Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support





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What is a Meltdown?

An SPD meltdown is, essentially, when a person's nervous system has been so bombarded, so horribly attacked by its outside environment, that it basically throws in the towel. Everything that matters to you in the world just looses all of its value. Now, it's pure survival mode, and nothing is off limits!

How Does it Start?

First, you start to feel edgy, like you're on your last nerve, you're about to be late to work, that report was nowhere near finished, and your car won't start. You're about to totally loose it if one more thing goes wrong. Now, you may not always feel a meltdown coming on like this; sometimes they just seem to flare up out of nowhere, but most meltdowns can be felt long before anyone else even knows you're getting frazzled. Once that last nerve has been struck though, that final straw pulled, sorry, but you've just received the last harmful bit of sensory stimuli your poorly developed nervous system is prepared to tolerate. It's over for you. There is no more going back. You are in for one of the most painful experiences anyone can go through on a regular basis, an SPD induced meltdown!

The Meltdown

All sensory systems start firing! Everything pierces you like a knife! Every sound, every speck of light, every texture against your skin, and everything you can smell. It surrounds you and cuts right into you. Trapped within your skin, like a caged animal under attacked, you are basically helpless. You thrash, you heave, you scream, you do whatever you can, because you are percieving something killing you. You need to escape! Everything is hurting you, things that no one else can even believe would be affecting you. The smallest noise makes you want to claw your ears off, the slightest movement of you head might make you sick, and even the dimmest lights in the room make your eyes feel like they are bleeding.

"The smallest noise makes you want to claw your ears off, the slightest movement of you head might make you sick, and even the dimmest lights in the room make your eyes feel like they are bleeding."


Nothing matters anymore. You only have a few options: fight, flight, or freeze. Let's explore them here:


Ever been cut? Sure you have! Didn't putting pressure on the wound help to make it feel better, or at least stop the bleeding? Well, in a sensory meltdown, imagine the entire body as one massive wound. Essentially, it is, because anything can feel like it is cutting right into your flesh. You seek out the pressure to help! You clench things, you squeeze yourself, you lash out! You grab things and smash them, slam doors, throw things accross the room. It doesn't matter, all that matters to you is the excrutiating pain. If something is bothering you, you want to grab it and crush it, or smack it out of existance. By attacking what has harmed you, what your body senses as attacking you, your brain believes it can end the assault, and restore you back to the much more comfortable midline. This is why the fight mode appeals to many, regardless of how many of their favorite things they destroy, or how many of their loved ones they hurt.


Ever been chased by a mean looking dog? Did you stand your ground, or first try to run? Chances are, you tried to run. Well, in this case, every sensation around you is a huge rabid animal chasing you down! Even if nobody else recognizes them, they are the only things you care about right now. You can get away though! You can duck undercover, go into a dark, quiet room and bury your head into your arms. It doesn't matter what it is you are trying to escape, you just need to get out of there and get away from it, at all costs. If things get in your way, you may even resort back to the fight mode, if needed, but if things go well, you won't need to.


Ever been frozen in fear, just not sure what to do? When your system has been bombarded enough to start a meltdown, you might just freeze up. What do you do? Where do you go? What made you feel this way? You loose it, but you're unable to do anything. You just sit there, strucken, unable to move or react. This doesn't help, because the pain keeps coming, and your nervous system doesn't react like other people's does. It doesn't calm you back down for you. You just continue to be attacked. This generally doesn't last long. Eventually, you need to do something, anything, to get through this situation. You will likely change to fight or flight soon enough, if you can get over the initial shell shock!

SPD Symptoms

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The Meltdown Fades...

Once you've done what you could do to try to escape the situation or put an end to the bombardment, you are now left to gradually, finally start to cool down. It doesn't go easily though. It may last for hours! During this time, you will likely need to be alone, in a quiet, unstimulating place. If it will help, and you are ready, you can start to do the things that make you feel better, that give you peace. These things will hopefully help to return you to your comfortable baseline, where all of your sensitivities, though still present, are in check. Eventually, you will begin to return to your normal self, and you will be more comfortable again. You return to something closer to the 'real you'. Aaaaahhhh... very relaxing. Problem over, right? Well, not exactly.

