Advanced Pediatric Therapies


Are Temper Tantrums and Sensory Meltdowns the Same Thing?


Does this look familiar?

I read a great article recently about sensory meltdowns and it was a great reminder to talk to the parents we work with about a dynamic that can very easily be misinterpreted.  So what is a “temper tantrum?”  Most of the time,  temper tantrum is easily recognizable in toddlers and maybe even teenagers!  Your child is not getting their way, or what they want and they pitch a fit, screaming and crying.  They can roll around on the floor, sometimes even hitting their heads against a wall in the extreme.  A temper tantrum is often being characterized by a child being told “no.”

In contrast, a sensory meltdown could better be described as a “release,” or overflow of emotion as a result of being exposed to a sensory input that feels unpleasant or even intolerable.  In the article, the mom describes her 9 year old daughter as holding it together then crying in the car after cheerleading practice became intolerably loud.  Of course, when your child is younger and can’t tell you what the upsetting force was, it gets trickier.  If you see a meltdown coming on, you can ask yourself or your child a few questions, based on your knowledge of them and what sets them off:

  • Is it too bright in here?  Do you need your sunglasses?
  • Do we need to leave?
  • Does your body feel funny?
  • Are you uncomfortable?

Assure them you are there to help.  However, once your child is in a meltdown, they are already experiencing “fight or flight.”  This means that their nervous system has gotten involved, and you are less likely to be able to intervene. At that point, you can:

  • Talk as little as possible.
  • Give them space to breathe, cry, whatever they need to do.  This is what the mom inherently knows to do in the article.
  • Remove them from adverse environment.
  • Plan for next time!  Make a “retreat” in your home:  a quiet space with noise cancelling headphones, quiet music, dim lights and away from anything unpleasant. Maybe some gum, a quiet toy but no screens.


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“Halloween Tips to Avoid Meltdowns”

I came across this article and thought it would be great for our kiddos.  Originally published by

by Lori Lite

Halloween Tips to Avoid Meltdowns with Kids! Enjoy these TRICKS to make sure your child’s Halloween experience is a TREAT! You and your children will benefit from these tips and most of them can be applied to children with special needs. Children with Aspergers, Autism, SPD, and general anxiety orders can enjoy Halloween with a few adjustments.

  1. Be flexible! Do not make your definitions of a fun Halloween define your child’s expectation of fun.  It is not necessary for children to have the full blown experience in order for them to have a good time.  If you child wants to answer the door and hand out candy, then let them do that without guilt. If your child wants to sit on the porch and costume watch, then let them. If they just want to go to bed……  Trust me it will not matter when they go to college!
  2. Decide and let children know ahead of time how many pieces of candy they are allowed to eatwhile trick-or-treating and after. Let them keep the wrapper to keep count. When they ask for more…ask them to count how many wrappers they have and let them answer their own question.
  3. Head home before your child becomes tired! Do not wait for the meltdown. Think of similar experience and calculate how long you think your child will last.  Let your child know ahead of time how long you are going out for. Bring a timer if your child responds well to timers. Take breaks and check in with how your child is doing/feeling.
  4. Consider your child’s needs. If they do not do well in a noisy group, schedule a friend to trick-or- treat with and stay away from the crowds. Avoid houses with screaming ghosts and flashing lights. You can even hand pick a few supportive neighbors ahead of time to visit.
  5. Costumes could be an entire essay. Most kids do not want to put a jacket over their costume. Direct your child to a weather appropriate costume and consider long johns under the costume. The younger the child the bigger the comfort issue. If your child has sensory issues make comfort of costume a priority. Try it on ahead of time for comfort and have moleskin cloth available. Bring comfortable shoes or sweater if your child refuses to leave the glass Cinderella slippers at home. Colored sweat pants and sweat shirt with hood make an easy costume. Bright yellow with a pair of sun glasses and you have a sun. Sew strips of fabric, yarn, or ears on a hood and you have a lion or a rainbow…Be creative!
  6. Eat a healthy dinner before leaving the house. 
  7. Go early with young children…before it gets dark.
  8. If your child has dietary restrictions, no problem. Let them collect the candy and sell it to you afterwards. Items with peanuts get 5 cents each. A whole bar is 25 cents.  Assign different values for different types. Kids love this exercise and will spend hours sorting the candy into their value group. Take your child to their favorite store and let them spend their candy money on a treat! You can also carry 2 bags. One for the candy that seems OK upon first inspection and one bag that parent carries for “no go” candy. This can eliminate meltdowns over candy later.
  9. All that candy! Too much candy for one family? No problem. Let your child select a handful and leave the rest at the foot of the bed for the Halloween Fairy! If the fairy likes the candy, she will take it and leave a surprise gift in its place.
  10. Take a break!  Trick or treat for a little loop, then come back home or sit on a bench.  See if more trick or treating is best for your child at that point.

Stress Free Kids founder Lori Lite has created a line of books and CDs designed to help children, teens, and adults decrease stress, anxiety, and anger. Ms. Lite’s books, CDs, and lesson plans are considered a resource for parents, psychologists, therapists, child life specialists, teachers, and yoga instructors. Lori is a certified children’s meditation facilitator and Sears’ Manage My Life parenting expert.


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