The terrible 2’s or is it autism?

When a child hits the magical age of 2, parents more often than not notice a change in the child.  The terrible-two term has long been used to describe this time because of the rapid shifts in a child’s moods and behaviours.

Whilst the changes in the child are more often than not a bit of a shock to the parents system they are a normal part of all children’s development.  So what makes an autistic child at age 2 so different?  Or better question yet “when is it more than the terrible twos?”

Terrible two tantrums tend to end as suddenly as they begin.  Almost every child goes through a phase where they get frustrated and scream.  Children will throw themselves on the floor.  They will kick and scream and even hold their breath. BUT when is it more than just the terrible twos?

Autism Spectrum Disorder Kids VS other kids:

  • Children on the spectrum tend to have far more frequent tantrums;
  • Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder’s tantrums do not end nearly as quickly;
  • A child with ASD’s tantrum can last for hours – with no apparent reason behind it;
  • Both verbal autistic children and non-verbal autistic children’s tantrums and behaviour outburst can be equally aggressive at a young age;
  • Tantrums tend to go hand in hand with social emotional challenged – meaning that the child will not just have a tantrum he/she will also not really allow the parent or caregiver the opportunity to console them;
  • Tantrums in an autistic toddler can lead to self injury or hitting themselves or other for long periods of time (without the parent being able to stop the child from doing it);
  • Tantrums are in most cases accompanied by a lack of language at the age of two – delayed speech, tantrum and social problem is what separates autism from other primary speech delay diagnosis’s;
  • A two year old with Autism will find it difficult to interact with peers and with people in general. Whilst neurotypically developing two year olds can also be hesitant with strangers but the delay comes in where autistic children can struggle relating to most people (even those closest to them) which makes dealing with tantrum so much harder for the parent;
  • Often from around the age of 2 years the child with ASD will develop sleep problems.
    • They make wake up frequently during the night and yet show very little fatigue during the day.
    • Nap time in the afternoons tends to stop abruptly and most parent feel that the tantrums stem from a fatigued child rather than a child with development delays.
    • A child that is developing normally and is going through the terrible two’s will most likely also wake up – they will just be able to settle back to sleep after a bit of juice/water or some TLC from mommy.
  • Constipation and diarrhea can alternate in children that have a development delay. Toilet training a two year old autistic child is far more difficult because of these gastrointestinal problems.

If you are in doubt as to whether you are dealing with the terrible two’s or a Pervasive Development Disorder of some sort – consult with a neuro development pediatrician. 

Ilse Kilian-Ross
ilse@amazingk.co.za

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, ABA, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.