Autistic Meltdowns


At Emerge, we often receive questions from concerned parents about the best ways to deal with their autistic child’s behavior. Children with autism react and behave differently than children who are not on the spectrum, so oftentimes parents are unsure of the best way to help their autistic child, especially when he/she is emotionally upset or experiencing a meltdown.

In order to know how to calm your child when they are having a meltdown, it’s important to understand why they occur. Then, you can take steps to prevent the situation and use various strategies to counteract the effects and mitigate the severity of a meltdown.

What Causes an Autism Meltdown?

All children go through a phase of throwing tantrums at some point or another. However, there is a definite difference between a normal tantrum and an autism meltdown. During a tantrum, a child has difficulty controlling their behavior, but is usually able to calm themselves or regain control after some time.

An autism meltdown is different than a tantrum because it’s caused by feelings of being overwhelmed or overstimulated. When a child with autism is overstimulated, their brain has difficulty processing all of the information that is being input. This results in a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety. The brain perceives the overstimulation as a threat, prompting the body to initiate a physiological response.

Additionally, during an autism meltdown, a child has no control over their behavior. Their disorder takes control of them and they usually cannot stop until they are either completed exhausted or calmed by a parent or caretaker. Learning what triggers these meltdowns and feelings of overstimulation can help prevent them from occurring.

Strategies for Calming an Autistic Child During a Meltdown

When a meltdown occurs, there are various actions one can take to help calm an autistic child. Here are some strategies that many parents have found useful:

  • Prevent the meltdown by identifying triggers and removing them
  • Create a diversion to distract your child, such as singing a song or reading out loud
  • Put on music or use noise-canceling headphones
  • Create a “cool down” area that has coloring books, toys, or activities your child enjoys and can go to when they feel overwhelmed
  • Use sensory objects or toys to engage their attention
  • Speak calmly and provide positive verbal feedback
  • Change your child’s surroundings or take them to a different room
  • Give your child time and space to calm down, but take steps to monitor their safety
  • Discuss meltdown behavior with your child and give them coping strategies for dealing with their anxiety such as meditation or yoga

Get Advice from a Professional

If you are having difficulty helping your child cope with meltdowns or other behaviors related to autism, you may want to seek the advice of a professional. At Emerge, we offer numerous services geared towards helping children with autism and their families. Call our Denver office today to schedule an appointment to speak to a therapist.