How to calm an autistic child from screaming?

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In this blog we will discuss how you can help calm an autistic child from screaming.

We will also discuss what autism is and what is causing the child to scream in distress. 

How to calm an autistic child from screaming?

Here are a few things you can help calm an autisitc child and stop them from screaming:

Empathise

Be empathetic by listening to them and acknowledging their struggle. Being empathetic needs an individual to assign all judgements and assumptions.  Validate their experience by listening and expressing empathy. 

When the meltdown happens in public, it is normal to find yourself embarrassed and worried about what people think but it is here that you challenge your ability to empathise with the individual who is clearly struggling and focus on the individual here instead of the world around you.

Listen to them

Another thing you can do involves simplifying listening to them and allowing them to feel how they feel in a safe space which you can do to provide by being non-judgmental. You can sit beside them, or give them the space they need- whatever makes them comfortable. 

Do not punish

Do not punish them for their meltdowns because they do not cause them intentionally. Actually when it comes to tantrums as well, punishment never really helps. Instead, when the child experiences a meltdown, let them know that they are supported while also giving them space to do so. 

Use sensory tool kits

Carry around a sensory tool kit that can calm the individual when they are stressed and overwhelmed. These are usually things they favour, things that calm them down- like their noise cancelling headphones, glasses etc. Don’t force them onto them but let them choose. 

Teach them how to cope

Teach them coping skills that can allow them to regulate their own emotions and their sensory overload. Let these skills become a part of their day to day lives. 

Allow them to explore exercises that help them relax and become attuned with the world around them without being overwhelmed such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga etc. 

Some coping skills you can teach your child include:

  • Square breathing where you guide the child into taking a breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and so on until they become calmer. 

You can also add another element to this exercise for older children by asking them to focus on and tighten their muscles and releasing them while breathing.

  • Centering where you  guide the child to Have a seat and place their feet firmly on the ground. Ask them to state the date and time and then take slow, deep breaths. 

Next, ask them to state what they can observe in their present environment and remind them that they are in a safe place right now.

  • Acknowledging five is a grounding technique that you can help the child to ground themselves and calm them. First you start by asking the child to notice FIVE things they see around them. 

Then, acknowledge FOUR things they can touch around them. Followed by acknowledging THREE things they hear. You then go on to ask them to acknowledge TWO things they can smell and finally ONE thing they can taste.

What is Autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions that involve challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. 

People with autism Spectrum disorder vary in the way they think, learn, and problem solves- some can be highly skilled as it is the case for people with asperger’s syndrome or severely challenged enough to be considered a disability and require intense support and care from other people while others do not. 

Several factors increase the risk of the development of autism such as genetics, environment, parental substance abuse, family history, maternal and paternal behavioural risk factors like smoking or drinking when pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

To meet diagnostic criteria for ASD a child must have persistent deficits in each of three areas of social communication and interaction and at least two of four types of restricted, repetitive behaviours in different contexts.

  • Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests and emotions; to failure to engage in social interactions.
  • Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviours used for social interaction, from poor verbal and nonverbal communication; deficits in understanding and use of gestures; lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  • Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, from difficulties adjusting behaviour to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech .

Children with autism often struggle with change and insist on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualised patterns of verbal or nonverbal behaviour (e.g., extreme distress at small changes).

They also tend to have fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus and are either overly reactive or not reactive at all to sensory inputs from the environment. 

What is causing the child to scream?

Here are a few reasons why your child who has autism is screaming:

They are having a meltdown

An autism meltdown refers to when an individual with autism experiences an intense emotional response to a situation that they perceive or find overwhelming. 

These meltdowns unusually happen when they are completely overwhelmed, are unable to express their feelings of being overwhelmed and as a result lose control over their own behaviours temporarily. 

These meltdowns are usually marked by verbal expression such as crying, shouting, screaming, as well as expressing physically such as kicking others, lashing out, biting, hitting themselves etc. 

While one may think that this autism meltdown sounds similar to a tantrum seen in children- it is not the same. Children might use tantrums to get what they want but for individuals with autism they do not do it to manipulate  but are genuine signs of distress. 

