As a person on the autism spectrum and mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I have learned through experience that the key to dealing with autism meltdowns is to prevent them. During the meltdown, there isn’t much you can do to stop it. Avoiding the meltdown entirely and reducing meltdowns are the best working solutions, and they are often long-term goals that can’t be done overnight. Work with your kid on these things, and in time, you will see a difference dramatic enough to know it worked.
Improve Communication and Social Skills
Tackling the primary disabling features of autism is the most important component to reducing meltdowns.
At a young age, autistic people struggle with communication, mainly speech. As they get older, they struggle with communication in the form of organizing information and sorting out relevant details from irrelevant details. Social skills later become an issue, especially when communication becomes more abstract and nonverbal between peers.
Anytime a person of the spectrum is struggling with these things, they will have more frequent meltdowns because it’s frustrating. Studies show with hyperlexia (which often get the autism diagnosis) that improving communication skills works. It reduces a lot of negative behaviors beyond meltdowns.
12 Ways to avoid autistic meltdowns. Improve communication and social skills, talk about everything...Click To Tweet
Identify and Teach Them Their Triggers
A pattern often exists to triggers that can cause a meltdown (like a child not having her blanky), but also, the feelings before a meltdown can be identified (like anxiety).
With known triggers, as a parent, avoid making them triggers. If forgetting blanky at home is a trigger, make sure you don’t forget the blanky. Figuring out the unknown triggers is the hard part, especially if the child isn’t communicating well. Be very observant, and look in all the corners of feelings, senses, activities, and events. Monitor cause and effect relationships, especially the more subtle effects like over-excessive-silence. If you see your child space out and shut down, what happened there is most likely a trigger.
In addition, make sure the kid learns his triggers when age appropriate. Help him identify the feelings that usually end up in meltdown mode, and help him find ways to cope with those feelings before a meltdown. You cannot be with your child 24/7, especially as they get older, to shelter them from meltdown triggers. The child has to learn how to identify a potential meltdown and calm himself down before he gets there.
Hunger will often lead to meltdowns. Make sure your kid is not hungry. Because autism likes routine, try your best to stick to a food routine that works out well for your child’s hunger needs.
In addition, look for food allergies. Not all of autism is allergy induced, but certain food allergies will look like autism for temporary periods of time, or they can exasperate autism. Some food allergies cause meltdowns and other bad behaviors like excessive fighting in any kid.
In addition, there is a digestive bacteria that isn’t present in anyone who doesn’t have autism, but it is present in some with autism. Children with this bacteria should avoid things bacteria eats like sugars and prebiotics. Carbs will offset the bacteria, which is why a lot of people on the spectrum develop an addiction to fast food.
Many on the spectrum become “picky eaters.” People naturally crave foods they need, such as a hankering for peanut butter will result from a body’s need for protein. The body also naturally gets a little sick at the idea of foods that are harmful to them. Because autism is so sensitive and heightened, when you add possible food allergies and bacteria (in addition to textures), they are going to want food that doesn’t hurt, and sometimes that results in incredible picky eating. Listen to their needs and try to appeal to those needs. Also, look for patterns in ingredients they tend to avoid, especially common food allergies, such as milk, soy, nuts…
A tired person, child or adult, with or without autism, is more apt to behave badly. Confusion and lack of emotional control are heightened. People are just grumpy and cranky when they are tired. Often fatigue leads to hyper-tired, which is when the body gets a huge burst of energy while the minds are still tired, like after school after sitting all day with the body at rest and the mind in overdrive.
With autism, this is heightened.
Make sure your kid is sleeping enough at night, every night. Melatonin is often used to help a child fall asleep on nights they struggle with it. Talk to a doctor about proper dosage and use. Routine bedtimes and wake-times also helps train the body to sleep. Make sure they sleep in a comfortable bed with an ideal environment of light, sound and temperature.
After school, let your child have 20 minutes of active play somewhere and a snack. Avoid places where you expect them to sit quietly or follow rules. If you take your kid to a store, choose a store where your kid can roam around while you shop.
Consider using caffeine, like a mocha frappe or Mountain Dew, when you catch your child getting too tired to handle life, but avoid it within the time it takes to metabolize it and bedtime.
Avoid Avoidance; Make Expression a Habit
A lot of times, with autism, avoidance perpetuates the stew pot of emotions that build into a meltdown. Teach them to deal with their emotions as they receive them. Help your child find ways to express his emotions and feelings in a healthy manner.
Focus on both direct things like speaking your mind as things occur and indirect things like art, music and sports. If something bothers them at all, teach them to make peace with it as it happens.
In addition, tasks should be dealt with immediately. The longer an item sits on a to-do list, and the longer the to-do list becomes, the more overwhelm the autistic person will receive. They need to handle tasks in bite-sized pieces, and giving them one to do at a time, and teaching them to make it a habit to do it as soon as possible will help reduce the overwhelm that leads to meltdowns and shutdowns.
