Among the main challenges that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families face are meltdowns and outbursts.
These problems could cause physical, verbal, and emotional damage, but that doesn't mean that you can't control them.
In fact, this article was written to help you understand what outbursts and meltdowns are, their common signs, how you should handle them when they occur, and what you need to do to prevent them from happening, in the first place.
What is a meltdown/outburst?
When autistic children find themselves in a stressful or overwhelming situation, they may become unable to regulate themselves and their sentiments. A meltdown or outburst is an intense response to these feelings.
To clarify, meltdowns and outbursts aren't necessarily bad habits. Instead, they are merely ways for children with autism to express themselves when they don't know how to do so in other ways.
What do outbursts look like?
After losing control of their emotions, your autistic son or daughter may have a verbal or physical outburst (or both).
Here are the characteristics of each:
- Physical Outbursts: Your child might engage in biting, hitting, kicking, and other physically-aggressive actions.
- Verbal Outbursts: Similarly, your kid could cry, scream, and/or shout.
Since meltdowns and outbursts can cause bodily, material, and emotional harms, you should keep an eye on their main signals and indicators. This allows you to prevent a meltdown before it happens.
Signs of an Outburst
Most of the time, an autistic child's behavior will give you cues that they're distressed and about to experience a meltdown.
The following outburst signs are common:
- Asking repetitive questions as a way to get reassurances
- Staying very still
Once you identify these symptoms, you need to intervene and prevent the meltdown from happening.
What to Do When Your Autistic Child Is Having an Outburst
There are two aspects that you should focus on when addressing your son or daughter's potential outburst.
Firstly, after you spot the main signs, you must manage them by doing the following:
- Ask if They're Okay: A simple question like "are you okay?" could provide you with plenty of answers. However, keep in mind that some autistic kids might need time to give a response.
- Give Them Space: This entails physical and mental space. For example, you may want to take your kid to a quiet and safe area that they're comfortable with. In the same vein, turning down the music and/or lights can psychologically calm the child down.
- Give Them Time: Whenever your son or daughter suffers from a sensory or information-related overload, you should give them enough time to recover and recuperate.
Secondly (and equally as important) is knowing what the triggers of an outburst or meltdown are so that you can eliminate them and prevent one from happening. Here are a few prevalent triggers:
A Change in The Child's Routine
It is very easy for autistic children to feel unsettled when they have to follow a schedule that they're unfamiliar with.
Therefore, you may want to gradually make changes to their routine while keeping a close eye on their symptoms as you do so.
Simply put, many kids with ASD have a hard time when they communicate with others and are likely to be misunderstood.
By working with your son or daughter on their communication skills and identifying the signs that they're struggling to express themselves, you can cater to their needs and stop an impending meltdown in its tracks.
The brains of autistic kids are wired differently than their neurotypical counterparts. As a result, they may run into issues that impact their senses and the way that their body responds to sounds, lights, and other aspects in their environment.
This means that intense senses, such as loud noises and bright lights, might trigger an outburst or meltdown.
As a parent, you want to know what your child's sensory triggers are in order to minimize their effect on their conduct.
At the end of the day, you should always remember that autism outbursts aren't bad behaviors in of themselves. Instead, they are verbal and physical actions that your child may engage in when they don't know how to express themselves.
By identifying and managing an outburst's signs, alongside eliminating its triggers, you can effectively prevent future meltdowns from occurring and help your autistic son or daughter communicate in a calmer and better manner.