Managing Anger in Adults with Autism

Anger in Adults with Autism

Table of Contents

Why Anger is Common for Adults with Autism

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Sensory overload
  • Rigid thinking
  • Communication challenges
  • Impulse control issues
  • Co-occurring conditions

Common Anger Triggers for Autistic Adults

  • Unexpected change
  • Overstimulation
  • Miscommunication
  • Feelings of failure/embarrassment
  • Physical discomfort
  • Overload of demands

Healthy Ways for Autistic Adults to Manage Anger

  • Self-awareness
  • Avoidance
  • Deep breathing
  • Timeouts
  • Physical exercise
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Visualization
  • Fidget items
  • Positive self-talk

Getting Help for Managing Autism Anger

  • Therapy/counseling
  • Medication
  • Occupational therapy
  • Behavioral intervention
  • Training

Anger is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. However, for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anger can be incredibly challenging to manage. Difficulty regulating emotions is common for those on the spectrum. Additionally, sensory overload, rigid thinking, difficulty communicating, and lack of impulse control can all contribute to increased feelings of frustration that may manifest as anger or aggression. While anger is not inherently problematic, how it is expressed can lead to relationship issues, accidents, or confrontations. Recognizing triggers, using coping strategies, and seeking support can help adults with autism gain greater control over their anger.

Why Anger is Common for Adults with Autism

There are several reasons anger issues tend to be more prevalent among adults on the autism spectrum:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions – Individuals with ASD often struggle to appropriately identify, process, and modulate their emotions. Intense feelings like anger can spiral out of control rapidly.
  • Sensory overload – Too much sensory input at once can cause a meltdown for autistic adults. Noises, lights, crowds, new places, etc., may lead to an angry outburst.
  • Rigid thinking – The tendency towards black-and-white thinking makes it hard for some adults with ASD to accept change, uncertainty, transitions, or disrupting their routines, often triggering anger.
  • Communication challenges – Many autistic adults have trouble expressing their feelings and needs. Frustration over not being understood can boil over into anger.
  • Impulse control issues – Adults with autism may have difficulty controlling impulses and outbursts when angry, even if they want to remain calm. Executive functioning challenges play a role.
  • Co-occurring conditions – Anxiety disorders, ADHD, depression, and other diseases often co-occur with ASD. This can further complicate emotional regulation abilities.

Common Anger Triggers for Autistic Adults

It’s essential for autistic adults and their loved ones to understand common triggers for anger outbursts:

  • Unexpected change – Having plans suddenly changed or routines interrupted often causes autistic individuals severe stress that manifests as anger. Transitions between activities or locations can also be challenging.
  • Overstimulation – Too much noise, light, smells, crowds, or other sensory input can overwhelm an autistic person’s nervous system until they have a tantrum or outburst.
  • Miscommunication – When an autistic individual’s words or actions are misunderstood, or when instructions/expectations are unclear, anger at themselves or others often results. Direct, literal communication works best.
  • Feelings of failure/ embarrassment – Messing up on a task, being reprimanded at work or criticized by family, forgetting an essential item or appointment, or even minor mistakes can provoke strong anger in someone with ASD due to perfectionism tendencies and low self-esteem.
  • Physical discomfort – Hunger, lack of sleep, gastrointestinal issues, or other physical problems that may go unnoticed by the autistic person can put them on edge for an outburst of anger. Discomfort decreases the ability to cope.
  • Overload of demands – Too many requests or responsibilities piled on at once overwhelm autistic adults, deplete mental energy, and frequently lead to meltdowns. Learning to set boundaries and say no can help manage anger caused by overload.

Healthy Ways for Autistic Adults to Manage Anger

Though anger control presents challenges for autistic individuals, there are many strategies and healthy coping skills they can employ to prevent and de-escalate meltdowns. Useful techniques include:

  • Self-awareness – Paying attention to early signs of anger arousal like tense muscles, increased heart rate, and sweaty palms allows the person time to intervene before they lose control. Journaling or mood-tracking apps help raise awareness.
  • Avoidance – Autistic adults may need to avoid sensory triggers like noisy crowds that commonly spark anger episodes until they build skills to handle such situations calmly. There is no shame in walking away.
  • Deep breathing – Taking slow deep breaths is an easy way to physiologically calm the body and mind before anger gets out of hand. Counting breaths helps some focus. Belly breathing is the most effective.
  • Timeouts – Taking a brief timeout to separate oneself from the anger-provoking situation and regrouping is often beneficial. This may mean leaving the room, walking, listening to music, or otherwise shifting focus.
  • Physical exercise – Working out, stretching, running, lifting weights, punching a pillow, or doing another vigorous activity can release pent-up emotions and endorphins to restore calm.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – Tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body one at a time relieves tension and quiets the nervous system, making anger less likely. Apps provide guided relaxation scripts.
  • Visualization -Imagining a peaceful, calming scene like a beach, forest, or favorite place can help induce tranquility when anger flares. Nature sounds, or images can also be used.
  • Fidget items – Handheld objects like stress balls, fidget spinners, modeling clay, or even paper clips allow restless hands something to keep busy with, discharging nervous energy in a non-destructive way.
  • Positive self-talk – Internally coaching oneself through an angering situation with phrases like “I can handle this” or “Stay calm” helps some autistic adults override impulses. Writing out such reminders is also helpful.

Getting Help for Managing Autism Anger

Seeking external support is often critical for autistic adults with frequent intense anger episodes. Professional help teaches healthy anger expression and develops customized strategies. Options include:

  • Therapy/counseling – Work with a psychologist or therapist who has experience with autism and anger management. Methods like cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practices build coping skills. Support groups also help.
  • Medication – Doctors may prescribe certain medications like antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, or others to help regulate emotions and control outbursts when therapy alone is insufficient.
  • Occupational therapy – OT assists with sensory issues, communication skills, regulating emotions, and developing toolkits of anger management strategies tailored to an individual’s needs.
  • Behavioral intervention – Programs utilizing applied behavior analysis can teach autistic adults replacement behaviors, improved communication, and cognitive restructuring around anger triggers.
  • Training – Social skills classes provide instruction on reading social cues, having empathy, expressing needs calmly, and more to avoid provoking others and escalating anger. Assertiveness training builds confidence.

With professional support, personalized strategies, understanding from loved ones, and consistent practice, autistic adults can overcome their anger challenges. Though it takes patience, compassion, and time, developing control over one’s emotions dramatically improves the quality of life for autistic individuals and their families.


My name is Adi, and I am the proud parent of Saar, a lively 17-year-old who happens to have autism. I have created a blog,, with the aim to share our family's journey and offer guidance to those who may be going through similar experiences. Saar, much like any other teenager, has a passion for football, cycling, and music. He is also a budding pianist and enjoys painting. However, his world is somewhat distinct. Loud sounds can be overwhelming, sudden changes can be unsettling, and understanding emotions can be challenging. Nevertheless, Saar is constantly learning and growing, and his unwavering resilience is truly remarkable.

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