Learn 10 do-able ways to avoid autism meltdowns with your child from a pediatric OT and mom to a child with Autism.
You feel air reverberating as your child’s fist slams onto the floor. His face reddens and his voice shrieks.
Your ears ring with a vibrating shrill.
You’re worn down with thoughts of…not again….. Wondering if you have the endurance to make it through another meltdown before it consumes you.
You might feel like you’re dealing with meltdowns all….the…time.
You’re utterly exhausted. And you feel under equipped for such big emotions from your child, which usually end up putting you in survival mode.
You are not alone!! This is often the experience of parents of a child with Autism.
But, there are strategies to experience these meltdowns less often and to avoid these situations altogether.
To move out of survival mode and into a proactive stance for Autistic Meltdowns, I’m thrilled to welcome, Candice Curtis, OTR/L, CAS of Integrate Family, she is an occupational therapist with advanced postgraduate training in sensory integration and a Certified Autism Specialist to share her expertise with us.
Candice is passionate about helping and empowering and equipping parents of Autistic children.
Besides being the mother of a child with Autism, she has journeyed alongside hundreds of families to avoid those feelings of being overwhelmed and to help them equip their Autistic children.
Let’s break this meltdown stuff down a little. Shall we? Take it away, Candice…
What is a Meltdown?
We have all experienced a meltdown ourselves, one time or another. The stress we carry mounting beyond our breaking point. Tears streaming down our cheeks. Our whole body rhythmically joins in with our sobbing.
The feeling is utterly overwhelming. I….just….can’t….handle….it….anymore!!!!!!
If we stop and think about how horrible and dreadful of an experience this is for us… there might be a few things that we notice:
- You are doing the best that you can, but it just doesn’t feel like enough
- It wasn’t your first reaction. If you think about it, a lot of things added up to a whale of a stressor.
- Someone else understanding you makes you feel so much better.
So, why are we talking about you? Well, because this is true for your child too…..
The difference is that their brain and their body just can’t handle as much as most of the people that you know.
A meltdown is when stress has mounted and can no longer be managed. Yep, the pot has overflowed and you have a front row seat.
You’re viewing your child’s stress erupting like a pressurized bottle of tabasco sauce. Hot, messy, and impossible to get back into the bottle.
How is a Meltdown Different for an Autistic child?
It’s not your imagination.
Your child has more meltdowns than most children. The question is why? Why does everything seem like such a big deal???
The answer to that question is all about the nervous system. The nervous system pretty much controls everything that we think, say, feel, and do.
It’s the system that is made up of our brain and all of our nerves. For our Autistic kiddos, this system is not running like a well oiled machine.
It’s more like a cell phone trying to get service in the middle of nowhere.
If you stand in just the right place, at just the right time, you get a signal. Face the other direction or shift your weight and you catch every other word. Or worse yet, maybe you just get disconnected.
Not receiving accurate or consistent information is exhausting.
Which means…your child can more easily become completely overwhelmed by just about anything (or everything).
Now, don’t get me wrong, no one has the same nervous system as someone else. Autistic or not autistic. If we stick with the cell phone analogy, every person has a different plan.
That’s why there is a saying “if you have met one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism”. What is a stressor to one person, very well might not even bother another person.
Top 10 Autism Meltdown Strategies: Avoiding the Meltdown Before it Starts
The best strategy to handle meltdowns is to simply avoid the meltdown.
I bet you are thinking, “duh” right about now.
It’s all about proactivity, friends!!
Like so many things, being proactive is always going to be your best bet. So, now that you know, go do it!
Hmmm, wait it’s not quite that easy though, is it?