After the Meltdown

After the meltdown is over, and you are back to your 'regular old self,' you are now left to face the damage that was done during your meltdown. Hopefully, you were able to get away quickly, and people were understanding, and you can just continue on like nothing happened. Unfortunately, especially when those around you don't really understand this, this is not what happens at all!

"What was that all about?!?"
 "What is wrong with you?
 "That was the rudest, most horrible thing I've seen someone do! You apologize now!
 "Why did you punch him/break that?!? You'll need to be punished!

Now, everyone is mad at you, because no one has any idea what you were just being put through because of your SPD. If they understood it, they would likely want to hug you, and cry because they knew what you just went through, the excrutiating pain you just experiences. Because not everyone does get it though,, you are now met with hostility. You are yelled at, shamed, embarrassed, humiliated, and probably punished. It wasn't your fault, you were the victim, but you're certainly in for it now!

Sound like fun? Like something you would like to experience? Didn't think so! But what about those of us who have no choice, those of us with SPD? We're stuck! This is our life, and this is our burden to bear.

How To Help, Treating Meltdowns

There is no perfect one solution for treating or preventing meltdowns. Every child's nervous system is unique, so with each case, there is always a different list of triggers and a different list of activities that can be done to treat a meltdown. While this does make it difficult to advice any particular course of action, there are several routes that are generally successful for a large number of children. There is also a simple process for alieviateing meltdowns: remove and block out all harmful stimulation, add positive, regulating sources of stimuli.

Before the Meltdown – Prevention

Especially in the early stages of treating SPD, and when SPD children are very young, it is not possible or likely for children with SPD to actually be able to communicate when they are heading toward a meltdown. However, you may notice the signs that a meltdown is soon to occur. They will start to get edgy, or tense. Their ears may start to turn red, and they might start to tremble or flinch. They may clench their fists and curl their toes, or grind and grit their teeth. these are classic signs of an oncomming meltdown, and are often soon followed by the fight, flight, or freeze responses.

Take note of the things in your child's environment that are common offenders in terms of avoided or unwanted stimuli. For instance, if your child generally seems irritated by tags in her clothing, or the smell of a certain fragrence that you use even for personal hygiene, the goal is to expose her to as little of these sensations as possible. You can often tell what is causing your child problems just through observing their behaviour aorund those forms of stimuli. If you need to remove all the tags from her clothing, or find a new fragrence for yourself that doesn't bother her, do it! She will be happier, and so will you when your child isn't having so many meltdowns!

Removing Harmful Stimuli

Generally speaking, SPD meltdowns are caused by exposure to an overwhelming amount of aggitating sensory input. Therefore, when seeking to help a child who is going through a meltdown, the first and most important step is to remove all potentially offensive sensory stimuli from the chid's environment.

When a child is beginning to have a meltdown, immediately reduce sensory input from all around their environment. Make the room darker, or have them go to a room that is not nearly as stimulating. If you are driving in a car, you may even need to pull over or change your route to reduce or remove the sensory input from the moving and turning vehicle. Do not yell, scream, or make a lot of noise. Make sure to monitor your child's behaviour. If he is getting more aggitated or becoming more explosive, then what you are doing to remove the harmful stimuli has not been enough. It can be very hard, and it is always frustrating. Sometimes it just seems as though your child can't handle any sensory input whatsoever at this point, and that is often correct. Do not give up though!

"When a child is beginning to have a meltdown, immediately reduce sensory input from all around their environment."

Adding Positive Stimuli

This is a difficult thing to do at times, but what is critical is that you learn what forms of sensory input your child seems to always love. As the meltdown seems to have stabilized, your child is in a sensory reduced environment and seems to be beginning to calm down, it can be beneficial to add some of these stimuli into her environment. Don't force the issue. Even though she always tends to love a certain form of input doesn't mean it is what she needs at this exact time. She may not be ready for it, so be subtle with it at first, and increase the stimuli as she begin to become more relaxed and centered.

After the Meltdown

Once the meltdown has come to an end, the goal for you now becomes helping your child to deal with the emotional upset, guilt, or shame that may follow in the wake of the meltdown. Your child is aware of the way he was acting during this experience. He is aware of what he broke, what he said, and who he may have hurt. It is important to remind him that you understand and that these things were not entirely within his control; they are not his fault.

