A Parents Guide On How to Tell the Difference Between a Meltdown and a Tantrum
Families of children with behavior issues are usually very familiar with presenting behavioral challenges, yet it can take years of research and trial-and-error therapy to understand why a child acts in a certain way. He/ she is clearly reacting to something but struggles to communicate needs, wants, and concerns, and families are often at a loss as to what is going on.
In order to begin to unpack the reasons behind certain behaviors, I find it is helpful to distinguish between certain experiences these families may have. Commonly confused terms are tantrums and meltdowns.
A tantrum is when a child throws a fit that is driven by a goal (usually wanting or needing something). When that goal is met (for example, the child gets the goldfish he had been wanting), the tantrum stops. The tantrum also needs an audience to occur; if no one is paying attention, there is no reason for the tantrum to continue.
By contrast, a meltdown doesn’t need a goal but instead is a reaction to sensory overload. It doesn’t have a clear ending point, but can only stop when the child calms down. Additionally, it does not need an audience, as a child in meltdown mode may continue whether or not others are there to watch.
In short, tantrums are usually easier to understand and control, while meltdowns can be just as distressing for the parent as for the child.
Another important term that parents may be somewhat familiar with is stimming, which refers to behaviors such as hand flapping, rocking, and repeating certain words and phrases. Stimming is a coping mechanism to help a child deal with sensory overload. While some may discourage stimming because these behaviors may seem strange or out of the ordinary, research shows that stimming can have a calming effect on the nervous system.
ABA Therapy vs. Biomedical Treatment
And finally, we can move on to the discussion of how to help children with autism. The two main strategies are Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy and Biomedical Treatment.
ABA Therapy focuses on helping them change their behavior by learning skills such as “look,” “listen,” and “imitate.” In some instances, ABA utilizes rewards for when a child responds in a favorable way. Biomedical treatment, on the other hand, involves food and supplementation to help the body get out of “protection mode” and essentially heal itself.
ABA Therapy combined with Biomedical Treatment is extremely powerful, as the child’s behavior and body are both improved and healed.
The great news is that the science of neuroplasticity tells us that, in contrast to previous theories on brain function, the brain has the capacity to change and adapt. In order words, children can rewire their thinking and acquire processing and social skills. Our brains are NOT locked, and even children who experience great struggles can improve!
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