Meltdowns vs Tantrums


Around two years old, Olive began having meltdowns. These mainly center around change of routine and environment. At the time we had no idea what was happening, this was prior to her Autism diagnosis. Olive became visibly upset and inconsolable. She'd cry and scream as loud as her body would allow her to. If you attempted to talk to her she'd get even more upset. Trying to console her or physically make contact with her would just make the situation worse. These episodes are especially scary due to the fact when having meltdown the person is completely unaware. This makes them prone to harming themselves or others. Meltdowns can look odd or come at unexpected times. It’s important to always remember we are only seeing a person’s reaction. Underneath the behavior is a person who has become overwhelmed, or dealing with a sensory overload.

Behaviors like head banging, hair pulling, scratching, crying, yelling, and hitting are common behaviors when having a meltdown. But not person reacts that way. Other not as obvious behaviors include rapid eye blinking, shaking, loss of speech, and not responding when spoken to.

These behaviors may look identical to a tantrum from the outside, when actually the person is having a hard time processing the world around them.

Meltdowns can be caused by a sensory over load or stem from an unexpected change in environment. Meltdowns are extremely exhausting in every aspect for the person experiencing it. A person may still show signs of distress well after the situation as has passed. Things like extreme perspiration, rapid heart beat, loss of speech, becoming extremely tired, and ill feeling are part of the after math of a meltdown. For some people on the spectrum, this every day. Some days it's unavoidable. We're grateful for the fact that Olive can now communicate with us, and we can figure out the source and attempt to defuse the situation. While for some it's a constant guessing game. There is no worse feeling than seeing your child distressed, and your child not being able to tell you what's wrong. Or seeing your child having a hard time and unable to stop their pain. This is a struggle I think a lot of parents take for granted and could never understand because they haven't lived it. 

Tantrum vs Meltdown

Tantrums: Are goal orientated, able to bribed, aware of their target audience, attempting to manipulate the situation.

Meltdowns: Cannot be bribed, usually unable to respond, unaware of surrounding and others, long lasting (Olive's are 45-1 hour), can affect the person whole entire day, may lose speech, becomes extremely tired, sweating, visibly shaken, and may feel ill afterwards.