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What makes an autistic child angry?

Interacting with a Child Who Has Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder. It affects how children interact and communicate with others. The disorder is called a spectrum disorder because children can be anywhere on the autism spectrum. Children with ASD start to show symptoms at an early age. The symptoms continue during childhood and adulthood. Healthcare providers don’t know why some children develop ASD. It may be a combination of genes they are born with and something in their environment that triggers those genes. Children with ASD have trouble relating to other people. They have trouble making eye contact. They often withdraw into themselves. They may seem uninterested in relating to family members. But some children with ASD may love to keep talking with family members, friends, and even strangers about a topic they are obsessed with. The problem is that they may talk about it too long. Or they may talk only about that one subject. This can push other people away. If you are a parent or grandparent of a child with ASD, it can be heartbreaking if you feel like you just can’t connect with him or her. But learning more about these disorders and what has helped others can help you and your relationship.

Breaking through the barriers of ASD

  • They may not be able to understand your nonverbal communications. They may not react to your smile or frown.
  • They take things literally. You need to be careful to say exactly what you mean. If you hurry the child by saying «Step on it,» don’t be surprised if he or she asks what to step on.
  • They may only be able to handle one thought or idea at a time. Keep conversations focused and simple.
  • They may want to only talk about the one thing they are really interested in at a given time.
  • They may see things differently than you do. You may not even notice ordinary sounds, tastes, touches, smells, and sights. But these may be physically painful to the child.

Communication and interaction tips for ASD

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to communicate with a child with ASD. But many family members have had success with these tips:

  • Be patient. It often takes a child with ASD longer to process information. You may need to slow down your conversation to his or her speed.
  • Teach the child how to express anger without being too aggressive. Children with ASD should know that they don’t have to hold their anger and frustration inside.
  • Be persistent but resilient. Don’t let your feelings get hurt if the child does not respond to you as you’d like. Children with ASD may have trouble both showing and controlling their emotions. They can be blunt in their responses. Don’t take this personally.
  • Always stay positive. Children with ASD respond best to positive reinforcement. Be sure to talk about or reward good behavior often.
  • Ignore irritating attention-getting behavior. A child with ASD may act badly at times to get you to focus on them. Ignoring this behavior is often the best way to prevent it. Also talk about and reward the child’s good behavior often.
  • Interact through physical activity. Children with ASD tend to have short attention spans. This is especially true when it comes to communicating. Running around and playing outside may be a better way of sharing time together. It will also let them relax and feel calmer.
  • Be affectionate and respectful. Children with ASD often need a hug, just like other children. Sometimes they need this much more than other children. But some children don’t like to be touched. Respect their personal space. Never force physical affection on an unwilling child.
  • Show your love and interest. Children with ASD may have trouble showing their feelings. But they still need to know that you love them. Go out of your way to express your interest, caring, and support.
  • Believe. A child with autism is first and foremost a child. He or she is a growing person with unknown possibilities. Believe in what the child can do. Don’t define the child by a diagnosis.
  • Take care of yourself. It’s OK to take a break. Join parent support groups. Or ask understanding family and friends to care for your child so you can recharge. School psychologists and counselors can also provide resources to help you.
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It can be challenging to interact with a child or grandchild with ASD. But it is one of the most important things you can do to help that child learn. Research shows that early, frequent, and loving involvement of family members is one of the best ways to help children with ASD.

Understanding High Functioning Autism And Anger

Today we’ll walk you through all there is to know about autism and anger. Keep reading to learn important facts!

steven zauderer

Steven Zauderer
December 28th, 2022

The Connection Between Anger & Autism In Children & Adults

People with autism, children especially, are often difficult to understand, even for their parents. Actions that are taken as tantrums or angry expressions could be them attempting to get others to understand them.

autism and anger

Such incidents may also be linked to stress, worry, and anxiety. Autistic people have personalities that are sometimes described as addictive. They enjoy taking part in activities that they can predict the outcome for.

