It is loud, frustrating, completely out of control, exhausting and sometimes even scary. A meltdown that sweeps the child as well as everyone and everything in its path is common in children with autism. It is dreaded by many parents as well as the children.

In the early days following my son Ethan’s diagnosis with autism, such meltdowns were a common occurrence. One of the most memorable happened at the largest indoor shopping mall this side of town. It was on a Saturday, in winter, when it seems like the whole world converges at that mall. We were only going to one shop to buy a helmet and then straight back home, just the two of us. We never made it into the shop; he had a meltdown near the door.

I was too absorbed in keeping Ethan safe and out of the way to notice the throngs of shoppers passing by. I did notice, however, the polished, black boots of the mall’s security guards. They were particularly close to our faces seeing as we were on the floor, close and very shiny. I looked at them for a moment, wondering who had summoned them; a concerned or an annoyed shopper?

Meltdowns take a toll on caregivers who often struggle with how to handle them. In the beginning, Ethan’s meltdowns would leave me feeling exhausted and defeated. Since his meltdowns were quite common, I was pretty much always exhausted and defeated. It was only when I developed a strategy for dealing with them that I was able to sail through even his most spectacular meltdowns. This three-part approach transformed both of our lives, and I continue to rely on it:

1. Don’t take it personally.

It’s easy to take a meltdown personally when you’re the one on the receiving end of the glass-shattering screams, punches, kicks and bites. On top of that, you’re also the one tasked with minimizing damage to property, keeping yourself and everyone else safe — including the epicenter of the meltdown, your child. Above all, it is you who is tasked with helping your child regain composure, because when a child with autism is in the middle of a meltdown, they may be unable to regain control on their own.

Yes, you may be the one bearing the brunt of your child’s meltdown, but it really isn’t personal. You just happen to be the closest target; it could have been anyone or anything. Remember that at a certain point the child lost all control and desperately needs to regain control over the enormous force that has taken control of them. They are probably even more terrified than the little kids who are peeping from behind their parents’ tightly clutched legs.

The meltdown is in no way directed at you.

2. Distance yourself from the meltdown.

Allow your mind to take you away from the meltdown to a place of rest, quiet and peace. This can be a real or imaginary place. My escape was always a beach in Tofino, British Columbia, that I had visited during my pregnancy. When you allow your mind to go to that beautiful, peaceful place, you avoid being emotionally and psychologically sucked into the vortex of the meltdown. From that safe distance, you view the meltdown happening near you with detachment, as you would if the child involved was someone else’s. You remain neutral and able to focus on containing the meltdown while remaining relatively unaffected by it. In addition when you detach yourself from the meltdown, your emotions don’t feed into it, and it dies down much faster.

This ability to mentally distance myself has not only helped me deal with meltdowns but also with other difficult situations. Parents of children with special needs are all too familiar with insensitive, judgmental remarks from family, friends and even complete strangers. Often such remarks are uttered while they are already dealing with a meltdown! By distancing myself from thoughtless comments, I am able to hear them but not allow them to affect me. It’s like having my own protective shield.

3. Know it will come to an end.

All meltdowns eventually end when their energy runs out. They are utterly exhausting for the child. Simply knowing that a meltdown has to end keeps you steady and allows you to quickly regain the control that your child has lost.

This summer, my three-step approach to handling meltdowns proved invaluable under extremely stressful conditions. As soon as we boarded the plane for one of our 11-hour flights, my sleep-deprived son had a meltdown. It was our first trip overseas, and the brief rest at the hotel had not been adequate. Even with the judgmental, snide remarks of some of our fellow passengers in the background, I was able to calm him down before we took off and avoided the very real possibility of being asked to disembark. I was thankful for this tried and tested method that had seen me through countless meltdowns before.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


Tonight my son walked through the door from school, and immediately I knew. He didn’t have to say or do anything. I just knew.

Call it mother’s intuition, or call it years and years of practice, but I knew something was wrong. It was the delayed effect. My son has had a tricky day at school. He has held it together for nearly seven hours. Then he walks through the front door, and bam!

