Violent Temper Tantrums In Children With Autism

Emma - posted on 05/17/2012 ( 5 moms have responded )




My 4 year old son has autism and is practically non verbal, he repeats random words that he hears but can not communicate with others verbally. My son has always had a temper on him and has always been very quick off the mark to have a tantrum and a lot of the time i did put it down to his autism and frustration of not being able to communicate. Unfortunately we are noticing his tantrums/meltdowns are becoming more frequent, louder, longer and violent, lasting anything from a few minutes to a few hours and happening 2 or 3 times a day. he can literally go from calm to a complete meltdown like the flick of a switch. He will scream and scream and scream, throw things, break things, if you try to stop him doing something when hes having a tantrum, by holding him, hugging him etc he will literally hit and kick you till you are black and blue and on a few occasions has bitten me till hes broken the skin. The thing is to i know exactly what causes these tantrums/meltdowns and its as simple as not getting his own way. Now i know in that respect hes just like any other child, the difference is you can reason with an average child. You cannot reason with my son, mostly because he just does not understand what your saying to him. nothing seems to calm him down other than giving him what he wants, but autistic or not i cannot CONSTANTLY give into him. Whats also scary is that now at the age of 4years old my son can nearly over-power me, his strength for his age is unbelievable, especially when he gets himself worked up, hes like this now to me and his dad, whats he going to be like in 10 years time when hes 14. I am literally at my wits end of what i can do to try and curb these violent temper tantrums and to try and reduce them as they are happening far to often, i cant think what my neighbors must think of us with all this constant screaming? has anyone else been in a similar situation? how did you cope with it all and what did you do to try and reduce the number of tantrums or to stop the violence. any comments welcome. thankyou


Janet - posted on 05/17/2012




Hi Emma,

I can completely relate - I was where you are 3 years ago - my oldest was "the diva" who needed everything a certain way, needed her own way, and was unable to really communicate except for repeating things. She used to bite, kick and thrash, throw things etc and had injured me on more than one occasion.

Is your son currently participating in any behaviour therapies? After my daughter started ABA, she was able to tolerate situations BUT I would really not have gotten any better for us at home unless I learned what to do myself.

We did a series of steps that helped us in dealing with, and helping, my daughter. The first was charting out her tantrums - when she had one, we recorded what was happening just before, what was happening during and what happened just after the meltdown. Once we did that, sometimes you can see a pattern to the behaviours. Without doing this, I wouldn't have figured out that my daughter would spill things all over herself when she wanted a bath, that something in Jazz music drove them crazy, and that when they're upset, music calms one, and agitates the other one. (I have two little girls with ASD)

We learned there are 4 reasons why any child has a behaviour, and I remember this by using the word SEAT.
SENSORY: Something is bothering, or calming one of their senses. My girls have difficulties with lights and sound. Some lights or sound calm them, and others cause them distress.
ESCAPE: They don't want to do what you've asked them to do.
ATTENTION: They want some.
TANGIBLE: They want something from you.

Once you figure out the reasons for the upset, you can have a plan of action - either avoiding a situation, planning for the issue or helping your child learn to tolerate things.

If its sensory, you can avoid or add things as needed. Lots of people use headsets, chew things, sunglasses etc. depending on what their child needs.

If its Escape, you basically have to follow through with the task, even if they don't want to do it. (This one can be hard to tell, but basically if they're freaking out, or "playing" instead of doing what you asked - putting their jacket on, getting in the car etc) you can usually figure that the reason is escape.

If it is attention, its basically that they want some from you - and you can't give it if they're trying to get in an inappropriate way. For instance, my daughter used to bite me when she wanted my attention - so yes, once I ignored it (and that was hard to do let me tell you), she actually stopped biting me.

If the reason is tangible, it means that they're doing something because you'll give them something, or do something for them - and that is tricky because you need to change the behaviour to get them to ask for the item appropriately instead of acting out to get it.

Once kids learn something that will get them what they want in the easiest possible way, they'll continue doing that until it no longer works for them.

I know, this is long and likely overwhelming.... I have more information on this type of action here:

Feel free to message me or reply with any questions or... anything! I can talk a lot LOL!

Julie - posted on 05/21/2012




well first of all, an autistic having temper tantrums is not like any other child at least (part of the time)... my son is 11yrs. old been severely autistic since age 2; same reactions as your son. With Erik he would often have melt downs due to literally not being able to understand some thing. It is a very hard time.... we survived it by using the bear hug restraint (this is a safe restraint which I learned to use while employed as a worker with autistic adults). Basically you sit with him between your legs his straight out in front you cross your legs over his and then bear hug him.Then as he struggles/resists you calmly tell him when you are quiet I will let you up;over and over until he decides to calm down. As far as anything the neighbors might think; I pre-explained to as many as possible (the ones I knew well) that we were having a difficult time with Erik due to the autism with screaming fits etc... otherwise printing "business cards" like so:

My name is Erik I'm an 11 yr.old with low functioning autism.... autism is a communication, social, developmental, & sensory disorder. This makes many situations difficult for me often causing me to react by screaming; fidgiting, etc.... please be understanding because simple things can be very hard for me. Any questions please feel free to contact

for more info.

