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Aspergers and HFA Temper Tantrums: 15 Tips for Parents

Does your child 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 (AS) or High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) 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 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 (or whatever works as positive reinforcement for the youngster).

2. As long as the child 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 child that appropriate communication is rewarded and honored.

3. Kids on the autism spectrum 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.

4. Do not talk to others in the room about the child'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 child 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 child 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 child must get the idea that tantrums do not help them or hurt them, they just get ignored!

6. If your child 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 child 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 child 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 child 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 child - 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 child 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 child '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 child . 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 child .

13. When the tantrum stops (in the beginning, this may take a long time), wait a few moments, and then praise your child 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 child '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 child anything to distract him, especially the item he is tantrumming for.

15. Another strategy is to let the 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 meltdownsA 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 child 's brain is wired. For information regarding meltdowns, view the video below:

==> My Aspergers Child: Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns


Anonymous said...

I have been surfing this morning on ways to deal with my daughters 'meltdowns' and tantrums. Home life is very stressful most of the time, though when she is happy and doing exactly what she wants we have a great time. Unfortunately it can't be like that all the time.

We have an autism expert through the school who we can talk to (I'm meeting him tomorrow) but it all seems as though my partner and I are the problem, the way we deal with things etc even though I did a parenting course and we are set to do a parenting course for children on the spectrum this spring.

I seem to keep getting everything wrong in dealing with her behaviours but she kicks off so often that I am tired a lot of the time, and my patience disappears. I love my daughter so much and want to help her but nothing seems to be working. She answers one word answers to most questions and I want to know/understand how she thinks and feels, it's frustrating. She doesn't know how to manage her emotions at all and if she can't do what she wants/have what she wants things are difficult, though we don't give in or pander to her, but this also causes more problems. I am looking into ABA as a way to deal with behaviours as I've heard a lot of good stuff about it.

I guess I'm wondering if you can help. School keep telling me things are fine (she is getting extra help) yet she melts down every day when she comes out, her father and I are creative (writer/musician) and like to trip along, let things come about, yet she obviously needs more structure than that at home, which is hard when you are not the structured kind. I've no doubt it would probably do us all good to be more structured but somehow I find it difficult and also I want her to learn to be a bit more flexible too as the world she heads out into will require it.

Sorry to waffle. Currently if we don't change her behaviours (they are often aggressive) and teach her to cope, I worry what will happen as she becomes a teenager. Raya-May is nearly 8 years old. There is so much stuff to read and I read a lot but ultimately need to deal with things one step and a time, and with a book it's difficult to know where to start when you start these things alone.

Anonymous said...

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EnjoyHi5Autism said...

Will share on our Autism sites. Thank you for explaining the difference between tantrums and meltdowns.

Anonymous said...

My almost 11 yr old son was diagnosed with Executive Functioning Disorder (EFD) & aspects of Aspergers (changing gears & meltdowns - oy!). The latest meds are Tenex and Geodon & recent increases to both, but I feel he's actually getting worse. Almost like he starts a "fake" tantrum to get out of uninteresting school work or chores, but then it can turn into the real thing. Too often we're all walking on eggshells trying to avoid the meltdown. Meanwhile he's not getting work done & Mom & Dad are screamed at at home. Help?

Jeni said...

I'm really glad I found this site!My 11yr old son has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome since he was 4,but the dr never mentioned meltdowns-He has always had them,but they are getting worse and I have been trying to find any info I can on them-he had one so bad tonight over his ears getting wet washing his hair,that several neighbours called the police because he was screaming so loud for so long that they thought I was hurting him-they could hear his screams.He gets headaches,panic attacks and coughing/retching fits at the same time-I don't know what to do!I am scared he will really hurt himself,as he works himself up so much,and also has asthma and a history of seizures,both of which can be triggered when he gets really stressed.
His meltdowns,as I now know they are,are severe,and becoming more frequent as well.I'm wondering if a therapist might help him?
I'm a single parent,and at the moment there is no one else around to help me.
Thankfully by the time the police arrived earlier,my son had calmed down a bit,and once I had explained what had been hapening,as did my son,as best he could,the police officers understood at once that he wasn't being harmed and that was that,but what if they are sent for again?Will the next lot of police be as understanding?I'm at my wits end!
He can just change at the drop of a hat,he screams at me and says that I don't love him and some spiteful things,he throws things at the walls,doors,me,and then when he is finished,and is starting to calm down,he starts chewing his fingers,bitig them,and telling me he is horrible and no one likes him and said he's diseased.It totally destroys me that he's suffering so badly.We both end up emotionally and physically exhausted.I don't know where to turn!Any advice?

Michelle A said...

I have no advise because I am in your shoes with my 14 yr old aspie daughter. It seems these tantrums are worse and louder. I don't know what to do except try to calm her down and then revisiting the issue when everything is calm. I am not always that good after. Very sad, emotional and scared for her. God bless you and hope we get some answers. Thanks for sharing

exasperated mum of teen said...

Ditto all the above. Best advice so far 'just keep your sanity' and it will get better.

DEUCY said...

Ignore the child when he/she tantrums.

Unknown said...

My boy at 15, six foot five 350. Taken by cas when I called for help when his dad died. He is coming home, has been here four days weekly.
Meltdowns are frequent. Sibling rivalry with his sister. Can't attend school full time. He's smart, angry, sad and counseling only. I have to find life skills job skills etc. Any ideas for other support. I have raised kids alone, dad was weekend a month.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

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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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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