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Aspergers Meltdowns versus Temper Tantrums

One of the most misunderstood Aspergers (high functioning autism) behaviors is the meltdown. Frequently, it is the result of some sort of overwhelming stimulation of which cause is often a mystery to moms and dads and teachers. They can come on suddenly and catch everyone by surprise. Aspergers kids tend to suffer from sensory overload issues that can create meltdowns. Kids who have neurological disorders other than Aspergers can suffer from meltdowns, too. Unlike tantrums, these kids are expressing a need to withdraw and slowly collect themselves at their own pace.

Kids who have tantrums are looking for attention. They have the ability to understand that they are trying to manipulate the behavior of the others, caregivers and/or peers. This perspective taking or "theory of mind" is totally foreign to the Aspergers youngster who has NO clue that others cannot "read" their mind or feelings innately. This inability to understand other human beings think different thoughts and have different perspectives from them is an eternal cause of frustration.

Tantrums—

A tantrum is very straightforward. A youngster does not get his or her own way and, as grandma would say, "pitches a fit." This is not to discount the tantrum. They are not fun for anyone. Tantrums have several qualities that distinguish them from meltdowns.
  • A youngster having a tantrum will look occasionally to see if his or her behavior is getting a reaction.
  • A youngster in the middle of a tantrum will take precautions to be sure they won't get hurt.
  • A youngster who throws a tantrum will attempt to use the social situation to his or her benefit.
  • A tantrum is thrown to achieve a specific goal and once the goal is met, things return to normal.
  • A tantrum will give you the feeling that the youngster is in control, although he would like you to think he is not.
  • When the situation is resolved, the tantrum will end as suddenly as it began.

FACT:

If you feel like you are being manipulated by a tantrum, you are right. You are. A tantrum is nothing more than a power play by a person not mature enough to play a subtle game of internal politics. Hold your ground and remember who is in charge.

A tantrum in a youngster who is not Aspergers is simple to handle. Moms and dads simply ignore the behavior and refuse to give the youngster what he is demanding. Tantrums usually result when a youngster makes a request to have or do something that the parent denies. Upon hearing the parent's "no," the tantrum is used as a last-ditch effort.

The qualities of a tantrum vary from child to child When kids decide this is the way they are going to handle a given situation, each youngster's style will dictate how the tantrum appears. Some kids will throw themselves on the floor, screaming and kicking. Others will hold their breath, thinking that his "threat" on their life will cause moms and dads to bend. Some kids will be extremely vocal and repeatedly yell, "I hate you," for the world to hear. A few kids will attempt bribery or blackmail, and although these are quieter methods, this is just as much of a tantrum as screaming. Of course, there are the very few kids who pull out all the stops and use all the methods in a tantrum.

Effective parenting -- whether a youngster has Aspergers or not -- is learning that you are in control, not the youngster. This is not a popularity contest. You are not there to wait on your youngster and indulge her every whim. Buying her every toy she wants isn't going to make her any happier than if you say no. There is no easy way out of this parenting experience. Sometimes you just have to dig in and let the tantrum roar.

Meltdowns—

If the tantrum is straightforward, the meltdown is every known form of manipulation, anger, and loss of control that the youngster can muster up to demonstrate. The problem is that the loss of control soon overtakes the youngster. He needs you to recognize this behavior and rein him back in, as he is unable to do so. A youngster with Aspergers in the middle of a meltdown desperately needs help to gain control.
  • A youngster in a meltdown has no interest or involvement in the social situation.
  • A youngster in the middle of a meltdown does not consider her own safety.
  • A meltdown conveys the feeling that no one is in control.
  • A meltdown usually occurs because a specific want has not been permitted and after that point has been reached, nothing can satisfy the youngster until the situation is over.
  • During a meltdown, a youngster with Aspergers does not look, nor care, if those around him are reacting to his behavior.
  • Meltdowns will usually continue as though they are moving under their own power and wind down slowly.

Unlike tantrums, meltdowns can leave even experienced moms and dads at their wit's end, unsure of what to do. When you think of a tantrum, the classic image of a youngster lying on the floor with kicking feet, swinging arms, and a lot of screaming is probably what comes to mind. This is not even close to a meltdown. A meltdown is best defined by saying it is a total loss of behavioral control. It is loud, risky at times, frustrating, and exhausting.

