All children go through periods of tantrums while they grow and develop. Tantrums are a response a child has when they do not get what they want or need. Tantrums in autistic children can be a challenge. A meltdown occurs from over stimulation. It is important to remember that a tantrum is not the same thing as an autistic meltdown. A tantrum and a meltdown need to be handled in different manners.
Recognize Tantrum Behavior Triggers
There are certain events or situations that can trigger tantrum behavior. Wanting something that they don’t have, lacking the skills needed to ask for it, not getting something as quickly as they want, and being denied something that they want, can all be tantrum triggers. Knowing your child’s specific triggers beforehand can help you avoid certain situations and prevent unnecessary outbursts. Often, speaking with a professional child psychologist can help tantrums in autistic children by being better at identifying triggers that may not seem so obvious.
Teach Preventative Skills
Many times children do not have the skills necessary to get their desires and needs met. It is at this point that they will break down and throw one of those infamous temper tantrums. Teaching them proper communication, problem-solving, negotiating, impulse control, and self-soothing skills can help to lessen or minimize tantrums. Often, if a child is able to notice their frustration early on, they can take the time needed to calm down and prevent the buildup to either a meltdown or a tantrum.
Reinforce Positive Behavior
Many times children will continue the behavior that gets them the most attention, even if it’s the bad behavior. Therefore, it is important that their positive behavior gets the attention it so rightly deserves. If you see your child react appropriately to the issues that would normally lead to a tantrum, praise them for their efforts in the moment. Show them how proud you are of their accomplishment with a hug or high-five.
Use Proper Disciplinary Skills
Unfortunately, there may be times when your child needs proper discipline for unacceptable behavior. Autism and discipline need to be handled differently than a typical child going through the terrible two’s. Children with autism have difficulty understanding the language of everyday rules. Raising your voice in anger or frustration can only make an autistic child withdraw further.
The first step in proper discipline is to assess your child’s needs and strengths and apply the appropriate approach that works best with their particular personality. Professionals can also assist in identifying what methods work best with your child’s particular needs in discipline and in communicating.
While dealing with a child who is throwing a temper tantrum can be extremely frustrating, it can be overcome or even avoided with the right tools. Knowing what triggers your child ahead of time is the first step. Teaching them the skills they need to prevent their feelings of frustration and then reinforcing good behavior can lead to a healthy and calm future for the both of you.