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Tantrums Versus Meltdowns - And How to Manage Both

 ~ Tantrums Versus Meltdowns


One of the most misunderstood Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) behaviors is the meltdown. Frequently, it is the result of some sort of overwhelming stimulation of which cause is often a mystery to moms and dads and teachers. They can come on suddenly and catch everyone by surprise. Aspergers and HFA kids tend to suffer from sensory overload issues that can create meltdowns. Kids who have neurological disorders other than autism spectrum disorders can suffer from meltdowns, too. Unlike tantrums, these kids are expressing a need to withdraw and slowly collect themselves at their own pace.

Kids who have tantrums are looking for attention. They have the ability to understand that they are trying to manipulate the behavior of the others, caregivers and/or peers. This perspective taking or "theory of mind" is totally foreign to the Aspergers or HFA youngster who has NO clue that others cannot "read" their mind or feelings innately. This inability to understand other human beings think different thoughts and have different perspectives from them is an eternal cause of frustration.





Tantrums—

A tantrum is very straightforward. A youngster does not get his or her own way and, as grandma would say, "pitches a fit." This is not to discount the tantrum. They are not fun for anyone. Tantrums have several qualities that distinguish them from meltdowns.
  • A youngster having a tantrum will look occasionally to see if his or her behavior is getting a reaction.
  • A youngster in the middle of a tantrum will take precautions to be sure they won't get hurt.
  • A youngster who throws a tantrum will attempt to use the social situation to his or her benefit.
  • A tantrum is thrown to achieve a specific goal and once the goal is met, things return to normal.
  • A tantrum will give you the feeling that the youngster is in control, although he would like you to think he is not.
  • When the situation is resolved, the tantrum will end as suddenly as it began.


If you feel like you are being manipulated by a tantrum, you are right. You are. A tantrum is nothing more than a power play by a person not mature enough to play a subtle game of internal politics. Hold your ground and remember who is in charge.

A tantrum in a youngster who is not on the autism spectrum is simple to handle. Moms and dads simply ignore the behavior and refuse to give the youngster what he is demanding. Tantrums usually result when a youngster makes a request to have or do something that the parent denies. Upon hearing the parent's "no," the tantrum is used as a last-ditch effort.

The qualities of a tantrum vary from child to child When kids decide this is the way they are going to handle a given situation, each youngster's style will dictate how the tantrum appears. Some kids will throw themselves on the floor, screaming and kicking. Others will hold their breath, thinking that his "threat" on their life will cause moms and dads to bend. Some kids will be extremely vocal and repeatedly yell, "I hate you," for the world to hear. A few kids will attempt bribery or blackmail, and although these are quieter methods, this is just as much of a tantrum as screaming. Of course, there are the very few kids who pull out all the stops and use all the methods in a tantrum.

Effective parenting -- whether a youngster has an autism spectrum disorder or not -- is learning that you are in control, not the youngster. This is not a popularity contest. You are not there to wait on your youngster and indulge her every whim. Buying her every toy she wants isn't going to make her any happier than if you say no. There is no easy way out of this parenting experience. Sometimes you just have to dig in and let the tantrum roar.

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Meltdowns—

If the tantrum is straightforward, the meltdown is every known form of manipulation, anger, and loss of control that the youngster can muster up to demonstrate. The problem is that the loss of control soon overtakes the youngster. He needs you to recognize this behavior and rein him back in, as he is unable to do so. A youngster in the middle of a meltdown desperately needs help to gain control.
  • A youngster in a meltdown has no interest or involvement in the social situation.
  • A youngster in the middle of a meltdown does not consider her own safety.
  • A meltdown conveys the feeling that no one is in control.
  • A meltdown usually occurs because a specific want has not been permitted and after that point has been reached, nothing can satisfy the youngster until the situation is over.
  • During a meltdown, a youngster on the spectrum does not look, nor care, if those around him are reacting to his behavior.
  • Meltdowns will usually continue as though they are moving under their own power and wind down slowly.

Unlike tantrums, meltdowns can leave even experienced moms and dads at their wit's end, unsure of what to do. When you think of a tantrum, the classic image of a youngster lying on the floor with kicking feet, swinging arms, and a lot of screaming is probably what comes to mind. This is not even close to a meltdown. A meltdown is best defined by saying it is a total loss of behavioral control. It is loud, risky at times, frustrating, and exhausting.

Meltdowns may be preceded by "silent seizures." This is not always the case, so don't panic, but observe your youngster after she begins experiencing meltdowns. Does the meltdown have a brief period before onset where your youngster "spaces out"? Does she seem like she had a few minutes of time when she was totally uninvolved with her environment? If you notice this trend, speak to your physician. This may be the only manifestation of a seizure that you will be aware of.

When your youngster launches into a meltdown, remove him from any areas that could harm him or he could harm. Glass shelving and doors may become the target of an angry foot, and avoiding injury is the top priority during a meltdown.

Another cause of a meltdown can be other health issues. One example is a youngster who suffers from migraines. A migraine may hit a youngster suddenly, and the pain is so totally debilitating that his behavior may spiral downward quickly, resulting in a meltdown. Watch for telltale signs such as sensitivity to light, holding the head, and being unusually sensitive to sound. If a youngster has other health conditions, and having Aspergers of HFA does not preclude this possibility, behavior will be affected.

Behaviors That Should Not Be Punished Because They Are Part of the Disorder:

 

~ Managing Tantrums

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. Aspergers and HFA kid's temperaments vary dramatically, so some  may experience regular temper tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They're a normal part of development and don't have to be seen as something negative. However, unlike “typical” children, kids on the autism spectrum don't have the same inhibitions or control.

