\u201cImagine being in line at Target with two people in front of you and three people behind you. You\u2019re stuck in that weird spot where you can\u2019t really move forward or backward, and your child\u2019s last nerve just snapped. It\u2019s clear; he\u2019s going to have a full-blown meltdown.\u201d It\u2019s a story that Andrea Gilkison, an ally with the Autism Society of Indiana, still cringes to tell. Fortunately, she says that her son, Oliver, now 8, who has a neuromuscular disease and autism, was small enough for her to pick him up and leave the store. But it\u2019s not always that simple. The threat of a public meltdown can loom large for parents of children with sensory sensitivities, including many on the autism spectrum. Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells or even itchy clothing can cause sensory overload, triggering reactions that look a lot like a tantrum. The difference, experts say, is that a child having a tantrum typically wants something \u2013 and will calm down once he or she gets it \u2013 while there\u2019s often no stopping a sensory meltdown once it\u2019s started, even after a child escapes the overwhelming stimuli. \u201cIt\u2019s hard for the parents, when you\u2019re blocked in and your kid falls to the floor, and it\u2019s hard for the kids, because they\u2019re struggling to understand what\u2019s going on, too,\u201d Gilkison says. \u201cPlanning ahead, watching your own emotions and not expecting too much from your child afterward can go a long way to helping make a public meltdown more manageable.\u201d Prepare, prepare, prepare Even a small outing can take a lot of preparation for those on the spectrum. Talking ahead of time about what you are going to do, see or get and making up a visual schedule or list for the child to follow along with can help decrease the chances of the trip ending with a meltdown. \u201cI found that if I gave my son a heads up of what was going on, he would transition much better. So if we were going to a store, I would say everything I was going to do before I did it,\u201d says Shana, a local mom of an 11-year-old son with autism. \u201cBy the time he was in the third grade, he would say out loud that he needed a break, and he could get some quiet time that way.\u201d Giving the child a \u201cjob\u201d to focus on while you\u2019re out, such as marking items off a list or comparing prices, can help them tune out the minutiae of their surroundings that may overwhelm them. Keeping a go-bag with favorite calming items, such as noise-canceling headphones, sensory fidgets, weighted blankets or an iPad, on hand can help diffuse a potential meltdown. Ange Cahoon, a former therapeutic foster parent with The Villages of Indiana who often cared for children prone to meltdowns, reminds parents with more than one child to plan ahead for what the other children should do in the case of a sibling\u2019s meltdown. \u201cCreate a safety word beforehand and teach your other children that it means they need to listen to other adults who help while you deal with the meltdown,\u201d she says. \u201cIt's also their signal that they need to be using their own calming tools to stay under control in the situation.\u201d Cahoon also suggests taking well-labeled essentials with you, like medications the child takes or antihistamine if the child is prone to hives during meltdowns. She also recommends that parents always carry a verification of the child\u2019s diagnosis. When a meltdown happens If you find yourself dealing with a meltdown in public, Gilkison advises parents to speak softly, confidently and in short, easily digestible sentences to help reassure the child. Keeping your own emotions in check is important, too. \u201cYou know everyone is staring at you, and you know they\u2019re judging you. You\u2019re embarrassed, you\u2019re mad and these feelings can overwhelm you and your child,\u201d she says. \u201cOur kids are tuned into our emotions, and if we panic, then they will feed off that emotion.\u201d Also, ensure that your child is safe from hurting themselves or others during a meltdown. Cahoon urges parents not to be shy about asking for help from employees when it comes to clearing an area or watching your other children while you handle what\u2019s happening. \u201cI've asked for everything from a physical boundary, to a pop-up fort using coats and people, to multiple people repeating the safe phrase, \u2018You are safe right now. Count with us,\u2019\u201d she recalls. \u201cKnow what you need, and as long as you demonstrate a knowledge of how to control the situation, employees and emergency responders are trained to follow your instructions.\u201d Don\u2019t expect answers right away After a meltdown has subsided, it\u2019s best not to pressure the child to find out what happened immediately, experts say. Instead, limit demands and expectations afterward, and understand that the rest of the day, or several days, may be dedicated to recovery. \u201cAs parents, our initial reaction is, \u2018What happened? What made you upset?\u2019 Some kids can articulate why it happened, but others may need some time to process what happened, and that can be an hour later or a month later,\u201d Gilkison says. \u201cJust make sure that they understand that you love them and that you want the best for them as you both work through it.\u201d For more tips for handling public meltdowns, check out Autism Speaks\u2019 Challenging Behaviors Tool Kit at www.autismspeaks.org\/family-services\/tool-kits\/challenging-behaviors-tool-kit. For a\u00a0 shopping-specific article, visit www.autismspeaks.org\/blog\/2016\/11\/25\/ten-tips-prevent-autism-related-shopping-meltdowns.