5 Things to Note About Autistic Meltdowns

5 Things to Note About Autistic Meltdowns

A meltdown occurs when someone responds strongly to stressful circumstances.

It's when a person fully loses control of their behavior because they're too stressed out to think straight.

This lack of self-control can be voiced (through shouting, screaming, or crying) or acted upon (by kicking, lashing out, or biting).

However, with therapy and the right support for autism, it can be much easier to manage these meltdowns.

Various things can cause meltdowns.

This includes long-term stress and emotional and informational overload.

With the long-term stressors of sensory overload and social challenges, as well as the regular stresses of daily life, meltdowns are likely to occur.

Another thing to note about autistic meltdowns is that meltdowns are different from tantrums.

Below are more details about things to note about autistic meltdowns.

Autism Therapists in Colorado

Marie Whatley LPCC

Marie Whatley LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Jessica Gutierrez-Gaytan, SWC

Jessica Gutierrez-Gaytan, SWC

(719) 345-2424
Susan Taylor, LPCC

Susan Taylor, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Kristen Yamaoka-Los, LPC

Kristen Yamaoka-Los, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC

(719) 345-2424
Melissa Johnston, LPC

Melissa Johnston, LPC

(720) 449-4121
Heather Comensky, LPC

Heather Comensky, LPC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Meghan Purcell, LPCC

Meghan Purcell, LPCC

Pueblo, Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Sarah Lawler, LPC

Sarah Lawler, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 203-7021

Tantrums are Different From Meltdowns 

To better comprehend a meltdown, it helps to distinguish between a regular tantrum in a child and a meltdown in an autistic person.

Children have temper tantrums for specific reasons, such as seeking attention or trying to exert influence over others.

Even if the child is physically abusing others, yelling loudly, or smashing objects, the child is still in control of the situation.

During an autistic meltdown, a person may appear to be throwing a tantrum because they are screaming, attacking others, injuring themselves, and breaking items.

However, that is not the case.

Individuals with autism often lose all sense of self-control during a meltdown, and it is impossible to simply "switch off" such a crisis.

It is also important to note that meltdowns in the autistic spectrum do not only affect autistic children.

Meltdowns are surprisingly common among people of all ages with autism, including those with high levels of functioning.

Different Things Cause Meltdowns 

One thing to note about autistic meltdowns is that they are not uncommon to have meltdowns when their senses are overstimulated.

Due to sensory processing difficulties, people on the autism spectrum are more vulnerable to sensory overload, anxiety, and meltdowns when their senses are overstimulated.

Meltdowns are a common side effect of experiencing information overload.

Also, when autistic people are bombarded with too much information, it can cause a meltdown.

An information overload comes from too many demands or directions or a language beyond their comprehension; they may get overwhelmed and confused.

Some kids could experience stress, anxiety, and even physical pain due to this.

Meltdowns can happen when people feel too much.

When an autistic person has trouble putting their feelings into words, it's usually hard for them to understand how they feel.

Autistic people may find it hard to ask for help when they are anxious. 

Meltdowns Can Cause a Lot of Stimming 

Rumblings can lead to "stims" (self-stimulatory activities like rocking, pacing, or finger flicking) or other indicators of worry.

Stims are self-calming techniques that autistic persons employ to regulate anxiety or sensory input.

If you witness an autistic person rocking back and forth or pacing, they are likely stressed (or, alternately, feeling excited).

It is important to note that a transition from usual stimming to aggressive conduct is a telltale symptom of difficulties with self-regulation in autistic children.

It may look like a meltdown, but violent outbursts often involve stims that aren't good for the person's health (towards self and others).

Stimming is normal and beneficial for children, but it needs to be stopped when it becomes aggressive or dangerous.

Signs of Distress Precede Meltdowns 

Autistic meltdowns typically begin with "rumblings," or warning signals, where people show signals of anxiety.

Rumblings are visible symptoms of distress that can be overt or subtle.

Rumblings may begin with vocal requests or with visible symptoms of anxiety, such as hands over the ears.

People who are anxious could pace, ask the same questions over and over, rock back and forth, or become quite still.

Other symptoms include a lack of self-control, an expression of panic, and an inability to make sense of their surroundings.

However, if you notice these warning signs in time, it is still possible to prevent them.

Distraction, diversion, helping the person employ soothing tactics like fidget toys or music, avoiding potential triggers, and maintaining your composure are all good options.

To prevent a meltdown, it's helpful to be aware of the factors that tend to set them off.

Changes to Routine Can Cause Meltdowns 

Autistic people really require things to be consistent.

They may exhibit extreme distress if their routine is abruptly altered or otherwise disrupted.

Experiencing abrupt changes can trigger anxiety, stress, and emotional breakdowns.

Negative reactions can be the result of a delayed reaction to something that happened earlier in the day or even days because of the way people with autism absorb information.

Screaming, tantrums, pushing, and even physical violence could be manifestations of negative reactions.

On occasion, the person will be unable to be consoled.

Increased tension, worry, and anxiety stem from deviations from a person's usual routine, which might lead to such strong responses.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder are highly sensitive to changes in routine, even minor ones.

Another thing to note about autistic meltdowns is that for a person to successfully adapt to change, they need concrete strategies to use as guides.


Having a meltdown can be exhausting for the person having one.

Take into account an autistic person's sensitivity to sensory input and give them time to regroup as needed.

Give them the support for autism they need.

Allow them time and space to calm down at their own speed if they are having a meltdown.

Five things to note about autistic meltdowns are that tantrums are different from meltdowns, different things cause meltdowns, meltdowns can cause a lot of stimming, signs of distress precede meltdowns, and changes in routine can lead to meltdowns.


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May 25th, 2024

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