Written by Doctor G

Meltdown: Not Just an Autistic Behavior

What is your number one tip to help de-escalate an autistic meltdown BEFORE it escalates?

Katrina, from IN

Wow, Katrina, you ask the easy questions, right? 😉

Not only are no two kids alike, I’d venture to say that no two autistic meltdowns are exactly alike! So I’m going to give a top 5 rather than one. There will certainly be families for whom none of these work, but I’m hoping at least one will give you some direction.

For all the parents out there without an autistic kiddo, let me say that these work for garden-variety wishing-the-floor-would-swallow-you-up-who’s-kid-is-this-anyway tantrums that every child can throw!

In no particular order…

  1. Distraction! I’m a big fan of this, from toddlers to teens. If we can toss a bright, shiny object (or the metaphorical equivalent) out to grab that kiddo’s attention, we may be able to derail a meltdown before it really gets rolling. This might be accomplished with music, a “lovey” – any comfort item from a pacifier to a stuffed animal to the TV remote control – a beautiful view, whatever pleases your child. Try to avoid food as a go-to distraction, though occasionally that the best option.
  2. Physical activity (besides the tantrum itself). That energy is coming out of your child like a runaway train. Can it be channeled into jumping jacks or dancing or a punching bag or cartwheel? This is a great way to release that pressure in a way that brings praise instead of negativity. Just ask any drill sergeant.
  3. Separation. A change of venue, if you can make it happen, sometimes defuses the situation. Whether that means getting a child on their own away from a larger audience or just means that it was something about that particular place that set them off, a change of scene can make a big difference.
  4. Reflection. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has some great advice about this when dealing with toddlers that I think can work at other ages. Reflect back, in nearly the same tone and volume, with just one or two words, what the child is saying. “You’re mad!” “That hurts!” “No Mommy!” This can pleasantly startle a child, he explains, into noticing that his needs are, if not met, at least heard and understood. I’ve tried it, and it’s surprisingly (to me, at least) effective!
  5. Empathy. Different than reflection, a child doesn’t have to immediately feel our empathy for it to work. By this I mean, we won’t catch all the meltdowns before they spiral out of control. Allow (through the frustration or embarrassment) yourself to feel empathy – for the child who is struggling, for yourself, and for your other kids. This too shall pass, and there will be smiles again eventually.
What have you tried that’s worked to stop a meltdown before it gets out of control?


Stress to Resilience for Youth, Free Download Cover Mockup

Learn to Help Your Teen Build Resilience​

Help the teen in your life walk through adversity with strength. Download this free PDF to learn the three steps to go from stress to resilience for youth!

4 thoughts on “Meltdown: Not Just an Autistic Behavior”

  1. I’d add one more category, which is Prevention. Kids are much more likely to have meltdowns when we push them beyond their limits. When your kid is tired, hungry or rushed, he or she is likely to fly off the handle at the least little provocation. While you can’t completely avoid this situation, it may be helpful to recognize when circumstances have led your child to the danger zone and NOT pick that time to make a point or be strict.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Melissa – when I’m tired, hungry or rushed I’m much more likely to fly off the handle as well! So empathy as well as prevention are great tools.

Comments are closed.


How Can I Help?

A Little Bit About Dr. G

A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
Scroll to Top

A Newsletter All About Resilience

Sign up below to join Dr. G’s newsletter and discover how to ‘Do Stress Better’ and tap into the resilience that already exists inside of you.

Ask Dr. G Your Question

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Book Dr. G

Let Dr. G know you’re interested in having her speak. If you’d like to send her a message click here.

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

After pressing submit your forms will be sent to Dr. G and her team. You can expect a response within 1 business day.

Media Inquiry Form

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Insights to Transform Your Stress Into Your Resilience​

Please let us know where to send the Stress to Resilience guide and we’ll send it quick!