(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!)
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.
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!
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