What Nobody Ever Tells Us About Meltdowns

This blog post was originally published on saiconnections blog. You can read the original article here. 

“I don’t know what sets him off. He suddenly gets into meltdowns and attacks his father and me,” a mother says to me. “At that time, he’s as strong as an elephant. It’s painful and emotionally draining. And once it’s over, he’s fine. As if nothing happened.”

“The calm ‘after’ the storm,” I think to myself. 

“He’s already 18. What will happen as he grows older? Who will take care of him,” she breaks down.

I feel a familiar heavy feeling in my heart, as I reach out to comfort her.

Meltdowns, tragically, are common in the world of autism spectrum disorder. Yet, not many people address them.

A meltdown is like an iceberg. We see is the tip, but don’t understand the depth. Nor do we understand what people who experience it go through.
 autism meltdown is like the tip of the iceberg

Let me get one big chunk of fallacy out of the way!

My dear parent, you are not to blame. You did not cause this. You are not a ‘bad parent’.

It’s not your child’s fault either. He is not ‘deliberately’ doing this to mess with you or manipulate you. He’s not being a badly behaved brat.

Related: When “NO!” Means “I am Scared or Overwhelmed”

By the time he experiences a meltdown, things have spiraled out of control for him.

Meltdowns can happen for myriad reasons.

Why autism meltdowns occur and strategies to calm autism tantrums

source: Ellen Notbohm

Let me share an experience close to my heart.

Vishal, one of my students, is a 20-year-old talented ‘Master Chef’. True to his calling, he cooks tasty Indian curries and snacks. Viji, his mother, jokingly says that his dishes turn out perfect. Way better than hers!

However, between 2010 and 2013, he developed huge behavioral issues. He would have a meltdown at the drop of a hat and could erupt anywhere. They used public transport to get to school. Viji was stressed and always on tenterhooks.

So much talent, so many skills- but the meltdowns robbed the family of its joy.

We tried several strategies – with little success.

Finally 2 years ago, Viji enrolled for the Family Consultation Program. Within 6 months we saw a radical change in Vishal.

Related: Slowing Down to Speed Up

When people experience uncertainty, they resort to fight or flight. This response is especially heightened among children with autism. We want them to experience the uncertainty but not become overly anxious. The idea is to feel it and yet not be overwhelmed by it.

Practicing this through a variety of activities helps us build resilience. It helps them regulate 

Let me repeat this – Regulation is the key. Over time, meltdowns reduce. I say this with conviction because I have seen it work with my students. The activity is not important. Thinking, decision making, being able to take changes is.

You can choose from a list of activities to help them with regulation.

Follow this roadmap to guide yourself through overcoming the challenges your child faces, which could lead to meltdowns.

1. Take data on the meltdowns to understand why they happen.

2. Work on your child’s communication to ensure that he is able to express himself.

3. Ensure that your child gets 45 minutes of strenuous physical activity every day. Don’t compromise on this!

4. Pick any one of the suggested frameworks and build these up. Work on these for 15 minutes every day.

5. Do this for 1 month and note down the positive changes that you witness.

Do share the results with me. I am keen on hearing from you.

5 years ago, Mohit had a severe meltdown in the car. We were stuck in a traffic jam. The driver couldn’t pull over. We couldn’t get out of the car. For those 20 minutes, he was unbelievably strong. I was badly shaken when I reached home. So were Tanya and Anil.

Dr Rashid Merchant, a family friend, dropped in. He patiently heard me out.

And then he said something which I needed to hear: “Why are you moping around? You’re a fighter. So is Mohit. You’ve been through so much together. He’s back to normal now. Time for you to follow suit.” That pulled me out of my despairing mood!

I say the same thing to you.

Life is tough. But you’ve got to be courageous.

emotional meltdown quotes

Yes, get up and fight for your dreams. For your child’s dreams… Fight, because your child is trying to tell you that he needs you more than you know.

Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center).


  1. S.veera

    Whenever my daughter feels defeated she is having meltdowns. She is 8 years old. She has aspie symptoms. Whenever things go the other way she thinks she feels defeated. Clinging to routines and one peer at school. I dont know what to do.

  2. Ruth Phillips

    It’s very useful to have this idea of a structured framework to work with. H
    Interesting to see the relationship that has developed between this mother and son and the skills that he has acquired, probably helped greatly by a structured approach which over time has yielded such positive results.

  3. Catina

    Thank you for posting. My son is 18 and when he hit puberty, he started having violent and aggressive meltdowns. If it weren’t for the guidance of our RDI consultants and the regulatory strategies we use, I don’t know what we’d do. We’ve learned so much these last five years about what we can do to proactively prevent a meltdown when we sense instability in our son. We’ve also come to accept that sometimes, no matter what, a meltdown will occur. However, they have dropped by at least 90 percent and we couldn’t be more grateful.

  4. Ritu

    Hi Kamini,
    Really good videos. This is the same problem I go through with my daughter. When she has meltdown. It is very hard to know at the moment.

  5. Mohamad

    New way of thinking

  6. junka

    thank you thank you thank you thank you.

  7. Your Child's Potential with Autism | RDIconnect

    […] Vishal had acquired all his language skills quickly. He plateaued after a couple of years and had severe aggressive bouts. We couldn’t ascertain what triggered him. We had the best behavior plans in place, but to no […]

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