From Anxiety to Anger to Meltdown: A Dilemma for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“Can an autistic (high functioning) child’s anxiety play out as anger, and then morph to a meltdown?”

Good question. The answer is yes. There are many scenarios, but the most popular one I see goes like this:

The Aspergers or high-functioning autistic child begins to feel anxious ...his anxiety turns to anger ...his anger is misdirected toward the parent ...the parent becomes offended and pursues some form of punishment ...the child’s anxiety increases ...the conflict escalates (meltdown).

A meltdown is a state of neurological chaos where the Aspergers or HFA child's brain and nervous system overheat and stop working properly. A good analogy is a nuclear power plant where the fuel in the reactor core becomes so hot that it melts and releases energy.

Sometimes it gets so hot that it causes an explosion, and the energy is released outside of the core. It’s this explosive reaction that most parents and teachers refer to when they talk about meltdowns (although many confuse meltdowns with tantrums).

==> Here's how to stop meltdowns and tantrums...



•    Anonymous said... An even better question is "How do we get schools to recognize this so they don't punish"?
•    Anonymous said... Single parent here. Fully recognise that anxiety meltdown scenario! I find it a real struggle on the days I'm tired and have less patience than I need but mostly I think we all just do the best we can
•    Anonymous said... Exactly! My daughter's anxiety & frustrations will build to an inevitable meltdown if the wrong thing happens at the wrong time. We make sure she has an escape from known stressors so that she can calm herself when she is getting too upset. She is getting better about self regulating but we still have a ways to go.
•    Anonymous said... feel u frustration I have 3, my eldest has Aspergers, the younger children don't always understand. Also a single parent. It can sometimes feel like yr alone it does help to read others have similar problems, especially as others have no clue to yr child's uniqueness.
•    Anonymous said... How do u stop this anxiety manifesting in violent outburst when at school. My son has problems with fair play and gets very frustrated that people are cheating, he then gets angry and sometime violent. This then turns into deep remorse and guilt leading to feeling he's ruined his life due to these meltdowns.
•    Anonymous said... how do you manage to help them through a melt down or help them calm?
•    Anonymous said... I also took my son out of school and placing him in a special school that has services he needs.
•    Anonymous said... I feel your pain .
•    Anonymous said... I give my son updates on time we have to leave for dr appt ect. He says ok mom. Then when it is that time to leave he states "no" gets anxious then mad. Strikes out of me. Hates me ect. Total meltdown and I still have to get h in car. If I physically force him to car. I would get hurt. He is 10. Does anyone have suggestions? He had Aspergers
•    Anonymous said... I have 4 boys my oldest 12 was just diagnosed with aspergers we are having a lot of issues with anger and anxiety he is in counseling but feel we need to do something more. I am familiar with austim spectrum has my youngest is on it but they are totally different. Any tips or suggestions that could help us. Thanks
•    Anonymous said... I have one son diagnosed aspergers but my oldest,almost 15,has struggled in school since the start.he is diagnosed adhd and odd but he just can not have a single good day in school.he is in 9th grade now with an I.E.P. but i cant figure out why he has daily anxiety that leads to anger outbursts at school.i am at this point very desperate
•    Anonymous said... I now have my 12 yr old 6th grader home...public school doesn't yr I will have a person from disability services come for iep
•    Anonymous said... I took my now 16 year old out of school her 8th grade year and did home school (i also worked full time as a sped teacher in the same district she was pulled out of- you can imagine how that went over!). She also did a lot of behavior therapy that year. It was very difficult, but she started her 9th grade beautifully and so much stronger emotionally. She still has struggles, but is making strides in a positive direction.
•    Anonymous said... I went round and round with the school. nothing was being done.So i took it in my own hands.
•    Anonymous said... It is the same for me , my 11yr is just like this anxious and meltdown and hart herself and me!!!
•    Anonymous said... It's expensive so I'm asking school district to pay. I know I have an uphill battle.