Here are my top game plans to prevent a meltdown from happening before it even starts:
1. Write down what your child enjoys.
Like actually make a list. What makes your child relax? What makes your child smile? (keep reading to find out what to do with the list)
2. Take care of yourself!
I feel like self care has been a catch phrase, but don’t ignore this one! If you don’t have the energy to be present with your child…well, you won’t have the energy to be proactive to help your child. You will only be in survival mode…not the amazing kick butt parent that you actually are!! Listen in on my podcast episode about self care for some specific ways you can help yourself first
3. Help your child get the best sleep he or she can.
It’s no surprise that sleep can make a HUGE difference in how your child is able to handle stressful situations. It’s also no surprise that your child most likely does not sleep well. Definitely check out my post here or talk to your pediatrician if you need some more ideas.
4. Become a minimalist when it comes to your schedule.
We are all so crazy busy!! Taking a good look at our schedules is a must if we have Autistic children. Is there anything that can be removed? Delegated? Simplified? Be super honest with yourself!
5. Don’t do more…do it different.
Remember that list from #1? Sprinkle those things into your regular schedule throughout the day. If your child loves smoothies…make it a part of breakfast each morning. If your child loves to rock…read a bedtime story together in a rocking chair.
6. Be observant. Then take action.
Try to see things through your child’s eyes. You might be able to tune out the hum of the lights. Maybe your child can’t. You might be able to handle wearing different types of clothing. Maybe your child can’t. Then do what you can to decrease those types of stressors.
7. Minimize the amount of things in your home.
Having too many pictures on the walls… Having too many shoes to dig through when it’s time to go…Having too many toys to pick up…all of it can add to more stress for both you and your child.
8. Get outside!!
Ok..so this should have been #1. Getting outside helps us have less stress in about a bazillion ways. Want to hear more about the benefits of the outdoors? Listen to this AMAZING podcast episode with the author of Balanced and Barefoot. Remember, there’s very rarely bad weather…just bad clothing.
9. Name that emotion.
Give your child the words they don’t have. If they seem to be getting frustrated when a toy doesn’t work…you might say “oh, that can be really frustrating when a toy doesn’t work”. If they seem sad about their blue cup being in the dishwasher…you might say “I miss the blue cup too, I’m so excited for the dishwasher to get it super clean”.
10. Be the calm.
If your child has a hard time not feeling overwhelmed and stressed…you need to “be the calm”. They will pick up on how you are doing emotionally. Make a motto that you can repeat whenever you need to. I find myself repeating “download calm…download calm” or “release” when I need to remind myself of this.
Plan B: When a Meltdown Happens
Let’s face it…no matter how much we all try to be proactive, meltdowns still happen. It’s part of life.
We can do everything perfectly, but our kids are still going to get stressed and have meltdowns.
But, remember when you had a meltdown?
How you were trying so hard, but it wasn’t enough to keep you from being completely overwhelmed. How inside you felt completely out of control, even if it didn’t make sense to everyone else around you?
Remember that now…
Remember that your child is on overload and is not in a place to problem solve. They need to feel safe and loved.
Download calm. Because, quite frankly, if you both meltdown nothing good will come out of that…
Knowing what is calming to your child will guide you in helping your child manage their stress.
Moving Forward After a Meltdown
Meltdowns are hard on both you and your child. But, I didn’t have to tell you that.
But you are a parent that is equipped with strategies. You know your child better than anyone else….
Don’t ever doubt that, not even for a second. You have survived every day so far and you have made learning more about your child a priority.
You explode awesomeness!!
So the next time that you watch yourself being proactive and you make what could have been a HUGE meltdown into even a minor catastrophe….
Now tell yourself….”I totally nailed it! I do explode awesomeness!!” Because you do!
Need more ideas on how to help your child be calm and focused for the day? Get your FREE printable NOW. 5 Ways to Help Your Child with Autism be Calm and Focused For Their Day Ahead.
Candice Curtis is a licensed Occupational Therapist and the founder of Integrate Family. Candice has advanced postgraduate training in Ayers Sensory Integration and is a Certified Autism Specialist. Candice also has 2 boys of her own at home, one of which is Autistic. Learn more about her at www.integratefamily.com or listen to her podcast, The Autism and Parenting Podcast, found on all podcast platforms.
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