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What is the best way to handle a child’s meltdown?

Mother and daughter meltdown resolution hug
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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be particularly prone to challenging behavior, like meltdowns that causes staring and judging from others around them. The feeling of being judged does not go unnoticed by the parent or the child and can lead to distress and a longer recovery time from the feeling of being overwhelmed or overstimulated. These episodes are common and are somewhat healthy as the child begins to discover how to self-soothe and push their stimulation boundaries. As a parent or caregiver, you know best what your child can handle and what they need. The experts at Solstice Behavioral Health and Consulting are available to help you and your little one navigate these situations together and learn some skills and routines that can help see you through some of these intense situations.

What is a meltdown?

A meltdown is an intense response to an overwhelming situation. It happens when a child becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation. As a reaction, the child may temporarily lose control of their behavior. Often the loss of control is expressed verbally (e.g., shouting, screaming, crying), physically (e.g., kicking, biting), or both.  

It is important to know that a meltdown is NOT a temper tantrum. This is not a reaction to not getting the candy at the store or getting to take a toy home. A meltdown is not an attempt to receive a reward or manipulate behavior. Instead, meltdowns happen when your child is overwhelmed and their communication barriers make it difficult to express their feelings in a way you can understand. 

It is also not the only way a child with autism can show their feelings of being overwhelmed. In different situations and with different children, you may see other coping strategies such as refusing to interact or hiding or withdrawing from situations. As you care for your child, it can be extremely helpful to learn their social cues and body language in order to provide them with the support they might need.

What to do during a meltdown?

Be Patient & Be Present

Your child is going to take their time trying to process the new situation. They may be processing the location, the people, the noises, the lighting, the information being shared, and even the clothes they are wearing all at the same time. Give them a chance to catch up to the moment. When they do, you can be there to assure them and be the comfort within the turbulence.

Minimize Triggers

Children with autism often have certain triggers that are specific to them. Triggers can be anything that happens right before the reaction. Some common triggers include lights, sounds, strangers, new places, changes in routine, and communication difficulties. Learning your child’s triggers and preparing ways to deal with them is definitely a strengthening act of support for your child.

Create a Safe Space

The staring faces during a meltdown do not go unnoticed by your child. In fact, it can often add to the intensity and longevity of the meltdown. If it is safe and possible, it can help to take them to an environment they feel comfortable in and recognize. Some parents carry noise-canceling headphones to diminish sound triggers and sunglasses to minimize lighting triggers. Knowing your child and having the proper resources can help them push through new stimulants and can improve their communication skills with you as they ask for the help they need.

As you and your child work together to create a strong bond and clearer communication, you will both more readily notice feelings of overwhelm and be able to anticipate a meltdown or a challenging situation. With more than a decade of helping children with autism improve their behavior and communication, the expert team at Solstice Behavioral Health & Consulting has created multiple programs and activities to help families build the support systems they need. Contact our office to see how we can help you and your family move forward together. 

We Believe That Early Diagnosis & Intervention Is Key.