Any parent of a child with autism dreads the occurrence of a meltdown. It’s distressing to see your child overly-stimulated, inconsolable, and often destructive to property, themselves, or even other people. Meltdowns can be difficult to manage but there are ways that you can help your child through a difficult time and keep them as calm as possible. To properly manage a meltdown, it’s important to understand what’s going on with your child and why a meltdown is different than a tantrum.
The Difference Between Tantrums And Meltdowns
Some people use the terms “tantrum” and “meltdown” interchangeably. These are not the same thing and it does some injustice to kids with ASD to be looked at as a child displaying moody behavior, instead of the very real sensory overload they are experiencing. It’s important to understand the distinction between the two. Here is the difference:
- Tantrums are behavioral outbursts where a child is not allowed to get something they want or do something they want to do. Typically a child maintains control of their behavior and they are reacting in the hopes that they will get their way. Tantrums aren’t all bad behavior. Consider the age that tantrums start. When they first start happening, a tantrum is usually the result of a desire for independence or choice in a child that doesn’t have the cognitive or motor skills to express their desire properly. They become frustrated and in an attempt to get what they want, they act out. Tantrums are often learned behavior and usually persist because a child thinks it might get parents to bend to their demands. While tantrums are difficult to deal with, they are different from a meltdown and there are different ways to defuse them.
- Meltdowns are the unofficial, common-use term for what some people call Behavioral Crisis. While a child’s behavior is part of the meltdown, it’s not an outburst like a tantrum. A meltdown is a complete loss of behavioral control due to sensory, cognitive, or emotional overload. When your child is experiencing a meltdown, they have hit a complete physiological roadblock which causes an overload. During a meltdown, they are out of control and a meltdown will usually only subside once it’s run its course. Meltdowns can appear like tantrums outwardly, but need to be managed differently.
Tips On Managing Meltdowns
Unfortunately, there is not cookie-cutter solution to stop or prevent meltdowns. At some point, they are going to happen. However, there are a number of things you can do as a parent to manage meltdowns and help your child get through that unpleasant time:
- Identify triggers and avoid stimulation. While meltdowns can’t be avoided completely, you can try to lessen their severity or how often they happen. Pay attention to what triggers your child and avoid those triggers. If there is a chance of a meltdown, try to avoid those things that are likely to overstimulate your child.
- Remain calm. If you get beyond the initial stage to the start of a meltdown, remember to remain calm. Your child is experiencing sensory overload and can’t check their responses, so you need to make sure that you don’t take their reactions personally. Speak calmly, slowly, and maintain a soft demeanor to help defuse the situation.
- Protect their safety. You will need to do a couple things to maintain safety during a meltdown. You should make your child is safe by removing any thing that’s causing stimulation or take them to an area that’s safe while they work through the meltdown. You also need to make sure to remove anything dangerous from their path. Kids having a meltdown can get destructive and this can present safety concerns. Make sure they cannot hurt themselves or others in this state.
- Carry a meltdown kit. Carry a kit that is meant to cover all of your child’s sensory needs. Include things like:
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Fidget toys
- Unscented wipes
There are a lot of different things you can add to a kit to make it perfect for your child. Just make sure it addresses their needs in a stressful moment.
- Find a safe, calm place to ride it out. Meltdowns are all different and the way to make them subside is different based upon each child, so really the best that you can do is offer calming solutions in a safe, quiet, and calm environment.
- Keep a record. To help you manage future meltdowns, keep a record if you can. It doesn’t need to be extensive. Jot down what caused the meltdown to start, what happened throughout, and how you were able to help them through it.
Intervention With A Behavioral Health Specialist
If your child struggles with consistent meltdowns and other behavioral issues, you might need to consider speaking to a behavioral health specialist to help your child maintain control. A behavioral health specialist can help with intervention, adaptive plans, and support for your child.
At Lexington, we offer Behavioral Health services to help members grow and interact with their environment and community in a positive way. If you are looking for a quality behavioral health program for your loved one, contact Lexington services for more information.
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