Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.

Defining Meltdowns

Unlike temper tantrums, meltdowns are not maniuplative tactics. They may start out as tantrums, but not usually. Usually they are a result of having too much to handle and not enough cognitive space to do it in. Being denied something you want can be a trigger if your stress level is bad enough; but the trigger is equally likely to be something sensory, like an alarm going off, or something transition-related, like being told that class has ended and you have to go to lunch.

The immediate trigger can be anything. It can be a loud noise or an unexpected event or some small annoyance like accidentally stumbling on a crack in the sidewalk. That immediate trigger is nearly irrelevant, because it's the underlying, dangerously-high stress level that created the situation to begin with.

Thankfully, most parents of autistic children don't have to worry about whether they are dealing with a tantrum or a meltdown. Autistic children can have both; and yes, we can be manipulative children, though we're quite unsubtle about it. The lucky thing is that the response to either tantrum or meltdown is generally the same: Back off, don't interact, and let it wind down on its own. Later, when the child has had some rest (I know I collapse afterward; I'm generally sore and utterly exhausted), you can talk about it and figure out why it happened. If it was a tantrum, then you didn't give the child the attention they were demanding. And if it was a meltdown, you stopped adding to the cognitive load by trying to force them to process it either way.

As adults, the goal is not truly to suppress meltdowns. There's no good in doing that whether you're five or fifty; they're unstoppable once they start, short of a shot of Haldol (and sometimes not even then). Eliminating all stress is impossible, too (and undesirable, since some harmless level of stress is necessary for motivation). The best strategy to learn is to predict them before they happen, to learn to self-monitor and find ways to de-escalate the problem. For me, the best way is to be alone and lie down, preferably on the floor. I have no idea why lying down does it, though I wouldn't be surprised if it were the pressure of the floor against my whole body combined with not needing to process balance and movement as you do when you're sitting or standing (I'm mildly dypraxic). Methods for de-escalating a potential meltdown are varied, and they depend on you and exactly what autistic traits you have. But they're important to learn, and important to teach to your children if you're a parent of someone who has meltdowns.

The fact is, we're autistic and we're always going to be this way, and the world is never going to be the perfect environment we'd want. The best we can do is recognize the problem, define it, and work with the facts as they are, rather than telling ourselves we're immature, impulsive, and undisciplined and hoping we'll somehow "get over it". That's like trying to scold the intertropical convergence zone into not producing hurricanes.
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Tags: meltdowns, sensory
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I've always been somewhat uncomfortable with the attempt to distinguish between tantrums and meltdowns. Seeing some of the definitions people come up with often makes me feel as though my childhood meltdowns were "really" just tantrums. Many of them were triggered by what looked to be me not getting my way. But while that childish urge was there, it was also a profound difficulty in dealing with events that went differently from how I planned them or how I thought they ought to go. Is that a meltdown or a tantrum? For me, I was so rigid in my thinking that tantrums could become meltdowns very, very easily. It wasn't rare at all. Once I got started it was difficult for me to control myself. Is that the main difference between a meltdown and a tantrum? The fact that a tantrum can be controlled at will? Because it frankly boggles my mind that any NT could possibly control that.
The fact that a tantrum can be controlled at will?

Mostly. The way I see it as that tantrums are a behavior in order to profess want and change, they are inherently manipulative. Yet they can also be a reactive behavior to a response cue that wasn't expected. (IE throwing a fit when a particular television program that is normally airing on a particular time never shows up, it might appear to be a whiny tantrum but then devolves into loss of verbal processing and temporary regression)

Tl;DR: Tantrums can sometimes become meltdowns, normally tantrums can be controlled since they are emotion tool.s
Exactly. A not all typical trigger stimulus causes meltdowns and nor do people have the same kind of meltdowns. Sometimes we've manage to process the stimulus that normally causes an overload fine sometimes we have a memory dump and blue-screen (looks for her ctrl-alt-del) it's not as predictable as neurotypical people want it to be.
Well the best advice I can offer regarding meltdowns is try not to have any, anywhere near these three kinds of people:

1. Law enforcement personnel
2. Security guards
3. Mental Health professionals


March 14 2010, 23:04:42 UTC 7 years ago

Meltdowns for the most part can be prevented by understanding what is an appropriate response to a particular situation. IMO a true meltdown, a true anxiety attack... is few and far between.

My eldest has had some anxiety attacks. They are very much different than a meltdown. They are truly frightening to watch happen. You watch them start, you can do nothing to help, and simply wait for it to be over. It tends to be screaming and crying, and not as physical as a meltdown. Once it's completed he is beyond exhausted and falls asleep by the time you get him toiletted and in his pjs.

