Tantrums and sensory issues

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit many behaviors. Their family, teachers, and other supports find it challenging to manage these kids. Behaviors are triggered by an event and then strengthened or weekend by other people’s reactions.

Autism often limits someone’s ability to speak or communicate in other ways, causing frustration. So it’s assumed by families and professionals alike that speech problems fuel the challenging behaviors often found in autism such as hitting self or others, tantrums, throwing objects, running, stamping screaming or being disruptive, hand flapping, rocking body, moving objects (opening and closing doors), fidgeting fingers, biting, pinching, rolling on floor, hugging.

It is very important to rule out whether is a sensory or is it behaviour?

For children who are having sensory processing problems their brains are wired much differently than the average person. Sensory information is hitting their little brain and they don’t know how to process information correctly. It is often misinterpreted. This put their body into a huge amount of stress. When your body is under stress it put you into a very primal response of fight or flight. Example: flight would be realizing someone is following you and you running for your life. Fight is like mother who suddenly have strength in order to save a child from a dangerous situations.

For a child who is not processing the incoming sensory information correctly, their body could be in a state of constant, fight or flight mode. When their body is telling them that this situation is not safe they either need to “flight or fight.” They are going to react to the behaviour. Here is some of the behaviour shown by autism kids. This can either be a sensory processing problem.

  • Running: proprioceptive as well as vestibular issues.
  • Rocking body: vestibular issue
  • Self-hitting: proprioceptive issues.
  • Hugging: tactile as well as proprioceptive issues.
  • Hand flapping : proprioceptive issues.
  • Opening& closing door: auditory as well as visual issues.
  • Fidgeting fingers: visual issues
  • Biting & pinching: tactile issues.
  • Rolling on floor: proprioceptive as well as tactile issues.
  • Screaming: auditory issues.


  • Goal oriented: a scene is made so person making it can get what they want.
  • Watches for reactions: depending on the reactions of whoever’s in charge. Intensity or nature of tantrums may change.
  • Will avoid getting hurt: Individual is careful to avoid injury.
  • End quickly: when goal is achieved, or individual gets tired of the tantrums, it ends quickly.

Sensory meltdowns

  • No goals: no demands are made before or during the meltdown
  • No interest in reactions: individual has any interest in how others react to their behaviour.
  • May hurt themselves: because they’re reacting on a primal level to being overloaded. They don’t take actions to avoid injury. So they may be injured during the meltdown.
  • Slow to end: meltdown last longer than tantrums and slow down slowly when child acclimate to surroundings at their own pace.
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