Imagine how it feels when you're determined to program your DVD player and aren't able to do it no matter how hard you try, because you can't understand how. It's very frustrating! Do you swear, throw the manual, walk away and slam the door on your way out? That's the grown-up version of a temper tantrum. Young people on the autism spectrum are also trying to master their world, and when they aren't able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a temper tantrum.

Several basic causes of temper tantrums are familiar to mothers and fathers everywhere: The youngster is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, temper tantrums are often the result of the child's frustration with the world. They can't get something (e.g., an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Temper tantrums are common during the second year of life for all kids. This is a time when kids are acquiring language. However, children with Aspergers and HFA generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone. That would be a frustrating experience that may precipitate a temper tantrum. As language skills improve, temper tantrums tend to decrease.

Another task that all kids are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. However, even though Aspergers and HFA kids want a sense of independence and control over the environment, this may be more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as the youngster thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me." When these "special needs" children discover that they can't do it or can't have everything they want, the stage is set for a temper tantrum.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

Avoiding Temper Tantrums—

The best way to deal with temper tantrums is to avoid them in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some strategies that may help:

1. Aspergers and HFA kids are more likely to use temper tantrums to get their way if they've learned that this behavior works. Once the young people are school age, it's appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off. Rather than setting a specific time limit, mothers and fathers can tell them to stay in the room “until they've regained control.” This option is empowering, because these kids can affect the outcome by their own actions, thereby gaining a sense of control that was lost during the temper tantrum.

2. Young people on the spectrum have fairly rudimentary reasoning skills, so you aren't likely to get very far with explanations. If the temper tantrum poses no threat to your youngster or others, then ignoring the outburst may be the best way to handle it.  Continue your activities, and pay no attention to your youngster – but remain within sight. Don't leave him or her alone, otherwise he or she may feel abandoned on top of all of the other uncontrollable emotions.

3. They may be especially vulnerable AFTER a temper tantrum when they know they've been less than adorable. Now is the time for a hug and reassurance that your youngster is loved, no matter what.

4. Those who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a temper tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to temper tantrums in public places.

5. Consider the request carefully when your youngster wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn't. Choose your battles carefully, and accommodate when you can.

6. Distract your youngster. Take advantage of your child's short attention span by offering a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Also, you can simply change the environment. Take your youngster outside or inside or move to a different room.

7. If a safety issue is involved, and the youngster repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the youngster firmly for several minutes. Be consistent. Aspergers and HFA kids must understand that you are inflexible on safety issues.

8. Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach to make struggles less likely to develop over them. Obviously, this isn't always possible, especially outside of the home where the environment can't be controlled.

9. Know your youngster's limits. If you know he or she is tired, it's not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.

10. Make sure your youngster isn't acting-out simply because he or she isn't getting enough attention. To an youngster with an autism spectrum disorder, negative attention (a parent's response to a temper tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your youngster being good ("time in"), which means rewarding him or her with attention for positive behavior.

11. Occasionally, an autistic youngster will have a hard time stopping a temper tantrum. In these cases, it might help to say to say, "I'll help you settle down now." But, do not reward your youngster after a temper tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to him or her that the temper tantrum was effective. Instead, verbally praise the youngster for regaining control.

12. Set the stage for success when your son or daughter is playing or trying to master a new task. Offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks.

13. Temper tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause. Try to understand where your youngster is coming from. For example, if he or she has just had a great disappointment, you may need to provide comfort. If he or she is simply a sore loser at games and hits a playmate, then you may to provide a consequence.

14. The most important thing to keep in mind when you're faced with a boy or girl in the throes of a temper tantrum – no matter what the cause – is simple yet very important: Keep your cool. Don't complicate the problem with your own frustration. Young people on the spectrum can sense when mothers and fathers are becoming frustrated. This can just make their frustration worse, and you may have a more exaggerated temper tantrum on your hands. Instead, take deep breaths and try to think clearly.

15. Try to give your "special needs" child some control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off temper tantrums. Offer minor choices, for example, "Do you want orange juice or apple juice?" or "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?" This way, you aren't asking "Do you want to brush your teeth now?" …which inevitably will be answered "no."

16. Your youngster relies on you to be the example. Smacking and spanking don't help. Physical tactics send the message that using force and physical punishment is acceptable. Instead, have enough self-control for both of you.

17. You should consult your child’s pediatrician if any of the following occur:
  • tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings
  • tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration
  • you keep giving into your child’s demands
  • he displays mood issues (e.g., negativity, low self-esteem, extreme dependence)
  • your youngster frequently hurts himself/herself or others
  • she is destructive
  • you're uncomfortable with your responses to the child's tantrums

Your doctor can also check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums (e.g., hearing or vision problems, chronic illness, language delays, learning disability, etc.).

Remember, temper tantrums usually aren't cause for concern and generally diminish on their own. As Aspergers and HFA kids mature developmentally, and their grasp of themselves and the world increases, their frustration levels decrease. Less frustration and more control mean fewer temper tantrums — and happier mothers and fathers.

The Top 20 Triggers for Meltdowns in Kids on the Autism Spectrum:

 

~ Managing Meltdowns

When it comes to parenting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are a few scenarios that are fertile ground for meltdowns. Some examples include (but are definitely not limited to):
  • all afternoon shopping trips
  • an endless car ride
  • long wait at the doctor's office
  • slow service at a restaurant
  • too many homework problems

These are moments where a meltdown is coming on fast, but can still be diverted. These are the times when moms and dads need “diversion tactics” (i.e., a supply of items and ideas that can fill a moment or turn a head).

