How Meltdowns Differ From Tantrums
Because meltdowns and childhood tantrums share similar qualities, the phrases autism tantrum and autism meltdown have been used interchangeably. Still, theres a key difference between the two.
Though neurotypical adults may experience emotional outbursts similar to temper tantrums, generally speaking, tantrums are far more common in children.
On the other hand, autism meltdowns arent limited to children anyone with autism can become overstimulated and experience a meltdown.
Additionally, tantrums are generally goal-oriented.
Tantrums are often related to a want, while meltdowns are related to a trigger, Jane explains.
Its really important to understand the difference because meltdowns are never a voluntary choice within our control, and how you respond to a meltdown versus a tantrum is very different.
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How To Deal With A Meltdown
As no two kids with ASD are the same, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy on how to handle meltdowns. Not all meltdown strategies are guaranteed to work on every child on the spectrum. However, there are some general techniques that can be customized to your childs behavior and personality.
The best way to prevent your child from having a meltdown is to predict and avoid triggers. This can be avoiding crowds, establishing a set routine, and planning ahead.
However, when a meltdown is already happening, you can try the following approach:
- Leave the room or location to help your child calm down
- Use calming devices like a fidget toy, noise-canceling headphones, or a weighted vest
- Choose a good time when your child is receptive to learning and teach breathing exercises, meditation, and counting from one to ten
- Prevent injuries to your child or others during a meltdown by being in a safe place
- Keep yourself calm as your child can feel your frustration and worsen the meltdown
- Keep your face and voice neutral and be at arms length in case the child reaches out
- Children who are in a meltdown cant be reasoned with so dont rely on logic
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Calm The Child With Beautiful Scenery
Its commonly agreed that visual aids for autism can help autistic children who struggle to settle for bed. Sleep deprivation will affect a childs mood, as it will a parents ability to help them. If you struggle for hours at a time to help your child to settle, as visual aids are the perfect solution.
Being highly sensitive to sensory perception, autistic children will benefit greatly from 4K HD videos of relaxing streams or idyllic beaches. In a matter of minutes, a soothing calmness with wash over them, allowing them to drift away into the quiet recess of slumber.
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Causes Of Anxiety And Meltdowns
Unlike their typical peers, few autistic children throw fits in order to garner more attention or to get a desired outcome . In most cases, autistic children react to physical or emotional stress without any particular agenda they are simply expressing feelings of excitement, frustration, or anxiety or responding to sensory assaults.
The reality is that children with autism, in general, may have less control over their emotions than their typical peers as a result, emotional explosions are more common.
Its not always easy for a neurotypical parent to predict or even recognize situations likely to upset a child with autism. Ordinary changes in a daily routine such as a detour on the way to school can be terribly upsetting to some autistic children .
Odors such as the smell of fresh paint can be a sensory assault. Even the fluorescent lights at the grocery store can be overwhelming to certain individuals.
At the same time, however, any individual child may react differently to the same situation from day to day. An overwhelming stressor on Tuesday can be experienced as background noise on Thursday.
In general, its possible to predict at least some stressors and minimize them. For example:
- Very loud noises such as the sound of fireworks are easy to predict and avoid or minimize.
- Major changes in routine can be predicted, discussed, practiced, and planned for,
- Unavoidable noise and smells can be managed and planned for in advance.
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How Can Adults With Autism Deal With Meltdowns
These five strategies can help autistic adults better cope with meltdowns.
1. Identify triggers.
I have written before about considering emotional regulation as a timeline. Autistic adults are advised to develop strategies to notice where they are on that timeline in order to get a sense of how easily triggered they might be at a particular moment. They should pay attention to their mood, as well as notice how tired or stressed they already are.
Ask: Is there a potential for me to be more easily triggered? Is the type of situation I’m going into the same type of situation that has triggered a meltdown in the past? Can I avoid putting myself into that situation until a time when I feel more rested and less stressed?
2, Get the right support.
No one likes losing control. If our actions have affected someone else, were probably going to feel bad about it. However, its important for autistic adults to explain to those people close to them whats happening when a meltdown occurs to ensure theyre supportive and understanding.
Several of my clients have shared the criticism they receive from relatives, friends, and partners when they have meltdowns. Elaine, for example, told me, I recently went into total meltdown after being grabbed unexpectedly by a friend. I managed to get out of the situation and ended up outside, banging my head until it bled. My husband was so embarrassed and critical of me afterward.
