Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns in Younger Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Do younger kids with ASD have meltdowns on purpose? Can they be prevented? What's the best way to respond? Should the child be punished for having a meltdown? When might meltdowns be a sign of something more serious? Sorry for all the questions, but we are trying to learn all we can to help or little girl.” 

A meltdown (which oftentimes looks like an intense temper tantrum) is the expression of an Aspergers or high-functioning autistic youngster's frustration with the physical, mental or emotional challenges of the moment. Physical challenges are things like hunger and thirst. Mental challenges are related to her difficulty learning or performing a specific task. Emotional challenges are more open to speculation. Still, whatever the challenge, frustration with the situation may fuel an ASD kid's anger — and erupt in a meltdown.

Consider this: Most 2-year-olds have a limited vocabulary. Moms and dads may understand what a toddler says only 50 percent of the time. Strangers understand even less. When your child wants to tell you something and you don't understand — or you don't comply with your youngster's wishes — you may have a meltdown on your hands.

Do young ASD kids have meltdowns on purpose?

It might seem as though your kid plans to misbehave simply to get on your nerves, but that's probably giving your youngster too much credit. Young kids on the autism spectrum don't have evil plans to frustrate or embarrass their moms and dads. A young kid's world is right there in sight, at the end of his or her nose. Your youngster doesn't enjoy throwing a tantrum any more than you enjoy dealing with a meltdown.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism

Can meltdowns be prevented?

There may be no fool-proof way to prevent meltdowns, but there's plenty you can do to encourage good behavior in even the youngest ASD child:
  • Avoid situations likely to trigger meltdowns. If your kid begs for toys or treats when you shop, steer clear of "temptation islands" full of eye-level goodies. If your youngster acts up in restaurants, make reservations so that you won't have to wait — or choose restaurants that offer quick service.
  • Be consistent. Establish a daily routine so that your kid knows what to expect. Stick to the routine as much as possible, including nap time and bedtime. It's also important to set reasonable limits and follow them consistently.
  • Encourage your daughter to use words. Young kids understand many more words than they're able to express. If your youngster isn't speaking — or speaking clearly — you might teach him or her sign language for words such as "I want," "more," "enough," "hurt" and "tired." The more easily your youngster can communicate with you, the less likely you are to struggle with meltdowns. As your kid gets older, help him or her put feelings into words.
  • Let your youngster make choices. To give your youngster a sense of control, let him or her make appropriate choices. Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt? Would you like to eat strawberries or bananas? Would you like to read a book or build a tower with your blocks? Then compliment your youngster on his or her choices.
  • Plan ahead. If you need to run errands, go early in the day — when your youngster isn't likely to be hungry or tired. If you're expecting to wait in line, pack a small toy or snack to occupy your youngster .
  • Praise good behavior. Offer extra attention when your kid behaves well. Tell him or her how proud you are when he or she shares toys, listens to directions, and so on.
  • Use distraction. If you sense a meltdown brewing, distract her. Try making a silly face or changing location. It may help to touch or hold your youngster .

What's the best way to respond to a meltdown?

If you can, pretend to ignore the meltdown. If you lose your cool or give in to your ASD kid's demands, you've only taught your youngster that meltdowns are effective.

If your youngster has a meltdown at home, you can act as if it's not interrupting things. After he or she quiets down, you might say, "I noticed your behavior, but that won't get my attention. If you need to tell me something, you need to use your words."

If your child has a meltdown in public, pretending to ignore the behavior is still the best policy. Some parents who witness the scene may sympathize with you as you ignore the meltdown. If the meltdown escalates or your youngster is in danger of hurting himself or herself, stop what you're doing and remove your youngster from the situation. If your youngster calms down, you may be able to return to your activity. If not, go home — even if it means leaving a cart full of groceries in the middle of the store. At home, discuss with your child the type of behavior you would have preferred.

Should an ASD kid be punished for having a meltdown?

Meltdown? No.

Tantrums? This calls for a different approach.

Tempter tantrums are a normal part of growing up. Rather than punishing your daughter, remind her that tantrums aren't appropriate. Sometimes a simple reminder to "use your words" is adequate. For a temper tantrum that caused you to abandon an activity in public — try a timeout.