As he's non-verbal teaching him sign language to help him express himself when he can'tfind words or buy an "electronic thesaurus/word calculator" once he spells to help with communication.... my son Erik has been speaking since he was 7 (although still 65% non-verbal) and he still uses one at school mainly to help with communication/classwork.

Also don't be afraid to try meds; any ped. should be able to help you or direct you to someone who son is on 5 meds and monitored regularly and has never had a problem,and they do help sounds like your son could benefit from them. Good luck; Julie D.Charles City, IA

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Helen - posted on 05/27/2012




I know exactly what you are talking about, my bueatiful 10 year old has a hair trigger to. Like your son he was almost completely non verbal at four but is now able to speak. Unfortunately it doesn't make it any easier - he now swears along with it! We put him straight into a low stimulation environment when he melts down, he finds a blanket over his head very soothing. Do you have a safe place where you can put him? We are also investigating pyrrole disorder at a doctor friends suggestion as it could be linked to a defieciency in zinc and B6. There is no easy answer I'm afraid. Massage helps to and we have a two minute massage that we can do when we suspect a meltdown is coming. I hope this helps

Janet - posted on 05/17/2012




I understand your frustration! My kids used to be (and sometimes still get that way if we're not right on top of it). There are a lot of things that you could try, but start with one and stick with it for at least two week to see if it is taking effect. With my kids, the first thing they had to learn was "First this, then that" - Basically its "First, you do what I want you to do, and then you can have that thing/activity that you want". Now that my kids know this, I use this method to have them do a plethora of things they don't like to do, from brushing their teeth or hair, going out in public with me or sitting still in a chair.
"First, then" is really important, but can be really difficult to teach. You may want to start out with something he enjoys doing, or eating or whatever. It needs to be very simple and easily completed like "First, touch nose, then watch darts". Its important to not let him fail, so if he won't touch his nose at first, take his hand and touch his nose, then praise him A HUGE FREAKIN' LOT and then let him watch darts. Continue this until he does it on his own. You can start out by touching his nose with his hand for him, then showing him by doing it to yourself, then waiting for him to start (if he doesn't for three seconds, then do it for him), and continue on until he does it himself.Once he understands First/then, some things will be a lot easier.

You may also want to look into creating him a visual schedule, so that he knows what to expect. Go over this with him every day, giving him opportunities to watch darts many times throughout the day. Once he gets used to this, you can even change the schedule around or reduce the number of times a day you have darts, as long as he sees the schedule the disruptions may not be as great.

I know I've laid a lot on you - and if you don't have a professional ABA advisor, you may consider looking into one if you find that this technique is remotely effective. A word of caution though, it will definitely get worse before it gets better. Stick with it for at least two weeks, and be diligent. It can be very difficult, but the payoffs are amazing.

Emma - posted on 05/17/2012




Hi Janet,

Thankyou very much for your reply it was very helpful and informative. From the SEAT you mentioned my son is definatly Tangible. One of the main causes of his meltdowns are actually caused by one of his obsessions. He is obsessed with watching darts on television and will demand it from the moment he opens his eyes till the moment he goes to sleep. i can hear him from his bedroom in the morning before i get him up already demanding the darts. its so frustrating. He calls it "pen" and will just scream "pen on" all day. ive tried so many different ways to limit the amount of time he watches darts by using picture charts, sand timers, rewards, but none of it works. if you dont put the tv on he screams and screams and hits, if you do put the tv on but not what he wants he does exactly the same, then once you do put it on for him he will sit there for a few mins then demand another episode again by screaming pen on. we have Sky+ so we have a few different matches recorded. if he would actually sit there and watch it i probably wouldnt mind so much but its the fact literally every 2 mins he wants the episode changing and again will just scream at me. My son definatly cannot handle being told no so once i explain tele finished or darts gone he erupts into one of his meltdowns again. Its getting worse in the way that he only used to do it at home, but now if he goes anywhere and spots a television he will just go mental and scream for pen on, its actually gotten to the point where if we go out i have to take my laptop with me to put darts on to prevent him making a scene...again!!! its hard because my son will initially ask for "pen on" calmly but then as soon as you say no or try to explain not yet darts later thats when the problems start. im desperate for a way to try and limit the amount of darts he watches and demands and a way to reign in these awful meltdowns. thanks again janet for your comment and i will definatly check out the link u gave me :)

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