An autistic meltdown is more intense, longer lasting, more emotional and hence more difficult to manage than a temper tantrum. 

They are also different from a tantrum because its cause is different- rather than trying to get what they want, it is an expression of them being overwhelmed and not knowing how to manage this experience.

Meltdowns always have preceding signs that the individual ausl displays before there is a meltdown. These signs include rumblings- which is obvious and at times subtle. A rumbling can include a verbal plea to go or to leave or to stop, as well as physically expressed by putting their hands over their ears. 

Meltdowns can include stimming where the individual tries to calm themselves by rocking, pacing and other signs of anxiety coping. 

Their sensory systems are overloaded

Sensory overload is one of the first and primary causes of an autism meltdown. Individi Uasl who experienced a meltdown often are exposed to too much stimuli that they perceive through their five senses. 

Usually individuals with autism have hypersensitivities in their sensory systems which can trigger a feeling of being overwhelmed. For example, an individual might not like the texture of wool because of their hypersensitive tactile sensory system. This can lead to meltdowns and distress when dressed with wool.

They are overwhelmed by too much information

An individual with autism might feel too overwhelmed when there is too much information coming their way at once. Such as too many people addressing them or talking to them, or too much information on the screen at once etc. 

This can include too many instructions, demands from other people as well as when they are spoken to in ways they do not understand- like a new language. This can cause distress and anxiety leading to a meltdown. 

They are having a hard time communicating 

Individuals with autism find it very hard to communicate effectively, they also struggle with socialising and as such they find it hard to ask for help as well as understand and regulate their emotions. 

So when it comes to difficult emotions such as anger, sadness etc, an individual might find it extremely hard to understand them and thus, regulate them. As a result, these emotions become too much for them, triggering a meltdown. 

Another cause could be because of their inability to express their needs and wants. They can find this particular struggle of communicating effectively very frustrating which leads to stress and hence meltdowns.

Too much external stress

Because of their conditions, the world around them is equally difficult for individuals with autism to live it. New places and unpredictability makes it even more challenging and anxiety inducing for them which is why they like routine and rules. 

As a result of which it can lead to too much stress and too much anxiety for them, leading to meltdowns when they are engaging in new activities and with new people and places. 

Too many changes

 With its unwritten rules and unpredictable nature, the world can be an extremely challenging environment for autistic people and many experience anxiety. Without tools and strategies to help manage their feelings of anxiety, they may experience a meltdown.  

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed how you can help calm an autistic child from screaming. We have also discussed what autism is and what is causing the child to scream in distress. 


How do you calm an autistic person down?

A few things you can do to calm an autistic person down is to give them their space, distract them and divert their attention into doing something that calms them down. 

What triggers autism meltdowns?

An autism meltdown refers to when an individual with autism experiences an intense emotional response to a situation that they perceive or find overwhelming. 

These meltdowns unusually happen when they are completely overwhelmed, are unable to express their feelings of being overwhelmed and as a result lose control over their own behaviours temporarily. 

These meltdowns are usually marked by verbal expression such as crying, shouting, screaming, as well as expressing physically such as kicking others, lashing out, biting, hitting themselves etc. 

How do you calm an autistic child at night?

A few things that you can do to help calm a child who is autisitc at night include:

  • Giving your child a bath
  • Read them a story
  • Give them a massage if they are okay with touching
  • Turn on soft music that they enjoy
  • Give them their sensory tools that help them calm down. 

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

Rudy.L.J. How Autistic Meltdowns Differ From Ordinary Temper Tantrums. Verywellhealth. Retrieved on 5th February 2022. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-an-autistic-meltdown-260154

Meltdowns – a guide for all audiences. National Autistic Society. Retrieved on 5th February 2022. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/behaviour/meltdowns/all-audiences

Milam.S. When My Autistic Son Melts Down, Here’s What I Do. Healthline. Retrieved on 5th February 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/what-to-do-autism-meltdown#What-to-do-during-a-very-loud,-very-public-meltdown

What is an Autism Meltdown?. RDI Connect. Retrieved on 5th February 2022. https://www.rdiconnect.com/what-is-an-autism-meltdown/

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