During a timeout, your youngster can sit someplace calming — such as in a chair in the living room — for a certain length of time, usually one minute for each year of the kid's age. You can pretend that you don't even see your kid during the timeout, but you can still assure his or her safety. If your youngster begins to wander around, simply place him or her back in the designated timeout spot. Remind your youngster that he or she is in timeout, but don't offer any other attention. Eventually, your youngster may even take his or her own timeout at the first sign of a tantrum — before a negative cloud surrounds you both.

When might meltdowns be a sign of something more serious?

As your youngster's self-control improves, meltdowns should become less common. Many kids on the spectrum  outgrow meltdowns by age 4, although in some cases meltdowns can continue into adolescence. If your older ASD child is still having meltdowns, the meltdowns seem especially severe or the meltdowns have pushed you beyond your ability to cope, share your concerns with his or her doctor. These may be signs that something else is going on. The doctor will consider physical or psychological problems that may be contributing to the meltdowns, as well as give you additional tips to help you deal with your youngster's behavior.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism

==> Click here for more information on meltdowns and tantrums, and the parenting strategies to deal with them...


•    Anonymous said… I agree that puberty seems to be a factor. Our 13 yo had one of his worst ones yet yesterday. He's so ashamed afterwards I don't have the heart to punish that
•    Anonymous said… I feel like meltdowns often still occur past the age of 4. This is the first article that I disagree with. Although the skill tips are on point with removing child from area, finding a safe place and trying to avoid the circumstances all together.
•    Anonymous said… I'm just learning like everyone else here how to handle my daughter with her Aspergers but one thing I feel is she should never be punished for having a melt down. HOW she handles the meltdown might need to be addressed but we talk. Or I let her indulge in her "peaceful place"...the iPad. It's her way of taking a time out and we all need a time out once in a while.
•    Anonymous said… Meltdowns are caused by sensory issues. Usually the child is out of control and cannot express what they are upset about. They are caused by input of senses. In tantrums, the child is looking for attention, is upset about something, cannot put into words what he/she is upset about but it's usually directed at someone/something. In my son we can tell the difference.
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is now 12. We have come an extremely long way. She started school at 3 in a developmentally delayed class but by the time she reached kindergarten she took a huge turn and was placed in normal classes. She is now in 7th grade in Spark, Gifted Arts, Beta club, french club, band etc. She is a straight A student. She has recently tested high in her class on a pre-test to take the ACTs this year and if she tests high enough she could skip 8th grade! (Which she doesn't want to do but still wants to test) I told you all of this because I had a totally different approach to her "gift". Although she is different from other kids I never once treated her different. When she threw a tantrum she was punished depending on the severity of the tantrum this could mean a spanking, timeout, something she loved taken away (her obsession was Sonic the hedgehog). Once she calmed down we sat her down and asked her #1 To explain what she did wrong and asked her why she acted the way she did and #2 had her give examples of a better reaction as to what she could have done differently. We taught her to divert things that worked up her nerves by thinking or doing something that made her happy. She will continue to get punished for her poor choices or tantrums because she has to learn how to behave and act. We do not use her "gift" as a crutch or excuse for why she acts out, etc. When she was young and threw a tantrum in public I absolutely removed her from the situation. I don't agree with ignoring the tantrum. I understand that no two kids are alike on the spectrum but this has worked for us. Most importantly we kept God and our faith in the center of her life as well as an extremely supportive family and extended family that followed how we dealt with her. I know that she will grow up to be a productive member of society and do great things.
•    Anonymous said… My son is 10 and still has them
•    Anonymous said… No meltdowns should not be punished. They can't properly express their feelings the way that we can, they become overwhelmed more easily. And no they don't do them on purpose. Set limits with the kids. Enforce these limits. Comfort them when they go through the meltdowns, sometimes that helps bring them out of them.
•    Anonymous said… Um my daughter is 11 and actually has had some of the worst meltdowns ever recently. Her doctors and I have attributed this to puberty beginning as well as the stress of middle school. I agree that time outs are helpful and of course keeping your cool. It's hilarious to say that in public other parents witnessing a meltdown will sympathize with you though, lol. Not even as a toddler was that true.

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