A meltdown is common for those with autism and can quickly evolve into a stressful situation for both the individual and those caring for them.
They are usually brought on by high levels of stress in an overwhelming situation, which causes an individual to lose control temporarily.
That can be exhibited both physically and verbally, and sometimes they shout, cry, lash out or kick. In children, this behaviour is often misinterpreted as misbehaving or a ‘temper tantrum’, but a meltdown is very different.
It is caused when emotions become too much; it is not linked directly to poor behaviour, and should not be treated as such.
Those with autism struggle to find an appropriate response or a healthy way to express themselves in these moments.
What can trigger a meltdown?
There are many triggers that can cause a meltdown, but the most common are:
Many people on the autistic spectrum struggle with processing sensory information and, in some cases, they will be oversensitive.
In others, they will be under-insensitive.
Those without autism can easily filter background noise. For example, if you are in a shopping centre you can just focus on what is necessary.
Conversely, in the same situation, a person with autism may be oversensitive to a range of senses.
The loud noise around them, and the constant movement of people nearby, can easily create an environment that is conducive to a meltdown.
Changes to a regular routine or plans for the day
Routine is an integral part of daily life for an individual with autism, and any unexpected changes can prove incredibly stressful.
An example of this could be they normally eat lunch at noon, but on one day that activity has to be done an hour earlier.
That could trigger a meltdown, which is why it is important to offer the necessary support to calm them, explain the change, and provide reassurance the rest of the day will stay the same.
According to Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, two in every five autistic people are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
However, many more will experience symptoms of anxiety that impacts on how they live their lives.
If an individual does not have the necessary tools to cope, it may result in a meltdown.
Developing strategies to help manage anxiety is key, which is why many parents and carers utilise OurBoards Now and Next Board and Weekly Visual Timetable.
Communication can often be an issue for people with autism because they cannot always express their wants and needs at that moment.
Unfortunately, this can result in feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and other emotions that can quickly lead to a meltdown.
Finding easy and accessible ways for them to communicate effectively is the key to avoiding these negative emotions and meltdowns.
The trigger that is a catalyst for the meltdown may not necessarily be the underlying or most significant issue that the individual is facing.
In fact, their response may appear to be a result of something minor.
At that moment, it is important to show empathy towards them and try to understand the severe stress and anxiety they will be experiencing.
What to do during a meltdown
If a meltdown occurs, the most important thing is not to judge and to acknowledge it is a reaction entirely out of their control.
It is not bad behaviour or a trivial response.
Rather it is something that they did not want to happen, but it will pass.
In the moment you should try to do the following:
Above all, you must keep calm and provide them with guidance on what will help to calm them without explicitly telling them they need to. That will prove counterproductive.
Try not to ask them too many questions because this risks further becoming an additional unhelpful stimuli.
If possible, create a safe, quiet and calming space for them, trying to reduce any excess noise, light and sound.
Autistic people will often experience meltdowns, which is why it is important to take the time to understand the person and how best to handle the situation.
Those moments are difficult for them, and they need be shown respect, given space, receive empathy and support to reassure them.
By anticipating meltdowns, identifying triggers and reducing exposure to these situations, you can be effective in helping them.
At OurBoards, we have a vision to support people facing challenges associated with understanding information.
That is why we design and manufacture visual communication boards that encourage understanding and useful ways to manage an environment, thoughts, behaviours and emotions.
Parents and carers have reported a significant reduction in Autism meltdowns by using the Weekly Visual Timetable as well as our Now and Next Board (also known as a Routine Board or a First and Then Board).
If you would like to discover more about any of our products, or have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team today on 0560 285 0560.
We are happy to help you find the right board for your situation.