Learning How to Assist Autistic Students in Overload

Chances are that you know a student who is on the autism spectrum. Each individual with autism is very different, and this fact is very important. It truly takes time for school professionals to understand how each autistic student works in the classroom and responds to overload. This is a crucial area to understand because when an individual with autism is in overload, they often may not know how to help themselves. Sometimes this may cause them to have a meltdown, become aggressive, and even turn to self-injury.

As students on the autism spectrum get older, the demands of the world change. This may cause them to get anxious about certain social situations, worry about noises in a specific class, or shut down if they see an individual that has been bullying them. The key is for each special education professional working with each individual child as a team to figure out what is bothering them to assist them over time. Coping strategies are something their support team can help them to work on during social skills groups, therapy sessions, and with other professionals in the school. Over time, they will become easier for students to use and recognize on their own.

Key items to remember if a student is in distress:

  • If a child is struggling, they are not being “bad,” and it is not something to take personally.
  • By the time a behavior happens, it may be too late to redirect or stop.
  • Talk calmly to the child and help him/her get to a safe place. If he/she is unable to move, it may be necessary to remove other classmates from the area for a short time.
  • Don’t ask questions while this is happening. Keep calm and talk to the student afterward. Use positive reinforcement to encourage how he/she came out of the distress. Take time to ask for ways to help the child avoid this if they begin to feel that way again.

Of course, the hope is to avoid this altogether. The best way to do this is to try to find connections to when a child may get distressed. Is it during transitions, before lunch, or right after physical education class? Look for certain body language or stimming that may happen before they get upset. Some children will babble, others will tap their pencils on their desk, but typically something can be seen before it escalates.  For older children, the key is to allow them to feel in control. They must be involved in the process. Take time to go over what you witness with them and compare to how they feel in the moment. Let them determine what helps them to feel in control and least restrictive. The goal is to make them comfortable and try to avoid becoming overloaded so they can be as successful as possible within the academic day.


Have you had experience supporting an Autism student in overload? Feel free to add any helpful tips in the comment section below.

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