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ASD Kids & Meltdowns: 5 Critical Tips for Parents

Kids with ASD level 1 the world over share a common trait: meltdowns (also known as a tantrum, a birko, a go-off or spack-attack).

The visible symptoms of a meltdown are as varied as the kids themselves, but every parent is able to describe their youngster’s meltdown behavior in intricate detail.

Meltdowns can be short lived, or last as long as two hours. They can be as infrequent as once a month (often coinciding with the lunar cycle/full moon) or occur as frequently as 4-6 times a day. Whatever the frequency and duration, an Aspergers youngster having a meltdown is difficult for parents and teachers to deal with.

Meltdowns in these young people are triggered by a response to their environment. These responses can be caused by avoidance desire, anxiety or sensory overload. Triggers need to be recognized and identified.

So how do we deal with a meltdown? What should you do when one occurs?

A parent's (or teacher's) behavior can influence a meltdown’s duration and intensity, so always check your response first:
  1. Slow down
  2. Quiet down
  3. Prioritize safety
  4. Calm down
  5. Re-establish self-control in the youngster, and deal with the issue

So as you see, the first four steps in the effective management of meltdowns involves YOU, the adult. Let's look at each of these steps in turn:

1. Slow down. Meltdowns often occur at the most inconvenient time (e.g., rushing out the door to school). The extra pressure the "fear of being late" creates adds to the stress of the situation. Kids with ASD respond to referred mood and will pick up on your stress. This stress is then added to their own. So forget the clock and focus on the situation. Make sure the significant people in your life know your priorities here. Let your boss know that your youngster has meltdowns that have the capacity to bring life to a standstill, and you may be late. Let your youngster’s teacher know that if your youngster is late due to a meltdown, it’s unavoidable and your youngster shouldn’t be reprimanded for it.

2. Keep your speaking voice quiet and your tone neutrally pleasant. Don’t speak unnecessarily. Less is best. Don’t be “baited” into an argument. Often times, Aspergers kids seem to “want” to fight. They know how to “push your buttons,” so don’t be side-tracked from the meltdown issue.

3. Prioritize safety when your youngster is having a meltdown. Understand that he can be extremely impulsive and irrational at this time. Don’t presume that the safety rules he knows will be utilized while he is melting down. Just because your youngster knows not to go near the street when he is calm doesn’t mean he won’t run straight into 4 lanes of traffic when he is having a meltdown. If your youngster starts melting down when you’re driving in the car, pull over and stop. If your youngster tends to “flee” when melting down, don’t chase him. This just adds more danger to the situation. Tail him at a safe distance (maintaining visual contact) if necessary.

4. Take 3 slow, deep breaths, and rather than dreading the meltdown that’s about to take place, assure yourself that you’ve survived meltdowns 100 times before and will do so this time too.

5. When your ASD child is calm and has regained self-control, he will often be exhausted. Keep that in mind as you work through the meltdown issue. Reinforce to your youngster the appropriate way to express his needs and wants.

Remember that all behavior is a form of communication, so try to work out the message your son or daughter is trying to convey with his meltdown rather than responding and reacting to the behavior displayed.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said... Good article
•    Anonymous said... Gotta love those meltdowns ;)
•    Anonymous said... It's double trouble when they reach their teens as my son is 17. Good luck everyone x
•    Anonymous said... Very helpful, thanks!
•    Anonymous said... Very validating as this is usually what I do.

More comments:
  • Jane said... Thanks for these tips! It never ceases to amaze me how my son can go through an entire morning of getting ready for school, seemingly fine, then at the last second (could be triggered by having a sibling go out to the bus stop first) have a total meltdown! It is times like that when he runs off and I want to scream. Thanks for the reminder of what to do and not to do!
  • Mom With Bipolar said...I really like this post. "so try to work out the ‘message’ your Aspergers youngster is trying to convey with their meltdown, rather than responding and reacting to the behavior displayed" This is so important! Thanks.
  • Jackie said...Good suggestions here. I was reading this as we were re-cooperating from a meltdown over it being the wrong time to cook biscuits. Things have calmed and I enjoyed my biscuits and strawberry jam for brunch.

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