10 Things That Helped Me With Meltdowns as an Autistic Child
One of the more common questions I get asked as a professional speaker and autism self-advocate is about my communication challenges. After this question, though, the majority of the questions are about my previous meltdowns due to sensory overload.
As a nonverbal child until I was 3, most people think my main obstacle was communication, when it was really sensory integration dysfunction. The main challenges I faced included loud noises, challenges with inclement weather, bright lights and not being able to be bathed until 18 months old due to the textural feeling of water on my skin. The one area that was most challenging for my parents was my meltdowns.
It was a very long road with my occupational therapist to overcome these obstacles. A big shout out has to go out to my parents, who helped me a great deal. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
I wanted to share 10 things that helped me during these meltdowns as an autistic child in the hope it may help you with your child.
1. Finding the trigger.
Preparation is key for so many of our loved ones, including when it comes to meltdowns. When my parents knew I was going into a public place, they brought long clothing in case it became windy outside. They’d also make sure sunglasses were nearby on these outings as well.
2. Creating a safety zone/quiet space at home.
My parents set up a corner of my room with a TV and some of my favorite toys. So if I had to deal with a meltdown, I would have things that felt comfortable to me.
3. Not disciplining me for having a meltdown.
I have seen a few parents try to discipline their child in public when rude stares were sent their way. My parents ignoring those stares as best they could made me feel loved.
4. Personal space — as long as I wasn’t involved in self-injurious behaviors.
I would wander as a kid, which made my parents always want to have me as close to them as possible. When I got older, they realized they should give me a few feet when a meltdown was occurring so I could stim and tire myself out.
5. Asking questions.
Once I started speaking, my parents would ask what would help me while I’m actually having a meltdown. That meant a lot.
6. Explaining the differences between a meltdown and a tantrum.
Understanding is really important. That’s why I advocate for people with autism to learn about their diagnosis at an early age so they can learn more about the strengths and challenges they experience.
7. Meeting me where I was when I was having the meltdown.
This sometimes meant just laying on the floor with me when I was going through the meltdown just so I knew they were there for me.
There’s always been something soothing about music for me. While it usually won’t stop a meltdown, it made me feel more relaxed when my favorite songs were in the background at a low volume.
I was obsessed with video games as a child, so having a Gameboy and a mini TV available was helpful to ease my way out of a meltdown.
10. Reminding me I wasn’t alone.
This was probably the most important to me. Giving me an understanding that meltdowns happen to a lot of people in our community made me feel less like an alien and more part of a community. It meant a lot. I love my parents so much for all they’ve done for me.
Today, I don’t have any meltdowns but still deal with some sensory challenges when it comes to uncertainty (when someone touches me unexpectedly, planes flying over my apartment, etc.).