The average meltdown, is more like a temper tantrum in my opinion - more physical (hitting, head banging, moving around), not so exhausting. It can be talked down, it can be controlled with taught strategies. Learning these strategies, learning the triggers takes time and someone that truly wants to help. I know... I've been teaching them to him for years... If I hadn't... he'd still be slamming holes in my wall with his head.... and at 10, he's not.

I asked for help dealing with these meltdowns and I was told "we'll come and teach you what you are doing wrong"... so I appreciate it very much when you complain that someone says "get over it". I too told them "no thanks"... and we've done it ourselves.... and we do it every day and and according to the child psychiatrist... always will.
When I have a meltdown I need to have someone with me... it is neglectful for someone to ignore me when I clearly need help. I have never understood why people thought it was conducive to ignore someone when they are freaking out.

I have also never thrown a tantrum. If I needed something and no one would listen to me, I would fall apart. If I could not intelligently explain what the problem was, then I said nothing until I could.
Because most people who have meltdowns are better off when they are ignored. You are one of the exceptions. Most likely, though, the people around you are aware of that fact, and know that you would like someone with you.
"Unlike temper tantrums, meltdowns are not maniuplative tactics."

Actually, temper tantrums aren't manipulative tactics, either. I grew up learning that a "temper tantrum" was something very common in young children (but not exclusive to them), because they are easily overwhelmed with their emotions and don't have as many resources to deal with those feelings as many older people do.

Like, a child may have a temper tantrum if they're strugling to do something (like zipper a jacket) and are frustrated; they can have tantrums if they're tired, hungry, overstimulated, etc. A kid can have a temper tantrum because they want something and don't get it, like some candy or something. But it's not so much a calculated attempt to manipulate someone into giving it to them as just being frustrated or disappointed (combined possibly with being hungry, tired, etc).

As a toddler I did manipulative things and had temper tantrums--they were separate things. My manipulative tactic o' choice was to take off my glasses and bend the earpieces as if to break them. I also liked to very lightly "tap" my head on the floor and then look at my mother to see what effect it was having.

Those were deliberate acts that were supposed to get people to respond in certain ways. I remember temper tantrums as being something else entirely. Temper tantrums were: "I am really upset right now!" It might have been over something silly like someone taking a toy, but those things aren't silly to you when you're two.

Many adults equate temper tantrums with manipulative behavior, or "behavior with the sole purpose of annoying me." I don't know if it's related, but a lot of adults misread small children's behavior, too. I was with someone whose toddler was crying and laughing alternately. When the kid would laugh, this person would say: "Oh, you're a little faker!" When it's more likely that the kid was very tired. I've seen parents mock their children when theyre having tantrums, too.

This needs to be posted somewhere where more people can see it! Where that is exactly, I'm not sure.
Yup. Those are the three sorts of people who scare me the most, even more than NT females.
What's interesting is, that I get along just fine with military folks on the"net and IRL, but not with cops and shrinks in either venue. My own opinion is that people with bully tendencies apply for jobs as cops and shrinks, that they may be nasty and get over on people without fear of retribution. Sojers are willing to have a fight with you, and may the best man win. Yeah, that's kinda romantic, or even autistic, ain't it?
I don't think that's anywhere near true for all of them. I know one former Marine (she's currently a research scientist) who joined simply because she wanted to get tougher. My grandpa was in the air force, and he's the furthest thing from a bully you've ever met. There's more than one psych student who is studying psychology because they're extroverts who are simply fascinated with people, or else they're unusually sympathetic types who get into it because they figure they want to help people.

There are the bullies, though; and I don't think the problem is that the bullies exist, for you'll find those anywhere. The problem is that they're given too much power. The power differential between a psychiatric professional and their client is huge; and there need to be checks and balances, or else the people who want to bully others will be able to do it to an extent and severity they couldn't get away with anywhere else.
My son's meltdowns would only end if we waited it out together. He could not communicate when he was having a meltdown. If he did not fight me I would hold him gently and that seemed to help. If he fought me, I would simply sit near him and speak in soothing tones. If I left him alone I found they went on much longer. It was often a sensory thing for him, or else it was an "I finally made it home from school and I need to let it all out but I don't know how" type of thing.

I think each person will have a different meltdown experience and different needs at that moment in time.

My son has had few, if any, tantrums in his life. His meltdowns have pretty much stopped as he's grown older and learned coping strategies to stop himself from getting to full blown meltdown.