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Your Advice Requested: How to Help Control Autistic Tantrums?

By August 27, 2006

A reader would appreciate your suggestions on this issue:

I am the Grandfather of an 8 year old autistic girl and would like any suggestions/and or directions on how to handle an 8 year old youngster that has what we call "little tizzy tantrums"....a behavior that is temperamental for short burst in where the child deliberately hurts herself. She bites her shoulders, pinches her legs and arms, stomach, etc., hits her face with her fist, bangs her forehead on the floor and/or bangs the back of her head on whatever is behind her. These little tantrums last about 30-45 seconds for the most part and are really scary. She looks like an abused kid but is treated with lots of love, compassion and attention. It is extremely disturbing and frightening for us to witness such behavior and even though we console her with "protective hugging" during the incidents it is most frightening. These incidents occur approximately three to four times a day. If the youngster wasn't autistic I would characterize the incidents as "spoiled" due to "not getting their own way"....Please offer us some advice and/or suggestions.
I suggested that the family try keeping a journal to track the tantrums, with the hope of finding a pattern. So often, something specific is setting off the tantrums -- transitions, hunger, certain foods, etc. -- but it can be tough to figure out what the trigger is without a detailed record.

Do you have additional thoughts? Please share them!

August 28, 2006 at 3:39 am
(1) Jennifer B says:

It might also be helpful to consider your granddaughter’s diet and which, if any, medications she is taking. With my son we found that the use of certain medications or foods in his diet coincided with increased frequency and severity of tantrums. Which substances are implicated can be a very individual issue though, so keeping detailed records to look for patterns is a good idea.

August 28, 2006 at 6:35 am
(2) neary says:

identifying triggers can be helpful and trying not to re-trigger in calming the behaviour is useful is it like a fit whilst awake think of different ways to descibe it to the medical proffession.

could she be hungry or thirsty and does she realize what she has done once the episode is over.

medication to stabilize the behaviour can be useful but it sounds different to our son who is now 16.

calming words may be helpful as may use of symbols to move her onto another activity.
she may be trying to tell you something and of course some children momentarily lose some sight or hearing for short or longer episodes and you dont say if she has any language.
good luck for the future

August 28, 2006 at 11:57 am
(3) Sandy says:

In my own experience. For this kind of situations the best help you can get is from a professional. An special education teacher would suggest to write down an “behavioral program” with specific details on how to procede or sometimes how to prevent the self-injurious behavior, of course teacher would have to observe and take notes your daily activities with your child.
Be strong and persistent with your child’s therapy and you would see good changes.
Good Luck.

August 28, 2006 at 6:16 pm
(4) pamela says:

Im sorry to hear that you have to go through this as well as your granddaughter. With that, I have a 4 yr. old autistic son who, for a few months was having many “tantrums”. He would slap himself really hard in the face or punch himself in the stomach. It was heartbreaking and I didnt know what to do. After consulting with an autism specialist and his teacher they informed me that this is very typical in ASD children. The advice they gave me has worked, most of the time and his fits have decreased. Obviously, the first thing to do is make sure she is not close to anyhting where she would do serious damage to herself. If she hits herself tell her calmly, “Hands down” this at first seemed to upset my son even more. After a few times he seemed to undestand that he wasnt allowed to hit himself. His teacher suggested that I not hug him during this moment as it almost reinforces such behavior. That is the part that was hardest for me. What parent doesnt want to make their childs’ pain dissapear? Anyhow, it seems to be getting better. Of course logging her diet and things that occure leading up to these tantrums are good also. I am now working on his aggressive behavior towards his older brother. So, I suppose there will always be some hurdle we must leap. I hope all goes well, best of luck.

September 1, 2006 at 1:30 am
(5) rosalind says:

my grandson has what we call “meltdowns”.i saw a link to native-remedies and they have a herbal formula called tulu-he worked almost an hour with the therapist today while last week he threw his tantrums-it is amazing and the soothe jr helped him sleep-did give him loose stools but his behavior is soo much better with the tulu

September 1, 2006 at 2:09 pm
(6) Marty (mom of 5-year old with autism) says:

Even if your Granddaughter is completely verbal, I would use visuals & reinforcement. Have a visual (like boardmaker) showing “no biting”, “no pinching” or a more generic “no hurting self” if she seems to understand the concept that ALL of these things are “hurting herself”. Keep the visual on hand and show her as you tell her “no hurting self”…pretty soon you will just have to show her the visual and she’ll stop…then hopefully the behavior will go away…She may begin to picture this visual in her mind quick enough to not hurt herself. Visuals are powerful with our ASD kids. Also, I would try a visual that includes a reward/reinforcement for “not hurting self”. I’ve included “good listening” on my son’s “Star Chart”. At any time during the day if he doesn’t respond when I tell him to do something, I can say “you’re going to lose your good listening star” and I mean he responds quickly and does what I had asked of him!

