What Is A Tantrum
Physically speaking, a tantrum can universally be described as shrieking, flexing of the body and flailing of arms and/or legs, and falling or throwing ones self to the ground in fits of rage and discontent. Dr. Jean Mercer, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey states that a tantrum is dependent upon the motivation of a child at a given age.
Infants: may be hungry or in pain
Toddlers: under stress or tired
Pre-schoolers: testing their boundaries
School-aged and older: tantrums are translated to meltdowns
Mercer argues that the motivation of a child in the throes of a tantrum is not to get ones way but a form of communication which expresses anxiety and stress. More often than not, as adults we know our limitations and have the ability to say, Thats it! Ive had enough! We take control of the situation or walk away, but sometimes, deep down, we want to throw ourselves to the ground and scream too. Many children do not have that ability yet.
What Is An Autism Meltdown
A meltdown is defined as an intense reaction to sensory overwhelm. When a child with autism is overwhelmed, he/she knows no other way to express it other than with a meltdown. This might involve emotional verbal outbursts such as screaming and crying or physical reactions like kicking, biting or hitting.
Routine Sensory Diet Activities
Routine sensory diet activities are important to support regulation throughout the day. Some parents find it helpful to schedule quiet time for their children, in order to allow for the downtime proactively before the activity of the day gets to be too much. This is an important consideration when a trip to a busy, loud shopping mall is in your childs future! Because sensory meltdowns are the result of events, activities, or sensory stimuli finally culminating in overstimulation, allowing quiet time prior to the community outing may improve your childs tolerance, or threshold, when its time to go shopping.
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Be Aware Of Sensory Meltdown Triggers
Assembly is a well-known trigger for inducing an autistic meltdown. As previously discussed, sensory issues often go hand in hand with autism. Assembly is usually held in the school hall, which can also be used as both the dining hall and a PE room. There may be the smells of cooking, the sound of chairs scraping on the floor, the sheer numbers of children and staff all in one place and all this may bring about a refusal to join the assembly. In this case, we need to ask ourselves if their attendance in assembly is vital. If not, maybe we should not insist on them joining assembly. We are not in the business of normalising children, we are respecting their diversity and helping them to cope in a given situation.
A sensory diet is another favoured approach for autistic children. This works best under the guidance of an occupational therapist if possible. If not, you can incorporate parts of a sensory diet to suit individual needs. This might include a circuit around the school playground, a five-minute bounce on the trampoline, or anything to release some pent-up energy.
We are not in the business of normalising children, we are respecting their diversity and helping them to cope in a given situation.
Techniques For Avoiding And Managing Meltdowns
Children with autism can have a tough time managing their behavior. Even high-functioning children can “have a meltdown” in situations that would be only mildly challenging to a typical peer.
Children with severe autism can get upset on a daily basis. Meltdowns can make it hard to participate in everyday activities or, in extreme cases, even leave the house. It is not always easy to calm a child with autism, but there are techniques that can help.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
This article explores some of the tools and techniques used to manage or prevent meltdowns in children with autism. It also looks at the causes and signs of a meltdown to help you recognize and deal with them more effectively and with less anxiety.
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Use Of Information Collected From You
Be Aware Of Sensory Issues That Can Cause Tantrums
Lastly, for real. Some tantrums are related to sensory issues. A tantrum may occur due to your child’s hearing a noise, seeing something that they dislike or are afraid of, smelling something, etc. If you suspect this, look into the sensory issues and consult your child’s occupational therapist for sensory integration ideas. Some children enjoy tantrums because they lead to the parent holding the child. I know some therapists recommend holding a child to relieve the tantrum. Just my opinion: I think this gives too much attention and may actually reinforce the tantrum.
Some children do things in a tantrum that cause them self-harm and can lead to self-injurious behavior – sometimes this is a sensory issue also. Researchers believe some children hurt themselves to release endorphins in the body that then provides them with a sensation they enjoy. If your child is hurting himself, please contact a psychologist or psychiatrist or other medical professional for evaluation.
