Written by Kim Barloso
Featured on Autismparentingmagazine.com
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 (ASD) will know a meltdown is handled differently and with intimate knowledge of the child’s personality.
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.
Meltdown vs temper tantrum
Although they may look similar, meltdowns are different from temper tantrums. A temper tantrum is usually a child’s method for getting what he/she wants. A meltdown, however, has no purpose and is beyond a child’s control.
To be more specific, a temper tantrum happens when a child is:
- Frustrated with not getting what he/she wants
- Not able to do what he/she wants
- Not able to properly communicate
A child might stop a tantrum after the following responses:
- Being comforted by a parent or caregiver
- Being given what he/she wants (although not an ideal strategy)
- Being ignored and giving up on his/her own
Youngsters who throw temper tantrums are aware and in control of their actions and can adjust the level of their tantrum based on the response they get from a parent or adult. Here we can use behavioral strategies to manage tantrums.
Meltdowns have entirely different causes. Because they are triggered by sensory overload, a child on the spectrum having a meltdown can have a few defining characteristics.
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