Meltdown is not another way of saying tantrum

I get asked all the time, “What’s this meltdown business? How’s a meltdown not a tantrum?”

The underlying theme of those conversations is always the blatant implication that I am choosing to “blame” bad behavior on Law’s diagnosis and not parent.

Am I just giving my son an excuse to behave badly because he has a diagnosis?

The reality is it’s all about control. Here’s the difference in one day:

It may look the same but meltdowns and tantrums are vastly different.

On the left, LittleOne was in control when he flung himself onto the ground Disney princess style because he didn’t want to hold my hand in the doe pen. He chose to kick and scream and try and force my decision to change. And he stopped when he was ready. No self injurious behavior. On and off like a light switch, with precision control. This is a tantrum, motivated by a goal. A phase.

On the right, LittleOne lost his control of his emotions when he saw I changed his “chicken house”. He couldn’t regain control to talk through the reason a floor was added. He sobbed and was completely upset because of change– I altered something he loved without prepping him. He couldn’t stop crying. Looks similar on the outside, but he was simply too overwhelmed by a change stimulus to stop. Self injurious behavior often occurs. This day, his chest was covered with red marks from whacking himself with his spoon. No ability to self soothe or be soothed by me. The world was just too much. He has no goal in mind, he just couldn’t deal.

The most troublesome thing for parents in the trenches is the moment when the two meld. Sometimes a tantrum invokes such strong emotions my LittleOne does not know how to bring himself back down. Sometimes emotions are just to much and his fight or flight kicks in and makes its own meltdown. For me, this is the most challenging.

Autistic meltdowns are real.  Luckily, in my home they are rare, but meltdowns are an emotional and physical upheaval like no other. The drain the energy from LittleOne and take time to recover. Meltdowns require compassion and calmness; a physical demonstration that we are their solid fortress in tumultuous world. As bad as meltdowns are, they are another opportunity to build our bond, our unspoken communication and our trust.

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