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How To Deal With Tantrums In Autistic Child

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How To Prevent Meltdowns

How to Handle an Autism Tantrum | Autism

For parents, dealing with ASD meltdowns can be exhausting. Preventing them can be a better strategy than trying to respond to them.

Sometimes you can use the information you know about the child to avoid common triggers:

  • Know the childs sensory sensitivities such loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells
  • Know the daily routine such as reading a story before bedtime, eating a certain food for breakfast
  • Know the childs favorite things/places such a dinosaur toy, favorite blanket, a specific shop/store

Once you have these pieces of information, it will be easier to identify meltdown triggers and avoid them as much as possible.

For instance, if your child does not like a specific sensory input like bright lights, but you are in a public place where there are bright lights, try to redirect your child to avoid this area.

It might be necessary to improvise if you can not avoid a meltdown trigger. If you need to skip breakfast because you need to leave early for a trip, pack the childs breakfast so he/she can still eat it on the way.

Averting a meltdown may not be possible at all times, but here are a few ways to try to prevent them:

Preparing For Public Outings

For children with autism, social stories and visual cues can be particularly helpful in conveying your expectations. You can tailor your social story to the kinds of public situations you and your child often encounter. For example, it might be the story of a child going to the grocery store with his mother and not liking all the noise. He feels like screaming, but instead he asks his mother for help. She gives him a tight hug to help him calm down, tells him theyll be done in 5 minutes and offers him a pair of ear protectors.

You can also use visual supports to tell the story and otherwise convey your expectations. For example, you can have a card your child hands you when he or she is feeling overwhelmed and needs a break. You can have a set of pictures that illustrate each step of an outing to help your child understand what to expect. You can use first-then pictures for instance, a picture of your child sitting quietly at a restaurant, followed by a picture of the reward youve promised for good behavior.

Practice. Role-play going to a store, library, restaurant or wherever you plan to take your son. Have him practice good behavior during the role-play. Practice potential problems too. Such rehearsals can help your child tolerate waiting in a long line or finding out that a store is out of his favorite treat.

Have distractions ready. For any child, a small toy or game can help make the inevitable waits more tolerable.

Ways To Deal With Tantrums

The strategies for dealing with tantrums in autistic children may not be appropriate for everyone. Your parenting style is a factor to consider and following through with temper taming techniques that go against your personality may not be effective. In some cases, the techniques work after some trial and error.

  • Withhold attention, formerly referred to as “planned ignoring”, may seem like an ineffective way to deal with tantrums but when you think about the possible reasons the behavior occurs, it can work. The approach requires parents to continue as if nothing is wrong, giving the child no feedback for the behavior. The approach may require several trials before it takes effect. Keep in mind that you are ignoring the behavior, not the child.
  • Stay calm and consistent although this may seem impossible considering the emotionally-charged nature of the behavioral outburst. Highly emotional responses can feed the behavior.
  • Get to a safe environment to ensure that your child does not harm himself, others or property.
  • Redirect the behavior at its onset. Once you recognize that a meltdown is about to occur, immediately redirect the child’s behavior to something else.
  • Visual cues may help children who can’t talk. The Picture Exchange Communication System uses image cards that include quiet, stop, wait and other cues that can help the child know what is expected and what to expect.
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    Recognize The Purpose Or Motivation Behind The Tantrum

    A temper tantrum usually occurs when a child is denied something they want. That could be anything: choosing a TV show, picking out a candy bar at the store, or deciding what shirt they want to wear.

    Because young children havent yet developed the skills necessary to appropriately assert their independence and desires, they might express their frustration by kicking, screaming, hitting, or other acting out behaviors.

    Thats the general explanation for why temper tantrums occur, but the first step in taming a tantrum is to understand the motivation behind the behavior. When you are able to identify the why of your childs behavior, youll respond more appropriately, not giving in to their behavior while reinforcing positive behaviors.

    Every tantrum is different, and your child could be acting out for any number of reasons. Due to their young age and emerging language skills, however, your childs behavior can be understood pretty quickly.

    Here are some of the most common motivations behind temper tantrums:

    • To get attention

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    Children with autism respond to clear, short directives in the moment. Help set them up for success by praising desired behaviors, establishing regular routines, and avoiding tantrum-triggering environments. These techniques, which avoid harsh discipline, work well with children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder , tooand all kids, generally.

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    How To Deal With Autistic Tantrums

    Caring for a child with autism is definitely a challenge. In addition to dealing with social and communication barriers, these children often will throw tantrums, even if they seem older than the typical tantrum-throwing age. While you cant always prevent these tantrums, you can equip yourself so that you are better prepared to handle them.