When such activities or scenarios are disrupted, they may lash out due to the unplanned nature of the situation.

Their reaction may cause discomfort, crying, anger, and conclude in self-harm. It’s a consequential issue that isn’t easy for parents to resolve on their own.

The inability for them to express how they feel about an issue is the most common reason for outbursts. So, read on if you’re looking to learn about autism and anger.

Forms Of Anger & Aggression

Here are some of the most common forms of anger and aggression expressed by autistic children:

  • Hitting and kicking – Tantrums may involve hitting at parents or others nearby, even when they’re not aware of it. Hitting can be from either the hands or feet.
  • Sometimes, kicking is done, even at other objects such as desks, chairs, furniture, or toys. Hitting is one reason why the environment with autistic children that display this sort of behavior should be clear of anything that could result in injury to others or themselves.
  • Biting – Biting might be done as a stress reliever. Who it is directed to can change. Some ASD children that bite may do so only to particular individuals, such as teachers. They may bite other objects as well, putting them at risk of hurting their teeth or getting infections.
  • Scratching – Although kids have small hands, scratching by autistic children can still leave scars on whoever the behavior is done to.
  • Property destruction – Since many autistic children have problems with controlling their behavior when having tantrums, objects that are within reach of them may be thrown, hit, or damaged as a way of coping with the issue that has made them upset.
  • Writing on walls, pulling up carpets and rugs, and breaking frail items can be costly and the kind of behavior that parents of autistic kids wish to mitigate the most.
  • Self-harm – As a coping mechanism, kids with ASD may bang their heads against walls, pull their hair, or attempt to injure themselves by scratching or hitting at parts of their bodies.
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Such aggressive display can lead to some serious issues, such as follows:

  • Depression for both parents and their child
  • Lowered quality of life
  • Narrowed accessibility to support for a child’s education and social well being
  • Marked stress levels that make it difficult to concentrate
  • Behavioral issues that are prolonged and consistent
  • Injury to themselves and others

What causes autistic children to become angry?

While each diagnosis of autism is unique, the causes for anger from people on the spectrum are about the same. Here are those that are most common:

1. Too many things going on simultaneously

Children and adults can be overwhelmed when forced to perform too many tasks all at once.

Frustration is the first response, then anger, and eventually lashing out at themselves or anyone else in the vicinity. The overwhelming sensation isn’t easy for them to deal with.

Having to do more than one task could be aggravating, particularly when combined with other tasks that are unfamiliar to them.

Parents need to remember that children with ASD enjoy repetition, things that they know and are familiar with.

When a new task is added, coping with them might be too much for them to handle, at least without therapy.

2. Overload of senses

Kids with autism have sensory perceptions that are unlike other people.

They’re sensitive and quickly become too much for them to process all at once during certain situations.

Their response can be a reflex that makes them uncomfortable, which then causes common aggressive spells.

3. Feeling of helplessness

With so much going on around children in their day-to-day life, trying to find out about all the rules and deal with so many uncertainties is a challenge.

The unpredictability of it all can leave them feeling helpless, even when their parents are around.

The helplessness may increase when they’re placed in situations around people they don’t know, such as in school with teachers.

It’s hard for them to comprehend everything that happens around them, so they might result in aggressive reactions to let others know how they feel at the moment.

4. Changes to their daily routine

Tantrums are common in autistic children that have their routine altered, obstructed, or changed altogether.

A child that’s used to getting up and eating cereal, for example, may react unfavorably when the cereal brand changes, where they’re allowed to sit during mealtime, or even what condiments are readily available to them at the table. It doesn’t stop there.

Taking different walking or driving routes to school may lead to aggressiveness and raised levels of anxiety.

It can be small things that lead to them feeling helpless and confused.

5. The way people behave around them

Kids with autism show sensitivity to many things, so comments about them that are made by their peers might be taken as offensive.

Even while some of what they say could be innocuous humor, it might come across the wrong way.

Lashing out may occur, either to the person directing the comment or to the people closest to them.

