Autistic Meltdowns: What Does It Mean And How Is It Different From Temper Tantrums?

24th February 2024

An autistic meltdown may appear to outsiders as an exaggerated tantrum. They frequently entail stimming activities, such as repeated rocking, and are preceded by indications of discomfort or worry. During a meltdown, some autistic youngsters hide in a tiny, contained room elope, or run away.  However, Autism meltdowns are different from usual temper tantrums. Read on to learn the distinction between a meltdown and a tantrum as well as how to support someone going through a breakdown.

What Is Autistic Meltdown?

An involuntary reaction to nervous system overload is an autistic meltdown. This severely dysregulated condition is a physical representation of a neurobiological reaction rather than a behavioral one. An autism meltdown in a young kid resembles a temper tantrum, although it can be more severe. After all, the catastrophic release of radioactive material in a nuclear power plant is where the phrase ‘meltdown’ originates. Meltdowns associated with autism are not exclusive to young children. Meltdowns can occur in older children, teenagers, and adults with autism, even in people with modest support requirements referred to as high functioning.

How Is an Autistic Meltdown Different From a Temper Tantrum?

Compared to a temper tantrum, an autistic meltdown is larger, more intense, lasts longer, and is more challenging to control. Meltdowns and tantrums have various origins as well.

Tantrum vs Autistic Meltdown

When a youngster throws a tantrum, it's usually an attempt to manipulate them into getting what they want by sobbing, yelling, or creating a commotion. On the other hand, autistic meltdowns are sincere expressions of distress rather than manipulation.

What Are The Early Warning Signs Of A Meltdown?

warning signs of a meltdown

Here are some of the meltdown sins you need to pay attention to for autistic children and teenagers:

  • Stimming

Finger flicking, humming, rocking, and pacing are examples of stimuli. In the lead-up to a meltdown, stalling is also typical and can get worse as the anguish grows. An impending meltdown may be indicated by intense stimming, such as vigorous rocking, slamming the palm into the forehead, or other overt displays of irritation.

  • Eloping

When faced with excessive sensory input, tension, or anxiety, an autistic person may just bolt from the room to get away from the stimuli. Bolting can be an excellent coping strategy, but it can also be risky if the youngster or adult isn't aware of things like approaching traffic.

Symptoms Of An Autistic Meltdown

Autistic meltdowns might vary in intensity but they include the following:

  • Crying
  • Biting
  • Foot-stomping
  • Destroying property
  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Self-injury
  • Running off
  • Breaking and throwing objects
  • Stimming
  • Zoning out
  • Vocal outbursts

After the initial trigger has been removed, autistic meltdowns frequently continue for at least 20 minutes. Regaining control over their behavior can be a long process for an autistic individual. Give them room and time to learn how to control their emotions again.

3 Ways To Prevent Autistic Meltdown

Here are 3 strategies to help autistic children and teenagers avoid meltdowns:

1. Recognize Their Triggers

One typical cause for meltdowns is sensory overload. Lights, noises, fragrances, and even textures—like the seams in socks—can all be examples of this. Meltdowns can also be brought on by stress and emotional overload. You can discover solutions to prevent or lessen your child's triggers if you are aware of them. Here are some practices you can implement:

  • Use air freshening or essential oils to mask triggering smells
  • Give them noise-cancelling headphones to make loud spaces more tolerable
  • Use soft fabrics to make them feel more comfortable
  • Make them wear sunglasses to block bright lights

2. Heed The Warnings

Be alert for the telltale symptoms of overwhelm and take appropriate steps to address the issue or relocate the kid to a more tranquil area. Anxiety, anger, and stimming are indicators of developing distress. Older children might be able to express that they are feeling overburdened. Act if you see these indicators.

A young person with social anxiety may require help, confidence, and clear guidance. A meltdown is nearly certain if an intervention doesn't take place or doesn't resolve the issue since the person will be overcome by their feelings.

3. Develop Coping Strategies

This has to do with letting your child know what makes them feel at ease and composed under pressure. Some strategies for handling challenging circumstances are as follows:

  • Muscle relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, or simple activities like listening to music or taking a break
  • Practical actions like avoiding crowded corridors or noisy classrooms
  • Incorporating activities that the child enjoys like painting, singing, etc
  • Physical activities like jumping on the trampoline or playing soccer

Help Your Students Overcome Meltdowns

An instinctive reaction to overwhelm, whether it be sensory or emotional, is an autism meltdown. They can occur at any age, and it will take the youngster at least twenty minutes to settle down. By pursuing Autism Courses for Teachers you can become a composed and understanding adult during a meltdown and experiment with various soothing techniques until you discover the ones that work. You may also assist your child in regaining emotional control.

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Written By: Sheetal Sharma      

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