    How Can You Tell An Autistic Meltdown From A Tantrum

    1)Goal oriented vs overload. A tantrum in a young child typically stems from frustration from not getting what they want in that moment: wether it is a toy, being able to button up their own shirts, or not wanting to go to bed . While tantrums in young children can be more frequent when they are tired, hungry or not feeling well, they are always goal oriented. Either the frustration at not getting what they want, not being able to do what they want, or even not being able to communicate what they want properly. An autistic meltdown on the other hand is all about being overwhelmed. For someone with autism, when they reach the point of sensory, emotional, and information overload, or even just too much unpredictability, it can trigger a variety of external behaviours that are similar to a tantrum , or it can trigger a complete shutdown and withdrawal.

    2)Tantrums need an audience. Tantrum behaviour will usually stop when the parent ignores the behaviour, when the child is removed from a public space where the behaviour is occurring, or when the child gets whatever it is they want . An autistic meltdown will occur with or without an audience. They can occur when the person with autism is entirely alone. They are the response of an external stimulus overload that leads to an emotional explosion .

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    Techniques For Calming An Upset Child

    While it’s great to simply avoid getting upset, real-life can make it impossible. When that happens, these tips for calming may help:

    • Recognize signs. Very often, children with autism show signs of distress before they “meltdown” or become very upset. Check to see if your child seems frustrated, angry, anxious, or just over-excited. If she can communicate effectively, she may be able to simply tell you what you need to know.
    • Look for environmental issues that could be causing your child’s discomfort. If it’s easy to do so, resolve any problems. For example, close a door, turn off a light, turn down music, etc.
    • Leave the space. Often, it’s possible to simply leave the situation for a period of time, allowing your child time and space to calm down. Just walk out the door with your child, staying calm and ensuring their safety.
    • Have a “bag of tricks” handy to share with your child. Chewy or sensory toys, favorite books or videos can all defuse a potentially difficult situation. While it’s never ideal to use TV as a babysitter, there are situations in which a favorite video on a smartphone can be a lifesaver.
    • Travel with a weighted vest or blanket. If your child does well with these calming tools, bring an extra in the car at all times. If you don’t have weighted items, you might want to consider rolling your child up in a blanket like a burrito. For some autistic children, the pressure can be very calming.

    Why Do Autistic Tantrums Happen

    How to handle a tantrum in public with your autistic child.

    There are many reasons a child with autism might have a tantrum:

    • Inability to effectively communicate
    • Learning new skills
    • Developing independence
    • Trying to do things on his own that he doesnt quite know how to do or isnt physically able to do
    • Expressing strong emotion

    It can also be a learned behavior when a child uses it to get what they want. Without realizing it, you might even be unintentionally reinforcing the very behavior that has you pulling your hair out!

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    What Is A Meltdown

    Ameltdown occurs when the child loses control over his/her behavior and can only be calmed down by a parent, or when he/she reaches the point of exhaustion.

    Meltdowns are reactions to feeling overwhelmed and are often seen as a result of sensory overstimulation. Tantrums can lead to meltdowns, so it can be hard to tell the difference between the two outbursts if youre not attuned to your childs sensory signals.

    In times of anxiety and stress, the sympathetic parts of our autonomic nervous systems produce cortisol hormones and trigger a fight or flight response. When people with autism or sensory processing dysfunction experience sensory overstimulation, they are unable to regulate the sensory inputs from their environments and their bodies perceive these inputs as threats.

    In the meltdown moments, it can be hard to recognize the behaviors as physiological responses and not controllable behavioral reactions. Yet, it is necessary to keep this in mind, as a parent cannot expect logical, rational responses to sensory situations when the childs body is perceiving those situations as threatening.

    Given the physiological responses happening during a meltdown versus the behavioral reactions happening during a tantrum, the strategies for managing meltdowns are much different than those for managing temper tantrums.

    What To Do During A Very Loud Very Public Meltdown

    When our child has a meltdown, parents often want to stop the tears because it hurts our hearts that our kids are struggling. Or were running low on patience and just want peace and quiet.

    Many times, were coping with the fifth or sixth meltdown that morning over seemingly simple things like the tag in their shirt being too itchy, their sister talking too loudly, or a change in plans.

    Children with autism arent crying, wailing, or flailing to get at us somehow.

    Theyre crying because its what their bodies need to do in that moment to release tension and emotion from feeling overwhelmed with emotions or sensory stimulations.

    Their brains are wired differently and so its how they interact with the world. Thats something we have to come to terms with as parents so we can support them in the best way.

    So how can we effectively support our children through these often loud and thrashing meltdowns?

