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Parent's Concrete Plan to Avert Meltdowns in Kids on the Autism Spectrum


Our son Nathan is four, turning five next month and has ASD. We have placed him in a mainstream school, grade RR and it has been a hectic week for him, us, his teachers at school. He is having meltdown after meltdown and is lashing out at the other kids by punching them, scratching them, or biting them severely. The parents are not happy and neither are the teachers. Please give us advice on how to deal with these abusive and often violent meltdowns as he refuses to go to timeout and threatens to punch the teachers. They don't know what to do or where to start to assist him.


Here are some important tips regarding meltdowns in children with ASD [High-Functioning Autism]:

• Help your youngster find more appropriate outlets for aggressive feelings and frustration, and encourage him to develop self control.

• Insist on an apology, directly to the person your youngster has bitten, and (if your youngster has bitten a baby or toddler) to the other youngster's parent.

• Pinpoint the cause. Is your youngster under a lot of stress? Does he have a new playmate from whom he may be picking up this behavior? Once you determine why your youngster is biting, you are well on the way to solving the problem.

• React immediately, with consequences that are connected to the act of biting. If your  youngster bites another youngster in a quarrel over a toy, remove the toy and don't let him play with it for a while. If he bites you because you will not give him a candy bar, make it clear that there will be no more candy bars until the biting behavior stops.

• REDIRECT any behavior that could lead to physical bopping or hitting. In many cases, what starts as fun and games ends with someone getting hurt. Don't be afraid to remove something that can cause harm or distress. Even an inflatable toy that doesn't hurt a youngster per se can reinforce negative behaviors of hitting one another, and should simply be discouraged.

• REFUSE to let your youngster play unattended with another youngster who consistently demonstrates hitting behaviors. It is your job to protect your youngster and to instill proper behaviors. You know what to do if your youngster is the one hitting, but don't hesitate stepping in if it is your youngster who is the one being hit (accidentally or not). You don't want your youngster to begin to think that he should also hit or hit back (or begin other bad behaviors, such as biting) in self-defense. You may need to speak up and even discipline another person's youngster to stop the inappropriate actions if the parent isn't acknowledging there is a problem. If you're comfortable, have a frank conversation with the parent of the youngster who is hitting. Consider choosing your words carefully to avoid anyone from becoming overly-defensive, and potentially ending a friendship. After all, next time it could be your own youngster with the behavioral issue.

• REMAIN calm and don't let your child see you get upset. You need to show a calm yet firm face so that your youngster knows that while you love him, you will not condone his actions and that it isn't ever okay to hit. Avoid over-reacting too. Use the redirection and firm "no hitting" words while removing the offender from the play area may be all that is needed.

• REMOVE the child on the spectrum from any situation in which he is deliberately hitting another youngster. If a youngster is a toddler and has begun socializing, consider ending the play-date and leave, howling and all. You need to teach your youngster that hitting another youngster ruins the activity for everyone. Of course, there are situations where you truly can't walk away. In this case a youngster must be removed from the others and not allowed to play with them. After a reasonable amount of time and after everyone has calmed down, you can talk with your youngster about the incident and then re-introduce the social play, but be sure to keep a very close eye on your youngster's actions. Nobody likes their youngster to be hit, and while some of the behavior is normal, it should be closely monitored and stopped. Plus, you don't want your own tot becoming known as a bully, or at the very least a youngster no one wants to be around.

• SUPERVISE your youngster and be prepared to react quickly. Too often, parents aren't attentive enough to young kids playing together because they are so busy having an adult conversation that they don't see warning signs of potentially-hurtful behavior starting. Don't rely on someone else to watch your youngster. Your youngster and his behavior is always your responsibility. At the same time, don't do the helicopter hover either.

• TALK with your youngster before he joins others in a playgroup about appropriate ways to act. Tell your youngster what you expect in easy-to-understand language. Once your youngster is old enough to really understand what you are saying, he is old enough to begin learning right from wrong.

Remember that having an youngster who hits, bites, scratches, etc., doesn't mean that they will grow up to be bad or become a bully. It's just your job to stop the action and properly discipline your youngster through loving guidance and age-appropriate communications.


