Why is My Child with Autism Crying So Much?

Kids with autism or signs of autism cry for many reasons and trying to figure out why they are crying can be tricky. Today’s blog is all about the reasons why kids might be crying and how you can help turn this behavior around. As a board-certified behavior analyst, I’ve been in many situations with kids crying. Once I went out to do an initial evaluation and the child cried during the entire session. We don’t want kids crying. It’s normal to ask, “why is my child or client with autism crying so much?”

To help answer that question, I like to use the analogy of me learning to fly a plane. When I start, I have no idea how to fly the plane. I get into the cockpit and there’s a bunch of levers all around me. Someone is trying to explain the levers and the hundreds or thousands of buttons and it’s going way over my head. I might start crying.

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.

Do you have a child with autism and don't know how to handle their crying?
Check out my Three Step Guide

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.

Do you have a child with autism and don't know how to handle their crying?
Check out my Three Step Guide

Transcript

Kids with autism or signs of autism cry for many reasons and trying to figure out why they are crying can be tricky. Today’s video blog is all about the reasons why kids might be crying and how you can help turn this behavior around. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and bestselling author. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism and signs of autism around so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now.  As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, I’ve been in many situations with kids crying.  Once I went out to do an initial evaluation and the child cried during the entire session. We don’t want kids crying. That’s never a good thing. I like to use the analogy of me, if I were learning to fly a plane. When I start, I have no idea how to fly the plane.

I get into the cockpit and there’s a zillion levers all around me and there you are trying to explain the levers and the hundreds or thousands of buttons and levers and you start talking to me about all these levers and explaining things. It’s going way over my head and I might start crying. And if you keep going with the instruction on the levers I’m sobbing at that point. I’m almost hyperventilating. I don’t even want to fly a plane at this point. I’m so overwhelmed and if you just keep going on and on while I’m crying or sobbing or hyperventilating, I am not learning anything about any of those levers. And so when kids are crying and professionals and parents are trying to continue with the demands and continue with the, with this, whatever situation is going on, it’s just not going to work. The child or client who is crying is not going to be learning at the same time.

So 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 blog a while back about medical issues. I did a few of them. I did one on the importance of ruling out medical issues and how it’s impossible, especially if kids are not talking or or fairly conversational. I also did a video blog on how to teach children how to indicate they are in pain. And the first step to do that is to teach children to label and receptively identify body parts. So teaching children with autism to indicate they’re in pain is a good idea. But like with the analogy of the plane, you know, I’m not in pain, I’m just overwhelmed by the demands and I have very little reinforcement and things are presented to me that are too technical.

And so that kind crying is probably not pain. That kind of crying. Is, is basically my communication. And kids without fully conversational communication often cry because they might even talk, but they don’t have the ability to tell you exactly what the problem is. So crying, it can just be communication. Even newborn babies who cry to be fed or cry to have their diapers changed or to be held. It’s a, it’s a reflex and crying is the first form of communication. But like the plane analogy, if a child is crying, the demands are too high and reinforcement is too low. And that I say a lot because I see a lot of crying and other problem behaviors and that’s all it is. We just have to make reinforcement really high and demands really low and systematically get them higher as we start to fade out reinforcement. But 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. Crying. We really, there are definitely steps you can take. I did a video blog on the tackling problem behaviors. So you can look at that video blog when you’re done with this. And the also the important thing besides learning how to tackle a problem behavior, the first step is always assessment. We need to figure out if it is pain, if it is just overwhelm and lack of communication. If our demands are too high, what is our reinforcement? So we need to really make a, make a good assessment. Then we need to make a plan and part of that plan is to spend 95% of our time preventing problem behavior, including crying. Finally, check out my video blog on how I use a simple paper calendar system to help keep track of crying and other problem behaviors.

And it really could help you start to turn things around. In summary, if you have a child or client who is crying and they have a diagnosis of autism or maybe signs of autism or even typically developing children, if you have a child who’s crying, whining or screaming, you don’t know how to help them. You want to start with assessment, make a plan and use my calendar system, which are all outlined in my three step guide that you can get for free by downloading at right here at marybarbera.com/join and 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. If you like this video blog, I would love it if you leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share the video with others who might benefit and subscribe to the channel for more videos like this one, and don’t forget to download the three step guide at marybarbera.com/join and I’ll see you right here next week.

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