How does one differentiate between typical toddler tantrums and a child with autistic tendencies?
Adelola Edema (AE):
How old is this child? Tantrums are not signs that a child may have autism, but if the child shows symptoms of autism, and then throw tantrums, we can then differentiate between tantrums and what we call meltdowns
The child is 3.5 years old.
Tantrums are not out of place for that age.
Dr. Gbemisola Boyede (DGB):
Tantrums are not the only features of Autism spectrum disorder…. In addition to the tantrums there WILL BE OTHER SYMPTOMS… One of which commonly is COMMUNICATION DEFICIT.
In toddlers the social communication delay often manifesting as speech delay and/or repetitive restricted patterns of behaviors are the usual common symptoms first observed by parents and caregivers.
What is “repetitive restricted patterns of behaviors”?
Doing the same thing over and over again… Or only preferring certain things or items…. Examples… The child can be banging the head, spinning on one spot, eat only a particular food or mouthing objects instead of playing with them etc.
Possible “Red Flags”
A person with ASD might:
1. Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
2. Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
3. Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
4. Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
5. Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
6. Have delayed speech and language skills
7. Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
8. Give unrelated answers to questions
9. Get upset by minor changes
10. Have obsessive interests
11. Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
12. Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.
Social issues are one of the most common symptoms in all of the types of ASD. People with an ASD do not have just social “difficulties” like shyness. The social issues they have cause serious problems in everyday life.
Examples of social issues related to ASD:
1. Does not respond to name by 12 months of age
2. Avoids eye-contact
3. Prefers to play alone
4. Does not share interests with others
5. Only interacts to achieve a desired goal
6. Has flat or inappropriate facial expressions
7. Does not understand personal space boundaries
8. Avoids or resists physical contact
9. Is not comforted by others during distress
10. Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about own feelings
Each person with ASD has different communication skills. Some people can speak well. Others can’t speak at all or only very little. About 40% of children with an ASD do not talk at all. About 25%–30% of children with ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them.1 Others might speak, but not until later in childhood.
Examples of communication issues related to ASD:
1. Delayed speech and language skills
2. Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
3. Reverses pronouns (e.g., says “you” instead of “I”)
4. Gives unrelated answers to questions
5. Does not point or respond to pointing
6. Uses few or no gestures (e.g., does not wave goodbye)
7. Talks in a flat, robot-like, or sing-song voice
8. Does not pretend in play (e.g., does not pretend to “feed” a doll)
9. Does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing
Unusual Interests and Behaviors
Many people with ASD have unusual interest or behaviors.
Examples of unusual interests and behaviors related to ASD:
1. Lines up toys or other objects
2. Plays with toys the same way every time
3. Likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels)
4. Is very organized
5. Gets upset by minor changes
6. Has obsessive interests
7. Has to follow certain routines
8. Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
Some people with ASD have other symptoms. These might include:
1. Hyperactivity (very active)
2. Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
3. Short attention span
5. Causing self injury
6. Temper tantrums
7. Unusual eating and sleeping habits
8. Unusual mood or emotional reactions
9. Lack of fear or more fear than expected
10. Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
Read more here
Kemi Adeniyi Kale (KAK):
A tantrum can be stopped or controlled by either the parent or the child. A meltdown can not. The autism spectrum is vast and a combination of symptoms will give a diagnosis. One single “symptom” does not mean a child is autistic. If all other development markers are hit, very unlikely that the singular issue of meltdowns will lead to a diagnosis.
Kemi Adeniyi Kale set up a support group on Facebook for parents of Autistic children.
You can join the group here.
You don’t have to reside in Nigeria to join the group…
Adelola Edema is a special needs teacher and she shares her knowledge on her Autism Gist With Adelola blog.
Dr Gbemisola Boyede is a paediatrician and she has a group on Facebook, Ask The Paediatricians, where many parents get good quality answers to their questions about their kids.
You can also get helpful resources on the website.