Understanding Autistic Meltdown vs. Ordinary Temper Tantrums

Autistic Meltdown vs. Ordinary Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are common emotional outbursts in children, especially during toddler and preschool time. Parents often notice their young ones crying, screaming, or kicking when they are hungry, in need of something, or unable to express their feelings. These are a natural part of child development.

Autistic meltdowns in children have outward similarities with these ordinary temper tantrums. This is the reason parents or other caregivers often mistake considering meltdowns a sign of temper tantrums.

The signs of autistic meltdowns can be more intense than ordinary tantrums in children. You might be wondering how to know if your child is suffering from autistic meltdowns. No worries!

This article will make you easily understand the difference between autistic meltdowns and ordinary temper tantrums in children. Also, it will shed light on possible ways to control or manage these meltdowns.

What is Autistic Meltdown?

Meltdown or autistic meltdown is a state of physical manifestation of a neurobiological reaction. According to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, an autistic meltdown is a common externalized behavior among autistic children and adolescents.

Autistic meltdowns may show similar symptoms as temper tantrums, but their underlying causes are different. This neurological condition is not limited to young children and is visible in teens and adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) as well.

How to Distinguish Meltdowns from Ordinary Temper Tantrums?

The phrases “autism meltdown” and “autism tantrum” are used interchangeably since meltdowns and childhood tantrums share some similar signs. However, there is a key difference between these two.

Signs of a meltdown may include crying, biting, foot-stomping, kicking, hitting, destroying property, self-injury, vocal outbursts, and throwing and breaking objects.

The primary difference between tantrums and meltdowns is that a tantrum is goal-oriented. It means a child shows tantrums to express a need for something. On the other hand, meltdowns are triggered by stimulus.

According to health experts, parents need to understand the difference between tantrums and meltdowns since responding to a tantrum versus a meltdown is very different. A child can control tantrums, but the task is difficult for meltdowns.

How to Manage an Autistic Meltdown?

Identifying the Cause

Autistic meltdowns are considered reactions to overwhelming experiences. Therefore, the primary way to manage a meltdown is to identify the cause of overwhelmness.

Over a period of time, you can use a diary to note down the behaviors of the child or person you are supporting. Consider recording their actions before, during, and after meltdowns. Through this approach, you could be able to identify a particular time, place, or incident, which triggers a meltdown.

According to health experts, sensory overload often triggers an autistic meltdown. It can include lights, smells, sounds, and a variety of textures (such as seams in socks). Sometimes, stress and Emotional overwhelm can also trigger meltdowns.

Minimizing triggers

Now that you have a clear idea about what triggers meltdowns in your child, you can find ways to minimize them or make them manageable. For example,

  • You can advise your child to use sunglasses to avoid excessive exposure to bright light.
  • Consider using an air freshener or essential oils to minimize triggering smells.
  • Choose their apparel with soft fabric that fits comfortably.
  • Noise-canceling headphones can help make noisy spaces more tolerable for your child.

Whenever you notice a subtle sign that might overwhelm your child take immediate action to eliminate it.

The Bottom Line

Autism meltdowns can be a common occurrence for children with autism due to their sensitivity to sensory input. Also, meltdowns are common among teens and young adults with autism. Patients and caregivers are advised to remain calm and consistent in their acts of supporting children to manage their actions and emotions.

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