Perhaps one of the most frustrating things when parenting a child with autism occurs when faced with an autistic meltdown
Once this behaviour is witnessed it can be clearly understood as to why the term meltdown has been adapted to fit autism as opposed to its original meaning used by nuclear physicians.
Having to deal with a meltdown can be a bit like dealing with earthquakes…you get very little warning and about all you can do is just ride it out!
It’s always amusing to me when talking to parents who do not have children with autism and trying to explain the scenario; you seem to be met with confusion. However, just mentioning the word meltdown to a family parenting a child with autism gets met with an immediate look of understanding and sympathy.
What is a Temper Tantrum?
Well simply put, a temper tantrum occurs when a child does not get his/her own way. Resounding “no’s” coming from a parent could then just result in the child ‘pitching a fit’ as my Gran would say. I don’t intend to demean a temper tantrum though as these are not fun for anyone. But Tantrums have several qualities that make them different to Meltdowns. These can be seen as:
- When a child has a tantrum they will look around ever so often to see if their tantrum show is getting any attention or reaction.
- A trantruming child will avoid hurting themselves
- A tantruming child will try to manioulate the situation to their benefit.
- The tantrum can end as quickly as it began when the situation is resolved
- Tantrums are thrown to achieve a certain goal and once that goal is reached all returns to normal.
Dealing with a temper tantrum (in a non autistic child) can be as simple as ignoring the behaviour while refusing to give into demands. OF course the quality of a tantrum may vary from holding their breath (thinking this threat on their life will cave the parent), throwing them self on the floor kicking and screaming, to shouting ‘I HATE YOU’ so the whole neighbourhood hears.
What is a Meltdown?
On the other side of the tantruming coin is the complete meltdown which displays every known form of manipulation, anger anxiety and loss of control. This loss on control is the problem as it consumes the child with autism. A child consumed with a meltdown will need help to regain control of themselves.
Characteristics of a Meltdown would be:
- In a meltdown, the child with autism does not look nor care if anyone is reacting to them
- They will not consider there own safety and stand risk of putting them self in danger
- Meltdowns seem to continue as if having their own power and will tapper off slowly.
- No-one feels in control of a meltdown
- The meltdown might occur from a want not being met or even inability to adapt to a change in the environment, however once a certain point is reached in the meltdown, nothing will be able to satisfy the child until the situation is over. For a simple example; the child wants a biscuit (which was not permitted), a meltdown occurs which can escalate up to the point where the parent gives in and offers the biscuit in order to calm the situation. Normally in a tantrum this would work, however during a meltdown the child has lost complete control and awareness, the biscuit that is now being offered is no longer relevant.
This complete loss of behavioural control can leave even the most experienced parent feeling stressed. Meltdowns can be loud, frustrating and risky at times, leaving both parent and child exhausted.
What to do…
When your child launches into a meltdown it is very important to try either remove him from any danger or remove the danger from him (ie: glass shelving, metal objects, sharp corners etc).
Whether you are parenting a child with autism or not it is important to remember that YOU are the one in control, not the child. Giving into all your child wants will not make them any happier or more loved than if you say no. There is no easy route around this parenting experience. Sometimes you just gave to put your foot down and let the tantrum roar.