Loving Your Child through Their Special Needs Tantrums (2023)

(Made in Canva)

Individuals with special needs can sometimes be susceptible to behavioral outbursts. Facing a string of tantrums can grow tedious for parents of special needs children like you. Regardless of the tantrum’s cause, it’s important to keep a cool head and learn how to calm your child down under difficult circumstances.

Understand and validate your child’s feelings in order to better comprehend the trigger to their meltdowns and discover ways to soothe them. It’s also important to know the difference between a tantrum and a sensory meltdown, as the two require different preventive strategies and solutions. Differences between a tantrum and sensory meltdown include:

  • tantrums reflect bad behavior while sensory meltdowns are neurological
  • tantrums are thrown for attention
  • tantrums stop when you give in
  • sensory meltdowns might hurt your child
  • You can learn more about the difference between the two here.

When it comes to behavioral outbursts with special needs kids, every child behaves differently. However, theseare some common triggers that lead to meltdowns, ways to prevent meltdowns and what to do in case a meltdown does occur.

Ineffective communication

Depending on ability level, children with disabilities can have difficulty communicating their wants and needs. They try to express their emotions but children get frustrated and may throw tantrums when they’re not understood.

Your child’s ability to communicate may also affect the frequency and extremity of their tantrums. The more frustrated your child gets, the more frequent and intense the tantrums could become. In these situations, it’s important to remain calm and do your best to help manage your child’s emotions.

Patience is key.

(Video) Parenting A Special Needs Child In Puberty || Meltdown || Aggression

Over (and under) stimulation

Children with special needs often find it difficult to cope with crowds and interact with strangers. Interacting with other children, partaking in therapy sessions and too much playtime can be exhausting and uncomfortable.

Too much stimulation can potentially lead to a meltdown. At the same time, if your child is under-stimulated or not mentally or physically occupied, this could also trigger an outburst.

New environments

Generally, people are more comfortable in environments they are familiar with. Likewise, new environments can put your special needs child on edge and on guard.

Meeting new people triggers this uneasiness. Activities like visiting a stranger’s house can lead to frustrations that trigger outbursts.


Children tend to run on their own agendas, marching to the beat of their own drums. Being asked to perform different activities like getting dressed or going to bed can throw off that beat. This leads to frustration, which triggers meltdowns. The same frustrations arise when kids are stopped from doing certain activities, like playing with their toys or coloring.

Car rides

Car rides can be long and boring, especially for children with special needs and with short attention spans. If your child isn’t mentally or physically stimulated during these rides, they can grow uncomfortable, making them more susceptible to meltdowns.

Meltdowns can worsen if a child is traveling on public transportation as crowds, waiting periods and longer travel times can decrease comfort substantially.

Maintain a visual planner

Visual planners show children how their day is going to look and what tasks they’ll need to complete. Planners are helpful in giving your child a head’s up on how much time they have left for completing certain activities. They tell them when they have to move on to the next task.

Planners also mentally prepare your child to leave or end their activities beforehand. This helps prepare children for their day, decreasing the chances of a meltdown in the long run while setting a routine for your child to follow.


However, it’s helpful to alternate between non-preferred and preferred activities so your child has something to look forward to after each activity. Try to make sure to leave plenty of time for difficult transitions as well.

Keep your child distracted

When your child begins to show signs for a potential tantrum, your first reaction should be to distract them. Distraction can be achieved by blowing bubbles, telling a story, singing a song or playing a game to keep the child’s mind off of whatever trigger may be distressing them at the moment.

This strategy can prove especially helpful during waiting periods as well, such as when you and your child are waiting at the doctor’s clinic or for your bus to arrive.

Give your child options

By giving your child options, you help stimulate a form of control over their life and encourage them to ask for what they want. Options also help you learn more about your child’s wants and needs, preparing you to know what your child’s needs may be in the future.

Have a comfort object

Children usually have an object that soothes them, a particular object that stands out from the rest. It might be helpful to allow your child to bring a comfort object with them while going to therapy sessions, doctor appointments or when they are out running errands with you.

Have an end of activity signal

Besides giving your child constant reminders of how much time they have left before they have to move on to a different activity, you can also perform the same actions every time an activity ends.

For example, you could sing the “Cleanup Song” with your child before cleaning up or turn off the lights when it is time to go. You can also assign your child a certain job, like pulling the curtains, to help make the transition easier.

Take a sensory break

Sometimes kids have a lot of energy just bottled up inside them or they may grow frustrated from doing a single activity for a long period of time. To avoid frustration and meltdowns, you can leave some jump ropes or a mini trampoline in the corner of a room. This way, your kid can take a break from time to time and release some of that bottled up energy.

