk With A Professional
Its not always possible to manage rage attacks or tantrums yourself.
A therapist can teach you relaxation techniques and skills to better manage your feelings. These can help with any kind of tantrum or rage attack, regardless of the underlying cause.
Cognitive behavioral therapy , an approach that helps many people improve their ability to manage distress, may have particular benefit for IED.
Therapy also offers a safe space to get support with identifying and processing difficult feelings if you struggle with emotional regulation.
Very occasionally, uncontrollable rage could have an underlying medical or psychiatric cause. If you dont see improvement after working with a therapist, you may want to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Visual Schedules Social Stories Check
Wed all like to avoid meltdowns completely, but thats not possible. Instead, some parents find it helpful to put strategies in place to minimize the stress and anxiety of daily life that may contribute to a meltdown. Visual schedules, social stories, check-off lists, and activity or task schedules will be helpful in communicating to your child what is planned, and what the expectations will be. If youre planning an outing to the mall or grocery store, an online search can turn up actual photos of the store. Social stories that walk a child through the plan, from beginning to end, will offer predictability and a sense of control that may reduce anxiety. Over time, building in a surprise or question mark to visual schedules will help to shape behavioral responses to unexpected changes in routines or outings that are often stressful.
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Tips For Staying Calm
Of course, the best way to be calm is to stay calm to start with. That means teaching your child how to manage his or her own feelings.
There are some techniques which, while not failproof, can make a big positive difference. Many are related to sensory integration therapyan approach which helps people with sensory dysfunction to manage challenging situations. These techniques include:
What Can I Do When My Child Is Having A Tantrum
Typical tantrums are a way that children learn to manipulate their parents to give them what they want. Children very quickly learn that they may get what they need by crying and screaming. Since there is a reward system for the behavior, each time the child reaches to their goal the behavior is reinforced. In many cases tantrums are self-limiting and they will disappear as the child grows. However, the reward loop can be broken faster, if the child learns that having a tantrum is not an effective way to attract attention and reach to their goals.
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Helping Your Child With Autism Thrive Tip : Provide Structure And Safety
Learning all you can about autism and getting involved in treatment will go a long way toward helping your child. Additionally, the following tips will make daily home life easier for both you and your child with ASD:
Be consistent. Children with ASD have a hard time applying what theyve learned in one setting to others, including the home. For example, your child may use sign language at school to communicate, but never think to do so at home. Creating consistency in your childs environment is the best way to reinforce learning. Find out what your childs therapists are doing and continue their techniques at home. Explore the possibility of having therapy take place in more than one place in order to encourage your child to transfer what he or she has learned from one environment to another. Its also important to be consistent in the way you interact with your child and deal with challenging behaviors.
Stick to a schedule. Children with ASD tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a schedule for your child, with regular times for meals, therapy, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare your child for it in advance.
What Is An Adhd Meltdown
Children who are diagnosed with ADHD often struggle with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. At times, these behaviors can lead to a child having difficulty with self-control and expressing their emotions. When theyre having a hard time and feeling sad, disappointed, frustrated, or upset, they may express their negative emotions through an angry outburst or temper tantrums.
As a parent, its important to recognize this as a symptom of ADHD versus typical misbehavior. Due to having ADHD, your child may have a more difficult time with emotional regulation than their peers and may need some additional support working on things to help such as anger management techniques exploring ADHD medications to mitigate these issues.
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Try Distracting Your Child
This will only work if you spot the tell-tale signs of a meltdown before your child loses complete control. You can distract your child by doing anything which makes your child happy. The aim is to focus on something which is comforting but not over-stimulating. This could include something like making silly faces or singing your childs favorite song.
Parents Of Child With Autism Seek Help With Public Meltdowns
You recently posted two blogs on managing recurrent behavioral crises. This isnt a chronic problem for us. But there are times when our son has public meltdowns. Can you offer some effective strategies for handling the situation?
This weeks Got Questions? answer is by child psychologist Lauren Elder, Autism Speaks assistant director for dissemination science. For the blogs referenced in the above question, see “Help for Child with Recurring Behavioral Crisis” Part 1 and “Help for Child with Recurring Behavioral Crisis” Part 2.
A behavioral crisis is difficult anywhere. It can be particularly challenging to handle in public. While many of the tips in the previous blogs still apply, here are some additional suggestions tailored for those public meltdowns.
Clearly, the best strategy is prevention. A child is more likely to have good behavior if he or she clearly understands whats expected.
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The Best Behavioral Strategies To Help Deal With Autistic Meltdowns And Tantrums
In these cases, prevention and preparation are always the best approach.
A child with Autism will need to be prepared for what comes next, he should know what to expect.
Im sure youve heard someone or at some other point say, give me all the information so I can mentally prepare myself, its the same for your child.
Preparing them for what they are to expect of the outside world or the venue youll be visiting will help prevent possible meltdowns or at least make dealing with them a lot easier.