Share this diary:

Many parents are no strangers to meltdowns. But what do you do when your autistic child has one?

There are few things worse than being in the middle of a crowded supermarket, laden with bags, your child lying on the ground, kicking his legs and pounding his fists as hard as he can while simultaneously deafening all those around him.

It’s what’s known as a meltdown and can strike fear into even the most prepared of parents. In times like these, you may want the ground to swallow you up rather than deal with the pointing, stares and even strained smiles of fellow shoppers.

Anyone who’s had children can relate to the dreaded meltdown. Usually triggered by tiredness or over-stimulation, kids are prone to letting their feelings be known in the form of screaming, crying, kicking and even hitting anyone who tries to soothe them. But while most parents can wave a merry goodbye to meltdowns once their child is out of toddlerhood, for children with autism, there is no age limit.

A child with autism having a meltdown is not trying to be naughty; sometimes, shouting and screaming is the only way they can express themselves. In simple terms, a meltdown is just a strong response to an overwhelming situation.

If your child gets overwhelmed and reacts this way, there are some things to remember.

Take time
Don’t try to rush your child to calm down. If they are very overwhelmed, children may take a while to cool off. You should make sure they’re ok, and don’t panic if you can’t get them to quiet down immediately!

This can be more difficult in public places, but the thing to remember is that most people are understanding, and no one should judge you. Your child is the most important person in this situation, and if you need to let them make a noise for a bit longer, your patience will pay off.

Make some space
If it’s possible, try to create a safe and quiet space for your child. Turn off any music or loud TV and turn down bright lights. Do anything you can to reduce the information overload.

If you’re in public, you might want to explain the situation and ask people to give you some room and not to stare. If you’re in a busy shop, leave quickly but calmly, and try and find somewhere quieter to sit.

Have the right tools
There are both items that can help and items that can be harmful when your child is having a meltdown.

Be wary of objects that could be harmful, and remove them from your child’s reach. Even hard toys could be dangerous, as they could be thrown in distress.

On the other hand, noise cancelling headphones can be a life-saver in noisy environments, and many parents swear by weighted blankets that apply a mild pressure to the body which can help calm an anxious child.

Learn the triggers
Children with autism will likely show certain signs before they have a full-blown meltdown, such as pacing, rocking or becoming very still. They may also seek reassurance more than usual. If you notice signs that your child may be on the brink of a meltdown, you can try and distract them with something comforting and remove whatever you think is causing them distress.

Another way to identify the triggers of your child’s meltdown is to keep a diary. Record what has caused meltdowns in the past and what happened before, during and after each episode and you might find patterns emerging. If you can establish a pattern, you may be able to minimise triggers.

Common reasons for meltdowns are changes in routine, anxiety and communication difficulties, and by recording your child’s behaviour in a diary, you might be able to help reduce meltdowns and be more prepared if they do occur.

Keep calm
I know it can be difficult, but one of the most vital things to remember is to keep calm yourself. As simple as it may seem, some deep breaths can work wonders for you and your child.

You must also try your best not to worry about what anyone else is thinking. The important thing is that your child feels safe again and is able to calm down in their own time.

A final note
Some of these suggestions may seem obvious if you’ve never experienced a meltdown as a parent. However, sometimes things ‘keeping calm’ can be the hardest thing to do when your child is hysterically crying on the floor, and remembering to ‘write down triggers’ may be the last thing on your mind. But like everything, learning what causes stress to your child and finding ways to manage the situation will inevitably take time.  If you can only slowly incorporate some of these strategies, it should be helpful in the long run.


Have you used any of these tips in the past, or do you currently use them? Do you have any tactics that are especially effective when your child has a meltdown? Tweet us at @PetraEFdtn to let us know what works for you. I’d love to hear your experiences!

The Author

Petra Ecclestone is a Philanthropist and mother of three. She is founder and Director of the Petra Eccleston Foundation, providing services and support for young children with suspected or diagnosed autism and their families.

Copyright © 2019 The Brightest Star. Content curated by Petra Ecclestone