What Its Like To Have A Severe Autism Meltdown
One of the biggest fears a person can have is loss of control of self. The other is fear of the unknown. For many with autism, the unknown can trigger a loss of control. One great fear leads to another.
There are many sources out there that will tell you why we do what we do. . Articles will explain why we cannot handle change. Speakers will express the process of transition. Trainers will teach the need for scheduling and routine. However, there comes a point where none of these suggestions is helpful, and a meltdown still occurs. Like a seizure, it can happen out of nowhere, and it can be very frightening and traumatic for the autistic person . Especially when the cause of the meltdown is unknown. It is terrifying!
You may be very used to meltdowns that your child or adult child may have. However, a meltdown can look quite different in another person. Meltdowns can look like any of these actions: withdrawal or outward distress . Since you have experience with autism, you can offer help to that person in distress.
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What Are 3 Key Factors For Setting Limits When De
Question 6: What are 3 key factors for setting limits when de-escalating behaviour?
- Use authoritative body language, demand the person complies, speak firmly.
- Always let the person in crisis take charge of setting limits, work within the limits they set, allow the person to change the limits to be more patient focused.
After A Meltdown: What To Do
Immediately after a meltdown, your child might feel embarrassed or exhausted. If your child can have time, space and a calming and familiar activity to do, it can help them to recover.
For example, your child could read a book, touch a sensory object, spend some time with the family pet or play their favourite music.
Later, if your child has the language and developmental ability, it can help to talk with your child about what happened. Try to do this when youre both feeling calm. It could be at least 30 minutes before your child can talk about the meltdown.
Its also good to work out whether there were new triggers or a combination of triggers that caused your childs meltdown. If there were, you can develop a plan for avoiding a meltdown in a similar situation next time.
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What Is Mirroring In Child Development
The concept of mirroring involves a parents accurate reflection of a childs expressed thoughts and feelings. This reflection leads to the childs experience of acceptance and validity. Over time, the validation is internalized and the child enters adult life with self-acceptance and self-awareness.
Techniques For Calming An Upset Child
Even the most vigilant parent will be faced with the occasional meltdown from their child with autism. When that happens, the following tips may help:
- Recognize the signs: Children with autism will often show signs of distress before they have a meltdown. Be cognizant of changes in your child’s demeanor, and ask them what they are feeling if something doesn’t feel right.
- Check for any changes in the environment: This may involve things as simple as closing a door, turning off a light, or turning down the music.
- Give the child space: If your child is in no danger of harming themselves, give them space to calm down on their own. Stay nearby to ensure they remain safe, but avoid crowding them or trying to “make things right.”
- Keep self-soothing tools nearby: If you’re away from home, be sure to have your child’s favorite sensory toy, weighted blanket, video, or book close at hand.
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Autism Meltdown Strategies For Children
Youve heard the saying: When youve met a child with autism, youve met one child with autism.
Because every autistic child presents differently, with varied skills, levels of relatedness, communication, and sensory processing profiles, it is impossible to have a one-solution-fits-all approach to managing meltdowns.
The following are some tips and strategies that have helped other parents, but you will have to consider these in terms of your individual childs needs.
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. This is typically referred to as a sensory diet and can be beneficial in preventing and managing autism meltdowns.
Some common ones that support regulation across the day:
- Visual schedules
- Check off lists
- Activity or task schedules
- Routine sensory diet activities, for example, using a weighted blanket during sleep, engaging in deep pressure activities at certain times in the daily routine, etc.
Some parents find it helpful to schedule quiet time for their child, in order to allow for the downtime proactively before the activity of the day gets to be too much. Building in a surprise or question mark to visual schedules helps to shape behavioral responses to unexpected changes in routines that are often stressful.
Whats The Difference Between A Meltdown And A Tantrum
A good place to start is by understanding the difference between a sensory meltdown and a tantrum. The two are easily confused which is why many dismiss meltdowns as nothing more than a badly behaved childs cry for attention. This couldnt be further from the truth.
Tantrums are behavioural outbursts which are a deliberate attempt to get something. A child could have a tantrum for many different reasons. They could, for example, want their parents attention or perhaps they want their parents to buy a specific toy. Unlike meltdowns, a child having a tantrum is in control of their behavior, and will most likely stop acting out when they get what they want. Tantrums and meltdowns are very different and cannot be handled in the same way. By simply dismissing a meltdown as a petulant child acting out, you can cause severe harm to a child with special needs.
