Autism - Support Across the Spectrum

cindyjean68
Meltdown or Temper-tantrum?
November 29, 2012 at 5:27 PM

How do you tell the difference between a meltdown and a temper-tantrum? Sometimes I think my son is having a meltdown but he seems so angry and manipulative that I wonder if it's just a temper-tantrum because he didn't get what he wanted.  For instance today he had a dr appt so I got off early to get him from school and go. Since I had to get off early I skipped my lunch break. I was going to pull into a fastfood place real quick between picking him up and going to the dr's office and since the only one on the way was Hardy's I pulled in there. I asked my son if he wanted some fries or something because he had already had lunch. He asked if they had chicken nuggets. I said I don't know. So then he wanted to go to McD's. Well that is on the other side of town and I didn't have time to go there so I was just gonna get an extra large thing of chicken tenders and an extra small fries and share with him. Well he started screaming because he wanted to go to McD's. I tried reasoning with him telling him they do have chicken nuggets and I was getting him some but he wasn't having it. He started kicking the seats in my van and pitching an all out fit. I ended up leaving the drive thru with nothing. Then he refused to go into the Dr's office when we got there. By this time I was really fustrated with him and said some things I shouldn't had. I told him I was so sick of this and if he thought this was going to get him what he wanted he was out of his mind, and further more he was NOT going to have a birthday party we were plannning for awhile. I was yelling at him and telling him I was so tired of it. Then I was in tears. He got out of the van but then he sat in a chair in the hallway sceaming and pitching a fit saying he wasn't going in. We missed the dr's appt because he would not go in and he is too heavy for me to carry him in.  The nurse even came out and bribed him with candy trying to get him to go in but he still refused. So I told her we would just reschedule and I told him come on lets go. He still refused to move. I said well I am going home and if you want to stay here all by yourself then fine..the drs and nurses are leaving to go home too. So he goes to the van but he is screaming at me the whole time. I wanted so bad to tear his tale up right there in the parking lot. I had to really restrain myself from the urge to do so. He gets in the van and he is still screaming and yelling and kicking the back of my van. This carries on the whole way home. I was so fustrated and angry with him.  He comes inside and sits and cries softly but not screaming anymore and I went into my room to cool off.  All this carried on for over an hour. His brother comes in and talks to him and gives him an icecream bar and he stops crying and eats it.  So..with all that does that sound like a meltdown or a temper tantrum? He was mad because he did not get what he wanted. I did not give in and give him what he wanted so he pitched a fit the whole time.  And it wasn't going to the dr that caused it. He loves his dr and the staff there. It was because I chose to pull into Hardy's instead of going clear across town to McD's and being late to the appt.  I am not sure if I understand the difference. I want to punish him for his behavior. But not sure if I should be. I don't even know what to do with him anymore and how to handle him anymore. I don't think I can do this anymore! The older he gets the worse it gets!

Replies

  • VioletsMomTown
    November 29, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    It sounds like he got really upset because you told him his birthday party was cancelled, that might have been a bit harsh. Maybe if you had said if he behaved at the doctors then you would get him food on the way home? Then after you left because he wasn't behaving, remind him that he would have gotten food if he had behaved. At least he might remember for the next time he was in that kind of situation. As it is, I'm not sure anything was learned. There needs to be some kind of lesson to take from all of this. I would not call that a meltdown because they usually come from being overwhelmed, and that is not what that was.

  • cindyjean68
    November 29, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Thanks...but I didn't tell him the birthday party was over until after he was screaming and kicking my seats so hard it nearly made me wreck. I was hoping it would make him stop but it only made it worse...believe me when I tell you I regret everything I said. 

  • VioletsMomTown
    November 29, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Poor mama! You have such a rough day, I feel for ya. Tomorrow is a new day at least...

    Quoting cindyjean68:

    Thanks...but I didn't tell him the birthday party was over until after he was screaming and kicking my seats so hard it nearly made me wreck. I was hoping it would make him stop but it only made it worse...believe me when I tell you I regret everything I said. 


  • princess_1983
    November 29, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    If he's mad that he doesn't get what he wants it's a temper tantrum.

