10 things that helped me during meltdowns as an autistic child

By Kerry Magro | May 22, 2020

This guest post is by Kerry Magro, a professional speaker, best-selling author and autism entertainment consultant who is on the autism spectrum. Follow Kerry on Facebook here.

One of the more common questions I get asked as a professional speaker & 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 till I was 3 most people think my main obstacle was communication when it was really sensory integration dysfunction. The main challenges 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 though were my meltdowns.

It was a very long road with my Occupational Therapist to overcome obstacles when it came to that. A big shout out has to go out to my parents though who helped me a great deal. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

With that I wanted to share 10 things that helped me during these meltdowns as an autistic child in the hopes it may help you with your child…

  1. Finding the trigger. Preparation is key for so many of our loved ones but also when it comes to meltdowns. When they knew I was going into a public place they knew to keep long clothing incase 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 had a corner of my room that had 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. Especially in public I have seen a few parents try to discipline their child when rude stares would be sent their way. My parents ignoring these stares as best they can 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. What they would realize though when I got older is to 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. Discussing to me the differences between a tantrum and meltdown so I understood the difference. Understanding is really important. That’s why I advocate for people with autism to learn about their autism diagnosis at an early age so they can learn more about the strengths and challenges that may come with their own individual diagnosis. 
  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 that they were there for me.
  8. Music. 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.
  9. Visuals. 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.). What are some things that have helped your child?

Sometimes, people with autism display behaviors that are challenging to understand and address. The Autism Speaks Challenging Behaviors Tool Kit will provide you with strategies and resources to address these behaviors and help support you during difficult situations.
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