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Managing Tantrums in Children with Autism

If you have a child with Autism, most likely, you have experienced tantrum behavior. Most children on the spectrum have difficulty communicating wants and needs; tantrum behavior is a form of communication. They are basically saying ” I don’t like this” or “I want ….”. Below are some ways to decrease the likelihood of a tantrum occurs.

Keep Track of Your Child’s Triggers

Keep track of what happens before and after your child has a tantrum. Do they have a tantrum when they are asked to do something they don’t like to do? Do they have a tantrum to gain access to a toy or an activity? Are transitions a problem? Are there sensory issues such as loud noises or bright lights? Is the child trying to get your attention? Knowing the triggers can help prevent and/or minimize the likelihood a tantrum occurring. Knowing triggers can also help teach children skills such as asking for a break when frustrated, asking for a weighted blanket, requesting food, taking deep breaths, and appropriately asking for attention.


Most kids on the spectrum like to have a routine throughout the day. A common trigger might be an unexpected schedule change in a common routine or a sudden interruption in an activity. One way to help with transitions is to create a visual schedule. Sit down with your child and create a schedule with them at the start of the day. If there is a schedule change, let your child know ahead of time. If there is a transition from a fun activity to a less favorable activity, give your child at least a 5-minute warning. Set a timer to help with the transition. Use a ” First….Then…” statement. For example: “First we will eat breakfast, then watch YouTube.”

Encourage Communication

As previously mentioned, children on the spectrum have difficulty communicating wants and needs. Set up opportunities for your child to communicate when they are calm such as asking for food, toys, play, attention, taking a break, etc… If your child practices communicating when they are calm, they are more likely to communicate wants and needs when frustrated. During a tantrum, remind your child to use their known system of communication.

Address Sensory Issues

Your child may have sensitivity to noise, bright lights, textures, and food. If you are aware of any sensory issues, plan a way to address them ahead of time. For example, if your child is sensitive to noise and you know that you will be somewhere loud, bring noise-canceling headphones with you. Remind your child ahead of time that they can request a break from the environment or wear noise-canceling headphones. If you are going to a restaurant and your child is sensitive to food textures, take a look at the menu ahead of time to assure the restaurant can accommodate or bring your child’s favorite food with you.

Social Stories

Social stories are learning tools for kids with autism that explain communication, socialization, safety skills, and coping skills. If you noticed that your child has a tantrum surrounding certain situations, that might appear confusing, a social story might help them understand what is happening. Social stories also help teach skills. This website has a collection of free social stories:

What to Do During a Tantrum

When your child has a tantrum, the best thing you can do is stay calm. Do not scream or show frustration. Have a calm and neutral face and a calm tone of voice. Make sure that you do not give your child access to rewarding items or attention. This will help your child understand that tantrum does not equal communicating wants and needs or gives them the attention that they crave. Remind your child of coping skills or/ and ways to communicate. For example, if your child needs a break prompt them to ” say break”, provide you a card that says break, or sign for a break. Remind them to take a deep breath or put their noise-canceling headphones on.

Implement planned ignoring: this means that you are ignoring the behavior and not your child. Do not talk to your child about the tantrum. Just remind them in a calm way what you are doing, what they are supposed to do, etc… Wait until your child calms down. Once your child is calm, praise them. For example, “thank you so much for calming down”. If your child made a mess, have them clean it up. If you were in the middle of a task, have your child finish at least a portion of it. Provide praise for cleaning up or finishing the task. Also, provide lots of praise for appropriate communication.

If your child has severe or/and frequent tantrum behaviors, seek help from Board Certified Behavior Analyst.