Meltdowns may be preceded by "silent seizures." This is not always the case, so don't panic, but observe your youngster after she begins experiencing meltdowns. Does the meltdown have a brief period before onset where your youngster "spaces out"? Does she seem like she had a few minutes of time when she was totally uninvolved with her environment? If you notice this trend, speak to your physician. This may be the only manifestation of a seizure that you will be aware of.

When your youngster launches into a meltdown, remove him from any areas that could harm him or he could harm. Glass shelving and doors may become the target of an angry foot, and avoiding injury is the top priority during a meltdown.

Another cause of a meltdown can be other health issues. One example is a youngster who suffers from migraines. A migraine may hit a youngster suddenly, and the pain is so totally debilitating that his behavior may spiral downward quickly, resulting in a meltdown. Watch for telltale signs such as sensitivity to light, holding the head, and being unusually sensitive to sound. If a youngster has other health conditions, and having Aspergers does not preclude this possibility, behavior will be affected.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! Do I sooo ever know the "melt down"

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have advise as to what to do when they are out of control and kicking, punching, etc? I am 6 months pregnant and my son has come close to physically hurting me in a meltdown but I can't let him get hurt or hurt his 19 month old sister too. He just isn't aware of his surroundings when he's in this state and it's hard to ignore.

Anonymous said...

we have used 'chilll out' techniques like swinging or putting on his weighted vest. These only work if you can catch it in its early stages tho.

Anonymous said...

thank you for posting this! Lately it feels like everyday :( We're military and getting ready to move in 9 days, there's a lot of stuff in boxes and things are changing. He understands we're moving into a new house with a big back yard, and he's very excited about it... but I believe the change is setting him off much more than usual.

Anonymous said...

Ok so when this meltdown is by a child as big as you and is very buligerant and violent .....then how do you help him? And yourself?

Anonymous said...

I have two sons with meltdowns. I've made this top priority with their therapists. Remember what works for one Aspie might not work for the other. You have to figure out what works by trial and error. Best thing is to head it off when you see it coming. For my younger son we have a cool down clubhouse. He also plays in it when not having a meltdown. It is his area alone. Its a pop up tent filled with sensory things and other things he likes to do. Worked wonders. My 11 year old I made him responsible for his actions and made him aware of how it looks when he has a meltdown. When I see it coming I leave him alone and talk about his behavior when he is done. You can't talk with them when they are melting down so you have to do it in a safe time. With the help of their OTs giving them other tools we are almost meltdown free! I've made them aware of it so they can now see it coming ad head it off themselves.

Anonymous said...

my 11yr old hasn't had a meltdown for awhile, which is a good thing...but when he does...it is so exhausting and upsetting to see...the only thing you can do is make sure they are safe...I find holding him tight can help him settle quicker!!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the holding tight. I wouldn't leave an upset child by themself let alone an aspie in meltdown. Imagine being upset as an adult and everyone ignores you or tells you to go to your room. I know I wouldn't like it. Imagine how much more hurt a chold would be. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

A meltdown occurs when a child experiences extreme anxiety....

Anonymous said...

when my oldest is in a meltdown and kicking & hitting, I walk away. DO NOT FORCE HIM TO ENGAGE WITH YOU. If you have to go to another room w/ your daughter, do so. He will calm down eventually. That's what works with my son. Like a previous poster said, what works for one aspie may not work for another.

For me, as a parent with aspergers, when I'm having a meltdown, I need everyone to leave me alone. I will go to my room and hide. I'm ok with my aspie friend being present, and my husband being present, but nobody else gets to see me in meltdown mode. I just need time to myself.

Anonymous said...

My little guys been "off" since after Christmas. I thought we were past the meltdowns, but lately its been happening a lot. He is trying to control everything and if its not exactly how its "supposed" to be he can't handle it. It's tough right now, I feel like were back at square one.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the hilding tightly. With my guy (he's 7 ) I can either hug him or put my arms around his shoulders and whisper to him "Mom's here It's ok now do your breathing" We taught him meditation, yoga, & Tai chi to self soothe. NOW sometimes he replies back "That does't Really work." Ususally that thought is enough to distract him & start calming him down.

