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

  • Susan D. MayesEmail author
  • Robin Lockridge
  • Cheryl D. Tierney


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.


Autism Tantrums Speech and language deficits Preschool 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

The instrument used in this study (CASD) was developed by the senior author and is commercially available. The authors have no other conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan D. Mayes
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Robin Lockridge
    • 1
  • Cheryl D. Tierney
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child PsychiatryPenn State College of MedicineHersheyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry H073Hershey Medical CenterHersheyUSA
  3. 3.Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental PediatricsPenn State Children’s HospitalHersheyUSA

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