Calming Strategies For Autism Meltdowns
Now, before I jump into these strategies, I have a word of warning.
Please dont do all of these immediately when your child starts a meltdown.
You need to know what works for your child, and what their sensory preferences are.
Not every strategy will work for every child, so test them out one at a time to see what works best for your child.
Meltdown Vs Temper Tantrum
Although they may look similar, meltdowns are different from temper tantrums. A temper tantrum is usually a childs method for getting what he/she wants. A meltdown, however, has no purpose and is beyond a childs control.
To be more specific, a temper tantrum happens when a child is:
- Frustrated with not getting what he/she wants
- Not able to do what he/she wants
- Not able to properly communicate
A child might stop a tantrum after the following responses:
- Being comforted by a parent or caregiver
- Being given what he/she wants
- Being ignored and giving up on his/her own
Youngsters who throw temper tantrums are aware and in control of their actions and can adjust the level of their tantrum based on the response they get from a parent or adult. Here we can use behavioral strategies to manage tantrums.
Meltdowns have entirely different causes. Because they are triggered by sensory overload, a child on the spectrum having a meltdown can have a few defining characteristics.
Autistic meltdown symptoms may:
- Start with pre-meltdown signs called rumblings which can be verbal or physical behaviors that signal an imminent meltdown
- Be preceded with stimming
- Be caused by overstimulation or an undesirable sensory input
- Not be limited to young children and can also happen to teens and adults
- Happen with or without an audience
- Last longer than tantrums
Once you can tell the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown, then you can apply the right strategies to deal with the situation.
What You Can Do In A Meltdown
Remember this key element, you cannot avoid meltdowns entirely. As a parent, your first goal is to remain calm.;
Safety is a must. Have a strategy in place to protect your child and yourself from harm.;
Move to a quiet place, away from the stimulation that may have evoked the overload until the meltdown is over. When you are in a public area, this requires pre-planning, such as knowing where a quiet place is that you can take your child to. Also, pack a survival kit of familiar and soothing items that are your childs favorite coping mechanisms.;
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You may not be able to stop or slow down a full-blown meltdown with distractions or a quiet space. A meltdown may simply be an eruption that must fizzle out on its own. Your job is to remain calm and keep both you and your loved one safe.;
Prevention is your best defensive tool. Keep practicing and do not expect perfection. Your child will learn from you, learn how to communicate his or her basic needs and anxieties, non-verbal or not. Even though meltdowns may still occur, know that they may reduce over time.;;
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How To Use An Autism Meltdown Kit
A meltdown kit or a calm down kit is a customized set of objects that help prevent or de-escalate a childs meltdown.
To create your own meltdown kit, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
What kind of toys/activities does my child like to do?Can this item help stop or lessen a meltdown?Does this item have the texture/shape/color my child likes?
Based on the answers to your questions, here are some items that can be included in your childs kit:
- Fidget toys
- Sensory objects
- Musical instrument
Note that giving this kit to your child is ideal for preventing a meltdown. It might not work if the child is already in the middle of a meltdown.
Dont Beat Yourself Up About It
When our children are distressed or displaying behaviours we dont like, we can feel a huge sense of responsibility to change or fix the situation. But remember what you can and cant control.; Recognise your own feelings about the situation so you can address your own needs later.
You will learn which strategies best help your autistic child to avoid meltdowns and to get through them if they do occur. But youre human and so are they. There is no silver bullet that will work every time.
Wed all love to be able to banish the anguish and triggers which cause meltdowns for good but the truth is that its not about how well we parent our autistic children. Even with the best strategies in the world, there will always be moments that trigger a meltdown. Preparing yourself for them both practically and emotionally will help you support your child and allow them to move through them more quickly.
At Clinical Partners our specialist clinicians have years of experience working with autistic children and helping them and their parents find ways to understand and manage their needs to enable them to thrive. To find out more about the treatment options and support available,;, listen to the latest;;or call the team on 0203 326 9160;
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When My Son With Autism Melts Down Heres What I Do
Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one persons story.
I sat in the child psychologists office telling her about my six-year-old son who has autism.
This was our first meeting to see if we would be a good fit to work together toward an evaluation and formal diagnosis, so my son wasnt present.
My partner and I told her about our choice of home-schooling and how weve never used punishment as a form of discipline.
As the meeting continued, her brows became hawklike.
I could see the judgment in her expression when she began a monologue about how I needed to force my son to go to school, force him into situations that make him extremely uncomfortable, and force him to socialize regardless of how he feels about it.
