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How to Handle an Autism Tantrum

Learn how to handle an autism tantrum from pediatrician and child development expert Asma J. Sadiq, M.D. in this Howcast video.



So how do we handle a child with autism having a tantrum? And I think the way to look at it is how do we handle a tantrum firstly? You know some of those techniques are ignoring for example, or holding. Actually most importantly is getting down to why this child is having a tantrum for example. And I think with children with autism, because they have social and language communication issues, they are more easily frustrated. And that is a huge piece of the reason why they are having a tantrum or a possible reason.

So preempting it or getting to understand what is causing the tantrum. Is it a valid communication issue? Is there discomfort? Is it when a child who wants sameness and you're changing their behavior in a way that they don't want changed, they want to stay with the activity for example. Or is it just being oppositional, which is what a lot of kids do. They want what they want. And how do we work with redirecting them. Well as I have said get to what is bothering your child and then there are strategies based on that. That you can possibly- for example re-directing them, having a timer, and seeing you know giving them transition time. Helping them sensory regulate.

A lot of times kids having tantrums just need to be held tightly and some kids need to be ignored. Let them have their meltdown as long as they're not hurting themselves. That's the typical way that parents are told about tantrums. That is really considered bad behavior. But with kids with the autism, I would be a little bit more sensitive to the fact that a lot of these kids have communication issues and a lot of the tantrums comes from frustration and not just a matter of being oppositional. Sometimes a tantrum can be pain. And they're having reflux and something is hurting them.

And you know we can misunderstand this as a tantrum. You know it's a matter of analyzing each behavior. Seeing what is causing it. What made it go away and that will help you prepare for next time preventing that happening possibly. Some kids just get soothed by rocking and holding. And you have to know your child individually to see what works with that tantrum. Because a tantrum I hear is like a cry for help or frustration. It is a communication and we need to understand that communication. It is uncomfortable.

You want to make sure the child is safe and people around are safe. Children often having tantrums not only can throw themselves on the floor, start self mutilating and hurting themselves or throwing chairs and toys or hurting other siblings for example. I think that is where limit setting is important. Holding the child so that he is safe or she is safe. And being very clear and structured so you can help the child calm themselves down and self regulate and actually deal with what the issue is. You know if it is a tantrum about wanting more of that ice cream for example or something that the child wants, well you know you deal with your regular child and you sort of have to deal with frustration that is a part of life. But as long as you are not missing out on some discomfort or frustration, that can really be addressed and the tantrums can hence be minimized.


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