Home / Blog March 07, 2024

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11 Tips On How To Deal With Autism Meltdowns In Adults

In this blog, we discuss what autism meltdowns are and what triggers them. We also share how you can differentiate autism meltdowns from tantrums and panic attacks and how you can support your loved one going through a meltdown.

how to deal with autism meltdowns in adult


Autistic meltdowns stem from overwhelming emotions caused by sensory overload.

Characteristics include loss of behavioral control and communication difficulties.

Recognition of early signs and sharing coping strategies is crucial in seeking support. 

Did you know?
Meltdowns are common in autism, with studies suggesting that about 50-70% of autistic persons experience meltdowns.

Do you have an adult loved one who is on the autism spectrum? Ever wondered what to do when they’re experiencing overwhelming emotions? In this blog, we offer some supportive strategies for dealing with autism meltdowns in adults. We share basic facts about autism meltdowns in grown-ups, common triggers, and how to know when to seek professional guidance.

Let’s begin by understanding what exactly an autism meltdown is!

What Is A Meltdown In Autism?

An autism meltdown is an intense emotional response to overwhelming situations by someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is often characterized by an emotional outburst or a loss of behavioral control. When someone is going through an autism meltdown, it is essential to remember that their response is rooted in feelings of deep distress and dysregulation.

These meltdowns can have different intensity levels and may include responses like crying out loud, destroying things, hitting or kicking, self-inflicted injury, and vocal outbursts like screaming.

How Long Does An Autism Meltdown Last For?

How Long Does An Autism Meltdown Last For?

Meltdowns in autism typically last longer than 20 minutes after the person experiencing this has been distanced from the trigger. But, the duration of an autism meltdown varies widely, with some lasting a few minutes and others longer.

This depends on factors like sensory sensitivities, emotional regulation, and the support the person receives as they calm down. As we outline in the next few sections, it’s helpful to remain patient and not to rush a calming resolution as this is likely to be counterproductive considering the circumstances.

So, after you distance the person experiencing the meltdown from the trigger, you need to ensure they can take their time to return to a calm and collected state.

Next, let’s look at the most common triggers that could cause an autistic meltdown.

What Triggers Autism Meltdowns?

Before we take a close look at what these triggers are, it is essential to remember that these can vary from person to person due to the diverse nature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here are some common triggers for autism meltdowns:

1. Sensory Overload: Many adults with autism may have heightened sensitivities to sensory stimuli like bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, or certain textures. Beyond sensory sensitivities, some adults with autism have difficulty processing sensory information, leading to a heightened vulnerability to sensory overload.

2. Changes in Routine: People with autism tend to thrive on routine and predictability. Any unexpected changes or disruptions to their routine can be distressing and trigger anxiety or frustration, leading to a meltdown.

3. Communication Difficulties: Challenges in communication, both expressive and receptive, can lead to frustration and stress in an autistic adult. When faced with an inability to express their needs or understand others, that could lead to a meltdown.

4. Social Challenges: Similarly, difficulties in social interactions, understanding social cues, or feeling isolated or rejected can trigger meltdowns. Social situations that are overwhelming or unfamiliar may also contribute to stress and frustration.

5. Emotional Regulation Challenges: Some people with autism may have difficulty regulating their emotions. So, when in a stressful situation, an inability to cope with intense emotions may result in a meltdown.

6. Fatigue or Overstimulation: Long periods of stimulation or fatigue can make adults with autism more susceptible to meltdowns. This can occur after a busy day, exposure to multiple stimuli, or insufficient downtime.

7. Medical Issues: Physical discomfort or pain from medical conditions, sensory sensitivities, or gastrointestinal problems could also contribute to autistic meltdowns

In some cases, triggers can be cumulative and a combination of factors could lead to a meltdown. Understanding your loved one’s specific triggers and developing strategies to manage meltdowns are crucial.

So, now you may be wondering, how do I know how to differentiate between autistic meltdowns and a temper tantrum? Let’s look at this in the next section.

How To Deal With Autism Meltdowns

The Difference Between Autistic Meltdowns And Tantrums

Autistic meltdowns and tantrums may appear similar on the surface, but they arise from different causes and have distinct characteristics. Here are some key distinctions:

It is important to remember that not all challenging behaviors in adults with autism are meltdowns; they can also engage in tantrum-like behaviors. Also, the distinction between meltdowns and tantrums can be complex, as people with autism may have unique expressions of both.

