Anger-Control Problems in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“My 8-year-old son with ASD (high functioning) gets extremely frustrated and angry at various times throughout the day. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to these outbursts. They are as unpredictable as the weather. Please help me understand what can be done to either curb his temper, or better yet, prevent this from occurring in the first place.”

Moms and dads of kids with ASD level 1, or High Functioning Autism (HFA), are faced with many behavior problems like aggression and violent behavior, anger, depression and many other difficult behaviors. However, you can deal effectively with all these concerns much easier with the correct strategies. 

Part of the child’s problem stems from (1) a conflict between longings for social contact and (2) an inability to be social in ways that attract friendships and relationships. Thus, parents should focus on prevention and on helping their HFA kids develop communication skills and a healthy self-esteem. These skills can create the ability to develop relationships and friendships, lessening the chances of having issues with anger.

An anger control problem can also manifest itself in HFA children when rituals can't get accomplished or when their need for order or symmetry can't be met. Frustration over what doesn't usually bother others can lead to anger and violent outbursts. This kind of anger is best handled through cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on maintaining control in spite of the frustration of not having one’s needs met.

While it is better to teach communication skills and self-esteem to kids with HFA, communication skills and friendship skills can be taught to teenagers and young adults, which can eliminate some of the social isolation they feel. This can avert or reverse anger control issues.

There are many sources of stress for kids and teenagers with HFA. Some will react to stress by becoming anxious, some by feeling depressed, while others become angry and rage against the frustrating incidents in their day. Some of these children internalize their feelings and tend to blame others when things go wrong.

 ==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism
Those who externalize their feelings have great difficulty in controlling their temper. There may be no particular rationalization or focus – just an aggressive mood or an excessive reaction to frustration or provocation. The provocation can be deliberate teasing by peers, or being “set up” as a form of live theater enjoyed by the peers who don’t get into trouble.

Unfortunately, kids with HFA seem to evoke either the maternal or the predatory instinct in their peers. These young people often lack subtlety in retaliating. “Typical” kids would wait for an appropriate moment to get revenge without being caught.

The youngster with HFA can also lack sufficient empathy and self-control to moderate the degree of injury. They often find themselves in a blind fury that gets them into trouble. The educator may witness the youngster being aggressive, but may not be aware of the taunts that precipitated the angry outburst.

