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Autistic meltdowns are overwhelming. For a parent, teacher or support person, handling a meltdown can be exhausting, but never as exhausting as it is for the autistic person themselves.

What is a meltdown?

Meltdowns generally happen when a person is overloaded. Some of the more common causes of overload that we come across and that we experience ourselves are sensory stimulation (such as noise or light), socialising challenges, communication challenges, change to routine or environment, overscheduling of daily activities, or other stressors going on in life (or many of these things combined).

Take steps to stop a meltdown before it happens

Think about how to reduce what will cause overload (schedules, visual communication, routine, sensory friendly, social scripts, social choice, pre-warning etc)

Teach emotional regulation – being able to predict emotional overload ahead of time.

Set up systems of support if meltdown happens, and to support it not happening in the first place.

‘What to do’ if meltdown happens

If you’re supporting a person through meltdown, try the following;

Provide a safe environment – for the person experiencing meltdown, as well as for yourself.

Use positive language – for all those involved.

Limit language to only what is necessary – too much talking can draw out the situation, and in all likelihood the person won’t be taking very much in anyway.

Don’t teach anything – leave any debriefing or teaching until the person if fully recovered.

Use sensory aids if required, to assist the person with regulating their body.

Provide plenty of rest and rehydration and provide access to interests or passions during recovery time.

Above all, remember that a person in meltdown is not choosing to be that way, and that a supportive environment will always help with a faster recovery as well as helping towards building trusting relationships for all involved.

Written by Elissa Plumridge


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