I get asked sometimes what is the difference between a tantrum and when the behavior is related to Autism. My personal favourite is when I am asked “is it the Autism or is he being a four year old”. Please step into my shoes as I can only answer from my experience with Johnny and meltdowns.
It’s like watching a pot of water on a slow boil and you know if you don’t get in there things will escalate. Is it a sound that has got him agitated? Did something happen at school? Is something not working right? A change in his schedule or routine without warning is something we work hard to avoid. Did someone say the wrong word? Did I not move fast enough when I hear him making his frustrating sounds that warn me that he’s getting upset? When he’s anxious it is hard to reason with him with words. In fact too many words can only make him more upset because he cannot process through the haze of his emotions. Still sound like a tantrum to you? Take my hand please.
For Johnny when he’s like this he is not kicking or screaming. He may or may not toss a few toys or books. The thing that breaks my heart is that his lower lip will quiver, his chin will drop and then he is crying like his beloved puppy just died. Hitting the floor with his hands seems to make him feel better. We try to console him and many times we wait and see if he”ll just calm down. Johnny is good at “self-regulation” and seeking things or sensations that calm himself but when he’s in meltdown mode we find that letting him sit on the floor and letting it out often works best.
We have also found that using visuals is a good way to center him again. Less words and pointing to pictures seems to connect with his visual nature almost instantly. I remember during pumpkin patch season he just wanted to go home after being stung by a bee on the face even though before the sting he wanted to go and play the Halloween activities. He started to get upset and say he “I’m done”. We changed tactics and picked him up and took him over to the fence so he could SEE all the fun that other children were having in the corn maze or on the rides. Ten seconds later he was dragging his Daddy to the gate with a big smile and no longer stearing toward a meltdown.
But here is the thing, just when you think that you have survived another episode and remind yourself to never ever again say there is peach fruit cups and then not have any in the cupboard he says “Mama, I want bea fru up.” Yes we are on the repeat cycle again and if I don’t change tactics quick we will be at the meltdown stage again. For me it’s the repetition that can drive me crazy but I know it is second nature to him.
Sometimes you want to scream in frustration but you don’t do that. Instead you take a deep breathe and remember everything you have been taught and remain very calm. He feeds off of your emotions. Does this still sound like a tantrum? If it does, then step into my shoes.