SPD meltdowns are incredibly intense, and are often fairly traumatic for the child and everyone who lives with him. However, they do not have to control your family. Keep these simple strategies in mind. Help your child take control of his invironment, to reduce the frequency of his meltdowns, and give your child the love and support he needs to get through them when they do come up.

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My current issue is his anger. At the moment if the situations are not done exactly his way he has a meltdown. Symptoms are: Extreme ear piercing screaming, intense crying, to falling down on the floor saying he is going to die. I have tried to tell him to breathe but his meltdown is so intense that his body just can't listen to words. I then have asked him to go to his room to calm down. He sometimes (very rarely) throws things across the room, but does not physically hurt anyone. As I have two younger boys (ages 1 and 3) I still need to be aware of their safety. I then managed to put J___ in his room with the help of a nanny. He throws all blankets off the bed (which doesn't bother me) and then hides under them. Today I waited 10 minutes then went upstairs to talk to him, but he then started again with the extreme crying and screaming at me. It took him over an hour to calm down fully. The situation arose as the nanny and I were helping him to make muffins and the nanny put a spoonful of the mixture into the muffin tin.

I am requesting your help on ways to calm him down in a manner that is acceptable. He is getting too old to be put in the "thinking corner/naughty corner" and I am a petite person so I'm not going to physically put him there. I am finding his resistance at the moment is a lot with me and his father.

I have structures in place by visual laminated pictures of how the morning is run and the structure before bed. This works fine, but like I said when things aren't done exactly his way, he can have an outburst in a flash. Please give me some strategies on how I can better manage these meltdowns.

FYI - he was diagnosed on the border on the CARS model. I have found a qualified speech therapist who is from England which we go to once a week (but as it is summer break we don't go back to August) to assist with his pragmatic language.


Problems related to stress and anxiety are common in kids with Aspergers. In fact, this combination has been shown to be one of the most frequently observed comorbid symptoms in these chidlren. They are often triggered by or result directly from environmental stressors, such as:

• a sense of loss of control
• an inherent emotional vulnerability
• difficulty in predicting outcomes
• having to face challenging social situations with inadequate social awareness
• misperception of social events
• rigidity in moral judgment that results from a concrete sense of social justice violations.
• social problem-solving skills
• social understanding

The stress experienced by kids with ASPERGERS may manifest as withdrawal, reliance on obsessions related to circumscribed interests or unhelpful rumination of thoughts, inattention, and hyperactivity, although it may also trigger aggressive or oppositional defiant behavior, often captured by therapists as tantrums, rage, and “meltdowns”.

Educators, therapists, and moms/dads often report that kids with ASPERGERS exhibit a sudden onset of aggressive or oppositional behavior. This escalating sequence is similar to what has been described in kids with ASPERGERS, and seems to follow a three-stage cycle as described below. Although non-ASPERGERS kids may recognize and react to the potential for behavioral outbursts early in the cycle, many kids and teenagers with ASPERGERS often endure the entire cycle, unaware that they are under stress (i.e., kids with ASPERGERS do not perceive themselves as having problems of conduct, aggression, hyperactivity, withdrawal, etc.).

Because of the combination of innate stress and anxiety and the difficulty of kids with ASPERGERS to understand how they feel, it is important that those who work and live with them understand the cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns, and the interventions that can be used to promote self-calming, self-management, and self-awareness as a means of preventing or decreasing the severity of behavior problems.

The Cycle of Meltdowns

Meltdowns typically occur in three stages that can be of variable length. These stages are (1) the “acting-in” stage, (2) the “acting-out” stage, and (3) the recuperation stage.

The “Acting-In” Stage

The “acting-in” stage is the initial stage of a tantrum, rage, or meltdown. During this stage, kids and teenagers with ASPERGERS exhibit specific behavior changes that may not seem to be related directly to a meltdown. The behaviors may seem minor. That is, kids with ASPERGERS may clear their throats, lower their voices, tense their muscles, tap their foot, grimace, or otherwise indicate general discontent. Furthermore, somatic complaints also may occur during the “acting-in” stage. Kids also may engage in behaviors that are more obvious, including emotionally or physically withdrawing, or verbally or physically affecting someone else. For example, the youngster may challenge the classroom structure or authority by attempting to engage in a power struggle.