While diversion tactics come in handy with any youngster, it's particularly imperative for kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are often significantly less able to amuse themselves, negotiate transitions, or avoid meltdowns. A parent needs to be quick, versatile, creative, and resourceful to keep things running smoothly. Planning ahead can help.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA

Here's how to make sure you always have plenty of tricks in your bag:

1. Your diversion tactics should do one of these (and preferably more than one): Soothe, Entertain, and Distract. They must be deployable at a moment's notice, especially in stressful situations. The space of time between the need for soothing, entertainment and distraction, and the onset of complete disaster can be brutally short.

2. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be actual items (i.e., things you keep in your purse or pockets for emergencies). It doesn't hurt to have some on hand at all times (that's why most of these are small) and then to load up with extras when you know you might need them. Some possibilities (depending on the age of your ASD child) include:

• Animal crackers
• Coins
• Crayons/coloring book
• Deck of cards
• Dice
• Doll
• Fidget toys
• Finger puppets
• Flash cards
• Hard candy
• iPad
• iPhone
• iPod
• Keys
• Little notepad and pen
• Magnetic travel game
• Photos
• Pretzels
• Puzzle book
• Raisins
• Small storybook
• Stickers
• Toy cars

3. Some of the tactics in your “diversion kit” will be ideas that you can implement without any need for props. You may have to go through a few before you find one your ASD youngster will run with, so keep a list if you can't keep them all in your head. Some possibilities include:
  • 20 Questions
  • A is for ..., B is for ...
  • Blowing a raspberry on his or her arm
  • Clapping games
  • Getting a drink from a water fountain
  • Hide something in fist -- guess which hand?
  • I Spy
  • Let youngster choose what to do next
  • Looking out window
  • Math facts
  • Play with youngster's hair
  • Pushing hard against each other's hands
  • Rock-paper-scissors
  • Saying something silly
  • Taking a walk
  • Tell me three things you did today
  • Tickling
  • What color am I looking at?
  • Whispering secrets
  • Word games where each person adds an item, alphabetically, and the next person must remember the whole string of words

Putting together a good list of diversion tactics is one thing, maintaining it is another. As your ASD youngster gets older, changes interests, gets bored with some things and taken by others, you'll want to keep changing and replenishing the tactics in your "diversion kit." Remember, the objects don't have to be big, they don't have to be fancy, and they only have to be able to run your youngster past a bit of boredom, anxiety, or a little rough behavioral spot. But they do have to soothe, entertain, and distract.

Note: If you only have a couple diversion tactics, they can fade with overuse. The more tactics you've got in your “bag of tricks,” the better.

 
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD
 
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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...


COMMENTS:

•    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.

Post your comment below…

Tantrums and Meltdowns in Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders

"How can I handle tantrums with my child on the autism spectrum? How should I deal with 'meltdowns'? Should the two be treated differently? If so, how does one know the difference between the two? Sorry for all the questions... but this is all new to me. My son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and I want to do the right thing here! Please help. Thank you."

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs), cause severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. These disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood and range from a severe form, called autistic disorder, through pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), to a much milder form, Asperger syndrome (now called "high functioning autism"). They also include two rare disorders, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.

Some ASD kids are more likely to have tantrums than other kids. Causes that contribute to a youngster's tendency to have tantrums include fatigue, the youngster's age and stage of development, temperament, stress in the child's environment, and whether underlying behavioral, developmental, or health conditions are present such as ADHD or ASD. Also, a youngster may be more likely to have tantrums if moms & dads react too strongly to difficult behavior or give in to the child's demands. Tantrums are normal behavior for most kids and there is no reason why kids with ASD should refrain from this stage of development.
 

Tantrums are one of the most common problems in young kids with ASD. They may appear to go into a state of rage, panic, anxiety or fear for no reason at all. This might involve screaming, crying, resisting contact with others, or pushing others away. Unfortunately for individuals with ASD and their families, ‘tantrums’ and destructive behaviors are especially common, among kids. The problem seems to be that it is more difficult for moms & dads to prevent ‘tantrums’ in kids with ASD, the youngster seems inconsolable during the ‘tantrum’, the episode might last a long time, and consist of more aggressive behavior, such as hitting, biting, and pinching. Most often the satisfaction that typically accompanies the end of the ‘tantrum’ rarely occurs. Similar episodes of panic, anxiety, rage or even aggression might be seen all through childhood, adolescence and even adulthood.

Ignoring the tantrum behavior and helping a young child learn how to handle and express anger and frustration are usually effective ways to deal with the behavior. Also, paying attention to what triggers tantrums can help you act before a youngster's emotions escalate beyond the point where he or she can control them. This is supposed to identify the cause of the behavior and prevent ‘blaming’ the individual. This is very important in ASD, as it is doubtful that any behavior which may cause difficulties for families is intended maliciously or menacing. There is almost always some other, unidentified, trigger that brings on challenging behavior.

It is important to intervene as early as possible so that behaviors are not constant and so that other means of expression and communication are open to kids with ASD.

Causes for Challenging Behaviors—

What causes this? As with such behavior in all kids there may be any number of causes. There might be underlying reasons (such as feeling upset, anxious or angry) and immediate triggers (such as being told to do something). In ASD however there is also a specific pattern of behavior, social interaction and understanding the tantrums are directed by frustration, can help explain some ‘challenging’ behaviors.

