Autism and Meltdowns: An Interesting Discovery

Disclaimer: I am by no means making a blanket statement about persons with Autism. Every child and adult with Autism is as unique as a snowflake. This is my personal observation,  based on my personal experience. I’m not an expert and would never presume to understand your child better than you. I just noticed something today that may simply be unique to Gavin, but I thought I would share it anyway, in case someone out there could benefit.


Autism and Meltdowns: An Interesting Discovery

Gavin has been making some less than good choices lately. I’m not sure if it’s the stress of the holidays or just one of those things. However, we are back to having at least one meltdown a day. That is a pretty big increase from not having any meltdowns for so long.

Last year and for as far back as I can remember, Gavin would have 5-6 meltdowns per day. They ranged from relatively minor to extremely violent and destructive, often resulting in self-injurious behavior. Gavin has been admitted to the hospital, many times, as a result of injuring himself during these meltdowns. Last year he was admitted about 5 times and in 2011 he was admitted only twice. These were almost always a result of him self-injuring.

Today was another one of those days, only it started first thing this morning.

Gavin was asking to play video games this morning. He typically isn’t aloud to play because it almost never goes well. They are far to stimulating for him and he simply can’t handle them.  It’s not so much a punishment as it is protecting him the overstimulation. For those undoubtedly wondering, it doesn’t matter what kind of game he plays. Gavin +Video Games= Complete Disaster.

He became so relentless with Lizze this morning that I felt it warranted him having oatmeal for lunch.

Now, this is where I noticed something that I haven’t noticed before or at least in a very long time.

Something Interesting

After I told Gavin that he would be having oatmeal for lunch, the meltdown was almost immediate. I say almost immediate because Gavin did something that I thought was very interesting. Prior to being told about the oatmeal for lunch, he was playing with a Lego ship that he had created. Upon being told about the oatmeal, he became very, very angry. However, before he completely melted down, he very carefully put his ship down on the couch. He did this to ensure that nothing happened to it while he threw his fit.

What I found very interesting was just how deliberate his actions were.

This gave me an idea. I decided that he should not be able to put his Lego ship down while he disrupts everyone else’s lives. So, I made him pick his Lego ship up and hold it with both hands. Typically, we require Gavin to sit on his hands and keep his legs crossed. We do this because his hands and feet are generally used as weapons and so requiring him to do this helps to keep everyone safe.

This time however, I decided to make him hold his ship instead of sit on his hands. This way there was a very real and very natural consequence for him throwing his fit. If he continues to throw his fit, he risks destroying his prized Lego ship. That seemed pretty fair to me. I mean, if we all had to endure his screaming and stomping, then it was only right that he experience the immediate and realtime consequences of his actions as well.

Those consequences revolved around his Lego ship taking damage as he pitched his fit.

I required him to hold his ship with both hands, that way his hands would be same, and if they weren’t than his ship would pay the price. You can see in this video how he calms down long enough to make the repairs to his ship as it suffers damage. I found this to very interesting.

It showed me that he was able to control himself when it came to disrupting or destroying something he values. However, that control disappears when his actions only affect those around him. To me, and I of course could be wrong, but this demonstrates an element of control and conscience choice when it comes to him preserving the things that he cares most about.

If this holds true going forward, it opens up some new avenues for behavior management. This will likely require continued outside of the box thinking on our part but we may no longer be out of options when it comes to managing Gavin’s meltdowns.


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Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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I just got round to watching this video and it was fascinating…..there is no way I could have got my son to hold on to the Lego… would have been broken or thrown as when he is in meltdown NOTHING is important to him ….I’m fact if I tried to pacify by getting a favorite toy he would break it in rage…..truly fascinating to me …thank you so much for being brave enough to share, it’s a great learning experience for us all.


I think that rather than him being able to turn it on and off at will, it's just that the inability to harm his Lego is stronger than the inability to hold in his anger.

I think that is definitely the key though, the consequence of the meltdown needs to be something he finds incredibly hard to do. You need to make the compulsion to restrain himself stronger than the compulsion to release the anger.

Does he collect anything? You could potentially make the punishment for having a meltdown for him to personally take an item out of his collection, and throw it away. I'm sure the meltdowns would quickly stop. No amount of meltdown would have been worth me throwing away one of my precious books :).

Not Supermom

I have a similar here. He will go out of his way to avoid destroying something he has attached himself emotionally to. He seems to lack the ability to project, though, on other people's belongings. He goes out of his way to protect X-thing, but will seek to destroy things to which he is not attached.

It's challenging. That's for sure.
My recent post The Missing Bit!

