Autistic Meltdowns at Work: How to Help

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When people usually think of autism meltdowns their minds go to little children having ‘tantrums’ and think of it as a person being destructive or ‘naughty’. This is a stereotype and not the case for real life. In this guide we will be going through what happens when an autistic person has a meltdown at work.

What is an autistic meltdown?

An autism meltdown is akin to a panic attack but more pronounced, like many sensations happening at once that cannot be controlled. They can happen at any age and the times vary from person to person. To the outsider it might look similar to a temper tantrum but it is anything but. It is the overload of information in the person’s brain and they cannot process it. Meltdowns can vary from person to person but the common factors are shouting, screaming, crying, shutdown and thrashing around.

What could trigger an autistic meltdown at work?

As the work environment is very stressful and can be compact there are a number of triggers that can happen. The most common cause for an autistic meltdown at work is overstimulation. Over stimulation occurs when there are too many senses going off at once and the person cannot cope with it therefore causing a meltdown. Other common triggers include miscommunication and changes of routine. These triggers cannot always be noticeable so it is a good idea to go over your workplace needs assessment with your manager and talk about these triggers.

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How can you help someone who is having an autistic meltdown at work?

Follow the sub-headings below to find how you as an employer, buddy or even a neurodivergent person yourself are learning how to manage, how to help yourself or someone else that is having an autistic meltdown at work.

Identify the causes

A key to helping someone handle an autistic meltdown is to first identify what triggers it in the first place. It should be written down in the person’s workplace needs assessment so it is right to read it beforehand to determine how delicate the situation is to get an idea of what to do. For example, if there is a miscommunication between the two of you and that causes it, it is best to be very direct with the person and to outline exactly what you want them to do and speak. It is key to find out what triggers the person earlier to avoid an incident happening and for it to be smooth between the both of you.

Reduce triggers

Now that you have found out what triggers the person at work to have an autistic meltdown, you can reduce the triggers so that you can prevent an event happening in the future and make it better. One example is to have direct one-to-one contact with the person and throughout a time table of their work plan so that they follow it. Any changes that you make to the work plan let them know in advance as disruption of routine can cause an autistic meltdown. If the triggers are sense related, you can move the person into a more comfortable position and have a body nearby so they could call out for any help. Doing these little things will help tremendously so do not be afraid to do them.

Create a safe space

It is vital for the autistic person to have a space to escape to when they are experiencing triggers and are in the early stages of an autistic meltdown. It should be in the workplace needs assessment to have an arrangement for the person to use a required room for them to relax and calm down so they can get back to work. The quiet room should be spacious and cosy. They also should be allowed to carry comfort items to the quiet room. After the meltdown, if it is more severe, it is wise to allow them to go home for the day. It is best to just leave them to it in the quiet room and not bother them.

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Allow the individual time to recover

Recovery time for an autistic meltdown varies from person to person so do not expect them to just get up and go straight to work after five minutes. It is best to leave them on their own while they recover so you do not prevent any further meltdowns. Because if you do this you can risk serious injury to the person. If they have gone to their quiet space and have still not recovered, it is in their best interest to send them home for the day. There is no set time for a person to recover from a meltdown so it is best to remember this.


We hope this handy guide has proven useful for any autistic person or employer on how to handle meltdowns at work. If you are an employer hoping to learn more about autism to enrich your workplace please check out Exceptional Individuals autism workshops.

Useful Links:

Autism Workshops
Workplace Needs Assessments

Blog Author

Solmaz Farad