Recently, abfh posted about the potential problems of using the word “meltdown” to describe responses to sensory overload:
Instead of using such negative and inaccurate language to describe our own behaviors and those of our children…we should take a proactive and non-stigmatizing approach and recognize that these problems are situational, rather than specifically autistic. When stress becomes a problem, we should consider what changes to our environment would help to reduce our stress. And—last but not least—from now on, let’s reserve the word “meltdown” for circumstances where its use is more appropriate.
Such as, for instance, Chernobyl.
As I said in the comments, I didn’t really understand what a “meltdown” is. I knew they had to do with sensory overload and weren’t voluntary, and had read descriptions of how they looked to other people. I get particularly confused when meltdowns are contrasted with temper tantrums. And this confusion, I’ve realized, is because “temper tantrum” in my mind means a very specific thing.
For instance, Moggy offers the following as an example of a temper tantrum:
My brother (a tyrant as a child) and I are a common example… If I didn’t do (or give him) what he wanted, he’d throw a tantrum screaming/crying that I’d “hurt” or was “being mean” to him. As soon as our mother showed up, he’d rush to her totally calm, but I uncontrollably howled that I didn’t do anything.
This kind of calculated fakery isn’t what I think of as a “temper tantrum.” What I think of is a toddler who’s just learning to communicate with speech and handle their emotions.
I remember having temper tantrums at this age, and they weren’t voluntary things. If I wanted a toy and didn’t get it, the tantrum wasn’t some plan to manipulate somebody into giving me the toy. The tantrum was a response to my overwhelming disappointment and frustration at not getting something I wanted. (It was also a good sign that it was time for a nap). They were not fun to have, and I was grateful when my mom slung me over her shoulder and took me home.
I’ve also seen toddlers have tantrums for reasons we adults can’t figure out, and who are unable to tell us what they want even if we ask.
I have done things solely to manipulate other people. Since 13 months old I’ve worn glasses, and I learned very fast that if I took them off and bent the earpieces, my mother panicked. I’d also sometimes kneel on the floor, thump my head on the carpet–never enough to hurt–and then look up to see the response. These were deliberate acts that were designed to manipulate people. As I got older, I was capable of whining and arguing, as well. These things were not at all like the tantrums I’ve seen or remember having.
I do tend to run into communication snafus like this, because my understanding of a word is more specific than how other people are using it. (I once said, “I don’t take things literally…I just have narrow interpretations of words”). But I also feel like the phrase “temper tantrum” is often used to describe a bunch of different things that might have a few superficial things in common, but aren’t at all related.