Your autistic child is screaming, and it seems as though there is no longer any hope. It’s possible that your child has given up hope as well. It is not the same thing to calm a screaming child who does not have autism as it is to calm a screaming child who does have autism, especially if the autistic child has a history of aggression. The following are the steps that need to be taken to calm a child with autism who is screaming.
Autistic tantrums and meltdowns
When you are in a public place, your anxiety may be giving you information about the number of people who are observing you and passing judgment on you. This does not reflect well on you as a parent, but speaks volumes about the child. You are not a failure simply because you are making the most of the resources you have available to you. If you are at home, maintain your composure and think about ways that you can support your child as they work through this challenge.
5 steps in how to calm your autistic child
Focus on your child
If you are in a public place and your autistic child begins to scream or make high-pitched squealing noises, your first instinct may be to look around to see how other people are responding. There is no correlation between how your autistic child is behaving and how well you are parenting. How other people respond to you or evaluate you in this moment reveals everything there is to know about those other people. Taking a moment to quickly determine whether or not this is a meltdown as opposed to a tantrum is the single most helpful thing you can do at this very moment.
- Tantrum vs meltdown
A child with autism is more likely to have a tantrum right after an interaction in which the child does not get what they want.
A meltdown in a person with autism can appear out of nowhere and follow signs of overload and excessive stimming. Meltdowns are also possible when a person’s routine is altered too abruptly or when a promise is broken.
If the interaction is a change in the autistic child’s routine or if the child screams after discovering that something they were looking forward to will not happen, this is a meltdown because every sensory aspect is pressing down on their shoulders like a pile of bricks. It causes both physical and psychological discomfort.
Serve as a safe space for your child
It is impossible to prevent meltdowns, but as soon as the autistic person is given the space and freedom to let them happen, they end very quickly. Your autistic child who is screaming and having a meltdown during this time has no emotional control, and all they can do is feel it.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to provide a secure environment for your children. Instead of being the person they’re afraid to go through this with, be the person who they can be the most authentic version of themselves with. Because it is so humiliating, autistic people never want anyone else to see this side of their condition, which is why autistic people have it.
Whether you are at home or out in public, try to locate or make a space that does not have as many distracting sensory elements as you can. This will help both you and your child. Your response to your autistic child in this moment should be as if the two of you are the only people in the world. This will be the most amazing and memorable thing you can do for your child at this time.
If you find yourself in the middle of the supermarket, look for the restrooms, the fitting rooms, or a secluded corner of the store.
Meltdowns thrive on the attention of other people, while the stares of strangers only serve to fuel them further. A screaming tantrum can quickly escalate into a screaming meltdown when the child has autism.
You can use the sensory items that your autistic child enjoys as a distraction to get them to stop screaming if you carry them with you at all times. Under no circumstances should you outfit an autistic child with noise-cancelling headphones or a weighted jacket without first obtaining their consent. Your autistic child may scream more as a result of this because it is the sensory input that is the exact opposite of what they require.
You should only attempt to physically redirect your autistic child’s screaming by holding their hand or picking them up if doing so will not put you in danger. Clarify and slow down your explanations as you go through each step with them.
- I not only see you, but I also hear you. Your feelings are valid. Let’s go someplace where we won’t be seen.
- I’m going to pick you up, take a hold of your hand, or put my arm on the shoulder of the person you are with.
- Would you mind if I put those headphones on you that cancel out noise?
If your autistic child began screaming while holding an object, or if there is an object that started the screaming, you should only take it with you in order to temporarily calm your autistic child down.
Keep your cool and move on to the next step even if your child completely resists moving in any way.
Calm your raging child down
No matter what is causing your autistic child’s screaming behavior, telling them to “calm down” is not going to help them in any way.
Try to distract an autistic child who is screaming by using grounding techniques, such as asking them questions. This should help calm the child down.
- Hey, can you tell me what that is on your shirt? That is totally awesome.
- Have you ever tried to make a face like an elephant?
- What color are the shoes that you’re wearing?
Your autistic child will need to be forced to be aware of their surroundings if you want to play the game “I SPY,” which can help to distract them from their repetitive screaming. Ask them to name three different colors and three different things.
When autistic adults need to keep their eyes closed during meltdowns, one activity they may do is to name one color, one scent, and one sound — on repeat — until they are calm enough to get themselves to a place where they can continue the meltdown safely, out of the public eye. This can help them remain calm long enough to get themselves to a location where they can continue the meltdown in private.
Appropriately deal with the situation
Different strategies should be used to address tantrums and meltdowns in autistic individuals.
Tantrums in people who are not autistic are not the same as tantrums in people who are autistic because emotions are more difficult to understand. Despite the fact that their actions will serve as a clear illustration for them, autistic children who are affected by alexithymia will not be able to comprehend what their feelings are.
Teach them an appropriate way to work through their feelings rather than assuring them that you understand how they are feeling and empathizing with them. Your autistic child’s brain doesn’t understand why it’s important to follow social norms, even if those norms say that it’s inappropriate to start screaming in a store.
Many autistic children do not respond well to traditional methods of discipline. In point of fact, the fact that they won’t be able to have a toy that caters to their particular interest counts as a punishment that is more severe than being sent to their room for a whole month.
You can help your autistic children avoid tantrums by teaching them how to feel their feelings and work through their emotions, rather than trying to push their feelings away.
After they have calmed down, you should explain the situation if they had an item that they cannot keep. If you are unable to persuade them with logic, it would be kind of you to hand it over to a sales associate so that they can handle it. In this way, you are exonerated while they are cast in the role of the antagonist.
Meltdowns in people with autism can last for as little as one minute or as long as several weeks. When meltdowns involving autistic children are allowed to run their course, the crisis is quickly resolved. Burnout is a potential issue for people with autism if the meltdowns keep occurring regularly.
Your autistic child has the ability to teach you how to recognize the signs that he or she is about to have a meltdown in public by teaching you how to communicate with them.
Instead of punishing your child’s meltdowns, which are a normal part of autism, create a safe space in your home where they can ride out their meltdowns without judgment. This will allow your child to function better. When an autistic person is having a meltdown, they literally cannot stop it from happening because they have lost all control over themselves and their emotions.
It is one thing to deal with a screaming child, but it is something entirely different to deal with a screaming autistic child who requires additional care and preparation. Remember to keep your composure so that you won’t accidentally create a traumatic experience for the both of you. Ignore onlookers as if your autistic child’s wailing were the only sound in the world and pretend like you and your child were the only people in the room. After that, proceed with the steps involved in defusing the situation.