My Son's Meltdowns Have a Reason


My 8-year-old with autism is able to keep it together at school. He rarely has a meltdown. However, at home it is a different story.

It is always in the back of my mind to try to prevent him from being overwhelmed. This includes making schedules and sticking to them. If I say we are leaving somewhere at 1:05, then it better not be a minute later. Also, we try to avoid overly crowded or noisy places. Although it takes a lot of patience, preventing the meltdown is better then trying to stop it once it is happening.

Recently we were at a playground waiting for a friend, but the play date was cancelled and he got upset over the change of plans. He started crying in the middle of the playground without caring what anyone else thought of him. This went on for a while.

He was disappointed, and he talked about it for the rest of the evening.

At the time he was crying I thought, “Please don’t do this to me. I am exhausted from work, it’s almost a holiday, the play date was rescheduled.”  Somehow, his being upset felt personal, like a misbehavior, although I know it wasn’t. I stayed calm throughout the meltdown; a skill I can at times demonstrate and at other times not so much.

Instead of getting mad, I hugged my son and told him I knew it was disappointing — he was looking forward to his classmate coming over. I thought about the times when my own plans have changed and how frustrating that can be. I thought of how all children have such little control over the events of their lives. Basically, I tried empathy rather than trying to stop the whirlwind of tears.

Emotions come and go for all people. When I looked at this behavior for a child who has big and overwhelming feelings, I softened a little.

The crying passed, as it always does. Sure, I was still frazzled with trying to control it. However, I didn’t feel the meltdown was directed at me. He was not being manipulative to get what he wants. He was simply experiencing feelings that were too big for him to handle.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty image by BrianAJackson

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

This Thanksgiving My Son Still Has Autism, Please Hold the 'But'

For years I held out hope: maybe this will be the year he will try a bite of stuffing. Maybe this will be the year family members won’t nag him to “try it.” Maybe this will be the year the stares and whispers of why I bring Velveeta Shells and Cheese and let him eat that will be stifled. [...]

A New Perspective on the Season of Giving Thanks

Change is often a gradual process. The subtlety of its signs are often overshadowed by our daily routines. It’s not that we don’t notice our children daily — we do. We learn an incredible amount of completely random things through our daily interactions (for example, red food coloring has historically been derived from ground-up cockroaches). [...]
boy holding cell phone outdoors

To the Woman Who Was Critical of My Son Using a Cell Phone

Yesterday I heard you talking about us. I heard your disapproval and felt your judgment. “Look at that young boy on the phone, isn’t it terrible?” Initially it made me feel small, ashamed, like a bad parent because, to be honest, part of me does wish my son wasn’t on his mobile phone at the [...]

Defining Our Own ‘Normal’ With Our Son on the Autism Spectrum

“Your son has autism.” We knew it was coming, yet we weren’t prepared. Our son Mason was just shy of age 2 then — on diagnosis day. Then came overwhelming thoughts of interventions and therapies, the unanswered questions about his future… there was so much, too much. This is our son, still our little boy, [...]