Does Tantrum Happen In Children With Autism
Yes! Children with autism, similar to neurotypical children can also have temper tantrums. The challenge is to identify when a child is having a meltdown and when they are having a tantrum. This is very important, since the approach to these two situations is quite different, as we will discuss going forwards.
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.
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 more severe symptoms can get very upset on a daily basis. Meltdowns and anxiety can make it very hard to participate in typical activities or, in some extreme cases, to even leave the house.
It’s not always easy to calm a child with autism, but there are techniques that can often be successful. Some require a bit of extra equipment that offers sensory comfort. Some of these items can be used in settings like school or community venues. If they work well, they’re worth their weight in gold.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
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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.
Managing Autism Meltdowns Tantrums And Aggression
May 7, 2021
To an outsider, a child with autism having a meltdown might appear like a child having a temper tantrum, but the circumstances are often more complex than what meets the eye. Those who have cared for a child with autism spectrum disorder will know a meltdown is handled differently and with intimate knowledge of the childs personality.
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Use A Weighted Blanket
Being on the go can be stressful for anyone. For people with autism, running errands or traveling can lead to sensory overstimulation. Before you know it, a meltdown is brewing, and you have no idea how to help your child calm down.
This is where a weighted blanket may help. Noted autism researcher Dr. Temple Grandin got the idea to create a squeeze machine after observing how cattle seemed relaxed and calm after being led into a device that held them still for vaccinations. She wondered if a similar process would work for people with autism, who sometimes feel calmed by close contact but can also be overstimulated by hugging.
Dr. Grandins research showed that firm but gentle hugging can have a calming effect on individuals with autism. As she wrote in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling Autistic children will often seek out deep pressure sensations.
Occupational therapists still use squeeze machines, but they tend to be bulky and expensive. Fortunately, a weighted blanket may provide the same result. In a 2015 study published in theJournal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, researchers stated:
If you plan on traveling soon, you can also try the SensaCalm Calm to Go travel blanket. Its sized for easy use in the car, on a plane or however you get from here to there.
Teach Them Coping Strategies Once Theyre Calm
There isnt much we can do during a meltdown as far as trying to teach our children coping tools, but when theyre in a peaceful and rested frame of mind, we can definitely work on emotional regulation together.
My son responds really well to nature walks, practicing yoga daily , and deep breathing.
These coping strategies will help them calm down perhaps before a meltdown even when you arent around.
Empathy is at the heart of all of these steps to dealing with an autistic meltdown.
When we look at our childs behavior as a form of communication, it helps us view them as struggling instead of being defiant.
The word defiance can drop from our meltdown vocabulary entirely, replaced by empathy and compassion. And by showing our children compassion, we can more effectively support them through their meltdowns.
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Ease Autism Meltdowns With A Sensacalm Weighted Blanket
SensaCalm was founded by the grandmother of a child with autism. Were committed to helping parents and adults with autism find the tools they need to navigate the world just a little bit better.
Questions? Were here to help. Give us a call at 855-736-7222 or use our contact form to get in touch with one of our knowledgeable team members.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.
Meltdowns Compared To Temper Tantrums
Knowing the difference between a typical temper tantrum in a young child and a meltdown in a person with autism helps to further understand what a meltdown is.
Children have temper tantrums with intention and purpose, such as control over people or situations, or as a call for attention. A child having a temper tantrum does have control over themselves, even if the tantrum results in attacking people, loud screaming, or breaking things.
A person having a meltdown typically screams, attacks people, hurts themselves and breaks things, which may look like a temper tantrum, but there is no underlying intention or plan involved.
In an autistic meltdown, the person is not aware of self-control, as they are in the throes of distress, and typically the meltdown situation will have to calm itself down, meaning, it cannot simply be turned off.
People with autism can experience a meltdown whether they are a child, a teen, or an adult.
With positive changes, the frequency of meltdowns can decrease over time.
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How To Deal With An Autism Meltdown
If you are a parent of an autistic child, chances are you deal with tantrums or meltdowns daily and may have learned How to Deal With an Autism Meltdown.
They are unpredictable and are one of the biggest challenges that parents of autistic children come across.
They are not pretty and sometimes they give you the feeling that you want to pull out your hair.
In this article, we will place emphasis on understanding tantrums and meltdowns, and tips and strategies on how to deal with an autism meltdown, when your child doesnt get their way.
What Are Autism Meltdowns
Like I mentioned above, autism meltdowns are basically when an autistic person becomes overwhelmed or overstimulated and they either shut down or explode.
Many times the autistic person may not be aware of their actions during a meltdown, and they may become violent towards themselves or others around them.
Do your best to remember that autism meltdowns are not anyones fault, so its important for parents to keep as calm as possible and handle the meltdowns as well as you can.
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Look For The Triggers
Autistic meltdowns are quite sudden, but many people have triggers. Of course, not everyone has the same triggers. Every autistic persons brain is wired in a different way. Some people are triggered by loud noises, others by stress, others by something odd like a certain smell. Finding the triggers can help you minimize the chances of a meltdown. This is another reason why you should speak to a professional. They can help you find the triggers and allow you to prevent a meltdown whenever possible.
