Tantrums vs. Meltdowns

A child with Autism, who is having a meltdown, is vastly different then a child having a tantrum. So why do they call it a tantrum? It is called lack of education and is very frustrating as a parent of a child with Autism when you call it a tantrum. . Let me explain the difference.

I am at the grocery store with my child and my son/daughter wants a piece of candy. I say no and he/she proceeds to roll on the ground screaming and crying and basically throwing a fit. This is called a tantrum. A tantrum is a child who isn’t getting what they want and will do anything to get your attention, usually negative, to get what he/she wants. This happens in ALL children, including those with Autism. This is a tantrum. It is something that the child has control over and the parent can address and ideally change the behavior.

A meltdown is completely different and something a child with Autism can’t control. A meltdown can occur from many different things including, lack of routine, transitioning to a different task or event, lack of speech, frustration, and sensory overload. A meltdown takes redirection, soothing, and other tactics to help calm the child down. It might take calming the child down enough to be able to help them communicate what they need because when they are having a meltdown, communicating comes to a halt. This takes patience and love.

My son with Autism has tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He is 4 and this is very typical of toddlers. I ignore the tantrum and not give in to his demands. I do not react to negative attention so he realizes that this type of behavior doesn’t work and in the future makes a better choice. Usually when he does it in the grocery store, we get nasty looks and I laugh because if you have a child, you have been in my shoes.

However, if you give me a nasty look when my son is having a meltdown, you will get a different reaction from me. I want to scream, “he has Autism and is having a meltdown so what are you looking at!” However, I understand that they aren’t educated in the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown and they think that my child is just being a brat.

After you have read this blog I hope that you are well versed in the differences between a tantrum and a meltdown and can offer sympathy or help next time you see a mom or dad in the grocery store with a child having a meltdown.



2 thoughts on “Tantrums vs. Meltdowns”

  1. Great point! My foster son had a meltdown in JcPenny. It was our first time in that setting. He became over whelmed and needed to go sit in the dressing room with me until his fear subsided. He was not throwing a tantrum. The looks I received was pity. Ugh I do not need pity, to me he handled it extremely well. Thank you for adding me to your blog.


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