Recognize the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum. The public often verbally abuses families with autism because what others see as a “bratty” child that needs discipline may actually be the child desperately struggling with their environment.
Characteristics of a tantrum:
Characteristics of a meltdown:
There are potentially many triggers in the dental environment for meltdowns. Before treating your patients with autism, it is the clinician’s responsibility to find out if the patient has meltdowns, what triggers them and what signs the patient will give (if any) that a meltdown is about to occur (see Appendix A for a worksheet to be completed prior to treatment).
While a meltdown can be frustrating for the dental provider as it interrupts treatment, potentially scares other patients or causes the clinician to run late, take time to consider the feelings of the other party. The parent/caregiver will feel a great deal of strife and grief and maybe even embarrassment. They will need compassion, patience and support. If you feel helpless for the hour this individual is on your schedule, imagine the energy it requires to live with a disabled child every single day. Imagine the energy expended and the amount of stress and emotion the patient has felt during this meltdown. They truly feel their environment is out of their control and may not have any other way to communicate their fear and frustration. As we focus on the challenges of working with individuals with autism, imagine the frustration of having autism.