Veneer Of Coping: Shutdown
A shutdown is a particular sequence of behaviour involving the senses, language skills, motor skills and memory which we observe in children diagnosed as high-functioning within the autism spectrum. In academic settings, when pressured by an adult to perform tasks that were difficult, these children may become unresponsive, sleepy, immobile, limp to the touch for several minutes and then fell asleep in a chair for as briefly as 10 minutes and up to two hours.
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Dealing With Meltdowns For The Long Term
Meltdowns can occur anytime. You can handle these episodes two ways – through long-term mechanisms and present moment tactics.
These are the long term mechanisms that we recommend:
- Calming Routines. Let your kid be used to relaxing music. Walk with them throughout the neighborhood. Snug them in with a favorite stuffed toy. Make these consistent.
- Use of Calming Devices. Even when not in a panicky situation, make your child get used to calming devices like a fidget toy or a portable massage device.
- Make your home safe. Be sure that safety measures are in place throughout your house. This is because meltdowns can occur anytime and children under the spectrum are prone to accidents in the home because of their unpredictable movements.
- Diary or journal keeping. Keep a record of what happens during a meltdown. Or what you did before to prevent one. We tend to forget some important events that eventually help us in the present when we read them in the journal we keep.
- As much as possible, be physically present for that special person. If you can spend more quality time with your beloved kid, it will minimize the chances of a meltdown because he or she will feel your unconditional concern and love and that is very reassuring.
A Meltdown Is Not Personal They May Say Things They Dont Mean Or Feel
Try to remember this is not personal, its not about you at all. Often I say things which I really do not feel, Im finding fault with the whole world and unfortunately no-one is exempt. Everything is wrong inside and Im having difficulty expressing that in a constructive way. If you keep this in mind then perhaps it will be easier to stay calm and see this for what it is. A reaction to overwhelmed an overstimulated brain.
Im hoping that this will be helpful, personally to those around me and for other autistic adults and those that love and support them.
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How To Handle A Meltdown In Public
This can happen to anyone. Parents and caregivers could be low on patience while also hurting for their struggling child.
Remember that autistic children do not have meltdowns and cry or flail just to get at you.They cry because they need to release tension from their bodies in some way. They are overwhelmed with emotions or sensory stimulations.
There are some ways to effectively support your child when they are having a meltdown in public. Here are some of them.
Equip them with coping skills: Meltdowns cant be helped at that very moment. But afterwards, you can teach your child how to regulate their emotions. Try relaxing activities like going for walks. These calming activities will help them calm down even before the meltdown happens.
Feeling safe and loved: Trying to talk a child down from having a meltdown is not a great strategy when it comes to calm an autistic child. Be there for them. Let them know that they are safe at that moment. Stay close as much as their comfort allows. Dont leave them alone to be out of a meltdown and find no one in the room. This could send a message that they dont deserve to be around the people they love when it gets tough.
Empathy is key: Listen and understand their situation. Tell them expressing emotions is okay, and sometimes it can get overwhelming. If your child with autism can feel like they are being heard, they will feel that their experience is validated. Try to give them tools to express themselves in a safe way.
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.
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A Temper Tantrum Is Not An Autism Meltdown
A temper tantrum usually occurs when a child is denied what they want to have or what they want to do.
Parents observe many tantrums during the terrible twos. This occurs when young children are developing problem-solving skills and beginning to assert their independence.
In fact, this terrible twos stage is typically experienced between 12 months through 4 years old!
When you look at why temper tantrums occur at this stage, it is important to consider typical development and why toddlers are so easily frustrated:
- Emerging desire to become independent, but limited motor skills and cognitive skills make it impossible to actually BE independent.
- Emerging, developing language skills make communicating wants/needs frustrating.
- The prefrontal cortex of the brain has not yet developed – this is the brain center responsible for emotional regulation and social behavior – so they do not have the ability to regulate!
- Toddlers are developing an understanding of their world, and its often anxiety-producing. This anxiety and lack of control often result in tantrums when it all gets to be too much to manage.
A hallmark of a tantrum is that the behavior will usually persist if the child gains attention for his behavior, but will subside when ignored.
When parents give in to tantrum outbursts, children are more likely to repeat the behavior the next time they are denied what they want or need.
How To Prevent Meltdowns
For parents, dealing with ASD meltdowns can be exhausting. Preventing them can be a better strategy than trying to respond to them.
Sometimes you can use the information you know about the child to avoid common triggers:
- Know the childs sensory sensitivities such loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells
- Know the daily routine such as reading a story before bedtime, eating a certain food for breakfast
- Know the childs favorite things/places such a dinosaur toy, favorite blanket, a specific shop/store
Once you have these pieces of information, it will be easier to identify meltdown triggers and avoid them as much as possible.
For instance, if your child does not like a specific sensory input like bright lights, but you are in a public place where there are bright lights, try to redirect your child to avoid this area.
It might be necessary to improvise if you can not avoid a meltdown trigger. If you need to skip breakfast because you need to leave early for a trip, pack the childs breakfast so he/she can still eat it on the way.
Averting a meltdown may not be possible at all times, but here are a few ways to try to prevent them:
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 behavior 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 behavior 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 an 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.