Autism and Anger- Understanding and Supporting your Child with ABA Therapy

Autism and Anger- Understanding and Supporting your Child with ABA Therapy


Parenting a child with autism can present unique challenges, and when anger issues come into play, it can be particularly tough to handle. However, with patience, understanding, and effective interventions, you can help your child learn to manage their anger and emotions more successfully. Understanding your Autistic child’s Anger is the first step.

This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with insights into the anger issues that children with high-functioning autism may encounter. Additionally, it will explore how Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can be a valuable resource in assisting them to gain better control over their emotions. By understanding the unique needs of your child and utilizing appropriate interventions, you can support them in their emotional development and help them navigate through their anger more successfully.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by challenges in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Autism is a spectrum, which means that individuals with ASD can exhibit a wide range of strengths and challenges that vary from person to person.

The diagnosis rate for autism has increased dramatically in the past couple of years. This can be attributed, in part, to the heightened awareness among parents and educators regarding the early signs and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The greater awareness and understanding of autism have proven to be a positive and encouraging development. As a result, children with autism are now more likely to receive timely and accurate diagnoses, allowing them to access the appropriate care and support they need to lead functional and fulfilling lives.

This shift in awareness has not only benefited affected children but has also resulted in improved resources and specialized services available to families and individuals dealing with autism. Early intervention programs and therapeutic approaches have been instrumental in helping children with autism develop essential life skills, communication abilities, and social interactions, which are crucial for their overall development.

Recognizing the early signs of autism, especially in high-functioning cases, empowers parents and educators to provide targeted interventions and create supportive environments for these children. By fostering their strengths and addressing their challenges from an early age, we can nurture their potential and enhance their quality of life.

Understanding Anger Issues in Children with Autism

Emotional sensitivity is common among children with autism. They may experience heightened feelings of nervousness and emotional upset, which can lead to difficulties in managing their anger. Social difficulties, communication struggles, sensory overstimulation, and changes in routine are just a few factors that can trigger anger in children with autism.

Understanding the distinction between the diverse presentations of autism can help parents, educators, and caregivers provide tailored support and interventions to aid these individuals in reaching their full potential. Encouraging their strengths while addressing their specific needs can contribute to fostering greater independence and improved overall well-being for those living with autism. It is crucial to recognize that each person’s experience with autism is unique, and their strengths and challenges may vary.

Autistic Children and Their Struggle With Anger

Anger is a common occurrence in autistic children. 

But why is that?

In a 2012 study by Samson, Huber, and Gross, it was determined that people with higher functioning autism have higher feelings of nervousness and emotional upset than individuals who are not on the spectrum.

These can be due to any number of factors such as:

  • social difficulties 
  • communication struggles
  • sensory overstimulation
  • School

We all know what it feels like to have a day where nothing seems to be going right and we feel run down. It is much easier to lose our temper with such a short fuse. 

Now imagine the constant emotional strain the high-functioning autistic children go through. Is it any wonder that they can struggle controlling their anger? 

Now that you know why some children get angry it is important that you recognize the cycle of rage that autistic children go through.

Understanding the Cycle of Rage 

The cycle of rage is a term that is based upon the research of Professor Brenda Smith Myles and Anastasia Hubbard. The entire research can be found here

The research was developed to help parents, teachers, and professionals understand and prevent tantrums of children with Autism. 

Understanding the cycle of rage can be instrumental in preventing and managing tantrums in children with autism. The cycle typically consists of three stages:

  1. Rumbling stage

The first stage of a meltdown is the rumbling stage. 

A child can display specific behavioral signs that may appear to be small and unrelated to a subsequent meltdown. 

For example, they could clear their throats, drop their voices, strain their muscles, tap their feet, etc. 

Some kids engage in more visible activities, such as emotional or aggressive conduct.

If your child doesn’t know how to handle the building anger, they can lose control and enter the rage stage.


  1. Rage stage

During the rage stage your child will have lost their inhibitions and will start acting impulsively, emotionally, and occasionally explosively. 

These behaviors can be: 

  • Screaming
  • Biting
  • Hitting 
  • Kicking 
  • Destroying property 
  • Self-injury 

The best way to handle this is to get your child to a place where they feel comfortable so they can calm down. This is known as the recovery stage.


  1. Recovery stage

The recovery stage is the time period after the tantrum has ended. Some autistic children will feel remorseful during this time. You can expect your child to become sullen and withdrawn during this time period. Additionally, they may go to sleep due to feelings of exhaustion.   

Now that you understand the anger stages that HFA children go through, it is important that you recognize some of the main triggers that cause them to explode. 

Knowing these triggers can help you prevent an outburst before it gets started. 

Causes of Anger in Autistic Children

Identifying triggers that lead to anger in children with autism is essential for preventing outbursts. So,e common triggers include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Sensory overload
  • Feeling helpless
  • Changes in routine
  • Other people’s behavior
  • Being overwhelmed by multiple tasks

Of course, recognizing the anger triggers are only half the battle. It is important that you know how to deal with these issues before your child succumbs to a tantrum. 

In this regard, ABA therapy can be a huge advantage.

The Role of ABA Therapy in Managing Anger 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is an amazing way to help children with autism to develop and thrive. ABA therapists use evidence-based techniques to modify problem behaviors and teach adaptive skills.

Some effective ABA therapy techniques to control anger in children with autism include:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Rewarding desired behaviors to encourage their repetition.
  • Discrete Trial Training: Breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to facilitate learning.
  • Exercise: Incorporating physical activity to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Extinction: Withholding reinforcement for undesired behaviors to decrease their occurrence.
  • Antecedent-based Interventions: Modifying the environment to prevent challenging behaviors.
  • Modeling: Demonstrating appropriate responses for the child to imitate.
  • Redirection: Redirecting the child’s attention away from triggering situations.

If you would like to learn more about these ABA therapy techniques, check out our ABA therapy techniques guide. 

Final thoughts

Parenting a child with autism who struggles with anger issues can very be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, there can be positive progress. Understanding the diverse nature of autism and recognizing individual strengths and challenges are crucial in providing effective interventions and creating a supportive environment for children with autism.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy offers valuable tools to help children manage their emotions and develop essential skills. By acknowledging and addressing the triggers that lead to anger, parents and caregivers can help children with autism navigate their emotions more effectively, leading to improved emotional well-being and overall quality of life.

If you need help finding an ABA therapist for your child, please reach out. We can point you to the right team to contact so you can help your child overcome their anger issues.   

We hope you found this article useful. Subscribe to our social media pages to stay up to date with all of our content.  Check out some of our other helpful articles:

Social Skills for Autism

Behavioral Momentum in ABA Therapy

Autism Bracelets

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