Autism Meltdowns Vs Temper Tantrums: Are They The Same
No, meltdowns and temper tantrums are not the same, even though both behaviors look quite similar on the surface. There are some subtle differences that a practiced eye can pick up on. Temper tantrums are considered goal-oriented behavior. In other words, a child throws a temper tantrum in order to get something he/she wants . A meltdown stems from less obvious triggers which are not rooted in gaining a means to an end.
What Is A Tantrum
A tantrum is a form of bad behaviour, meant to attract attention, often puported by young children . Tantrums happen because these people do not know how to communicate their complex feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, or disbelief. As an expression of temper, they cry, stomp their feet, throw objects or scream… and why? Because something did not go their way. A tantrum feeds off attention with even negative comments propelling the emotional response…
A tantrum is an on/ off event, where the person is SOLELY seeking a response from you. It is about the drama of the experience, the desire for attention . A tantrum stops when good attention is received.
What makes a tantrum different to an autistic meltdown or shutdown is that a tantrum is an on/ off event, where the person is SOLELY seeking a response from you. For example: The child wants a chocolate bar. You say ‘No’. Child screams and kicks and cries. You give in. Child gets chocolate bar. The screaming and kicking stops. This is a tantrum. If this event occurred in an autistic meltdown, the child will keep screaming regardless of whether a chocolate bar is presented or not. Why? Because in an autistic meltdown, the denial of a chocolate bar is not even remotely related to the emotional outburst. You may be able to calm your autistic child down in time, but in autism, your interventions will not switch the behaviour on and off.
What Is A Shutdown
Both shutdowns and meltdowns are the response to intense stress. It is the bodys attempt to try and protect itself from situations that have become too overwhelming. Like a computer might shut down if there isnt enough power, in autistic shutdowns the body tries to prioritise the basic functions and stop all other processes. The ability to process information drastically reduces.
There are other responses like this that everyone experiences, whether autistic or not. For example, the fight or flight response. To explain it in basic terms, the body feels as though there is a threat and prepares to respond in one of these two ways to face the threat head-on or to flee from it. When a shutdown occurs, the body will freeze instead of adopting a fight or flight response.
Situations that may contribute to a shutdown include:
- High demand situations whether the demand is emotional, physical or social
- Situations that require a lot of thinking
- Lack of sleep
- Sensory overwhelm
There may be one event that triggers a shutdown. On the other hand, things could build up over time, with one event tipping the balance and causing things to become too overwhelming.
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How You Can Help
Having a person with us is extremely helpful. Some people need helpers. Some luck out by having friends who understand and can help when were showing signs of overload. There are plenty of examples of spouses or partners who lean in and help when their partner is starting to show stress.
Help can come in different forms. I have been given help, and I have helped others. I have also observed a helper with a person.
A simple way to help is to just keep a person company. Even though the person with autism may not show it, they appreciate the helper. The company of another person gives someone validation. It also gives a sense of safety and security. If you are with me and helping me, I feel like I have significance in this world, and I do not feel as lost. I have seen helpers leave the presence of a person with autism when the person is not ready, and the person expresses anxious behaviors. It is great to check with the person first before leaving their presence.
Another strategy for overload is to take a time out. Sometimes taking a minute to be away from stimulus calms the brain. The brain does not have to take in as much information, and all those brain activities can chill and sort themselves out.
Being an adult with autism, but teaching teens with autism, I am learning to be vigilant of not only my own needs, but of the needs of others. I am hopeful that this information is helpful to both people with autism and caregivers of those with autism.
From The Inside Out: An Autistic Shutdown
Autistics have shutdowns. Its part of life. There are multiple root causes for a shutdown, including the result of sensory overload, physical and mental exhaustion, unexpected news, anxiety about an upcoming event, and upheaval in our schedule. Sometimes it comes in combination other times it comes down to simply being on for so long, that we have no choice but to turn off. Co-occurring stressors, such as physical pain, heightened anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, and the like, serve to further drain our energy reserves.
The amount of energy it takes a typical, non-autistic person to get through the day is, in most cases, significantly less, in comparison to an autistics. In example, I make one hundred conscious decisions, at minimum, within the first hour of waking up. What most individuals decide subconsciously, on a type of automatic mode, I do not. The way I process life can be compared to the sensation one feels when they concentrate on their eyes blinking. When focusing on the eyes closing, we are distracted by an automatic action that would normally not be a distraction. Blinking doesnt involve thoughts. The way I process is similar to the sensation of paying attention to the blink of ones eyes: I am pulled into the blinking of my own thoughts.
