Riding the Emotional Meltdown Alongside Teens with Autism

Most teenagers experience mood swings due to hormonal changes and are more likely to pick fights over gaining independence; however, teens with autism are more likely to have emotional meltdowns when they are overwhelmed or overstimulated, rather than when trying to assert their independence. Teens with autism may be more sensitive to intense emotions, but have difficulty communicating how they’re feeling. They may be more likely to identify emotions on a sensory level before analyzing their own thoughts, which means they are more likely to shut down before they understand why they might be overwhelmed. Emotional meltdowns occur when they are unable to regulate sensory inputs from their environment and their bodies perceive them as threats, activating fight or flight mode.

Possible signs of an Emotional Meltdown:

  • Rumbling stage that includes warning signs of distress
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Stimming
  • Bolting
  • Screaming
  • Aggression
  • Overwhelming anxiety, irritability, self-defeating thoughts, or helplessness
  • Sensory overstimulation or integration issues
  • Not applying communication skills to express emotions or needs
  • Only stops when they wear themselves out or someone is able to calm them down

What Triggers Meltdowns?

Emotional meltdowns are often sudden outbursts that are not always caused by direct conflict. Meltdowns are often associated with sensory overstimulation in an environment, particularly in public or unfamiliar places. A common feature of anxiety in autistic teens is fear of transitions, new environments, new people, and disruptions in routine. Teens with autism benefit from highly structured routines and predictability to help them manage out of control feelings, however it is not always possible to determine what might trigger their anxiety. Usually, they are a result of the following:

  1. The teen with ASD is having difficulty identifying what emotion they are feeling
  2. They don’t know how to manage their emotions
  3. They don’t know how to otherwise express their emotions

The shame of not being able to express their emotions differently or understand it better may contribute to a cycle of self-defeating thoughts that may perpetuate a meltdown.

How New Focus Academy Can Help


  • De-escalates meltdowns using unconditional positive regard
  • Encourages independence and self-regulation techniques


New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism and emotional meltdowns or tantrums. The mission of the program is to use positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and a clear sense of judgement. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits.

Call (844) 313-6749 today!

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