Dealing with Meltdowns in Children with Autism | Autism Meltdown Strategies

Recently, on a Facebook Live, I asked parents and professionals if they could wave a magic wand, what autism struggle would they want to go away? A handful of people said they wanted to make meltdowns go away, so today, I’m going to talk about three autism meltdown strategies to help both parents and professionals.

Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around. So, if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now. I have a little disclaimer: Behavior Analysts, including myself, don’t really use the word meltdown very much. The reason for this is that it’s not an objective and measurable term. In other words, I don’t know exactly what the word meltdown means. If you tell me that your child is having a meltdown, I can’t visualize exactly what is happening. I also can’t visualize other words that parents and some professionals use to describe behavior problems in kids with autism. People say, “The child was really frustrated, he was out of control, he was anxious.” Reporting that your child is having a meltdown is kind of like that.

But instead of saying, “You need to talk more behaviorally,” the best way to get people talking more behaviorally, so that we can help them, is to ask what the child’s meltdown looks like. Does the child fall to the floor? Does he hit others during a meltdown? Does he scream during a meltdown, throw objects? Basically, this helps us to define the autism meltdown. Also, if you and I are trying to count whether the child is having a meltdown or not, or is having 10 meltdowns a day, or a week, our counts would not be the same if the behavior is not better defined.

Assessment on Tablet with Everett Pointing

Here are the three autism meltdown strategies:

  1. It’s important to define a behavior well enough so that our counting of the meltdowns, or behavior, is the same, because when we put procedures in place to help decrease meltdowns, we need to be comparing apples to apples. This is defining what it actually looks like. Same thing holds true for other words that are not very behavioral, like, “My child was frustrated.” Okay, what does frustrated look like? Does he slam his fists on the desk? Does he yell? Does he argue? All these things, I can count. I can’t really look at someone and tell if they’re frustrated or anxious. What does it look like when your child is anxious? Is he pacing? Is he sighing? Those things, I can count. Anxiety and frustration, I can’t.
  2. So once we define the behavior, in this case the autism meltdown, the second step is to do an assessment, to figure out how big of a problem these meltdowns actually are. So part of the assessment is to determine how old the child is, how large they are, how strong they are, how long the meltdowns last, and how often do these meltdowns occur, per day, per week, per month. If it’s a large child and/or they have severe meltdowns on a regular basis, even if it’s a small child, you’ll absolutely need an on-site, individualized behavior analyst to help you. Preferably, it’s a Behavior Analyst, or someone very skilled at reducing problem behavior.If it’s a smaller child, or even a larger child having less severe meltdowns a few times per week or month, you might be able to put procedures in place and see progress just using the child’s current team. So step one is to define the meltdown. Tell me what it looks like, or what it usually looks like. Step two is to assess how frequently the meltdowns are happening and also how severe those meltdowns are, based on your child’s age, size, and strength.
  3. Now we’ll move on to step three, which is extremely complex, and that is the treatment of meltdowns, or any other problem behaviors, that can lead to reduction. But, I’ll give you one piece of advice here, because obviously in this short video blog, I’m not going to be able to tell you how to reduce or get rid of all meltdowns entirely, but I will say this. We need to be spending 95% of our time preventing meltdowns, not reacting to them. Everywhere I go, I see people being way too reactive to problem behavior, and I know prevention is the key.

So in summary, to reduce meltdowns, the three autism meltdown strategies are as follows: we want to define and describe what meltdowns look like, assess the frequency and seriousness of the meltdowns, and step three is to intervene, mostly with preventative strategies. If you liked this video blog I would love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, or share this video with others who might benefit. To learn more about how to help children with autism I would like it if you’d download my free guide at, and I’ll see you right here next week.

Assessment on Tablet with Everett Pointing