Kids with ASD often rely on ritual and structure. Structure is a method that helps define the world in terms of set rules and explanations in turn helps the person function most effectively. Most kids with ASD find their own methods of imposing structure and maintaining consistency. They need this structure because the world is confusing. Other people are complex and almost impossible to understand. The information they receive through their senses might be overwhelming and hard to bring together into a strong whole, and there is likely to be an additional learning disability that makes it hard to apply cognitive skills to all these areas at once.

When some form of structure or routine is disrupted the world becomes confusing and overwhelming again. It might be like losing a comforting toy when feeling alone or homesick. This disruption of structure might be obvious (having a collection of objects disturbed, being made to go a different way to school, getting up at an unusual hour) or it might be hidden (subtle changes in the environment which the youngster is used to for example). Some of these triggers might be out of the control of the individual or his or her family members. Some might be avoidable. Others might be necessary events, which can be slowly introduced so as to limit overt reactions.

Generally one of the most significant causes of ‘challenging behavior’ is a communicative need. For people with profound difficulties in understanding others and in communicating with them it is hardly surprising for frustration, anger and anxiety to build up. It is also quite likely that ‘challenging behaviors’ will directly serve as a form of communication. Natural ‘tantrums’, for example in response to changes in routine or requests to do something the individual does not want to do, may well become usual reactions to those involved.

Frequent Tantrums—

If your youngster continues to have frequent tantrums after age 3, you may need to use time-outs. A time-out removes the youngster from the situation, allows him or her time to calm down, and teaches the child that having a tantrum is not acceptable behavior. Time-out works best for kids who understand why it is being used.

Most kids gradually learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to tantrums. They also usually improve their ability to communicate, become increasingly independent, and recognize the benefits of having these skills. Kids who continue to have tantrums after the age of 4 usually need outside help learning to deal with anger. Tantrums that continue or start during the school years may be a sign of other issues, including problems with learning or getting along with other kids.
 

Talk with a health professional if:
  • Difficult behavior that frequently lasts longer than 15 minutes, occurs more than 3 times a day, or is more aggressive may indicate that a youngster has an underlying medical, emotional, or social problem that needs attention. These are not considered typical tantrums. Difficult behaviors may include: kicking, hitting, biting, scratching, hair pulling, or pinching other people, throwing or breaking things, head-banging or inflicting self-injury.
  • The youngster hurts him/her self, other people, or objects during a tantrum.
  • The youngster's behavior does not improve after 4 years of age.
  • The youngster's tantrums frequently last longer than 15 minutes or occur more than 3 times a day.
  • You have concerns about your youngster's tantrums.
  • You have problems handling your youngster's behavior, especially if you are concerned that you might hurt your youngster.
  • You have problems handling your youngster's behavior, especially if you are concerned that you might hurt your youngster.
  • You want help with learning to cope with your feelings during your youngster's tantrums.
  • Your youngster older than 4 years continues to have frequent tantrums.
  • Your youngster's tantrums escalate into violent behavior that endangers others or results in self-inflicted injuries.

Medical treatment for tantrums may be recommended for kids who:
  • Have long-lasting and frequent tantrums.
  • Regularly have tantrums after 4 years of age.
  • Causing self-injury or becomes violent.

This is where support is needed both in the form of direct interventions related to the behaviors, and in advising and helping moms & dads manage episodes in ways which can be applied at home.

These difficulties can be improved slowly through education and other interventions, but particular differences must be respected. Moms & dads can help by making an effort to manage the environment so that the individual is more comfortable (allowing some structure, avoiding distracting information when engaging in tasks, allowing personal space where necessary). The second major area is where ‘challenging behavior’ serves a communicative conduct. In this case the cause for the behavior must first be identified before teaching and developing other means of communicating.

Many young kids have so-called “temper tantrums” at one time or another in their lives. This type of behavior may continue for years in kids with ASD. Kids with ASD have perfectly “normal” appearances. They usually do not have any distinguishing features or characteristics that would make them appear different from any other youngster. Their behavior might be the only thing about them that makes them seem “different.”

People who witness a tantrum tend to make judgments on tantrum behaviors, often without anything to base their judgments on other than their own personal experiences. They will make hasty evaluations about the moms & dads of the youngster, about the situation, and assume that the youngster is a “spoiled brat,” when that may not be the case at all.

-----------------


What does a tantrum look like?

An ASD tantrum is different in many ways from the average type of temper tantrum. A regular temper tantrum usually starts at the mall, a grocery store, or other public place. A youngster sees an object such as candy, or a toy, and makes a request. The parent refuses the request. The onset of the tantrum begins with this initial refusal to grant the wish. The tantrum will last until the youngster’s wish is granted or the youngster loses the desire for the wish. In this circumstance, the tantrum is indeed “a violent, willful outburst” performed by the youngster to manipulate the environment for the purpose of obtaining the desired object.
 

Adults have all types of reactions to a temper tantrum. It is very embarrassing to have a youngster kicking and screaming on the floor. Some moms & dads will “give in” to the youngster in order to escape such a scene, which is about the worst thing a parent can do. Other moms & dads will take the youngster to a more private area for an “attitude adjustment,” which works some times. If it is really out of hand, the parent will remove the youngster from the store and go home. These are just some of the more typical reactions, but there are as many ways to deal with a temper tantrum as there are moms & dads. How to react to a temper tantrum is a very personal choice for moms & dads to make.

First of all, when an ASD outburst occurs, many times the triggering event is not obvious. The youngster will just start kicking and screaming for no apparent reason. We have no earthly idea what might have caused the onset of this behavior!

