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Tantrums Versus Meltdowns - And How to Manage Both

 ~ Tantrums Versus Meltdowns


One of the most misunderstood Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) 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 and HFA kids tend to suffer from sensory overload issues that can create meltdowns. Kids who have neurological disorders other than autism spectrum disorders 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 or HFA 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 on the autism spectrum 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 an autism spectrum disorder 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 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 on the spectrum 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 of HFA does not preclude this possibility, behavior will be affected.

Behaviors That Should Not Be Punished Because They Are Part of the Disorder
 

~ Managing Tantrums

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. Aspergers and HFA kid's temperaments vary dramatically, so some  may experience regular temper tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They're a normal part of development and don't have to be seen as something negative. However, unlike “typical” children, kids on the autism spectrum don't have the same inhibitions or control.

Imagine how it feels when you're determined to program your DVD player and aren't able to do it no matter how hard you try, because you can't understand how. It's very frustrating! Do you swear, throw the manual, walk away and slam the door on your way out? That's the grown-up version of a temper tantrum. Young people on the autism spectrum are also trying to master their world, and when they aren't able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a temper tantrum.

Several basic causes of temper tantrums are familiar to mothers and fathers everywhere: The youngster is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, temper tantrums are often the result of the child's frustration with the world. They can't get something (e.g., an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Temper tantrums are common during the second year of life for all kids. This is a time when kids are acquiring language. However, children with Aspergers and HFA generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone. That would be a frustrating experience that may precipitate a temper tantrum. As language skills improve, temper tantrums tend to decrease.

Another task that all kids are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. However, even though Aspergers and HFA kids want a sense of independence and control over the environment, this may be more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as the youngster thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me." When these "special needs" children discover that they can't do it or can't have everything they want, the stage is set for a temper tantrum.

Avoiding Temper Tantrums—

The best way to deal with temper tantrums is to avoid them in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some strategies that may help:

1. Aspergers and HFA kids are more likely to use temper tantrums to get their way if they've learned that this behavior works. Once the young people are school age, it's appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off. Rather than setting a specific time limit, mothers and fathers can tell them to stay in the room “until they've regained control.” This option is empowering, because these kids can affect the outcome by their own actions, thereby gaining a sense of control that was lost during the temper tantrum.

2. Young people on the spectrum have fairly rudimentary reasoning skills, so you aren't likely to get very far with explanations. If the temper tantrum poses no threat to your youngster or others, then ignoring the outburst may be the best way to handle it.  Continue your activities, and pay no attention to your youngster – but remain within sight. Don't leave him or her alone, otherwise he or she may feel abandoned on top of all of the other uncontrollable emotions.

3. They may be especially vulnerable AFTER a temper tantrum when they know they've been less than adorable. Now is the time for a hug and reassurance that your youngster is loved, no matter what.

4. Those who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a temper tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to temper tantrums in public places.

5. Consider the request carefully when your youngster wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn't. Choose your battles carefully, and accommodate when you can.

6. Distract your youngster. Take advantage of your child's short attention span by offering a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Also, you can simply change the environment. Take your youngster outside or inside or move to a different room.

7. If a safety issue is involved, and the youngster repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the youngster firmly for several minutes. Be consistent. Aspergers and HFA kids must understand that you are inflexible on safety issues.

8. Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach to make struggles less likely to develop over them. Obviously, this isn't always possible, especially outside of the home where the environment can't be controlled.

9. Know your youngster's limits. If you know he or she is tired, it's not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.

10. Make sure your youngster isn't acting-out simply because he or she isn't getting enough attention. To an youngster with an autism spectrum disorder, negative attention (a parent's response to a temper tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your youngster being good ("time in"), which means rewarding him or her with attention for positive behavior.

11. Occasionally, an autistic youngster will have a hard time stopping a temper tantrum. In these cases, it might help to say to say, "I'll help you settle down now." But, do not reward your youngster after a temper tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to him or her that the temper tantrum was effective. Instead, verbally praise the youngster for regaining control.

12. Set the stage for success when your son or daughter is playing or trying to master a new task. Offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks.

13. Temper tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause. Try to understand where your youngster is coming from. For example, if he or she has just had a great disappointment, you may need to provide comfort. If he or she is simply a sore loser at games and hits a playmate, then you may to provide a consequence.

