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.

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.

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.

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.

Read More: What Is ABA Therapy?

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

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

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