Is sensory overload and meltdown the same? How do you calm someone who happens to experience any one or both of these problems?
Children and people with disabilities often suffer from sensory overload. This sometimes causes them to meltdown or exhibit “tantrums” as some call it who are not familiar with meltdowns.
Meltdowns and tantrums: what’s the difference?
Children will always be children.
When a child is used to getting what he or she wants, they’ll likely have a tantrum when you don’t give them what they want. Your child may start screaming, kick their feet, or cry just to have you give them what they want.
In short, your kids can control their tantrum based on what they feel.
Meltdowns are another thing.
It’s something that your child can’t control.
Even more problematic, dealing with a meltdown is a lot harder to do when it happens in public.
Usually, meltdowns are a feeling of distress brought about by being overwhelmed. In fact, meltdowns happen even to adults.
Just think about it.
Meltdowns usually happen especially for children with disabilities like autism or ADHD when they suffer from sensory overload. There are so many people. The noise is too loud. The room is too colorful for them. There’s too much moving around.
When these things happen, someone who has a problem with sensory processing becomes overwhelmed and suddenly feels a meltdown.
With a meltdown, you cannot just calm your child with a piece of toy. And if you’re still unsure of how to calm them because you don’t have the know-how, then this post is just for you.
Understanding sensory overload
Meltdowns usually happen due to an overload of the senses. This in turn happens because of SPD or sensory processing disorders.
For someone without SPD, a street full of people is normal on a busy day. Cars beeping and honking at each other is normal due to traffic.
For people with a sensory processing disorder, what’s normal for most can be difficult to process for them.
The overstimulation of their senses – touch, sight, smell, hearing or taste – can be seen as a “threat.”
What the body considers as a threat triggers our “fight or flight” responses where we either choose to run away, withdraw from ourselves or from others, scream off, fight people, become aggressive in our behavior or even cause self or others harm.
The best way to calm a meltdown due to a sensory overload?
Better than cure
Surely you’ve heard the famous quote that “prevention is better than cure.”
When it comes to meltdowns caused by sensory overload, prevention is really the key.
It’s much easier to prevent someone from having a meltdown than to calm someone the moment they feel threatened or overwhelmed by their environment.
To stop this from happening, here are some helpful tips that you can employ to help your kids stay calm:
Plan your day.
Keep a regular routine for your child.
Go for calming and neutral paints.
Use noise-canceling headphones when the noise is too loud.
Keep your decor simple or minimalistic by design.
Avoid using strong scents at home like air fresheners, perfumed or scented candles
Use a dimmer switch or close blinds to dim bright lights.
Let your child wear sunglasses outside during the day.
Avoid crowded places.
These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Meltdowns due to sensory overload can happen anytime.
The only solution is that you take action before a simple overwhelm of the senses become a full-blown panic that will cause your child to meltdown especially in public.
Here are some early signs of sensory overload in children that you should watch out for:
poor eye contact
covers eyes or ears
flushed or sweaty
rapid or shallow breathing
You can find some more signs of sensory overload here.
Calming Exercises for Sensory Overload and Meltdowns
Calming activities and exercises should be second nature to you and your child.
Meaning, you should do these exercises regularly and not just when you think they’re going to suffer from a meltdown.
This way, you can avoid the embarrassment when it gets hard to calm them down in public.
If you’re ready, here are the 4 best calming exercises to avoid meltdowns for your child in the future.
Medicine Ball Slams
This type of exercise is very easy to do and works your body from head to toe.
To do this calming exercise, you need to stand with your knees apart and slightly bent.
Hold the slam ball in your hands and extend your arms above your head.
Afterwards, bend forward at your waist and slam the medicine ball down.
Follow the movement of the ball and catch it in your arms and go back to the initial position.
Repeat the action at least 5 to 6 times or until your kid feels calm enough to do another activity.
The added benefit of this exercise is that it helps your child build their muscle adn cardiovascular strength
As a form of calming exercise, a punching bag exercise can help your child release pent-up tension and stress from possible overwhelm.
Punching bags are a great exercise tool to build muscle strength and enhance power. It’s also the perfect exercise tool if your kids feel like kicking or punching something.
There is no specific routine that you have to follow when using a punching bag except for the regular routine of warm-up punches, jabbing, squatting, and doing cross punches.
However, it’s advisable that you let your kids wear protective gloves since punching bags can be hard on your fist and knuckles.
Try this: 4 Workouts That Help Reduce Behaviors
Seated Leg Press
Next on the list is the seated leg press exercise.
As a calming exercise for sensory overload and meltdown, this one is a bit complicated and needs a bit of guidance from trained specialists like Special Strong.
The leg press exercise will only give you a short range of motion, but it helps exercise your glutes, hamstrings and quads – which are all key muscles found in your legs.
To start with, you need to do this using a leg press machine.
Some leg press machine reclines at an angle where you’re almost lying down, so make sure you go for a seated position as a beginner with this exercise.
With your back and head resting on the padded support, put your feet hip-width apart on the footplate.
Once you have this position done, push the footplate down and back up again.
To avoid injuries, avoid locking or bowing your knees.
You can do a set of 8 to 10 leg presses for a start and build from there for added strength.
As the name implies, the stair climber machine will let you do just that: climb stairs.
If you have stairs at home, going up and down the stairs a few times will do the trick.
This type of exercise is a great cardio workout that is very simple to execute and also easy on your joints.
All you have to do is choose whether you’d like to do a slow climb, challenge yourself with double steps or do a quick sprint up and down. You can also do a mix of everything if you want.
It’s always important to ensure the safety of your child as they do this calming exercise so make sure that you are right there to guide and help them.
If you want to help your child manage their symptoms of meltdown, you may want to consider enrolling them in a sensory gym.
Keep in mind that meltdowns can be avoided in children or people with a sensory overload when you are aware of their triggers.
Simply put, meltdowns are predictable and manageable, especially with exercise. The goal is not to totally remove the meltdowns, but to minimize its effects and the incidence when it might happen.
With these four exercises, you can help calm your child and give them an outlet for the overwhelm they feel at such a moment.
You may also want to invest in sensory equipment to help calm your child down like a noise canceling headset, playdough or stress balls.
Special Strong specializes in helping people with mental, cognitive, and physical challenges to get fit. Try us for FREE and experience a fun and engaging workout routines to help with your individual needs.