Children with Autism Stop Screaming When You Use The Fast Food Rule to Communicate

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Children on the spectrum who scream instead of “using their words” are often perceived as manipulative, on sensory overload, or incapable of better behavior until they learn more language.

Try using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule and watch your screaming toddler miraculously find his words.  

In minutes… or less.


This isn’t a guarantee, but it really can work that fast if your child has learned that when frustrated, his best approach is to scream until he gets what he wants.  The “scream-’til-I-triumph” phenomenon happens to typically-developing toddlers too.

Anyone learning language, frustration tolerance, social skills, and emotional state control at a the same time is bound to “go there”.  Special needs toddlers and preschoolers simply stay in that phase longer than a typically-developing child, and they can scream louder and longer and in more situations.  It can become their go-to strategy.

They have a harder time understanding your non-verbal cues that indicate your attention and appreciation for their distress.  Reading social cues is often nearly impossible for them when calm.  It is almost impossible for them when upset.  Children on the spectrum or with multiple developmental delays can benefit from using the Fast Food Rule during stressful times for years and years after toddlerhood has officially ended.


My March 2015 post “Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing” reviews Dr. Harvey Karp’s fabulous Fast Food Rule from his Happiest Toddler on the Block book/DVD.  Take a look at this post: Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing for an example of how to navigate the screams, how to deal with your emotions about being screamed at by your child, and what it looks like to implement it in real life.  Dr. Karp did not develop his approach for children with ASD, but it sure works extremely well for all that screaming.

You might have to adapt Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule to make it user-friendly and more effective with developmentally-different kids.

Here are simple ideas to accomplish that:  

  1. Use it very consistently, repeat the experience frequently until your response is familiar to them, and remember that sometimes the screams are real distress based on sensory, language or habitual behaviors that they use to self-calm.
  2. Respect their comfort level with direct gaze, sound and touch as you interact while using this approach.  That means that you may have to avoid as much eye contact and perhaps not touch them while using the Fast Food Rule.
  3. You may also have to dial your communication down to a level that is much, much lower than their chronological age or even lower than their usual receptive language level (what they can understand, not how they speak) when they are this upset.  Kids with ASD sometimes live on the edge all the time.  They need fewer words and more gestures/facial expressions to follow what is going on when times are good.  When angry or frustrated, they need even more non-verbal communication and more targeted short verbal communication so that they can follow what you say.


Children with ASD can definitely benefit from The Fast Food Rule and all of Dr. Karp’s other great Happiest Toddler tools for communication and self-control. Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  A diagnosis of ASD usually includes some type of sensory processing difficulty and frequently issues with rigidity/routines.  Kids who scream can be experiencing sensory aversion/sensitivity, become overwhelmed by multi sensory input, and will need your help to parse out all the reasons that they are upset.   Carefully watching your child’s build-up to a scream will tell you if you also need to make changes to the sensory environment or give him assistance with transitions in addition to changing your communication style.

Need potty training advice?

I wrote a book for you!!

front cover

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child:  Sensory-Motor Secrets for Success is my latest book.

So many families and professionals do not know what to do, do not want to fill out reams of poop diaries, and need useful strategies instead of theories!
This is the book they have needed all along.  Something that actually works and doesn’t minimize the complexity of learning this essential self-care skill.

Here are some of the highlights of this new book:

  • Learn what real readiness is all about.  Use the checklist, and understand why some of the common tropes are completely off-base.
  • Use the Resource List to grab the best equipment for training, making life easier and safer for your child or your classroom.
  • Understand how Targeted Pre-Training and Collaborative Diapering strategies will help every child, at all levels of ability, make progress toward formal training.  Today.  Without turning anyone’s life upside down.
  • Fictional narratives describing 3 autistic kids and their families doing potty training are interwoven within the book.  Their stories illustrate and humanize what real people go through at home when they take this journey.  It makes the book easy to read and makes the concepts come alive!
  • The toughest issues in toilet training are not ignored; they are dealt with head-on.  Smearing and playing with poop, defiance, withholding, and fears are all in here.  If you are going to write about potty training, you have to be willing to “go there”.  I am.

Where can you find my book?   It is available as a paperback on  Amazon .

Get your copy today!

boy dad rolls

Did you know that you can contact me directly for a coaching consult?

Go to my website, Tranquil Babies , and grab a 30-minute session so that we can discuss your equipment, your team’s advice, and your needs.  You will get a new sense of your situation and some ideas that you can try right away!


By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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