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.
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.
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.
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