Managing Autism Meltdowns

Parents and caregivers of children with autism know that dealing with meltdowns is a part of life. We become adept at calming down our child as quickly and as best we can, whether at home or in public. It’s hard to surrender a child to environments where we are not present, knowing that others won’t know how to react. I’ll never forget the babysitter that called the fire department when one of my son’s had an anxiety attack. 

But nowhere is this more frustrating than at school, where children are frequently castigated and punished for exhibiting symptoms of their disorder. Countless times, I have shared my hard-earned strategies for managing my son’s meltdowns with teachers and administrators in hopes that they would employ strategies that would prove helpful instead of inflammatory. Only one teacher ever listened to me and that all-too-brief period my son spent in her classroom was the only time he made real gains in being part of a group and becoming self-regulating.

Special education teachers in Seattle’s school system aren’t required to have any training in autism, even the ones heading autism inclusion programs. Teachers don’t like being told how to do their jobs, especially by a parent they consciously or unconsciously hold responsible for the behavior of an unmanageable child. Members of your child’s IEP team can readily turn adversarial when their classroom strategies are questioned.

Recently, I found an article called “Managing an Angry Episode” on the website of Minds and Hearts, which is an Australian autism clinic where Dr. Tony Attwood works once a week.

I recommend downloading this pdf file and taking it to your next IEP meeting and/or presenting it to your child’s teacher. It could really help lay the groundwork for discussing best practices for coping with an inescapable reality of autism and the meltdowns associated with it.

12 Responses to Managing Autism Meltdowns

  1. Debbie K. says:

    Wow, Susan! Once again a great article, which touched on a subject close to my heart. Meltdowns can be hecka scary for a parent who loves their child. I hate to think about my son having a giant meltdown with someone who doesn’t love him as much as I do! It’s so painful to have him punished for behaviors over which he has little or no control.

    Amazingly enough, I was just told by a teacher at my son’s school that they had some special training this week on how to deal with children with Autism. How wonderful is that?! I just emailed his principal and asked her if I could see the materials. Also offered her the extensive library we’ve accumulated over the past couple of years of books on Autism/Spectrum Disorder and SPD. Plus I included a copy of this article, with special emphasis on the PDF about Managing an Angry Episode.

    Thank you so much for your encouraging and informative articles! Much appreciative of the support. Have a great day!

  2. Debbie K. says:

    P.S. I actually started writing a piece on meltdowns on my own blog a couple of months back, but found the subject so painful I wasn’t able to finish it. Maybe I’ll get back to it now. Thanks!

  3. Susan says:

    It’s heartening to hear your child’s school is taking some steps in this regard. This pdf is so clear and succinct, I couldn’t wait to pass it on. I’m glad you found it useful as well.

    Thanks for writing,


  4. Beth says:

    For whatever it’s worth, I don’t have an autistic child, but many of these techniques are smart and thoughtful for so-called ordinary kids who have trouble managing big emotions. My kid goes to a school with an inclusion program for autism-spectrum kids, and I have learned so much from the way they use supposedly autism-specific techniques with all the kids. I appreciate your sharing these.

  5. Susan says:

    That’s a great point. And it’s heartening to hear of a parent of a neurotypical child appreciating an inclusion program.


  6. My son received his “formal” diagnosis of ASD today, and I came across this post looking for information on Autism Inclusion programs in Seattle Public Schools.

    I find this sad and frightening: “Special education teachers in Seattle’s school system aren’t required to have any training in autism, even the ones heading autism inclusion programs.”

    ESPECIALLY when we were just referred to such a program (instead of the private one he is currently in where he is THRIVING) because we were told that a public school teacher would have the special training and education he needed.

    Obviously not.

  7. Myra Warren says:

    I have a great niece who is autistic that was taken down during one of her meltdowns by an school aide. When my mother (the one who is raising her) and I went to her IEP they Special Education Director would not explain to us what happend, why it happened or if they took steps to prevent it. I was accused of consistently going against the school. That was my second IEP that I had attended with my mother for my great-niece. All I did was ask why it happened. I do not go to anymore IEP’s and pretty much stay away from the school because of the ridicule I faced when I met with her (the director) one on one to explain my reasons for my questions. Please don’t give up and keep fighting for your child’s rights. As for me I will remain my mother’s support.

  8. Thank you for using free time in order to write “Managing Autism Meltdowns | Autism
    Key”. Thank you so much again -Marilyn

  9. Susan says:

    You’re welcome!

  10. Margaret Evans says:

    Great PDF, thanks. We have three severely autistic nephews aged 15/16 (includes twins). It’s amazing how hostile and unhelpful the public can be when they are ignorant of what this involves, we’ve had some bad family experiences in public !

  11. Susan says:

    This is a great guide isn’t it? I know exactly what you mean about the public. You just have to steel yourself against their ignorance, but it’s hard. It can really get to you.

  12. Martin says:

    It is sad to be disconnected from friends and family due to fears of a meltdown and the ignorant advice and words from family. Everything from spank her, to she is just spoiled or just give her more drugs, just to name a few. It is hard not to be resentful since these folks have no idea of how to deal with an autistic person. It’s amazing how people will take time to make ugly remarks but become angry or aloof when explaining about the Childs condition.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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