Learning relaxation techniques like meditation can help children with autism to manage angry feelings.

Activities to Express Anger With Autistic Kids

by Jaime Budzienski

If you're the parent of a child with autism, you may feel like you're dealing with more than your fair share of angry outbursts, meltdowns or full-blown tantrums. It's not that your child is naturally any angrier than other children, says Andrew Powell, author of "Autism: Understanding and Managing Anger." More likely, he has trouble controlling his anger at times because of the social and sensory challenges and uncertainties he must navigate in his everyday life. As a parent, your role is to try and teach him ways to prevent anger and manage feelings, notes Powell.

Anger Diary

Encourage your child to keep an "anger diary," suggests Health Central. Have her write down situations that provoked anger -- i.e., when someone cut her in line, a classmate's pencil-tapping -- and what exactly happened to cause her angry reaction. This exercise could help your child identify anger "triggers" and create a discussion around what she could have done differently, and how she'll act in future situations.

Alternate Behaviors

Teach your child with autism alternative behaviors and reactions to his anger, recommends Health Central. Rather than telling him what he can't do -- i.e., "You can't throw things at your brother" or "You're not allowed to kick the wall," provide other options. For example, you might say something like, "You can't throw things at your brother, but you can draw or go for a walk," or "You're not allowed to kick the wall, but you can sit in the comfy chair and play a video game." Gradually, your child will internalize these options as good choices for self-calming.

Relaxation Techniques

Introduce your child to relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or listening to calming music. Teaching her specific steps to take when she feels anger building can help too, notes Health Central. Your script or written directions could read something like this: "First, stop. Next, take a deep breath and think about why you're angry. Then, decide if your thoughts are accurate, or if there could be another interpretation of what happened. Next, think about all the reactions you could have, and choose the best option. Last, if there's nothing you can say or do to calm the situation, walk away."

Comic Strip Stories

Creating comic strip stories or conversations can also help your child express, manage and process his angry feelings, notes Jeanette McAfee, M.D. in her curriculum workbook "Navigating the Social World." Using a blank comic strip template, have your child draw stick figures and conversation bubbles showing a scenario that caused her to become angry. If she's old enough, have her show how voice, body language or misreading social cues could have played a role. Then, have her draw another comic showing how the situation could have played out differently, and an alternative reaction to anger -- i.e., talking it out, stating feelings in a neutral way or walking away.

About the Author

Jaime Budzienski has contributed essays and articles to the "Boston Globe Sunday Magazine," "Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine" and the "Boston Parents Paper." She holds a B.F.A. in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College and a master's degree in education from UMASS Boston.

Photo Credits

  • Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images