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Meltdown Vs Temper Tantrum
Although they may look similar, meltdowns are different from temper tantrums. A temper tantrum is usually a childs method for getting what he/she wants. A meltdown, however, has no purpose and is beyond a childs control.
To be more specific, a temper tantrum happens when a child is:
- Frustrated with not getting what he/she wants
- Not able to do what he/she wants
- Not able to properly communicate
A child might stop a tantrum after the following responses:
- Being comforted by a parent or caregiver
- Being given what he/she wants
- Being ignored and giving up on his/her own
Youngsters who throw temper tantrums are aware and in control of their actions and can adjust the level of their tantrum based on the response they get from a parent or adult. Here we can use behavioral strategies to manage tantrums.
Meltdowns have entirely different causes. Because they are triggered by sensory overload, a child on the spectrum having a meltdown can have a few defining characteristics.
Autistic meltdown symptoms may:
- Start with pre-meltdown signs called rumblings which can be verbal or physical behaviors that signal an imminent meltdown
- Be preceded with stimming
- Be caused by overstimulation or an undesirable sensory input
- Not be limited to young children and can also happen to teens and adults
- Happen with or without an audience
- Last longer than tantrums
Once you can tell the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown, then you can apply the right strategies to deal with the situation.
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In some instances, children on the autism spectrum experience extreme meltdowns due to high levels of over-stimulation. In these instances, your child might even engage in aggressive behaviors, such as screaming, kicking, or biting. Anger can be an outcome of over-stimulation, though the childs intent is usually not to harm others, it is just that their level of tolerance has hit capacity. This can be very stressful for you as a parent, especially if occurring in a public place. In these instances, the most helpful thing to do is to find immediate ways to de-escalate the situation.
Give your child the space they need, while also ensuring their safety and the safety of others around them. If you are able to safely move them away from the area of over-stimulation, this also can be helpful.
Removing the audience when possible is also helpful, as the presence of others may only make the situation worse. In most instances, allowing space will help de-escalate the situation on its own. When your child is starting to calm, it is best to get on their level physically, limit your verbal interactions, and offer any on-the-go calming tools you might have available. For example, a fidget tool or small, weighted item or lap pad.
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Break Out Your Sensory Toolkit
Keep a few sensory tools or toys in your car or bag. You can offer these to your kid when their mind is overwhelmed.
Kids have different favorites, but some common sensory tools include weighted lap pads, noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, and fidget toys.
Dont force these on your child when theyre melting down, but if they choose to use them, these products can often help them calm down.
Preventing Tantrums And Meltdowns In Younger Children On The Autism Spectrum
Do younger kids with ASD have meltdowns on purpose? Can they be prevented? What’s the best way to respond? Should the child be punished for having a meltdown? When might meltdowns be a sign of something more serious? Sorry for all the questions, but we are trying to learn all we can to help or little girl. Do young ASD kids have meltdowns on purpose?==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and High Functioning AutismCan meltdowns be prevented?What’s the best way to respond to a meltdown?Should an ASD kid be punished for having a meltdown?When might meltdowns be a sign of something more serious?
How Can We Deal With Or Better Yet Prevent Tantrums
There are two possible ways of dealing with tantrums: a counting procedure and planned ignoring.
Counting Procedure: The parent or guardian may calmly take control when faced with a child in the throes of a tantrum by neither negative nor positive reinforcement. Count one number aloud in between the wailing followed by youre calming down and hopefully by the time you reach ten, the tantrum is over long enough to ask what the child wants. This helps teach the child how to ask for something appropriately. There is one downside to this method and that is if your child has echolalia.
Planned Ignoring: This method may be used especially when the child thrives on attention. The key to success is making sure everyone stays consistent. Do not reward the child in tantrum but ignore the outburst lavish praise when they behave appropriately keep yourself occupied so the child knows their method is not working, and lastly, give positive reinforcement.
The only time one should intervene during a tantrum is when the child is hurting either themselves or others.
Another thought is comparing a tantrum to that of a fire. Since childhood weve learned to stop, drop, and roll if we are on fire. As the person in control, you can prevent the smoke from turning into fire by staying vigilant of your childs tantrum triggers. That doesnt imply that tantrums will disappear completely. Here are the three steps.