Second, the outburst or episode can last for HOURS! We don’t know what has started it, and we don’t know what we can do to end it! Rocking, comforting, scolding, spanking, and other measures we usually take do not help the situation. If anything, the outburst just escalates and the behaviors become even more extreme. We, as adults, are left feeling helpless and frustrated.

Third, no two ASD tantrums ever look quite alike. Kids with ASD can throw crying tantrums, where they just cry and cry for hours and they cannot be comforted. They might throw screaming tantrums, where they screech at the top of their lungs at such a high pitch that you are sure it can break glass. Kids can also throw giggling tantrums, though I hesitate to call it a tantrum exactly, it is more like a “fit” or a “spell.”

Giggling “fits” are much less annoying than the crying or screaming, but they can occur at the most unusual moments or inappropriate times. Too often, when they start giggling, the event is no laughing matter.

Why does a youngster with ASD have these tantrum behaviors?

The youngster or youth has deficits in developing and using verbal or non-verbal communication systems for receptive or expressive language.

Some kids with ASD can and do have language, but that does not mean that they are very good at communicating. There are people who have a form of ASD known as Asperger’s who are very articulate. Some people with ASD actually talk a great deal, but there is a lack of communication because they often fail to understand the purpose of language. Other people with ASD do not have the ability to speak, but they learn to communicate through other means. Kids may be somewhere in between, they may echo back what you say to them - this is one way that kids with ASD actually develop speech skills. However, just because a youngster can echo your words does not mean that the youngster understands what those words mean.

When a baby is born, its first method of communicating to the parent is by crying. It does not take very long for the infant to figure out that “If I cry someone will come and feed me.” or “change my diaper,” or “rock me and make me feel better.” Crying is a very primitive form of communication. Because ASD is a neurologically based disorder, infants later diagnosed with ASD even have impairments in this area. A youngster who is not developing language often will continue to use crying, or even temper tantrums, to indicate wants and needs.
 

Tantrums are a very primitive form of communication that can be used to indicate “no,” “I don’t want to,” and so on. It is also a way to communicate choices and preferences.

The youngster demonstrates abnormal responses to environmental stimuli.

A youngster with ASD may be hyposensitive (senses may be dulled) or hypersensitive (superman hearing) or anywhere in between. One or all senses may be affected.

Temple Grandin describes her responses to sensory stimuli like “tripping a circuit breaker.” One minute she was fine, and the next minute she was on the floor “kicking and screaming like a crazed wildcat.”

Dr. Grandin states that two things she hated as a youngster were washing her hair and dressing to go to church, because she has overly sensitive skin. She is very “tender headed” and washing her hair actually causes pain to her scalp. The petticoats that her mother made her wear to church felt like “sand paper scraping away at raw nerves.” I am sure that her mother misread her tantrums as not wanting to go to church, when really it was just Temple’s reaction to the clothing.

Other sensory related stimuli that might result in tantrum-like behaviors can include reactions to certain sounds, tastes or smells, bright lights or textures. Think of all the sounds, smells, lights and sensory experiences you have when you walk into a department store. Now imagine what it must be like for a person who is extra sensitive to all of these things! Tantrum-like behaviors in those places just might be a reaction to sensory overload.

Another reason kids with ASD might have tantrum-like behaviors is because they fail to understand social situations. This is certainly one of the criteria for ASD.

The youngster has deficits in social interaction, including social cues, emotional expression, personal relationships, and reciprocal interactions.

Sharing and taking turns are VERY difficult for my son to understand. He also has difficulty in sitting and participating in a large group, but he is getting much better at that. He does not know how to give a reliable yes or no response, but he has learned how to say “No, thank you.” when he does not want something.

One other reason that a youngster might have a tantrum-like behavior is because his or her routine has been upset or changed in some way, usually without advance notice.

The youngster demonstrates repetitive ritualistic behavioral patterns including insistence on following routines and a persistent preoccupation and attachments to objects.

People who have ASD have a very difficult time making sense of their environment. They cannot always rely on their sense of touch, taste, smell, vision, or hearing to give them accurate information. This is one of the reasons why they prefer to have everything exactly the way it was yesterday.

Reality to an autistic person is a confusing interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. There seem to be no clear boundaries, order or meaning to anything. A large part of my life is spent just trying to work out the pattern behind everything. Set routines, times, particular routes and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life.
 

What should I do when my youngster has as a tantrum?

When a tantrum occurs it is a good idea for a youngster to have a “renewal area.” A renewal area is just a place for a youngster with ASD to go and calm down. The renewal area should be a quiet area away from any extra sensory stimuli. A spot at the end of a hallway is good. My son has a little tent in his room that he made from a folding card table with a blanket over it. He just crawls in there when things get to be too much for him to handle.

It is sort of like a “time out” spot, but differs in the fact that once the youngster does calm down they can leave that area. In time-out, the youngster is expected to sit in that spot for a set number of minutes. If a youngster is kicking and screaming, you are not going to be able to make them sit in time-out. It is more beneficial to have a spot for them to go when the “lose it.” Then once they are over the episode, you can decide what you want to do about the behavior.

It helps to think of an autistic tantrum more as an epileptic seizure. Just like a seizure, the tantrum has to run its course. It will help the youngster to calm down, if you are able to keep yourself calm. If you become angry or excited, this will make the tantrum worse. Never take an autistic tantrum as a youngster’s defiance of your authority. There might be any number of things at play here, just as I have described.

The first step you should take when you are trying to change a youngster’s behavior is to first figure out what the appropriate behavior is that you want to teach. It isn’t enough to just stop a tantrum-like behavior… you have to replace it with some sort of appropriate behavior. What does the youngster need to learn?

