How to Handle Meltdowns

By Jean Stern, MS

Many children with Asperger profiles have meltdowns. After a meltdown parents can feel exhausted and wonder if they responded correctly. If you have a child who has meltdowns, consider the following:

  • Not all meltdowns look alike: There are a variety of behaviors that occur when a child has lost the ability to stay calm or regulated. They might fall down, act out, cry, swear, scream, throw things, hit themselves or others, run away from you, or bite. Meltdowns can last from minutes to hours.
  • Meltdowns are not your child’s way of manipulating you: Meltdowns are emotional explosions. Your child is overloaded and is incapable of rational thinking.


Strategies for dealing with meltdowns:

If you are able to recognize the behaviors that tell you a meltdown is coming, use the Calm Down Plan. These are the few moments left when the child can still listen and think and may be able to make a choice to avoid the meltdown. The more you can learn the actions your child does to alert you that it’s coming the more you will learn to prevent them.

If you have not caught their escalation ahead of time, or there was no warning and the child goes right into the meltdown just remember that they cannot listen and follow directions well right now. Keep them (and others) safe, with as little input as possible, and wait quietly until it’s over. Do not touch them and be a silent observer making sure they remain safe. If your child requires holding to remain safe be sure that you have the input from a professional who is trained to do this and that your child’s team of professionals is working to help you prevent this level of support for the future.

Once the child’s body starts to relax and you know the meltdown is coming to an end, use these approaches:

Low:  Use a low, quiet voice to speak to your child.

Slow:  Their language processing is generally slower than ours (especially after a meltdown) so speak few words and each word slowly.

Offer choices:  In your quiet, slow speech, give them a couple of choices that they can choose to do now to feel better. Say the choices in the fewest words possible.  (“Would you like to wash your face?” or “Would you like water?”).  These first choices are nurturing and caring showing them that your first wish is for them to know they are OK and it’s over now.  Do not talk about the meltdown at all now.

If the meltdown has trashed the room, you and the child can slowly clean up together later.  Be sure the meltdown is completely over before you give directions or it will just start up again.

Reassure the child with your calm, quiet actions that family life is all right.

After the meltdown is completely over you may want to write a note about when it happened, what trigger might have started it, was the child hungry or tired, did the child do a task too long, or any other helpful facts that you can use to prevent it in the future. Never scold the child for the meltdown but use the information you have gathered to work with the child to prevent it in the future.

Seek out support. Meltdowns can be very tough on children and parents. You are ot alone and AANE is here to help. You can always call or email or schedule a parent coaching session to get individualized strategies to help you and your family.