I also agree with the previous comment about being careful not to reinforce this behavior by hugging, etc. That is definitely an important thing to keep in mind! Behavior IS communication and if your response to her behavior is what she was wanting then she got it. And next time she wants it, she’ll remember how she got it before and will behave the same way to get it again…

Someone else suggested “Hands down”. This has been very effective with my son, too. When I say “hands down” he know to stop what ever he is doing with his hands!

Good luck…

September 2, 2006 at 6:56 pm
(7) Waldo Landis says:

I totally agree about keeping a journal to determine what happens prior to this happening. My son loved Pizza Hut and we took him there for his birthday when he was 3 or 4, all of the sudden he started to act up. He loved Pizza Hut, but there was no way we could go there the way he was acting. We determined it was a few things, there was a party in another room, so there was tons or too much stimulation for him to handle. Tons of color, noise, smells, and everything at once was overwhelming to a small child. When he got older, I would find that he would act very argumentative at certains when we went to the Mall. Between the bright lights and the noise, this triggered him. He also would self discipline or punish. If he was doing something and knew he did it wrong, he would verbally abuse himself and bang on the floor. He was a hand twirler when he was young. This went into nail biting. When he was made contious of these actions, it was hard for him to control, but he became aware and tries to control these behaviors. Now he is more into the knuckle cracking than nail biting…ugh, but I tell him to stop he can do it when he isn’t near me and I can’t hear him. Sometimes he can’t control it, but sometimes he will stop and apologize that he is nervous.
Hope this helps. I know I have been through tons. Oh and stay away from food or candy with red. Really does seem to help.

April 19, 2007 at 10:11 pm
(8) Kim says:

Hi I see you wrote this a while ago. I have had the very same behavior with my 9yr old daughter Alexa. I have just started something called ignoring I know that sounds so silly but it is starting to work. She has somewhere in the world picked up talking like a sailor and screaming. After meeting with a behaviorist she told us to start ignoring all the bad behavior and making a big deal out of the good to an exagerated point. The cursing is starting to go away and the other bad behaviors are too. This is a very hard thing to do and you can”t do it half way its all or nothing they are too smart and know when you are wavering. Good luck here is a great sight about ignoring http://www.theautismhomepage@groups.msn.com look around you will find!! God bless all the familys with autism…..

July 23, 2007 at 3:45 am
(9) Lisa-jayne says:

hi there, it seems its a year on now, from when your question was posted. Hope things have picked up for you. A few points to note, if you are not aware of planned ignoring strategies and the like for mangaging behaviour, get to it quickly. This is valuable for any child, but more in particular, for children with challenges. We should all be documenting our autistic childrens behaviour. At adolescence, things may very well change again, so we need to keep a clear mind about their behaviour, so always document their lives. Please remember, the goal is that our children learn to a)understand their differences and b) ultimately learn some self control, then they can adequetly make choices for their own lives in adulthood. The hands down comments are a step in the right direction. But remember, you need to find the triggers. Try and think outside the square, unless you can think like an autistic, the triggers will not be easy to find…. good luck, and god bless. He really is on our side…

August 16, 2007 at 8:43 am
(10) Lady says:

As the mother of an autistic 5 year old girl I certainly understand this…my daughter has exactly as you have described, even the duration of it! It is very scary and we do as you have done- shower her with love and hugs…sometimes I too feel as though she is behaving like a spoilt child and perhaps she is..? Do autistic children have tantrums – yes, can they behave like spoilt kids – I think so…

The past couple days I have decided that we should not try to cuddle her during the tantrums – instead tell her to stop in a quiet but firm voice, and this seems to be working – for now.

BTW my daughter developed normally until 2 and a half and lost all her language skills.. she is non-verbal and does not communicate in other ways either…

She has had all tests possible but nothing – brain scans were normal/eeg normal, no neurological diseases etc.

