Sensory Meltdowns

Overcoming sensory meltdowns

Overcoming sensory meltdowns can be a real challenge. For parents in a household where sensory challenges are common, having an understanding of what’s really going on with self-regulation and sensory processing is even better. Today, I have information on sensory overload meltdowns as well as a powerful tool for addressing this sensory need in families, so that the child struggling has resources and strategies available to them. Understanding meltdowns is one of the first steps in addressing sensory challenges.

Sensory meltdowns, information on self-regulation and sensory processing, as well as questions that parents have about meltdowns.

Sensory Meltdowns

I’ve shared before the difference between a sensory meltdown vs a tantrum…but that defining line can be hazy when it comes to sensory overload.

I’ve also shared many meltdown tips and tricks to address sensory meltdowns in children, as well as coping tools and sensory strategies that can help children.

There are also many sensory diet tools and resources here on this website, which can be valuable resources for the child with sensory processing challenges.

But all of these strategies, resources, and tools can be inconsequential if you are missing an important piece of the sensory puzzle.

Understanding what’s really going on behind a meltdown is the key component to helping children who struggle with sensory overload.

There’s more; Once you’ve got a handle on really understanding a meltdown and the specifics on what might cause them, it’s important to know how to help the child that does launch into meltdown mode.

Because, even with all of the understanding in your back pocket, there will still be those moments where a meltdown is inevitable. So, having the resources and tools available to help a child debrief after a meltdown is crucial.

Debriefing with your child after a meltdown is such an important step for both of you. Having the ability to compose oneself following a meltdown and really understand what might have caused that overload empowers your child so that they can discover their own self-regulation strategies. What an empowering concept, right?

Not only that, but getting an understanding along with your child of that sensory meltdown gives you both specific strategies and tactics to help overcome those sensory meltdowns the next time they might occur. You can define and discover their triggers. 

All of this makes sense, right? But if working as a pediatric occupational therapist has taught me anything, it’s that addressing feelings of overwhelm with sensory processing take some time.

Parents often have questions about sensory meltdowns. Understand sensory meltdowns and resources to help.

Sensory Questions

There are so many common questions that parents have about sensory processing and sensory meltdowns. Below are listed some common sensory questions that parents have. Sometimes just knowing you are not alone in your questions and concerns is helpful! So, those questions that oftentimes come up include:

Parents often times feel overwhelmed or stressed with how to respond to their child’s meltdowns. If this sounds familiar, you might be questioning if your child’s behavior is sensory or if it’s defiant behavior. 

Parents wonder if the behaviors their child has is a temper tantrum or if it is a response to sensory overload and having a meltdown.

Many times, parents see meltdowns that seem to come out of nowhere. You can’t seem to figure out what the triggers are. Where do you even start?

Or, maybe you know your child’s meltdowns are sensory related, but nothing you’ve tried seems to work. You wonder if maybe you’re Googling the wrong things or if there is something you’ve missed.

Parents often feel like their child is just trying to get attention, and that it’s behavioral rather than sensory related.

Another question that parents often have is regarding the aggressive behaviors they see from their child. What can cause a child to act out so physically with hitting, spitting, head banging, biting, scratching, and yelling? These actions are physically and emotionally exhausting for both you and your child.

Still other questions that parents have regarding meltdowns is how to better understand their child and help them feel accepted?

Parents often wonder how they can better recognize the signs of sensory overload so they can prevent it from happening in the first place.

A big question parents have is how they can stay calm in the moment when their child is in the midst of a meltdown. How can they help their child without “losing it” themselves.

Sometimes, just knowing that others have the same questions is so helpful.

Overcoming Sensory Meltdowns

If any of these questions sound familiar, I’ve got a resource for you. The thing is that sensory overload is one of the leading causes of sensory meltdowns, but it is far from the only cause. And, actually, there are sound principles that can help children in the midst of a meltdown.

There are tools you can have in your back pocket so you can address meltdowns when they are happening, and can shorten the duration and intensity of a meltdown. You can even help your child to recognize what’s going on when a sensory meltdown occurs.

Part of the strategy to get the answers to better understand exactly what’s going on behind meltdowns is to get to the root of the sensory needs.

This course can help you feel confident and overcome meltdowns with proven sensory integration tips, tools, and strategies to help your student self-regulate and give you both a toolkit of ways to minimize sensory related issues and even catch them before they escalate.

Sensory Overload Meltdown

To better understand what’s happening in a sensory overload meltdown, it helps to understand sensory integration.

This refers to the organization of sensation for use within the brain and body. Our body and sensory systems give information to our brain on the body in the environment.

The brain organizes all of that information it gets from the sensations. When the sensations flow in a well organized manner, the brain forms all sorts of perceptions, behaviors, and learning can occur. We can participate in the world around us.

However, there’s more to it. The nervous system operates best at an optimal arousal state. This means that the nervous system is able to attain, maintain, and regulate that information so we can complete meaningful and functional tasks. When the brain is not able to organize the incoming sensory information, it can become too much for the brain and body.

As a result, we see sensory compensations. The body attempts to compensate for organizing the information in ways that look different, but work for the individual. There may be sensory defensiveness. However, sometimes neurodiverse responses to the information isn’t sustainable and we see overload. This is the sensory meltdown.

This is a very simplified explanation that explains a sensory overload meltdown.

Check out the blog comments below to discover common questions about about sensory meltdowns.

Sensory Meltdown Strategies

Would you like to use some strategies designed to offer organizing input? Our sensory strategies resource has some great ideas.

Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

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    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to