Meltdowns vs Tantrums: Understanding the difference

My goal with this post is to educate.  I want people to understand what we go through and that can help you understand what others go through as well. 

The video included is not easy to watch but it’s a key to helping you understand the struggles that families like mine often face.

There is a world of difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.

The most significant difference is that a tantrum is a willful act, with the goal being to manipulate or change the behavior of the people around them. A tantrum can be defused and the person having the tantrum can hear you and may be able to talk back or respond to your voice.



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A meltdown is essentially the body purging because it simply can’t cope any longer. This is completely outside the control of the person experiencing this phenomenon. A meltdown is not something that can be defused.  It simply has to run its course. In most cases, the person experiencing the meltdown  won’t even hear you when you try to talk to them.

The video included with this post is of a massive tantrum that Gavin had the other day. 

This video may be difficult to watch for some and yet others may be able to relate. One thing that I ask you to keep in mind is the fact that this is not a meltdown.  This is a tantrum.

I handled this situation the way it needed to be handled.  Gavin is basically angry at us for holding him accountable for the choices he made.  I don’t sweet talk or coddle him because this is a willful act and he’s choosing to do be disruptive to the entire house. 

He will self-injure, call himself stupid and even ask for a hug.  He’s also looking right at me most of the time. He does this to gauge my reaction.

These are all manipulative acts, meant to change my behavior. While I try to remain as calm as possible, I don’t pull any punches and at times have to take an aggressive stance.

This is simply how Gavin needs to be handled and while I may seem mean, that’s not the intent.  I have to control the situation so Gavin understands who’s in charge and that his behaviors will not influence the decision to hold him accountable. This is how to best handle these situations. Our mental health support team has worked with us to cone up with a non-violent way of handling his tantrums.

Physically intervening is an absolute last resort.

If Gavin were having a meltdown, this situation would be handled much differently and with compassion because the meltdown would be outside of his control.

Warning: This video is loud and may be disturbing to some viewers.  Viewer Discretion is advised.

This site is managed almost exclusively via WordPress for Android. Please forgive any typos as autocorrect HATES me. 😉


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About Rob Gorski

Father to 3 with Autism and husband to my best friend. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)

  


  • Jharrigan says:

    where is concernedmom’s comment? Did you delete it?

  • amoma says:

    Rob,
    You wrote the explanation, as if you are an expert on metdowns vs. tantrums. You want us to read your directions and then pretty much think what you want us to think. Have you ever considered a possibility, that you are not 100% correct here. What will that scenario will look like then? Even expert cannot state the situations, like you do here, without any ifs and but’s. To me, with all the honesty, this doesnot look like Gavin is under total control of all the actions. He is definitely  make a brave effort and succeeded in calming himself down. However all that hitting and flailing is his way of reaction, when he cannot handle something. That is what it look like. You telling him, that he is doing it deliberately for manipulating you, I donot think so. It is like me telling you, you donot work outside home, because you want to stay at home. We all know, that is not true. It is your  situations that doesnot allow you to do that.
    Try putting yourself in his shoes, sometime. If you were him, and were denied an opportunity to do something that you liked so much (granted you were warned 6 times), you had his all mental and health issues, then how will you handle it, knowing very well that you have never deterred away from the assigning and going through with the consequences.

    • MeaghanGood says:

      amoma “You want us to read your directions and then pretty much think what you want us to think. Have you ever considered a possibility, that you are not 100% correct here. What will that scenario will look like then? Even expert cannot state the situations, like you do here, without any ifs and but’s.”
      Well, this is Rob’s personal blog, and therefore he is entitled to state his opinions as to what’s going on in his life without including a bunch of “ifs” and “buts.” As far as I know he’s never claimed to be an expert, he just writes what he observes about his family and what he thinks about it. And he does have long experience in dealing with Gavin.
      And, in the comments section, you are entitled to respectfully disagree — and I think you were respectful.
      And Rob — I saw a video of one of Gavin’s tantrums from a year or two ago. It looks like he did much better in this video, calmed down faster, than he did in the older one.

    • lostandtired says:

      amoma please don’t put words in my mouth.  I’m not claiming to be an expert on anyone’s child but my own. As @MeaghanGood stated, all I’m doing is sharing my personal experience.  
      You don’t understand my son.  He has reactive attachment disorder as well as Autism. What was shown in the video was a tantrum and not a meltdown.  I never said I was giving you instructions.  I simply explained my actions and if what you learn can be applied to your child, that’s great.

    • concernedmom says:

      amoma  The way it usually goes is; If Gavin does it,Rob says it is a manipulative tantrum meant to control Rob. If one of the younger boys does it, it is an innocent meltdown that can’t be helped.  Gavin’s meltdowns get recorded and put on blast for the world to see.  I feel so sorry for the poor kid.