It’s helpful to use techniques to help the “special needs” youngster understand the nature and expression of specific feelings – particularly anger. It is also helpful to encourage self-control, and to teach the youngster to consider alternative options.
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said... A gluten free diet, low sodium intake and no red food color... plus regular probiotics are what initially saved my son! Good luck! Worth a try!
•    Anonymous said... How early were your kids diagnosed? I ask because we were diagnosed early so we have been getting therapy since he was 3-1/2 and he is almost 5 now. That said, there has not been a lot, if any, therapy regarding anger issues. I am just wondering if we can nip it in the bud or will these issues keep coming up regardless.
•    Anonymous said... I agree with Indra... especially on the hunger and thirst. You could also look into reactions to foods. A treatment called NAET has helped alot with my children. It is for allergies/intolerances. A clue to if it could be linked to food reactions is if they wake up calm and happy but get worse as the day goes on. My kids react with either aggression or hyperactivity to all of the food dyes. Social stories also helped quite a bit in preventing meltdowns over particular events.
•    Anonymous said... It could be hormones. Neurologist may help. My son needs to be on mood stabilizers, but he is a teen now. You never know how the body grows and reacts to different things. Can relate to your frustration.
•    Anonymous said... My 7 yr old daughter does same thing at my wits end on what to do seems to be getting worse then better even with counseling doesn't work anymore need help
•    Anonymous said... My son is now 11, and sometimes it seems that the outbursts will go on forever...but as I look back, things have gotten so much better. Sensory issues, frustration, changes in routine, too much input can all cause outbursts, and there isn't much therapy can do to help at younger ages, because it requires the child to understand what's happening and take measures to curb it. As a parent, though, you can help your child understand what is happening by making her constantly aware of her moods. Try to head off an outburst by beginning to identfy what caused it in the first place: what was she doing, what else happened, how you responded. Once you can figure out what the issues are (because your child may not know), you can try to head off the outburst before it happens.  Even if you can't, there are techniques that you can teach her to help calm herself: jumping up and down, "squeezing lemons" with her fists, etc. You will have to encourage her in the beginning, because when she's in the middle of an outburst she probably won't be reasonable. Give her time to calm down, and then review with her: why were you yelling (and make suggestions), how else could you have solved it, how could you have clamed yourself down, etc. It takes a LONG TIME. Finally try to figure out what she needs for sensory input (weighted or neoprene vests or blankets, squeeze balls, sand or pebbles to sift through, warmth, water, darkness) on a constant basis. I noticed when my son was young that if he swam in the pool every day, he was calmer overall. As he got older, we used water (showers, baths) to redirect him when he was upset. As he began to be more self-aware, he began to realize what things calmed him down -- weight (he likes to be sandwiched between two beanbag chairs), warmth (make him into a "taco" with a heavy blanket, and water (swimming, baths, showers) -- so now we can suggest those to him as well. Your situation is not unusual, so don't feel alone. It takes kids with autism longer to learn sometimes, but they can do it if you are persistent. HUGS to you.
•    Anonymous said... My son use to be like this and at times it wasn't 1 thing, my paediatrician felt he was getting wound up like a spring over a lot of little things then he would explode, but it was finding out the little things that annoyed him that was the issue. When you talk about the weather, my son is a lot worse on really windy days. Diet also has a lot to do with his behaviour all artificial colours and preservatives are removed as much as possible.
•    Anonymous said... There is also something to be said about perfectionism in young kids on the spectrum. I know I had trouble with being able to picture how to do something perfectly in my head, but not physically being able to do it, perfectly. This caused enormous amounts of frustration/anger with me as a child. If you find they have a low frustration tolerance, and this seems to relate, you can help by explaining how mistakes help us learn, that we don't need to be perfect every time. Encourage trying, without worrying about results. Praise effort, not outcome. Hope this helps
•    Anonymous said... This happened with us too. Help your child learn what makes him comfy temperature wise (is he cold, needing a sweater or hot, needing to take off clothing and put on something lighter?). Teach him about sensory issues as well (a PT does a great job with this...especially learning the program, "How Does Your Engine Level Run"). Does something itch? Is it a tag? Is it seams on the inside of his clothes. Teach him about hunger. The different signs/levels of hunger. Your belly makes a rumbling sound but thats when you're really hungry (ABA therapy helps). What other signs can cue you to hunger before you get to the point of being so hungry that you melt down? Teach him about thirst as well. Teach him about needing rest and the importance of going to sleep. Sleep shouldn't be viewed as a negative. Try to nap for special things and give positive reinforcements for napping. Show the positive effects that napping do for your body. Calms you, helps you make more friends because....
Lastly, teach him about getting ill. What are the signs that illness may be coming. Itchy throat, pain in the throat, fever (feeling hot on the forehead), etc. Our pediatrician helped to reinforce our teaching! I hope this helps!
•    Anonymous said... This was my exact sentiment yesterday.....
•    Anonymous said... Very interested in what others have to say... this describes my 8 year old daughter as well.
