(Inside: With these 5 calming strategies for autism meltdowns that actually work, you’ll be able to calm your child during their meltdown so much faster!)
Autism meltdowns are hands-down one of the most difficult parts of parenting an autistic child.
(They’re also one of the most difficult parts of being an autistic person)
So it’s no wonder that I’m asked about meltdowns more than almost anything else.
Whether it’s understanding the difference between tantrums or sensory meltdowns, or knowing what to do after a meltdown to reconnect, there’s always a need for solid autism meltdown strategies.
But one thing I realized I haven’t shared is what to do in the moment. So today, I’ll be sharing 5 calming strategies for autism meltdowns.
(and keep your eyes peeled… I have a post about our meltdown safety plan coming soon!)
If we haven’t met before, Hey, friend, I’m Kaylene.
I am a mom of six neurodivergent kids, I’m an autistic advocate, and I’m a parent coach. I have helped hundreds of parents just like you parent their autistic children with ease through my communities, my courses, and my Embracing Autism Accelerator program.
If you count my blog, my page, and my free communities it is up in the hundreds of thousands of parents that I’ve helped drop the “autism mom” label and become the parent-advocate their Autistic child needs.
So if you’re ready to find accommodations that actually work for your child, balance those accommodations with “real life” boundaries, and effectively advocate for your child, click here and apply for the Embracing Autism Accelerator program.
5 Calming Strategies for Autism Meltdowns
Now, before I jump into these strategies, I have a word of warning.
Please don’t do all of these immediately when your child starts a meltdown.
You need to know what works for your child, and what their sensory preferences are.
Not every strategy will work for every child, so test them out one at a time to see what works best for your child.
#1 Heavy Work Activities
I learned about heavy work from my son’s first OT, and it changed our lives.
If you haven’t heard of it, heavy work is basically activities that work our children’s muscles.
You can do heavy work with specialized therapy balls, or it can be as simple as having your child carry a heavy backpack.
For my son, we’ve even had him try to push the couch.
Heavy work puts stress on the body and provides sensory input, and it can be really calming for autistic children who are in meltdown mode.
Think of it this way… When you’re totally stressed, do you ever just want to punch something? Heavy work is the sensory-friendly way to get that same release without the aggression.
#2 Preferred Sensory Activities
When A-Man is in the beginning stages of a meltdown before he hits full spiral, we can set him up with a preferred sensory activity.
For my son, this is typically a sensory bin.
(We like this 3-step ABC sensory bin)
You could also try calming sensory jars, kinetic sand, or water play.
In fact, a good friend of mine gets her son in the bathtub at the first sign of a meltdown.
The key here is to know what sensory activities your child loves.
#3 Calm Down Corners
Calm down corners can be a great calming strategy for autism meltdowns.
The basic premise is to have a safe space where your child can calm down that they feel comfortable in.
For some children, you will go with them to their calm down corner to help them calm down.
For others, they need space to be alone to calm down. My son is one of these kids.
Now, don’t stress. Your calm down corner doesn’t have to be a big elaborate space.
Ours is literally a folded up fluffy blanket behind my rocking chair. That’s where my son feels safe, that’s where he goes to calm down.
Your corner could have pillows, calming sensory tools, or even a weighted blanket.
Once? Our calm down corner had a punching bag.
Make this fit your child, and it can be a game changer for calming during a meltdown.
#4 Deep Pressure
When you’re really stressed and having your own adult mini-meltdown, do you ever just want a hug?
I know that’s typically my go-to.
And it isn’t just because hugs are nice, they actually play a vital role in calming you down.
It’s all because of the deep pressure, or proprioceptive input.
Your proprioceptive sensory system helps you feel where your body is in space.
Deep pressure helps to tell your sensory system where your body ends and the outside world begins.
Deep pressure tools can include massage, cuddles, weighted blankets, and compression clothing.
My son loves deep squeezes to calm down, and now he asks for a big squeeze before he’s in full meltdown mode.