Anonymous said...

I can't hold him tightly right now. I'm 6 months pregnant. When he kicks and swings, I get hurt. I just set him in time out but it takes forever for him to calm down and it's hard to listen to him.

Anonymous said...

Try wraping him in a blanket maybe? That would 'hug' him without you getting hurt. They sell weighted blankets too. The weighted vest has worked wonders for us.

Anonymous said...

i had to deal with meltdown in the middle of the dr's office with a 5'2" 180 lb 11 yr old...The only thing I could do was call his dad...if u can catch iot as u see him start, sometimes I can talk my son down, I have to get him alone, and in a quiet safe place. then I start by speaking to him slowly and calmly, and try to talk out why he is freaking....sometimes it is just me talking and him still freaking out, but usually the calming tones (almost as if singing a lullaby) work. If not sometimes I just have to put him in an area by himself and let it run it's course.

Anonymous said...

I cant hold my son either---when he is having a meltdown he does not want to be touched, so i myself cannot understand how people keep saying, hold him tight,hug him,tell him its going to be ok...It just doesnt work with my son, all ican do is leave him alone and at times that is hard when he is determined to be heard.....Good luck

Anonymous said...

We live in a small apartment in an urban area with nosy neighbors who like to complain about the meltdowns. It is very invasive and embarassing. What is worse is that also because my daughter has auditory processing issues, I often have to raise my voice just to get her to respond to me. It sounds like I'm mad and I'm yelling at her, but I'm not, I'm just trying to get her attention after calling her 20 times at a normal tone of voice. Also, if I'm sick or exhausted (i'm a single parent), I'm only human and yes, sometimes I WILL yell because I'm mad! But the meltdowns... OMG yes... I could tell you stories... was almost kicked off a bolt bus once after my daughter had a meltdown because the wifi wasn't working. She will yell things that sound so spoiled, abusive and horrible, that she would never say when her mind is working properly... she will scream, kick, hit, punch. People think I'm a terrible parent, or that she's a terrible child. Even explaining that they are autistic doesn't help. Later on she will forget (selective amnesia) or feel depressed and exhausted, ashamed etc. One thing I do (and this only works with an older child whom you're certain won't hurt herself, and to be honest, I'm not... but i keep an eye on her) is to remove YOURSELF from the situation. I have had to do this sometimes. If she is endangering me, I will tell her I am going to go away into my room until she is ready to solve her problem. And that I am there to help her solve it when she calms down. I keep reminding her of this like a broken record. I don't come out until I hear her quiet down. If I hear anything weird I peek out to make sure she is not hurting herself. But I've found sequesting myself works better than trying to restrain her, and it's safer and less abusive too.

Anonymous said...

I want to know what to do when my
6'5" teenager has a meltdown>>his meltdowns often result in him wanting to RUN>>he'll be out the door & down the street and he is totally BEYOND reasoning>>he just wants to get AWAY....our latest little escapade today has left ME bruised & battered..my main goal is to keep him in the house & safe..

Kristine Balding said...

I Also Have A 6Ft 380Lbs SoN and Yep We Try To Keep In House! So Hard

Kristine Balding said...

Totally Understand! my SoN Is 6Ft And 380Lbs

intravertbm said...

Have his father hold him.

intravertbm said...

No wonder your kids are having issues, who lets their kid get that fat, you should be locked up.

Michael56J said...

Excellent analysis, especially for parents struggling to get the medical profession to make a diagnosis.

Unknown said...

Kids can gain weight because of medications that help and do work. Try are not the fix so please do not suggest that's why parents medicate. They can reduce meldowns but they still happen until the child is taught and can use the skills to calm themselves independently. For some it can be harder or not come to them at all. The worst thing you can do is call them fat or blame the parents or treat the child harshly. That is just doing more harm.

ISSK said...

It is worst when two parents are in disagrwment Moms mess up with these child because most moms tend to please their child in everything they want which it causes Them to become worst in theiir conditions this form of deal with them surely is sending them to end. Up jailed for not taking apropiate measures at early stage.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

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If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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