If something bothers them at all, teach them to make peace with it as it happens.Click To Tweet
If your kid is old enough to talk about things, talk about it. Bullies at school and awkward social situations are usually a pretty big variable into the meltdown cocktail. Talking about it also shows your child that you are interested in their life, and you care about the injustices happening to them, and sometimes, that’s all they need, even if the problem doesn’t get solved.
In addition, don’t punish. Lecture. Instead of spanking to communicate, “That’s bad,” explaining to autism on an age-appropriate level (or better said, communication appropriate level) what makes a behavior bad will go a lot further. Autism doesn’t deal well with vague like, “Because I said so.” Explain the logic, and your intentions become their intentions. Because they know exactly what you are looking for, they can focus all their focus on that goal reducing the negative emotions like shame, guilt, and not feeling good enough.
Give your Child with Autism Alone Time
Autism needs their alone time. It’s usually their place to clear out their minds and find their center. Respect it. Provide a place for it.
The best alone time you can give autism is one that gives them time to delve into special interests. Sometimes a fort to read in is perfect, and other times it’s a quiet corner to play video games or watch their favorite show. Keep distractions minimal, and try not to impede into their physical and emotional space.
Autism needs their alone time. It’s usually their place to clear out their minds and find their center. Respect it. Provide a place for it.Click To Tweet
Set the Example
A lot of our children’s behaviors are learned behaviors. The more you control your emotions, the more your kids will theirs. Remember the beginning of the cartoon 101 Dalmatians movie where all the dogs look like their owners?
In a sense, your kids are that way. 90% of parenting is setting the example. Everything else either handles temporary phases or amuses you while you wait through it. End result, kids end up a lot like their parents, or the exact opposite if they hate you.
Even better if you can explain what you are doing as you are doing it. Focus on responding instead of reacting. Aim for things you know your child is working on, such as properly responding to surprises. Did the electric bill stress you out? Call your kid in the room, “Child, I was just stressed out by this horrible news of a high bill I didn’t expect. I really thought it was going to be less than this, and now I have to come up with the money to fix it. I want to scream. I want to cry. Instead, I’m going to take a deep breath. Inhale. What do you think I could do to stay calm? Why don’t we close our eyes and ask God what I should do? Maybe I can write a list of ideas to pay for this….”
Avoid Authoritative Parenting
Authoritative Parenting doesn’t work on autism. In fact, it usually makes it worse and is harder to repair years down the road. The nurturing parent who respects their kid goes further with autism than the authoritative parent who belittles their kid.
The reasoning is autism doesn’t understand the age gap. They expect to be treated like adults. They expect the same respect from you that you expect from them. They want to be independent. That will NEVER go away. You can’t undo that wiring with a million Pavlov dogs.
Respect your child as you would any one of your peers, but also keep in mind your child’s abilities and try to offer adult-like things on their skill level. Offer options, and make sure they are all doable options that you are content with. Respect that they have a reason for everything, not an excuse. Just because you don’t understand their reason doesn’t mean it’s not a good reason. With autism, more often than not, it’s a good reason.
Get to Know Autism
Find people who have it and read their long stories about it. People with autism (including your child) are your most credible source on the subject than people who study autism. They will tell you what is really going on, not what it looks like whereas people who study autism tells you what it looks like, not what is really going on.
Understand their communication skills are different than yours, and apply that to your listening and learning. It might help to take an article written by someone with autism, and be their editor. Rewrite it the way you would for mainstream neurotypicals.
The more you understand autism, the easier your logic works to your favor.
Be a CEO
As the parent, you are CEO of your house. Constantly do little autism business meetings with yourself like a home-version IEP meeting. Set goals. Make a plan. Implement plan. Monitor results. What’s working? What’s not working? Is it really working? Is it really not working or do you need to give it more time?
Stop Listening to Idiots. Listen, instead, to your Heart.
Parents have this thing called instinct and intuition. They know their kids better than anyone else. Nobody else is as qualified on the subject of your child than you and your child. Give it an honest go though between what sounds easier for you and your wants vs what’s better for your child and his needs. Even parents with the best of intentions get those confused a little. It’s okay if you do, but give it an honest effort.
More often than not, your instinct will disagree with the millions of voices surrounding you. You are probably reading this right now looking more for reassurance to something you feel as opposed to looking for answers. Go with your instinct. If you are wrong, you and your kid will take the fall. If others are wrong, you and your kid will take the fall.
Life for a parent on the spectrum is so much easier when meltdowns are not a part of your life anymore. It’s not the fastest solution, but it’s the most effective.
Instead of focusing on ending meltdowns as they progress, focus on ending the meltdowns. Focus on the solution.Click To Tweet