In example, during my shutdown:
Shutdown leading into implosion or minor-meltdown:
Like everything else in an autistic world, nothing is simple, nor can be simplified.
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Level 2 Asd: Requiring Substantial Support
Level 2 ASD is the middle-range of autism in terms of severity of symptoms and needs for supports.
People who qualify as having Level 2 ASD need more support than people with Level 1 ASD. They have more difficulty with social skills. Their challenges in social situations may be more noticeable to other people around them as compared to those with Level 1 ASD.
People with Level 2 ASD may or may not communicate verbally. If they do, their conversations may be very short or only on specific topics or they may need extensive support in order to participate in social activities.
The nonverbal behavior of people with Level 2 ASD may be more atypical from the majority of their peers. They may not look at someone who is talking to them. They may not make much eye contact. They may not express emotions through tone of voice or through facial expressions in the same way that most other people do.
People with Level 2 ASD struggle more than those with Level 1 ASD regarding their restrictive or repetitive behaviors. They may have routines or habits that they feel they must do and, if these get interrupted, they become very uncomfortable or upset.
How To Handle An Autism Meltdown
Parents and clinicians will not be able to fully prevent every meltdown. If a child has gone past the point of no return, then its time to use strategies to calm the child down in order to prevent injury to themselves and to others.
- First, remove the child from the environment and the irritating stimuli if you feel that they could hurt themselves or others.
- Give them as much space as possible and keep bystanders from physically intervening
- Let go of all time constraints. Meltdowns need to be brought down slowly and with care.
- Stop talking. Sometimes the best thing a parent or clinician can do during a meltdown is to shut up and let the child process without your voice in the background.
- Slowly introduce calming objects one at a time.
- Once the child starts calming down and communicating with you , then the end is near.
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Severe Versions Of Autism Symptoms
To qualify for an autism spectrum diagnosis, a person must have symptoms significant enough to impair daily life. Every autistic person must have social, communication, and sensory challenges that make life more difficult/
Even so-called “high functioning” autism can be very challenging. But those challenges rise to a very different level for people with “severe” autism.
What Is Autism Anxiety
Autism is a spectrum, this means that each case varies in severity. Symptoms of ASD are often present in early childhood and persist through life causing difficulties in multiple areas of function . Occasionally, ASD is also paired with other disorders and language impairments.
There is no immediate mention of anxiety, panic attacks, and meltdowns being mentioned as diagnostic qualifiers for an autism diagnosis . However, parents, caregivers, and clinicians understand how prevalent these conditions are among those with autism.
Anxiety as a stand-alone word is a state of nervousness or worry. However, anxiety disorder is a full-blown mental health condition which causes debilitating and prolonged nervousness and apprehension with physical manifestations such as increased blood pressure and elevated heart rate. Roughly 40% of young people with autism have anxiety or at least one type of anxiety disorder . Several types of anxiety include phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, and social anxiety.
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Autistics Have Meltdowns Autistics Have Shutdowns This Is Just Part Of Life We Experience The World At 100% And Some Days It Can Just All Get Too Much
Recently there has been a lot of talk around autism as an excuse for bad behaviour, specifically with respects to childhood tantrums… So we want to clarify some things here.
Perhaps there is just not enough information about the differences between autistic responses to overwhelm and temper tantrums This is our 2 cents on the matter.
Why Do Autistic People Experience Shutdowns
Lets think of all people as having 3 levels of functioning:
- At level 1, the person can function normally without reaching burnout
- At level 2, the person has reached burnout and they are using their final energy reserves. As these are limited, they should be used for emergency purposes only
- At level 3, the person has used their final reserves and can no longer continue to function
For autistic people, it is much harder to stay at level 1. The world is designed for and suited to the needs of non-autistic people. For autistic people, things are more difficult to process and the environment is more overwhelming. Just living on an average day takes far more physical and emotional energy for an autistic person than a non-autistic person. And this is without any additional stressors.
Therefore, autistic people can find themselves quickly pushed to level 2. They are using their final reserves of energy just to try and get through the day. This isnt sustainable, and therefore autistic people may quickly find they have reached level 3 where the body can no longer continue to function. A shutdown may be triggered as a protective measure.
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Shutdowns And Your Child
Signs of hypersensitivity to social stress in infants
Shyness is an early sign of hypersensitivity to social stress which was apparent in the SD child as an infant Since prosocial behavior develops rapidly in the second year of life, this is the time when intervention may be the most effective . We believe that sensitivity to social stress is a core feature of the stress instability that we have observed in the SD child. Parents of shy infants risk nothing by contacting their county regional center or other agency qualified to screen for developmental delays. If the screening reveals any developmental delays, parents should take their child to a pediatric neurologist skilled at diagnosing autism. This may lead to psychological testing to confirm a diagnosis.
