Calming down tantrums from a child with autism, ASD, specifically Aspergers

In this post, I'm going to be talking about advice for calming down tantrums in a child with autism, but more specifically autism spectrum disorders, especially Aspergers Syndrome.

Now, autistic kids throw 'normal' I'm-not-getting-my-way tantrums just like the next child, but there is also a WHOLE other breed of tantrum- The Meltdown.

If you have a child with Aspergers, you know exactly what I'm talking about... This is something much more akin to a panic attack in a neurotypical adult, but, trust me... Much worse. Much, much worse.

The top three tips I have are-

1. Know your child
2. Practice empathy, understanding, and PATIENCE.
3. Do not... under any circumstances... tell your child to “just stop” during a meltdown.

The first two I think are self-explanatory and I feel there's not a mom on here who wouldn't do that already. But the third... let me explain why.

A meltdown isn't like a normal tantrum, and to someone who hasn't experienced it, it can be very frightening to witness and difficult to understand. You can't “just stop” You can't. It's is basically like your brain is short circuiting. You literally, physically, with all the willpower in the whole wide world can not just stop. They are generally caused by overloads- sensory or emotional, often both.

I want to explain to you what a meltdown feels like.

Imagine being a few months pregnant in your deepest mood swing, one that not even you understand- you just feel the emotions and really quite strongly. I feel like a lot of us have been there.

Now... pretend you're feeling that awful, inexplicable emotion, while you're shoved like sardines in a crowd of people, wearing the scratchiest wool sweater you can imagine in 100 degree weather.

And someone's flashing a strobe light in your eyes.

Somewhere in your ears there's a human dog whistle screeching until you think your eardrums or head might explode.

And someone's tickling your feet.

And you you're being dipped back and forth between a hot and icy bath tub.

And someone attached electrodes to your body and the current hurts. Everywhere.

The air is out of oxygen.

And your fight or flight instinct is on overload. Adrenaline's pumping and you want to hit everything and run away simultaneously.

And EVERYONE is looking at you like... Why are you freaking out? This is just life, man. Get over it, crazy person.

Oh, and don't forget... Most of the time during a meltdown you can't express yourself in words because your brain is short circuiting and words don't work anymore.

A child experiencing a meltdown is TERRIFIED and so uncomfortable most people can't imagine. It feels like sick torture. And for a child just learning the world, they don't understand fully why everyone else doesn't feel like this.

So, if your child is screaming to the top of their lungs... Know that what they are feeling is terrible, and they NEED you to not another person in the crowd who doesn't get it and just wants them to get over it. They need your understanding and comfort. Stay calm and be there. Screw what everyone else thinks. They may think you're a bad mom who can't control their child. LET THEM. Because you're not and unless they've dealt with it, they don't get it either.

You don't tell someone with suicidal depression to “just stop being sad.”
You don't tell someone with anorexia to “just eat”
And you don't tell a kid having a meltdown to “just stop” or “just calm down”

It'll probably have the opposite effect because that kinda feels like a betrayal.

As for actionable steps, this will vary highly from child to child.
Some people cannot STAND to be touched during a meltdown... if that's the case don't touch them unless they are possibly going to harm themselves... Be supportive, respectful, and let it pass. Keep yourself calm and assure your child you're there for them.

One thing that helps many autistic children is pressure though. Physical pressure, I mean. Sometimes squeezing your kid super tight during a meltdown can ease it so much it's not funny. It brings the mind back to the real world. Sometimes this can be as simple as rolling them up like a taco in a blanket nice and tight.

You can also buy weighted blankets or make your own which is a godsend to a lot of autistic kids.

Sometimes a warm or cool bath can help, or a special trinket (especially if it has a sensory aspect) can really help too.

Sometimes though, however scary and painful it is to watch, you just have to let it run its course. Remember, no matter how hard or embarassing it is for you, it is exponentially moreso for your child. Don't get disappointed. Don't get angry (Well, you might... but don't express that at your child) because it will only harbor resentment.

Autism comes with so so many gifts, and sometimes these things are just part of the price that's paid. It will probably get better with age, and you can discuss with your child things that will make them feel better in calmer moments so you'll be better prepared next time. Autistic kids are generally very insightful and gifted in many ways.

So. Love. Empathy. Patience. Understanding. That's all you can give. :) :)

Moms Expertise
Thank you for sharing... I wish her all the best. She's got a tough, but amazingly rewarding road ahead of her.
    My two cents on the topic:

    As an autistic, I've had my share of meltdowns. More so when I'm in lower-functioning state- and yes, although people will label autistics as "higher functioning" and "lower functioning", I truly believe this to be a continuum that any autistic can go back and forth between depending on circumstance and such. Meltdowns, in almost any circumstance, are low-functioning moments, and happen when one is closer to the low-functioning side.

    For me, I cannot emphasize enough how much pressure can help. I think it has to do with pressure releasing oxytocin, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone" and has a generally calming effect. Once I'm in a meltdown, in the thick of it, there is no reasoning me to calm down, but if you are the right person, at this point in time that person is my husband- you can hold me, and it will generally calm me down quickly.

    BEWARE: if you are not the right person, you WILL make things worse! Better to step aside and let us self-soothe than the wrong person try to console.

    That's if I am in a meltdown though, and seems to have applied to my entire life, s though I speak as an adult, from what I remmeber, the same worked as a child.

    The great thing about meltdowns is that meltdowns generally are not sudden things. It might feel as though they are, but in all reality, they are build-up of stressors and overstimulation, or even understimulation. Which is good, because build-up CAN be dealt with before imploding.

    One thing I think people need to realize more is that autistics are INCREDIBLY logical. This won't work in all cases, but if you can catch the warning signs of a meltdown (loss of control of voice, fidgeting/stimming more than usual, an appearance of generally "losing it", ect), and there's a situation that is confusing/stressful/upsetting causing it, talking to the child, as an adult with reasoning abilities is HIGHLY helpful. I've talked several autistic children down from the edge of a meltdown since understanding autism and knowing what I need sometimes.

    Again, this won't always work. Sometimes, there's no logic to it, but if you can catch them before they get to the point where their brain is shut off, you will have a lot more success in avoiding a meltdown, which is beneficial for all involved.

    Also, this doesn't work so much with younger kids, but with children that are self-aware, ask them, after a meltdown has cooled, what you can do to help them. Chances are, they will have some suggestions.
    I agree with everything you said, as usual, Shayna Gier. ESPECIALLY, if you're the wrong person, it's not going to help and that there are usually warning signs before meltdown. That's where knowing your child, their triggers, and the symptoms that a low-functioning state is coming on is very, very important. Thank you so much for your amazing input.
    About Cassaundra Owens
    Birth: February 13
    On since: Oct 11, 2013
    I'm a little strange, pretty green, and learning to live life as a wife, future mother, and entrepreneur. Right now, my husband and I are trying for our first after 3.5 years of infertility and 2 losses. Viva la adventure! Join me too at!