The word “meltdown” is growing in popularity to describe a child’s tantrum. However, an autism meltdown is not a temper tantrum. An autism meltdown is a full sensory meltdown caused by external and environmental sensory triggers.
A meltdown does not occur because your child is throwing a fit to try and get their way. It’s your child’s sensory system that cannot function because it is overwhelmed.
While not all meltdowns can be prevented, there are strategies you can employ both in and outside the home to reduce the number of sensory meltdowns.
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Can Autism Meltdown Be Prevented?
Not always! Every day and every situation is different. Plus, sensory issues will change over time with your child. What bothered your child one day, is well tolerated the next day.
No, you cannot always control your child’s behavior, just like you cannot prevent all meltdown. However, it is completely possible to diminish meltdowns and calm them quicker!
How To Prevent An Autism Meltdown
Get To Know Your Child’s Triggers
Some children with autism and sensory issues will have specific triggers that set them off into a meltdown like bright lights. For other children the sensory issues are always changing and parents are left to keep up with the long list of sensory triggers.
A trigger is something your child overreacts to with their environment. The same triggers can also affect your child in different ways. For instance: Loud music will cause your child to cry and hold their ears; Crowded places will cause your child to bolt away from you.
Prepare Your Child Before
Communicate with your child is something in their routine will change for the day or if you are going to a new place a trigger might be. The best way to communicate with your child to help them transition and prepare for an unpleasant (possible) trigger- PECS cards!
I use a PECS cards to show a “First” and “Then.” This is perfect for both preparing your child and walking them through the transition and sequence of events they need to do.
Bring The Essentials
The essentials for autism parents is different than other parents. While other parents always pack sunscreen, autism parents always pack noise-cancelling headphones!
But noise-cancelling headphones are just one essential tool to use to prevent an autism meltdown! Try some of the following essential items perfect for a trip away from home!
Calm Down Essentials To Bring (Or Try):
Compression shirt for regulating emotions and calming down
Weighted vest for deep pressure therapy on the go
Tablet for communication needs and calm down activities
Pack A Calm Down Kit
A calm down kit is collection of sensory toys, fidgets, snacks, and anything else you can think of that your child will love and is portable. What’s important is that each of the tools within the calm down kit actually help your child calm down.
Routine Is Everything
By now you’ve probably figured out that children with autism struggle with routine changes and tend to react badly with an autism meltdown if confronted with change. Because of this parents raising a child with autism tend to have a strict routine.
Strict routines involve waking, eating, leaving for school, activities, and more happening at the same time each day. Deviation from a strict routine can easily lead to a meltdown because a child with autism does not understand how to transition smoothly from one activity to another.
As children get older though, many transition very well as long as their verbal and nonverbal communication gets better. Smaller children with autism however, may still struggle with the concept of change and transitioning.
The best way to prevent autism meltdowns at home and away (for daily activities like school), try and keep with the same routine! But, some change does happen from time to time with social events, doctor’s appointments, and more.
A great way to help your child throughout their day and include a changed event in their daily schedule is by keeping a visual daily schedule! If a new event is happening for the day, simply add that PECS card to the visual schedule.
Always Have An Exit Plan
Wherever you are at, know your environment and find an exit. Why? Because a full-blown autism meltdown often needs to be defused with a change in environment and/or redirection to a new activity.
If you are attending with lots of people your child doesn’t know (one of his/her sensory triggers), devise a exit plan beforehand on what to do when you see your child BEGIN to have a meltdown. Don’t wait for the meltdown to build up and reach its peak.
Waiting only results in a more severe meltdown and it becomes much harder to calm your child down.
For each event or place you go, know where your exits are to quickly remove your child from the situation and give them a change of scenery. Sometimes, an autism meltdown can get better simply by removing your child away from the sensory trigger!
Hungry, Tired, Needs To Potty?
Children with autism have nonverbal and verbal communication issues. Many cannot vocalize what they are needing at that moment. During a meltdown, communication from your child may decrease further!
To prevent an autism meltdown, always ask yourself some of these basic needs questions:
- “Are they hungry?”
- “Are they overly tired?”
- “Do they need to use the bathroom?”
- “Are they wearing uncomfortable clothing?”
These are just some questions to ask yourself! For preventing a meltdown make sure you keep plenty of snacks/food on you when away from home; use the restroom at the same times to avoid accidents (or if your child needs a diaper change); make your child as comfortable as possible by having them wear their favorite clothes.
The best thing you can do for your child during a meltdown is to stay calm. Talk slowly and with fewer words. Instead of saying “You need to calm down right now.” Say instead, “Please, calm down.”
When a meltdown is brewing communication and logical reasoning decrease because your child is overly stimulated.
In fact, sometimes continuing to talk your child through a meltdown only makes it worse. No matter how many times and ways you try and explain something, your child (most likely) will not listen to reason.
Children have to learn to self-regulate their emotions. This is especially true for children with autism! Emotional regulation may take longer for your child to learn.
For some children the best way to overcome a meltdown is to work through it themselves while you stay calm and quiet. This allows them time work through the meltdown on their own.
Of course, this is only true if your child does not hurt him/herself and others.
An autism meltdown is real and they are very different from a temper tantrum. Screaming, hitting, biting, bolting, and more can all occur during a meltdown.
While meltdowns will still continue to happen because it’s impossible to completely erase them, you can still decrease the frequency of them!
Equipping yourself with a calm attitude mixed with a clear daily routine and plenty of sensory tools for redirection and self-regulation will help you to avoid the next dreaded meltdown at home or outside the home!