What Makes Autism Worse?

Explore the nuanced aspects of what may exacerbate challenges in autism. Delve into real and human experiences as we discuss factors that might amplify difficulties.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
February 2, 2024
min read

Understanding Autism

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent challenges in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. It affects individuals differently and is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) due to the wide range of symptoms and severity levels.

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex condition that affects the way a person perceives and interacts with the world around them. It is typically diagnosed in early childhood, although some individuals may receive a diagnosis later in life. The exact cause of autism is still unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

grayscale photo of boy covering of eye while standing behind concrete wall

Challenges Faced by Individuals with Autism

Individuals with autism face various challenges that can significantly impact their daily lives. These challenges may include difficulties in social communication, such as understanding nonverbal cues or maintaining eye contact. They may also experience sensory sensitivities, making them more sensitive to sounds, lights, textures, or tastes. Additionally, individuals with autism may engage in repetitive behaviors or have a strong need for routine and predictability.

Importance of Managing Autism Symptoms

Managing autism symptoms is crucial to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families. By addressing the challenges associated with autism, individuals can enhance their social interactions, communication skills, and overall well-being.

Each person with autism is unique, and their needs may vary. Therefore, personalized approaches and interventions are essential to effectively manage autism symptoms. Early intervention, therapy options, and creating a supportive environment are key strategies in helping individuals with autism thrive and reach their full potential.

Factors that Exacerbate Autism

Living with autism can present unique challenges, and certain factors can exacerbate the symptoms and difficulties experienced by individuals on the autism spectrum. It is important to understand these factors in order to provide appropriate support and intervention. Here, we will explore three key factors that can contribute to the worsening of autism symptoms: sensory overload, changes in routine, and environmental triggers.

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload occurs when an individual with autism is exposed to overwhelming sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, crowded spaces, or strong smells. This can lead to heightened anxiety, irritability, and meltdowns. Sensory overload can occur in various settings, including public spaces, classrooms, or even at home.

To help manage sensory overload, it is important to create a sensory-friendly environment. This can involve reducing background noise, dimming lights, providing quiet spaces for breaks, and using noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses if necessary. Understanding an individual's sensory sensitivities and providing appropriate accommodations can significantly alleviate the impact of sensory overload.

Changes in Routine

Individuals with autism often thrive on predictability and routine. Sudden changes in routine, such as unexpected schedule modifications or disruptions to familiar rituals, can be distressing and lead to increased anxiety and behavioral challenges. Maintaining a consistent routine can provide a sense of stability and security for individuals with autism.

It is helpful to establish and communicate a clear daily schedule, ensuring that any changes are communicated well in advance. Visual aids, such as visual schedules or social stories, can also assist in preparing individuals for upcoming changes. By minimizing unexpected disruptions and providing support during transitions, the negative impact of changes in routine can be mitigated.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers refer to specific elements in the environment that can worsen autism symptoms. These triggers can vary from person to person, but common examples include certain sounds, smells, textures, or visual stimuli. Environmental triggers can lead to increased anxiety, sensory overload, or meltdowns in individuals with autism.

Identifying and managing environmental triggers is essential for creating a supportive environment. This can involve removing or minimizing triggers, using noise-cancelling devices, providing sensory-friendly objects or textures, and creating calming spaces. By understanding and accommodating individual sensitivities, the impact of environmental triggers can be reduced.

Understanding the factors that exacerbate autism symptoms is crucial in providing appropriate support and intervention for individuals on the autism spectrum. By addressing sensory overload, changes in routine, and environmental triggers, caregivers and support networks can create a more inclusive and accommodating environment for individuals with autism.

Dietary Factors

When it comes to autism, certain dietary factors can play a role in exacerbating symptoms. Understanding these factors and making informed choices can contribute to better management of autism. In this section, we will explore three key dietary factors: food sensitivities and allergies, the role of gut health, and nutritional deficiencies.

Food Sensitivities and Allergies

Food sensitivities and allergies can have a significant impact on individuals with autism. Some individuals may experience adverse reactions to certain foods, leading to increased irritability, gastrointestinal issues, and behavioral changes. Identifying and eliminating these trigger foods from the diet can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Food sensitivities and allergies can vary from person to person. While some common allergens, such as gluten and dairy, are often associated with exacerbating autism symptoms, it's crucial to work with a healthcare professional to determine specific dietary needs.

