Does your Aspie have periodic tantrums. Here are some tips to tame tempers:
1. A tantrum can be a request for attention. Moms and dads have a natural tendency to run to their Aspergers (high functioning autism) kids when they are in distress. Unfortunately, these kids can learn to get attention just by screaming. It is important that you stop reinforcing the behavior by giving attention to your Aspie. 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 (or whatever works as positive reinforcement for the youngster).
2. As long as the Aspie is not tantrumming, give praise when the youngster uses his words. Also, make sure you listen, don't ignore good communication (get up and meet the need or request if it is appropriate - or explain why it is not appropriate). Often we moms and dads get busy and put the youngster off for too long once he has asked appropriately for something. Show your Aspie that appropriate communication is rewarded and honored.
3. Kids with Aspergers often communicate through their behavior. That may well be what is going on in a tantrum. You may acknowledge that you understand that the Aspie is trying to tell you something but "you must use your words" or communicate in some other way.
4. Do not talk to others in the room about the Aspie's tantrum. Talk to other adults about the news, sports, or weather. Focus on the other kids or people in the room and what they are doing right. Also, do not ignore good behavior when it occurs at other times. When you see your youngster behaving well, sitting quietly, tell him so: "I like how you are sitting so quietly!" This will let the Aspie know that you pay attention to good behavior, not bad.
5. Have someone else observe your ignoring to make sure you are not providing any inadvertent attention to your Aspie when he is having a tantrum. Stick to the planned ignoring for at least one month before thinking about changing tactics. Behaviors that have been around for a long time will take longer to extinguish. If the tantrum behavior occurs again after it has stopped, apply the planned ignoring all over again. Your Aspie must get the idea that tantrums do not help them or hurt them, they just get ignored!
6. If your Aspie begins to hurt himself, others, or property during a tantrum, you must intervene. If your youngster is trying to hurt others, remove the others from his reach and give the others your full attention. Do not talk to your Aspie while intervening. Continue to ignore the tantrum. If your youngster is hurting himself, remove any items that may harm your youngster or move your youngster to a safer place. Do not talk to your youngster and use only the amount of physical contact necessary to assure your youngster's safety. Make all your actions appear to be matter-of-fact. Treat the tantrum with as little attention as possible. Not unlike the way you deal with an unpleasant noise from outside over which you have no control.
7. If your Aspie was in the middle of completing a task for you when the tantrum began, ignore the tantrum but make sure the youngster completes the task, even if it means hand-over-hand help. For example, if you asked your youngster to pick up the toys and then the tantrum began, do not allow the tantrum to get the youngster out of the chore. Without talking to the youngster, help him pick up the toys and put them away. When the task is finished, walk away without praising your youngster, unless the tantrum stopped. You may also wait for the tantrum to stop and then have your youngster complete the task.
8. 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 Aspie is using self-injurious or destructive behavior to gain attention, don't leave the youngster alone. Block the behavior and protect the youngster but do not say anything and do not provide any “soothing” touches.
9. Read a book, call a friend (this may be a good idea as long as the friend will support you in your new, tough-love stance with your Aspie - but do not call anyone who will convince you to give in), listen to music, watch television, sweep the floor, anything to distract you from paying attention to your youngster's tantrum.
10. Some kids do things in a tantrum that cause them self-harm (e.g., banging head, hitting self, etc.) and can lead to self-injurious behavior - sometimes this is a sensory issue also. Researchers believe some kids hurt themselves to release endorphins in the body that then provides them with a sensation they enjoy. If your Aspie is hurting himself, please contact a psychologist or psychiatrist or other medical professional for evaluation.
11. Some tantrums are related to sensory issues. A tantrum may occur due to your Aspie's hearing a noise, seeing something that they dislike or are afraid of, smelling something, etc. If you suspect this, look into the sensory issues and consult your youngster's occupational therapist for sensory integration ideas. Some kids enjoy tantrums because they lead to the parent holding the youngster. I know some therapists recommend holding a youngster to relieve the tantrum. Just my opinion: I think this gives too much attention and may actually reinforce the tantrum.
12. Talk with supportive people who understand what you are doing with your Aspie. Hopefully, you have a spouse, minister, friend, family member, and/or professional to share your progress with. This will help keep you on track and will help you deal with the strange looks you will get from people in the community who do not understand what you are doing to your Aspie.
13. When the tantrum stops (in the beginning, this may take a long time), wait a few moments, and then praise your Aspie for the next appropriate behavior. Do not discuss the tantrum and do not give your youngster the item or privilege he was tantrumming for until 30 minutes have passed. At that time it is appropriate to say: "Now ask me again for a cookie (or the item that set the tantrum off - if it is appropriate to have at that time)." Praise the youngster for appropriate asking and give the item, if appropriate. This positive reinforcement will encourage appropriate behavior.
14. Whenever and wherever a tantrum occurs, it must be completely ignored. This means no positive or negative attention. The tantrum should be treated as if it did not exist and that it will change nothing for the good or bad in your Aspie's life. Do not look at your youngster (except out of the corner of your eye to assure your youngster's safety). Do not talk to your youngster, correct your youngster, yell at your youngster, reason with your youngster, comment on the tantrum, or explain your actions to your youngster. Do not touch your youngster (except to protect him from harming himself, others, or property). Step over your youngster if you have to. No hugs, spankings, pats, squeezes, etc. Do not give your Aspie anything to distract him, especially the item he is tantrumming for.
15. Another strategy is to let the Aspergers child know that reinforcement is currently not available. It can be used when a child wants something that he can have, but not by throwing a tantrum:
- Parent: “No crying.” (Start counting as soon as the child takes a breath, but stop counting as soon as the crying begins again.)
- Parent: Repeat “No crying” (Resume counting each time the child stops crying.)
- (Child eventually stops crying for a full count of 10.) Parent: "What do you want?"
NOTE: The post above addresses temper tantrums -- not meltdowns! A meltdown is a completely separate issue and will need to be handled differently. In a nutshell, tantrums are behavioral, whereas meltdowns are related to how the Aspie's brain is wired. For information regarding meltdowns, view the video below:
My Aspergers Child: Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns