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Autism and Temper
Autism and Temper

Temperament and by extension, temper, is a complex thing to understand. There’s a lot to consider when taking stock of somebody’s temperament and how they might lose or maintain their temper. Besides the external environmental factors, people’s temperament is often partially determined by their genetics and neurodevelopmental history.

People on the autism spectrum for example, may experience symptoms that alter their temperament and their ability to control their emotions. In this post, we’ll discuss autism’s relationship to temperament and temper, especially in children on the spectrum.

The Social Component

Temperament and social behavior are very closely related. Some of autism’s most common symptoms tie directly into social behavior and communication. As children on the autism spectrum tend to struggle with socializing and may experience related anxiety, this can affect the way their temperament develops.

Children who struggle with socializing at a young age or during their more formative social encounters can grow to be much more reserved and quiet. It can also give off the impression that they are not in touch with the emotions of others. On the flipside, temperament is partially genetic, so some children will be more inclined to certain behaviors which can intersect with their autism symptoms.

Meltdowns and Tantrums

Many children on the autism spectrum experience symptoms akin to Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which can cause them to have severe reactions to certain sensory stimuli. Those symptoms, paired with the anxiety they may experience in social situations and elsewhere, can at times be the recipe for a meltdown or tantrum.

Meltdowns can come in the form of physical flailing, withdrawing from spaces and events where peers or family are present, yelling, crying, kicking and more. These behaviors can be seen as over the top or angry- which some perceive as a child losing their temper. This is especially true if they see the stimuli that caused the meltdown as something minor. 

In that sense, children on the spectrum are not any more or less likely to lose their temper by default. They can learn and be just as patient as their neurotypical peers. Instead, they may experience meltdowns as a form of coping with stimuli they deem unbearable, or to communicate their feelings, stress, or anxiety in that moment or environment. As such, the best way to influence your child’s temper is to be patient with them and work on their ability to identify the things that trigger them while reinforcing positive behavior.

Expressing Emotions Productively

When you’ve gotten a better grasp on your child’s temperament you can work with them to ensure they’re getting the support they need to express their emotions, thoughts and feelings in a productive way. It may be as simple as encouraging conversations about their thoughts and feelings with them on a daily basis. If that’s easier said than done, maybe using art, visual aids, music or sensory toys can help. Nurturing patience in your child can require a lot of time and effort, but as a supplement to treatments like ABA therapy, it can be incredibly effective in supporting the long term development of your child’s independence and mental health.

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January 31, 2020

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