When you are trying to decide how to stop a youngster’s tantrum-like behaviors, you have to become a detective. Negative, punitive measures don’t work very well with kids who have ASD. You can take a youngster’s recess away for the next 100 years, and the kid will still have a tantrum every time he hears a fire truck. Just what do you want the youngster to do when he hears that fire truck coming down the road?

The second step is to analyze the purpose of the inappropriate behavior. You have to try and figure out what the behavior means from the youngster’s point of view. This is not as easy as it sounds, because kids with ASD view the world completely different from the rest of us. According to the Technical Assistance Manual on ASD for Kentucky Schools, we should be thinking about what happens before the behavior occurs, what is the exact behavior of the student, and what happens just after the behavior?

So a fire truck comes roaring down the road past the playground, sirens blaring, strobe lights flashing. This happens just before the behavior occurs.

The youngster grabs his ears and falls to the ground, kicking and screaming. This is the exact behavior of the student.

A teacher’s aid picks the youngster up and takes him back into the building. This happens every time just after the behavior occurs.

What are some possible reasons this youngster throws a tantrum-like fit every time the fire truck comes down the road? (Sensitive hearing, to get away from the noise.)

The third step is to teach the appropriate replacement behavior. What does the youngster need to learn? How about a more appropriate way to ask to go indoors? Instead of writhing on the ground in pain, when he first hears the siren he could go to the aid and give her tug on the sleeve, or indicate by pointing that he wants to go inside for a few minutes. Then after the fire truck is gone, he can resume the usual activities.
 

Points to remember:
  • A youngster with ASD who has tantrums is NOT a “spoiled brat,” “stubborn,” “bad,” “obstinate,” “strong willed,” or even “demon possessed” youngster, the tantrum like behavior is one of the manifestations of the disability.
  • Never take a tantrum as a personal threat against your authority.
  • With appropriate intervention strategies, tantrums do occur less frequently, so hang in there!

Meltdowns--

One of the most misunderstood autistic behaviors is the meltdown. Frequently, it is the result of some sort of overwhelming stimulation of which cause is often a mystery to moms & dads and teachers. They can come on suddenly and catch everyone by surprise. Autistic kids tend to suffer from sensory overload issues that can create meltdowns. Kids who have neurological disorders other than ASD can suffer from meltdowns. Unlike temper tantrums, these kids are expressing a need to withdraw and slowly collect themselves at their own pace.

Kids who have temper tantrums are looking for attention. They have the ability to understand that they are trying to manipulate the behavior of the others, caregivers and/or peers. This perspective taking or "theory of mind" is totally foreign to the autistic youngster who has NO clue that others cannot "read" their mind or feelings innately. This inability to understand other human beings think different thoughts and have different perspectives from them is an eternal cause of frustration.

A temper tantrum is very straightforward. A youngster does not get his or her own way and, as grandma would say, "pitches a fit." This is not to discount the temper tantrum. They are not fun for anyone.

Tantrums have several qualities that distinguish them from meltdowns:
  • A youngster having a tantrum will look occasionally to see if his or her behavior is getting a reaction.
  • A youngster in the middle of a tantrum will take precautions to be sure they won't get hurt.
  • A youngster who throws a tantrum will attempt to use the social situation to his or her benefit.
  • A tantrum is thrown to achieve a specific goal and once the goal is met, things return to normal.
  • A tantrum will give you the feeling that the youngster is in control, although he would like you to think he is not.
  • When the situation is resolved, the tantrum will end as suddenly as it began.

If you feel like you are being manipulated by a tantrum, you are right. You are. A tantrum is nothing more than a power play by a person not mature enough to play a subtle game of internal politics. Hold your ground and remember who is in charge.

A temper tantrum in a youngster who is not autistic is simple to handle. Moms & dads simply ignore the behavior and refuse to give the youngster what he is demanding. Tantrums usually result when a youngster makes a request to have or do something that the parent denies. Upon hearing the parent's "no," the tantrum is used as a last-ditch effort.

The qualities of a temper tantrum vary from youngster to youngster. When kids decide this is the way they are going to handle a given situation, each youngster's style will dictate how the tantrum appears. Some kids will throw themselves on the floor, screaming and kicking. Others will hold their breath, thinking that his "threat" on their life will cause moms & dads to bend. Some kids will be extremely vocal and repeatedly yell, "I hate you," for the world to hear. A few kids will attempt bribery or blackmail, and although these are quieter methods, this is just as much of a tantrum as screaming. Of course, there are the very few kids who pull out all the stops and use all the methods in a tantrum.
 

Effective parenting -- whether a youngster has ASD or not -- is learning that you are in control, not the youngster. This is not a popularity contest. You are not there to wait on your youngster and indulge her every whim. Buying her every toy she wants isn't going to make her any happier than if you say no. There is no easy way out of this parenting experience. Sometimes you just have to dig in and let the tantrum roar.

If the tantrum is straightforward, the meltdown is every known form of manipulation, anger, and loss of control that the youngster can muster up to demonstrate. The problem is that the loss of control soon overtakes the youngster. He needs you to recognize this behavior and rein him back in, as he is unable to do so. A youngster with ASD in the middle of a meltdown desperately needs help to gain control.
  • A youngster in a meltdown has no interest or involvement in the social situation.
  • A youngster in the middle of a meltdown does not consider her own safety.
  • A meltdown conveys the feeling that no one is in control.
  • A meltdown usually occurs because a specific want has not been permitted and after that point has been reached, nothing can satisfy the youngster until the situation is over.
  • During a meltdown, a youngster with ASD does not look, nor care, if those around him are reacting to his behavior.
  • Meltdowns will usually continue as though they are moving under their own power and wind down slowly.