Here are some common food sensitivities and allergies in individuals with autism:

Food Allergen and Prevalence

  • Gluten: 20-30%
  • Dairy: 20-30%
  • Soy: 10-15%
  • Eggs: 10-15%
  • Nuts: 10-15%

By identifying and avoiding trigger foods, individuals with autism may experience a reduction in symptoms and an overall improvement in their quality of life.

Role of Gut Health

Research has shown a potential link between gut health and autism symptoms. The gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract, plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including immune system regulation and neurotransmitter production.

Imbalances in the gut microbiome, such as an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or a lack of beneficial bacteria, can potentially contribute to inflammation and negatively impact neurological function. This, in turn, can worsen autism symptoms.

To promote a healthy gut microbiome, individuals with autism may benefit from incorporating the following into their diet:

  • Probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, to introduce beneficial bacteria.
  • Prebiotic foods, like bananas, onions, and whole grains, to provide nourishment for beneficial bacteria.
  • Fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, to support digestive health.

By supporting gut health through dietary choices, individuals with autism may experience improvements in their overall well-being.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies can occur in individuals with autism due to a limited diet, sensitivities to certain foods, or difficulty with food intake. These deficiencies can further exacerbate autism symptoms and impact overall health.

Some common nutritional deficiencies observed in individuals with autism include:

Nutrient and Prevalence

  • Vitamin D: 40-60%
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 20-30%
  • Vitamin B6: 10-20%
  • Magnesium: 10-20%
  • Zinc: 10-20%

Addressing these deficiencies through dietary changes or supplementation, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, can help optimize nutritional status and potentially alleviate symptoms associated with autism.

It's important to remember that dietary factors in autism management are highly individualized, and it's essential to work with healthcare professionals, such as registered dietitians or doctors specializing in autism, to develop personalized dietary plans that address specific needs and promote overall well-being.

Emotional and Psychological Factors

In addition to the challenges faced by individuals with autism, there are various emotional and psychological factors that can exacerbate the symptoms and make the condition more difficult to manage. Understanding and addressing these factors is crucial for improving the overall well-being of individuals with autism. Let's explore three key factors: stress and anxiety, social isolation, and bullying and discrimination.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can have a significant impact on individuals with autism. The sensory sensitivities and difficulties with communication and social interaction that are characteristic of autism can contribute to increased stress levels. Additionally, the challenges in understanding and navigating social situations can lead to anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.

It is essential to identify and address the sources of stress and anxiety in individuals with autism. Implementing strategies such as sensory regulation techniques, relaxation exercises, and visual supports can help to reduce stress and create a calmer environment. Providing clear and consistent communication, as well as opportunities for breaks and self-care, can also assist in managing stress and anxiety effectively.

Social Isolation

Social isolation is a common challenge faced by individuals with autism. Difficulties with social interaction and communication can make it challenging to form and maintain meaningful relationships. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and a decreased sense of self-worth.

Creating opportunities for social engagement is crucial for individuals with autism. This can include structured social activities, support groups, and inclusive community programs. Encouraging and facilitating social interactions with peers who have similar interests and abilities can also help to combat social isolation and enhance social skills.

Bullying and Discrimination

Individuals with autism are unfortunately at a higher risk of experiencing bullying and discrimination. The unique characteristics and behaviors associated with autism can make individuals more vulnerable to mistreatment. Bullying and discrimination can have severe emotional and psychological consequences, including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

It is crucial to address bullying and discrimination promptly and effectively. This involves creating a safe and inclusive environment where individuals with autism feel supported and protected. Promoting empathy, educating others about autism, and implementing anti-bullying policies can help to reduce instances of bullying and discrimination.

By recognizing and addressing these emotional and psychological factors, caregivers and individuals with autism can work together to improve overall well-being. Implementing strategies to manage stress and anxiety, fostering social connections, and actively combating bullying and discrimination can make a significant difference in the lives of individuals with autism.

Strategies to Minimize the Impact

Living with autism can present unique challenges, but there are strategies that can help minimize the impact of the condition. By implementing these strategies, individuals with autism and their caregivers can create a supportive environment that promotes well-being and enhances daily functioning. Three key strategies include sensory regulation techniques, establishing and maintaining routines, and creating a supportive environment.

Sensory Regulation Techniques

Sensory overload is a common challenge for individuals with autism. Certain stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or crowded spaces, can become overwhelming and lead to increased anxiety and stress. Sensory regulation techniques can help manage these sensory challenges and promote a sense of calm.