Asking To Leave Or To Take A Break
If your child asks or signs to leave the area or take a break, the situation or environment may be overstimulating.
As your childs guide, working with your childs communication skills will help them to understand when and how to express to you when they are in need of a break, even though they may not be able to understand or express their own level of anxiety.
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What Triggers Autism Meltdowns
Honestly, this could be any number of things but here are the top three.
Sensory overload can be caused by noises, smells, textures, or lights. Any number of those things individually or combined can lead to too much sensory input. For example, a weekend camping trip with the family, could cause sensory overload because of the unfamiliar environment.
Without the ability to properly regulate and process different situations, an individual with autism could become easily overwhelmed.
Long term stress
When you combine the long term stressors of overload and social challenges, its really not surprising when a meltdown comes on suddenly.
Focus On Your Child Not Staring Bystanders
Meltdowns for any child can get noisy, but they tend to go to a whole other level of loud when its an autistic child.
These outbursts can feel embarrassing to parents when were in public and everyone is staring at us.
We feel the judgment from some saying, Id never let my kid act like that.
Or worse, we feel like our deepest fears are validated: People think were failing at this whole parenting thing.
Next time you find yourself in this public display of chaos, ignore the judgmental looks, and quiet down that fearful inner voice saying youre not enough. Remember that the person who is struggling and needs your support the most is your child.
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Teach Proper Communication Skills
A significant problem for many autistic children is that they struggle with communication. They have a hard time asking for what they want, and responding to being denied something they may believe is a right.
Some autistic children struggle with verbal communication, which is why you may want to use hand signals or body behavioral clues to better understand how your child is feeling.
When you notice that they are reacting in a similar way to the last time they had a tantrum, talk to your child. Explain that if they want something, they need to ask, not get upset.
Keep in mind those conversations are likely to be challenging and will not be without struggles, especially if your autistic child is younger. Dont hesitate to ask a professional for support if you feel you need it.
As your child gets older and the level of communication between the two of you improves, you will hopefully notice these tantrums happening a lot less often.
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 parents 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 3 main points that can help to identify tantrum vs autistic meltdown:
1. Pay attention to the underlying situation and what has happened before the behavior:
A tantrum is a goal-oriented action, so there is always an unmet request before the tantrum. The child may be asking for a sweet or a toy, want to play games or not to leave the playground. Tantrums may happen in any situation if the child is tired or hungry or bored, but at any situation there is goal for the tantrum!
An autistic meltdown, however, is not related to a specific goal but rather caused by too much overload. It shows that the child is not able to handle the situation. There may be too much sensory stimuli in the environment, too much information, or the child just feels too much pressure from unpredictable situations and getting out of their routines.
2. There are often signs of distress before a meltdown:
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Visual Schedules Social Stories Check
Wed all like to avoid meltdowns completely, but thats not possible. Instead, some parents find it helpful to put strategies in place to minimize the stress and anxiety of daily life that may contribute to a meltdown. Visual schedules, social stories, check-off lists, and activity or task schedules will be helpful in communicating to your child what is planned, and what the expectations will be. If youre planning an outing to the mall or grocery store, an online search can turn up actual photos of the store. Social stories that walk a child through the plan, from beginning to end, will offer predictability and a sense of control that may reduce anxiety. Over time, building in a surprise or question mark to visual schedules will help to shape behavioral responses to unexpected changes in routines or outings that are often stressful.
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How To React To An Autism Meltdown
Its important not to judge someone having a meltdown, according to the NAS. They may not be able to respond to you, and any effort to minimize their experience can make the situation worse.
During a meltdown, I cant focus on how Im sounding or how others perceive me, but its never out of malice or wanting attention. Its just me being overwhelmed, which I think everyone can relate to, Lewis says.
Its essential to stay calm, Pervez explains. If youre afraid the childs behavior could risk the safety of people around them, quietly direct others to move away. If possible, move the child to a quiet, safe space, even if it means leaving the store or dropping your planned activities.
Autism meltdowns arent something children or adults opt into by choice. Never shame someone who is experiencing a meltdown, Pervez says.
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