Force, force, force.
I felt like she wanted to stuff his behaviors into a box, then sit on top of it.
In reality, each and every child with autism is so unique and different from what society deems typical. You could never fit their beauty and quirkiness into a box.
We declined her services and found a better fit for our family for our son.
Sensory Emotional And Information Overload
The more we learn about autism, the more definite the connection between its symptoms and sensory difficulties becomes. Imagine being hypersensitive in a crowded mall around Christmastime. The smell from the food court: yesterdays recooked chicken competing with roasting nuts from Santas stand. Jingle bells from the general sound system trying to overpower the rap music from the cool kid kiosk, and crowds stampeding to get a gift mediocre enough to regift.
This may sound like a familiar annual nightmare, but to an autistic person this scenario is overly familiar, not just during the holiday season; every time they step into the world this may be their reality.
The autistic brain may be wired differently in ways that scientists are still learning about. The way sensory stimuli are processed in someone with autism may differ in fundamental ways to the neurotypical brain.
Perhaps the pandemic allowed us a glimpse into a different way of experiencing sensory stimuli. Remember the first time you stepped into a crowded space after living la vida lockdown? For most of us, everything was too much. A few uncertain steps outside our sanitized comfort zone left us wondering whether the world had always been so disturbingly loud and big. Neurodivergent minds may feel this post-pandemic panic every time they step outside.
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What Causes A Shutdown
Sensory overload is a common reason for a meltdown or shutdown. Kids with autism tend to experience lights, sounds, smells, and sensations differently than neurotypical children. Many struggle with hypersensitivity, which means they experience their senses more intensely, sometimes to the point of physical pain.
If you were surrounded by blinding lights or piercing noises, you would become overwhelmed, right? For some autistic children, a loud school cafeteria or a crowded store can cause just as much anxiety. Too much sensory input can result in a shutdown.
Children with autism also tend to be very attached to routines. Unexpected events or sudden changes in plan may cause a lot of stress, leading to a shutdown.
Autistic people may find themselves shutting down in social situations. They dont navigate the unspoken rules of conversation as naturally as neurotypical people, so their brain has to work extra hard. The six-year-old girl in the case study only shut down when pressured by others, never when she played alone.
The root of a shutdown wont always be obvious. Sometimes, whatever happened might seem minor. But have you ever had bad days when the smallest thing was enough to send you over the edge? Thats what meltdowns and shutdowns can be like, and they can be worsened by something called autistic burnout.;
Places With Too Many People
Many public spaces are also crowded think the mall, train stations, restaurants, popular tourist destinations and even theaters. The list goes on. Places where lots of people gather can be incredibly overwhelming to many of the senses, and overly peopled places can be the trigger for a meltdown. Getting to a quieter, less crowded place can be helpful.
I have less meltdowns now as an adult but because I learned to identify the factor that trigger my meltdown. I used to get them quite often. Things like places with a lot of people, around the mall, weddings, at a club still make nervous, too much noise, etc. The one thing that really calms me down is taking breaks that last like 10 or 15 minutes, just being by myself in a quiet place. Mony P.
I get meltdowns quite often when someones yelling doesnt need to be directed at me while I am not able to understand why. Or when I get frustrated with a given task and am not allowed to ask for help. In other cases I usually get meltdowns when I am expected to hold a presentation in front of unknown people or in general too many people. Severus
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When Things Feel Out Of Control
Having a particular a routine or building a certain amount of predictability into your day is comforting. However, if things start to feel out of control or chaotic, that can cause anxiety, overstimulation or sensory overload and lead to a meltdown. It can also feel out of control when a series of smaller things seem to go wrong all at the same time.
What triggers me to feel extremely uncomfortable in my body and head is chaos, yelling or if theres a lot of movement at the same time that its loud. So if I go somewhere chaotic, I try to just plan for three hours. When it gets hard I leave for a bit, I bring a sensory bag and I always take my own car. Veda F-P
When too many unusual things happen at once and shatter my belief that everything is alright. marlynmorgan
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
As you get to understand how and why your child becomes overwhelmed, then the better youll start to know what triggers them. It could be anything from sensory overload to anxiety, tiredness, unfamiliarity with the environment or struggling to label and convey their emotions.
Once youve identified key triggers, you can start to mitigate against them. If your child cant handle loud noises, ear defenders could make a trip to the shops more bearable. If new places are a problem, talking to your child about where youre going together and what that experience might be like could help them feel more prepared.
You might simply avoid bringing your child into some public settings because you know its likely to be too much for them at this point in time.
