How to Deal With Autistic Tantrums

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Caring for a child with autism is definitely a challenge. In addition to dealing with social and communication barriers, these children often will throw tantrums, even if they seem older than the typical tantrum-throwing age. While you can’t always prevent these tantrums, you can equip yourself so that you are better prepared to handle them.

  • Make sure to be sensitive to their needs. Sometimes the tantrum is simply a result of their frustration at not being able to communicate. Pay special attention to the child, particularly if you think they are trying to let you know something, and be patient in trying to figure out what he needs or wants.

  • Like toddlers, sometimes children with autism will have tantrums simply because they can’t have their way. Don’t give into these tantrums just to keep the child quiet. If you understand what the child wants, and the answer is still no, let that stand. A lot of times, children with autism have trouble understanding their boundaries, and they will often throw a tantrum because they do not understand why they can’t have or do something. Don’t give in as a result of the tantrum, or they will become conditioned to that behavior and believe that it will result in them getting their way.

  • Ignore the tantrum. This is not always possible, but sometimes you want to avoid rewarding negative behavior with attention. As long as the child is not hurting themselves or others, pretend you don’t even see them. Often, they will notice that the behavior is not getting attention and the tantrum will cease.

  • Restrain if necessary. If the child is hurting himself, you or others, you may have to restrain them. Get in a position where you are behind them and hold their arms close to their body so that they can’t swing out or throw things. Sometimes, you may have to hold their legs as well, which may require the use of your legs. Many of these children are very strong, so this may take a lot of strength. Speak to a specialist who works with autistic children so that she can demonstrate techniques of holding the child without hurting him.

  • Redirect the child if possible. Try to interest the child in another activity to take their mind away from whatever it is they are upset about.

  • Don’t be afraid to punish. Most autistic children are very intelligent, and although they process thought differently, they do understand when they are being punished. Although these punishments may require modifications, they are still sometimes a necessary discipline. Consider time-outs and withholding special treats or privileges. Explain in simple terms why they are being punished, and avoid lengthy punishments, as they may not be effective--or even understood.

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