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People ignoring them when they’re trying to say or do something can also lead to this, no matter if it’s accidentally or intentionally done.

6. Anxiety and stress

When all of the features described are merged, it can create a lot of pent-up stress on an autistic child.

Truthfully, such circumstances could make anyone feel depressed, even adults.

But children with ASD can become severely angry in a way that exhibits the most severe symptoms of the disorder.

When there are few if any tools to help them in such trying situations, a meltdown may happen. When and where a meltdown occurs cannot be accurately predicted.

So while the causes of it may happen in one place, their response may come forth in a different environment.

Another thing to note is how well the child is resting, whether there are other medical conditions present, and their diet.

When problems persist in these areas, it can trigger severe emotional disruptions.

Using Anger As A Method Of Communication

The ability to speak and communicate is important for all children to begin learning at an early age.

This includes verbal and non-verbal commands that are spoken, heard, or directed towards them.

Kids that are on the spectrum must learn this as well, though doing so for them is much harder than it is for the average child.

They can learn, but it may take additional steps to get them to understand how to express themselves in a non-combative way to get what they want.

Frustration can quickly develop when there are no avenues for them to see how lashing out doesn’t help the issue.

Anger then follows, something that’s displayed through unintentionally hurting others is their own body. Severe aggressive reactions can then cause injury unless corrected before they do so.

Underlying Medical & Mental Health Issues

An autism diagnosis sometimes occurs with other problems for the child, such as issues involving their gastrointestinal tract or irregular sleeping patterns.

They may wake up often in the middle of the night or have trouble waking up on time for school.

During the early evening, trying to put them to bed might prove difficult.

Kids with ASD that are consistently ill, feel fatigued, experience pain, or have anxiety problems often have no way of keeping their bouts of aggressiveness and anger in check.

This in turn increases self-harming behavior that’s violent toward themselves and people they don’t intend to hurt.

Deficiencies in understanding language and communication are usually found in autistic people and can add to the likeliness of aggressive tendencies.

These are underlying problems and can cause anti-social reactions to happen more often.

Additionally, underlying issues can help push anger in autistic people, no different from anyone else in this regard. Here are more of them:

  • Undiagnosed mental health problems – Depression and anxiety are typical words that people use to describe feelings they or others around them experience, but both are disorders on their own.
  • There are many cases of people that suffer from undiagnosed anxiety, and depression, even if they consider themselves to be neurotypical. Depression can come along at any time and make life difficult, as can anxiety.
  • Anxiety is the same and can become severe to a degree that makes it hard for someone that’s undiagnosed to get out of bed and do normal tasks.
  • These can be problems that exist in people with autism as well. However, they’re sometimes left undiagnosed, particularly in autistic kids that don’t undergo routine checkups with a pediatrician.
  • Sleeping difficulties – Problems sleeping are common in people with autism but it might not be a symptom of it alone. Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that can last for short or long durations.
  • Other medical problems – Things like untreated problems with a child’s vision, or hearing may lead to frustrations that spike severe symptoms of autism. Again, parents need to have their children checked for signs of problems that might be causing them to act out.
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When working together, parents, teachers, caregivers, and guardians can help reduce these spells.

It won’t happen overnight but ABA therapy is one of the best options.

They’ll be taught how to manage their acts of aggression, though how long therapy takes is subject to changes for every child.

Prevention Measures, Treatment, & Management Techniques

Preventative treatment for the aggressiveness associated with autism is based on identifying its causes.

Treatment isn’t the same for every child.

If it’s found that the outbursts are coming from an underlying medical condition or other health problem, there are professionals available that can help in treatment.

For example, a doctor can prescribe medication to help treat their gastrointestinal issues, a common source of ASD symptoms that is still undergoing lots of research.

Medications to help alleviate a child’s mood and get them sleeping normally also exist.

However, none of these can eliminate or cure autism.

Interventions like ABA can also help them manage their behavior better, as can CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

They’ll learn skills that teach them how to cope and manage their emotions to avoid getting angry.