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    Blind Rage In Children On The Autism Spectrum

    “How can you handle an explosive child who has tantrums and/or meltdowns that end up becoming violent in nature?”==> Preventing Tantrums, Rage and Meltdowns in Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning AutismBlind rage has three components:emotion

    • Conflict over possessions, which involves someone taking the childs property or invading his space.
    • Issues of compliance, which often involve asking or insisting that the child do something that she does not want to do .
    • Physical assault, which involves one youngster doing something to another youngster .
    • Rejection, which involves a youngster being ignored or not allowed to play with peers.
    • Verbal conflict .

    expressionunderstanding Techniques to help children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism learn to deal with blind rage:

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    How to deal with a meltdown as a parent

    4. When your child is calm, practice self-regulation and calming down activities:

    It is very helpful to take your time and practice some structured activities that can help children to calm down and control their emotions. However, in order to be able to help children to learn how to calm down, we need to first make sure they can recognize their feelings, they can understand how each emotion is felt and triggered and to know what are the emotions that are negative or too intense and can cause meltdowns or inappropriate behaviors.

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    Seek Out A Quiet Safe Space

    In those meltdown moments, seek out a quiet, safe space. This may mean leaving the place that is causing the overstimulation . Allowing your child the safe space to calm down will also mean changing the amount of exposed sensory input. Keep yourself calm, limit the verbal language you use, and offer deep touch pressure input to help your child calm down. In the event that your child tends to bolt or is unsafe to himself/herself or others, you may need to restrain the child for safety. In a public setting, bystanders may not understand your situation and may not react helpfully to your childs meltdown. Meltdown cards were created by parents to offer an explanation for any screaming, restraining, or self-injurious behavior that may otherwise be alarming to uninformed bystanders. When youre in the throes of helping your child through a meltdown, meltdown cards may offer a reprieve from the concerned questions or misunderstandings such as any abuse or abduction attempts.

    Tantrums As A Request For Attention

    Children with autism often communicate through their behavior. That may well be what is going on in a tantrum. You may acknowledge that you understand that the child is trying to tell you something but “you must use your words” or communicate in some other way.

    As long as the child is not tantrumming, give praise when the child uses his words. Also, make sure you listen, don’t ignore good communication . Often we parents get busy and put the child off for too long once he has asked appropriately for something. Show your child that appropriate communication is rewarded and honored.

    A tantrum can be a request for attention. Parents have a natural tendency to run to their children when they are in distress. Unfortunately, children can learn to get attention just by screaming. It is important that you stop reinforcing the behavior by giving attention to your child. Instead, give lots of positive attention during appropriate behaviors. For example, approach him when he is playing quietly and offer lots of hugs and kind words . Never give attention to the problem behavior again. Time out or ignoring will work if the problem behavior is an attempt to gain attention. If the child is using self-injurious or destructive behavior to gain attention, don’t leave the child alone. Block the behavior and protect the child but do not say anything and do not provide any soothing touches.

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    How Autistic Symptoms Relate To Meltdowns

    If rumblings are warning signals of an autistic meltdown, then intense stimming or another behavioral response known as “bolting” can be seen as emergency signs.

    Intense stimming, such as high energy rocking, slamming the hand into the forehead, or other obvious signs of agitation, mean a meltdown is imminent.

    Bolting is a term used to describe running away and is more common among very young children or older people with severe autism. A person with autism, faced with overwhelming sensory input, anxiety, or stress, may simply run from the room to escape the stimulus. While this is a great coping mechanism, bolting can become dangerous when the child or adult is unaware of issues such as oncoming traffic.

    It’s important to be aware that rumblings are a response to stress and/or sensory overload and not a form of manipulation.

    While a typical child might throw a tantrum to embarrass or upset a parent , children with autism rarely have the “mind-reading” tools to intentionally manipulate another person’s emotions.

    How Can We Deal With Or Better Yet Prevent Tantrums

    Autism Meltdown Intervention: How To Handle Autism Tantrums, To Help And Calm Your Autistic Child

    There are two possible ways of dealing with tantrums: a counting procedure and planned ignoring.

    Counting Procedure: The parent or guardian may calmly take control when faced with a child in the throes of a tantrum by neither negative nor positive reinforcement. Count one number aloud in between the wailing followed by youre calming down and hopefully by the time you reach ten, the tantrum is over long enough to ask what the child wants. This helps teach the child how to ask for something appropriately. There is one downside to this method and that is if your child has echolalia.

    Planned Ignoring: This method may be used especially when the child thrives on attention. The key to success is making sure everyone stays consistent. Do not reward the child in tantrum but ignore the outburst lavish praise when they behave appropriately keep yourself occupied so the child knows their method is not working, and lastly, give positive reinforcement.

    The only time one should intervene during a tantrum is when the child is hurting either themselves or others.

    Another thought is comparing a tantrum to that of a fire. Since childhood weve learned to stop, drop, and roll if we are on fire. As the person in control, you can prevent the smoke from turning into fire by staying vigilant of your childs tantrum triggers. That doesnt imply that tantrums will disappear completely. Here are the three steps.


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