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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ando, H., & Yoshimura, I. (1979a). Speech skill levels and prevalence of maladaptive behaviors in autistic and mentally retarded children. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 10, 85–90.
Ando, H., & Yoshimura, I. (1979b). Effects of age on communication skill levels and prevalence of maladaptive behaviors in autistic and mentally retarded children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 9, 83–93.
Barker, D. H., Quittner, A. L., Fink, N. E., Eisenberg, L. S., Tobey, E. A., Niparko, J. K., & the CDaCI investigative Team. (2009). Predicting behavior problems in deaf and hearing children: The influences of language, attention, and parent-child communication. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 373–392.
Bixler, E. O., Vgontzas, A. N., Lin, H.-M., Calhoun, S., Vela-Bueno, A., Fedok, F., et al. (2009). Sleep disordered breathing in children in a general population sample: Prevalence and risk factors. Sleep, 32, 731–736.
Bopp, K., Miranda, P., & Zumbo, B. (2009). Behavior predictors of language development over 2 years in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 52, 1106–1120.
Carr, E. G., & Durand, V. M. (1985). Reducing behavior problems through functional communication training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18, 111–126.
Casey, L. (1978). Development of communicative behavior in autistic children: A parent program using manual signs. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 8, 45–53.
Charlop-Christy, M. H., Carpenter, M., Le, L., Leblanc, L. A., & Kellet, K. (2002). Using the picture exchange communication system (PECS) with children with autism: Assessment of PECS acquisition, speech, social-communicative behavior, and problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 213–231.
Conrad, A. L., Richman, L., Lindgren, S., & Nopoulos, P. (2010). Biological and environmental predictors of behavioral sequelae in children born preterm. Pediatrics, 125, e83–e89.
Cruz, I., Vicaria, I., Wang, N.-Y., Niparko, J., Quittner, A. L., & The CDaCI Investigative Team. (2012). Language and behavioral outcomes in children with developmental disabilities using cochlear implants. Otology and Neurotology, 33, 751–760.
Dominick, K. C., Davis, N. O., Lainhart, J., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Folstein, S. (2007). Atypical behaviors in children with autism and children with a history of language impairment. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 28, 145–162.
Durand, V. M., & Carr, E. G. (1991). Functional communication training to reduce challenging behavior: Maintenance and application in new settings. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 251–264.
Durand, V. M., & Merges, E. (2001). Functional communication training: A contemporary behavior analytic intervention for problem behaviors. Focus on Autism and Other Developemnetal Disabilities, 16, 110–136.
Hagopian, L. P., Fisher, W. W., Sullivan, M. T., Acquisto, J., & LeBlanc, L. A. (1998). Effectiveness of functional communication training with and without extinction and punishment: A summary of 21 inpatient cases. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31, 211–235.
Lindgren, S. D., & Koeppl, G. K. (1987). Assessing child behavior problems in a medical setting: Development of the Pediatric behavior scale. In R. J. Prinz (Ed.), Advances in behavioral assessment of children and families (pp. 57–90). Greenwich: JAI.
Matson, J. (2009). Aggression and tantrums in children with autism: A review of behavioral treatments and maintaining symptoms. Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 2, 169–187.
Mattison, R. E., & Mayes, S. D. (2012). Relationship between learning disability, executive function, and psychopathology in children with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 16, 138–146.
Mayes, S. D. (2012). Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Wood Dale: Stoelting.
Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (1999). Symptoms of autism in young children and correspondence with the DSM. Infants and Young Children, 12, 90–97.
Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2004). Influence of IQ and age in childhood autism: Lack of support for DSM-IV Asperger’s disorder. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 16, 257–272.
Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2011). Impact of IQ, age, SES, gender, and race on autistic symptoms. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 749–757.
Mayes, S. D., Calhoun, S. L., Aggarwal, R., Baker, C., Mathapati, S., Anderson, R., et al. (2012). Explosive, oppositional, and aggressive behavior in children with autism compared to other clinical disorders and typical development. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1–10.
Mayes, S. D., Calhoun, S. L., Murray, M. J., Ahuja, M., & Smith, L. A. (2011a). Anxiety, depression, and irritability in children with autism relative to children with other neuropsychiatric disorders and typical development. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 474–485.
Mayes, S. D., Calhoun, S. L., Murray, M. J., Morrow, J. D., Yurich, K. K. L., Mahr, F., et al. (2009). Comparison of scores on the Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder, Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), and Gilliam Asperger’s Disorder Scale (GADS) for children with low functioning autism, high functioning autism or Asperger’s disorder, ADHD, and typical development. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1682–1693.
Mayes, S. D., Calhoun, S. L., Murray, M. J., & Zahid, J. (2011b). Variables associated with anxiety and depression in children with autism. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 23, 325–337.
Mayes, S. D., Gordon, M., Calhoun, S. L., & Bixler, E. O. (2014). Long-term temporal stability of measured inattention and impulsivity in typical and referred children. Journal of Attention Disorder, 18, 23–30.
Mayes, S. D., Waxmonsky, J., Calhoun, S. L., Kokotovich, C., Mathiowetz, C., & Baweja, R. (2015). Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) symptoms in children with autism, ADHD, and neurotypical development and impact of co-occurring ODD, depression, and anxiety. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 18, 64-72.
Murray, M. J., Mayes, S. D., & Smith, L. A. (2011). Brief report: Excellent agreement between two brief autism scales (Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder and Social Responsiveness Scale) completed independently by parents and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 1586–1590.
Nichols, S., Mahoney, E. M., Sirois, P. A., Bordeaux, J. D., Stehbens, J. A., Loveland, K. A., et al. (2000). HIV-associated changes in adaptive, emotional, and behavioral functioning in children and adolescents with hemophilia: Results from the hemophilia growth and development study. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 25, 545–556.
Tierney, C., Mayes, S. D., Lohs, S. R., Black, A., Gisin, E., & Veglia, M. (2015). How valid is the Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder when a child has apraxia of speech? Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 36, 569–574.
Wechsler, D. (2012). Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Fourth Edition technical and interpretive manual. San Antonio: The Psychological Corporation.
Wolraich, M. L., Lindgren, S. D., Stumbo, P. J., Stegink, L. D., Appelbaum, M. I., & Kiritsy, M. C. (1994). Effects of diets high in sucrose or aspartame on the behavior and cognitive performance of children. New England Journal of Medicine, 330, 301–307.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
Mayes, S.D., Lockridge, R. & Tierney, C.D. Tantrums are Not Associated with Speech or Language Deficits in Preschool Children with Autism. J Dev Phys Disabil 29, 587–596 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10882-017-9546-0
- Speech and language deficits