March 18, 2018


3 Meltdown Causes and Solutions

Children with autism are often busy in their own world.  During this time we think yes, we have an opportunity to get something accomplished… Then, suddenly, there is a crisis of epic proportions that no one saw coming.

Here are 3 things that cause a meltdown and some solutions to handle them or avoid them altogether.

Not sure if it is a Meltdown or Tantrum? Get our Free Guide here.

1.  Lack of Communication

Telling our children what is happening and what is going to happen is an important thing that parents can do.   I am always trying to remember this.
When your child doesn’t ask 50 questions about things, it can be tough to remember that they don’t know what is going on.

Failing to narrate what is going to happen clearly and sufficiently can cause a major meltdown.  Take this example that happened to me recently:

I took my daughter to get a haircut.  Haircuts are a new development.  (We have worked by steps to get to this point, more on that in another post.)
I made sure that I was clear, letting her know that we were taking her to see Mary (stylist) and that she was going to get her hair cut so it would stay out of her eyes.   I made sure that I explained it twice and that she was aware what we were doing.
The experience was reasonably successful, and I was so proud of myself for acing the communication that time!

The part where I failed to think the trip through

Then, as we were running some errands, she started having a meltdown.  It took me a minute to figure out what was going on.  She was in her car seat just riding along and started to get very upset.
We had just turned onto a street that headed away from where she goes to therapy.

I had failed to tell her that there wasn’t therapy that day it was just haircut day.
When we went by the main road that you turn on to go to Speech and OT, she thought we should be going that way.  She loves to go to therapy, and she was not happy!  It took several tries and another upset when we went near that road again to explain that that wasn’t what we were doing.  I’ll be honest it didn’t occur to me that it might happen.

We live 20 minutes away, so it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation but it kind of burst my bubble on what I thought was excellent communication.  Being very clear, precise and comprehensive in letting your child know what to expect can dramatically increase your chances of escaping a meltdown.

Telling your child that you understand they are upset and what they are upset about helps.  Knowing that they are getting across why they are upset and that they are being heard helps them understand the need for continuing communication.

 2.  Fear

What seems to be irrational fear is an issue for many children on the spectrum.  It is important to reassure and reinforce to children that their thoughts and feelings are valid.  It is as important to identify these fears and help work through them.

Some common triggers:  a noise; uncommon or unpleasant, visual fears; shadows, some animals, and dr. offices.  Sensory fears involving touch including; brushing hair or teeth, bathing or washing hair, clothing tags, and clothing textures that may cause stress on the system.

I have helped work through many fears of children with autism.  Sometimes identifying the concern is as hard as overcoming it.

Example: One child had a fear of something develop at school.  It took a few days (and a few meltdowns) to figure out that it was the Smart Board.  When she got to the class one morning, the Smart Board was already on, and the child started shaking and crying.

It took 6 weeks of holding the child and slowly working through the fear, beginning by playing something they liked on the Smart Board and progressing slowly from there.  Eventually, they decided that the sudden fear may not have been the Smart Board, but the person on the Smart Board during the lesson.

The parents were torn and considered whether to remove their child due to the extreme fear.  Thankfully they persisted, and their child was able to overcome the issue.

3.  They are starving, even if they ate earlier

Many of my daughter’s meltdowns are either the direct or indirect consequence of being hungry and either not recognizing it herself or not expressing it.  It goes something like this.  We ate breakfast.  We get outdoors late and don’t want to come in, and suddenly we are in a meltdown.  Many children with autism are like furnaces and burn tons of calories.

Many different feeding issues come in to play with autism including sensory seeking or avoidance, food allergies, preferences, and routines.  Throw individual preferences into the mix and bam how can you ever figure out what they want to eat? How can you get enough calories in them?

After 2 years of sometimes making 3-4 meals for my child to eat one, I have stumbled on to some tricks.

For meals they will eat,  offer options before you cook.  Try using pictures of foods they like and get them to pick one.   Even a slight indication then followed up by the food will teach them they have the power to decide.  It may take a little time for them to learn.

If they eat things like chicken nuggets, fish sticks and other frozen foods you can try showing them the bag.  Try to plan a bit so that you are not catching them in the middle of play that they don’t want interrupted.  You may have to show them multiple times before they will pick.

Choosing takes time for them to get used to don’t give up.  We started with drink choices and moved from there. We still don’t always get a response without effort, but sometimes we get things brought to us now to prepare.

It is those little things that are huge in our world.

For those who need to get more calories in their kids

Substitute a higher calorie option for food that they like.
For example, my daughter ate plain bread.  We found a higher calorie cinnamon raisin bread and used it to increase her calories.  We knew she liked raisins and cinnamon, so we tried it.  Sneak in extra protein.  I soak cinnamon raisin bread or regular bread in the egg mix for French toast this way she gets about an egg in a piece of bread.  The extra egg helps her get in protein and balance the meal out.

For sensory seeking children try using a mesh teether bag like this one (ADD LINK HERE) at Amazon.   I have found fruit to be an issue.  Taking frozen fruit and putting it in the mesh bag fulfills several sensory seeking needs and gets some vitamins and fiber in also a win/win.

Are these the only meltdown causes? Absolutely not!   It is our job as parents to identify the origins of the meltdowns to help our children work through them and conquer their frustrations and fears to become all they can be.  I’m here to help!

Have a Beautiful Day


About the Author Beautiful's Mom

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