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The Cycle of Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns in Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, and Related Disabilities

Stress and anxiety disorders are typical in children and adolescents with Asperger Syndrome (AS), high-function autism (HFA) and associated conditions. In fact, this mixture has been found to be one of the most often seen comorbid symptoms in these individuals. Stress and anxiety in these children is often triggered or results from environmental stressors such as having to face challenging social situations with inadequate social awareness, social understanding, and social problem-solving skills; a sense of loss of control; difficulty in predicting outcomes of everyday events and behaviors; as well as an inherent emotional vulnerability; misperception of social events, and a rigidity in moral judgment that results from a very concrete sense of social justice violations. The stress and anxiety experienced by individuals with AS, HFA, and related disabilities may manifest as withdrawal, reliance on obsessions related to circumscribed interests or unhelpful rumination of thoughts, inattention and hyperactivity. It may also trigger aggressive or oppositional behavior, often described as tantrums, rage, and “meltdowns”.

In order to help prevent and/or decrease the severity of behavioral problems, it is important that those who work and live with children and youth with AS, HFA, and related disabilities understand the cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns as well as interventions for each stage that promote self-calming, self-management, and self-awareness. This paper will address this information as well (a) interventions that help prevent tantrums, rages, and meltdowns by increasing social understanding and problem solving, facilitating sensory awareness, and fostering self-awareness and (b) implications for future research.


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