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Prevention and Intervention Strategies for Autism Meltdowns

If you’ve interacted with one ASD child, you’ve interacted with one ASD child. Autism affects every child in different ways. However, almost every parent of an ASD child is likely to be familiar with some form of a meltdown. There are many tricks to bringing a child back to the center. It may take trying more than one for your child – but our team of experts offers a few noteworthy solutions to add to your meltdown toolbox.

Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are consistent and predictable. They help children feel comfortable and secure. They are a great way to help children anticipate what is happening next and understand the expectations of the environment. The child is able to see the day’s agenda which reduces anxiety, behavioral problems, and acts of aggression.

Visual schedules should be taught through the use of pictures and icons. It can also be beneficial to use actual pictures of your child engaging in that activity. The more personalized the schedule is, the better your child will understand it! Before transitioning to the next event on the schedule, be sure to give a verbal reminder that they will be finishing up their current activity. As you complete events, have your child cross off each item so your child knows they successfully completed it. Provide verbal praise after your child completes each activity/event. 

Sometimes there are unexpected changes to your child’s schedule and that is OK. Introduce surprise cards to your child. This can be a silly picture, word, or icon. When this card is given to your child, it means there is a change or surprise in their schedule. Start introducing surprise cards with changes that are small and your child is okay with. Surprise cards will prevent meltdowns and help them respond to change!

First/Then Boards & Token Boards

First/Then Boards are also a great tool to incorporate into your child’s routine. They are used to motivate your child to complete an activity that is non-preferred. For example, show your child the board and say “first” (activity one), “then” (activity two).

The first activity on the board is usually something that is non-preferred or a parent/therapist-directed task. The second activity is something that is rewarding to the child such as a game, toy, or treat (ex: “First speech, then Play-dough”). Make sure that activity two happens immediately after activity 1 so that your child understands the concept of being rewarded after completing a non-preferred activity.

Token Boards are also a motivational tool that encourages your child to complete non-preferred activities. Place a picture on the board of your child’s preferred activity or what they are working toward. Then place 3-5 boxes on the board as well. As your child completes a trial or activity, place a checkmark or sticker in the box. Once your child receives all their checkmarks or stickers, they are rewarded with their chosen activity. This helps build behavioral momentum toward non-preferred activities! 

Social Scripts

Social scripts are written sentences or paragraphs that children can memorize and use in social situations. For example, you can create a social script for “things your child can say when they’re angry” or “things I can say to other kids at the park”. Children can practice scripts with other peers or adults and use them in real-life situations.

Scripting involves presenting your child with a written description about a specific skill that acts as a model for them. Social scripts are intended to help your child anticipate what might occur during an activity and improve their ability to appropriately participate in that activity. Social scripts require repeated practice before using them during an actual situation. This is a great tool to help enhance your child’s communication, social interactions and decrease behaviors in children, especially when they have limited expressive language. 

Power Cards

Power cards are a brief scenario and character sketch describing how a hero solves the problem. The power card summarizes how your child can use the same strategy to solve a similar problem. If there is a particular activity that is challenging for your child, hand them their power card and prompt them to read the steps that their “superhero” does in a similar situation. For example, if your child has difficulty with lunchtime at school, create a power card for lunchtime activities. 

Example: “Spiderman’s words of wisdom for Lunch Time”

  • Stay at the table while eating lunch
  • Read a book if you finish early
  • Take deep breaths
  • Lunch lasts 30 minutes
  • Break time starts when lunchtime is over

Zones of Regulation/Feelings Chart 

A zones of regulation chart is a scale to help children identify how they are feeling. The chart uses four colors: blue, green, yellow, and red with each color representing an emotion/feeling. This strategy helps children detect body signals, become self-aware of triggers, and have control over negative behaviors.

  • Blue represents sick, sad, tired and bored.
  • Green represents happy, calm, focused and ready to learn.
  • Yellow represents worried, excited, loss of some control and frustration.
  • Red represents mad, angry, yelling and out of control.

Practice the zones daily with your child throughout different times of the day and different environments. Have them identify what zone they are in and what feelings they are experiencing. If your child is in the red or yellow zone, teach them strategies to help get them back into the green zone. This tool helps your child communicate their feelings and regulate their emotions, leading to a decrease in meltdowns!

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