Autism meltdowns: how to deal with autism aggression & anger

Autism is associated with social difficulties and communication challenges. However, autistic individuals can also experience intense emotional reactions, sometimes leading to autism anger issues.[i] This can manifest as autistic rage, autism outbursts, crying, self-harm, or aggression.

According to the National Autistic Society in the UK, autistic meltdowns are a way for people to communicate their distress when they lack the words or ability to express themselves effectively.[ii] Overwhelming sensory or emotional overload can temporarily cause the person to overreact, resulting in autistic irritability or aggression.

For decades, the Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with autism and other brain-based disorders. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ASD patients reduce their symptoms, including autism anger problems, and lead better lives.

For more information about how the Drake Institute treats autism spectrum disorder and several other brain-based disorders, please fill out the consultation form or call us at 800-700-4233.

What are the causes of an autistic meltdown?

Autistic meltdowns are a complex response to overwhelming situations.[iii] While the exact trigger can vary from person to person, some potential causes include:

Sensory overload

For autistic individuals, sensory processing can be heightened, making them more susceptible to sensory overload. Overstimulation from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touch can trigger a meltdown as an increased reaction to being overwhelmed by uncomfortable sensations of sensory stimuli.

Social challenges

Social interaction can be difficult to navigate for autistic people. Difficulty understanding social cues, nonverbal communication, or figurative language can lead to social discomfort. Social situations that demand reciprocal communication or require interpreting expected social norms can make one more vulnerable to meltdowns.


Everyone experiences stress, but for autistic individuals, managing stress can be even more challenging. Changes in routine, unexpected events, or difficulty expressing needs can all contribute to stress buildup. When these stressors become overwhelming, a meltdown can erupt to release the pent-up tension.

What does an autistic meltdown look like?

Autism meltdowns look different for each individual and may depend partly on the specific triggers. However, common signs that someone is having a meltdown include being irritable or aggressive, fidgeting, repeating noises, having difficulty focusing, or avoiding visual or audio input.[iv] Other signs of a meltdown may include crying, screaming, self-harm, or withdrawal.

The intensity and duration of a meltdown can vary depending on the level of ASD and the patient’s ability to verbally communicate. 

How does an autistic meltdown compare to a temper tantrum?

Temper tantrums are commonly associated with children. Autism meltdowns, on the other hand, can occur in both children and adults.[v] And generally speaking, tantrums have more to do with an unfulfilled want, while meltdowns can seem like an involuntary reaction to overstimulation or feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, meltdowns tend to last longer than tantrums.

How to deal with autistic meltdowns in children

Dealing with autism anger problems like meltdowns in children can be a challenge. The first step is to teach better coping behavioral skills and improve brain regulation. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning it develops during childhood when the brain is still developing. There is no cure for it, but early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve a child’s ability to manage their emotions and communicate their needs.

However, irritability, autism aggression, and outbursts can still occur, and it’s important to know how to respond effectively. Here are some tips for autism anger management in children.

Identify triggers

Knowing what kind of situations or sensations are contributing to emotional outbursts is important to managing reactions. Identifying your child’s triggers is an important step.

Create quiet spaces at home

Having a designated quiet space in your home can provide a safe place for your child to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. The concept is to provide a calm space with any self-soothing toys or devices that help the child’s calming.

Refrain from disciplining too harshly

Autism outbursts and meltdowns are different from temper tantrums. They are a response to overwhelming emotions as they are in a stress “fight or flight” reaction. Punishing your child during an autism meltdown will only add to their stress. Instead, focus on offering comfort.

Play relaxing music

Music is a powerful adjunctive tool that can affect emotions. A playlist of calming songs or sounds that your child enjoys may be helpful secondarily.

Use visuals

Communicating during a meltdown can be hard for autistic individuals. Visual representations, like picture cards, reduce the need for verbal communication.[vi]

Use sensory tools

Using sensory tools can be helpful for calming a meltdown, particularly in individuals with hyposensitivity.[vii] Fidget toys, weighted blankets, and chewy necklaces can provide sensory support that may help in calming some children.

Be supportive

Let your child know you are there for them and offer comfort and reassurance during a meltdown. Speak calmly and gently and avoid making demands or forcing them to talk.

Stay calm

It can be hard to stay calm when dealing with an autism outburst, but it’s important to stay as relaxed as possible. If necessary, seek out a quiet environment and model calm behavior to de-escalate the child’s reactivity.

Can you stop an autistic meltdown?

Meltdowns can’t be stopped once they have started.[viii] In that state of emotional dysregulation, the individual isn’t in full control of their reaction. They are in an acute stress reaction. Even though they are not threatened, they are in a psychophysical state of feeling threatened.

Instead of attempting to end the meltdown, the first thing to do is try to distance yourself from the trigger as much as possible. That could mean leaving a crowded room, using noise-canceling headphones, or some other strategy. Reducing sensory input from lights or the TV may adjunctively help.

How to prevent autistic meltdowns

For parents of autistic children, dealing with autism anger and meltdowns is tiring. Using strategies to prevent autistic meltdowns and reduce other autism anger issues can make things easier.[ix]

The best way to prevent a meltdown or autism rage attack is to know your child’s triggers, especially those related to sensory sensitivities and routine. When you know what adds to their frustrations and anger, you can take measures to minimize those triggers.

If there are any upcoming changes in food, routine, or environment, tell your child beforehand and help them prepare so they aren’t caught off-guard with change or transition.

Finally, make sure you know their favorite toys, activities, and other distractions; these can help calm the child down and support recovering from an autism outburst.

How the Drake Institute Treats Autism

Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has clinically pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and sometimes neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.

Brain Mapping

To develop our individualized treatment plans, we first complete a qEEG brain map analysis for each patient. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific regions or networks of the brain are dysregulated linked to symptoms.

To collect this data, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, focus, memory, executive functioning, social/emotional understanding and behavioral/emotional regulation. The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.

When we compare the patient's results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and causing symptoms. This information also allows us to determine how these areas are dysregulated so that we can develop specific treatment protocols that help improve brain functioning and reduce symptoms.


During neurofeedback training/treatment, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record and display instantaneous brainwave activity visually in real-time on a computer screen with simultaneous auditory feedback as well.

During neurofeedback sessions, the patient is seeing the results of how their brain is working and with this information, they learn to improve their brainwave activity by guiding it toward healthier, more appropriately functional brainwave patterns.

We do not administer any drugs or perform invasive procedures during this process. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

In the last forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypertension reduce or resolve their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.











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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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