Handling Meltdowns In Public

By: Andrea De Marino, MHS, OTR/L

As we all know, children on the spectrum often have a difficult time with transitions or in very busy environments and can have frequent meltdowns throughout the day.  Unfortunately as a parent you get the full brunt of this since your child is most comfortable around you and may not have as many behavior issues around other people.  Often these meltdowns occur in public with other people staring at you.

You have to remind yourself that as humans it is our instinct to respond to changes in our environment, including turning to look when we hear a loud noise.  Therefore, people will always stare at you when your child suddenly starts making loud noises or screaming. You have to do your best to tell yourself that they are just responding to a change in the environment and are hopefully not assuming things about you or your parenting skills.  Unfortunately autism is a disability that is manifested in the mind – it is not an obvious disability that people can see, such as if your child was in a wheelchair or had some physical deformity.  Truth is if you were to take the time to explain the situation to them, they would most likely be sympathetic to your situation, but all they see is a child having a tantrum.  You will not have time to explain what’s going on to every person staring at you, so you have a few other options.  Depending on the severity of the tantrum and how long your child usually tantrums, you could take a deep breath (or three) and: 


1) Ignore the tantrum until it passes.  However, if your child has long tantrums and difficulty calming this may not be the best option.

2) Remove your child from the situation if possible to a quiet, smaller area such as a bathroom or your car if it is nearby and give him or her time to calm down.  A quiet, small room with dim or soft lighting would be ideal.


Remember, the most important thing is to stay as calm as possible.  Your child will feed off of your emotional state and if you become upset it will most likely just make him or her more upset.  Try to ignore the people watching you as best as you can; they have no idea what it’s like to be in your situation and they have no idea what a superhero you really are.

Bio: Andrea is an occupational therapist who earned her Master’s Degree in Health Sciences from the Medical College of Georgia in 2006. She has worked in a variety of therapy settings across the country including hospitals, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, schools, and several private pediatric clinics.  Her areas of expertise include autism and sensory processing disorder (SPD).  She is passionate about providing humane, effective treatment based on the most current research and treatment practices.  To find out more about Andrea or occupational therapy, visit her website at www.sensorysolutionsinc.com.

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