Tantrum vs Autistic Meltdown
Many of us have witnessed a child having a tantrum in public places. It is easy to judge children and their parents for such behaviours. However, not many of us would think about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at those times. The explosion of anger and emotions accompanied with screams and other disruptive behaviours can be an autistic meltdown. So how to tell the differences of tantrum vs autistic meltdown?
A tantrum is often a goal-oriented action. Often young children learn that by tantrums they can achieve a reward such as a wanted behaviour or a desired object. Children often have a request and when it is declined, they learn that by throwing a tantrum they can frustrate their parents or teachers and reach their goal. As soon as the child achieves the goal, the disruptive behaviour quickly ends, since there is no reason to display it anymore.
However, autistic meltdowns are not created as a reward request system. They are not limited to just children and they can happen at any age or situation. A meltdown is often caused by sensory overstimulation. Many people with autism have oversensitivity to various stimuli such as sounds, smells, lights, etc. The oversensitivity can cause the person to get overwhelmed, which leads them towards having a meltdown. Meltdowns are often more severe and emotional, more long-lasting and more difficult to handle than tantrums.
As mentioned, tantrum often happens in younger children and as the child grows up, they become less and less frequent. However, autistic meltdowns are not age-related and they may happen at any age. Many autistic adults, especially the higher functioning ones, may learn some strategies to prevent meltdowns and cope with them.
How can you say if your child has an autistic meltdown or a tantrum?
Tantrums and autistic meltdowns may look similar at the surface. They both can represent with screaming and crying, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. There are several points that can help us to differentiate meltdowns from tantrums. However, often the most important way to identify them relies on the parent’s experience. The parents know their children the best and over the time, often they are quick to discriminate meltdowns by experience.
Next, we go through few points that can help to identify tantrum vs autistic meltdown:
PAY ATTENTION TO THE UNDERLYING SITUATION AND WHAT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE THE BEHAVIOR
Signs indicating that an autistic child is going to have a meltdown-
IS THERE AN AUDIENCE FOR THE CHILD’S BEHAVIOR OR NOT?
Tantrum is a way for children to get the attention of their parents and adults and to lead them to do something that the child wants. Therefore, tantrums always happen when there is an audience.
Autistic meltdown, however, is not an act to attract attention and reach a goal. Therefore, they can happen in any situation and especially more often when children are away from their parents and they are dealing with new people and new situations. Based on the type of sensory sensitivity one individual may have, they can happen in various environments and they are not necessary coming after a request is denied.
What can I do when my child is having a tantrum?
Typical tantrums are a way that children learn to manipulate their parents to give them what they want. Children very quickly learn that they may get what they need by crying and screaming. Since there is a reward system for the behavior, each time the child reaches to their goal the behavior is reinforced. In many cases tantrums are self-limiting and they will disappear as the child grows. However, the reward loop can be broken faster, if the child learns that having a tantrum is not an effective way to attract attention and reach to their goals.
What can I do when my child is having a meltdown?
You can follow these 5 tips to help a child experiencing an autistic meltdown:
MAKE SURE THE CHILD IS SAFE:
- Get them to a place where they feel safe. It is often the most effective way to deal with a meltdown.
- Try to hold them if there is a possibility of them hitting their head or injuring themselves.
DON’T TRY TO TALK TO THEM AND REASON WITH THEM DURING A MELTDOWN:
During the meltdown either the child is feeling an outburst of emotion showing as anger and frustration or they experience a complete shutdown and inburst. In both cases often during the meltdown, they would not be able to communicate, listen or pay attention. So, there is no point in talking to them and trying to explain things to them or try to tell them to calm down.
TRY TO STAY CALM
DON’T TRY TO DISCIPLINE THEM DURING A MELTDOWN