Misconceptions About Aspie Meltdowns

Beth @Mother_Warrior tweeted a question yesterday on Twitter.  She asked, “If you could correct one misconception about #autism #aspergers, what would it be?”
I started to simply reply back, but I could not easily narrow it down to just one misconception and/or something that was short enough to tweet on Twitter… As I began typing this post, I soon realized that I can write a series of blog posts in answer to her question, but for today, let’s delve further into Beth’s answer.

Beth had tweeted regarding the misconception she would like to correct, “Mine would be that meltdown issues are misbehavior.”  I totally agree!

It may simply look like a temper-tantrum to the general public, but there is much more going on when someone on the Autism Spectrum is having a “meltdown”.

So….you may be asking, “How is a meltdown different than a tantrum?”
Your run-of-the-mill tantrum usually has to do with the current situation like, “I want that toy, NOW!”

A meltdown (often referred to as an “Aspie Meltdown”) is usually caused by an overwhelming amount of other issues that have built up.  This building up could have started well before the meltdown and even in another location, the day before, etc.  The issue that seems to have caused the ruckus is only the tip of the iceberg and it may or may not have anything to do with the meltdown.

Here are some causes that are common for triggering Aspie meltdowns:

  • Too loud and/or certain noises (regardless of the volume)
  • Too many people and/or new people
  • Too much going on
  • Lights are too bright
  • Too much air blowing on them and/or the temperature
  • Not on their usual schedule
  • Different location and/or environment (could even be that they are not in their “usual” seat)
  • Hungry, thirsty, and/or tired
  • They are simply “done” with the activity, regardless of whether or not the event is over.
  • Don’t have a certain coping mechanism in place and handy (My son still likes to have at least a small item in his pocket most of the time.  It seems to calm him.)

I realize that some of the meltdown triggers can also be the triggers of a regular tantrum.   A point to remember is that someone on the Autism Spectrum can also have a basic tantrum just like people not on the spectrum.  My son, “Buddy”, has had those, too.  Believe me.

The trick to successfully end a meltdown or a tantrum is knowing which one you are dealing with.  Before Buddy was diagnosed, I thought that he was just a really good fit-thrower!  The problem was that the usual “fixes” to end a tantrum would just make the ordeal a lot worse.

There have been a few times that we would be at an event to see one of his favorite cartoon characters and he would have a meltdown and want to go home NOW!  Did he really want to miss out on getting up-close-and-personal with some of his faves?  Definitely not!  The problem was all of the over-stimulation going on around him.  While other children could be having a tantrum, because the line was too long and they had to wait….an Aspie could be having a meltdown about the crowd, noise, new location, etc, etc….

With a child throwing a tantrum, you could encourage them by showing them that the line was moving and their time would be coming soon.  You could also redirect their attention by talking about what they would like to say to the character, etc.

Does this work with someone in the midst of a meltdown?  No!  The trigger is the only thing that matters.  If it is too loud, for example, nothing is going to diffuse the problem if it doesn’t directly annihilate the trigger issue.  Now, if there are multiple trigger issues….you may as well hang it up and go home.

But, does that end it all?  Not necessarily… Buddy’s meltdown usually ends when we get back into our vehicle and the trigger issue is gone.  But then…. if it is something that he really wanted to do, he starts in with the injustice of it all… If it wasn’t for all of the other people, he would have been able to do it, etc,etc, etc…..you get the point.

Of course, this is a bit better than what he used to do in instances like this: start in with an all-out-fit!

*  This post was originally blogged on my previous blog on December 7, 2011.

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