A tantrum can be stopped. Usually by giving the person what they desire or something similar.
A meltdown, however, has no place to go but through. It doesn’t matter what is offered or given. It just has to process itself out. It’s like the brain is reaching for its reset button. And it has to go all the way through the menu before it can resume function.
Our son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The result is this need for an occasional brain reset. We hadn’t seen a meltdown in a while. And I was being lulled into that magical “oh, he doesn’t really have….” thinking.
All it took was the smallest of words to light the fire that evening: “no.” As I watched my son react, he kept repeating, “But I want to!!!!” As if I was the one not understanding logic. I could see that it was just not reaching the sensible, limit-accepting part of his brain. It was all but flashing "error code!" in his eyes!
It was in that moment I found my compassion and let go of my frustration and anger. I realized that this was not something he could control. Asking him to do so was short-sighted and limited on my own part. So instead of continuing on, I just empathized. “I know, baby.” And I offered my arms, not sure if he could accept them.
He didn’t protest. So I picked up all 55 lbs. of him up into my lap. And we just held on while the reboot happened. After it was all over, and it was short, all things considered, he said, putting his head against me, “I’m so tired, Mommy, and I just can’t make my brain understand right now.” This was huge.
I am so glad I chose to be in the moment with him. Instead of putting him in his room or distancing myself from this scared boy who so clearly needed to be heard and understood. Because he could not understand himself. It did not change the "no." That was a necessary limit. But I was there to help him process it. I gave him the time he needed to let his brain reset.
As we go about our busy daily lives, how often are we seeing our child’s disability? Truly seeing and accepting of it. Especially the invisible ones? How are we doing? Are we helping our child with reboots and error codes? I know I’m one who needs to take a step back every once in a while, and say, “Yes, I know what this is. It’s ok that it is, and we can do this together.”