De-Escalation Strategies: Calming Strategies for Autism Meltdowns

Sometimes, when autistic children become extremely overwhelmed or they’re experiencing sensory overload, they have a meltdown where they lose control over their behaviors.

These situations are stressful for everyone involved and potentially dangerous for both bystanders and your child. Knowing some de-escalation strategies will help you avoid a potential crisis.

Understanding The Escalation Cycle


Although it might be nearly impossible to foresee a meltdown, it is important to understand the different stages of it. 

During a meltdown, the brain enters survival mode. It shuts down the thinking part of the brain and simply reacts to a threat (whether perceived or real).

This is a primal survival instinct, known as fight or flight. When faced with true danger, if the thinking part of our brain was functioning we’d hesitate and/or try to use logic and it could cost us our lives.

This is why we highly encourage parents not to try to “reason” with the child at this state because the child will not listen to them. On the other hand, we always advise parents to focus their efforts on remaining calm, and protecting the child from getting harmed. 

De-Escalation Strategies

In an ideal world, we should aim to prevent meltdowns, however, sometimes it is nearly impossible since many situations that you face on a daily basis are unexpected.

Although some of these techniques may seem more like “what not to do”, sometimes our own responses and emotions do make things worse.

1. Do not try to reason with them

When your child is having a meltdown, the logical part of their brain (the prefrontal cortex) isn’t working, so it is better to wait until the peak moment has passed. 

2. Avoid making demands

Sometimes too many demands can actually cause the meltdown in the first place. But regardless of the cause, avoid making more demands during dysregulated situations.

Telling your child repeatedly to “stop” or “calm down” or “snap out of it” isn’t going to make them stop or calm down or snap out of it. It doesn’t matter how nicely, or assertively, you ask.

3. Do not yell to be heard over your screaming child

Yelling makes you appear threatening and will not help de-escalate a meltdown.

4. Validate their feelings, but not their actions

Everybody has the right to feel a certain way about any given situation. One thing you never want to do is shame your child for how they’re feeling. The following emotional coaching chart can help during the de-escalation moment. 



5. Respect personal space

Everyone’s personal “bubble” is different, but regardless that bubble gets bigger with heightened emotions.

Unless your child asks, keep back at least 3 feet from them. Do not try to touch them, hug them, or pick them up (unless they’re in danger).

In a heightened emotional state like a meltdown, feeling trapped or closed in by you can further escalate the situation.

Remember, finding out what works for your child takes time and effort. 

Note: No strategy works immediately. In addition, we advise parents to try to distract the child from the current situation by offering them a favorite toy, a preferred calming activity, or showing them a funny video, in conjunction with respecting personal space. 

You got this Mommy!!!

At WSCC, we offer support for autistic families and their children with Stem Cell Therapy treatments that can transform autistic conditions by healing the gut, decreasing inflammation, and improving brain function. We also created an autistic community on Facebook that is destined to offer support and companionship for ASD parents and their families on their journey.

 Remember, you are not alone!