Tantrums in children with autism are common and usually more intense -- lasting longer than the temper tantrums non-developmentally delayed children have. Autistic children tend to lose control more easily and often can’t be consoled. But even autistic kids sometimes have tantrums to get attention. Before you can manage your child’s tantrums, you need to determine if they are simply a means to get his way or if sensory overload or frustration at not being able to communicate prompts the behavior, advises Dr. Temple Grandin, an autism expert who is autistic herself.
Ignore the tantrum if you determine your child is using it to manipulate you. As long as she is safe and a tantrum isn’t triggered by sensory over-stimulation, don’t talk to her, look at her directly or touch her until she calms. When you notice good behavior, praise her for it, recommends Autism-help.org, as this type of positive reinforcement encourages appropriate behaviors.
Establish a daily routine and stay with it as best as you can. An autistic child gets confused and anxious when his routine is changed or disrupted. Making your child feel secure and letting him know what to expect can lead to fewer tantrums.
Identify what sets off your child’s tantrums. Usually, there is a specific trigger that brings on a meltdown, points out MyApsergersChild.com. Limiting exposure to triggers such as loud noises, crowds of people or bright lights that overload your child’s senses helps reduce the frequency of meltdowns.
Watch for obvious clues. Certain behaviors are signs that an autistic child is becoming overwhelmed or frustrated and is reaching the point of meltdown. Your child may visibly tense his muscles, get red in the face, hold his head or cover his face or ears because of extreme sensitivity to light or sound.
Remove your child away from the triggering event. Take her to a quiet area at the first signs of mounting anxiety or frustration. Sometimes moving from an over-stimulating environment to a calmer, quieter place is enough to keep a meltdown from getting worse. You also want her to be in safe surroundings if she loses physical control.
Redirect your child’s attention. Distraction sometimes works when you can’t identify or minimize the effect of a trigger. If diversion doesn’t work, you may have no choice but to let the meltdown wind down on its own. By the time an autistic child reaches meltdown, he has lost emotional control so reasoning with him won’t work.
Avoid asking your child why she is upset. If she has problems communicating and can’t express what she’s feeling, her frustration is likely to increase fueling her meltdown more.
Maintain your composure. Because your child is already on sensory overload, getting angry and frustrated yourself will have the opposite effect and could take the situation from bad to worse. If you speak, keep your tone soft and collected.