I have noticed, quite a lot, that neurotypical people don’t often know the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum and why this can be damaging to autistic people. It seems simple, huh? You’d be right. I guess this is just another case of neurotypical people refusing to listen to autistic people.
Tantrums are usually a way for people, typically children (some adults do, I’m not disregarding that!), to act out in order to get what they want. This in the case of my brother (he’s seven years old) would be crying and screaming and saying it’s not fair! and but I want it!, occasionally a but we’re shopping for food, you have enough money to buy it! In this situation, the tantrum would be over a toy he wanted and my mother would say “I don’t have the money to buy it” or just a simple “no”. Tantrums usually end when the person/child throwing the tantrum gets what they want.
Tantrums are fully in control of the person having the tantrum and they are solved when a solution turns up.
Sure, children don’t really have very much self-control (at least…my brother doesn’t), but a conscious decision was made to have that tantrum and decisions continued to happen to decide what they were going to do in order to get what they want. while the tantrum is happening. Arguably, perhaps not the best decisions but still 100% a self made decision.
Meltdowns, however, are not like that. Keep in mind that I am speaking from personal experience and I do not speak for every other autistic person when I talk about what meltdowns are like for me.
Meltdowns are not a conscious decision to get what you want. For example, I had a meltdown earlier today. I have been having some ear troubles. I’ve been taking ear drops for a couple of weeks. I went to get them syringed. They couldn’t do very much, so they had to stop and we’re getting the rest done next Wednesday. However, I could hear better now. Not much better but better than before. The world was at a higher level of noise than I was not used to and couldn’t cope with so a meltdown happened. Yes, twenty year old autistic people have meltdowns because they are not tantrums and often happen when that person is overwhelmed.
Even with a solution presented, meltdowns do not stop and will persist until the person having the meltdown feels calm/no longer overwhelmed and is taken out of the stressful/overwhelming environment. Meltdowns present themselves in a multitude of ways. Again, I can not speak for other autistic people, but mine are usually uncontrollable crying and bursts of anger/rage directed at myself or other people. There is a lot of hyperventilating involved and rocking back and forth. They do not calm down until I am taken out of that environment and I no longer feel overwhelmed. They do not happen because I want something. I wanted nothing but to be out of the situation I was in.
They are not a result of a parent incorrectly disciplining a child. They are not a label as an excuse to be a “lazy parent”.
I don’t usually write posts aimed at neurotypical people as my aim of this blog isn’t to educate neurotypical people on autism but to help autistic people in the community feel less alone and to talk about the things they experience through discussion. Not knowing the differences between a meltdown and a tantrum harms autistic people/children and repressing meltdowns through fear of being punished for being overwhelmed can cause massive amounts of internal anxiety and stress. This is more to help the autistic community than anything as, like I said, that’s why this blog exists.