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Preventing Temper Tantrums in Children with Asperger's Syndrome

Kids with Aspergers (high functioning autism) have difficulty in communication, a wish for everything to stay the same, and sticking to their favorite routines. They can get very angry and upset if something unexpected happens or when they do not understand what they are told or what is expected from them.

Their frustration levels are much higher and even the slightest thing can set them off. To outsiders their sometimes violent tantrums seem to be without a cause. As a grandparent of a boy with Aspergers, I know from experience there is always a reason for him to express his frustration in such a way.

Typically, rages in Aspergers kids occur when the youngster has experienced a maximum sensory overload and can no longer interpret the environment stimuli occurring around them. The rages and outbursts may occur because of miscommunication between your youngster and another youngster, or when your youngster is simply not able to interpret the communication occurring in their environment.

In most kids with Aspergers, rages occur because of frustration in their ability to interpret and communicate effectively, and in combination with the sensory overload of the activities around them. If you feel that your youngster is experiencing rages, temper tantrums, and outbursts due to environment stimulation complications, it is important to place your youngster in an environment where you can, to some extent, control what happens in the environment. Progressively, over time you can increase the exposure that your youngster experiences in their environment as a way to slowly teach your youngster how to manage and respond to the stimuli without experiencing feelings of rage.

When your youngster lives with Aspergers and has feelings of rage, it is important to understand some of the early warning signs that a temper tantrum is about to occur. In kids with Aspergers, biting of the lower lip or chewing on their play things is quite common when feeling distressed. In addition, your youngster may begin to pick at their hands or fingers and show signs that they want to rock in a chair. Some Aspergers kids, when feeling frustrated, may begin pacing, or even bolt out of a room as a way to alleviate the frustration they feel when too much stimulation is present.

All of these early warning signs are important to signify that a rage is about to occur, and when you see these warning signs in your Aspergers youngster not only should you defuse the situation, but also look around the environment to determine what could possibly be causing the rage to occur. By learning by experience, you can teach your youngster how to more effectively manage their rage and feelings of frustration so as to create a more peaceful, tantrum-free, environment in which to live.

Causes of tantrums—

Kids with Asperger have more trouble communication so are unable to express their frustration in a more acceptable way. Their anxiety level is much higher and they are known for their extreme reactions. It can be as simple as being touched unexpectedly or a stranger bumping into them and they feel it was done on purpose.

Another problem for those with Asperger can be sensory overload. Some kids with Asperger, have great difficulty with their senses such as the feel of their clothes, tags inside their clothes or the taste or texture of certain foods in their mouth. These uncomfortable senses make them feel uneasy and lead to built up stress. Anger tantrums can be a seen as a stress release.

What NOT to do—

One thing I learned over the years is this: never give in when they are throwing an anger tantrum. For example, if your youngster asks for a cookie and has an anger tantrum because you said "no," you will reward him for this behavior if you give him the cookie anyway. This way they are rewarded for their unacceptable behavior - and guess what - they will do it again and again and again because it pays off! I know it’s hard to stay calm, but shouting back will not work. Hitting you youngster will not work either. Realize it is the only way they can get rid of their frustration.

What you can do—

Isolated your youngster or walk away from the scene yourself if you feel unable to control your own feelings. Be direct and tell them they are on time out so they can calm down until they are able to talk about it. Find out the reason why your youngster has an anger tantrum so you both can learn to avoid it in the future. Trying to distract or redirect your youngster might help when they are still young. Holding your youngster firmly and not allowing him or her to escape can work sometimes. It is called holding therapy and it can have a calming effect when deep pressure is put on the body.

What worked for me and my grandson was to put our hands against each other and let him try to push me as far away from him as possible. It would put pressure and strain on his arms and legs and help him to vent his frustrations. Don’t let him push your body or get physical, just pushing through the hands will calm him down. I never gave my kids the idea they should be ashamed for their feelings of frustration or anger. It’s okay to be angry but it’s not okay to hit or hurt somebody because of it. Being angry is not something they are able to control, but they do have a choice what they do with their anger. Try to talk about it to them, create an open communication with your youngster. Support him or her in any way you possibly can.

Just never give in to their expressed wishes while they are angry, or they will learn being angry and throwing anger tantrums will pay off and give them what they wanted in the first place.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism


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Anonymous said...

There are some problems with some of your suggestions. No, don't give in and give a kid a cookie for a tantrum-however, in my experience my Asperger's son is not at all manipulative in regard to his rages. He is always frustrated or overstimulated and is often in actual physical pain due to auditory or physical stimuli that is too much for him. Its going to take many years of work and very very slow exposure to get him to a place to tolerate some stimuli-it may never happen. I am also a licensed therapists and worked with developmentally disabled kids long before I had one. The old authoritarian thinking with these kids will not work. Also, holding a child in a rage is a very poor suggestion as this usually significantly increases the child's feelings of anxiety, I would not recommend this tactic during a rage as it will most likely escalate the fear, breakdown the trust in the relationship and could lead to physical injury for both parties.

Mark said...

To the person that states there are some problems with some of the suggestions:

If we were talking about "meltdowns" - I would agree. But this article is about temper tantrums. A meltdown is not a behavioral issue -- a tantrum is.

Consider watching the video entitled: "What is the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum?". The video, found on this site, explains the difference.

Ann Marie said...

I find there is no 'melt-down' versus a 'temper tantrum' with an Asperger's child. They don't have tantrums - they mostly go to melt down. and I also agree - the normal parenting practice of not giving in doesn't always work - most of the time, in my case with my child, escalates the anger to a point of no return.

Ann Marie said...

I find there is not a big difference between a 'tantrum' and a 'melt-down' with Asperger's. In my case, my son cycles from tantrum to melt-down within minutes. Also, I have to agree that the normal parenting method of not giving in doesn't always work - it escalates the anger to almost a point of no return. I need to read up more on this - my child was just diagnosed at age 13 - i have no clue how to handle the melt-downs!

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Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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