Meltdowns – Part 2 – what to do when someone else is having a meltdown

emotionsMeltdowns are often triggered by the action of another person.  This might appear to be a small inconsequential action, but it can still have a serious effect.  Often meltdowns become worse because the people who are around simply don’t know how to deal with them. When an autistic person is having a meltdown they lose the ability to think clearly, and make accurate judgments about a situation and how they should react to it.  This makes it all the more important for whoever is with them at the time to behave in an appropriate way.

The most important thing is to understand is that the person with autism is not behaving in a sensible way; they have not made a conscious choice to shout, or hit, or whatever else they may be doing.  Because they have not made that conscious choice they cannot consciously decide to stop having a meltdown. Therefore shouting at them, or trying to debate reasonably with them will probably not work.  A meltdown is not a temper tantrum, and should not be thought of in such a casual way, but in a way it is best dealt with in the same manner; left alone for long enough it will burn itself out.  This might not be an ideal solution, and if an individual’s meltdowns are presenting a physical danger to themselves or other people, then it may be a good idea to seek professional help.

If most people with autism were capable of conscious choice in the moment of a meltdown they would choose not to have one.  As soon as they regain that ability they revert back to their normal selves.  It is also worth noting that getting in to an argument with somebody who is in the middle of a meltdown is pointless.  It may seem like backing down, and letting them get away with things, but just remember, however important a point is, somebody in the middle of a meltdown is not in the right frame of mind to hear it.  If they are spoken to when they are calm they will be much more receptive.  It is important for the person/people around the autistic person to remain calm during a meltdown.

Sometimes signs can be useful, for example one that says `calm down`.  These can be shown to the autistic person when they look, or feel as they are in danger of having a meltdown.  There is no point telling someone in the throes of a meltdown to `calm down`.  It might seem strange that these signs can work when talking doesn’t, but often because these are simple and get right to the point, they do work. It might not work if the meltdown is already taking place, but as long as they are shown fairly early on, then they tend to be effective.  It is important though that the design of the sign is planned with the person who has autism, and that the sign is something they feel happy about using.  An agreement about when to show the sign would need to be made beforehand.

Meltdowns will probably always be problematic for many people with autism; some people have huge meltdowns multiple times a day, while others have smaller ones a few times a year.  But whatever the magnitude and frequency of meltdowns, they are still going to be very hard to deal with.  Preventing them is always the ideal way, but it is extremely hard to do as often even the person with autism won`t be able to see them coming.  If it is not possible to prevent a meltdown then using techniques such as the ones in this article can help make the situation easier for everybody involved.

For techniques in helping children to cope better with their meltdowns Paddy-Joe Moran’s book can be purchased here:   
Kindle Edition:



  1. wendy October 10, 2014
  2. Valerie October 12, 2014
  3. Tragic Sandwich October 12, 2014
  4. Janie October 13, 2014