He’s somewhere safe and familiar, and he can’t contain the pressure anymore.

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It creeps out of every fiber of his being. His face is tense, and he has red cheeks. His body is stiff and awkward. His words are fast and loud, and he’s agitated. He’s hungry, he’s not hungry. He wants a snack but not what’s in the cupboard. So he gets angry and swears because he’s not in control of his body anymore. He wants to say hello to the dogs, but their overexcitement is too much for him, so he’s too rough with them and he gets cross with himself. I ask him how he’s feeling, and it’s like there is a red fog surrounding him. He can’t process what I’m saying. His sisters walk in chatting and laughing. They sound like a crowd of people to him, and he shouts to them to be quiet. They snap back at him as only sisters do, and wham — the volcano explodes. We have liftoff.

Meltdown. There’s no turning back now. It all has to come out.

Then comes the exhaustion — for him and for me. He can’t reflect on it because it’s all just too much. He just needs to recharge now, as do I. It’s so hard for all of us, but I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel for my son.

As his mom, I know there would have been telltale signs throughout the day. But they’re small clues that can be easily missed, as he would have been largely compliant, so therefore no one would have realized there was any problem. But I know as the day progressed, his complexion would have become paler as the energy sapped out of him with each passing hour.

He may have struggled to eat his lunch due to high anxiety. A nervous giggle would have squeaked out when his teachers tried to speak to him. He would have put his head down on the table during lessons or possibly rocked back and forward on his chair to calm himself down. And as the pressure mounted and the clock ticked toward home time, there may have even been some finger picking and sleeve chewing.

My son shows these signs of stress through his body language and gestures. He can’t always communicate his needs verbally, so they can get missed.

The can be a common challenge facing many children on the autism spectrum. Some children are able to contain their feelings all day at school, with the teacher blissfully unaware there’s a problem. However, the stress hormones are slowly building and building inside. This creates a situation that can put incredible pressure on families — especially if teachers don’t understand or believe what the parents are telling them. So let’s think about it this way for a minute…

Imagine yourself as a bottle of pop. Your ingredients include autism, sensory processing difficulties, ADHD and a hidden speech and language delay. The world’s a confusing place, and your difficulties are largely hidden to the wider world, so not many people understand things from your perspective.

This is your day:

Going to school is just one big worry for you… so give that bottle a shake!

You get to school and your teacher says, “Let’s start a new topic.” What does that mean? … Give it a shake!

You don’t understand what you have to do… shake it up!

You make a mistake… shake, shake, shake!

The lights in class are buzzing, and it’s annoying or painful… shake it a little more!

It’s assembly. You have to sit still while your insides are wiggling and jiggling around… shake it up!

The timetable changes and it’s not math like it should be, it’s now music… and shake again!

The car gets stuck in traffic, and the wrong radio station is on in the car… that’s a few more shakes!

You get home and the lid blows off with the pressure!

That’s the delayed effect. It’s a real thing. The times over the years I’ve felt so confused and isolated when teachers have said to me, “Well, that is a surprise. We don’t see any of that here at school.” Or I’ve heard, “Well, he can behave for me, so maybe you’re being too soft on him.” I spent many a sleepless night wondering if it was me. Was it my parenting? But I am his mom, and my gut instinct is always right. I knew there was something my child was struggling with, and all I had to do was understand what his behavior was telling me. My child explodes at home with me because I’m his safe place. I am predictable and calm, and he can really be himself at home. He is fully accepted at home.

So this tells me there are many things that can be done to reduce this build-up of stress hormones for children like my son — making them feel more safe and accepted for who they are. And that means really embracing their individual needs. Not just trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

A version of this post originally appeared on Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism.

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I didn’t want a dog, but my son, Brock, who’s on the autism spectrum, sure did. For years it was all I’d hear about every time I asked what he wanted for his birthday or Christmas: “Puppy please.” He’d even jut out his lower lip and make that irresistible puppy face he’s perfected over the years. I was able to resist for many years — until my sister blindsided me with pictures of a puppy she picked up that didn’t have a home. It was like watching those ASPCA commercials and all I was missing was Sarah McLachlan’s music in the background. So of course I had to go and see the little ball of fur, and the rest is history, as they say.