Encourage good behaviors

Appreciation goes a long way, especially with children with special needs. If your child is acting out, it can help to ignore bad behaviors while being sure to always appreciate good ones. This way, your child will be encouraged to continue to act in a way that ensures they’ll receive attention and appreciation.

(Video) Supporting children with special needs through Sensory Meltdowns and Tantrums

Start when your child is young

From an early age, you can start teaching your child simple self-soothing techniques, such as:

  • Deep breathing
  • Stretching
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Imagining pleasant places or activities

These techniques can help them later on, especially if you’re not around when the tantrum occurs. It also helps toteach your child “feeling vocabulary” so they can learn to better express themselves. They’ll also learn how to express their emotions constructively by pursuing different activities, like painting.

Keep yourself organized

It’s important to remain calm and level-headed in case your child experiences a meltdown. Keep different techniques and ideas in mind to prepare yourself for different situations. Remember to relax, it will take time before you realize what works best for your child and once you do, remember to always be consistent.

Ask what’s wrong

If your child is verbal, it’s helpful to ask what’s bothering them. This way, you’ll know the root of the problem and be able to solve it. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as turning off the television to create a sense of quiet and overcome sensory overload.

If a child is nonverbal, try asking them yes or no questions that they can answer by pointing their thumbs up or down.

Know the need of the moment

It’s important to understand that every child is different. They’re soothed through different methods. If you can solve the root of the problem by asking your child what’s bothering them, try to solve the problem as quickly as you can.

However, if your child is unable to express what the problem is, begin to soothe your child in a way that suits them. They may require rocking and to be given attention. They may prefer to lie down and be left alone.

Remember, calming down takes time. It may take a lot of trial and error to figure how your child prefers to do so.

Secure a safe space

Create a room or a space where your child feels comfortable. Make it a place where they can calm down whenever they’re having a meltdown. Make sure the space has a calming environment with as few items around as possible.

(Video) How to Handle an Autism Tantrum | Autism

It may also be helpful to keep a comfort object here to further stimulate a feeling of calm. However, be sure to take the comfort object around with you in case your child is away from the safe space.

Remove potentially dangerous objects

During a meltdown, your child may be prone to flailing or thrashing. This may cause them to tip over objects like vases or candle stands that may potentially hurt them. By removing these objects right before or during a meltdown, you can avoid injuries to your child and yourself.

Relax sensory overloads

If your child has been exposed to a loud, rowdy or even too bright environment, they can experience sensory overloads, which can lead to meltdowns. It can help to reduce noise as best as you can by turning off the television or radio. You can also try turning off the lights. If possible, ask people around you to leave so your child can calm down or take your child to their safe space or a quieter, calmer area.

Encourage self-soothing

If your child has a self-soothing technique, like singing a song, taking deep breaths or counting backwards, encourage them to do so. Encourageappropriate stimming, which is prevalent in autistic individuals when they use a series of repetitive movements as a calming mechanism.

However, if your child turns to hurting themselves, try to distract them from doing so instead of restraining them if you can as restraining may lead to more harm.

Offer a massage

If your child is comfortable with the idea, massage therapy can work to encourage relaxation. Be sure to be gentle, softly squeezing their temples and rubbing their back. Make sure your child is in a comfortable position and make sure to apply as much pressure as your child prefers. Depending on your child and their comfort level, they may prefer softer or firmer touches.

Calming your child down after a meltdown can be difficult. It will take time before you discover what works best for your child. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are communities ready to help you and your child grow and develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially.

If you're in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and you have a child with special needs, Achievement Center of Texas is perfect for you. We have a licensed day care facility on site where you child can interact with other children their own age, play games, learn lesson and do helping arts and crafts.

Click the button below to find out more about our day care program and start the application process.

(Video) Raising A Child w/Special Needs - Tantrums vs Meltdowns


How do you deal with an autistic temper tantrum? ›

Strategies to consider include distraction, diversion, helping the person use calming strategies such as fiddle toys or listening to music, removing any potential triggers, and staying calm yourself.

How do you discipline a child with special needs? ›

Here are some strategies to help parents discipline a child who has special needs.
  1. Be Consistent. ...
  2. Learn About Your Child's Condition. ...
  3. Defining Expectations. ...
  4. Use Rewards and Consequences. ...
  5. Use Clear and Simple Messages. ...
  6. Offer Praise. ...
  7. Establish a Routine. ...
  8. Believe in Your Child.

