How to Calm Your Autistic Child During a Meltdown
One of the most difficult challenges of having an autistic child is dealing with meltdowns, which can happen at any time and place.
A meltdown is when your child has a severe behavioral outburst that is often accompanied by intense emotions and screaming.
These episodes can be incredibly challenging for you to navigate, both in terms of understanding what is causing the meltdown and in terms of managing your child’s behavior during the episode.
In this article we will explore what causes meltdowns and we will give you some proven tips to help calm your child down.
Why does my autistic child have meltdowns?
Autistic children have meltdowns for a variety of reasons. Some common triggers include changes in routine, overwhelming sensory input, difficulty communicating their needs, and overwhelming emotions. Let’s discuss each one in greater detail.
Change in routine: Autistic children often thrive on predictability and routine, and any deviation from their usual schedule can be stressful and overwhelming. Even small changes, such as a different route to school or a different teacher, can be enough to trigger a meltdown.
Overwhelming sensory input: Autistic children may have heightened sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli such as bright lights, loud sounds, or certain textures. Being in an environment with too much of these stimuli can be overwhelming and cause a meltdown.
Communication difficulties: Autistic children may struggle to express their needs and wants, which can lead to frustration and confusion. When they are unable to communicate effectively, they may resort to crying, screaming, or other behaviors as a way to communicate their distress.
Emotional control: Overwhelming feelings can also be a trigger for meltdowns, especially for children who struggle to understand and manage their emotions. They may be unable to process their feelings, resulting in a meltdown.
It’s also worth mentioning that meltdowns can be a sign of underlying problems such as anxiety, depression, or chronic stress. In such cases you should consult with a professional to evaluate the situation, as a therapist can help to identify the underlying causes and develop strategies to manage them.
Of course as the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. So before we discuss strategies to calm down your child who is having a meltdown, let’s see how we can prevent it.
How can you prevent an autism meltdown?
Preventing an autism meltdown can be challenging, as triggers for meltdowns can vary from child to child. However, there are several strategies that you can use to help prevent meltdowns:
Maintain a routine: Autistic children often thrive on predictability and routine. Having a consistent schedule can help to reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with changes in routine.
Prepare for change: When changes to the routine are necessary, such as visiting a new place or meeting new people, it can be helpful to prepare your child in advance. You can use social stories, which are simple, illustrated stories that explain what to expect in a new situation.
Provide structure: Children with autism often need clear boundaries and rules to help them understand what is expected of them. Providing structure with visual supports can help to reduce confusion and anxiety.
Create a calm environment: As we stated earlier, overwhelming sensory input can trigger meltdowns. Create a calm environment by reducing noise and other distractions, as well as providing a comfortable space for your child to retreat to when they need to.
Support communication: Encourage your child to use a picture exchange communication system or other forms of assistive technology, to help them express themselves.
Positive reinforcement: When children are able to communicate and follow rules, it can be helpful to reinforce this behavior with positive feedback, such as rewards or praise.
CBD oil: Some early studies have suggested that CBD may be effective in reducing certain symptoms associated with autism, such as anxiety and aggression. Having a calmer child will make it less likely that your child will have a meltdown.
Work with an ABA therapist: An ABA therapist can provide guidance, support and interventions to help prevent meltdowns. Working with a therapist can also help to identify underlying causes of the meltdown and develop strategies to manage them.
It’s important to remember that no single strategy will work for all children with autism, and that you may need to experiment with different approaches to find what works best for your child.
Tips for calming your autistic child during a meltdown
Finally we get to the main focus of this article, how can you calm your child down once they are having a meltdown.
Here are some tips that have been used by other parents and are therapist recommended:
Remain calm and patient: Your child is already feeling overwhelmed, and it’s important to maintain a calm and patient attitude. Speaking softly and using a soothing tone of voice can help to deescalate the situation.
Provide a safe space: Have a quiet, calm area where your child can retreat to during a meltdown. This can be a corner of a room or a designated calm-down space.
Engage your child’s senses: Children with autism can often find comfort in sensory input. Provide a comforting tactile experience such as holding a soft blanket or squeezing a stress ball. Playing calming music or using essential oils can also help to soothe your child.
Distraction: Sometimes providing a distraction can be helpful to calm your child and redirect their attention to something else, it can be something as simple as a puzzle or a favorite toy.
Positive reinforcement: If your child is able to calm down, be sure to reinforce the behavior with positive feedback, such as a praise, rewards or a hug.
Pets: Having a pet, particularly therapy animals, can be a great source of comfort and support for children with autism. These animals are often able to help calm down your child while they are having a meltdown.
These tips should be helpful in calming your child down during their meltdown. However, there are some things that you should NEVER do during your child’s meltdown.
What not to do during an autism meltdown
It is important to remember that a meltdown is not a reflection of your parenting or of your child’s feelings toward you. It’s a symptom of your child’s condition.
While meltdowns can be incredibly frustrating there are some things that you should never do.
Don’t try to reason with your child: It’s important to remember that a child having a meltdown is not in a rational state of mind and is not capable of listening to reason or following instructions.
Don’t try to force your child to stop: Attempting to physically restrain your child or force them to stop their meltdown can be dangerous and may escalate the situation.
Don’t yell at your child: Yelling at your child will just cause them to get scared and confused and will not solve anything. Try to calm down and remember that meltdowns are a symptom of autism and are not caused by anything you did or didn’t do.
Parents of children with autism often feel guilty or blame themselves when their child has a meltdown. It is very important to not blame yourself and have a support group that you can confide in.
Finally, make sure you don’t neglect your own well-being. Caring for a child with autism can be emotionally and physically draining. It’s important to take care of yourself so you don’t get burnt out.