Letty (the puppy) was 12 weeks old when I brought her home. Immediately she formed a bond with Brock, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for the strength of their bond.

A week or so after brining Letty home, Brock had a meltdown, and within a month of her being with us, he had many more. She didn’t seem to pay any attention to them initially — and then she did.

After about five minutes into one of his meltdowns, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was doing this slow, army-type crawl toward Brock as he was on the floor. As soon as she was next to me, I held her back, because any type of touching for Brock during a meltdown usually made them worse. She ignored me and started putting her paw on his chest.

Letty the dog lying next to Brock with one paw on him.

I waited with baited breath for him to scream louder,  but it didn’t come. So next she put both paws on his chest, and then she moved over me and laid her upper body across him and just stayed there with her head in the crook of his neck. After five minutes of Letty lie on him, he started to respond by petting her. And then 10 minutes after that, he calmed down. This was the first time a meltdown was done and over with in less than 30 minutes.

Letty the dog lying on Brock.

Being the cynic I am, I thought it was a fluke. There was no way one little puppy could help him this much, especially with no training. But I was proved wrong.

Over the past five months that we’ve had Letty, I’ve been amazed over and over again. She is always by my side helping calm him, and I even caught her pulling his blanket around him tightly after a meltdown because he always falls asleep when it’s over, and apparently she was watching me much more closely than I thought.

Brock and Letty the dog looking out the window.

Letty has also given Brock a strong sense of friendship. He’s come out of his shell more and has been communicating much more articulately with her around.

Brock is also an only child, and Letty has given him something I didn’t even realize he was missing. She has to sit and watch him get on the bus each morning for school, and she will not move until he’s seated on the bus. And she’s always the first one to greet him when he returns from school. She gets on her hind legs and wraps her paws around him.

If I would’ve known a dog could have this much impact on my child, I would’ve brought one home much sooner. But then again, maybe we were really waiting for the perfect match for Brock.

Brock and Letty the dog smiling outdoors. Brock’s wearing a Batman mask and Letty’s wearing a Spider-Man mask.

Follow this journey on It’s Brock’s World We Just Live in It.

When parents of kids with autism aren’t running from therapy to therapy, advocating for their child’s rights or doing everything they can to keep their young one happy and healthy, they’re apparently collecting some of the Internet’s best memes.

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Since many parents of children with autism know a sense of humor can be key to accepting a new normal, we asked our readers to share their favorite autism-related memes.

Here’s what you sent us:


FYI, your 1 million YouTube hits are from one autistic child.
Via Patty Toma Young


all these other moms are talking about honor roll, dance recitals, softball games, gymnastics meets and I'm sitting here like woo hoo! she tired a new food and her socks didn't bother her!
Via Megan Hufton


other parents watching kids at the playground vs. autism parents watching kids at the playground
Via Gemma Uí Mhurchú



autism: around since noah lined up all the animals and counted them
Via Jessica Grainger


everyone with autism was born as a result of sex; sex causes autism
Via Amy Kenny


autism is not a tragedy, running out of bacon is. also ignorance but mostly the bacon thing
Via Katja BF


you might be an autism parent if your kid can name all 63 moons of jupiter but cannot tell you what they want for lunch
Via Kristalyn Murphy


make a sensory bin out of beans they said. it'll be fun, they said.
Via Jean Hong


why don't we just get a babysitter? hahaha!
Via Melissa Cote


is it my imagination or is your kid on the verge of death? actually she just noticed her shirt has a scratchy tag in it. so yes.
Via JenRaia Lombardi


when i'm out and spot another autism mom
Via LK Mackey


spent hundreds on toys, favorite thing is a big rock
Via Tori Manning


autism parents be like, this ketchup will last a whole week
Via Michelle Storey


that moment when someone tells you sorry when you tell them your child has autism
Via Debi Warren