  • cindyjean68
    November 29, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    I guess I just don't understand the difference then. If what he has been having is huge temper tantrums but I am not giving in to them why does he still do them? You'd think he would learn by now it does not get him what he wants. There is absolutely no reasoning with him what so ever when he gets like that. It's an almost daily thing. I am soo exhausted and tired from dealing with it every day and at the point that I don't know what on earth to do and why in the world my son is like this. I never had these problems out of my other 3 kids. I have tried all forms of discipline. If something works it will only work for a few days or if lucky a couple of weeks. But then it no longer has any effect on him. I have tried rewards, timeouts, priveledges taken away, spanking. Nothing has worked for long. He is always sorry and remorseful afterwards, but then he does it again. I am dealing with my own health issues and on top of this the stress of it all is killing me.

  • cindyjean68
    November 29, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    If someone would just describe what your child does during a meltdown...not what the definition is..because I have read, read, and reread that till I know it by heart but I still don't get it. But what your child actually does during a meltdown.

  • VioletsMomTown
    November 29, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    So, often meltdowns for my daughter would just be crying unconsolably, stiffening up, possibly shaking, almost scared, elevated heartrate, with no "obvious" cause. Before I realized the triggers, I was just like, where did that come from? It happens when she gets over stimulated by loud noises, flourescent lights, crowds or if people expect things that she thinks she's unable to do. She's just starting to communicate better, often a meltdown is a cross between a sensory problem and being unable to communicate what is bothering them properly. Meltdowns can just be a coping mechanism to drown out the world, or can actually be from physical pain. It's very rarely from not getting what you want, its not a conscious reaction. I guess that is how I would describe the difference.

  • KatyTylersMom
    November 29, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    So I have a different perspective.  To me a meltdown is a temper tantrum that has gone beyond the point of no return for the child to be able to be reasoned with, calm themself without external support, or communicate what is wrong.  For some kids it might be triggered by sensory inputs that are just too much to handle (sounds, lights, sensations, w/e) and for others who don't have as many sensory problems it can be from simple things that would start a "normal" temper tantrum, like not getting their way. 

    I have seen this with my daughter where she will get mad about something not going her way, like we're all done with the carousel and it's time to leave.  She starts out upset and throwing the typical 3 year old tantrum but at a certain point she works herself up so much that it is literally a case of hysterics - she can't stop, she can't be reasoned with, and the usually effective parent threats of witholding favorite things bounce off her like they were nothing. 

    I have found at that point the only thing to do is take her off to a calm(er) location, put her in time-out and leave her alone for however long it takes for her to get it out of her system.  It sucks when it's in public b/c god knows you get the "wow you're a shitty parent" stares but any interactions just spurr the vicious cycle of meltdown even more.  Usually afterwards she's a bit teary, pretty sorry and apologetic (ie: more well behaved than normal lol), and pretty much over w/e it was that she was mad about in the first place. 

    I fully hear you on the not giving in to a temper tantrum even if you know it's going to escalate to a meltdown.  I guess my only advice is maybe next time pull over on the side of the road, tell him "I'm getting out of the car and letting you have some alone time right now because you need to calm down before we drive anymore" kind of thing - removes you from the SUPER stressful tantrum and let's him have the opportunity to chillax himself and maybe the realization of "oh shit mom got out of the car this is serious" might make it through:)

  • cindyjean68
    November 29, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    With my son when he has what I think of as a typical temper tantrum he will get mad and stomp his feet and say "uggghhh" in a low growly voice. But when I tell him ok if you're going to act that way then we won't do such and such, he will usually stop. But then there are times when he totally looses all control and rationale and it might be that we didn't stop at McD's or go to the park or his sister made him mad that started it but there is something else that has to be going on to make him totally loose control like he does. There is absolutely nothing you can say or do that will help. Nothing! Even if I had given in and said Ok we will go to McD's he was beyond that.  The nurse even told him Stephen if you behave and come to see the Dr then Mom will take you to McDonalds. He didn't care anymore.  It wasn't even about that anymore. Is that when it gets beyond being a temper tantrum? At home I can steer him towards his room and let him stay in there until he has calmed down but out in public what do you do? He carried on till we got home and in his own home he was able to wrap up in his blanket and calm down...but by this time I was so frustrated and upset I was a basket case.  And it happens at the flip of a switch. He was very quiet and subdued when he got in the van at school. I wish I had just ignored my growling stomach and not even pulled into Hardy's..just went on to the Dr's office. ***sigh*** I will be glad when we get the diagnosis next week so we can move on.

