Meltdowns are a Health Risk:

One of the most important topics one must learn about Autism is Meltdown Management. The first thing to know about Meltdowns (and pro-longed anxiety in general) is that it is a real physical health threat. It causes all manners of health issues to be in constant fight/flight mode and it amazes me to meet these Autistic kids today who are having 5 or more meltdowns a week and their parents or teachers can only talk about their behavior. Never do I walk into a critical situation with an Autistic child where the NT people have put together that it isn't behavior that we must "fix" but it is the constant pressure that an autistic person is under due to having so many meltdowns that must be immediately "fixed".


Watch this video on YouTube about how/why meltdowns are a health risk

Meltdown Root Cause MUST Be a Priority Treatment:

One of the questions I get asked regularly is. "Why is my kid having a meltdown over such random/stupid things?" I will also see NT people blame Autism Stereotype stuff for meltdowns all the time (like the kid doesn't like change and is having one because of the change) But I contend that unless this behavior is 100% consistent that it is less about the thing that "triggered" the event and more about something that happened prior to the event. And in some cases it is the case that the meltdowns happen due to many long-term pressures/expectations that simply exceed the person's ability to cope.

When I see a meltdown happen, I am looking for these early causes and usually I tend to look at things in the order presented here.

Event though this troubleshooting guide talks about Homework, you can use these same steps to troubleshoot just about any sort of meltdown scenario with some success. And while we are at it, go to this story on just how serious I am about root cause and how this parent finally got it.

Token Theory

The thing to know about ASD is that it is a pervaisive disorder. It is simply the case that Autistic people work harder (as a rule) to do a task and therefor expends more energy. This results in running completely out of steam. When an autistic kid is having a lot of meltdowns, I hear parents telling me that the trigger of the meltdown was something they saw happening just before. I say most of the time it is not. Most of the time there are too many demands on the total energy system or tokens.


We are not like the rest of the world in this way. We have only a select number of tokens to spend each day and each thing we chose to do will take tokens. This is not to be confused with any token reward system or thing like that. It is a simple concept that one only has so many units of energy (tokens) to spend in a day. It may take an NT person 2 tokens (units of energy) to go shopping but it will most likely take an Autistic person many more times that because of the work they have to do to process all the sensory input, etc.


Net of this lesson on Tokens is that MOST of the time I see Autistic kids being expected to do too much. They need more rest than NT kids so even if they are loving school if they are having many meltdowns, it is time to reconsider having them in a full day.

Behavior Focus is Counter ProductiveFocusing on behavior when an Autistic child is having more than 1 meltdown a week is typically pretty counter productive. Typically the behavior is caused by being so frustrated that there is nothing left to do (the child feels helpless). If instead, the focus is on root cause and support, the behaviors tend to straighten themselves out with much the same effort as it takes to train an NT kid. An Autistic person cannot learn if the foundational Health issues are not resolved as a priority.


Meltdowns Happen

But sometimes Meltdowns happen anyway so it is important to know what to do when they do....


The biggest mistake I see with Parent/child meltdown scenario is too much drama about it from the NT side. Now you will all be laughing at my assertion because... really what seems more dramatic than a meltdown after all? Okay, I get that BUT what you are missing (I believe) is that to the person having the meltdown the drama is very "in the moment". Once a meltdown happens, I am usually exhausted and almost always set right emotionally for awhile. I need time to recover but I do not hang on to all these feelings and emotions for days, years or whatever. It is all over. And generally the stuff I say and/or feel during is often not even about anything except staying safe. Remember that it is extreme fight/flight taking over. If you hang on to drama about it, you will only result in making me feel badly about myself and give me low self esteem. It isn't like I can just turn this thing off or anything. So if I am over it, please you get over it too.

I equate this to a horse. A horse in fear will strike it's owner. That doesn't mean they do not like the owner. It means they are so scared that they think they must. It is like this. No drama, just is.

The other mistake I see time and time again (and it is so infuriating to see this) is the NT trying to reason with the person having a meltdown. Even if the child (or adult) is trying to engage you in conversation do not be lulled into it. I mean, when is it ever fruitful to discuss anything with extreme emotion? This is especially true during a meltdown.

You want to make sure the person is safe and then you want to make sure that you validate their feelings. Recently I had a meltdown while out in public with my colleague. She helped me by staying 10 or so feet away from me and watching me (making sure I was safe). She did not engage me or try to interact but I knew she was there for me.

It is very, very smart to have a plan for what to do during these times and to talk through that plan with your child. I recommend that a child always have a safe place to go so they can explode. If they are outside of the home, make the car the safe space.

Finally, it is always best if you can completely forget about a meltdown the moment it is over. Make no big deal out of it provided no "BIG" rules where broken. If the child hits or otherwise break the BIG rules (the really important 1 or 2) then it is fine to implement the agreed upon consequence once the meltdown is over and there was some recovery time