Help! My Autistic Child Won’t Stop Throwing Things

Autistic Child Won't Stop Throwing Things

Throwing objects is a common behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There are several reasons an autistic child may engage in throwing:

  • Communication – Children with autism often struggle to communicate their wants and needs. Throwing items can be a way to express frustration, discomfort, or an attempt to request something. Difficulty communicating can lead to acting out through throwing.

  • Sensory stimulation – Many autistic individuals seek sensory input. The feeling of throwing an object provides vestibular and proprioceptive input. This input can be regulated for some children. Throwing is a form of sensory stimulation.

  • Coping mechanism – Strong emotions or feeling overwhelmed can lead to throwing as a way to release energy or tension. Throwing may help a child cope with stressful situations.

It’s important to understand the underlying cause of throwing behaviors. Determining if it is for communication, sensory input, coping, or another reason can help guide effective responses. Throwing objects is not done to purposely misbehave. Having empathy for the motivation behind the behavior is key.


Creating a Safe Environment

A crucial first step is to create a safe environment that minimizes the risk of injury for your autistic child and others. This involves making adaptations to your home that reduce potential dangers.

Specifically, you’ll want to remove fragile and hazardous objects that could cause harm if thrown. This includes vases, lamps, glass decor, heavy books, and any other items that could shatter or cause damage. Replace these with soft, lightweight, and unbreakable alternatives.

It’s also wise to pad sharp corners of walls, furniture, counters, and other surfaces. You can apply corner guards, rounded edge bumpers, or cushioned coverings so collisions cause less harm. Use safety products made of soft foam or durable rubber.

Additionally, replace standard windows with unbreakable polycarbonate, laminated glass, or window film. This prevents the glass from shattering if struck. Consult with a glazier to find the most suitable options for your home.

With these simple adaptations, you can reduce risks and make your home safer. A calm, secure environment helps minimize triggers for throwing behaviors. Removing dangerous objects also lowers the potential consequences if outbursts still occasionally occur.


Identifying Triggers

Keeping a journal to find patterns in your child’s behavior can be an effective way to identify triggers for throwing objects.

Pay close attention to the circumstances around incidents of throwing. Note details such as the time of day, location, who was present, and what preceded the throwing episode. Look for recurring themes that may reveal sensitivities to noise, transitions, changes in routine, frustration with communication, or other potential triggers.

Tracking patterns over a 2-3 week period can often uncover the stimuli that commonly precede outbursts. Once you identify probable triggers, you can use this knowledge to anticipate challenging situations and proactively make adaptations to prevent throwing behaviors.

Being a detective and observing your child’s unique sensitivities is key to understanding what sets them off. A meticulous journal can uncover important clues and lead to meaningful solutions.


Teaching replacement behaviors

Children with autism often throw things as a way to communicate frustration, anxiety, or other emotions. Teaching appropriate replacement behaviors can help reduce throwing.

Some ideas for teaching replacement behaviors include:

  • Provide appropriate outlets like squeeze balls, pillows, or stress balls that your child can squeeze when feeling frustrated instead of throwing toys. Have a variety of textures and resistances available.

  • Teach your child to take deep breaths, stomp their feet, or do jumping jacks when feeling overwhelmed. Provide space and opportunities for movement breaks.

  • Use picture cards or visual prompts to remind your child to use replacement behaviors instead of throwing. For example, show a “squeeze” card as a cue to use a stress ball.

  • Model appropriate ways to handle emotions like saying “I’m angry!” or taking space when frustrated. Validate your child’s feelings while redirecting unwanted behaviors.

  • Praise your child when they use replacement behaviors successfully. Use rewards like stickers or treats to positively reinforce appropriate responses.

  • Avoid reacting negatively when your child throws things. Remain calm and use it as a teaching opportunity to practice replacement skills.

Teaching alternative ways for your child to cope with emotions can help reduce throwing over time. Be patient and consistent in reinforcing replacement behaviors.


Using visual supports

Visual supports like picture cards, schedules, and signs can be extremely helpful for autistic children who are prone to throwing things. Here are some ways to use visuals:

  • Post a ‘no throwing’ sign in your home. This gives a clear reminder and reinforces that throwing is not allowed. Place signs in rooms where throwing tends to occur.

  • Use a picture schedule to outline daily activities and transitions. The schedule helps the child know what to expect and minimizes confusion or frustration that could lead to throwing. Pictures can depict meals, playtime, bath time, bedtime, etc. Review the schedule frequently.

  • Show a picture of the stimulus or trigger when reminding the child not to throw. For example, hold up a picture of a toy when saying “Toys are for playing, not throwing.” The visual cue strengthens understanding.

  • Demonstrate appropriate ways to handle objects with picture cards. Show a card of the child gently placing a toy down. This communicates the desired behavior.

The key is using pictures, images, and visual cues as much as possible. This caters to the child’s visual learning strengths. With consistency, visual supports can help minimize triggering situations where throwing tends to occur.


