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Communication Problems & Autism: New Study

New research is showing that children with autism spectrum disorders are not throwing more tantrums due to an inability to communicate.

Although language and speech problems are common in cases of autism—even with some children unable to speak clearly or at all—researchers found that children on the autism spectrum who have clear speech and communication abilities have just as many tantrum outbursts as children who do not.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Cheryl Tierney, points out that a common misperception is that children with autism have more tantrum outbursts due to trouble communicating with others, primarily caregivers. This contributes to a belief that teaching speech and language will help to improve negative behaviors. However, the researchers found that a very small percentage of temper tantrums are actually due to communication issues.

The study itself looked at 240 children on the autism spectrum, ages 15 months to 6 years old. The researchers studied the connection between language ability and tantrum frequency, and also looked at IQ scores. In the end, IQ and speech shortcomings accounted for less than 3 percent of tantrums that occurred.

More research is needed to determine what causes these outbursts, but the researchers suggest that low tolerance for frustration and trouble regulating mood could be contributing factors. Meanwhile, working with a behavior analysts could help children with autism to have flexibility and learn how to have their needs met.

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