Sensory Regulation Techniques

  • Deep pressure therapy, such as weighted blankets or vests
  • Engaging in sensory-friendly activities, such as listening to calming music or using fidget toys
  • Creating a quiet and calming space for relaxation and self-soothing
  • Incorporating sensory breaks throughout the day to provide time for sensory input and self-regulation

Establishing and Maintaining Routines

Establishing and maintaining routines can provide a sense of predictability and stability for individuals with autism. Predictability can help reduce anxiety and improve overall functioning. It is helpful to establish routines for daily activities, such as mealtimes, bedtime, and transitions between tasks.

Establishing and Maintaining Routines

  • Create visual schedules or use visual cues to help individuals with autism understand and anticipate daily activities
  • Provide clear and consistent instructions for tasks and activities
  • Gradually introduce changes to routines to help individuals with autism adapt and transition more easily
  • Consider using timers or alarms to provide reminders and maintain structure throughout the day

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is crucial for individuals with autism. This involves understanding and accommodating their unique needs and preferences. A supportive environment can foster a sense of safety, acceptance, and understanding.

Creating a Supportive Environment

  • Minimize sensory triggers by reducing noise, bright lights, and clutter in the environment
  • Provide clear and concise communication, using visual aids or social stories if necessary
  • Foster a positive and inclusive atmosphere that promotes social interaction and acceptance
  • Educate family members, friends, and caregivers about autism to promote understanding and support

By implementing these strategies, individuals with autism and their caregivers can create an environment that promotes well-being and minimizes the impact of the condition. It's important to remember that each individual with autism is unique, and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for them. Seeking guidance from healthcare professionals and autism support networks can provide additional insights and resources to assist in managing the challenges associated with autism.

Seeking Professional Help

When it comes to managing autism, seeking professional help is essential for individuals and their caregivers. Early intervention, therapy options, and building a support network play a crucial role in improving the well-being and quality of life for those with autism.

Importance of Early Intervention

Early intervention is key when it comes to managing autism. By identifying and addressing the challenges associated with autism at an early stage, individuals can receive the necessary support and interventions to enhance their development and minimize the impact of symptoms.

Early intervention programs are designed to target specific areas of difficulty, such as communication, social skills, and behavior management. These programs often involve a multidisciplinary approach, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy. The goal is to provide personalized interventions that meet the unique needs of each individual with autism.

Research has shown that early intervention can lead to significant improvements in language skills, social interactions, and overall cognitive development. The earlier the intervention begins, the better the chances of positive long-term outcomes for individuals with autism.

Therapy Options for Managing Autism

Therapy plays a vital role in managing autism and helping individuals develop essential skills and coping strategies. Various therapy options are available, and the choice depends on the specific needs and challenges faced by each individual.

  • Speech Therapy: Speech therapy focuses on improving communication skills, including language development, speech clarity, and nonverbal communication.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy assists individuals in developing and improving their fine motor skills, sensory processing abilities, and daily living skills.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral therapy, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), is commonly used to address challenging behaviors and teach new skills through positive reinforcement techniques.
  • Social Skills Training: Social skills training helps individuals with autism develop social interactions, social communication, and appropriate social behaviors.
  • Play Therapy: Play therapy utilizes play as a therapeutic tool to enhance communication, emotional expression, and social skills in individuals with autism.

It's important to work with healthcare professionals to determine the most suitable therapy options based on individual needs and goals.

Building a Support Network

Building a strong support network is crucial for individuals with autism and their caregivers. Having a network of understanding family members, friends, and professionals can provide emotional support, practical assistance, and guidance throughout the autism journey.

Support groups and organizations specifically focused on autism can also be valuable resources. These groups offer a platform for individuals with autism and their families to connect, share experiences, and exchange information. Additionally, online communities and forums can provide a sense of belonging and access to a wealth of knowledge and advice.

By seeking professional help, individuals with autism and their caregivers can access the necessary resources, interventions, and support systems to navigate the challenges associated with autism and improve overall well-being. Remember, every individual with autism is unique, and a personalized approach to intervention and support is essential for their success and happiness.


Let's approach this with empathy and a commitment to understanding. It's not about blaming or focusing on negatives but recognizing the complex factors that can amplify difficulties.

In our shared journey, let's work towards creating environments that offer support, acceptance, and accommodations for individuals with autism. By fostering awareness, compassion, and inclusion, we can collectively contribute to a world that honors the unique strengths and challenges of each person on the spectrum.

Remember, it's the human connections and shared efforts that truly make a difference. Let's continue learning, growing, and supporting one another in building a more inclusive and understanding society.


steven zauderer

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

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