Rewarding Positive Behaviors

One of the most effective ways to encourage your autistic child to stop throwing things is to reward them when they exhibit positive behaviors instead. This reinforces the behaviors you want to see while avoiding giving any attention or reaction to the throwing itself.

When your child is in a situation where they would normally throw something, but refrains, immediately praise them and call attention to their good decision. Let them know how proud you are that they didn’t throw anything. You can say something like “I’m so proud of you for not throwing your toys just now!” Praise should be enthusiastic and descriptive.

Using a sticker chart system is another great way to reinforce positive behaviors. Create a chart with your child and put it in an accessible location. Let them know that each time they resist the urge to throw something, they can put a sticker on their chart. Once they accumulate enough stickers, allow them to exchange the stickers for a bigger reward like a favorite toy or treat. This provides ongoing motivation.

The key is to give frequent praise and rewards at the moment for positive behaviors and avoid lecturing or scolding after inappropriate behaviors. Consistency can help minimize incidents of throwing over time. Your child will learn that they receive attention and rewards for not throwing, rather than throwing themselves.


Making adaptations

Creating an autism-friendly environment often requires making adaptations and accommodations to minimize triggers and sources of frustration. This may include simplifying tasks and daily routines by breaking them into smaller, more manageable steps. Provide clear, visual instructions and ample time for transitions between activities.

Allow frequent sensory breaks or movement breaks to satisfy sensory needs. Let your child jump on a small trampoline, squeeze a stress ball, or go for a quick walk outside. Stock sensory bins with squeezable toys, fidgets, and tactile items. Encourage your child to request a break when feeling overwhelmed.

Simplify directions and limit choices to avoid overstimulation. Adjust lighting, noise levels, and decor to create a calmer setting. Ensure your child has access to preferred items for comfort and self-regulation. Making reasonable adaptations shows your child you understand and respect their needs. Over time, this can increase cooperation and reduce meltdowns.


Modeling appropriate responses

Children with autism often have difficulty regulating their emotions and expressing their feelings in appropriate ways. As a parent, you can help model better ways to handle frustration and anger for your child.

When your child throws things or acts out aggressively, remain calm. Shouting or reacting with anger yourself will only escalate the situation. Instead, demonstrate walking away from the upsetting situation and using words to express emotions. Say things like “I’m feeling frustrated” or “I need some space.” Breathe deeply and visibly so your child can observe you actively calming yourself down.

Explain to your child in a gentle tone that throwing is not allowed, and model appropriate alternatives like squeezing a stress ball or hitting a pillow. Ask your child to hand over the thrown object, then redirect them to a relaxing or preferred activity. Praise any cooperation in using a replacement behavior instead of throwing.

With time and consistency, your child will learn better ways to cope when upset by watching you stay calm and demonstrate appropriate responses. Acting as a role model helps reinforce positive behavior in your child.


Seeking Professional Help

Many children with autism benefit greatly from working with professionals who specialize in autism therapies and behavioral interventions. Seeking help does not mean you have failed as a parent. Rather, it shows how much you care about your child’s well-being and future. Professionals can offer expertise, support, and new techniques that make a big difference.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists help children develop life skills while addressing sensory issues, coordination problems, and difficulties with self-regulation. An occupational therapist experienced with autism can evaluate your child’s unique needs and sensitivities. They can then recommend therapies to improve sensory processing, motor skills, and emotional regulation. Occupational therapy often involves sensory integration techniques along with exercises to enhance coordination. This can help minimize unwanted behaviors that result from sensory overload or poor regulation.

Behavioral Therapy

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a proven autism therapy based on motivating positive behaviors while decreasing problematic ones. An ABA therapist will conduct a functional behavioral assessment to understand what triggers unwanted behaviors. The therapist will then develop an individualized plan with rewards, modeling, and structure to teach replacement behaviors. ABA therapy rewards small steps while discouraging rote repetition of commands. Over time, ABA can help children better regulate their emotions, communicate needs, and reduce maladaptive behaviors like throwing.

Professional help combined with patience, consistency, and compassion at home can greatly improve your child’s behaviors and future independence. Do not hesitate to reach out.


Being patient and consistent

One of the most important things to remember when trying to change behaviors in autism is that progress takes time. Even with the best strategies and plans in place, overcoming ingrained behaviors like throwing can be a long process. Parents and caregivers must be patient, consistent, and stick to the plan.

Seeing little change in the first few weeks or even months is normal. But small improvements will come if you diligently employ the techniques day after day. Consistency is key – being sporadic will only confuse your child. Maintain the same responses, environment adaptations, rewards, and other elements of your plan. With time and consistency, your child can learn new behaviors to replace throwing. But it won’t happen overnight.

As frustrating as it can be in the moment, react calmly when throwing incidents occur. Punishment or anger will only add stress and make progress harder. Stay the course with your plan. Celebrate small wins, but don’t waver if progress seems slow. Managing your expectations is important.

View it as a journey that will have ups and downs. With concerted effort over time, your child can gain skills to better cope with situations that used to trigger throwing. Stick with your plan, and keep the faith that your child will learn, even if it takes months. Consistency and patience are key.

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