Meltdown v Tantrum


Almost every parent of a child has encountered a child’s meltdowns and/or tantrums. But dealing with an autistic child can be slightly different. So we’re going to give you some strategies for calming tantrums and meltdowns that actually work.

First, it’s important to differentiate between tantrums and meltdowns because for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, they are not the same thing. A tantrum is a cluster of undesirable behaviours that are related to the child wanting something that he or she can’t have. Meltdowns for the autistic child are undesirable behaviours that are the result of sensory overload. So, in order to deal with tantrums and meltdowns, you have to identify what you’re dealing with.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Remain calm. No matter what situation presents itself, remain calm. Always remember who is the parent and who is the child. If you get very nervous and agitated, that will make the tantrum or meltdown worse.
  2. Tantrums in a public place may require leaving. However, if they’re at home, the best thing to do is say that you A) recognize the child is upset and B) and are happy to discuss it when they calm down without giving in to what the child wants if they want is not reasonable. If you give in then you are reinforcing tantrums and the child learns that if I do this ugly behaviour, I get what I want. Instead, reward positive behaviour when the child calms.
  3. Address sensory meltdowns immediately. If you know the basis for the meltdown and can remove what’s causing the sensory overload, then do that. Sometimes a weighted blanket can help. For some children, noise-cancelling headphones are the answer. If the child is overwhelmed by crowded areas, you may need to leave to find some place quieter.
  4. Emergency Meltdown Kit. Some parents carry a “kit” for dealing with sensory meltdowns away from home. These can include, for example, a weighted blanket, headphones mentioned above, a favourite toy, sunglasses, and perhaps a weighted coat or snug sweatshirt. You may even want to get an armband or something that says “my child is autistic—please step back.” The kit will be different for each child based on his or her individual needs.
  5. Safe Corner. At home, you may want to designate a small area as a “safe corner” for calming down. This could be, for example, just a corner of the couch or it could be tent permanently set up in the child’s room, which is filled with soft heavy blankets. It’s not a bad idea to have a designated spot that the child can go to for an opportunity to calm him- or herself down.


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