We put together some tips which may help you calm your special child during these trying times. But remember, what calms one child with special needs may not work for another. The important thing is to be understanding, patient and loving. That is after all what a child needs most during a sensory meltdown.
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Is Hitting A Sign Of Autism
Hitting is not a universal sign of autism but people with autism tend to engage in behaviour that can cause harm to themselves or others when they feel frustrated, overwhelmed or unwell. Some of the behaviours that you may see are banging their head on walls or other objects, hitting themselves or others and hitting their head with their hands. Since some of them lack communication and social skills, this seems to be an adaptive behaviour that gets them the attention they desperately seek.
How To Calm A Child With Autism
There are certain calming dos and donts that apply to most children with autism. These are based on the factors that autistic children have in common, specifically:
- Difficulty with understanding social norms and conventions
- Difficulty with following or using non-verbal communication
- Unawareness of others likely reactions to behaviors
- Sensory challenges that can get in the way of positive behaviors
- Lack of social motivation
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No I Dont Just Need To Discipline My Child More
Meltdowns are not tantrums. They are not the result of a lack of discipline on the part of the parent. Children on the Autism Spectrum have sensory issues. One child may be a sensory avoider, while another is a sensory seeker. And kids with sensory issues do not respond well to physical punishment. Spanking, time out, and yelling are not usually effective tools of discipline for a child with autism. Rather, parents of children on the Autism Spectrum rely on routine and repeated exposure to teach their autistic children rules and boundaries.
Ways To Help Your Child Or Young Person
- Keep a diary to help them to explore their feelings. Log what makes them feel anxious so that you can understand the triggers.
- Use visuals and plans to help your childs understanding of their feelings. This can lessen the impact of changes and reduce uncertainty.
- Look at your childs environment. Are there ways that you could adapt it together to make it less stressful?
- Think about calming strategies and activities that your child can use. You could try using a fidget spinner or watching animal videos. Some children might find yoga, meditation or colouring can help. Others might benefit from physical exercise.
- Use apps. Molehill Mountain is an app to help people with ASD to understand and self-manage anxiety. Brain in Hand is not specific to any condition. Its for anyone who finds anxiety or unexpected events can disrupt their day.
- Try counselling or CAMHS services. Talk to your GP about whether this would be a helpful route to take. They may be able to direct you to extra support and refer you to mental health services.
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Calming Strategies For Autism Meltdowns
Now, before I jump into these strategies, I have a word of warning.
Please dont do all of these immediately when your child starts a meltdown.
You need to know what works for your child, and what their sensory preferences are.
Not every strategy will work for every child, so test them out one at a time to see what works best for your child.
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Offer A Movement Break Or A Walk
Getting moving is proven to reduce stress, help you calm down, and increase serotonin the feel-good neurotransmitter.
During a meltdown, the fight or flight instinct is activated movement like going for a walk can trick your brain into feeling that its chosen flight and helps you start calming down.
What To Do When An Autistic Child Has A Tantrum
Now that you understand the fundamental differences between temper tantrums and meltdowns, youll recognize that the strategies to address tantrums are rooted more in behavioral supports and skill-building.
There are a number of parent-friendly resources that target tantrum management strategies and the majority of them focus on a three-fold approach/
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Meltdowns Advice & Support For:
Our advice and guidance on meltdowns will help you understand what a meltdown is, their causes and how you can help.
A meltdown is an intense response to an overwhelming situation. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their situation and temporarily loses control of their behaviour.
This page gives you an overview. For more information about how to anticipate meltdowns and minimise their frequency, select from the menu above or the guide link below.
Last reviewed and updated on 20 August 2020
Our Aba Therapy Can Help You And Your Child With Autism Deal With Challenging Behaviors
Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is one of the most proven effective treatment approaches to helping children with autism achieve their full potential. Board Certified Behavioral Analysts like ours at The Autism Therapy Group work with you and your child using a personalized treatment plan to overcome difficulties in:
- Learning and academic skills
ABA therapy and early intervention in your childs life is an excellent way to better understand your childs autism behavior triggers and how you both can learn how to deal with them at home and in public.
Through ABA therapy, your child can build the emotional self-management skills they need to help minimize the chances of challenging behaviors. What your child learns through their personalized treatment plan can also aid in their ability to effectively communicate their needs and wants, which will, in turn, lead to fewer meltdowns too.
If you are in the Chicago area and looking for help dealing with and avoiding as many autism meltdowns as you can, reach out to us. Our team of high-quality autism experts is here and ready to walk you and your child through a customized treatment plan that can help.
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