Tantrums are Not Associated with Speech or Language Deficits in Preschool Children with Autism

Susan Mayes, Robin Lockridge, Cheryl Tierney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Communication problems and tantrums are common in children with autism. It has long been postulated that lack of speech is a cause of these tantrums. The goal of our study is to determine if impaired speech is associated with tantrums in preschool children with autism. The relationship between language and tantrum frequency in 240 children with autism, 15 to 71 months of age was investigated. Children were administered standardized IQ and language tests, and mothers rated tantrum frequency and speech intelligibility on a 4-point scale on the Pediatric Behavior Scale. Verbal and nonverbal IQ, expressive and receptive language quotients and age equivalents, and speech intelligibility explained less than 3% of the variance in tantrum frequency. Children whose mental age was sufficient for verbal communication but who lacked speech did not have more tantrums than children with adequate speech. In fact, children with an expressive language age at or above 24 months had more tantrums than children whose speech skills were below 24 months. Our findings and those of others do not support the belief that preschool children with autism have tantrums because they cannot speak or because their speech is difficult to understand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-596
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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