Adults with autism also face other difficult emotional experiences like panic attacks. So, how can you differentiate between a panic attack and an autistic meltdown? Let’s look at this next.

The Difference Between Meltdowns And Panic Attacks

Meltdowns and panic attacks are distinct experiences, and they have different characteristics, triggers, and underlying causes. Here are the key differences:

Understanding the differences between autistic meltdowns and panic attacks is vital for providing appropriate support and intervention based on your loved one’s needs and context. In the next section, we look at eleven valuable tips to help you offer support to your loved one experiencing an autism meltdown.

How To Deal With Autism Meltdowns

Here are some general guidelines that may be helpful:

1. Recognize Early Signs: Learn to recognize early signs of distress or agitation that precede a meltdown. This can include behaviors like increased pacing, rocking, or changes in vocalization.

2. Create a Safe Environment: Designate a quiet and calm space where your loved one can retreat if they are feeling overwhelmed. This space should be free from excessive sensory stimuli like bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells.

3. Understand Triggers: Identify and understand the specific triggers for the person. This involves keeping a log of events or situations that precede meltdowns to identify patterns.

4. Maintain Consistent Routines: Stick to consistent routines and schedules as much as possible. Predictability can help reduce anxiety and prevent meltdowns associated with unexpected changes.

5. Use Visual Supports: Visual supports, like visual schedules, social stories, or visual cues, help autistic adults understand and navigate their environment. These tools provide a visual representation of what to expect.

6. Teach Coping Strategies: Work with your loved one to develop and practice coping strategies. This might include deep breathing exercises, using sensory tools (e.g., fidget toys), or taking breaks in a designated quiet space.

7. Calming Aids: Tools like weighted blankets provide calming sensory input, enhance body awareness, and promote relaxation. The gentle pressure from the weight helps regulate emotions and offers comfort during or after a meltdown. Our Cotton Napper, for instance, is a chunky-knit weighted blanket that is made of 100% organic cotton, and provides calming full-body deep touch pressure to help reset the nervous system.

8. Communication Strategies: Encourage the development of communication skills. This might involve using alternative communication methods, like visual communication boards or assistive communication devices.

9. Provide Warning for Changes: If a change in routine is unavoidable, provide warnings and prepare your loved one in advance. This helps them anticipate and adjust to upcoming changes.

10. Stay Calm and Supportive: During a meltdown, it’s crucial to remain calm and composed. Avoid adding to the stress by raising your own voice or displaying frustration. Offer reassurance and support without overwhelming the person experiencing a meltdown with too much verbal input.

11. Allow Time for Recovery: Give your loved one time and space to recover after a meltdown. Steer clear of immediate demands or questions. Provide a comforting and understanding presence.

If you notice that your loved one is experiencing frequent meltdowns, consult with professionals like behavioral therapists or psychologists, who specialize in autism. In the next section, we share signs you need to stay on the lookout for to know when to see a professional about an autistic adult’s meltdowns.

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When To Seek Medical Attention

It’s important to seek medical attention if:

1. Safety is a Concern: This is when your loved one poses a risk to themselves or others during a meltdown or if there are signs of self-injury.

2. Frequent or Severe Meltdowns: If meltdowns are frequent, severe, or significantly impacting the adult’s well-being, consult with a healthcare professional, like a doctor, psychologist, or behavioral therapist.

3. New or Worsening Symptoms: Stay on the lookout for significant changes in the behavior, physical health, or mental well-being of the autistic person. This is especially true if their meltdowns become worse every time they happen

4. Communication Challenges Persist: If there are persistent challenges in communication, and the adult struggles to express their needs or understand others, seek guidance from a speech therapist or communication specialist.

5. Underlying Health Concerns: If there are known underlying health concerns, like sensory sensitivities, anxiety disorders, or other medical conditions, address these with appropriate healthcare professionals.

Always trust your instincts as a caregiver, and if you feel uncertain or overwhelmed, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals can provide valuable support and insights tailored to your loved one’s needs.


The experience of autism meltdowns in adults varies from person to person. It is crucial to recognize the stages and triggers of an autism meltdown and differentiate it from a tantrum or a panic attack.

Supporting adults through autism meltdowns involves recognizing signs early on, creating a safe environment, and understanding personal triggers. Strategies like maintaining consistent routines, using calming aids, and teaching coping mechanisms are vital in supporting your loved one dealing with autism meltdowns.