Autism Meltdown…or Tantrum?

One of the things you get used to as a parent or carer of a child on the autism spectrum is the often spectacular meltdowns. For you non-parents/carers, you’ve probably seen an ASD meltdown in full swing without realising it. They’re usually the kids whose parents really should control their behaviour – the ones not caring about how their kids are behaving. I was like that too – any time I saw a kids having a meltdown/tantrum, I’d be giving disapproving glares. Its difficult not to draw that conclusion – I know!

Even knowing Matthew and Daniel are both ASD children, at times you do wonder if they are indeed in meltdown, or are just having a tantrum. I think the key to identifying which one it is, is the level of control they can exercise over their behaviour and emotions. If a child is in a tantrum, but are able to pull back from the brink, or can turn it off/on at will, then chances are it is indeed a tantrum. A meltdown is something else altogether. Thankfully, Matthew and Daniel tend to meltdown most often at home. The environment away from the home is a confusing and frightening one for them. It tends to force them to withdraw into themselves – although away from home meltdowns do happen. Of course, they will happen in an environment where it tends to bring out the glares, the disapproving tsking. Its when you can tell the onlookers – secretly enjoying your embarrassment – are longing to tell you what they think of your inept parenting. Controlling a child in meltdown is nigh-impossible at times. All you can do is keep them from harm until they themselves are able to resume control over their emotions.

Often in meltdown mode, the child will be completely out of control emotionally and physically. They can say things they don’t mean – or wouldn’t if they were in control – but are hurtful all the same. Today for example, Jane was taking Daniel home from school, where he played in the park en route with 2 of his classmates. When it came time to head home for homework, cue the meltdown. Daniel raged at his mum, and told her if she didn’t let go of him – sometimes its essential to physically retrain them to prevent them from hurting themselves – he would never go home, and would run away. In his calm moments, he is a happy child, content in his home. But in meltdown, he could do anything. He has tried to get out of the house on several occasions. If he weren’t restrained, there would be nothing in his brain to stop him from carrying out his threat. Daniel is so vulnerable that he’d then be at serious risk. He lacks any kind of awareness of how to protect himself.

Daniel’s meltdown are fairly east to spot. I think what scares him about them is that a) he’s powerless to stop them, and b) he will have no recollection of his actions during the meltdown. Its as if it leaves a gap in his memory. Maybe its because his brain is overloaded and can’t cope with the task of storing memories – I can’t tell. Its all we can do to protect him from harm, and give him the time he needs to come out of the meltdown when he’s ready to. I also don’t think Daniel (and Matthew’s) brain afford them the guile to pass bad behaviour off as a meltdown. Everything is face value to them.

Meltdowns are exhausting for all involved. A child behaving badly can be reasoned with to a degree, and the behaviour can be short lived. But there’s no reasoning with an ASD child in full meltdown. Its emotionally and physically wearing, and puts the child in real danger. Next time it happens to your ASD child, you will know if its a meltdown. And for all others, not everything is as it seems!

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About Neil Ritchie

Hi there. I'm the parent of 2 boys on the autism spectrum, which can be challenging! I tend to ramble on about the challenge I share with Jane, and just about anything that comes to mind!
This entry was posted in Aspergers, Autism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Autism Meltdown…or Tantrum?

  1. Pingback: Explosive Aspie | theworldofneil

  2. autism care says:

    Thank you for your post. It helped me get an additional idea. An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.

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