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How to Handle Autism Tantrums

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To the unaware, a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) having a meltdown might look like any other temper tantrum. Yet, the circumstances surrounding an Autism outburst are often much more complex. 

Family members and caregivers of children with ASD know that identifying, handling, and preventing an Autism meltdown is a sensitive thing involving a great deal of practice and planning. 

That’s where the highly-trained therapists at Heartlinks can help. We have the tools and experience to teach your child with ASD the skills necessary to minimize their outbursts.

With locations across the country, there is a Heartlinks in your area designed to help.

Let us show you how to handle Autism tantrums together.

What are Autism Meltdowns?

Though they might look similar, there is quite a difference between meltdowns, temper tantrums, and Autism aggression.

An Autism meltdown or Autism outburst occurs when a child is entirely overwhelmed by their immediate situation. A young person with ASD experiences too much sensory stimulation; their central nervous system becomes overwhelmed and cannot process what is happening around them.

As a result, they lose control of their behavior, expressed through shouting, kicking, screaming, biting, lashing out, or crying. 

Child having a meltdown in the grocery store

A temper tantrum occurs when a child becomes angry but remains in control of their behavior. They subsequently adjust the intensity of their tantrum depending on the feedback they receive from the adults near them. Temper tantrums usually resolve themselves when the child gets what they want (i.e., attention, a toy, a particular type of food) or they’re punished for their outburst. 

The symptoms of Autism aggression are almost identical to temper tantrums and Autism meltdowns. 

However, unlike the latter two, Autism aggression can occur without sensory overload. Children with ASD can become violent for a variety of reasons.

What’s important to remember is that a child on the spectrum can exhibit temper tantrums, Autism aggression, and meltdowns. The key to minimizing the outbursts is being able to tell the difference.

What to Do When a Child Has an Autism Outburst

At Heartlinks, we often get asked how best to handle an Autism outburst. 

No two children with Autism are the same. Therefore, their reactions to overstimulation also vary. The most effective way to prevent your child with Autism from having a meltdown is to predict and avoid their triggers.

This could mean avoiding crowds or noisy places, establishing a routine, and doing lots of pre-planning.

Yet, often Autism meltdowns are inevitable. That’s why when you’re in the midst, the following are a few practical suggestions of how to minimize one:

  • Leave the building, room, or location to help your child calm down.
  • Utilize calming devices such as fidget toys, a weighted blanket or vest, or noise-canceling headphones.
  • Keep your child and others safe by placing them in a secure environment.
  • Remain calm, as many children can feel your frustration, exacerbating the situation.
  • Try to keep your voice calm and your face neutral as well.
  • Divert your child’s attention with their favorite objects.
  • Never use reason or logic during an autism meltdown.
  • When things are calmer, teach calming exercises, including breathing and counting to ten.

How to Prevent Autism Meltdowns

Parents and caregivers of children prone to ASD meltdowns know it can be highly exhausting. The best way to prevent a meltdown is to prepare and then prepare some more! Prevention is a much more effective strategy than responding in the heat of the moment. 

Girl with her favorite toy

The following are steps to avoid your child’s common triggers.

  • Know your child’s favorite things and places (i.e., a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or park) and the items they don’t like.
  • Know your child’s daily routine and adhere to it. This might include reading a bedtime story, bathing, or eating a specific cereal for breakfast.
  • Understand your child’s sensory sensitivities or triggers, including bright lights, strong smells, or loud noises.

Once you’ve gathered this information, it will become infinitely easier to avoid their Autism meltdown triggers. 

Sometimes it will be easy to avoid the bright lights or noisy places that upset them. But other times, it may not be possible. 

For example, if you have an event late at night and cannot read your child a bedtime story, instruct the babysitter which books your child enjoys and have them read it to them. 

How Can ABA Therapy Prevent Autism Meltdowns?

Working with an ABA therapist at Heartlinks can help teach your child three primary skills to decrease the chances of Autism meltdowns.

Encourages self-regulation

At Heartlinks, our therapists teach crucial emotional self-management skills essential to reducing the chances of a meltdown. These skills are the foundation for preventing the anger and frustration accompanying meltdowns. 

Enables your child to learn social cues

From making eye contact when speaking with others to not interrupting someone when talking or reading non-verbal cues, these social protocols are complex for children on the spectrum to learn. 

Through ABA therapy at Heartlinks, your child learns these social protocols step-by-step with guided and measured instruction. Each set of skills is mastered before moving on to the next step. Then they get plenty of opportunities to practice with their therapist through real-world scenarios.

Instant and consistent feedback

At Heartlinks, our in-home ABA therapy is designed to provide constant feedback. For example, if your child looks away for an extended period, a therapist might say, “Eyes on me.” 

The result of this and other types of prompts is that your child quickly learns what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. The child soon learns that “if they do A, then B is the result.” Or, “If I scream and melt down, I won’t get what I want. But if I appropriately conduct myself, I will get my reward.”

How Heartlinks Can Help

At Heartlinks, we often get asked how to handle Autism tantrums. The answer is as unique and individualized as each child with ASD. 

Whether you’re dealing with tantrums, meltdowns, or Autism aggression, all of it is part of raising a child on the spectrum. While they can be challenging to manage, having the right strategies, including working with an ABA therapist, can significantly affect your child’s ability to regulate their emotions now and in the future.  
Contact Heartlinks and let us help you start ABA therapy today!

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