What parents should not say to special needs? ›

15 Things Not to Say to the Parent of a Child with Special Needs
  • I'm sorry.
  • Parenting your son must be so hard, I can't imagine how you do it.
  • You're really amazing to take care of a child with special needs.
  • It's too bad you had to put your life on hold.
  • Have you tried a cure?
  • This is just temporary, right?
4 Jan 2016

What should you not say during a tantrum? ›

  • DON'T invalidate your toddler's perspective or emotions. ...
  • DON'T tell your child how to feel. ...
  • DON'T lie to your child to head off a tantrum. ...
  • DON'T say that your child's behavior is making you sad. ...
  • DON'T take tantrums — and the things your child says before or during them — personally. ...
  • DON'T use sarcasm.
8 Feb 2022

What is a replacement behavior for tantrums? ›

Replacement Behavior: Verbalize feelings, concerns, and thoughts rather than acting them out, comply with adult directives, engage in problem solving, and coping skills.

How do you stop autism rage? ›

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is an effective treatment that can help reduce and prevent aggressive behaviors in high-functioning autistic children. This type of therapy can help your child learn a range of anger management skills, for example: Learning how to avoid negative responses or behaviors.

Do autism tantrums get better with age? ›

One key finding was that children's symptom severity can change with age. In fact, children can improve and get better. "We found that nearly 30% of young children have less severe autism symptoms at age 6 than they did at age 3.

How long do autism tantrums last? ›

Meltdowns can last from minutes to hours. Meltdowns are not your child's way of manipulating you: Meltdowns are emotional explosions. Your child is overloaded and is incapable of rational thinking.

How would you deal with a difficult special needs child? ›

Discipline Strategies for Special Needs Children:
  1. Praise good behaviors, ignore bad behaviors (if possible). ...
  2. If possible, determine the underlying cause for the behaviors and address it. ...
  3. Avoid punishments. ...
  4. Model appropriate behaviors yourself. ...
  5. Give countdowns. ...
  6. If you're having trouble, give choices.
16 Dec 2013

How do you calm down a disabled child? ›

Emotional regulation can be hard, so our Occupational Therapist, Manny, has put together five simple strategies for soothing disabled children.
  1. Listen to calming music. ...
  2. Use sensory toys. ...
  3. Read a book together. ...
  4. Set aside regular time for high energy activities. ...
  5. Create a 'calming space' in your house.

What is the important role of a parents in handling a child with special needs? ›

Parents are the one constant in a disabled child's life. Parents can set an example and promote positive attitudes for their disabled child regarding school and the need for an education. They can advocate for the continuity of services for their child between school and adult services.

Do special needs kids know they are special needs? ›

Kids who have emotional problems sometimes like to deny their condition, just because of what it connotes. Of course, kids with physical disabilities, know they are special needs. Many kids with ADD/ ADHD don't think it is a special needs situation, but it is. Some do, and some don't.

How do you calm someone down with special needs? ›

Here are five ways to do that:
  1. Do some yoga. Yoga compels people to control their breathing and focus on their movements, allowing the activity to reduce stress and lower one's heart rate. ...
  2. Try some heavy work. ...
  3. Play slow, soft music. ...
  4. Turn off the lights. ...
  5. Give them a hug.

Why you shouldn't use special needs? ›

Saying “special needs” when you mean “disability” denigrates part of a person's identity, which can be particularly damaging for children. Many children with disabilities struggle with low self-esteem because they know their families are grieving that they are not “normal,” and their peers may avoid or even bully them.

Should I hug my child during a tantrum? ›

Hugs are good for a child's emotional health. Nothing can calm a tantrum-throwing toddler faster than a great big hug from the parent. Many parents worry that hugging a tantrum-throwing child is rewarding bad behavior with attention. But it is not.

Is it best to ignore a tantrum? ›

Ignoring is usually most effective for behaviors like whining, crying when nothing is physically wrong or hurting, and tantrums. These misbehaviors are often done for attention. If parents, friends, family, or other caregivers consistently ignore these behaviors, they will eventually stop.

What are autistic tantrums called? ›

An autism meltdown is a common occurrence for autistic folks with autism due to sensitivity to sensory input. While meltdowns are more common among younger autistic individuals, they're not the same as a childhood tantrum. Unlike tantrums, meltdowns aren't connected to a goal and may occur at any age.

What is the difference between a tantrum and autistic meltdown? ›

Tantrums may happen in any situation if the child is tired or hungry or bored, but at any situation there is goal for the tantrum! An autistic meltdown, however, is not related to a specific goal but rather caused by too much overload. It shows that the child is not able to handle the situation.

