Aspergers and HFA Meltdowns in Public

"How do you suggest dealing with an autistic (high functioning) child's outbursts in public?"

Emotional outbursts are very common in kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). These episodes can be frightening for the youngster as well as everyone present. They can also be embarrassing to the parent when they happen in public places. 

Kids of all ages – and even adults – with AS and HFA should take precautions to help prevent reaching the state of losing complete control. There are several autism-related characteristics that can cause these emotional outbursts. To help your child control himself or herself (whether they occur in public or at home), you’ll have to discover the reasons behind them. The solution will depend on the cause(s).

Possible causes:
  • Lack of emotional awareness: Kids with the disorder do not always understand their own emotions or feelings about people, things, and situations.
  • Sensory issues: Hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity to light, sound, touch, smell, and visual activities can quickly become overwhelming, sending the youngster spiraling out of control.
  • Social issues: Kids on the autism spectrum have problems with social communication and situations. Being in a social situation can be extremely uncomfortable and can lead to an emotional breakdown.

There are a few things you can try that may help with your child’s problematic behavior:
  1. Start by contacting your doctor to discuss the child's general health.
  2. Your child may need help with anxiety and depression or other emotional issues that can be improved with the appropriate medicines.
  3. Family and individual counseling can help you understand the feelings your child is struggling with and can give you the knowledge you need to develop a “meltdown-prevention plan.” Counseling can help your child understand why he or she loses control, which can lead to better control and prevention.
  4. Help your child pinpoint any stressors that cause the outbursts.
  5. Adopt the use of redirection to avoid an outburst.
  6. Create a "safe zone" that is a calming place to relax and regain control.
  7. Use rewards to encourage self-control.
  8. Look for your child's "silent seizures" (i.e., little indications that he or she is becoming agitated).
  9. Always remember to think in terms of "prevention." Attempting to "intervene" after the child's outburst is well underway is too little - too late. The episode will have to run its course at that point.
  10. There are ebooks available that will increase your understanding on the issues your child experiences on a daily basis. “My Aspergers Child: How to Stop Meltdowns” by Mark Hutten, M.A. is a great resource for you to utilize. You can find it here: My Aspergers Child. This ebook offers solutions and practical advice for home and for school and helps children with AS and HFA, as well as those around them.

Educating yourself on the causes and treatments for these extreme emotions will benefit both you and your child.


o    Anonymous said… Good to hear other stories and experiences! I often feel alone and overwhelmed. Well-meaning advice is often the last thing I need to hear on a bad day/week...
o      Anonymous said… If I can get her to put on her headphones at some point, the meltdown might not last as long.
o    Anonymous said… I'm grateful those days are over ! But boy oh boy do I remember them ! Lol I took it like a man / mommy ... And kept on keeping on and after a while it didn't bother me what anyone thought . In that moment the ONLY thing that matters is YOUR child . He / she needs you to help them ASAP . Pick him up and remove child if possible or get to a quiet place . Don't argue with child or ask why are you doing THIS right now ?!!!!! Gotta diffuse the situation . And later when things are calm and if child can talk ... Go over what happened and teach them ways to signal you or avoid the situation . My son flipped off a deacon in the church at age four . ( ex husband favorite road rage move ) Yea ... Pretty embarrassing . And after that he ran out the church and into the parking lot crying . From that day on I got permission to stay with him in the nursery and I listened to service on the TV in there while my other 3 children attended church . When it's your child . You find a way to do what needs to be done . The public may judge not understanding the " bad behavior" ... I don't blame them at all ... However , I'm the one going home with the child not them so find a friend to vent to . Treat yourself to a Starbucks after an embarrassing trip out the house , and pat yourself on the back ... Your doing a great job and to your child your a hero !
o    Anonymous said… My 6 yo daughter has Aspergers and meltdowns in public are so frequent (at least 3 an hour). I tend to go into denial and think that I will be able to prevent one, but I never can. I just do as the situation demands: if it can't be fixed, I comfort her; if it has to do with not knowing a social rule, I wait until she's calm to explain; if it is that she forgot a rule, I remind her how well she's doing. I try to take her to a calm spot.
o    Anonymous said… My child had a meltdown in Target when 4... We have always been told to remove the child from the situation so my hubby took our screaming child out to the car. well when he got to the doors, he was stopped by a lady and asked for his ID. He said no problem and showed it to her. Well 20 minutes later while sitting in the car, he gets a tap on the window and finds a cop there. He was told that they received a call that there was a discipline problem. My hubby said well yeah there is and I removed the child from the store because of it. The officer looked at my child and asked if my hubby was the dad, my child looked shocked but nodded yes and the officer walked back to his car and left. Needless to say my hubby NEVER took our child out of the store screaming again, it was my job from then on...we eventually learned what triggers to look for and was able to avoid situations like that again..
o    Anonymous said… My son has had meltdowns at Target and once while on vacation when he was younger. I remember a lady scolding my husband because she thought he wasn't helping take care of the situation when I had specifically told him to go back inside where his cousin was having his wedding reception and it was during the toasts. A couple of times at grocery stores, people have threatened to call CPS on me because "a child never screams when they are with their parents". Um yeah.

Please post your comment below…

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As the mom of a Kindergartener with Aspergers (and a suspected undiagnosed Aspergian, myself), I deal with this pretty frequently. Our little guy has undergone a year of Occupational Therapy - which has made a HUGE difference - some behavioral therapy, and daily herbal therapy for his mood - I refuse to "medicate" him... he's not "sick"!
How about approaching the issue from a compassionate standpoint, rather than one of "we must fix this and avoid ridicule"? Who cares what other people think? If a parent becomes anxious and irritable over the meltdown, the child WILL pick up on that and the situation can become really ugly. So, just stop. Stop yourself from worrying how other people see it, and start worrying about how your CHILD sees it! What is triggering the reaction? Sight? Sound? Smell? Activity? Something made your child upset... find out what it is and see if it can be changed. If not, sit with them, comfort them, take them out of the environment if needs be. If other people don't get it, it's *their* problem!!
Be your child's advocate... not their adversary.

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