  • Bluerose1482
    November 30, 2012 at 2:15 AM

    Sounds like you had a whopper of a day.  Those days SUCK.  My son used to have incidents EXACTLY like you described.  In fact, at one time, I could have written your exact post right down to kicking the van seats and screaming because he didn't get chicken nuggets.  I have bought that tee-shirt many times over.  For me it did get better. 

    Firstly, who cares if it is a technical meltdown or a tantrum?  Really, the reality of it is that your son was upset and got to a point where he was out of control.  He simply could not bring his behavior under control.  Believe me, if he could have he would have.  Why not?  Doesn't sound like you typically give in to fit-throwing, so obviously there is something else going on.  There must be.  It would only be in his interest to throw a fit if throwing a fit got him something.  And it doesn't....

    Also, I believe there was more to this story than some nuggets.  What else?  You'll probably never know.  (Quick story.  One of the worst months I ever had with my son was when he was 5.  We had NINE huge, violent meltdowns in one month.  The worst was in the eye dr's office.  Luckily, I had gone to school with one of the lady's who worked there and she was able to get him to calm down enough to cooperate.  About six months later, one night out of the blue he tells me that he was scared of the eye dr because he thought that they checked eyes the way the dentist checked teeth, by scratching them with a sharp, pointed hook.  He spent that whole month terrified of going to the eye dr.)

     Secondly, I believe that the harshness of the consequence does very little to change behavior.  I believe that the consistency with which consequence is given changes behavior. 

    When my son was completely calm and rational, I explained to him that I understood that his incidents were a way that he communicated, and I have no intention of taking that away from him.  I told him that there were two things about his incidents that upset me.  Firstly, I didn't like when he hurt himself or other or when he risked hurting himself or others.  He agreed that that was fair.  So, that means no running, hitting, pushing etc. when he is having an incident.  He is also not allowed to say mean things to his sister because that hurts her feelings.  Secondly, I didn't like it when he broke things or treated things roughly.  He agreed that that was fair.  I also sometimes have headaches, and he agreed not to yell around me when I have a headache. 

    So, if he has a tantrum and does none of the above, there is no concequence beyond having to help me clean up any mess he made when he is done.  I usually tell him that I understand that he's upset, but beyond that I do not interfer.  If he specifically talks to me, I answer him, but otherwise I ignore him until he is done.  Sometimes I suggest that he go to his room, but I don't make him go.

    If he has a tantrum and he treats something roughly, especially if it doesn't belong to him, I take away his laptop for one day, two days up to a week, depending on the circumstances.

    If he hurts someone or risks hurting himself, I take away his wii for somewhere between a day and a week. 

    Now, he clearly understands that the most important thing, when he is feeling out of control is to not hurt or risk hurting himself or others.  Normally if he gets punished under this heading it is for a day and it is for saying something mean to his sister. 

    I think it also makes it clear why certain things aren't allowed.  For example, he knows a 'wii punishment' is for hurting or risking hurting.  If he is punished from his wii for yelling in the van, it is very clear to him why I didn't approve of that behavior.  Before, I think he really didn't understand why he was being punished for certain things--like yelling in the van.  He just could not connect that dot that it was because he was risking causing a wreck which could hurt us.  Almost like I said, "You can't eat watermelon because zebras have stripes."  I don't think he fully grasped the cause/effect relationship.

    He also clearly understands that the next most important thing is to not damage property.  These days if he is punished for this, it is usually because he picks up something that doesn't belong to him.  When I remind him that he shouldn't do that he slams it down. 

    Overall, he has made HUGE improvements and his incidents are really almost laughable now.  One of the last times he was really worked up, he carefully laid all the dinning room chairs down on their sides.  Another time he carefully took all the books from the bookcase and piled them neatly on the floor.  You can clearly see he's very angry and/or frustrated.  Normally he is tense and shaking, but he isn't violent and out of control like he was before, and really that was my goal.

     

Autism - Support Across the Spectrum