What are autistic tantrums? ›

Meltdowns are similar to the fight response. When an autistic person is having a meltdown they often have increased levels of anxiety and distress which are often interpreted as frustration, a 'tantrum' or an aggressive panic attack.

Why are people with autism so angry? ›

The Connection Between Anger & Autism In Children & Adults

Actions that are taken as tantrums or angry expressions could be them attempting to get others to understand them. Such incidents may also be linked to stress, worry, and anxiety. Autistic people have personalities that are sometimes described as addictive.

What triggers autism meltdowns? ›

An autistic meltdown is usually caused by a sense of overload. Your child will have no control over their reaction.
Every child is different, but some common triggers include:
  • Sensory overload or understimulation. ...
  • Changes in routine or dealing with an unexpected change. ...
  • Anxiety or anxious feelings.

Why do autistic children get so angry? ›

Some autistic people can experience difficulties making themselves understood, understanding what's being said to them, and understanding facial expressions and body language. This can cause considerable frustration and anxiety which may result in anger or distressed behaviour.

Does autism come from the mother or father? ›

The team found that mothers passed only half of their structural variants on to their autistic children—a frequency that would be expected by chance alone—suggesting that variants inherited from mothers were not associated with autism. But surprisingly, fathers did pass on substantially more than 50% of their variants.

What age does autism affect the most? ›

ASD begins before the age of 3 years and can last throughout a person's life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children show ASD symptoms within the first 12 months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until 24 months of age or later.

What should you avoid if your child has autism? ›

If you or a loved one has ASD, paying close attention to the foods being consumed is particularly important. For our patients with autism, we often recommend an elimination diet—eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, and other categories of potentially allergenic foods for one month.

What does an autism meltdown look like? ›

Rumblings might start with a verbal plea to "go now" or visually obvious signs of distress such as hands over the ears. Meltdowns may involve intense stimming: Rumblings may include or progress to "stims" (self-stimulatory behaviors such as rocking, pacing, or finger flicking) or other signs of anxiety.

What is a shutdown autism? ›

Shutdown. During shutdown, a person may either partially or completely withdraw from the world around them. They may not respond to communication anymore, retreat to their room or lie down on the floor.

How do you calm an autistic child during a meltdown? ›

During a meltdown: what to do
  1. Guide your child to a safe place, if possible.
  2. Give your child space, don't touch them, and keep other people away.
  3. Turn down lights and keep things quiet, or give your child noise-cancelling headphones.
  4. Let one person speak to your child, but don't say too much.
  5. Stay calm and wait.
28 Apr 2022

Why are special needs kids aggressive? ›

Children with Developmental Disabilities

However, some children may feel a lot of frustration related to their developmental disability. This frustration is sometimes shown through aggression or even self-harming behaviors, such as banging their head or cutting their skin.

What do children with special needs struggle with? ›

A child has special educational needs if they have a learning problem or disability that make it more difficult for them to learn than most children their age. They may have problems with schoolwork, communication or behaviour. Parents can get help and advice from specialists, teachers and voluntary organisations.

What is the most important thing while dealing with children with special needs? ›

Give proper support

Your special kid and child always need your support. You should always make them happy by giving support in every situation. Proper support helps a lot to treat their disabilities. You have to encourage their talent and cheer them when they do some activities like sports.

How does having a disabled child affect parents? ›

It may be associated with guilt, blame, or reduced self-esteem. It may divert attention from other aspects of family functioning. The out-of-pocket costs of medical care and other services may be enormous.

What are the different emotions experienced by the parents of a special child? ›

Parent may experience uncontrollable tears, sadness, and feelings of hopelessness. Parent may feel he or she is somehow to blame for the disability or the situation. Parent may act out his or her anger or direct it toward another person. (Adapted from Childhood Disability: A Parent's Struggle, by K.

What are children with special needs are no longer called? ›

The National Center on Disability and Journalism recommends never using it: "Our advice: avoid the term 'special needs. ' Disabled is acceptable in most contexts, but we advise asking the person to whom you're referring what they prefer."

What are the 4 major types of special needs children? ›

The four major types of disabilities include physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional, and sensory impaired disorders. While many disabilities fall under one of these four umbrellas, many can fall under two or more.

What causes a child to be special needs? ›

These factors include genetics; parental health and behaviors (such as smoking and drinking) during pregnancy; complications during birth; infections the mother might have during pregnancy or the baby might have very early in life; and exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins, such as lead ...

