Tantrums and meltdowns: Neither of them are pretty situations to deal with when they happen and they can be nerve-wracking for families fronting them. Hence first and foremost, you have to understand if the kids are throwing Temper Tantrums or having a case of Autism Meltdown.
Here is a guide to understanding the key differences to lay your foundation in dealing with the fits.
By recognizing which category they fall under, you can then better assess and apply the right approaches or tips which will be touched on in this article.
Both young and older children have tantrums. Tantrum is one of the ways children express and cope with their feelings and change how the world works. What are some ways which are better at handling tantrum outbursts?
1. Recognize the purpose of the Tantrum behavior
As mentioned in our previous article, Tantrum is goal driven. Therefore, in order to resolve the behavior, we will need to find out the objective of the kid - what exactly does he wants. He may be hungry, tired, nervous or simply just testing your authority like they did when they were toddlers. Only when you can identify purpose of the tantrum behavior then can you react suitably.
2. Take away the attention from your child
Most of the time, tantrum behavior will only occur with the presence of audience. The more your child knows he is being noticed, the greater the tantrum’s intensity will be. As such, unless he is in a physically precarious situation, leave your child alone and do not attempt to calm him down. By removing your attention, you will not reinforce this negative behavior.
3. Educate your child with basic sign language
Temper tantrum typically happens to children aged 1-3 years old. This is in view of the limited communication level of children this in age range. They are just developing their ability to use verbal language and do not have sufficient vocabulary to tell you their feelings and thoughts. As they do not get understood, they get frustrated and will release their irritations quickly through tantrum fits.
Spending some time to teach your child sign language relating to certain key words will definitely be of great help to you. It can be words connecting to simple basic needs like requiring more food, drink and rest. It can also be signs to direct you to people (especially siblings) who has bullied them.
4. Time-out for Tantrums
Time-out has been a common form of disciplinary action among parents and their children. If the need arises when i) the child is endangering himself or others or ii) the behavior persists despite your ignorance, stop the child immediately, remove him from the situation and put him on a timeout.
For the younger kids, try putting them on your lap facing you. As the child does not have much vocabulary, descriptive explanations may not work well on them. Thus, consider using the words they are familiar with and by using a gentle tone, make it clear that hurting himself or others is not acceptable. It is also a good time to start guiding the child on your family values and rules.
For the older children who should by then be displaying more self-control and awareness, try using eye contact to hint them that their behavior should stop. If this does not work, consider adopting Time-outs for the child. Send the child to a designated “Time-out Corner”, an area with no material distractions for the child to reflect on his behavior.
Every child with Autism is unique – because each child responds to circumstances differently with varied levels of skills, communication and sensory processing profiles.
Essentially, there is no fool-proof strategies nor no one-size-fits-all solution on how you can manage Meltdowns. What we have here are just some tips that you can consider based on your child’s individual needs. Do keep in mind that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that is accompanied by behavioural issues and what we have shared here do require long term management to achieve optimal results.
1. List down and remove sensory triggers
An autistic meltdown occurs to a child when his sensory and emotional levels are overloaded with unfamiliar external stimuli and changes. It can be instances like the incessant chattering on a crowded bus ride or the flashing of car lights that are causing a high level of distress in them.
It is of importance to identify and pinpoint which sensory stimuli has the tendency to trigger the Meltdowns for your child. Make a list of your child’s major fears and anxieties and try to rank them in order of the level of responses, from mild to severe. With this list in hand, you can be more prepared to respond and act in accordance by removing the perceived stimuli or leaving the overstimulated place for a quiet and safe corner for the child to recover from his meltdown.
2. Communicate with Visual Cues
For a child on Autism Spectrum, seeing it rather than saying it helps him to keep and process the information better. Therefore, visual cues are great communication tools. Visual cues are graphic items that can help children who has difficulty in understanding verbal languages, spoken instructions and social cues. They can be in the forms of picture cue cards, photographs, drawings and schedules etc.
Children with autism need routine in order to help them understand the world around them. Visual cues schedule inform the child “what’s next” and consequences of their actions. This greatly reduces the anxiety of not knowing what to expect and deter the child from engaging in a meltdown.
3. Allow your child to front his fears and learn to cope
This last point that we would like to highlight is in consideration for the child in a long term perspective.
Out of love for their children, most of the parents go to great lengths to protect their children by avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. However, by practicing avoidance, the child will actually be denied the chance to participate and learn how to cope with such situations independently. Only by allowing your child to be involved and take control of his own fear, can he then be more self-reliant, to discover his own mechanisms and better manage similar occurrences in the future.
Regardless if your child is on the Autism Spectrum, every parent has their share of anger, vexations and exhaustion of their child’s temper tantrums and autism meltdowns. Just remember you are not alone - keep your emotions in check by regulating your breathing and try out the tips we have set out above!
If you are still unsure of how to effectively manage your child’s autism meltdown sand requires further assistance, do seek professional support.