Study: Need to communicate not always behind tantrums by children with autism

Written by Rachel McDevitt | May 10, 2017 3:22 AM

FILE PHOTO: Paxton Mathis plays with a bright-colored molding clay. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

(Hershey) -- A common belief is children with autism who throw frequent tantrums may be doing so because they are having trouble communicating.     

But, a new study from researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey challenges that idea.

The team looked at the relationship between language and tantrum frequency in 240 children with autism ages one to six and found that less than three percent of tantrums could be explained by the children's ability to understand and use language.

"We had children in our sample with clear speech and enough intelligence to be able to communicate, and their tantrums were just as high in that group," says Dr. Cheryl Tierney, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at the College of Medicine, and section chief of behavior and developmental pediatrics at Penn State Children's Hospital.

One of the study's main investigators, Tierney says the results could change the way parents address excessive tantrum behavior.

"Because a lot of times, when parents have a misperception about the cause of their child's behavior, they may seek out therapy or intervention that isn't directly going to impact what they're hoping to impact," she says.

The study did not address what does cause tantrums, though Tierney says there are likely factors that should be studied further.

The results of the study were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Development and Physical Disabilities.

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