I have always struggled to tell the difference between melt-downs and tantrums. I am VERY sympathetic about melt-downs, which look similar to tantrums but come from a place of the autistic person's pain and are uncontrollable, as opposed to a tantrum. But when a child has both tantrums AND melt-downs, how do you know what is what? I try using the situational cues to help me. Was there a sudden change, are there sensory hot points in the environment, is the child seeking out something or trying to get away from it? I try REALLY hard to identify melt-downs and I treat them very differently from tantrums.
But sometimes I fail. It's not often, but sometimes I do think a meltdown is a tantrum and only realize in retrospect. I cannot tell you how much I beat myself up over it, but I think you can imagine.
The last time I made this mistake, the child advocated for himself, which is the only thing that saved me from putting him in what surely would have been a full melt down situation.
He put himself in time out. His request, not mine. Up to that point, I'd thought that he was having a tantrum. But after he requested a time out (begged, even) I knew that something was off, because he HATES time outs. So, going on a feeling (even though it should have been obvious, given he was wearing my sunglasses and had his hands clamped over his ears and in retrospect I cannot BELIEVE I missed this), I complied. I let him have a time out, set the timer on my phone as I always do to show him how long his time out was going to be. I told him when the timer went off we would go in the room, because lying on the floor was not an option.
And he calmed. After that timer went off, he was much calmer, stood up (which I hadn't been able to get him to do before), almost made it in the waiting room...and then fell to the floor again, screaming. But once again, his advocacy showed me the way. There were three chairs set outside the waiting area, which he'd told me he wanted to sit in instead (and I'd about to agree to, before I was cut off by the screaming). I took him there instead, and lo and behold, he was calm.
Later I saw what the problem was. I was trying to take him into a waiting room, which is normally devoid of people, but on this particular day was full of a throng of very loud, very chaotic people. By putting himself in a time out outside and telling me he wanted to sit in the chairs, he avoided the room. In those long minutes, he did an amazing job advocating for himself, and thank goodness I listened to him.
I guess the point here is to listen. Pay attention to what someone on the spectrum is communicating, whether it's through words or behavior (because behavior is communication). They are their own best advocates and they know what they need.
My post here was originally inspired by this post by Diary of a Mom. If you haven't seen her Facebook page yet, I highly recommend liking it!