•    Anonymous said... Wow! He sounds like every other person I know including myself. Human being need to run. We used to do it everyday to hunt for food. If I don't get physical for awhile everyday I get frustrated at some point, "who knows when" and I can need to blow out the steam. Should I take a pill? No thank you BIG PHARMA. I'll keep my money and my brain chems "al natural" (same for my son). I have come to the conclusion lately that I may be over-reacting to everything my Aspie does. I think maybe I'm over analyzing and judging every behavior. Is this normal? Is this Asperger's. Is he normal yet? Who cares??? I enjoy his Asperger's too. He is brilliant!My son is nearly 8 now and I only have a few more years for he and I to enjoy what's left of his, oh so troubling childhood. Funny thing is, I knew a kid who behaved so much like my son when he was little. He played with my now grown two other children. This kid was so "bad" we thought back then, before ADHD, Asperger's and all the other multiple diagnosis we label our kids. You know what, Nick "monsters" became an Eagle scout and is now at the top of his class in MEDICAL SCHOOL. He grew out of it. Whatever "IT" was that caused his "off the chain" behavior. His mom only over reacted if she thought she was being judged for his behavior or she needed to blow off steam. Sound familiar? One thing I remember is she used to just laugh about a lot of the stuff he did, some of the other mother's myself included, judged her as a bad mom for this but, maybe she was on to something. Maybe more laughter and less over analyzing is just the kind of medicine we need in our lives. It's free and it does not permanently alter brain chemistry. Just sayin............I guess you can tell I've had a good day. Been thinking a lot about those little ones that didn't make it home from school the other day in OK. I keep thinking how I would feel if he were gone. (Crying now) I keep telling myself I wouldn't have over reacted so much to his "different behaviors" I would have tried to enjoy him more. I'm so grateful for having him in my life. Let's keep it in perspective ladies. God Bless you all!
•    Anonymous said... ABA therapy over the past 2 years has had a major positive impact on my now 8-yr old son who previously was having 1hr+ meltdowns at least 3-5 times a week. Our therapists are private and work with him 2-3 times a week. It's literally saved our family.
•    Anonymous said... Exercise a little before school. Some of quiet time after school. My ten yr old grew out of some of the meltdowns. I read somewhere that it is most difficult between year 5 and 8. I think its true. So you are on the tail end and it should get better soon.
•    Anonymous said... Gluten free casein free diet, ot in the morning at your house, beans weight blanket at night to sleep w. Less sugar. Jumping on a trampoline in the morning, these are all the things I do w my daughter daily an nightly. And she is high functioning aspergers w a lot of sensory problems. She is 6 and her behavior has improved since we have put her on the gluten free casein free diet and she takes klair lab supplements because she has the leaking gut. Good luck an god bless you and your family.
•    Anonymous said... i have a child wit autism also nd these temper tantrums are called meltdowns. they cant handle change of plan or change of routine, so in my experience the more notice our children have when set plans change the my experience the meltdown can last ten mins to an hour. dont trynd reason during these outburstst bcoz it wont register nd wen they cool down explain situation, and this can take its toll. consistence is the key here. i give my child udos oil daily for her skin, bcoz shes at that stage of teen acne, and also melissa dreams 4 sleep, both can be got at health shop, hope i was some help. very best of luck 2 u nd
•    Anonymous said... I would do a behavior chart of the times,places and situation before the meltdown. Behavior therapist call this ABC. Antecedent or what was going on before the meltdown, where did it happen? B for behavior what did your child do when he had a meltdown? Scream and cover his ears? Hit someone? Run? The next is C or consequence. For example, due to the meltdown was he removed from a room? Activity? Remember all behavior is communication. The meltdown are his way of telling you that something is bothering him. It could be noises, lights or someone touching him. Many meltdowns are due to a sensory issue.
•    Anonymous said... It may not be 1 big thing, I have a son that explodes and usually then you find out that it is a whole lot of small things and he has got him self wound up like a spring then snaps. The things may be small and insignificant to most people, but they a huge things to him. Working out what is getting to him is not always easy.
•    Anonymous said... My son also has Aspergers, and we give him Omega3 (fish oil) supplement gummies twice a day. His emotions seem to be more in check when he takes them. If we miss a day or two, he tends to have more meltdowns (crying, getting mad, etc.)
•    Anonymous said... my son has low cortisol levels and with low cortisol one gets irritable and can't tolerate any kind of stress. I started giving him Adrenal Cortex Extract and other supplement to raise his cortisol.
•    Anonymous said... My step son was hungry when he had his outburst. I worked like magic to just try to have him eat when we saw him getting mad. We even put in a "snack time" into his IEP. He would not eat well because of his meds so we filled him up in the morning and night then snack time during the day. It was almost like he was a diabetic. Hope that helps.
•    Anonymous said... We walk to school and that helps a lot. He needs lots of physical stuff to do (dig up garden, clear path, walk the goat etc). Everything is scheduled and he knows what is going to happen. Melatonin at night for sleep with strict bed time. We removed all unnatural dyes. I also know triggers and work on them. His therapist has also been a life saver.
*   Anonymous said... Anger or rage in my son seems to me to more often to be when he is frazzled and at the point of being unable to cope with anymore. I do have behaviour management techniques which generally work well and preventative techniques but when his brain is overloaded no technique really works and it's a matter of just riding it out and not doing anything that makes it worse.
•    Anonymous said... I've learned that many aspergers kids have a magnesium deficiency. Giving my son magnesium everyday has significantly reduced his anger and violent outbursts. I give him magnesium glycinate which is the most absorbable kind.
•    Anonymous said... My Aspie son is 7.5. If we cannot understand the trigger we go back to basic (is he sick, is he sleeping right amount and quality, is he over stimulated or under stimulated, is he eating right). When he is In a rage is not the right time to try and talk to him but something is bothering him or upset his balance and he likely does not even know what it is.
•    Anonymous said... They pretty much have to have their way or this happens.we pick our battles with our son.
•    Anonymous said... when their need for order or symmetry can't be met. Frustration over what doesn't usually bother others can lead to anger and violent outbursts.
100% our boy
•    Anonymous said... Yip, sounds like my 8 year old. Talking in a calm controlled manner seems to help.... Slightly. I have also started picking battles .
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