One common misconception or stereotype when an autistic person exhibits behaviors is that they are having a ‘temper tantrum’ when they do not get the things they want. While this is not always the case and is often confused for a meltdown, when things do not go the way we want them to or when hiccups occur in our daily processes, it can set us back and ultimately result in a tantrum,
Autistics many times enjoy a very precise and regimented schedule with things occurring as they are set out to happen. Throughout my younger years I was very regimented and had difficulty in experiencing things happening suddenly or not going according to the way that they were intended to occur. I would oftentimes become very emotional in nature and would sometimes act in a very repulsive behavior that was not of that that should occur within the public arena, yet, it did happen and eventually over the years, I matured and within time this diminishes, although it can occur when there are too many situational factors in which I become overloaded due to sensory or other stimuli.
The reality in life is that things will very likely never go the way I or anyone else intends them to. Things happen in life that are just beyond one’s personal scope as we cannot be in control of every single move on the elemental chessboard of what we must endure. At times, plans change shortly before they are expected to commence and as such one is expected to change their routine suddenly. This can be challenging, yet it can sometimes be a relief, except at that moment we do not see it that way. If this is further compounded by other situational factors that intensify these emotions, this can cause the autistic brain to have a deep workup of emotions without a proper way to express them. Therefore, it is imperative to have coping skills and defense mechanisms in place for when these things go beyond our control.
In recent years, I have discovered that it was imperative to have a backpack for my own coping, defense and sensory needs, that I call a sensory bag in order to have tools at my disposal when things occur that are beyond my control such as issues with electricity, internet or a vehicle. This has helped me to some degree when I did not have access to said items and needed to either charge or prop my device on a proper stand to have some alone time to recover from overload. There are also other things in the event of an emergency so that things do not become overwhelming that an intensified meltdown occurs.
Yes there is a difference between a meltdown and a tantrum as they are for different reasons, however a tantrum can also be correlated with a meltdown when the fact of something not happening that one would want or in the way they wish it to happen. Then there are other factors related to being autistic that happen such as sensory overload, traumatic triggers, or executive functions that further compound their capacity to be flexible with additional changes in the milieu of the day. Therefore it can be when anything happens that is the ultimate deal breaker in the flow of the day, whether it would be something in the regimen or a breaking point of a sensory or a traumatic triggering nature. This is what happened to trigger my last outside meltdown in the summer of 2021. After having it and collecting my thoughts, I realized that I could never do that again because others who had seen me as this accomplished person saw a very dark side of me that I never wanted them to see.
Henceforth, I had to come to the realization that things were never going to change unless I put forth the work to defend myself better from reacting negatively outside of my safe space. While that has been the case since then, I have switched to masking these feelings when they are apparent and not being able to appropriately express my feelings in a manner that is safe and constructive and does not take a toll on others. Sometimes they can be very intense in nature and do require me to reach out to someone in my close circle to calm me down, but I would like to squelch it before it ever gets to that point.
I do know that it is necessary to find better ways to cope and hopefully as time progresses, I will find ways that help me improve my anxiety and not let it get out of control to where I dig myself so deep in the pit that I cannot get myself out without needing intimate help. I honestly do not think that there is an autistic person that likes experiencing adverse negative events by any kind of overload or misery. I know that I have to find what I need to do with the help of my treatment team and my own efforts and hopefully within time it will get better.
In the meantime, I must realize that I must deploy the coping strategies and defense mechanisms that i have in place when things do not go according to plan so that I do not build excessive adrenaline and cortisol without a safe way to exert it from myself and not take it out on others, because I do not want to do that. I want to be able to control my emotions better, even when my plans are disrupted by the things in life that I cannot control.