During this stage, it is imperative that a mother/father or educator intervene without becoming part of a struggle. The following interventions can be effective in stopping the cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns – and they are invaluable in that they can help the youngster regain control with minimal adult support:

1. Intervention #1 involves displaying a chart or visual schedule of expectations and events, which can provide security to kids and teenagers with ASPERGERS who typically need predictability. This technique also can be used as advance preparation for a change in routine. Informing kids of schedule changes can prevent anxiety and reduce the likelihood of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns (e.g., the youngster who is signaling frustration by tapping his foot may be directed to his schedule to make him aware that after he completes two more problems he gets to work on a topic of special interest with a peer). While running errands, moms and dads can use support from routine by alerting the youngster in the “acting-in” stage that their next stop will be at a store the youngster enjoys.

2. Intervention #2 involves helping the youngster to focus on something other than the task or activity that seems to be upsetting. One type of redirection that often works well when the source of the behavior is a lack of understanding is telling the youngster that he can “cartoon” the situation to figure out what to do. Sometimes cartooning can be postponed briefly. At other times, the youngster may need to cartoon immediately.

3. Intervention #3 involves making the Aspergers child’s school environment as stress-free as possible by providing him/her with a “home-base.”. A home-base is a place in the school where the child can “escape.” The home-base should be quiet with few visual or activity distractions, and activities should be selected carefully to ensure that they are calming rather than alerting. In school, resource rooms or counselors' offices can serve as a home-base. The structure of the room supersedes its location. At home, the home-base may be the youngster's room or an isolated area in the house. Regardless of its location, however, it is essential that the home-base is viewed as a positive environment. Home-base is not “timeout” or an escape from classroom tasks or chores. The youngster takes class work to home-base, and at home, chores are completed after a brief respite in the home-base. Home-base may be used at times other than during the “acting-in” stage (e.g., at the beginning of the day, a home base can serve to preview the day's schedule, introduce changes in the typical routine, and ensure that the youngster's materials are organized or prime for specific subjects). At other times, home-base can be used to help the youngster gain control after a meltdown.

4. Intervention #4 involves paying attention to cues from the Aspergers child. When the youngster with ASPERGERS begins to exhibit a precursor behavior (e.g., throat clearing, pacing), the educator uses a nonverbal signal to let the youngster know that she is aware of the situation (e.g., the educator can place herself in a position where eye contact with the youngster can be achieved, or an agreed-upon “secret” signal, such as tapping on a desk, may be used to alert the youngster that he is under stress). A “signal” may be followed by a stress relief strategy (e.g., squeezing a stress ball). In the home or community, moms and dads may develop a signal (i.e., a slight hand movement) that the mother/father uses with their youngster is in the “acting-in” stage.

5. Intervention #5 involves removing a youngster, in a non-punitive fashion, from the environment in which he is experiencing difficulty. At school, the youngster may be sent on an errand. At home, the youngster may be asked to retrieve an object for a mother/father. During this time the youngster has an opportunity to regain a sense of calm. When he returns, the problem has typically diminished in magnitude and the grown-up is on hand for support, if needed.

6. Intervention #6 is a strategy where the educator moves near the youngster who is engaged in the target behavior. Moms/dads and teachers move near the Aspergers youngster. Often something as simple as standing next to the youngster is calming. This can easily be accomplished without interrupting an ongoing activity (e.g., the educator who circulates through the classroom during a lesson).

7. Intervention #7 is a technique in which the mother/father or educator merely walks with the youngster without talking. Silence on the part of the grown-up is important, because a youngster with ASPERGERS in the “acting-in” stage will likely react emotionally to any adult statement, misinterpreting it or rephrasing it beyond recognition. On this walk the youngster can say whatever he wishes without fear of discipline or reprimand. In the meantime, the grown-up should be calm, show as little reaction as possible, and never be confrontational.

8. Intervention #8 is a technique that is effective when the youngster is in the midst of the “acting-in” stage because of a difficult task, and the mother/father or educator thinks that the youngster can complete the activity with support. The mother/father or educator offers a brief acknowledgement that supports the verbalizations of the youngster and helps him complete his task. For instance, when working on a math problem the youngster begins to say, “This is too hard.” Knowing the youngster can complete the problem, the educator refocuses the youngster's attention by saying, “Yes, the problem is difficult. Let's start with number one.” This brief direction and support may prevent the youngster from moving past the “acting-in” stage.

