World Autism Awareness Day: The connection between autism and anger

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Written By Margonoe Tumindax

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Several factors can contribute to anger in adults with autism. We tell you everything about anger and autism.

Be it driving in heavy traffic with others jumping lanes or a fight with parents or spouse over small things, we all have our angry moments. It might not take much to tame our temper. Taking a walk or drinking a glass of water may help us. But when it comes to people with autism, controlling angry feelings can be a challenge. They can also have anger outbursts. But you can help them to manage them. On World Autism Awareness Day, which is observed on April 2, we tell you all about autism and anger.

What is autism?

Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by persistent challenges in social interaction, communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviours, says psychiatrist Dr Pankaj B Borade.

Autistic people tend to have challenges in communication. Image courtesy: Freepik

It is considered to be a spectrum disorder. It means that autistic people can experience a wide range of symptoms as well as severity levels. Symptoms of autism may include:

  • Difficulty with social interaction
  • Challenges in communication (both verbal and non-verbal)
  • Repetitive behaviours
  • Sensory sensitivities

Does autism cause anger issues in adults?

Autism itself does not cause anger issues, but some people with autism may experience difficulties regulating emotions, which can lead to anger outbursts or frustration, says the expert. Anger in people with autism can manifest in various ways, including meltdowns, verbal outbursts, self-injurious behaviour, withdrawal, or aggression towards others.

Several factors can contribute to anger in adults with autism including:

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  • Difficulty understanding
  • Expressing emotions
  • Changes in routine
  • Communication challenges
  • Feeling overwhelmed or misunderstood.

According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, a person with autism may take longer to process information. They may find it hard to process verbal instructions and so, this may lead to them responding with anger if they feel they are finding it difficult to understand things.

Anger rumination and autism

Anger rumination refers to the tendency to dwell on angry feelings and thoughts. In people with autism, difficulty with emotional regulation and communication may exacerbate anger rumination, leading to prolonged distress.

How to manage anger in adults with autism?

To calm an autistic person experiencing anger, you can use calming techniques such as deep breathing. Here are more tips:

1. Embrace empathy

Try to understand the feelings of the person with autism. You can dive into the depths of empathy and seek to understand the roots of anger and pain, suggests the expert.

Angry autistic woman
Embrace empathy while calming down an angry autistic person. Image courtesy: Freepik

2. Cultivate connection

Build bridges of connection by engaging in meaningful communication and shared experiences. Help them to communicate their needs effectively.

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3. Focus on self-expression

Encourage the person with autism to express their emotions authentically. Let them know that vulnerability is not a weakness, but a gateway to healing.

Also read: World Autism Awareness Day: 5 activities to help your child balance emotions with logic

4. Create safe spaces

Make sure they are in environments that honour sensory needs. Their safe spaces should provide them opportunities for relaxation and self-regulation.

5. Offer support

Extend a helping hand to the person with autism experiencing anger. Offer them guidance and reassurance as you lend support to them, says the expert.

6. Speak calmly

If you respond to anger with anger, things will get worse. Use a calm voice to let them know that it is alright to get angry. This will help the autistic person to feel calmer.

7. Respect boundaries

Boundaries are important, even with people with autism. Always ask them first about the problem and respect their answer so that de-escalating the situation can get easier.

8. Give them choices

You can ask them if they want to sit down or have water or step outside. This can make them feel more in control, and remind them that you genuinely care about their desires.

Dealing with an angry autistic person can be difficult, but be calm and offer them help.

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