If you are a parent or caregiver to a child with autism, you are most likely familiar with occasional meltdowns in kids with Autism. These meltdowns are not the same as temper tantrums that are common in non-autistic children and should be treated differently than tantrums. 

So before we get into helpful tips on dealing with autistic meltdowns, let’s discuss what a meltdown is, what causes them, and how it is different from a tantrum.

What are Autistic Meltdowns?

At Simple Spectrum, we know how difficult it can be when your child has one of these unpredictable episodes, and that is why we think it’s imperative to share these tips with you. An Autistic Meltdown is an extreme response to a situation that your child might find overwhelming. There are three ways these meltdowns occur, and they tend to be related to a child’s sensory, emotional, or informational overload. If your child’s schedule or routine has changed or is around many people and noise, these can be triggers for a meltdown. If your child has difficulty communicating their needs to you, this also results in overwhelming feelings, such as anger and frustration, leading to a meltdown. There can be other triggers, but these are some of the most common. Symptoms of a meltdown to look out for include signs of withdrawing or zoning out, but in more intense situations, it can involve screaming, crying, growling, biting, or crawling into a ball to cry. 

How do I know if it’s a meltdown or tantrum?

This is a very common question amongst new caregivers or new parents who have never dealt with an autistic meltdown before. It’s essential to know the difference between the two; that way, you can adequately handle the situation without creating additional triggers if it is a meltdown. 

Tantrums are generally willful or voluntary outbursts resulting from a child being frustrated or not getting their way - very common in most children. Another vital detail to remember is that tantrums will generally stop when the child gets what they want or if attention is no longer being paid to the child; meltdowns will not. 

Tips to Support Meltdowns in Autistic Children

  1. First and foremost, a parent or caregiver should practice patience and empathy for situations like these because this can make a huge difference in how your child will respond. Be present but give your child time and space to recover from this sensory overload, but close enough to where they know you are there.
  2. Do not yell at your child if they are having a meltdown; they cannot process this engagement, and they will most likely be even more triggered by the yelling. Stay calm and frequently ask them if they are okay.
  3. If they refuse to interact with you, try playing music or using lotion scented with their favorite smell. 
  4. Keep a journal of when an episode happens, and be sure to detail things that happened. Over time, patterns may emerge, which will help you identify triggers and even help to eventually prevent meltdowns. 
  5. Provide your child with sensory tools that can help keep them calm after a meltdown. You can also use these tools to help prevent a meltdown if you know that you may be in a situation that might trigger your child. These tools can include:
  • Noise-canceling headphones to help block loud noises that can trigger an episode. 
  • Sunglasses to block bright lights if your child is sensitive to bright or fluorescent lights.
  • Weighted blanket or weighted pad to provide security and comfort to your child in the event of an autistic meltdown. 
  • Crunchy snacks that help your child focus on something else. This would also be the perfect time to add a serving of Simple Spectrum Supplement into their favorite snack. Remember that often, a child’s nutritional deficits will impact areas like cognition and mood. 
  • Fidget toys are great for preventing or helping with Autistic Meltdowns as they serve as a calming and repetitive tool for your child. 

Remember that just as each child is unique, their meltdowns are too. As we previously suggested, keep a journal to help identify the triggers that cause these sensory overloads that lead to Autistic Meltdowns. The next time your child experiences a meltdown, use these tips as a guide to deescalate and support your child, and if you have any additional strategies that work for you and your child, please share!