When selecting an intervention during the “acting-in” stage, it is important to know the youngster, as the wrong technique can escalate rather than deescalate a behavior problem. Further, although interventions at this stage do not require extensive time, it is advisable that grown-ups understand the events that precipitate the target behaviors so that they can (1) be ready to intervene early, or (2) teach kids and teenagers strategies to maintain behavior control during these times. Interventions at this stage are merely calming. They do not teach kids to recognize their own frustration or provide a means of handling it. Techniques to accomplish these goals are discussed later.

The “Acting-Out” Stage

If behavior is not diffused during the “acting-in” stage, the youngster or adolescent may move to the “acting-out” stage. At this point, the youngster is dis-inhibited and acts impulsively, emotionally, and sometimes explosively. These behaviors may be externalized (i.e., screaming, biting, hitting, kicking, destroying property, or self-injury) or internalized (i.e., withdrawal). Meltdowns are not purposeful, and once the “acting-out” stage begins, most often it must run its course.

During this stage, emphasis should be placed on youngster, peer, and adult safety, and protection of school, home, or personal property. The best way to cope with a tantrum, rage, or meltdown is to get the youngster to home base. As mentioned, this room is not viewed as a reward or disciplinary room, but is seen as a place where the youngster can regain self-control.

Of importance here is helping the individual with ASPERGERS regain control and preserve dignity. To that end, grown-ups should have developed plans for (1) obtaining assistance from educators, such as a crisis educator or principal, (2) removing other kids from the area, or (3) providing therapeutic restraint, if necessary.

The Recuperation Stage

Following a meltdown, the youngster with ASPERGERS has contrite feelings and often cannot fully remember what occurred during the “acting-out” stage. Some may become sullen, withdraw, or deny that inappropriate behavior occurred; others are so physically exhausted that they need to sleep.

It is imperative that interventions are implemented at a time when the youngster can accept them and in a manner the youngster can understand and accept. Otherwise, the intervention may simply resume the cycle in a more accelerated pattern, leading more quickly to the “acting-out” stage. During the recuperation stage, kids often are not ready to learn. Thus, it is important that grown-ups work with them to help them once again become a part of the routine. This is often best accomplished by directing the youth to a highly motivating task that can be easily accomplished, such as activity related to a special interest.

Preventing Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns

Kids and teenagers with ASPERGERS generally do not want to engage in meltdowns. Rather, the “acting-out” cycle is the only way they know of expressing stress, coping with problems, and a host of other emotions to which they see no other solution. Most want to learn methods to manage their behavior, including calming themselves in the face of problems and increasing self-awareness of their emotions. The best intervention for tantrums, rage, and meltdowns is prevention. Prevention occurs best as a multifaceted approach consisting of instruction in (1) strategies that increase social understanding and problem solving, (2) techniques that facilitate self-understanding, and (3) methods of self-calming.

Increasing Social Understanding and Problem Solving

Enhancement of social understanding includes providing direct assistance. Although instructional strategies are beneficial, it is almost impossible to teach all the social skills that are needed in day-to-day life. Instead, these skills often are taught in an interpretive manner after the youngster has engaged in an unsuccessful or otherwise problematic encounter. Interpretation skills are used in recognition that, no matter how well developed the skills of a person with ASPERGERS, situations will arise that he or she does not understand. As a result, someone in the person's environment must serve as a social management interpreter.

The following interpretative strategies can help turn seemingly random actions into meaningful interactions for kids with ASPERGERS:

1. Analyzing a social skills problem is a good interpretative strategy. Following a social error, the youngster who committed the error works with an adult to (1) identify the error, (2) determine who was harmed by the error, (3) decide how to correct the error, and (4) develop a plan to prevent the error from occurring again. A social skills analysis is not “punishment.” Rather, it is a supportive and constructive problem-solving strategy. The analyzing process is particularly effective in enabling the youngster to see the cause/effect relationship between her social behavior and the reactions of others in her environment. The success of the strategy lies in its structure of practice, immediate feedback, and positive reinforcement. Every grown-up with whom the youngster with ASPERGERS has regular contact, such as moms and dads, educators, and therapists, should know how to do social skills analysis fostering skill acquisition and generalization. Originally designed to be verbally based, the strategy has been modified to include a visual format to enhance child learning.