Unlike tantrums, meltdowns can leave even experienced moms & dads at their wit's end, unsure of what to do. When you think of a tantrum, the classic image of a youngster lying on the floor with kicking feet, swinging arms, and a lot of screaming is probably what comes to mind. This is not even close to a meltdown. A meltdown is best defined by saying it is a total loss of behavioral control. It is loud, risky at times, frustrating, and exhausting.

Meltdowns may be preceded by "silent seizures." This is not always the case, so don't panic, but observe your youngster after she begins experiencing meltdowns. Does the meltdown have a brief period before onset where your youngster "spaces out"? Does she seem like she had a few minutes of time when she was totally uninvolved with her environment? If you notice this trend, speak to your physician. This may be the only manifestation of a seizure that you will be aware of.

When your youngster launches into a meltdown, remove him from any areas that could harm him or he could harm. Glass shelving and doors may become the target of an angry foot, and avoiding injury is the top priority during a meltdown.

Another cause of a meltdown can be other health issues. One example is a youngster who suffers from migraines. A migraine may hit a youngster suddenly, and the pain is so totally debilitating that his behavior may spiral downward quickly, resulting in a meltdown. Watch for telltale signs such as sensitivity to light, holding the head, and being unusually sensitive to sound. If a youngster has other health conditions, and having ASD does not preclude this possibility, behavior will be affected.

Practical steps to reduce ASD tantrums and meltdowns:

1. Address your youngster's sensory issues. Many kids with ASD have issues with sensory integration. This means your youngster is constantly bombarded with sensory information and lacks the ability to filter out the unimportant things. Loud noises, bright lights and large crowds are enough to cause a tantrum. Sensory integration therapy and occupational therapy help address the issue. However, these therapies are most effective if you start them while your youngster is really young. Learn more about sensory integration therapy at Healing Thresholds.

2. Get your youngster on a communication system. Sometimes tantrums occur because your youngster lacks the communication to adequately express herself. This is especially important if your youngster is non-verbal or only slightly verbal. Communication systems, like visual schedules, consist of objects, pictures or words. Sometimes a system as simple as a basic choice board really helps to reduce tantrums.

3. Make your youngster a visual schedule. Visual schedules provide structure to your youngster's day, through the use of visual supports. Whether the schedule consists of objects, pictures or printed words, it provides the youngster with a visual road map of his day. When your youngster knows what to expect next, it alleviates anxiety which reduces his potential for tantrums.

4. Use transition tools. Some kids with ASD have great difficulty with transitions. This means asking your youngster to switch from one activity to the next can cause a tantrum. Something as simple as a two columned "First, Then," card will alleviate anxiety . Divide a half sheet of paper in half by drawing a line down the middle. Label the first column, "First," and label the second column "Then." Place a picture card of the activity you youngster will do first in the "First," column and a picture card of the activity your youngster will do next in the "Then," column. When you transition your youngster to an activity, show them the card. Say, "First, we'll do homework, then we'll play outside." Point to each picture as you speak. 

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 

 
COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said... Keeping a diary of the temper tantrums is very important and will serve as a useful tool to you in determining times of the day that the tantrums occur and what type of situations may set him off.  As far as dealing with what's occurring the tantrums and meltdowns you can try time outs, or, how about speaking in a low tone voice. There's a book called 1-2-3 magic that discusses the whole time out program. You are smart to ask questions and you are seeking resources which is so important and your seeking answers. I want you to know that I'm here for you if u ever want to talk please just inbox me here. I will search additional resources for you. Don't know if you know about the CHADD organization you can search them online they are an excellent source of information.
•    Anonymous said... Oh wow... Lots of questions, lots of new worries.. I feel for you, sweet parent. Welcome to the "club", I suppose? No, really... You are on the right track. Asking questions, research, other parents advice, this is all the best things you can do for you and your child. I am proud you are striving to help your child by educating yourself, so many people just try to bend the child back towards "normal", rather than bend with the child. Yes, there are marked differences between a meltdown and a regular old spoiled tantrum... What those clues are for you and your child, unfortunately, may be different than mine, or anyone else on here dealing with Autism meltdowns. The best resource you will have for the next coming years, will be your mind, eyes, ears and heart. Watch the child, there will be "triggers" that you may not have ever noticed before... (Does he start grabbing his face or hair right before, does she grind her teeth, does his eyes start getting watery and his voice get shakey?) these are all signs the storm is about to hit. I've learned to stave off most meltdowns by watching for the signs and avoiding most triggers. This sounds like a LOT of work, and believe me... It is... But it's so worth it when you don't have to hold your screaming, thrashing child down, and instead get to watch the storm dissipate and no meltdown occur.
Good luck mommy and daddy... It's a rough road ahead of you... But by asking these questions and really really learning your child, I know you will be fine. smile emoticon thinking of you all!
•    Anonymous said... Try keeping a diary/record of tantrum and meltdowns see if there's a pattern this can help with noticing triggers and help nite the differences between the two. .. good luck x

Post your comment below…

When Tantrums in Kids on the Autism Spectrum Become Unmanageable

"Any advice for dealing with a child on the spectrum who flips into severe tantrums over the slightest change in his routine?"

Some kids with Aspergers and high-functioning autism (HFA) are more likely to have temper tantrums than others. Causes that contribute to a youngster's tendency to have tantrums include:
  • age and stage of development
  • fatigue
  • stress in the youngster's environment
  • temperament
  • whether underlying behavioral, developmental, or health conditions are present (e.g., ADHD)

Also, a youngster may be more likely to have temper tantrums if moms and dads react too strongly to difficult behavior or give in to the youngster's demands.

