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10 Tips to Calm Down an Autistic Child in Meltdown

Autistic child calming down

Possibly the most difficult and exhausting aspect of being a mother of an autistic child is dealing with meltdowns. Sometimes every day. Definitely at the wrong moments. Chances are, these meltdowns have kept you at home during family holidays, away from the merriment. Walking in a mall, even when not very busy, could end up in an hour-long screaming fit with a sprinkle of aggression to make your day complete. Tips that could help are very much appreciated.

Autistic children are special, different, but never less than others. They are perfect in the eyes of their parents, with all the problems that they drag in the door with them. It matters not if the child is high-functioning Asperger's or low-functioning ASD with Rhett's Syndrome. The strange things that they do can be quite amusing, including when they claim to hear colours. None would ever replace their children, finding methods of preventing the disorder, such as through embryonic selection, utterly despicable.

ALSO SEE: An Autism Breakfast That Changed Mom’s Perspective: How an Unexpected Encounter Helped One Parent To Cope With Autism Stress.

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Christmas is coming on a train full of other holidays as well, including Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapati, Kwanzaa and Yule. Between appropriate gifts and pictures at the mall, parents can be seeing either full blown meltdowns or utter excitement in the eyes of their children. If it is the latter, there are ways to deal with it.

A meltdown is not the same as a tantrum for the following reasons:

  1. Autistic children don't look or care about another's reactions during a meltdown, but tantrums are thrown with attention-seeking in mind.
  2. Meltdowns often also include-self harm while children in a tantrum take care not to get hurt.
  3. Meltdowns can occur anywhere and autistic children don't want a social situation, while tantrums are done in public for optimal exposure/using the audience to their advantage.
  4. Meltdowns will wind down slowly on their own, but tantrums require a situation to be resolved.
  5. Meltdowns have the child feel out-of-control, while tantrums have the child feeling all-so-powerful.
  6. Meltdowns will continue even after being given what was denied in the first place, but tantrums will end the moment their goal is achieved.

Often, it's extremely hard for a stranger to distinguish between a meltdown and a temper tantrum, mistaking an autistic child's behavior with terrible parenting. They will find themselves feeling obligated to give you advice that "should help" with your problem, but often leave you feeling even more frustrated with the situation. It is not easy, but the best thign to do is to smile, ignore those words and walk away. You will be doing everyone a world of good.

How to calm down a child having a meltdown

AutismFile has some rather useful tips:

  • Take steps to prevent from the beginning by removing potential triggers
  • Make a list of all the things that seem to affect a meltdown, researching as it occurs
  • Use pressure with weighted blankets and massages
  • Use a diversion that often makes your child happy, whether it's silly faces, singing a funny son, etc.
  • Keep yourself calm so as to allow for a safe spot to come back to
  • Lavender and chamomile oils are great aromatherapy
  • Positive verbal feedback and an accepting body language work wonders
  • Noise-cancelling headphones can help reduce auditory stimuli and quicken the end of a meltdown
  • Pop up a tent or create a small but cozy space for alone time with items of comfort for the child
  • Ensure you provide a proper diet without foods that could potentially increase likelihood of meltdowns
  • Try out a really hot bath or eating worm eggs


