How to React to an ASD Meltdown

Why is it that a conversation with someone on the Autism Spectrum can go from just a little confusing to fraught with stress? Many Neuro-Typicals are stunned that the simplest conversation goes into a “black hole.” You can’t predict how they’ll react. Whether your Aspie” rants, and melts down into a rage or torrent of tears, or gives you that blank look and walks away, you feel rejected and confused and hurt.

Unfortunately, meltdowns usually have to run their course. These tantrums are usually happening because your ASD child or partner feels extremely strong emotions and reacts just as extremely.

What can you do when confronted with a meltdown in public?

Screaming will only escalate the situation 

As a mother of two children, one of them on the Spectrum, I can tell you that I’ve been there. Your first reaction, especially if the meltdown is happening in public, will be to raise your voice and get stressed. While you need to be firm when you say “No,” telling your child to shut up on an angry tone won’t make the situation go away. I’m sure by now you notice this too. Instead, try to be calm. You are in control of your feelings and actions and you are a role model for your child as well.


Focus on finding solutions

This might not be an option every single time, but when possible instead of focusing on the negative and on the problem, try to find a solution. It’s easy to get pulled into this screaming world and have a contest with the loudest reactions. Put out the fire by thinking of a positive way to get out of the situation and come up with an alternative solution. You are in charge, not your child.

I’ve written a blog post specifically about avoiding ASD meltdowns during your holiday and you can read it here. I’m giving you 10 tips to help your Aspie” cope with holiday stress, whenever it’s about travelling abroad or your Christmas holiday. With their normal routine disrupted, it’s important to prepare them well in advance to minimize their anxiety and potential meltdowns.


Divert their attention 

Our Aspie” loved ones want to help, so ask for their help. Give them space to manifest self control and then try to distract them from their problem with specific tasks. If you are in a restaurant, ask for help coloring. If you are on a bus, try to count all the red cars that pass by. 

Instead of shutting them up, enlist their help and give them a chance to be helpful and reduce their anxiety with specific jobs. Don’t forget to praise them for a job well done.


Also, be sure to read a free chapter of “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie” behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement (ROE)that help your Aspie” give you the emotional support that you need.

I filmed a video for you, so you can understand what you will get from reading the book and what lessons you can expect to learn.

11 Replies to “How to React to an ASD Meltdown”

  1. This is all good and so true. It’s another dimension, as you know, when the Aspie is your husband or partner and the meltdown is directed at you. It is so multi-layered and my scars have lasted for years. Detach in the immediate as I may do it’s hard to psychologically detach. Thx!

    1. I hear you. I’ve heard things come out of my husbands mouth that I didn’t even know people say – I feel nothing for you, I feel nothing for the kids, I should die, you should have known I’m a piece of sh*t, I’m waiting to die etc etc etc. Hard to recover esp as partner kinda forgets what he said and also seems to be ok w it later when all is back to normal.

      1. Without empathy, “Aspies” can say very hurtful things, and never ask themselves how this might affect their loved ones.

  2. What to do if an adult aspie roommate continually plays the bully? If egocentrism, narcissism, power and control, and bullying are his signature traits?

      1. Kathy, am embarrassed to admit I am not trying to help him, but rather just survive him!

        His attacks are devastating.

        In his youth, he used to beat and rob people on the streets. He is no longer physically abusive but he can still, at times, put that same violent rage to work in the emotional sphere.

        1. As I have said many times, NEVER put up with abuse. You cannot win when someone with ASD has turned to the dark side. It is also possible that the diagnosis is off. Are you sure he’s not antisocial personality disorder?

  3. How is an asp diagnosis made?
    Is childhood autism required to make adult diagnosis of asp/ HFA or pathological demand ?

    1. Good question because a diagnosis is quite time consuming. The diagnosis does not have to be made in childhood to still be determined in adulthood. However the evaluator does want to learn as much of the individual’s history as possible. For example, public school records helps me track patterns of autism, even before the diagnosis was considered. One very important piece of vital information is to hear from a spouse or other adult, who daily sees the subtleties of high functioning ASD. There are psychologists who specialize in diagnosis, while others specialize in treatment. As you can imagine, it is a complex field.

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