Each autistic child is different and so is the trigger that can cause a tantrum or meltdown for a child. With autism, it’s not just a matter of saying your grounded or “timeout” in order to calm your child down. Having strategies that work for calming your specific child may seem improbable or even impossible, but with a little foresight and some help from your child’s therapist we can develop a plan to help diffuse autistic tantrums.
Any parent of a typical child can probably relate with a meltdown over a toy or missing dessert, but for parents of autistic children understanding a tantrum or meltdown can be difficult if not frustrating. The main difference is usually the cause of the tantrum. For children who develop typically the cause of the outbreak can be readily identified. The trigger for an autistic child can vary widely and even day to day or situation to situation. We have all heard about the “terrible twos,” but do you realize that these can last from age 1-4? This is typically when “normally” young children develop their problem-solving skills. Autistic children may not be able to properly develop these skills. Autistic meltdowns can develop from overstimulation or being overwhelmed. This can also be called sensory overstimulation. You need to be attuned to your child’s sensory signals in order to head off a potential tantrum or meltdown.
Understanding the autistic child and their meltdowns is only part of the equation. Being able to calm the situation and stop the tantrum/meltdown can be a great skill. You can work with your child’s therapist and there are plenty of resources for calming autistic children and many use a three-pronged approach. One blog in particular, Harkla.co identifies three of these steps as:
Recognizing the Behavior Trigger: Identifying why your autistic child is having a tantrum can help you properly respond to that trigger. These can range from the need for attention, a want or need, the denial of a want/need, and even the delay of a desire or want. Identifying these triggers can help diffuse the situation and reinforce a positive behavior as a solution. For instance, many autistic children can benefit from weighted blankets or lap pads to soothe them once there trigger has been identified.
Reinforce Positive Behavior: By rewarding your child with a hug or a simple high-five when they respond appropriately to even a small issue, you can proactively avoid tantrums and let your child know that even when they behave properly they are your focus at all times, not just when they misbehave. Try rewording positive behavior with whatever your child likes, such as a favorite toy or snack. A fidget toy can be a simple reward for behaving properly. This can help your child build on positive reinforcement for future instances.
Skill Development: One way to avoid a tantrum is to work on behavior skills when your child is not in a full-fledged meltdown. There are a multitude of reasons why your child may have a tantrum that range from impulse control, communication problems, loud noises, or gratification issues and at any given time a learning moment can happen. You should look to build on any and all issues that may occur before your child is affected by a trigger and has a tantrum or meltdown.
Since each child is different on the autism spectrum, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Finding a way to minimize the stress of daily life for an autistic child can go a long way in minimizing the risk of a meltdown. The Harkla blog suggests some common strategies to support daily routines that include:
Once you identify the potential trigger of your child’s tantrum or meltdown, it will become easier to develop a plan in order to calm them. Work with your child’s therapist, if possible, to identify their potential stress signals in order to identify the onset of a potential tantrum and have a safe space available in order to allow your child to decompress over what is upsetting them. Use simple tools such as earmuffs to reduce noise or a sheepskin pad or blanket to help diffuse any tantrum before it becomes a total meltdown. Calming an autistic tantrum may require some trial and error (not to mention patience), but once you understand the nature of the meltdown can put yourself in control to calming and soothing your child.
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Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.
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