Temper tantrums are normal behavior for most kids, and there is no reason why kids with Aspergers and HFA should refrain from this stage of development. But how do you know whether or not a child's tantrums are "normal"? When tantrums escalate to the point of violence, is it still just a "tantrum," or are there deeper issues that need to be investigated?

Temper tantrums are one of the most common problems in younger kids on the autism spectrum. They may appear to go into a state of rage, panic, anxiety or fear for no reason at all. This might involve screaming, crying, resisting contact with others, or pushing others away. Unfortunately for children with the disorder - and their parents - temper tantrums and destructive behaviors are especially common.

It is more difficult for moms and dads to “prevent” temper tantrums in these kids. The youngster may seem inconsolable during the tantrum, and the episode might last a long time and consist of more aggressive behavior (e.g., hitting, biting, pinching, etc.).

Also, the satisfaction (i.e., emotional release) that typically accompanies the end of the tantrum for "typical" kids rarely occurs in Aspergers and HFA kids. Similar episodes of panic, anxiety, rage and even aggression might be seen all through childhood, adolescence – and even adulthood.

Paying attention to the things that trigger a tantrum can help parents act before a youngster's emotions escalate beyond the point where he can control them. Identifying the cause of the behavior is very important. There is almost always some yet-to-be-unidentified trigger that brings on challenging behavior.

==> Preventing Tantrums and Meltdowns in Kids on the Autism Spectrum 

Causes for challenging behaviors:

As with such behavior in all kids, there may be any number of causes. There might be underlying reasons (e.g., feeling upset, anxious or angry) and immediate triggers (e.g., being told to do something). In Aspergers and HFA however, tantrums are directed by frustration.

Children on the spectrum often rely on ritual and structure. Structure is a method that helps define the world in terms of set rules and explanations, which in turn helps the child function most effectively. Most kids with the disorder find their own methods of imposing structure and maintaining consistency. They need this structure because the world is confusing.

To these special needs children, the world is complex and almost impossible to understand. The information they receive through their senses might be overwhelming and hard to bring together into a strong whole, and there is likely to be an additional learning disability that makes it hard to apply cognitive skills to all these areas at once.

When some form of structure or routine is disrupted, the world becomes confusing and overwhelming again (e.g., feeling homesick, losing a comforting toy when feeling alone, starting a new school year, etc.). This disruption of structure might be obvious (e.g., having a collection of objects disturbed, being made to go a different way to school, getting up at an unusual hour), or it might be hidden (e.g., subtle changes in the environment which the youngster is used to).

Some of these triggers might be out of the control of the child or his parents. Some might be avoidable. Others might be necessary events, which can be slowly introduced so as to limit overt reactions.

Generally, one of the most significant causes of challenging behavior is a communicative need. For children with profound difficulties in understanding others and in communicating with them, it is hardly surprising for frustration, anger and anxiety to build up.

It is also quite likely that challenging behaviors will directly serve as a form of communication. Natural temper tantrums (e.g., in response to changes in routine, or requests to do something the child does not want to do) may well become usual reactions to those involved.




Frequent temper tantrums:

If your youngster continues to have frequent temper tantrums after age 3, you may need to use time-outs. A time-out removes the youngster from the situation, allows her time to calm down, and teaches her that having a tantrum is not acceptable behavior. Time-out works best for kids who understand why it is being used.

Most kids gradually learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to tantrums. They also usually improve their ability to communicate, become increasingly independent, and recognize the benefits of having these skills.

Kids who continue to have temper tantrums after the age of 4 usually need outside help learning to deal with anger. Tantrums that continue (or start) during the school years may be a sign of other issues (e.g., learning difficulties, social skills deficits).

Talk with a health professional if difficult behavior frequently lasts longer than 15 minutes, occurs more than 3 times a day, or is more aggressive. This may indicate that the youngster has an underlying medical, emotional, or social problem that needs attention.

These are not considered typical temper tantrums. Difficult behaviors may include: biting, hair pulling, head-banging or inflicting self-injury, hitting, kicking, pinching, scratching, throwing or breaking things, etc.

Does your child do any of the following?
  • behavior does not improve after 4 years of age
  • hurts himself, other people, or objects during a tantrum
  • tantrums frequently last longer than 15 minutes
  • tantrums occur more than 3 times a day

Do you, as the parent, experience any of the following?
  • have concerns that you might hurt your youngster when trying to hold him back or calm him down
  • have problems handling your youngster's behavior
  • have serious concerns about your youngster's tantrums
  • need help with learning to cope with your own feelings during your youngster's temper tantrums

Counseling and/or medical treatment for temper tantrums may be recommended for kids who: 
  • regularly have tantrums after 4 years of age
  • have long-lasting and frequent temper tantrums
  • cause self-injury or become violent

This is where support is needed both in the form of direct interventions related to the behaviors, and in advising and helping moms and dads manage episodes in ways that can be applied at home. These difficulties can be improved slowly through education and other interventions.

Moms and dads can help by making an effort to manage the environment so that the child is more comfortable (e.g., providing structure, avoiding distracting information when engaging in tasks, allowing personal space where necessary, etc.). Challenging behavior serves a communicative conduct. In this case, the cause for the behavior must first be identified before teaching and developing other means of communicating.


==> Click here for more parenting advice on dealing with tantrums, meltdowns and shutdowns...

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.

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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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