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Tips for handling autism meltdowns

Tips for handling autism meltdowns

An autism meltdown is similar to tantrums and sensory overload in children with autism. Although they do share similarities, an autistic meltdown tends to be much more intense. They have a longer duration and involve a wider range of more powerful emotions. Naturally, this makes them more challenging to work through when compared to an ordinary temper tantrum.

Fortunately, with the proper skills and knowledge, you can smooth out some of the more challenging parts of an autism meltdown. Just like a temper tantrum will never be a walk in the park, neither will an autistic meltdown. But, with compassion and education, you can improve these difficult situations for everyone involved.

What is an autism meltdown?

Despite the similarities between a meltdown and a tantrum, the two experiences are fundamentally different. 

The biggest difference is in the amount of control and restraint left available to the child.  During a tantrum, a child retains some sense of control over their emotions. Once the goals of their tantrum have been achieved then the emotions tend to resolve themselves.

On the other hand, a crisis is when a child loses control of their behavior and only a parent can calm them down, or when they reach a point of exhaustion. Perhaps the worst thing about a sensory disorder is the degree to which a child loses control. 

While it hurts to see your child become overwhelmed and frustrated, it can help you recognize when your child is experiencing sensory overexertion. There are many behaviors that occur when a child loses the ability to remain calm or regulated.

Unlike relapses, a child who throws a tantrum is in control of their behavior and is more likely to stop acting when they get what they want. These tantrums may be more frequent when the child is tired or not feeling well, but there is usually a purpose behind it. 

Tantrums can be difficult to manage, so it can be hard to distinguish between the two types of tantrums (and respond appropriately) if you're unsure of your child's sensory cues.

Tantrums can be resolved with a specific type of response, while the same response can overwhelm the child during a breakdown. Even well-functioning children can "collapse" in situations that would be only slightly difficult for their peers. 

Our ultimate goal as parents is to help our children become independent, so once you know what causes your child to break down, it's time to take up the pen and find coping strategies your child can use when faced with things that they find overwhelming.

Where can I learn how to manage an autism meltdown?

If a repeated autism crisis poses a challenge to your family, then it may be necessary that you seek help from a specialized therapist who can help you formulate a plan to improve your loved one’s behavior.

An ABA therapist can help you develop your own personalized strategy for what to do and what not to do when a breakdown occurs.

Some of the tips, tricks, and strategies mentioned in this article may not apply to your child but may help others. By following some of these tips, you can make life more enjoyable and easier for yourself, your children, and the rest of your family.

Benefits of learning to effectively handle a meltdown

Learning what makes your child nervous and how to calm them down can improve the quality of your child’s and your family’s life. 

Because no two people with autism are the same, managing autism meltdowns can be very individual. It’ll take some trial and error on your part to figure out how to successfully calm your child, but with enough practice change becomes possible. 

How to manage a meltdown

Intervening in your child’s emotional response is not always the healthiest or the best option. 

A great way to help your child is to take them to a safe and quiet room where they can work through their emotions until they calm down. In this way, they won’t develop an aversion to their emotional reactions and may become better at understanding and overcoming them. 

As a parent, it helps to learn to recognize the signs of meltdowns so you can keep your child safe and help them regain control and self-control. 

Because each child with autism is unique, with different abilities, relationship levels, communication, and sensory processing profiles, it is impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach to disorder management. 

Having a plan will not stop relapses, but it can help mitigate relapses and help adults with autism and others normalize those relapses that are part of their experience with autism.

It is helpful for adults with autism to understand in advance what makes it easier for them to recover from a relapse and have a strategy ready for the next time. 

Coping with these meltdowns is hard for all parties involved, especially those invested in making a positive change.

Here are a number of potential solutions for children of all types:

  • Incorporating different calming activities into your kids’ routine and your own routine.
  • Keep some distracting mental workouts and games on hand, such as mazes or simple puzzles that can challenge and reward your child. Bonus points if they are focused on emotions and can teach your child something.
  • Stay calm, help your child stay grounded using appropriate eye contact, limit the verbal language you use, and offer deep tactile pressure to help your child calm down.
  • If the episode occurs in public or at school, once your child seems flustered, you can suggest that their school caregivers or teachers give them time for a break and take them to a quiet area. 

Final words

Helping your child navigate difficult episodes can be overwhelming, but with patience and consistency, they can become easier over time. It is always advised to consult your child’s care and medical team to help you with managing your child’s breakdowns. 

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