Why is My Child with Autism Crying So Much?
If the instructor keeps going with the instruction on the levers, I might start sobbing at that point. I might hyperventilate. I won’t fly a plane at that point because I’m so overwhelmed. Plus, I’m not learning anything about any of those levers. When kids with autism or signs of autism are crying, trying to continue with any demands or situation is just not going to work. The child or client who is crying is not going to be learning at the same time.
Identifying Autism Crying
Autism crying or any kind of problem behavior can be an indication of the child being in some kind of pain. As a registered nurse and a board-certified behavior analyst, I did a few blogs a while back about medical issues. One is on the importance of ruling out medical issues. The other is on how to teach children how to indicate they are in pain. The first step to do that is to teach children to label and receptively identify body parts.
Teaching children with autism to indicate they’re in pain will help you rule out any medical issues when it comes to autism crying early on. It’s important to realize that some of these behaviors will need to be treated medically, not behaviorally.
But like with the analogy of the plane, sometimes the problem is related to behavior. On the plane, I was overwhelmed by the demands and I have very little reinforcement. Things were presented to me that were too technical. That kind crying is probably not pain. That kind of crying is basically my way of communication. Kids without fully conversational communication often cry because they don’t have the ability to tell you exactly what the problem is. They might even be talking at that point, but they can’t tell you what the problem is with their words. Crying is how they get your attention.
Autism and Crying
When they are hungry, newborn babies cry. It’s a reflex. Crying is our first form of communication. However, we eventually learn how to communicate in other ways. Looking back on the plane analogy, I was crying because the demands were too high and reinforcement was too low. Autism crying and tantrums might happen frequently if there is too high of a demand or too little reinforcement.
I say this a lot because I see a lot of crying and other problem behaviors where this is the problem. We just have to make reinforcement really high and demands really low and systematically get them higher as we start to fade out reinforcement. Crying is not something that we should just accept as part of autism or a part of being two or three or four or 10. There are definitely steps you can take to help tackle problem behaviors. Your child or client can learn to better communicate without resorting to crying.
What to do During an Autism Meltdown
The first step to learning to tackle a problem behavior is always assessment. Figure out if the child is crying because of pain or because they are overwhelmed and lack communication. This is where we also evaluate if our demands are too high, and if our reinforcement is too low.
Then we need to make a plan. Part of that plan should be to spend 95% of our time preventing problem behavior, including crying. I have a simple paper calendar system to help keep track of crying and other problem behaviors. You can use it to stay on track. It really could help you start to turn things around.
How to Handle Autism Meltdowns
If you have a child who’s crying, whining, or screaming and you don’t know how to help them, start with an assessment, make a plan, and use my calendar system. You can do this for children or clients with an autism diagnosis, kids who are showing signs of autism, or if they are typically developing as well.
These steps are outlined in my three-step guide that you can get for free by downloading it at marybarbera.com/join. This free guide is going to help you learn better how to assess, make a plan, and keep easy data to start turning things around today.