How to Help Your Child with Autism During a Meltdown

When a child with Autism becomes overwhelmed or overstimulated, they can experience meltdowns. Meltdowns can be difficult to manage and it is common for parents or caregivers to seek out information on how to deal with them. It is also a goal in applied behavior analysis to help children who experience meltdowns learn how to use more functional behaviors to replace meltdown behaviors.

It is important to note what may be the possible cause of a meltdown. One of the best ways to avoid meltdown behaviors is to be aware of what triggers them. Some causes include sensory issues, lack of communication skills, anxiety, learning difficulties or disabilities, or hyperactivity; commonly diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the most common triggers in children with Autism are sensory, emotional, and informational overload. Many autism spectrum therapies target these triggers to try and develop the child’s coping skills.

Meltdowns look different from person to person; therefore, it is difficult to define exactly what a meltdown looks like. Generally, you may notice a child begin to withdraw themselves from a social or emotional situation, shut down or zone out, begin stimming, uncontrollably cry, scream, or make unusual repetitive noises, or show signs of aggression like biting or hitting.

Luckily, there is typically a narrow window of opportunity where a child begins to show signs of distress or even attempt to self-regulate. This is usually the best time for a parent or caregiver to jump in to help the child prevent going into a full meltdown.

The following steps are the steps commonly used in autism spectrum therapies, which is rooted in the science of applied behavior analysis to deescalate an impending meltdown or shorten the length of an active meltdown.

  1. Identify the trigger. When you known what causes the meltdown you can potentially prevent another one from happening for the same reason in the future. It is common for parents and caregivers to keep a journal of what is happening before the meltdown and details like the time and location of the meltdown.
  2. Stay calm. Adding your stress to an already stressful situation will make the child feel worse and may escalate the situation further. Do your best to remain calm and composed. Sometimes having that stable person nearby is enough to prevent a meltdown from spiraling out of control.
  3. Safety comes first. Meltdown behaviors may cause the child to hurt themselves or others. It is common for a child having a meltdown to fall to the ground, hit their head on hard surfaces, bite or hit. If you know your child is one to have self-injurious or more aggressive behaviors during a meltdown, have a plan of action ready. Be prepared to have your hand under their head or provide them with a soft pillow or surface if they tend to fall to the floor or bang their head. If they typically show aggression by biting or hitting, remain close by to monitor the situation but keep enough distance to ensure your own safety.
  4. Develop a meltdown routine along with a “calm box”. You know your child best! What are some things that they like to do before bed that they find relaxing? Create an arsenal of tools that you can provide for them during a meltdown including: calming music or one particular song that they enjoy, calming visuals like videos, or pictures, sensory items like a weighted vest, blanket, or fidget toys, noise cancelling headphones, or sunglasses (if your child has light or noise sensitivities). The more tools you have to offer them the more likely you are to shorten the length of the meltdown.
  5. Teach coping skills. Once a meltdown is underway it is very difficult to stop it, so prevention is key. As mentioned before, many autism spectrum therapies target the triggers of meltdowns to try and better develop the child’s coping skills. You too can help your child learn to regulate their feelings. Try out different relaxing activities with them to see which they prefer and do those activities often! If they recognize that the activity helps them feel calm they may be compelled to do that when they feel overwhelmed, thus preventing a meltdown.
  6. Just be there. No child wants to have a meltdown. It is exhausting and frustrating and can be embarrassing. As you’ve probably already learned, there is really no way to talk down a child with autism who is having a meltdown. The best course of action is to just be available and stay close as much as their comfort allows. Empathy is key. The simple act of staying around during a meltdown shows the child that they deserve love and support and you will be there even during the toughest moments.

Meet the Experienced ABA Therapists at Capable Cubs ABA Therapy Center in Bergen County

At Capable Cubs, we believe that selecting an ABA therapy center near you is an incredibly critical decision with lasting consequences. As a leading ABA services provider in Bergen County, we encourage parents to always ask questions and evaluate our services and therapists without any hesitation.

Our team of highly trained ABA clinicians includes experienced and qualified BCBAs and RBTs who specialize in combining various ABA methods for providing the most effective treatment to your child with ASD. We create a structured roadmap for every child, including extensive initial assessments, comprehensive ABA treatment plans, critical learning milestones, and effective discharge plans to successfully transition out of our care. Our goal is to enhance your child’s functional skills and independence, help them build meaningful relationships and connections with their communities and their members, and enable them to assimilate better into society.

Select an ABA therapy center that works best for your family’s priorities, needs, and goals. Get in touch with the Autism specialists at Capable Cubs. Call 207-786-6280 or contact us online to learn more about our quick intake process.