There are many reasons as to why a child with autism can become emotional or dysregulated. Overstimulation, changes in routine, a demand that is beyond their ability, etc. Determining the cause is the most important factor; however, there are times when a child experiences a meltdown and the adults must react and guide the situation. The following steps can be taken when a child becomes dysregulated.
Keep directions short and simple. This is not the time to be reasoning with the child. If the child is overstimulated to start, talking will increase the stimulation. Instead, if the adult needs to talk to the child, use simple, short directions. Ensure the directions clearly state what is expected from the child (e.g., what behaviour is appropriate and what the child should do). A visual can also be used to decrease the verbal information relayed. If possible, create a quiet and relaxing environment.
Diversions can be used to take the focus away from the situation. Redirecting can often result in the child focusing on something else and calm down.
Modify expectations as necessary. If a particular demand is producing consistent dysregulation, adjust the expectations to meet the individuality of the child.
Notice nonverbal behaviour. Pay attention to the communication that occurs non-verbally. If the child typically rocks back and forth before they display meltdown behaviours, notice when this occurs.
Don’t expect an explanation until the child is regulated. For some children, this may be the next day before they can verbally discuss what happened. Focus on the calm down routine and discuss later. Some children may not have the verbal or communication abilities to talk about what happened.
Teach the child an effective calm down routine. This can consist of deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery, etc. Teach the child a calm down routine that works for them. Do this a couple of times per day when the child is calm and regulated. Do not expect the child to immediately use the routine. They may require reminders when they become upset.
Stay calm yourself! Stay calm and remove the child from the environment and wait it out. Becoming escalated will only increase the child’s anxiety.