•    Anonymous said… Being only 4 could probably be part of the problem
•    Anonymous said… I am a friend of Marisa and I agree with her. Her son was so unhappy at our school and I have seen him grow so much since he has been at this new school. He is like a different child. Take him to a place where he can be content.
•    Anonymous said… I am a mom of a 10 year old boy with Aspergers. He did grade 1 and 2 so unhappy in a remedial school. It was traumatic for him, and really bad for his self-confidence and his trust in us. By the time I was able to move him to a a school that deals purely with children on the spectrum, we had so much damage and hurt to undo. Your son is acting out because it is the only way he knows how to express himself. He is showing you that the situation is not a good one for him, as he is not capable of putting into words his emotions. As another mom, I would recommend that you move him to a place where they teach him social skills as well as an academic program, so that he doesn't grow into a teenager that still cannot understand 'neurotypical language'.
•    Anonymous said… I can only go by what i just read it doesnt sound like hes getting much support! Time out and punishment wont help......a safe place for him to regroup and calm could. Trying to deal with the blow out of too much stress after the fact wont help but trying to manage expectations transitions etc beforehand might. Does the teaching staff understand him and aspergers as a condition? Ita with kelly son went into a new school they did not understand him they disciplined him and did not manage him properly at all..not their fault they did not understand took us an entire year to get things going somewhat smoothly and his confidence and esteem took a big knock. If i could go back i would have started out with a very definitive plan on how my son would be managed (iep) and how certain situations would be dealt with. I would have been a stronger advocate for my son.....i was struggling with the embarrassment of what he was behaving like and didnt focus enough on supporting him and his needs (not saying thats the case with anyone else that was just me) good luck i feel your pain its a difficult situation
•    Anonymous said… I know the feeling all too well ! he's just overwhelmed ... your son is not a bad child !!!! I use the positive re- enforcement you're a good boy ,you can do this, think how proud you're going to feel... good luck mama
•    Anonymous said… If at all possible, move to a different class or school where teacher/aide ratio is no more than 4 kids per adult. He needs lots of positive input and reinforcement that a mainstream teacher is not going to be able to provide - even with an IEP. Our son had a similar experience, and it took 2 years to undo the damage that was done to his development and self esteem. To this day, the parents of the kids in that class will avoid him and me. If you can't change schools, insist on an aide because of the high level of support he will need.
•    Anonymous said… In my opinion the school are not doing enough to recognise the signs before meltdown,of you have mastered it they need to to,,if they wont work with you and figure out the causes of his meltdowns and adjust things to make it easier on him,which he is entitled to be happy at school too,I would consider looking else where with a good reputation,there are lots schools are doing to make it less over whelming for all children ...less work on walls hanging up ect different lighting,things like coloured sheets to go over pages of books as it can be to much the white and black and all those words,,all triggers of a meltdown.... Maybe ask to sit in and see what's going on see if you can see his triggers smile emoticon hope I have not waffled to much.
•    Anonymous said… Make sure the school realises he is in a threatening environment for him. He is at meltdown point because no intervention has been given prior to him getting to that point. Once at meltdown he no longer can hear or think and will/can lash out. A meltdown can take up to 4 hours to recover from as the brain hormones released at this time leave the body, he needs time to recover from a meltdown not put in another situation that will cause further problems for him. He needs adults around him who take the time to get to KNOW him and his warning signs and take action to help him calm before meltdown. Time out at that point won't work, he can no longer think, but a relaxation break, (a lie down somewhere quiet, music, colouring in, whatever he likes to do quietly) or an active (climbing, running, jumping, rolling) break might help. Quick rewards of high interest given at the right time will help, a first then next timetable so he knows what the day looks like. All these things and many other strategies will help if his teacher and aid are willing.
•    Anonymous said… My HFA son is in Sr. Kindergarten. Last year when we transitioned him from Daycare to Jr. Kindergarten it was challenging. He too has aggressive tendencies (biting, kicking, scratching, throwing objects). We knew JK would be a challenge, so we gathered a team including the daycare, school, therapists etc and started planning early. The first few months were not easy - he was at 60% serious aggression level (60% of the days had a serious incident) and had many potty accidents. However, we persevered, had alot of communications and statistics and with the dedication of all involved, he finished the year at about 20% incident levels (and not as severe). This year, there has been virtually no problems - but keep in mind, same teacher and schedule for the second year. My fear is that the administrators don't realize how much support he needs to maintain this level. I am very happy we had a plan and are able to keep him totally integrated.I would suggest, professional observation of him in the clase, ABC analysis, statistical analysis, open communications and a good sense of humour.
•    Anonymous said… Take him out. There are other places. Not worth putting him through this trauma.
•    Anonymous said… We dealt with this at age 6. Started anxiety med and eventually placed in a Emotionally Disabled classroom. Sounds scary, but they have tools to build child back up. Small class size and aides. It did get worse for a few weeks...then we had a kid back. He was his old self. That tornado inside of him calmed down. He still has bad days, but once every few weeks, not everyday. Keep at it! Know you are not alone. You are a good mom, your son is lucky to have you.

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