For an autistic child, an explosion of anger or frustration is almost a daily occurrence. However, if parents can’t ascertain the difference between a temper tantrum and a meltdown, it can prove difficult to manage. Although both tantrums and meltdowns exhibit similar behaviours, the underlying causes and their management is quite different. To help you understand these differences and how to deal with them, here are some helpful strategies.
What exactly is a tantrum?
One hallmark of a tantrum is it’s goal orientated. In other words, it stems from children not getting what they want immediately. This could be anything from anger over bedtime, wanting a certain food, or wanting to dress themselves. Tantrums also tend to have an audience. A child usually settles down when you ignore the behaviour, or they are removed from a public setting.
What is a meltdown?
By contrast, a meltdown is the result of feeling overwhelmed. For an autistic child, too much sensory, emotional or informational stimuli proves stressful. This triggers different autism behaviours – the most common being a meltdown. It can appear similar to a tantrum. It is characterised by crying, yelling or lashing out, or your child may become sullen and withdrawn. Also, meltdowns occur with or without an audience.
So, what are the most effective ways to cope with meltdowns? Here are some useful strategies.
Keep your child safe
Autistic children cannot control themselves during meltdowns. So, they could unintentionally hurt themselves or others. To prevent harm, have a plan to keep yourself and your child safe. The Low-Arousal Approach is a series of helpful techniques which minimise fear, stress and frustration. Using this strategy, you identify your child’s “triggers”, eliminate them and create a sense of calm and wellbeing.
Create a peaceful routine
Autistic children thrive on routine. It creates structure and provides predictability. What’s more, creating a peaceful routine also helps you strengthen the parent-child relationship. Most importantly, a good routine can minimise the likelihood of a meltdown. However, meltdowns still occur fairly regularly. When they do, you can lean on your routine to settle down your child and yourself. Some useful techniques include: listening to peaceful music, playing a quiet game with your child, or sitting down and reading a favourite book with them.
Understand your child’s behaviour patterns
When a meltdown occurs, it can be very challenging to deal with. And, sometimes, it can seem as though the aggressive behaviour has come out of nowhere. However, for autistic children, this is rarely the case. The good news is, by learning what prompts the aggressive behaviour, you can diffuse the situation. Some symptoms to watch for include: increased stimming and/or rocking, repeated requests to leave a room or environment, running out of the room and more. By understanding these triggers, you can prevent meltdowns entirely or make them less severe.
This is absolutely vital. Your child will take their cue from you; so if you aren’t stressed, your child will be calm also. As mentioned previously, meltdowns have typical escalations. So, by minimising (or eliminating) the stress points, meltdowns will be far less frequent. The best way to cope with aggressive behaviour is to develop a soothing routine that works for both you and your child.
For autism support designed to de-escalate a meltdown, call or email Autism Adelaide today.