An autism meltdown can be a scary thing. As a parent or caregiver to an autistic child, you’re likely no stranger to the unpredictable world of meltdowns.
Let me start by clarifying – a meltdown is not a tantrum. Tantrums are a means to an end. A child has a tantrum to gain control, get something they want, or avoid something they dislike.
A meltdown is an intense reaction to sensory overwhelm, emotional overwhelm, or information overwhelm. Meltdowns, for autistic individuals, are typically out of their control and they don’t occur to manipulate the people around them. In fact, meltdowns can happen with no audience at all. As a parent or caregiver, it’s helpful to remember this so we can better control our own reactions and respond with love, grace, and patience.
Meltdowns Look Different for Everyone
Meltdowns are different for every individual and they even look different within the same child. However, there are some common behaviors associated with meltdowns.
- Intense stimming
- Distressed crying
- Running away
- Total withdrawal
Four Factors Contribute to Many Meltdowns
The causes or triggers of a meltdown are as varied as the meltdowns themselves. Many meltdowns can be traced back to one of these four factors.
- Sensory dysregulation: A noisy sporting event, a brightly lit auditorium, or the cool touch of pool water can send an autistic child into sensory overload. The child’s inability to self-regulate in these situations can lead to a meltdown.
- Vitamin deficiencies: Providing your child with supplements to optimize their vitamin levels can help curb the severity of their meltdown. Magnesium and B Vitamins deficiencies are especially important to address.
- Poor Sleep: We all know how it feels to not get enough sleep. It can affect our mood and our patience. For children, even if they seem to be sleeping, it’s important to investigate whether or not they’re getting enough restful sleep. Tiredness can affect their tolerance for sensory stimulation.
- Hunger: Hunger can make it harder for kids to self-regulate. You can avoid this by keeping high protein snacks or fruit on hand. Eating every couple of hours can help autistic children regulate their blood sugar and avoid meltdowns.
It can be a confusing process to figure out what’s triggering your child’s meltdowns. If you pay attention to what’s happening before the meltdown, you may begin to notice a pattern. Recognizing the cause can help you determine your interventions.
Solutions Aren’t Always Simple or Clear
What works for one child may not work for another. Additionally, what works for one child one day may not work for the same child another day. There is no easy solution but there are a few options to consider.
- Understand stimming can signal an impending meltdown: When a child stims, they are often trying to self-regulate. Stimming might be enough for them to avoid a meltdown. Regardless, as a parent, you can take an increase in stimming as a sign that your child may need help.
- Provide deep pressure to assist in sensory regulation: In some cases, deep pressure may help your child regulate and avoid a meltdown. Weighted blankets or joint compressions are a simple way to provide the necessary deep but gentle sensory input.
- Find the antecedent: If you can discover what typically triggers a meltdown you can develop interventions to reduce them in the future. If you know noise is an antecedent for your child you might pack noise-canceling headphones whenever you attend a large gathering. If bright lights bother your child you can give them extra dark sunglasses to reduce the visual stimulation.
Using the contextual clues to figure out what’s triggering your child’s meltdowns lets you offer them solutions that not only help them regulate but also provide them with a sense of empowerment and control.
- Keep snacks on hand: If you believe hunger is causing your child’s meltdowns your best bet is to keep protein-rich snacks at the ready.
- Investigate poor sleep: If you notice your child is restless or snoring that’s a sign that they aren’t getting enough restful sleep. A sleep study can help you figure out if your child isn’t getting quality sleep.
- Provide them with appropriate nourishment: Since vitamin deficiencies can lead to an increase in meltdowns, you want to give your child appropriate vitamins like magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B. Make sure their diet is as balanced as it can be given that most kids – especially autistic kids – can be picky eaters.
- Do your best to stay calm: Remember that meltdowns aren’t to spite or control you. One of the biggest challenges for me was recognizing that I need to stay calm during my kid’s meltdown. I would get so irritated with myself for not knowing how to snap my child out of it, but I recognized that if I stayed calm my child was not further bothered by the chaos my reaction was causing.
If you can remember your child isn’t melting down to get something out of you, it’s much easier to stay calm and focus on what you can do for your child at that moment.
Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a great job.
I hope this information has been helpful to you as part of creating Your Autism Game Plan.
Do you have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.orgTell Me More!
All my videos offer unbiased, actionable advice for your most common autism challenges.
You might also like: