As a parent, trying to manage your child’s autism meltdowns can be overwhelming and exhausting. It’s like maneuvering through an obstacle course while blindfolded—you just never know what trigger is going to set off a complete breakdown!
Don’t worry, though; you’re not alone in this parenting journey. As the mama of a kiddo *now a teenager* with autism, I have some great tips that will help parents find the best calming methods for their little ones during those stressful moments. So breathe deep and relax, here are my top tried-and-true calming techniques on how to deal with autism meltdowns!
What is an autistic meltdown?
An autistic meltdown occurs when someone on the autism spectrum experiences an intense emotional outburst in response to sensory overload or other triggers. Some autistic meltdown symptoms can be displaying behaviors ranging from attempting to hurt themselves, lashing out at others, or just becoming extremely agitated and difficult to console. Typically, these meltdowns involve emotional distress, not a physical response, although behavior can become dangerous if not addressed quickly.
The meltdown might last minutes to hours, and the intensity of it depends on the individual’s triggers and their ability to control themselves. During an episode, it can be hard to communicate with the person having it because they might not be able to understand what is being said as their emotions take precedence over cognitive processing.
Tantrums and autism meltdowns: What’s the difference?
Understanding the difference between tantrums and autism meltdowns can be a difficult but important task for caregivers of autistic children. Tantrums are typically caused by an emotion, usually frustration, within the moment. Because of this, they are typically short-lived and generally happen in response to a specific situation. In contrast, autism meltdowns are often related to sensory overload or frustration that is built up over time.
Meltdowns can last much longer than tantrums and can occur for seemingly innocuous reasons such as changes in routine or environment. When trying to identify which type of outburst you’re dealing with, try to consider what led up to it and how long it lasts, as well as the type of emotion that is being expressed.
By recognizing the differences between the two, parents can better acknowledge and manage their child’s behavior when these occurrences arise.
How to deal with autism meltdowns? My 6 Techniques
Coping with autism meltdowns can be a significant challenge for any family. It’s important to remember that the outburst isn’t intended to be manipulative or difficult – it’s simply an expression of the person’s confusion or fear. Ideally, autism meltdowns should be dealt with in a calm, patient manner, keeping safety as your top priority.
Here are my top techniques for getting through an autistic meltdown:
1. Give your kiddo space
Giving your kiddo space during an autistic meltdown can be a difficult thing to do, but it gives them the opportunity to recognize the emotions that they are feeling and work through them. Giving them space means not trying to remove or diminish their feelings and allowing them to regulate themselves in their own time. It is also important to remember that while taking this approach, you should still offer support and comfort when needed.
Respecting their right to express how they feel can help your child build trust in you that their emotions are valid and accepted. Allowing them space in these situations is beneficial as it allows them the opportunity to practice emotional regulation on their own while understanding that they have your comfort and support if needed.
2. Noise-canceling headphones
Investing in noise-canceling headphones that can be given to your kiddo when they have an autistic meltdown is a beneficial move to make. Not only do the headphones help to muffle loud noises, but it also provides a welcome distraction for the child and helps them to calm themselves down.
Making this soundproof barrier between them and the world aids in allowing them time to regulate their emotions without feeling exposed or overly stimulated by external noises.
3. Apply deep pressure
Applying deep pressure stimulates the proprioceptive sense in the body, which helps children to disengage from behaviors that are disruptive or unsafe. It also provides a release of tension and calming effects, which can help children to gain more control over their emotions and actions.
Additionally, physical contact is comforting for most people, and children on the autism spectrum are no exception—providing a kind of hug with gentle firmness can be reassuring during challenging times.
Furthermore, depending on the individual child’s needs, not just any type of deep pressure will do—so having knowledge of various forms such as weighted blankets, massage, or stretches is essential to get the best results.
4. Heavy work
Another possible strategy is having them do heavy work—essentially, engaging in physical activities that require more effort. This could include pushing a sofa or doing push-ups when situated in a safe place.
Doing this kind of work might seem counterintuitive at first, but there are actually some research-backed benefits for the person. Heavy work encourages the nervous system to relax, often resulting in shorter and less intense meltdowns. It also helps soothe the senses and allows children with autism to feel more grounded in their space and body. Additionally, it can help provide an outlet for any intense energy they are feeling during their meltdown, which can be crucial for dealing with emotions.
5. Sensory activities
When a kiddo with autism has a meltdown, changing the focus from the underlying issue and replacing it with easily accessible sensory activities can be extremely helpful. Sensory activities provide an outlet for pent-up energy and frustration, as well as giving the child a chance to take control and calm down on their own.
On the other hand, such activities can take away emphasis from the negative aspect of a situation, and can even allow the child to feel capable in completing tasks (such as finger-painting or using kinetic sand).
Doing these sorts of activities during an autistic meltdown may not eliminate said meltdowns altogether, but they present alternative methods of calming down that may result in less frequent outbursts in the future.
6. Breathing exercises
Practicing breathing exercises with a child who has autism can be incredibly beneficial when they experience a meltdown. A meltdown is a behavioral episode that occurs when someone, in this case, a child on the autism spectrum, experiences a level of sensory overload and distress that causes them to have an emotional outburst. Taking deep breaths and releasing pent-up energy through movement can help them get out of the fight-or-flight response cycle, allowing them to better self-regulate and express their needs in more manageable ways.
By calming down their bodies and minds, the child is better able to connect with reality and better evaluate which strategies may ease their emotional stress. Incorporating breathing exercises into meltdowns can reduce the intensity of these episodes while helping build new coping skills as they become more aware of what works best for them.
Autistic meltdown: Final Thoughts
Autistic meltdown is an emotion overload experience experienced by people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Meltdowns are not tantrums, but instead a feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control. It should be noted that meltdowns differ from kid to kid and may look different for each individual on the spectrum. Those affected have different ways of managing or minimizing autistic meltdowns, however, these calming techniques are the most common ones.
Learning about your kiddo’s own triggers and working through calming strategies can be helpful to develop coping mechanisms for those affected by autism-related meltdowns. Ultimately, it is key to remember that autistic meltdown is a real phenomenon that needs to be recognized, respected, and responded to in the most appropriate way.