When people think about autistic kids, oftentimes they think of a child having an aggressive meltdown.
It’s really frustrating as an autistic person and the parent of an autistic child because there are so many misconceptions and myths about autistic kids & aggressive meltdowns.
Now, I’m not saying that autistic kids never have aggressive meltdowns… But the fact is most people completely misunderstand aggressive meltdowns and why they happen.
So today I’m going to address 5 myths about autistic kids & aggressive meltdowns that need to be debunked once and for all!
Psst: Click here to apply for the Embracing Autism Accelerator program and access a FREE exclusive private training: 3 Steps to Become the Parent-Advocate Your Child Needs!
5 Myths About Autistic Kids & Aggressive Meltdowns Debunked
Before I dive into debunking these myths about autistic kids & aggressive meltdowns, I want to get clear on something.
What exactly is an aggressive meltdown?
First, you need to know about autism meltdowns. And in particular, you need to know the difference between tantrums and meltdowns.
Essentially, a meltdown is when an autistic person becomes overwhelmed or triggered by something, and they have a fight or flight response.
An aggressive meltdown is when that meltdown includes physically aggressive behaviors such as hitting, kicking, punching, biting, head-butting, or other behaviors that can hurt the autistic child or others.
So with that understanding, let’s go ahead and jump into the 5 biggest myths about aggressive meltdowns and autistic children.
#1 Aggressive Meltdowns are the Parent’s Fault
I’ll be honest… This myth breaks my heart, and it’s believed by so many.
People believe that aggressive meltdowns are the parent’s fault.
Either your autistic child has aggressive meltdowns because you are too permissive and allow them to have those meltdowns, or they have them because you’re too strict and you push them to meltdown.
It can honestly feel like no matter how you parent, you’re doing it wrong and there is just no winning.
But here’s the thing… If your autistic child is having aggressive meltdowns, that doesn’t mean it’s your fault as a parent.
Meltdowns are a clear sign that an autistic child is in distress.
And while there are some calming strategies for meltdowns that can work, the fact is sometimes once an autistic child is melting down it may be too late to do anything but support them and ride out the storm.
Meltdowns don’t happen because you “let them” happen, and they don’t happen because you support your child through them instead of trying to punish them.
Unless you are actively triggering your child or pushing them into distress, your autistic child’s meltdowns are not your fault.
#2 Aggressive Meltdowns are the Autistic Kid’s Fault
So if your child’s aggressive meltdowns aren’t your fault, CLEARLY they’re your kid’s fault, right?
Remember, aggressive meltdowns happen when your child is pushed past their breaking point.
When they’re so overwhelmed or distressed that they cannot access their logical brain and they have a fight or flight response.
If you aren’t familiar with fight or flight, it’s a physiological reaction that ALL humans have when they are faced with a perceived threat or something that causes anxiety.
Technically there’s also a “freeze” response, but that often turns into autistic burnout or a shutdown rather than a meltdown.
The fact is, when someone goes into fight or flight mode, they lose their ability to think rationally and their survival brain completely takes over.
So while you may see your child’s aggressive meltdown and think things like:
- My child is violent.
- My child wants to hurt people.
- My child is manipulating me.
- My child just wants to attack me.
The fact is, your child isn’t having aggressive meltdowns on purpose. It isn’t your child’s fault that their body is responding in the biologically natural way to anxiety or stress.
#3 Aggressive Meltdowns Need to Be Ignored or Excused
Okay, right around now is when most parents start to push back.
“Woah, Kaylene, it sounds like you’re saying that since it isn’t my child’s fault we should just ignore the meltdowns and act like they’re okay…”
That’s totally NOT what I’m saying.
No one is arguing that aggressive meltdowns where your child is hitting, kicking, biting, or more are something that you should just accept and ignore.
At the end of this post, I’ll share how you can help decrease the intensity and number of aggressive meltdowns your child has, but for now, it’s just important to debunk this myth.
You can acknowledge that your autistic child isn’t in control without throwing in the towel and believing that they’ll always respond to their stress with aggression.
Ignoring meltdowns or excusing them with “well it’s not their fault” isn’t going to help your child or the rest of your family.
It’s not going to keep anyone safe, and it’s not going to help you connect with your child the way you want to.
#4 Aggressive Meltdowns Need Strict Punishments
I get asked a LOT about how to discipline an autistic child, and many people are shocked that I don’t advocate for strict punishments.
I strongly believe that kids do well when they can and that all behavior is communication.
Punishing a behavior after the fact does very little to address the true cause of the behavior that’s lurking under the surface.
Related: Check out this post with 3 important steps to take before addressing your autistic child’s behavior.
If your child is having aggressive meltdowns, punishments aren’t going to teach them how to handle their big emotions that lead to overwhelm and distress.
Punishments won’t help you or your child understand their triggers and learn to respond in new ways to those triggers.
Punishments will pretty much only teach the child that they are bad for something that’s outside of their control.
How quickly do you think your child’s self-esteem will take a dive if they’re getting the message that even though they aren’t trying to meltdown, they are bad and should be punished?
#5 Aggressive Meltdowns are an Inevitable Part of Autism
This is one of the myths about aggressive meltdowns that absolutely breaks my heart.
So many parents believe that aggression is just a part of their child being autistic, but it truly isn’t.
(Related: What is Autism Really? A Guide to Comorbid Disorders)
There are so many autistic children and adults who are not aggressive at all, and meltdowns don’t have to be the norm!
See, meltdowns – especially aggressive meltdowns – happen for a reason.
They don’t come out of nowhere, and they don’t just happen.
There is always a reason. And your child’s behavior (including their meltdown) is their way of communicating with you that something is wrong.
And trust me, that’s REALLY good news… Because that means that you can figure out what is wrong, and you can work to accommodate and fix what’s wrong.
And when you can do that, your child’s aggressive meltdowns will DRASTICALLY decrease.
But I know you might still have questions like…
- Okay, I know they aren’t doing this on purpose but how do I really make it stop?!
- My kids trigger each other into meltdowns… How can I balance the competing needs in our house?
- My child’s aggressive meltdowns tend to target their siblings and I’m afraid I’m teaching my other kids to tolerate abuse!
- HOW DO I MAKE THE MELTDOWNS FREAKING STOP?!
I teach all about how to handle aggressive meltdowns and accommodate your child without burning yourself out in my Embracing Autism Accelerator Program.
Plus, when you apply for the Accelerator, you get access to an exclusive private training: 3 Steps to Become the Parent-Advocate Your Child Needs.
Click here to apply and get your invite to the private training!