5 Simple ABA Strategies to Reduce Tantrums in Toddlers with Autism

challenging behavior parenting with aba May 28, 2024
The Behavior Place Tantrums

 Tantrums are a common challenge for parents of toddlers, especially for those with autism. These outbursts are often overwhelming and stressful for both you and your child. However, with the right strategies, you can help reduce your child's tantrums and create a more peaceful environment at home. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) offers effective techniques to address your child’s challenging behaviors. 

Here are five simple ABA strategies to help you tackle tantrums.

Identify Triggers 

The first step in addressing tantrums is to identify what triggers them. Keep a journal or use an ABC data sheet to track when tantrums occur, what happened right before, and what happened right after your child’s challenging behavior. Common triggers for toddlers with autism may include changes in routine, sensory overload, or difficulty communicating needs. Once you identify the triggers, you can work on preventing them.

Trouble Spot 1

You notice that tantrums often occur when it's time to transition from playtime to mealtime. This transition may be challenging for your child because they’re shifting from a highly preferred activity (playtime) to a less preferred activity (mealtime).

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Create a structured transition routine with clear signals to help your child anticipate upcoming changes. Use a visual timer or countdown to indicate when playtime will end and mealtime will begin.

Trouble Spot 2

Loud noises, such as vacuuming or loud music, consistently lead to tantrums. Your child may be sensitive to auditory stimuli, triggering a tantrum.

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Avoid vacuuming or playing loud music when your child is home. If the loud noises are out of your control, provide tools such as noise-reducing headphones and create a safe space for your child where they can retreat when loud noises occur, such as a designated quiet area with soft lighting and comforting items like a weighted blanket or favorite toys.

Use Visual Supports

Visual supports, such as visual schedules or picture cards, can help toddlers with autism understand what is expected of them and what will happen next. Create a visual schedule for daily routines, including mealtime, playtime, and bedtime. Use pictures or symbols to represent each activity, and review the schedule with your child throughout the day. This can provide a sense of predictability and reduce anxiety, leading to fewer tantrums.

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Create a visual schedule using pictures or symbols to outline the steps of your morning routine, including brushing teeth, getting dressed, and eating breakfast.

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Use a visual timer to help your child understand when it's time to clean up toys and transition to the next activity. Set the timer for a specific duration and visually represent the passage of time.

Implement Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in ABA for encouraging desired behaviors. When your child exhibits appropriate behavior or follows instructions, praise them enthusiastically and offer rewards, such as stickers or special privileges. Make sure the reinforcement is immediate and meaningful to your child. Over time, they will be more motivated to engage in positive behaviors, leading to fewer tantrums.

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Praise and reward your child with a favorite snack or extra playtime when they share a toy with a sibling or friend without becoming upset.

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Offer verbal praise and a high-five when your child successfully completes a task, such as putting away their shoes after returning home.

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Pair verbal praise with physical affection, such as a hug or a pat on the back, to enhance the effectiveness of positive reinforcement. Tailor the reward to your child's preferences to maximize motivation.

Teach Alternative Communication

Tantrums often occur when children with autism have difficulty expressing their needs or frustrations in a way that others can understand. Teach your child alternative communication methods, such as using gestures, sign language, or an AAC device, or picture exchange systems. Model and encourage them to use these communication strategies when they are upset or want something. By giving them alternative ways to communicate, you can reduce frustration and tantrums.

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Teach your child to use simple but meaningful words, such as "no," “help,” or "open," to express their needs instead of resorting to a tantrum. Remember to immediately honor those requests. Practice this communication consistently in various contexts to help your child generalize its use. Depending on what mode of communication (gesture/sign/AAC or PECS) works best for your child, model it frequently and reinforce each attempt your child makes.

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If you don’t have support from a professional to teach you or your child to use an AAC device, introduce a simple picture exchange system (PECS). It can be something simple, such as a small choice board. This will provide your child with a tool to select a picture representing their commonly desired activities or items, such as playing with bubbles or having a snack. Remember to immediately honor those requests. As your child becomes more proficient, you can gradually expand the PECS system.

Practice Patience and Consistency

Finally, be patient with your child and yourself as you work on reducing tantrums. Changing behavior takes time, so don't expect instant results. Stay consistent with your ABA strategies and routines, even when progress seems slow. Celebrate small victories along the way and remember that every effort you make is helping your child learn and grow.

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Stay calm and patient when your child becomes upset, providing reassurance and guidance as they learn to manage their emotions.

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Establish consistent routines and expectations to create a sense of predictability for your child. Consistency helps reduce anxiety and minimize tantrums over time. Communicate any changes to the routine in advance to minimize surprises and potential triggers.

With the right ABA strategies, you can help reduce the frequency and intensity of your child’s tantrums. Identify triggers, use visual supports, implement positive reinforcement, teach alternative communication, and practice patience and consistency. By working together with your child, you can create a calmer and happier home environment for everyone.



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