As a parent of an autistic individual, meltdowns are something that we deal with. It’s just part of life, you get used to it and develop strategies to help. Eventually, who knows, you may even get to a point where you’re prepared enough that you can intervene with a meltdown before it becomes full blown. It’s all about timing and getting to know your child’s needs. With Sweet B there are certain things that just work and here are 5 calming strategies for meltdowns that have worked for us. We’re also experimenting with using essential oils with her, so I’ll keep you all updated on that.
Individuals with autism have meltdowns for various reasons. Yours might be different from ours, and that’s to be expected. Autism, after all, is a spectrum disorder.
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Calming Strategies for Meltdowns in Autistic Children
When Sweet B has a melt down, it’s usually triggered by sensory overload and she has developed several strategies on her own for dealing with them. We’ve tried many other autism meltdown strategies at the advice of her therapists or classroom teachers. Some have been incredibly successful (music and exercise ball) while some haven’t.
Regardless of what method we’ve used, we then made it a part of her PECS cards so she could incorporate it into her routine. In fact, straying out of her routine is usually what causes her meltdowns lately. She’s a teenager and at this point, she has thrived on predictability in her day. We try to stick with the same routine every day or at least take steps to incorporate something new.
So what are those tried and true calming strategies that have worked the best?
Her top favorite method is to use her exercise ball. By using this, she can get her excess energy out and decompress easily.
Another way to deal with her meltdowns is by listening to music. Of course, she likes to listen to her music quite loud so we did get her a decent pair of headphones so she’s not disturbing anyone else.
We’ve also made a few homemade fidget toys by filling used plastic water bottles with rice, beans, beads. Sometimes we’ll put water in there as well, but usually we just put in the dry items. She enjoys shaking them and it seems to calm her down quite a bit.
To that extent, a simple sensory bin using rice as a base also works well for her. She can sift through it or use provided cups and spoons.
And, when she’s at home, one of the quickest ways to get her to calm down is to give her a bath or let her play in the bathtub. Water has been a huge calming factor for Sweet B since she was younger and it’s one of my favorite resources to use when we’re at home. It ties into our general process of creating a calming environment for her.
And since she’s non-verbal, I’ve also developed a simple set of calming cards for her to use. You can also take a look at these calming cards in case your child is more of a real-people picture person.
Other things that we’ve used in the past are weighted blankets, weighted vests, and a Slinky.
These are just a few of the calming techniques for autism meltdowns that we’ve tried and still turn to.
But how do you know when it’s a meltdown or when a child is simply having a temper tantrum?
Well, for all intents and purposes, a meltdown does look very similar to a tantrum. Often, it’s difficult to tell the difference- especially to the untrained eye or for someone who might not be familiar with autism.
Or in those early years, when toddlers are particularly prone to throwing tantrums, you may think that your autistic toddler is just being a toddler. But I believe that there is a significant difference. In fact, I know there’s a difference. Not coming from a child psychology standpoint here, but speaking entirely from experience.
Especially now that my youngest is capable of throwing epic tantrums? Oh yes, I can tell you that there is definitely a difference between a temper tantrum and a sensory meltdown.
5 Differences Between Tantrums and Sensory Meltdowns
With a tantrum, the child is looking for a reaction whereas with a meltdown, the child does not care if you are reacting or watching.
With a tantrum, a child is trying to communicate to you that they want something. But with a meltdown, a child has simply reached a point where they have lost control.
With a tantrum, a child is aware of their environment and personal safety. With a meltdown, a child has lost control and awareness.
With a tantrum, a child is very much in control of their behavior. With a meltdown, they simply are not.
With a tantrum, you can usually calm a child down. With a meltdown, you might not always be able to do this. Sometimes you just have to let their meltdown run it’s course.
Children with autism are more prone to meltdowns than they are to tantrums, but that doesn’t mean that they’re immune to having tantrums. Sweet B has those too, especially when she’s being denied cookies or candy. The key is knowing which is which and handling them effectively.
What calming strategies have been most effective for you and your family?