*Note: Some kids HATE deep pressure activities. This is one where it’s really important to know your child’s preferred sensory activities.
#5 Calming Breathing Exercises
Have you ever told someone mid-meltdown to take a deep breath?
If you have, you likely know it doesn’t work well.
I know when my husband tells me to take a breath during a meltdown… If looks could kill, I’d be a widow.
But the fact is, deep breaths are a really helpful calming strategy during a meltdown.
So what do you do?
Well, for our family, we have certain breathing exercises that work well for each person.
I have “breathing beads”, a bracelet/fidget with different sized beads, and I take a deep breath with each bead as I work my way around the circle. The entire circle takes about 60 seconds to get through, and by then I’m starting to calm down.
My son blows bubbles. He doesn’t want to take deep breaths in the moment, but he absolutely loves to blow bubbles.
And to blow bubbles… You have to take deep breaths.
My daughter “blows out a candle” (that’s really our finger) because she is obsessed with birthdays.
But these breathing strategies only work in-the-moment because we’ve introduced them and practiced them ahead of time.
In fact, none of these 5 calming strategies for autism meltdowns will work unless you practice them ahead of time.
So here’s what I’d suggest… Pick just one of these 5 strategies to try.
Introduce it to your child when things are calm and you’re having fun.
Turn it into a game, and see how your child responds.
Once you’ve practiced it a few times when things are calm, try it during your child’s next meltdown.
Take it one strategy at a time, and soon you’ll be handling autism meltdowns like a pro!
If you loved this post, you might also enjoy…
- How to De-escalate a Meltdown Even When You’re Triggered
- 5 Myths About Autistic Kids and Aggressive Meltdowns Debunked
- Simple 3-Step After School Routine to Avoid After School Meltdowns
- Is it a Tantrum or Sensory Meltdown? 4 Ways to Know For Sure
- The Vital Steps to Take AFTER Your Child’s Meltdown (That You’re Probably Not Doing)
Hai Kaylene, I have 4yo Autistic boy, he is sweet n lovely. He likes outdoor places more. Our main challenge is that.. it is so tough to bring him to a place like clinic, doctor’s room or even therapy room, classroom. He will refuse & throwing tantrum if we insist to stay. (usually we will stay n ignore him throwing tantrums, laying on the floor crying etc until he calms down a bit), do you have any tips for that? However, if we bring him to even a closed space but if it a shops & he feels like it.. he will enjoys it very much. At the beginning we thought that he is scared to a small, closed space, but further observations, he is not.
I’m a 24 years old with autism and my dads girlfriend claims she has been trained to deal with autistic people, she puts her hand in my face and yells to stop even if I’m just crying and claims this is an actual calming method, it just pisses me off ?
That’s definitely not an effective calming method. I’m sorry she does this to you.
I’m 29 with ASD and ADHD and every time I have a meltdown down if I’m with my carers they say I’m doing it for attention and watch me harm myself and at home my parents just hide in there room but my meltdowns can last several hours
So sorry they do that to you.
No it isn’t calming! Tell her to stop playing doctor and say, this is making me feel worse. Stop it!
My son and daughter both have Autism my son is 2 and my daughter is 6 and I don’t know what to do when they have a meltdown . When they both have meltdowns they bite kick punch and throw things how do I stop it .do I try any of the ideas above or not please help me thank you
I had a meltdown on the state bus on April 15 2019. A lady forcefully tried to move my bag and touched me in the process. I yelled and punched her. Luckily, she knew me and didn’t press charges. I feel bad. The supervisor came in and again asked me to move my bag. My attention is in all directions and I can’t even hear what the man is saying. After i got up, people started crowding around me and i screamed. Not at anyone in particular, just screamed. After i went to the back of the bus, by the back door and calmed down, I did apologize to the lady i hit. This was obvious overload from being touched too much. I have autism level 1. Any ideas on how to keep myself calm when the bus gets full? Otherwise, I may not be able to use the state buses again.
I am an 27 year old female with an asperger’s, and this is very helpful. Thank you so much!