I completely agree with this article, just wanted to point out that when children "claim to hear colors" there is actually a valid medical reason for this called synesthesia. There are many forms of it - one of which I personally have - including a person having a link between the visualization of colors and their auditory receptors, resulting in literally "hearing colors."
Yep! hence why I linked to my article on that issue :D It's one of the coolest conditions I've ever heard people can have, and autistic children seem to be at a higher "risk" of showing signs of it :D
What about smelling colors. My daughter is always claiming she smells things that are odorless.
Synesthsia is when any two senses get mixed. However, people with autism also tend to have higher sensitivities (sensitivity to sound, light, etc.), so it is possible that your child could smell something that other people don't.
I have this- I smell things that aren't really there. It's a very common symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy (I was diagnosed with this bizarre form of epilepsy at age 26. I'd had it all my life but nobody realised!) It's called an 'olfactory aura'.
Mozart claimed to hear colors too.
Some of these seem not to have affect when the child is a teenager. My younger brother is out of control and he is old and strong and there isn't much I can do. There usually is no trigger, he just flips out whenever he wants. What do I do?
my 11 year old step son is sometimes completely out of control. When he does something that requires a punishment he melts down and hits or kicks me. I have 6 other kids at home and can not allow this violence. He hits his brothers and sisters with objects. No one has any answers for me. I feel so overwhelmed sometimes. His behavior like this is maybe once or twice a month.
hi... my name is Allison I recommend putting the other kids in a place he cant get to when he is having a meltdown so he will see he cant do that and he wont be able to hit him but don't yell keep calm because autistic kids sense anxiousness and depression etc.
I've been told my lil boy has autism bye some who has 2 autistic children but I can't seem to find someplace to get him tested any advice?
Talk to your child's pediatrician. They should be able to guide you through the proper steps for early intervention.
My daughter has meltdowns would like some advice to calm her down
A good friend with kids with special needs suggested full testing at a pediatric hospital. We did that first and got testing results, but felt like we were given a diagnosis without any information about treatment such as therapy. We eventually found an autism center on our own about 40 minutes away from us. We were happier with the way the did the testing (it yielded more helpful information) and they guided us when we found out that our insurance would not cover any therapy for autism to scholarshipping through our state and provided therapy in our home once we were straightened out. If there are no autism centers within an hour of you, a pediatric hospital would be more thorough than a screening through you child's school district.
Dear ashley. I recommend you stop at your near by school. Tell them your son needs help. They will send you to the school's district. Then they will evaluate him. The sooner the better.
Google Autism Diagnosis..and The Regional Center helped us with Therapies.
I work at a daycare where we have an autistic three year old, and he "freaks out" every time he comes here and his parents leave. He gets so upset and claps his hands together and screams, and I want to know how I can help soothe him. He can't speak (he is very intelligent and used to, until siblings came along) so he gets frustrated easily. Any advice of how to help calm him and distract him? He has to come to daycare, so I want to help him as best I can while he is here.
Hi! As state above, every child is different but I hope that I can help out. A good start would be to see if the child has a BT or behavior technician that the family works with just in case they are implementing anything that helps with the attachment so you can work with them as well and it's consistent. Another would be to ask the parents what the child absolutely LOVES (iPad, a favorite food) And have it readily available with the staff as soon as they walk in the door. That way the child can associate you all with good things (as well as form a distraction from the parents leaving). Also, time. It takes a while to get used to anything and anyone new. Continue to try and play with everything available so he can see how much fun it is at daycare. I had a 3 year old who would cry the whole first two weeks I worked with him but I would always come with something fun and the duration of crying would get shorter and shorter until eventually he associated me with "fun time", it's a bit scary at first because you want to do anything you can to stop the crying but sometimes it just requires time. Hope this helps!
Speak with the parents about things that the child has found comforting like a blanket feather or a toy, my son went thru the same and this helped him greatly, also headphones if the child will wear them, the child could be over stimulated with his/ her surroundings and need something from home for comfort to help with the anxiety
My child hits himself and hurts anyone near him and nothing calms him when he is sick or has something wrong. My doctor has recommended a sedative. This is so depressing.
I am a TA in a school and I am one to one with a 6 year old. He has a meltdown on a Friday when he know there's no school, tried breathing exercises but in a meltdown, he doesn't want to know! What can I do?
Try using visual charts, especially if he loves pictures or videos. This can prepare him for things to come, a pecs program may prove very useful for getting out why he is upset. Worth a try
Hi, I have been working with special needs children for 25 yrs and we use social stories with the children I have seen it for any all situations that arise. We have it available for them and it takes awhile but I have seen it work wonders!
My son is 16, he will be 17 in November. He has autisum with very min. verbal comm. He is very very strong and has developed intense aggressive behaviors or episodes as I call them. He goes to a Special Edu. High School, has a coordinator at a Regional Center. Never have wanted to put him on medication, but I see now it is a necessity to keep him and everyone in our home safe. But in the meantime most of the door have been messed in some way. Can't keep running/hiding from him when this occurs for the rest of my life. Can't get meds. until psychologgist sees him and its taking forever. My nerves are shot, my stomach in knots. Lord continue to help me.
Your post sounds a mirror image of what I was going to write . Same age same fears , identical. Dig yiu find any answers . We are waiting on scans and testing but like yiu said it's taking for ever . God Bless
I handle kids both in summer camp and church, since I don`t have kids of my own. In church I have a girl that has both down syndrome and autism. In summer camp, I have a boy that`s just autistic. I don`t know how to handle these kinds of kids, like deflect there attention to the program. Then again I`m really terrible with kids, but what can I really do, other than play with them and just let kids be kids, where they`ll run around after about 5 secs.I don`t know I can`t help it, I hate to raise my voice to tell them like Do Not Run. Other than that, the kids don`t do anything too extravagent, just play and make crafts
Im an Instructional Assistant in a mild to severe special education classroom and we have a reward system where when I see the child about to have a melt down I calmly say "no ipad" for example and it has seemed to help calm her down before a complete melt down because she wants the ipad. This particular student also loves the beach but loves to elope while at school and run out of campus so her parents came up with the idea that if she doesnt run any day at school monday-friday then she gets to go to the beach on Saturday and since we have started that in the first week of September I can happily say that she has not eloped.
Is it common for children to have meltdowns more around their parents? My child has meltdowns at home or on the bus from school but not at school. And especially if we go somewhere. The school and even his grandparents say they don't see them when he is alone with them so they must be fits for being spoiled. It's so difficult to not be able to help your child and then be ridiculed. WE have been going through evaluations for over a year and finding information is difficult.
My Brother is 18 now and he has been having meltdowns more and more frequently, like I'm talking once a week. They are often very violent and it usually will take Dad or myself to stop him seriously injuring someone or himself. As you can imagine with him being 18 this usually involves every last bit of energy. They usually last 15 minutes or more depending how quickly we can calm him down, which I've found the only way is making him think of something that he loves and asking non stop questions about it which can be difficult to think of on your feet. It's at the point now where we are going to need some sort of medicine to calm him down, especially if it was to happen when me or dad can't be there. I don't think mum could handle him alone. If anyone has any information to help I would really appreciate it, doctors have given us a drug to make him sleepy but it takes about 20 minutes to kick in. Any help would be appreciated I am worried it will happen when I am not there
Hi Tamar, thank you so much for this article. I was wondering if there is any problem if I translate it into Spanish to share it with my relatives and friends. Thank you in advance. Regards from Mexico.
Yes I have 5 verbal kids and 4 noneverbal kids that are autistic