Identifying and controlling triggers
Triggers may vary from child to child but one would expect social situations to be particularly difficult for an autistic child. Environmental factors should also be considered for children with hypersensitivities to light, sounds, smells or tactile sensations. It is equally important to identify when stress reactions do not occur.
If school is particularly difficult for your child, make arrangements to observe him at school. Collaborating with teachers and therapists will help to identify when the child shows stress, what the symptoms are and what seems to help him recover. APPENDIX III describes methods for identifying stress triggers and shutdowns in your child.
Managing Autism Meltdowns Tantrums And Aggression
Lastly, dont pressure your child to mask too much. Obviously, behaviors that harm your child should be changedbut some things that arent necessarily seen as normal, like stimming, are just part of who he/she is. Life as an autistic person can be difficult, but the stigma makes it even more so. Constantly masking without breaks can create shutdowns now and burnout in the long term.
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Sensory Overload In Autism
Sensory overload involves more than just sounds. It can be any environmental stimulus that interferes with the stability of the environment. In some cases, the individual can be so sensitive as to react adversely to sensations you might not even notice.
Online Communication #shutdown For Autism Awareness Criticised By Autism Activists #talkaboutautism
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, leader of the Vermont Chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, has criticised the Shutdown on her blog, saying its counterproductive to tell non-autistic people to stay away from online sites when so many autistic people overcome isolation and intense loneliness by connecting with one another online. She also criticised Brisbanes AEIOU Foundation, originators of the shutdown, for not having any autistic members on their Board of Directors.
Corina Becker, of the No Stereotypes Here blog, who has been diagnosed as autistic, has also criticised the shutdown, proposing instead that today be Autistics Speaking Day. Activist Kathryn Bjornstad has set up a .
Severe Or Level 3 Autism
Another way to describe severe autism is to talk about the level of support required for a person with the diagnosis to function safely. The current diagnostic manual provides three levels of autism, with more support required at each level.
People with severe autism would usually be diagnosed as having level 3 autism spectrum disorder, meaning they need a great deal of support.
It is not unusual for a person with severe autism to require 24/7 support and supervision.
Severe autism can be much more debilitating and challenging than other types of autism. That’s because people with autism have many of the same issues as anyone else on the spectrum, but to a much greater degree, and often have major symptoms that are relatively rare in higher functioning autism.
These two sets of issues can make it virtually impossible for a person with severe autism to function well in typical settings ranging from school to the grocery store to the doctor’s office.
Getting The Right Environment
Environment is important to quality of life for autistic people. There are ways you can adapt and improve your environment to make it as comfortable and supportive as possible for you or your child.
The social model of disability is a way of looking at the world that treats the difficulties people with disabilities have as being caused by barriers in society, rather than just the disabilities themselves. These barriers can be physical for example, buildings not having accessible toilets. Barriers can also be caused by peoples attitudes for example, many people will assume someone is lying because they dont make eye contact while talking.
The social model of disability can be a helpful way of considering the difficulties someone faces, and how to adapt their environment so it works for them.
Common changes to an environment that can help autistic people include:
- sensory changes for example, being given a quiet space to work, being able to use sensory toys like fidget spinners, or being allowed to make noises while working
- communication changes for example, using email or apps to communicate, using very clear language, allowing additional time to ask questions, or using visual communication such as photos or pictures as well as written words
- routine keeping to a regular routine and giving warning of any changes as far in advance as possible
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What Is Autistic Catatonia
So far we have only discussed shutdown as it has more commonly become known within the autism community. However, these kinds of shutdown are actually more of an informal term which describes an experience similar to the real deal: Autistic Catatonia a condition which can start between the ages of 10-19 where, inexplicably, our batteries drain faster than usual and we become periodically immobile or dazed during moments of function.
Although not much has been studied regarding catatonia in autistic people, it has been theorized , that during these episodes in which an autistic person will slow or stop it may be that either:
- Our responses hit half speed as a result of sensory function and motor ability colliding
- Our rituals, obsessions and routines have garnered top billing in our mind and everything else is a slow second thought
Catatonia is not exclusive to people with autism though, as it also exists in some people with schizophrenia and Tourettes syndrome although in non-autistic iterations a person with catatonia may become more active instead of less so.
Furthermore, despite autistic catatonia presenting itself much later than most autistic quirks, its hereditary origin indicates that it still very much a part of the spectrum and not something we catch. While this does mean that the condition can be unavoidable, it also means that it can be prepared for.