How do you respect people with special needs? ›

When you greet someone with a disability, greet them the same way you would anyone else. Speak to the person the way you would like to be spoken to. Talk directly to the person, not their caregiver or assistant. Be respectful.

How do you calm an overstimulated autistic person? ›

Autism: Managing Over-stimulation and Stress
  1. Remember the rule of one. Use the rule of one when a child is deeply stressed, anxious or in the middle of a meltdown. ...
  2. Deep Breathing. ...
  3. Isometric Exercise. ...
  4. Deep Pressure. ...
  5. Massage. ...
  6. Provide a Box of Tactile Items. ...
  7. Create a Calming Area. ...
  8. Communication.
8 Apr 2020

How do you discipline a child with intellectual disability? ›

Here are some strategies to help parents discipline a child who has special needs.
  1. Be Consistent. ...
  2. Learn About Your Child's Condition. ...
  3. Defining Expectations. ...
  4. Use Rewards and Consequences. ...
  5. Use Clear and Simple Messages. ...
  6. Offer Praise. ...
  7. Establish a Routine. ...
  8. Believe in Your Child.

Do children with special needs have low self-esteem? ›

Low self-esteem is associated with children with learning disabilities due to academic challenges, labeled as slow learners and experience rejection from their peers.

What do you call people with special needs? ›

Disabled person/person with a disability. The handicapped. This is a stigmatising term. Disabled person, person with a disability.

How do you deal with a stubborn child with special needs? ›

Discipline Strategies for Special Needs Children:
  1. Praise good behaviors, ignore bad behaviors (if possible). ...
  2. If possible, determine the underlying cause for the behaviors and address it. ...
  3. Avoid punishments. ...
  4. Model appropriate behaviors yourself. ...
  5. Give countdowns. ...
  6. If you're having trouble, give choices.
16 Dec 2013

What is the most effective way to handle a tantrum? ›

Typically, the best way to respond to a tantrum is to stay calm. If you respond with loud, angry outbursts, your child might imitate your behavior. Shouting at a child to calm down is also likely to make things worse. Instead, try to distract your child.

How would you handle a child who throws tantrums in your classroom? ›

Take a look at these tactics:
  • Talk about emotions. The most important thing to do is talk with kids about tantrums and emotions. ...
  • Know your students. ...
  • Pay attention. ...
  • Master the art of distraction. ...
  • Keep everyone safe. ...
  • Keep your cool. ...
  • Provide a calm space. ...
  • Talk through it.

Do autism meltdowns improve with age? ›

One key finding was that children's symptom severity can change with age. In fact, children can improve and get better. "We found that nearly 30% of young children have less severe autism symptoms at age 6 than they did at age 3.

What does an autism tantrum look like? ›

Two types of reaction are typical of autism meltdowns – an explosive reaction or a withdrawal. Explosive reactions may involve screaming, shouting, aggressive behaviour or crying. On the other hand, less explosive reactions may include refusing to communicate or interact, withdrawing themselves or shutting down.

What do you do with an angry autistic child? ›

Autism and anger management - a guide for parents and carers
  • Communicate clearly. ...
  • Provide structure. ...
  • Help to identify emotions. ...
  • Offer a safe space or 'time out' ...
  • Offer an alternative. ...
  • Find out if the person is being bullied. ...
  • Useful resources.
14 Aug 2020

At what age do tantrums stop? ›

Tantrums usually begin in children 12 to 18 months old. They get worse between age 2 to 3, then decrease until age 4. After age 4, they rarely occur. Being tired, hungry, or sick, can make tantrums worse or more frequent.

How do psychologist deal with tantrums? ›

The best way to deal with a tantrum is to quickly determine what the protest is about, and put it into words. For instance, if your 18-month-old is screaming because you refused to give him a muffin, tell him, “I can see that you really want that muffin.” Once you verbalize his desire he has less of a need to protest.


1. How to Discipline a Child with Autism
(Cutting Edge Pediatric Therapy)
2. Pageant Mums Fight After Special Needs Contestant Is Interrupted On Stage | Toddlers & Tiaras
(tlc uk)
3. Parents of Children with Special Needs Have Needs, Too | Debra Vines | TEDxOakParkSalon
(TEDx Talks)
4. HOW TO STOP TANTRUMS FOREVER! (3 Easy Steps) | Dr. Paul
(paulthomasmd - Dr. Paul)
5. Mom Yelling At My Special Needs Sister
6. How to Stop Crying in Children with Autism
(Mary Barbera - Turn Autism Around)
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