Autistic meltdowns are a response to the mind or body feeling overwhelmed. They may appear to happen without warning.
All children have meltdowns, but if you have an autistic child these may be stronger and more frequent. Your child may also need more recovery time. Some of the usual calming strategies may not be effective. Learning about what causes your child’s meltdowns and how to calm them can help you to support your child.
Meltdowns are different to tantrums, which are a response to a child not being able to do what they want.
Meltdowns usually look like a loss of control. This can include:
Sometimes a child will internalise what they’re feeling instead. They may withdraw, becoming quiet and non-responsive.
An autistic meltdown is usually caused by a sense of overload. Your child will have no control over their reaction. They may not be able to tell you when they feel overwhelmed.
Learning what triggers a meltdown can help you feel more prepared. Every child is different, but some common triggers include:
Keeping a behaviour diary can help spot possible patterns. Note down when meltdowns happen. Write down what you were doing, where, and your child’s reaction.
Taking steps to support your child may reduce or prevent meltdowns. It can help to:
In the immediate moment, while a meltdown is happening:
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