Meltdown Vs. Temper Tantrum

Here’s the thing about meltdowns.

They are not a tantrum.  They are not manipulative feats to get what they want.  The individual with autism can not control it.  And they are not about you.

I’ve been told:

  • “Well, he’s getting too old for that.”
  • “It wasn’t fair to (insert adult name here).  He didn’t do anything to him.”
  • “He should be able to control it.”

A meltdown is not measurable to a temper tantrum.  They are two very different things.

Temper tantrums happen when a typically developing child under the age of 5 (hopefully, not too much longer after that) gets overwhelmed and can’t express their frustration.  They’re testing out the ropes.  Seeing how they can get things in their life. They are goal-oriented and will usually end when that goal is met…or they finally realize they aren’t going to get what they want.

A meltdown happens in a child with autism, or another disorder, at any age.  It isn’t goal-oriented.  Yes, it may have started because they had a want that they couldn’t get met due to language or other lacking developmental areas.  But even if that need is met, they are unable to stop their meltdown. It won’t stop suddenly like a tantrum will, it will abate over a period of time.

A child having a meltdown doesn’t look for, or care, what the people’s reactions around them are.  A child having a tantrum will look for that reaction.

A child having a meltdown doesn’t care about their own safety.  A child having a tantrum will still make sure they aren’t getting hurt even while kicking their feet screaming.

When a meltdown happens no one feels in control.  It’s scary and heart-wrenching.  Every second feels like a minute of watching your child in pain and knowing you can’t do a whole lot about it in that moment.  A child having a tantrum is often in control of the situation, or wants to be.

Learn the differences.  Don’t comment on things you don’t understand.  Us parents and caregivers and teachers are doing all we can during a meltdown to keep our child safe, help it pass quicker, and give them tools so they don’t get to that point so often.

And remember, it’s not about you.

My child is not giving me a hard time,he

Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.