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Understanding the Difference Between Tantrums & Meltdowns

I cannot tell you how many times that tantrums and meltdowns get mixed up by parents, professionals, teachers, etc. From my experiences as an autistic, I want to break down the similarities and differences between tantrums and meltdowns:

Tantrums: goal-oriented (function or reason) and can be reduced by teaching communication or replacement behaviors.

Meltdowns: caused by sensory overstimulation or unpredictability and requires support to reduce stimuli in environment and teach coping methods.

Here are some main points to identify tantrums and meltdowns before they occur:

  1. Pay attention to the situation and what occurred before the tantrum or meltdown.

  2. Pay attention to signs of distress before meltdowns occur.

  3. Was there an audience when an autistic person's behavior occurred?

    • Meltdowns occur from sensory overload and in any situation. They occur when an autistic individual is alone or in new social situations.

    • You can notice an autistic individual stimming nervously or even covering their ears/eyes to reduce distress before a meltdown occurs.

By teaching skills an autistic does not have their repertoire, less tantrums and meltdowns would occur. It is important to focus on teaching communication, social, daily living skills, etc., as replacement behaviors will more likely occur. How would you approach when an autistic person has a tantrum or meltdown? Share your thoughts in the comments section!


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