Using ABA Therapy To Manage Anger

ABA is a provable treatment for anyone of any age that has autism. The treatment can lower aggression in patients, including small children.

The treatment and frequency of visits can change according to what’s needed for the child, or the parent’s preferred schedule.

Other therapies are sometimes used alongside ABA. But on its own, it doesn’t fall within any other types of spectrum-related treatments.

Using positive reinforcement to better mold a child’s development and ability to learn, ABA therapy teaches them how to adapt to the world around them and handle situations that obstruct or interrupt repetitive things they enjoy.

It can reduce or stop aggression in kids, help them learn how to communicate, and make them more sociable around their peers.


  1. Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  2. Aggressive Behavior Problems in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Prevalence and Correlates in Large Clinical Sample.
  3. A Review of Behavioral Interventions for the Treatment of Aggression in Individuals With Developmental Disabilities.
  4. Aggression in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Presentation and Treatment Options.
  5. Aggression in Children and Adolescents With ASD: Prevalence and Risk Factors.
  6. Understanding Aggression in Autism.

steven zauderer

Steven Zauderer

CEO & Founder

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy — a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Autism and anger management — a guide for parents and carers

Autistic people have a lot to contend with. The difficulties they experience in everyday life – due, for example, to communication and sensory differences — may lead to feelings of frustration and anger.

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This guide gives some practical ways in which you can help, including preventing and managing anger and helping your child to manage their feelings.

Communicate clearly

Some autistic people can experience difficulties making themselves understood, understanding what’s being said to them, and understanding facial expressions and body language. This can cause considerable frustration and anxiety which may result in anger or distressed behaviour.

Speak clearly and precisely using short sentences. By limiting your communication, the person is less likely to feel overloaded by information and more likely to be able to process what you say.

Autistic people often find it easier to process visual information. Support the person to communicate their wants, needs and physical pain or discomfort, eg by using visual stress scales, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), pictures of body parts, symbols for symptoms, or pain scales, pain charts or apps.

Give more time to process information. Use the six second rule (give the information, wait approximately six seconds to allow processing time, then if necessary, repeat the information using the same words).

Provide structure

Creating structure for your child can help reduce anxiety and angry reactions:

  • Make sure your child knows what is going to happen daily.
  • Use visual supports and timetables.
  • Build in relaxing activities.
  • Give your child time alone to recharge.

Help to identify emotions

Many autistic people find it difficult to understand abstract concepts such as emotions, but there are ways to turn emotions into more ‘concrete’ concepts, eg by using stress scales. You can use a traffic light system, visual thermometer, or a scale of 1-5 to present emotions as colours or numbers. For example, a green traffic light or a number 1 can mean ‘I am calm’; a red traffic light or number 5, ‘I am angry’.

You could help the person to understand what ‘angry’ means. One way to do this is to refer to physical changes in the body. For example, ‘When I’m angry, my tummy hurts/my face gets red/I want to cry’. Once the extremes of angry and calm are better understood, you can start addressing the emotions in between.

If the person can identify that they’re getting angry, they can try to do something to calm themselves down, can remove themselves from a situation, or other people can see what is happening and take action.

For children and some adults social stories can be a useful way of explaining how to manage anger. Adults can also use the Brain in Hand digital self-management support system.

Offer a safe space or ‘time out’

A safe space, or time out, can be a way to calm down, especially if environmental factors, such as flickering lights, are causing distress. This could be in a familiar place, like their bedroom, or doing a calming activity.

Offer an alternative

Anger can often be diffused by an activity that releases energy or pent-up anxiety. This might be punching a punch bag, bouncing on a trampoline or running around the garden.

Find out if the person is being bullied

Autistic people are at more risk of being bullied than their peers. Some will have difficulty recognising what bullying is, and may not be able to describe what has happened. The feelings created by being bullied may lead to anger or distressed behaviour.

Useful resources

  • Autism: understanding and managing anger by Andrew Powell
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