14. The most important thing to keep in mind when you're faced with a boy or girl in the throes of a temper tantrum – no matter what the cause – is simple yet very important: Keep your cool. Don't complicate the problem with your own frustration. Young people on the spectrum can sense when mothers and fathers are becoming frustrated. This can just make their frustration worse, and you may have a more exaggerated temper tantrum on your hands. Instead, take deep breaths and try to think clearly.

15. Try to give your "special needs" child some control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off temper tantrums. Offer minor choices, for example, "Do you want orange juice or apple juice?" or "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?" This way, you aren't asking "Do you want to brush your teeth now?" …which inevitably will be answered "no."

16. Your youngster relies on you to be the example. Smacking and spanking don't help. Physical tactics send the message that using force and physical punishment is acceptable. Instead, have enough self-control for both of you.

17. You should consult your child’s pediatrician if any of the following occur:
  • tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings
  • tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration
  • you keep giving into your child’s demands
  • he displays mood issues (e.g., negativity, low self-esteem, extreme dependence)
  • your youngster frequently hurts himself/herself or others
  • she is destructive
  • you're uncomfortable with your responses to the child's tantrums

Your doctor can also check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums (e.g., hearing or vision problems, chronic illness, language delays, learning disability, etc.).

Remember, temper tantrums usually aren't cause for concern and generally diminish on their own. As Aspergers and HFA kids mature developmentally, and their grasp of themselves and the world increases, their frustration levels decrease. Less frustration and more control mean fewer temper tantrums — and happier mothers and fathers.

The Top 20 Triggers for Meltdowns in Kids on the Autism Spectrum
 

~ Managing Meltdowns

When it comes to parenting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are a few scenarios that are fertile ground for meltdowns. Some examples include (but are definitely not limited to):
  • all afternoon shopping trips
  • an endless car ride
  • long wait at the doctor's office
  • slow service at a restaurant
  • too many homework problems

These are moments where a meltdown is coming on fast, but can still be diverted. These are the times when moms and dads need “diversion tactics” (i.e., a supply of items and ideas that can fill a moment or turn a head).

While diversion tactics come in handy with any youngster, it's particularly imperative for kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are often significantly less able to amuse themselves, negotiate transitions, or avoid meltdowns. A parent needs to be quick, versatile, creative, and resourceful to keep things running smoothly. Planning ahead can help.

Here's how to make sure you always have plenty of tricks in your bag:

1. Your diversion tactics should do one of these (and preferably more than one): Soothe, Entertain, and Distract. They must be deployable at a moment's notice, especially in stressful situations. The space of time between the need for soothing, entertainment and distraction, and the onset of complete disaster can be brutally short.

2. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be actual items (i.e., things you keep in your purse or pockets for emergencies). It doesn't hurt to have some on hand at all times (that's why most of these are small) and then to load up with extras when you know you might need them. Some possibilities (depending on the age of your ASD child) include:

• Animal crackers
• Coins
• Crayons/coloring book
• Deck of cards
• Dice
• Doll
• Fidget toys
• Finger puppets
• Flash cards
• Hard candy
• iPad
• iPhone
• iPod
• Keys
• Little notepad and pen
• Magnetic travel game
• Photos
• Pretzels
• Puzzle book
• Raisins
• Small storybook
• Stickers
• Toy cars

3. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be ideas that you can implement without any need for props. You may have to go through a few before you find one your ASD youngster will run with, so keep a list if you can't keep them all in your head. Some possibilities include:
  • 20 Questions
  • A is for ..., B is for ...
  • Blowing a raspberry on his or her arm
  • Clapping games
  • Getting a drink from a water fountain
  • Hide something in fist -- guess which hand?
  • I Spy
  • Let youngster choose what to do next
  • Looking out window
  • Math facts
  • Play with youngster's hair
  • Pushing hard against each other's hands
  • Rock-paper-scissors
  • Saying something silly
  • Taking a walk
  • Tell me three things you did today
  • Tickling
  • What color am I looking at?
  • Whispering secrets
  • Word games where each person adds an item, alphabetically, and the next person must remember the whole string of words

Putting together a good list of diversion tactics is one thing, maintaining it is another. As your ASD youngster gets older, changes interests, gets bored with some things and taken by others, you'll want to keep changing and replenishing the tactics in your "diversion kit." Remember, the objects don't have to be big, they don't have to be fancy, and they only have to be able to run your youngster past a bit of boredom, anxiety, or a little rough behavioral spot. But they do have to soothe, entertain, and distract.

Note: If you only have a couple diversion tactics, they can fade with overuse. The more tactics you've got in your “bag of tricks,” the better.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

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