oh, you met one other autistic kid? let me take notes now that you are an expert on autism
Via Amanda Burger


a list of people i trust... to babysit my child with autism!
Via Walk One Day In Our Shoes


kids with autism... their idea of a play date
Via Shanté Nicole


ways in which real autism is not like rainman: lily, how many toothpicks did you just spill on the floor? six.
Via Jessica Wade


you might be an autism parent if your child sounds like a college professor talking about mythical monsters but can't tell you what happened at school that day
Via Helena Wish


autism parents after a meltdown
Via Melissa Giambastiani


autism moms, what my friends think i do, what my mother thinks i do, what society thinks i do, what the government thinks i do, what i think i do, what i really do
Via Joye Jones


mommy will be right out... i'm going potty
Via Melissa Cote. Image from What Does The Kid Say video.


me: if someone mistreats my child with special needs
Via Walk One Day In Our Shoes


an autism parent's worst nightmare... seasoning!
Via Our Adventures with Riley



my child does not look autistic and you don't look ignorant yet here we are
Via Dana Fiedler


it doesn't have to make sense to you... respect that it makes sense to them
Via Sarah Hoyle


how was the movie last night? the 2-minutes that we watched 45 times was pretty good...
Via Gena Noslen

*”Vias” are the people who submitted the memes to The Mighty, not necessarily the meme’s creator. 

Which favorites did we miss? Let us know in the comments below. 

27 Memes That Nail What It's Like to Be an 'Autism Parent'

Debbie Byrne, from Ireland, will stop at nothing to get her son the services he needs.

Byrne’s 3-year-old son Aaron has nonverbal autism. Before attending his previous school, Jonix Educational Services, from Sept. 2014 to July of this year, Aaron did not walk, feed himself or interact with others, Breaking reported. Byrne says the special school and small class sizes “brought him from his own world into ours.”

Despite this, the Department of Education has decided to end the grant Aaron needed to attend the school and instead are trying to send him to a new school 30 miles away. Byrne feels this school is not equipped to handle her son’s needs. Now, she’s taken action– Byrne has chained herself to the Department of Education offices in Athlone, Ireland.

As his mother, I refuse to accept this,” Byrne wrote on the Justice for Aaron Facebook page on Thursday, Oct. 15. “I am his voice and I fully intend to chain myself to the gates of the department of education in Athlone tomorrow, Oct 16th, at approximately 11:00 a.m. to prove the measures I will go to to get justice and equality for my precious non verbal 3-and-a-half-year-old boy with autism.”

A statement from the Department of Education and Skills (DES) said it has received an application in Aaron’s case for home tuition. They say the application is currently incomplete, but the parents will be contacted for further information and a decision on the application will be made early next week, Breaking reported.

My son can’t speak for himself,” Byrne said, according to the outlet. “If I don’t stand up for what I believe is right and what is just for him, it’s all for nothing.”

Visit the Justice for Aaron Facebook page or follow the hashtag for updates. 


Real talk. Halloween is fun and all, but it can get kind of annoying if you’re not the one dressed up, ringing doorbells and collecting a pile of fun-sized candy bars. Maybe it’s not your favorite holiday. We get it. Kids can be loud. Some ring the doorbell many, many times, scream “Trick or Treat” at an unnecessary volume, grab too much candy or take forever to choose between a Milky Way and a Snickers.

You’re allowed to not like Halloween, of course, but the Facebook post below brings up one important point we’re going to try to keep in mind this year. The Asperger’s Syndrome Awareness – Bryan’s Advocacy Facebook group shared this valuable lesson this morning:


The post reads:

With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind, a lot of little people will be visiting your home. Be accepting. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues. The child who does not say trick or treat or thank you may be non-verbal. The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl might have an allergy. The child who isn’t wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (SPD) or autism. That BIG boy, might ‘appear’ to be an adult, but may be developmentally delayed. Choose your words wisely. Be nice. Be patient. It’s everyone’s Halloween.

It’s a simple little reminder even the most patient person can benefit from. Happy Halloween!

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