Amy Knox

I find his reaction to protecting his ship very interesting. I've tried several times to let my son "suffer the consequences" of his actions in similar ways, hoping that regretting destroying something he cares about would cause regret or remorse but it hasn't been successful. Johnny will break his thinks (and ours) on purpose and then nonchalantly pick up the broken pieces and dump them in the trash and look at me like "now what ya gonna do?" He just doesn't seem to be emotionally attached enough to care what he breaks. I think it is remarkable that Gavin knows he doesn't want his actions to effect his toy. If he has that amount of control and awareness you should be able to use it to your advantage in controlling the behaviors. That's awesome! Hell I'm impressed that you can get him to follow verbal instructions when he's melting down that's HUGE!


Thanks Amy. It good but also frustrating because it shows that he can control himself when it comes to his stuff but to hell with everyone else\’s.

Most kids have a form of currency that can be used to correct behaviors, Gavin is one of those kids that doesn\’t seem to value much so this thing with the ship may work this time but may not the next.

I just found it interesting how he could turn it off and on the way he did.


Wendi, I totally get what you're saying, but, and I only speak for myself, sometimes disclaimers are there simply to indicate respect for a different/other/alternative method that may have worked for someone else. I have good friends who practice primarily biomedical treatments with heavy dietary restrictions. This seems to work for them, even if it wouldn't change a thing in my house. So I have to respect what that family does to get through with their very individual child.


This is an awesome discussion. I put the disclaimer in because I have been misunderstood in the past and it got ugly. I want to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.

Thank you all for the support.

Wendi Morris


I have been reading your blog for quite a while, and there is something that really gets under my skin. I can't stand it that you have to put disclaimers about your discoveries.

It irks the H-E-double hockey sticks out of me that people take issue with your ideas and tactics.

You obviously love and care for these kids with everything you've got. It is clear that you are taking excellent care of all of them. And it shows in every post that you are always working to find new ways to make their lives better.

Anyone who takes issue with your blog posts should be given some dirty looks and at least a tisk or two.

You are a fantastic father, and a very devoted man. I love this blog, and I always learn something. You handle the people who nit-pick your blogs with such grace, more than I would be able to muster.

Thank you for inviting us all into your house, and I hope rude people will think twice before they judge.


Wendi in Oregon


Thanks everyone for the great feedback. I hope this was helpful and can make things a bit easier. 🙂

Ouch on the hair pulling!

My son is 15 now, and recently diagnosed with PDD. His meltdowns have been as extreme as your child’s was. Thank you for posting! My son loves his Legos. A few months ago, to stop an undesirable fight over bathroom habits, I threatened to take whatever Legos I could fit into my hand for every offence. Eve if it meant one of the assembled Star Wars ships. Within a week, the behavior was corrected.

Thanks again!

Thank you so very much for posting. We are dealing with meltdown episodes at least 15+ times a day right now here, but the injuries are always focused on his 2 year old sister. Just this morning he pulled out a large handful of his 2 year old sister’s hair…

I think this is more of the “shock” method of breaking the meltdown.

Usually there are only two methods for me to break a meltdown, be it me or my wife, either go and calm down for a hour, usually taking a nap, or somehow shock it out of our system.

There is a degree of control, however normally, for me at least, it is the most I can do not to hurt someone or do some major damage.

I thus will be surprisingly careful about what I pick up when I throw something and where I throw it. I won’t throw something hard even in the direction a person or anything fragile, and nothing harder than a pillow or piece of clothing directly at a person.

Considering how out of control I seem, I am surprised myself at this level of control that I have had, as it is based on a respect that was instilled in me at a very young age.

I’m not sure about my wife, but strangely there has been once or twice that something has happened that disrupts one of my tantrums, and now that you bring it up when something disrupts it and creates a distraction I care about it can shock me right out of it.

It has to be something that will trigger anxiety of a higher level than the anxiety attack that started the mess and require calmness and composure to confront.

As of the noticing of two triggers, not one, those are likely only the two triggers you noticed. Normally it is a whole lot of things, many of which are long term, and a handful of “last straws” that give some focus to the anger.

Of course, the hardest thing to learn is the easiest way to defuse it. This is to learn to let out the anger before hand instead of waiting until it becomes too much. This may come naturally to you, but to people with autism, it is near impossible to express anger in a civilized manner, so the instinct is to bottle it up inside until it explodes, usually over something stupid and trivial such as having to eat something you don’t like.

Thank you SO SO much for sharing this. I have so much to say and so little time. I will DM you later.