Autism: Communicating through tantrums


Follow a story of a family whose little boy was diagnosed on the autism spectrum and the steps they took to overcome this diagnosis.

This story is a personal one and should not be taken for any medical advice. This is simply parental advice. If you are questioning the behavior your child is exhibiting please talk to a medical professional to attain a diagnosis through an evaluation.


By Becky Horace

Tantrums… let’s be honest, they suck. I hate with every ounce of my being when my son throws a tantrum and he can throw an epic tantrum. I would rather have bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails than to have to listen to a tantrum. They set me on edge, as I am sure most parents can relate. Being told by two different medical practitioners that mothers are wired in such a way that our cortisol, the stress hormone, levels go through the roof when our kids cry/throw a tantrum does not make it any easier to accept or deal with the tantrum.

For the moment, just a couple of weeks into therapy now, my son does not have that many ways to communicate to get his point across. A tantrum on the other hand is one sure-fire way that he knows how to communicate.  Since we have little to no words in our repertoire anymore, we have screaming and tears.  He seems to understand that the louder he cries the more likely he will get his way. The tantrums are what finally pushed me to the breaking point and catapulted me into action to find help, which luckily I have found at the Reed Institute.

This week at therapy, I was not present for the sessions so the staff and my son could get more accomplished but after a day of this my son realized mommy wasn’t going to be there. Once that was realized, before we left for our daily therapy, he would throw a fit like none other. The tantrums were so loud and there was so much crying, I could not for the life of me figure out what to do so I asked for help.

Our doctor assured me tantrums were very normal for this age but for the sake of our treatment plan he wanted to make some adjustments. It was explained to me that since my son could not communicate as freely as he would like, he cannot negotiate to get his way, hence the screaming and crying. I have been instructed to stop the tantrums before they start.  The doctor reassured me this is only temporary until my son has a few more vocabulary words.  He explained that there is no way that saying “yes” to going outside or watching a movie when my son asks nicely will create a bratty child but if I continue to say “no” followed by giving in to the demands shortly thereafter that will create a whinny, bratty kid that will come to learn all he has to do is cry and throw a fit to get his way.

Well it turns out this doctor knows what he is talking about. The moment I stopped being a control freak about my son’s schedule, our quality of life improved drastically. There will always be those few nonnegotiable items, for instance cookies for breakfast – sorry kid not happening (if your daddy won’t let me eat Oreos for breakfast there is no way you get to), coloring on the walls- not happening. On the other hand, when my boy hands me a movie with a smile and a please, instead of saying “no it’s too early for a movie” I have the doctor’s permission to give in and allow movie time without any guilt and everyone is happier for it.  It has only been a few days of this but mentally I feel much better and I know my kid is happier.


Tips from the mom

  • Relax. Probably easier said than done but remember tantrums (despite developmental delays) are normal and just a form of communication.
  • Try to tame the “no” when possible. If it’s not a big deal and will not have you as the parent morally compromised try to say “yes.” This might mitigate some of the tantrums that are happening.
  • It works. This part in our therapy story was over a year and half ago. I am now re-writing this journey for you with tips which I believe might be useful. I can say even now, that saying “yes” makes life a lot easier on everyone. I don’t let my son get away with everything and when it is a “no” I stick to it and do not waiver but on the little things that might change my schedule but really make him happy, like an impromptu trip to the park or a stop for an ice cream cone, I choose “yes.” No tantrum, happy kid, and a stress free mom make for a much happier household.


This will be an ongoing series of articles of our story through an evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and the end results during our son’s last two years of therapy. I will share with you from a parent’s perspective what we have learned and in layman’s terms explain our son’s diagnosis and the type of therapy used to help him succeed.

I hope you enjoy this read and please know no matter how bleak it may seem you are not alone when you are going through this. Parents around the world are in your same shoes looking for support and love; you just have to be open to talk about it. 

photo by Christine Szeto CC BY 2.0

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