Tips for Dealing with Meltdowns in Children with Autism

Recently, on a Facebook Live, I asked parents
and professionals if they could wave a magic wand, what autism struggle would they want
to go away? A handful of people said they wanted to make
meltdowns go away, so today, I’m going to talk about three strategies to help both parents
and professionals get rid of meltdowns. Hi. I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, board-certified
behavior analyst, and bestselling author. Each week, I provide you with some of my ideas
about turning autism around, so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can
do that now. A little disclaimer here. Behavior analysts, including myself, don’t
really use the word meltdown very much. The reason for this is that it’s not an objective
and measurable term. In other words, I don’t know exactly what
the word meltdown means. If you tell me that your child is having a
meltdown, I can’t visualize exactly what is happening. I also can’t visualize other words that parents
and some professionals use to describe behavior problems in kids with autism. People say, “The child was really frustrated,
he was out of control, he was anxious.” Reporting that your child is having a meltdown
is kind of like that. But instead of being all snotty and saying,
“You need to talk more behaviorally,” the best way to get people talking more behaviorally,
so that we can help them, is to ask what the child’s meltdown looks like. Does the child fall to the floor? Does he hit others during a meltdown? Does he scream during a meltdown, throw objects? Basically, this helps us to define the meltdown. Also, if you and I are trying to count whether
the child is having a meltdown or not, or is having 10 meltdowns a day, or a week, our
counts would not be the same if the behavior is not better defined. It’s important to define a behavior well enough
so that our counting of the meltdowns, or behavior, is the same, because when we put
procedures in place to help decrease meltdowns, we need to be comparing apples to apples. So, we’ll define the meltdown as our first
step. This is defining what it actually looks like. Same thing holds true for other words that
are not very behavioral, like, “My child was frustrated.” Okay, what does frustrated look like? Does he slam his fists on the desk? Does he yell? Does he argue? All these things, I can count. I can’t really look at someone and tell if
they’re frustrated or not. Same thing for anxious. What does it look like when your child is
anxious? Is he pacing? Is he sighing? Those things, I can count. Anxiety and frustration, I can’t. So once we define the behavior, in this case
the meltdown, the second step is to do an assessment, to figure out how big of a problem
these meltdowns actually are. So part of the assessment is to determine
how old the child is, how large they are, how strong they are, how long the meltdowns
last, and how often do these meltdowns occur, per day, per week, per month. If it’s a large child and/or severe meltdowns
on a regular basis, even if it’s a small child, you’ll absolutely need an on-site, individualized
behavior analyst to help you. Preferably, it’s a behavior analyst, but someone
very skilled at reducing problem behavior. If it’s a smaller child, or even a larger
child having less severe meltdowns a few times per week or month, you might be able to put
procedures in place and see progress just using the child’s current team. So step one is to define the meltdown. Tell me what it looks like, or what it usually
looks like. And the meltdown can be a compilation of all
of these things put together. Step two is to assess how frequently the meltdowns
are happening and also how severe those meltdowns are, based on your child’s age, size, and
strength. Now we’ll move on to step three, which is
extremely complex, and that is the treatment of meltdowns, or any other problem behaviors,
that can lead to reduction. But, I’ll give you one piece of advice here,
because obviously in this short video blog, I’m not going to be able to tell you how to
reduce or get rid of all meltdowns entirely, but I will say this. We need to be spending 95% of our time preventing
meltdowns, not reacting to them. Everywhere I go, I see people being way too
reactive to problem behavior, and I know prevention is the key. So in summary, to get rid of meltdowns, we
want to define and describe what meltdowns look like, assess the frequency and seriousness
of the meltdowns in step two, and step three is to intervene, mostly with preventative
strategies. To get started learning more, download my
three-step guide at, and if you like this video blog, I would love
it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share the video with someone
that might benefit, and I’ll see you right here next week.

Comment here