September 26, 2008 at 10:51 am
(11) Joan says:

I work with autistic children. I understand that nobody wants to see these children reprimanded for their behavoir. We don’t seperate them from the other children at the school and now one of them is constantly hitting the other children. We can see this is triggered by other children getting too close, brushing aginst him when they walk by or simply playing with toys the autistic child wants himself. Parents of the other children are threatening legal action now. They are tired of their children being hit. Parents of the autistic child are also threatening legal action. They don’t want their child removed from class. The parents of the children being hit don’t want classes to educate them on autism. They simply do NOT want their children hit at all EVER and want us to stop it immediately. We feel our hand our tied if he stays in our classroom. Joan

November 5, 2008 at 9:25 am
(12) lisa says:

the comment about the kids who are being hit by the autistic child?
well they should teach lessons about autism so the children understand why the autistic child is hitting them.
there should also be a course for the adults of the children being hit so
a) they can explain to their children why this is happening
b) so the children learn to accept the child and understand WHY the other child is hitting them.
and the child shouldnt be taken out of the school theyre at. its part of the autism.theyre not good in social situation and dont fully understand all of the time what is goingo on.
i have the whole tantrum issue with my son at the moment. hes nearly four and it gets really bad to the point of me having to put him back in his stroller so i can walk around town.
if he doesnt get his own way or want to do what i want him to do i get the whole falling down on the floor and screaming bit.kicking, screaming the lot. i walk away a little bit an pretend to ignore him but keep my eye on him and he still doesnt move. ive only recently had the thumping himself bit over the past week or so. ive tried the calm appproach but it doesnt seem to do anything. the good thing is hes at a nursery that deals with special needs so i dont have to worry to much about him with others who arent “special needs”.
itsl ike hes going backwards in his development and i feel like weve got to start all over again.
can anyone recommend any good books on autism and makaton please?

April 16, 2009 at 6:31 am
(13) hippie says:

it would seem that your grand daughter would have sensory issues. when these tantrums start try holding her spinning her in circles, bouncing that sort of thing. I know it has helped me with my son

May 25, 2010 at 5:05 pm
(14) Step-Mom says:

I have a autistic step-son who has been showing aggression towards my 16 month old. I am appalled at some of these Parents who want the (Non) autistic child punished for their sibling hitting them. How can you rationalize a child being told that they are in the wrong because their brother hit them. If you let an Autistic child hit and dont punish them , then they will continue to do this. I have spanked my step-son and I treat him and my other children the same. For the record, I have the complete support of my Husband about the disciplining.

January 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm
(15) Sandy says:

I just ran across this page and hope it still works..I have a autistic son with very bad fits and brain damage from birth..Sometimes a smell, sound, just people talking and the TV will trigger a fit..We have to restrain his hands because he bites big chunks of skin out of his hands..The fits are extreamly violent!! Sometimes a change will trigger a fit..I painted his room a different color and hung up new drapes and it was bad for a few days til he got use to it..The Dr. has him on Risperidone 0.5 mg..I have to give him one almost every single day..We have to walk on egg shells a lot around here..He’s like a 6month old baby because of the brain damage..Soft music(nature sounds) will seem to help calm him..I took all dairy products from him and it seemed to help a touch..One of those beannie pillows heated will sooth them..I always put his under his feet or behind his back..I wish everyone good luck with your child..

May 22, 2011 at 3:19 am
(16) laura duque says:

im a mother of 4yr old who has autism. every single day he has those tantrums. i dont what to do no more. i tried everything i also have a 2yr old son who is not autistic and there is always fighting going around my house. my oldest who has autism. is constantly hurting himself and my lil one too. sometimes i just sit and cry. i feel worthless i dont have my familys support they think im the one the one that is wrong. for letting him get away with it. oplease help me how do i stop this fighting,biteing,
tantrums? he also hits himself on wall then he slams his head towards the walls it seems like he has no pain. its scary cuz my lil one those feel alot of pain when he hurts him. help me….

May 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm
(17) Kim says:

Hi Laura,

I felt the need to reach out to you when I read your post. I just wanted to let you know that your not alone. I have 3 little boys and my middle one has high functioning austism. My kids are constantly fighting because of a lot of misunderstandings. A lot of times I feel the same way as you, like I’m walking on egg shells all day everyday, and when there is a tantrum I panic cause it’s so hard to stop it. Your not worthless, you sound like a great mother trying the best she can. My Autistic son is 6 right now and he just started to get violent towards me when he gets mad… which scares me. I’m defenatly going to seek help for this problem because I feel that I’m in over my head… and the sooner I solve this the better it will be for him when he’s older! Good luck and best wishes to you and your family.


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