One of the earliest things I had to figure out as a parent of an Autistic child, was the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.
When my son was a little over 2 years old, he started having meltdowns. This was before he was diagnosed with Autism so I had no idea why my son was having these uncontrollable “tantrums” and nothing we did made him stop. He would just cry and cry for sometimes 30 minutes at a time.
After he was diagnosed, I started researching and realized that he wasn’t throwing a fit at all, he was having a meltdown.
If you are a parent of a child with autism or sensory processing disorder, it’s important to know the difference so that you can properly help your child.
Here are some tips that will hopefully be helpful in telling the difference.
Tantrums happen when a child doesn’t get what they want, like a piece of candy from the grocery store, or to have dessert before dinner.
The key factor here is that the child is in control, and can stop when they want. Often times when a young child is throwing a tantrum, they will stop periodically to see if they are getting their parents attention.
Tantrums are attention seeking, angry outburst because the child is not getting what they want at that point in time.
Meltdowns are not bad behavior, they are neurological reactions to feeling overwhelmed or having sensory overload.
Every Christmas my extended family gather at my grandparent’s house for a Christmas dinner and Christmas festivities. My family is very large and my grandparent’s house isn’t that big so it can get really crowded.
The first time I brought my son to the Christmas gathering he sat under my grandmother’s table, covering his ears and crying for the majority of the party. Nothing I did helped him calm down. He was having a meltdown. The number of people and the noise completely overwhelmed him. Because he didn’t know how to deal with how he felt, it lead to a meltdown.
Meltdowns happen when children with sensory processing disorder or autism are in a situation that is out of their control or makes them feel overwhelmed.
Strategies for Tantrums
- )let your child know what your expectations are. Tell them what you expect their behavior to be. My son will sometimes throw tantrums in the store if I tell him we won’t be buying any candy that day. I have found that it helps, before we even go into the store, to tell him what I expect of him. I expect him to have good behavior. Sometimes we still have tantrums, but they are fewer.
- )Identify the cause. If you don’t already know, figure out what why your child is acting up. This can be helpful in figure out a solution.
- )Let the consequences be known AND follow through. If you are out in public, this may mean leaving the current location, whether that be the grocery store or a restaurant. Whatever consequence you say will happen, you have to follow through.
- )After your child has calmed down, and you have given them the consequence for their behavior, it’s important to reinforce positive behavior. Why it is important to obey, and that tantrums will not get them what they want.
Strategies to Help Prevent Or Reduce Meltdowns
Now that we know the difference, how do you prevent a meltdown? Well honestly, sometimes you can’t. However, they are some steps you can take to try.
- )First of all, know your child’s triggers. Knowing what can cause your child’s meltdown is huge in helping prevent them. If your child gets overwhelmed by big crowds, then it might be best to avoid them as much as possible. If your child doesn’t like loud sounds then its best to try and keep things from getting too loud.
- )Safety. Safety is very important. If your child is having a meltdown, they need a place where they can calm down and not get hurt. When my son was younger, when he had a meltdown we had to just put him in his room and let him calm down on his own. My husband and I go in there and trying to help him calm down just made it worse. So we put him in his room because it was a safe place where he could go and be himself so he could calm down.
- )Look for warning signs. A good way to defuse a meltdown is before it even starts! This can be done by observing your child and looking for signals of frustration or that they are starting to get overwhelmed. Identifying these signs can help you calm your child down before they have a meltdown.
I hope this blog post was helpful. Leave a comment and let me know what strategies you use!