Let’s have a chat about anger. Specifically autism anger, or what I refer to as autism rage. As we have all heard a million times before, everyone on the spectrum is different. These differences include, but are definitely not limited to, how we as individuals deal with emotions. This morning I was reminded just how quickly anger turns to rage for some of us.
My oldest daughter turned fourteen this summer. She loves to ride her bike, draw, watch Doctor Who, and use her iPhone. Technology can be help and a curse when it comes to autism. It is great for all the wonderful educational apps. It is awful when, unlike typical teens, your child uses it as his/her friend and cannot bear to be without it. Now back to the autism rage. My loving daughter became a tiny tornado this morning when she was asked to put away her clothes and clean her room. I’m sure you are thinking that all teenagers become disgruntled and disobedient when they are asked to do something they do not want to do. Anger is vastly different with autistic teens. Not only do they have typical hormones, but they also have autism. When my daughter becomes angry, it’s challenging on the best days, and downright drop to the floor exhausting on bad days.
The teenage years are confusing and frustrating for those on the spectrum. It is not uncommon for autistic teens to be socially delayed in comparison to their same age peers who are considered typical. This social gap becomes more noticeable as children on the spectrum age. Junior high years can be especially nerve racking. Puberty brings its own barrel of challenging questions. I will say that anger and autism do not just pop up during the teen years. My girls were also toddlers with autism. The major difference is size. When my girls were little, they could easily be picked up and moved to a safer location (especially when the meltdowns happened at Target).
Now that my oldest is a teen, I cannot physically pick her up. Her language is also more developed. She definitely does not hold her tongue when she is angry with me. This brings me to my point about autism and anger. Children on the spectrum often have difficulty dealing with emotions. We (autistics) experience emotions differently. Sometimes typical people view us as robotic and stiff. I have even been asked if I ever get upset or cry. We tend to be less expressive when it comes to emotions. This is not to say we are emotionless. It may take longer for children on the spectrum to process emotions. Sometimes children with autism spectrum disorders need more help expressing emotions. This is why it is important to help your children deal with their anger. The patience of Job may be required.
I suggest parents start using emotion cards/pictures when your child is a toddler. It can be extremely difficult for us to identify facial expressions. You can make this into a guessing or matching game. Teaching how to use an anger scale can be extremely beneficial for those with heightened anger. There are several excellent books that provide visual anger scales along with stories about anger.
Do not take your child’s anger personally. If possible give your child a safe space to calm down. When the meltdown is over, it is important to help your child process his/her emotions. Try to identify the cause, and discuss coping strategies. Coping strategies are necessary. Try numerous different ideas/strategies until you find the one the best suits your child. There are a myriad of ways to help your child cope. Stress balls, sensory toys, music and swings are a few examples.
Although you may not understand the anger, remember that it is temporary and will pass. I love my daughter for who she is and together, we work toward the best outcome after each outburst. So when it comes to anger issues and autism, we’re learning as a family to ride the wave of emotions.