How to stop my autistic child from throwing things

Team Kindship
April 19, 2022
3 minutes

Ain’t no hood like Parenthood that’s for sure. Such a ride, one that is full of curves and bends that take you to places that are sometimes familiar and sometimes foreign. Just when you feel like you are conquering it, another tricky phase jumps out to surprise you.

Parenting a child with autism takes you on a whole new ride. One in which isn’t relatable to many of your friends, therefore when challenging behaviours present you may feel at a loss as to who to turn to for advice. The journey is different and that’s ok, but it can feel quite isolating when your child presents differently to their peers especially if you are experiencing autism rage and autism anger.

I know firsthand how upsetting it can be to deal with. It makes you question your parenting abilities and leaves you feeling overwhelmed that sometimes you literally have no clue as to what the hell you are doing.

Rest assured. You are not alone and autistic child behaviour problems and harmful actions such as biting, pinching, or throwing things can be a common behaviour for children on the spectrum. While this may bring some form of comfort it doesn’t take away from the fact that you feel at a loss as to how to manage the challenging behaviour that your child is presenting.

While I don’t have all the answers when it comes to dealing with autism anger management, I have witnessed my fair share of aggressive behaviour in children over the years. My daughter included.

Throwing things can be seen as a ‘normal’ age-appropriate action for children, I’m not talking about throwing a ball around the backyard. I’m talking about throwing things to cope with autistic rage and frustration.

It’s important to note that sometimes children throw things as a way of communicating their needs, or to simply act as way to get attention and this is different to if a child is throwing things due to a meltdown.

My daughter will often throw things when her emotions have peaked, and she simply can’t hold it together anymore. She throws things out of anger and frustration, but I can tell at the time that she knows she shouldn’t and sometimes she is even able to stop herself (this has been a learnt skill over many years).

When behaviours don’t make sense or become too extreme, we need to perform a bit of detective work and figure out why? Understanding their ‘why’ will often lead you to recognize appropriate ways to try to rectify the problem.

The easiest way to do this is to start a diary. Record each time they throw things out of rage along with any information about the behaviours before, this can help to determine possible triggers. It is also useful to jot down the environment as this will show if there is a theme occurring at specific places.

I totally get that this can seem a little overwhelming, I remember oh too well when a therapist first suggested a behaviour diary for my daughter (insert stressed out overwhelmed emoji face here!). My initial thought was how the hell am I going to manage to keep a diary of behaviours when I struggle enough to write down appointments in my current diary, not to mention ‘mum life’ day to day shenanigans! But it doesn’t have to be complex and perhaps after a week or so you will begin to see a pattern forming.

Sometimes finding the autism trigger for aggressively throwing things can be quite simple (phew, done and dusted) but the reality is there may be many reasons that can generate an autistic child to throw things. It may be a combination of things; possible reasons could be.

-To get attention

-As a means of communicating

-To escape an unwelcoming situation

-Decrease a sensory input

-Tired or frustrated

-As a stimming behaviour

-As a reaction to something

-Energy that they are unsure how to release appropriately

-Sensory seeking

-They feel anxious

-Unexpected change in routine

-Poor self-regulation skills

-To cope with transitions

-Escape or avoidance to do something

So, you have an idea of possible triggers. Where to from here? How should you react when your child engages in throwing or other forms of harmful behaviours? Firstly, it’s important to seek professional advice, especially if the throwing is becoming dangerous and/or constant.

For me I think the most helpful thing to remember was that the behaviour was coming from a place of distress or frustration, my daughter wasn’t being ‘naughty’, she simply reached boiling point and patience was key. Making a point of constantly reminding myself of this allowed me to handle the situation in a calm and organised manner.

Long explanations about why throwing can be dangerous is not going to be too effective. I learnt this the hard way and spent far too many occasions trying to talk to my daughter when she simply couldn’t take in or understand anything I was saying.

Further interventions (social stories/visuals) and discussions work best when your child is calm.

Remembering Patience, Persistence and Consistency is KEY!

Aggressive behaviour in children with autism usually means they can’t deal with their current environment or there has been a build-up of sensory related triggers.

Once you begin to see a pattern as to when and why the behaviours are forming you can try to prevent them from occurring. Here are some possible solutions for different scenarios.

-Perhaps it is happening a lot at preschool, and they are simply trying to discover ways to communicate and play. Social stories, modelling of play and therapy techniques can be devised to help with social skills.

-Overstimulation from preschool. Perhaps when they come home a massage followed by quiet time and squeezing a stress ball could assist with their overly heightened behaviour.

-Creating visuals for times of frustration e.g. picture of a distressed face with a picture of two activities to choose from to calm down.

-Social stories that explain how throwing can be harmful and what could be done instead.

-Appropriate regulation tools to help keep your child regulated and in a calm zone. My daughter constantly chews on things when her emotions are heightened, if I witness this I try to jump in and offer a therapy tool to chew or ice to suck on.

Don’t forget to praise the times that they are using positive actions to assist with emotions and behaviours. As soon as I catch my daughter coping with a situation positively, I literally can’t praise her quick enough. Give the rewards, tell them you're proud, shout it from the rooftops…praise and praise again. Positive reinforcements help to guide positive behaviours.

The hardest task is finding out the why? What are the autism triggers that are fuelling this behaviour? Perhaps you have written a diary and still aren’t any closer to finding the answer, this is ok. Yes, you have a child with autism, this however doesn’t make you an expert on all thing’s autism related. We learn as we go through trial and error, through other parents’ journeys and from the advice and guidance of therapists. So, rest assured, this too is another obstacle you will conquer together!