2. Visual symbols such as “cartooning” have been found to enhance the processing abilities of persons in the autism spectrum, to enhance their understanding of the environment, and to reduce tantrums, rage, and meltdowns. One type of visual support is cartooning. Used as a generic term, this technique has been implemented by speech and language pathologists for many years to enhance understanding in their clients. Cartoon figures play an integral role in several intervention techniques: pragmaticism, mind-reading, and comic strip conversations. Cartooning techniques, such as comic strip conversations, allow the youngster to analyze and understand the range of messages and meanings that are a natural part of conversation and play. Many kids with Aspergers are confused and upset by teasing or sarcasm. The speech and thought bubble as well as choice of colors can illustrate the hidden messages.


Although many kids and teenagers with ASPERGERS exhibit anxiety that may lead to challenging behaviors, stress and subsequent behaviors should be viewed as an integral part of the disorder. As such, it is important to understand the cycle of behaviors to prevent seemingly minor events from escalating. Although understanding the cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns is important, behavior changes will not occur unless the function of the behavior is understood and the youngster is provided instruction and support in using (1) strategies that increase social understanding and problem solving, (2) techniques that facilitate self-understanding, and (3) methods of self-calming.

Kids with ASPERGERS experiencing stress may react by having a tantrum, rage, or meltdown. Behaviors do not occur in isolation or randomly; they are associated most often with a reason or cause. The youngster who engages in an inappropriate behavior is attempting to communicate. Before selecting an intervention to be used during the “acting-out” cycle or to prevent the cycle from occurring, it is important to understand the function or role the target behavior plays.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns in Aspergers Children


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• Roosa, J.B. (1995). Men on the move: Competence and cooperation: Conflict resolution and beyond. Kansas City, MO: Author.
• Williams, M.W., & Shellenberger, S. (1996). How does your engine run? A leader’s guide to the Alert Program for Self-Regulation. Albuquerque, NM: Therapy Works.

An excelent article found on

The Let-Down-Meltdown Solution

Are you familiar with that term? I’m pretty sure my oldest coined it in 2006 when he started kindergarten. He would arrive home, off the bus, and the moment he was in the house - all bets were off. Crying, yelling, starving, and crazy, he would be a Tasmanian Devil running ramped through our house, on top of furniture, fighting with his brothers, and otherwise just losing his proverbial mind. That is the let-down-meltdown.

It is the product of ‘holding it together’ all day at school. It is a side effect of not having - and following - a sensory diet during the day. His body needs more than it is getting, and instead of having his teacher recognize it, he gets ‘Wow, you’re doing great!’ and hence, he is forced to continue to hold it together. Sound familiar?

I found this to be one of the most difficult things to explain to my boys’ teachers and schools over the years. Just because they are holding it together, doesn’t mean they’re OK. They need help. They need consistent sensory input to keep them calm and organized during the day. Hence, a full sensory diet that acknowledges each sensory challenge they are faced with, and builds in the right breaks, input and other accommodations they need so that their little bodies aren’t on overload for 6 hours straight - with no release to count on until it is too late. Enter the let-down-meltdown at 3:26pm when they walk through the door.

I have detailed my son Gabriel’s sensory diet from when he was in first grade, you can find it here on the SPD Blogger Network, and I encourage you to check it out if your child is struggling to get through the day (and what kiddo isn’t this time of year?!). But for the purpose of this post, let’s talk about what you can do when you get the let-down-kid home.

When this started happening for my oldest son Gabriel, the first person I consulted was his occupational therapist (followed very closely by the SPD Parent Connections group here in my home state of Washington - nothing beats parent to parent resource sharing). Our amazing OT helped me recognize what was going on with Gabriel, and through careful observation from me; we detailed a plan of attack to combat the let-down-meltdown when Gabriel arrived home. This isn’t to say we didn’t address the core sensory diet issue at school, but sometimes you have to work with what you can control - and I can control his at home environment much easier than the school environment!

The very first thing we did to help combat the let-down-meltdown was to make sure that Gabe came into a calm house - no other kids, no TV, no extra sounds that would be over the top until he could get settled in. Once his stuff was put away, we went directly for the weighed compression vest. I wrapped it tightly around him, loaded it with weights, and sat him at the kitchen table for a snack and a show. The vest would stay on for 20 minutes, roughly the length of a Backyardigains episode, and while it provided the necessary calming input, Gabe needed to eat - and eat immediately.