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How Do You Calm Down An Autistic Meltdown
What to do during a very loud, very public meltdownBe empathetic. Empathy means listening and acknowledging their struggle without judgment. Make them feel safe and loved. Eliminate punishments. Focus on your child, not staring bystanders. Break out your sensory toolkit. Teach them coping strategies once theyre calm.Apr 18, 2018
Help And Support Is Available For Individuals Experiencing Autistic Burnout
Please know that youre not alone and help is available to help you overcome the challenges associated with autistic burnout. One powerful source of support is autism therapy. If you are looking for autism therapy services in California, our therapists would be honored to speak with you about the ways we can help. Each member of our autism therapy team has extensive training in neurodiversity and specializes in helping clients with high-functioning autism. So, we know a lot about autistic burnout and masking, and we know how to help you feel better.
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Calm Down Tool Box For Parents Of Children With Autism To Help Their Children Prevent Autistic Meltdown
3. Prepare them for any change in the routine:
People with autism often have difficulties in dealing with even small changes in their routines. For example, holidays are fun for many of us, but many parents with autistic children experience more meltdown during holidays than usual. One way that can help children to get less anxious is to explain the situation and help them to get prepared for the change in the routine. If the child is verbal and understand spoken language, we can try to explain the situation and the plan change beforehand, so they can have some time to deal with the change of the routine before it happens. If they are more visual communicators, we can include the change in their visual schedule and try to use for example social stories that can help them to understand the situation and be prepared for it.
The Difference Between An Autistic Meltdown And Autistic Burnout:
In many ways an autistic meltdown mimics burnout. However, meltdowns happen more frequently during childhood and can last for minutes to hours. Autistic meltdowns can be external and include aggressive behavior, agitation, or extreme emotional responses. In many ways experiencing an autistic meltdown is like riding a wave. Once youve caught the wave, you just have to ride it out. Furthermore, autistic meltdowns happen to individuals on the autism spectrum with any level of cognitive ability. As an autistic person ages, meltdowns may become more of an internal process where they shut down. The individual retreats inside to cope with distress and may become nonverbal, withdrawn, or emotionless.
The major difference between an autistic meltdown and burnout is that burnout is usually longer lasting. In most cases, it lasts for weeks or even months. I have known many individuals who have had to quit their jobs or school or go on medical leave because they are so worn down.
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What To Do When You Realize Something Isnt Right
Many individuals with autism, especially high-functioning women with autism, do not get diagnoses until later in life. They may realize they are different, or feel like an alien from another planet, but theyre not sure why. So, when autistic burnout occurs, they often dont know whats happening. It can be extremely frightening to them and the people who love them. I have had individuals tell me that they locked themselves in their room and refused to talk to others. Or they had to lay in a dark space and were unable to move because all stimulus was too much. Sometimes, they report trying to cope in other potentially dangerous ways such as drinking, smoking, or self-injurious behavior. Even though they want to cry for help, they cant.
If you are experiencing autistic burnout, then allow yourself some time to re-boot. Your brain has gone offline and your body has followed suit. Pushing yourself further is to no avail. Give yourself some compassion and understanding during this difficult time. Temper your expectations for yourself and do things that make you feel relieved or happy. This may be spending time with your special interest, or simply shutting yourself off from any stimulus.
Difference Between Meltdowns Tantrums And Aggression
Aggression in kids with ASD refers to violent behavior that may include kicking, hitting, throwing objects, punching, and biting. Aggressive behavior can be directed to others or oneself. Both a meltdown and a tantrum can involve aggression.
Outside of sensory overload that leads to a meltdown, there are other reasons why a child with autism uses aggression. Some children become violent when an object of comfort is taken away from them, or when they are forced into something they do not want to do.
The key goal of handling aggression is to ensure the safety of the child and others around him/her. Some strategies would be removing the cause of aggression, providing calming toys and/or activities, and giving your child a safe space where he/she can calm down.
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Tantrum Vs Autistic Meltdown: What Is The Difference
Many parents and caregivers have witnessed the fireworks of anger and emotion from a person with autism, and from the outside they look exactly like the tantrums of young children. While they may look similar in external behaviour, its important to understand the difference between the two. A tantrum is willful behaviour in younger children and therefore can be shaped by rewarding desired behaviours, whereas a meltdown can occur across a lifespan and isnt impacted by a rewards system. Tantrums slowly go away as a child grows up, but meltdowns may never go away. Tantrums need one kind of response, but that same response will only make things worse for a person have an autistic meltdown from being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.