•    Anonymous said... Ive done deep breathing with my son to help him calm when he knows he's geting anxious and now he does this himself when he feels he's getting "frazzled" as he calls it. Helps he(and I) focus on what issue really is rather than explosion of temper. Not 100% of the time, but does help focus.
•    Anonymous said... I've had the same problem! Jared was hospitalized for attacking a teacher over that lack of fairness. He is now in a different school with a wonderful teacher. We've had 1 major meltdown in school that resulted in a suspension with her. And 1 when he had a sub. I laid it out for her at the start of school and in the IEP mtg. She has since been very fair (4 other kids, no mainstream ed) and tells him and I ahead of time when she will be gone.
•    Anonymous said... Just as it happens in our family!
•    Anonymous said... My son is 14 and i took him out of school.and Home School him .Took him in the 5th grade.He also had IEP.
•    Anonymous said... My son is 7 and having a tough time at school he's now refusing to go and when I get him there he won't work
•    Anonymous said... My son is ADHD, but I have noticed that "they" try to label the disability as simply a behavior. Then try to convince all that the behavior is a choice. Pointing the finger always back to the child in making a bad choice. I've always wanted someone to say a kind word to my son like, "Hey, I know this is difficult for you, . . ." Recognizing that EVERTHING is more difficult for him.
•    Anonymous said... Now my son DR. Has him on bipolar meds. Lithium and he still isn't at the level takes 900mg in the morning 1200mg at night and with another meds. and the behaviors are still the same maybe we have 2 or 3 days that i would call good. He has broken so many thing in my home a list a mile long .and 2 of my car windows WE done so much counseling i think i get more out of it then he does.
•    Anonymous said... OMGsh, yes! It took me forever to realize what was going on, but that is exactly what can happen. Through behavior therapy and practice, we are working toward avoiding triggers and then if triggers still happen , ways to self sooth so she doesn't get angry and or have a melt down. It is a process, but worth the effort.
•    Anonymous said... Same in mine.
•    Anonymous said... So true!
•    Anonymous said... Some times you feel like your alone and dont no what do.There days i could throw the towel in and give up. But that my and i love him he is on meds but they change all the time.Iam single mom i do have two other kids they are older and help me when they can. Well i just had to vent some time it helps.
•    Anonymous said... Thats how it goes with my daughter
•    Anonymous said... we are having a very ruff time , with our local catholic school , to the point they want her to leave ,,, but she Dosent want too , do I persist as its not children pushing her out its teachers ..... as she loves going to her high school angry .....
•    Anonymous said... We have recently developed a big deal, little deal hand sign. I use it as a reminder not to blow a minor annoyance into a major meltdown. It seems to help a lot. I also focus on remaining calm and try to offer face/scalp massage, or other reassuring touch, once he'll allow it. Yoga, with a focus on breathing is next.
•    Anonymous said... We too have the exact scenario as the original post (14yr old boy in our case). Tell me, there seems to be some very desperate parents crying out for help and support on this forum, is this just a place to vent or are there people monitoring these answers who can help? Genuine question not a criticism!
•    Anonymous said... when we learned about the Aspergers it made such a difference because we stopped getting offended and punishing and started working harder to prevent, redirect, help him center, change our process of expectations, and things improved dramatically
•    Anonymous said... Wow, spot on!
•    Anonymous said... Yes, just like that!
•    Anonymous said... Your formula is right on. It happen like that for my 9 yr old son in school today. Never ending cycle. It just takes one thing to throw him off.
•    Anonymous said... Yup, so frustrating! That's the pattern here, too.

*   OH MY GOODNESS! He explained that SO very brillantly! I'm 58 and STILL have meltdowns sometimes~makes me feel like a naughty little girl and that no one understands me AT ALL! I think my eldest son has Asperger's, but it just hit me that maybe I do, as well...I'm highly intelligent but didn't have as severe anxiety and depression as he did at as young an age...

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