Meltdowns are tough and emotionally draining for parents and for children. Even the most seasoned special needs parents can feel overwhelmed at an oncoming meltdown. From our ABA therapists, here are a few strategies to help both parents and their children with autism make it through the next meltdown.
Meltdown vs. Tantrum: What’s the Difference?
Meltdowns and tantrums may look similar—screaming, crying, hitting or kicking—but their causes and goals are completely different. A child may throw a tantrum when they can’t express themselves or don’t get what they want. A tantrum needs an audience, and young children are aware of their actions and will respond based on the reaction they get from their parent. For a few quick tips on taming tantrums, check out our blog here.
A meltdown, however, is typically caused by overstimulation and can happen to a person with autism at any age. Meltdowns happen when a person feels completely overwhelmed and loses control of their behavior and the ability to calm themselves down. Meltdowns can result from a change in routine, anxiety, or sensory overload, and they’re likely to last longer than a typical tantrum.
Tips for Helping Your Child with Autism Through a Meltdown
Working through a meltdown with your child can be exhausting. Here are a few strategies that might help.
Avoid triggers, when possible
It’s impossible to prevent meltdowns entirely, but when possible, working around sensory sensitivities—such as bright lights, loud noises, or unexpected changes in routine—can go a long way in cutting down on the number of meltdowns. If you see stimming or other early warning signs of an impending meltdown, try to redirect your child or move them to a calmer environment.
There’s nothing easy about staying calm when your child is melting down. But you can do it. Keep a neutral tone of voice and remember that your child has lost control – arguing or reasoning with them is not an option right now.
Get somewhere safe
Make sure your child is in an environment where they can’t hurt themselves or others. Make the environment feel safe by dimming lights or playing calming music if that’s something that helps them. Give your child space but stay close enough by that they know you’re there and can help if needed.
Offer soothing tools
Whether it’s a sensory toy, noise-canceling headphones, or a weighted blanket, keep calm-down tools nearby to help during a meltdown.
At Innovative Behavior Options, we provide parents and caregivers with training and tools to empower you to help your child through all kinds of situations. Contact our office to learn more about how ABA therapy can help your child with autism learn and thrive.