      • lostandtired says:

        concernedmom that’s not the way it works.  You spin everything and twist it to make it something else entirely. Feel bad for Gavin all you want.  I appreciate your concern for my son.  However, you do him no favors when you pretend to know more about it than we do.  
        I’ve made it very clear that this was a tantrum.  If it were a meltdown, it wouldn’t be handled this way.  The other boys have tantrums and meltdowns.  However, Gavin’s are documented for a reason.

      • lostandtired says:

        momfromcanada concernedmom amoma please educate yourself before leaving comments like this.  We’ve been investigated my CPS and Gavin’s  dangerous and manipulative behavior is very well documented. He been admitted to the psych unit . I was never happy that he was gone.  It killed me to have to do that. 
        Everyone involved knew that and I wrote about it often. 
        He was simply to dangerous at the time and we had no choice.  He has RAD and so we are not dealing with just an Autistic child.  
        I welcome your opinion but please read before you make comments that can be very misleading to others.

      • KillianMIck says:

        concernedmom amoma So wait. You guys don’t know Rob or Gavin, but you’re giving him flack for parenting his kid?  Gavin is at an age and size where his tantrums could cause physical harm if he starts flailing around his siblings, or even his parents. I watched the video. Rob calmly told Gavin to use a standard self-calming technique used with many autistic kids in having him sit with his legs crossed and his hands under his legs. It’s a self-propelled method that parallels a straight jacket in that the flailing can actually make the person feel more out of control.
        Gavin’s RAD/Autism doesn’t make him incapable of having consequences to his behaviors. Parents who simply assume that kids cannot work within their limitations to regulate their behavior (with support, as was clearly shown by Rob!), are doing an egregious disservice to their children. 
        However, I’m left to wonder…if you dislike Rob’s parenting so much, feeling that he’s a crappy father who can share nothing of value to you,  why are you even here?

  • MeaghanGood says:

    When I have meltdowns I can hear people and understand them, I just can’t usually do what they want me to do. It’s incredibly embarrassing to me when I act the way I do when I melt down; I just can’t stop it. It’s like I wake up every day with a certain number of points, and things happen that make me lose points, or gain them, and if I run out completely I melt down.
    The most recent bad one was a little over a week ago. My car had just died — as in, the mechanic took one look at it and said “It’s done, you can’t drive this anymore. Ever.” Major point loss right there. I called several people trying to get a ride home from the shop. The first three wouldn’t answer their phones. Points lost each time. Finally I got someone, my boyfriend’s father David, and he was driving to the shop. I couldn’t give him directions, but he had a GPS. Then he called me to say his GPS didn’t work and he didn’t have a clue where he was, and he wanted me to help.  I couldn’t help, and I told him I couldn’t. I said there was nothing to do but wait till the mechanic came back (he’d stepped out for a few minutes) to give directions.
    But David wouldn’t shut up. He kept naming various streets and landmarks saying “Does this sound familiar to you, what about that, am I at least going in the right direction?” And I was like, “David, stop, stop, shut up, please, I can’t answer you and you’re freaking me out.” I started hyperventilating and he just kept asking more questions I could not answer and naming places he was passing that meant nothing to me. It was like someone was lobbing dozens of tennis balls at me all at once. I pretty much lost it and started hitting myself on my thighs and hips, over and over, as hard as I could, rocking back and forth, etc etc. There were other customers in the shop all staring at me like I was an alien and I felt so embarrassed and I couldn’t quit. I was making those silent screams like people do when they’re in extreme physical pain.
    Eventually the mechanic came back and I asked him to give David directions. David arrived at the shop ten minutes later and found me curled up in a fetal position outside in the parking lot. He can’t really walk except with crutches, and not easily even then. He got out of the car, got his crutches and started walking towards me, and I indicated that he should stop, it wasn’t necessary for him to go inside, I just needed the ride out of there. But he kept going forward and that set me off hyperventilating etc again. It took the better part of an hour to calm down. Finally I relaxed while we were eating at Wendy’s and David was like, “Oh, you were just hungry.” Um, no, I wasn’t. I was extremely stressed and overstimulated. My boyfriend subsequently gave his father a bit of a talking-to and explained that when I say “stop, you’re freaking me out” I really mean it in the most literal way.
    Later, that night when I changed into PJs, I noticed all sorts of bruises on my hips and thighs. They were quite black in places.

    • dotdash says:

      MeaghanGood What an awful experience.  I am so sorry.  So interesting, though, that you were both out of control, and also aware of the social problem (others looking at you).