Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Key Differences Between Tantrums and Autistic Meltdowns

Many of us have been in a situation where our child or a child around us has broken down in a sea of emotions. For the outsider looking in, it seems like a child having a tantrum, but there are key differences between a regular tantrum and a child with autism experiencing a completely uncontrollable meltdown.

A tantrum is a behavior that a child enters into willfully and therefore it can be calmed by rewarding that child when they start displaying a desired behavior. Tantrums tend to happen more frequently when a child is young and slowly go away as the child grows and matures.

An autistic meltdown can occur across a lifespan and isn’t impacted by a reward system. Most autistic meltdowns occur when your child on the spectrum is overwhelmed or is experiencing sensory overload.

Beautiful Minds Center for Autism, a Los Angeles based autism service provider and experts in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA Therapy) have put together a few ways to make it easier for parents of child with autism to tell the difference between the two behaviors and have offered ways to help a child who is experiencing an autistic meltdown vs a child experiencing a tantrum.

What are the Differences between a Tantrum and an Autistic Meltdown?

1. One is goal oriented (meaning your child wants something and isn’t getting it so they throw a tantrum hoping you will get sick of the tears and give in) and one is overload (meaning your child with autism has reached their boiling point. They are so overwhelmed that they can’t control their emotions any longer. They have reached a sensory, emotional or informational overload and it is just too much for them so they break down). With a meltdown you can expect similar behavior to a tantrum (yelling, crying, lashing out) or your child could just completely shut down.
2. A tantrum needs an audience. This behavior occurs purposely and when the parents or caregivers are around to witness it in order for the child to get what they want. When your child is experiencing a tantrum it is best to ignore the behavior until they are able to calm themselves down and (if in public) it it’s best to remove them from the public place, since a change of scenery can also help calm this behavior.
3. Meltdowns will happen with or without an audience.  They are what happens when the child gets overloaded and explodes (or implodes with emotions).

Simply put tantrums are angry outbursts of emotions while meltdowns are a reaction to being overwhelmed. A child with autism has no control of their meltdowns and will not benefit from distractions, or forms of discipline.

What Can You Do To Help A Child Experiencing an Autistic Meltdown?

The first thing you should do is establish a safe space for your child. A place you can direct them where they can hit pillows, yell and scream without hurting themselves or others.  Since there is no stopping a meltdown, it is important for this to be a space your child can be safe in until their have exerted all of their energy.

It is also important to establish a calming routine and practice it with your child on the spectrum when they are not in meltdown mode so that they can turn to their calming technique when they need it most. This can include a variety of visuals, music, and books to help them stay calm.

Lastly, it is important for the parent to map their child’s patterns of behavior so they can see when and how the escalation of a meltdown occurred. If you know what is triggering your child’s meltdown you can start a calming routine at the first sign of frustration and with time, you may be able to stop a meltdown even before it happens.

More important than anything else is to do whatever you can to stay calm during a meltdown. Learning to cope calmly and having the proper strategies in place will be the best way you can help your child on the spectrum.

That’s where Beautiful Mind Center for Autism comes in. Our extremely talented teams of behavioral therapists evaluate each child’s behavior and work with our clinical directors to create individualized treatment plans that help both the child and their parents address the specific behavioral issues. Then the proper behavioral therapy gets put in place to help redirect inappropriate behaviors and emotional meltdowns.

How To Help Manage Pica Behavior

Pica is an eating disorder that is typically defined by a child ingesting nonedible substances past the age where it is developmentally inappropriate.  There is no single known cause forthis behavior, but it has been discovered that in some cases it can be linked to deficiency of iron, zinc, anemia etc.

If you feel your child with autism is past the normal healthy stage of placing nonedible in their mouth and has been doing it for over a month, it is best to see your doctor so that they can evaluate your child for behavioral development disorders.

Pica has been linked to children who have been diagnosed with autism or other developmental disabilities. Here are a few of the most common reasons that may be contributing to your child with autism’s Pica behavior:

1. Your child may enjoy the feeling of eating certain non-food items. This could be a kind of sensory stimulation.
2. It could be that your child on the spectrum has a hard time differentiating food items from non-food items.
3. Your child on the spectrum might be craving for nutrients such as iron or zinc. In this case the Pica can be caused by nutritional deficiency.

There are ways that you can help your child manage Pica:

1. Alert your healthcare providers to make sure that nutritional deficiency is not the cause of their Pica behavior. They may need to take a simple blood test to determine if there is a need to increase their intake of food or supplements.

2. Tell teachers and other caregivers that your child has pica so that they can monitor them closely to make sure they are not harming themselves by putting sharp or poisonous items in their mouths.  It is also best to store items of this nature in an area where your child will not be able to reach them.

3. Enrich your child’s environment in other ways by providing access to a variety of activities that he/she enjoys and that don’t include a pica attraction. This is particularly important if your child’s pica is related to sensory stimulation, but it can help anyone with pica. Provide access to a variety of activities that your child enjoys and that don’t include items that they would typically place in their mouth.

4. Teach your child on the spectrum to differentiate food from non-food by working on identifying things that are safe and edible versus things that are dangerous to consume.

5. Consider working with a behavior specialist such as the incredible therapists at Beautiful Minds Center, who have years of experience helping children effectively reduce pica and other behavioral problems with skill building, redirection and other techniques to help your child on the spectrum learn the difference between what is safe and what isn’t.

We recommend that you reach out to us at (310) 247- 8712 if you feel your son or daughter with autism is experiencing any abnormal behaviors and we will be happy to direct you to the proper doctors and set up appropriate behavioral programs to get your child the help they need.  

How To Manager Hand Flapping

Hand flapping is a self-stimulatory activity that is commonly seen among children with autism. It is believed that the act of repeatedly flapping or opening and closing your hands is an attempt to soothe sensory overload. A child that has been diagnosed with autism ( or may be on the autism spectrum), who engages in hand flapping behavior tends to do so when they feel stressed out. It is important to watch for this behavior in your child with autism because it is a sign that there is a problem and if that problem is not dealt with, they may end of having an emotional breakdown.

Children with autism tend to be very sensitive to sensations and sounds which tend to cause distress so it is best to try to avoid loud noises and large crowds when possible. In order for your child on the autism spectrum to cope with this form of distress they commonly revert to hand flapping as a way to try to escape the sensory overload they are experiencing.

Some of the strategies that we have found to help replace hand flapping in a child who is experiencing sensory overload are:

1. Make sure to carry a stress ball, playdough, clay or a fidget toy to give to your child on the onset of who could potentially be a situation where your child could experience sensory overload.
2. Give your children a large bear hug to help calm them or teach them how to give themselves bear hugs so that they can learn to self-soothe in a stressful situation.
3. Verbally re-directing your child on the autism spectrum can also be a great tool to use when you sense your child is becoming over stimulated.

Our Los Angeles based Autism Therapy Center works with children ages 2-18 to help redirect inappropriate behaviors, work on sensory issues and identify other behavioral challenges. We strive to help your child with autism grow up learning how to manage these behaviors and stresses in day to day life. At Beautiful Minds Center for Autism we work with your son or daughter in a personalized way to make sure they are able to reach their fullest potential.  We teach our parents that it is important to provide consistent strategies over different environments so that your son or daughter will know what do at home, at school and within their community. This avoids unnecessary stresses that could make them revert back to hand flapping.

If you or someone you know has concerns about hand flapping, please feel free to reach out to us at (310) 247-8712 and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have so that you can get your child the help they need.