From an early age, Gabriel has needed to eat more often than most kids, not specifically more food, but more often. Gabe’s afternoon meltdowns were fueled by hunger that he couldn’t articulate or get addressed at school - a part of SPD that isn’t often talked about, but the sense of Interoception makes it harder for our kids to feel these things until it is quite literally too late. But with the need to eat, comes an opportunity for sensory input. The jaw has large and strong muscles, so giving Gabriel a snack that took advantage of that, like crunchy granola bars and a yogurt through a straw, was an ideal way to provide some additional proprioceptive input - exactly what Gabe needs to calm and organize.

Once we were done with the show, and the snack, Gabe was usually able to function and hopefully we had fended off the majority of the let-down-meltdown. He wasn’t a ‘let’s go to a birthday party’ version of calm, but functional. On days that he still needed something more after we took his vest off, we would do bean tub play, or swinging in the backyard, or maybe a bath. We call those ‘relaxing bathes’ because you aren’t forced to wash anything, you just get to play. He still takes those even at 10.

I want to mention here that for at least the first half of kindergarten, we not only followed this routine to the letter every single day (nothing beats a visual schedule and a routine!), but we used the compression vest per our occupational therapist’s suggestion for 20 minutes EVERY HOUR until bedtime. As the year went on, we moved to using his weighted blanket as well, which is an incredible therapeutic tool, and is terribly underutilized by most families (check here for ideas on how to use the blanket for things other than sleeping).

Every child is different, and the solution to their let-down-meltdown will have to be customized to them, so as always, don’t start implementing therapy tools at your house without consulting your child’s therapist. You knew that, right?

So here’s to the start of school; may all of your kiddos come home calm and organized!.

 Another great article found on

My Kid's Melting Down! 6 Ideas To Help.

It really shouldn't be this hard. All I want to do is take the dog for a walk and have some quality time with my daughter. Five minutes into it, she's crying because her sock is slouched into her shoe. Then she's yelling because sweat's tickling her forehead. And because we're walking too fast, and she's about to die of thirst, and _____ (fill in the blank).

Suddenly my amnesia lifts and I remember that it's often like this with her.

Being a compulsive optimist, I ignored this fact and invited her anyway. Being a mom who's been known not to hit the restroom for most of a day managing life with 4 kids, I don't understand getting overwhelmed by the little stuff. So I find myself asking the question I ask 5.1 minutes in to every walk with my daughter: Why do I invite her?? How can we make this work for my sensitive kid?

Keep the main thing the main thing.
It's easy to get embroiled in the 1001 issues a sensitive child has with any activity, but the point of the activity is what keeps us going. What is it you want from that time? What needs to happen?
When the goal is clear, the frustrations get diluted.
For me in the dog-walking case, it's 1) get my kid and my dog (and, bonus, myself) some exercise, 2) have time one-on-one with my daughter away from the other kids.

Feed what you want to grow.
If we respond to a meltdown with big feelings and attention, we add to the overwhelm and encourage more of the same. But if we put our energy into recognizing positive words and behaviors, more of those will come. Yes, it's tiring to actively seek the 1 positive moment amidst the barrage of negative ones... but which would you rather: feeling resentful of their negative behavior or feeling more positive as you focus on the good stuff? Happy people live longer, so I vote to focus on the positive.

Be you.
Your child may be melting down, but you are still you. You're still fun, energetic, spunky, creative and loving. You're the parent who wants their child to enjoy time alone with you, to stay healthy with enough exercise, and to learn to delay gratification so that one day she'll be able to pass her college classes, hold a job, and keep her marriage going in the tough seasons.
You're up to the challenge you face with your child, so relax into that.

Give the behaviors another job.
Redirect the child's sensitivity to something you know they like - a color, smell, feeling, memory, song, poem, rhyme or word game they like. Singing is my personal favorite, mostly because it keeps me calm as I breath regularly to belt out each verse. Any way you can help them get their mind on something calming is a great adaptive coping skill - for them and you!

Magnify the behavior.
If distraction doesn't work, shine a floodlight on the behavior. Overreact. Throw your own tantrum right back. Make a big enough stink, and your absurd behavior will do two things: 1) stop your child in their tracks as they wonder how nuts their mom is, and 2) make you both laugh. Which reminds me...

