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Meltdowns and How to Avoid Triggers

April 18, 2013
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In a recent post we explored aggression in autism. Today, we dive deeper into a state of behavior that often includes or precedes aggression. This is known as a meltdown.

Meltdowns can be a prevalent concern among children with autism. Even so, some adults are prone to these outbursts, too, and it is not exclusive to adults and children with autism. Individuals without autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may also develop habits that lead to meltdowns.

As we discuss the mechanics of a meltdown, and how it differs from a temper tantrum, we will also offer ways to identify emotional triggers that lead to irrational reactions. Our hope is that you are able to recognize the onset of a meltdown and feel equipped to stop one before it starts.

What is a Meltdown?

A broad definition of a meltdown can be summed up in one statement: “a total loss of behavioral control.”

It may combine feelings of anger, agitation, frustration with self and others, manipulation, and sadness. The culmination of these feelings results in an exhaustive display of unpredictable behavior that may include screaming, crying, and lack of control.

What is a Temper Tantrum?

A meltdown is different from a temper tantrum. For instance:

– When having a meltdown, a child will disregard the safety of him or herself, and others. Often, when in the midst of a temper tantrum, while appearing out of control, the child keeps safety in mind.

– In a temper tantrum, a child desires attention. This is not so with a meltdown, where a child may completely disregard those observing his or her behaviors.

– Temper tantrums are often a child’s reaction to not getting his or her way. Once a want is fulfilled, everything can go back to normal. A meltdown, on the other hand, will not stop even if the child’s initial wish is satisfied.

How to Avoid a Meltdown

Once a child reaches a point of meltdown, it can seem impossible to return to normal state of operation. However, it is important to know that all children have the ability to stop themselves, even when appearing out of control.

Even so, to have this ability, the child needs to know a number of calming techniques, and often needs the guidance of a parent to remind him or her of how to use coping exercises in the midst of a high energy situation.

While this is true, the best way to aid a child who is prone to meltdowns is to help him or her rationalize feelings, wants, and needs before becoming too overwhelmed.

By journaling daily behaviors and emotions, a family can become aware of patterns that emerge. This may help identify meltdown triggers. Sometimes, certain triggers may be impossible to avoid. When this is the case, it is important to discuss triggers and calming techniques with the child before the next meltdown occurs.

Escape Meltdowns for Good

Children with autism who experience meltdowns are not beyond recovery. Each child has the ability to learn healthy coping skills and, with help, identify triggers that may cause these episodes of extreme behavior.

If you are hoping to help your child overcome these outbursts, consult the additional resources below. Also, join the community of Canadians who share this burden. Comment on this post and others, sharing your experience and asking questions. You are not alone in this battle.

Resources:

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