Autistic Meltdown 268x300 Dealing With An Autistic MeltdownWhen raising a child with autism one of the most frightful places you can be is in Public!!  Any place that has a lot of people, activity and noises can raise the odds of an Autistic meltdown occurring.

For those of you parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder I’m sure you can relate to the experience of dealing with an autistic meltdown, and understand how they differ from a tantrum.

The occurrence of an autistic meltdown can be unsuspecting and are generally not timed very well, to say the least, as they usually occur in a place where there are many people to witness the event.

Such as, a causal trip to the dvd store one Saturday afternoon left one mom completely unravelled.  This mom had brought her child with autism into the dvd store to choose a film for that evening.  This event was not unique to the child, however at this particular time of day the store was buzzing with people looking for movies for that evening.   To make matter worse the store air-conditioning had also broken that day so to compensate for the heat they had set up big fans in the store.  The child (approximately age of 13) seemed slightly uneasy about the change in environment and was obviously more anxious due to the amount of people and increased noise factor in the store.  It didn’t take him long to choose a movie as he clearly wanted to get out.  The tipping factor came as there were none of that movie left.

He uttered the words ‘go pay’.  His mom tried to explain it was not in and he would have to look for another.  He kept on repeating ‘go pay’ only this time getting louder and louder.

People’s heads started to turn and their mouths started to whisper the assumptions of a spoilt brat.  The flustered mom tried to pry the empty dvd cover from her Childs hand and usher him out the store whilst he was repeating on ‘go pay, go pay’ and now flapping his arms wildly.  This tipping point had now been reached.  The best she could do now was get him safely in the car and wait patiently till it had passed before driving home.


Knowing the signs of an approaching autistic meltdown can be useful to diffusing the situation before it occurs.   These signs are largely dependant on your child individuality.   Possible signs for one child may not be the same for the other.

Some Indications of an approaching Autistic Meltdown:

  • Dissociation:  the individual will ‘zone out’ from their environment.
  • Increased muscle tension: this can be seen by more rigid way of moving, stiffness of arms and legs etc.
  • Loss of focus: closely related to dissociation, but generally the individual will be unable to attend to a task at hand
  • Loose the ability to think or speak and thus the individual may begin to script (repeat previous conversation, parts of a movie etc) a conversation.
  • Manually try block out sensory stimuli, such as cover/close their eyes, block their ears.  They may even try put their hand over the mouth of someone speaking in order to get them to stop.
  • Clenching fists
  • Clenching of the jaw muscles
  • Grinding of teeth

Understanding the subtle signs before a meltdown can help you in predicting the behaviour and possibly preventing it.  When you see some if these signs present themselves it can be helpful to keep something ‘stimmy’ in your hand bag; such as an ipod.  Whatever the gadget may be, it could help your child cope until back in their ‘static’ environment.

PS: I wouldn’t give the ‘stimmy’ gadget for inappropriate behaviours, defiance, etc as it will only anchor in more of what that last behaviour was.

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  2 Responses to “Dealing With An Autistic Meltdown”

  1. It is very handy having something ‘to hand’ should the need arise, although a word of caution ~ don’t make it a regular *habit* of always giving something for the child to stim on, nor should you always give the same stimmy gadget! :)
    Does that make sense?

    • Hi Di, and thanks for the comment. It is very true to not get into the habit of just handing over a “stimmy” gadget as that causes the respondent (emotional) behavior to turn into a learnt behavior, which is not what we are wanting to do. But they do come in handy in just getting our kiddies through a time or environment that is making them completely anxious from an internal point, and there is no real exit point (such as getting a hair cut). And yes I agree that it should never be the same gadget permanently as you just increasing the chances of an adverse behavior becoming learned to get that thing.

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