Understanding Meltdowns in Children with Level 1 Autism

"I'd like to figure out what causes my child's meltdowns. She's autistic (level 1) and is getting more out-of-control lately. My suspicion is that she is dreading going back to school (starts 5th grade). We had several bad experiences last year, and she may be thinking that it's going to be more of the same this year - IDK."

Level 1 Autism, or high-functioning autism, is a neurological condition. The brain is wired differently, making this disorder a lifelong condition. It affects communication, social interaction and sensory issues.

Level 1 Autism is often referred to as the "invisible disorder" because of the internal struggles these kids have without outwardly demonstrating any real noticeable symptoms. Thus, difficultly assessing someone with Level 1 Autism is even more impacted.



Kids with high-functioning autism and Asperger's struggle with a problem and internalize their feelings until their emotions boil over, leading to a complete meltdown. These outbursts are not a typical temper tantrum. For children with Level 1 Autism (and for their parents), these episodes are much worse.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Many Level 1 Autistic kids may appear under-receptive or over-receptive to sensory stimulation and therefore may be suspected of having vision or hearing problems. Therefore, it's not unusual for parents or teachers to recommend hearing and vision tests. Some kids may avoid gentle physical contact such as hugs, yet they react positively to rough-and-tumble games. Some Level 1 Autism kids have a high pain tolerance, yet they may not like to walk barefoot in grass.

There are nine different types of temperaments in Level 1 Autistic children:
  1. Distractible temperament predisposes the child to pay more attention to his or her surroundings than to the parent.
  2. High intensity level temperament moves the child to yell, scream, or hit hard when feeling threatened.
  3. Hyperactive temperament predisposes the child to respond with fine- or gross-motor activity.
  4. Initial withdrawal temperament is found when children get clingy, shy, and unresponsive in new situations and around unfamiliar people.
  5. Irregular temperament moves the child to escape the source of stress by needing to eat, drink, sleep, or use the bathroom at irregular times when he or she does not really have the need.
  6. Low sensory threshold temperament is evident when the child complains about tight clothes and people staring and refuses to be touched by others.
  7. Negative mood temperament is found when children appear lethargic, sad, and lack the energy to perform a task.
  8. Negative persistent temperament is seen when the child seems stuck in his or her whining and complaining.
  9. Poor adaptability temperament shows itself when children resist, shut down, and become passive-aggressive when asked to change activities.

Some meltdowns are worse than others, but all leave both parent and kid exhausted. Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But… don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day, and sometimes into the next, the meltdown can return full force.

Meltdowns are overwhelming emotions and quite common in Level 1 Autistic kids. They can be caused by anything from a very minor incident to something more traumatic. They last until the kid is either completely exhausted, or he gains control of his emotions, which is not easy for him to do.

If your child suffers from Autism, expect her to experience both minor and major meltdowns over incidents that are part of daily life. She may have a major meltdown over a very small incident, or may experience a minor meltdown over something that is major. There is no way of telling how she is going to react about certain situations. However, there are some ways to help your daughter learn to control her emotions.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Autistic children don’t really have the knowledge to decipher when their actions are inappropriate. When your daughter is calm and relaxed, talk to her about her meltdowns if she is of an age where she can reason and learn to work with you. This will probably not be until the kid is seven or eight years old. Then, tell her that sometimes she does things that are not appropriate. Have her talk to you about a sign you can give her to let her know when this happens.

All you can do is be patient with your daughter while she is having a meltdown, though they are emotionally exhausting for you as well as he. Never punish her for experiencing a meltdown. Overwhelming emotions are part of the Autism traits, but if you work with your daughter, she will eventually learn to control them somewhat.

Level 1 Autistic kids don’t like surprises and some don’t like to be touched. Never rush to your daughter and give her a hug. If you want to hug her, tell her exactly what you are going to do. A surprise hug can send her into an even worse meltdown than she is already experiencing.

These young people like to be left alone to cope with emotions. If your daughter says something like, “I just want to be left alone,” respect her wishes for at least a while. You can always go back in ten minutes and ask if you can help. Do not be hurt if she refuses.

Work with your daughter as she grows older to help her learn to cope with daily life. Remember, she sees the world much differently than we do and needs help deciphering exactly how we see the world. While working with her on this, she will give you clues as to how she sees the world and a firmer bond will be established.

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==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

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