Smile and laugh.
Did you know that smiling relieves stress in your face and neck, and changes your body's chemistry? Or that laughter releases "happy" hormones - endorphins - that create a sense of well being? It's why people instinctively laugh when they're uncomfortable (or even in a grief-filled moment like a funeral). Just like having your own tantrum, laughing in the middle of your kid's meltdown can turn the whole mood around.

  How do we deal with meltdowns?

Although this must be one of the most frequently asked questions, the answer isn’t all that straight-forward. It can be rather complex.

A meltdown is an Asperger child’s (and sometimes an adult’s) way of expressing his inability to communicate his exteme displeasure with a set of circumstances that he perceives are beyond his control and is therefore unable to to change.

Firstly though, it might be useful to distinguish between a sensory meltdown and a behaviour meltdown as the strategies to resolve them can be quite different.

For example, Johnnie arrives at school to find he has a relief teacher for the day and to top it all, his desk has been moved. These unscheduled changes that he wasn’t pre-warned about, might cause a behaviour meltdown due to heightened anxiety. The solution to this situation might include showing Johnnie a visual that his teacher is away and then moving his desk back into place. It is important for his regular teacher to understand Johnnie’s condition so she knows she needs to manage him differently and advise him about impending changes to his routine.

The second situation is where Johnnie arrives at school quite happy, but on entering the classroom he finds a rowdy group of kids playing really loud music that he finds painful to his hearing system. He covers his ears, screams and runs out of the room. This is a sensory meltdown. As a parent you would have learnt what sensory sensitivities your child is likely to have. This could be any one or more of the five senses and most often sensitivities involve more than just one sense, making it sometimes difficult to pinpoint which one actually triggered the meltdown. The strategy would be to establish what your child is sensitive to and arrange to remove these triggers from his environment at all times.

As difficult as it might be, try not to interfere once a meltdown has started. Let it run its course and only intervene after the child has calmed down. Intervention should only be considered if the child is likely to cause physical harm either to himself or others or if there is likely to be damage to property. Interfering will otherwise just add fuel to the fire, because his already overloaded sensory system simply cannot cope with more input.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but stop yourself from reprimanding the child during or after the meltdown. Discuss it in a calm and understanding manner if you like and try not to scold him because this isn’t a spoilt brat temper tantrum from a child who can’t get his way – he genuinely can’t help it. Reprimanding the child is more likely to result in a breakdown in the trust relationship between you and your child. He needs to know that he can always confide in you, otherwise you’re less likely to find out what the real cause of the neltdown was. Without pinpointing the cause, you’re going to have difficulty knowing what you need to do to help. Strange as it may seem, the child is just as keen as you to put an end to his meltdowns, but he simply doesn’t know how to. He needs your help, not a tongue-lashing.

General tips in managing meltdowns:

Identify events that trigger meltdowns and prevent these triggers from escalting into an explosion by removing the child from the cause or the cause from the child.

A strong and positive relationship between you and your child’s teacher is imperative. Even if there are no meltdowns at school, many children bottle up triggers in class, only to explode when they get home. An understanding and accommodating teacher can help to prevent this by eliminating sensory triggers in the classroom environment and adapting her style of teaching according to the child’s needs.

Work on improving the child’s communication skills so he is better able to express himself. Once he is able to express himself sufficiently, you’ll know what’s required to assist him meet his needs. Aspergers learn by intellect, not intuition. This means they need to be taught things that others pick up intuitively, including the need to communicate their dissatisfaction and frustration with their environment. Many Asperger children who are quite verbal might experience a limited depth of vocabulary, while others simply don’t understand the meaning of words they can read quite fluently. These children need one-on-one help.

Create a physical environment to help learning, reduce distraction and avoid confusion.

Most Aspergers have some form of gut abnormality, the most common being either constipation or excessive wind. Although this added discomfort is unlikely to cause a meltdown, it most certainly can aggravate it. Have it checked out and seek professional advice on how to help the child overcome these problems. A fully functional digestive system equals a happier and healthier child with fewer and less violent meltdowns.

 Tantrum VS Meltdown
Ages 1-5 years

"want" directed
Goal Control driven
Audience to perform
Checks engagement
Protective mechanisms
Resolves if goal is accomplished

Reactive Mechanisms
Continues without attention
Safety may be comprimised
Not goal dependant
May require assistance to gain control