Almost all parents have to deal with their child having a few temper tantrums, wobblers, or total meltdowns. While it’s a natural part of childhood and parenthood, these stressful occasions are even more likely to be an issue for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The intensity of a tantrum and how often they occur can vary from one child to the next. Some children might only have a temper tantrum from time to time. While other children might have very frequent mild tantrums. Of course, adolescents are also known for having tantrums. Though meltdowns from a teen are often very different from what they looked like during early and middle childhood.

One of the things that a lot of ABA therapists work on with parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is helping to deal with and potentially minimize meltdowns.

Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

All children with disabilities seem to experience frustration that can lead to temper tantrums. Though children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have temper tantrums and complete meltdowns with greater frequency.

What Causes Temper Tantrums In Children With ASD?

There are a few potential factors that contribute to increased temper tantrums in children with ASD. This can include things like:

  • Sensory overload
  • Reinforcement of specific maladaptive behaviors
  • Lack of skill development
  • Troubles communicating their needs

It’s important to remember that each child is unique, and what works for one child’s tantrum issue may not work for another child. Though there are some commonalities to consider for all children when trying to help manage their challenging behaviors.

This also means that there are a few common intervention strategies that serve as a good starting point to develop a highly effective technique for dealing with tantrums in children with autism. Once you or your therapist start to find success with the following approaches, you can better dial them in to find the best way to minimize tantrums in a way that is specific to your child’s ASD symptoms.

Understanding The Reasons Behind Temper Tantrums

The first step in learning how to better manage your child’s temper tantrums is to understand the reason for them. This means contemplating some possible root factors through a scientific lens, just like an ABA therapist would do.

The Antecedent

An antecedent is a technical term in ABA therapy used to describe something that happens before a behavior occurs. Turning an analytical eye at what happens right before your child has a temper tantrum might provide valuable insights. This might be something that happens, something that was said, or a recurring situation that your child finds frustrating. Identifying this “Trigger” might be able to help you and your therapist to develop an effective preventive strategy.

Being Proactive About Antecedent Interventions

Being proactive about prevention, once you recognize an antecedent cause is one of the most important things you can do to decrease how often your child has a meltdown. This might be setting up a daily schedule that diverts them from a triggering event, or eliminating specific stimuli from their day at key times.

The Tantrum Behavior Itself

A temper tantrum or total meltdown can be an emotional experience for parents and other caregivers as well as the child having the tantrum. It helps to take a moment to think about what a temper tantrum looks like. Be clear about the tantrum and be able to describe what the meltdown looks like for your child. Try to notice if your child is making progress toward reduced intensity of their tantrums or if the intensity is escalating.

If your child is reacting toward specific individuals or objects when they have a temper tantrum, it can help you understand the target cause. Removing these items or individuals from triggering behaviors might reduce the number of tantrums and/or reduce their severity.

The Consequence Of The Tantrum

It might also help to think about what happens after your child has a temper tantrum or a total meltdown. Do they recognize the consequences of their behavior, or do they simply transition to the next emotional state without awareness?

This can be a difficult thing to internalize, but your ABA therapist might be able to use this information to develop a more effective technique for handling your child’s temper tantrums.

Understanding The Four Functions Of Behavior

ABA therapy techniques usually break the behavior down into one of four functions. Though your child with ASD can have multiple overlapping functions behind their temper tantrums. They are:

  • Access to something they want or need. Even if it’s a perceived need.
  • Attention, which could be a trigger for good or bad behavior
  • Escape from an unpleasant experience
  • Automatic Reinforcement, which is often linked to some type of sensory stimulation)

Basic Needs That Can Trigger A Temper Tantrum

Children with ASD have basic needs that need to be met. If they are hungry, need sleep, or want something to the point that they perceive it as a need, they are more likely to go over the threshold and have a temper tantrum.

Situational Events That Trigger Temper Tantrums

Situational stimuli are another common cause of temper tantrums in children with ASD. This is especially likely to be an issue if there’s been a major change in your child’s daily routine. Providing them with a sense of stability or a stability outlet might help prevent or reduce the intensity

Focus On What Your Child Is Doing Right

When trying to help your child with ASD to manage their temper tantrums, it helps to focus on what they are doing right, rather than what they are doing wrong. This means taking the time to think about what you think your child should do to prevent them from having a meltdown.

Identify what your child’s challenging behaviors are, and what you’d like them to do instead. Try to introduce alternative activities that are more appropriate, and less likely to trigger a tantrum.

Remember that your child’s ABA therapist is a key component of your child’s support team. They are there to help you understand the underlying causes of your child’s temper tantrums and can work with you objectively to find the best ways to reduce the frequency of intensity of their negative behaviors.