Autism tantrums, aggressiveness, meltdowns, or distress

Autistic Women Blog 11/2/2020

I am not a doctor. Try any of the following at your own risk. These are just things I’ve tried and bits of information from others and what they have tried. There is no “one size fits all” treatment for autism. Each person is individual and has their own sensitivities.


Allergies/gastrointestinal issues/inflammation/vitamin deficiency- Gut issues are common among autistics. There can be various causes. Some people have food sensitivities from eating peas, carrots, sucralose, food dyes, preservatives, gluten, dairy, or other foods. Some allergies don’t show typical symptoms but result in behavioral issues, like tantrums. Digestive issues can also cause what’s called “leaky gut”. This is tiny holes in the intestine that can let toxins into the body. Getting tested for allergies, Celiac disease, and other digestive issues can reveal problems that you didn’t realize were there.

Sleep issues- This link is very informative.

Overstimulation- Stimuli of any kind can cause distress. My son had an automatic toilet flush while he was sitting on it once and it affected him for years. His teachers had to let him go to the bathroom by himself before the other kids could go in so that they couldn’t flush while he was in there. I have issues shopping because all the colors, sounds, smells, movement, people, choices, etc. can be overwhelming. I remember as a child getting frustrated with my mom when she would take us shopping and would run into someone she knew. They would stand there and talk and I would beg her to leave. I’m sure they thought I was rude. I didn’t know at the time but I was getting overstimulated and didn’t know how to say it. Stimuli can come from any of the senses.

Pain- Tooth pain, gut pain, broken bone, sprained body part, headache, earache, constipation, PMS or period, gall bladder issues, appendicitis, seasonal allergies, seizures? There’s so many possible sources of pain. My son would let his ear drum burst before saying anything about having an earache. He never acted as if he were in pain before that. He also did not want his teeth to fall out. I pulled 5 or 6 teeth out of his mouth at once one time that were very clearly ready to be pulled long before that. His new teeth had already grown in around the old ones and the old ones pulled out very easily with no blood.

Abuse- Are they being mistreated by someone and can’t speak about it? Are they dealing with someone toxic?

Change- Any kind of change can throw an autistic person off. Anything new: new clothes, new food, new pet, new person around, new item in the house, or new routine. Some people can take it better than others and sometimes it just depends on what changed. My son wouldn’t sleep in his new bed for 3 days because it was new.

Unable to communicate- Inability to communicate can make any situation worse.

Socializing- Many autistics don’t like forced eye contact or being touched. Typically social rituals like handshaking can be too much. Socializing can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to socialize. We just need friends who are understanding of our ways of communicating and are patient when we say we’ve had enough. We can easily get overstimulated in social situations.

Other conditions- Anxiety, OCD, ADD, ADHD, depression, dyslexia, epilepsy, and many others are conditions that often go hand in hand with autism.


Log everything including clothes they are wearing, food they are eating, people who visited, places you visited (everything!) and see if you can correlate specific events with specific behaviors. When you find something specific make a board or card, some form of communication, that they can use to let you know when they feel that way again and make sure they understand what that card/board means. Remember, sometimes the behavior may not happen immediately after the event that caused it.

Limit stimuli- I now pick my groceries up from the store. I order online, they gather all of my order, and they bring it out to my car at a designated time. Now, I don’t have to go in and deal with all the stimuli. It is a God send! I shop online and have it delivered to my house, also. I rarely have to go into a store for anything. Over-stimulation can happen anywhere if there is too much going on, even at home. Dimming or turning off lights, sitting in the quiet, and laying with a soft blanket are all ways that I unwind when I am feeling anxious or burned out. I’ve often ridden in the car on long drives with no radio on. Calming music helps me, also. My reactions to over-stimulation sometimes show up after the cause is over. I may have a headache after or brain fog. Sometimes I need a nap. Knowing what my limits are and being proactive are key to treating what causes my distress. Pay attention to your loved one. Stimuli can be from any of the senses: taste, smell, sight, hearing, and touch. Maybe the tags or seams in their clothes are bothering them. Their clothes may be too soft, itchy, stiff, tight, or loose. Figure out what bothers them and limit stimuli whenever you can.

Medication- I was completely anti-medication until I needed it. I’ve come to realize that I have struggled with anxiety my entire life and had no idea what it was until it manifested physically and scared the hell out of me. I know now and I treat it in many ways and do not rely solely on medication but I cannot deny how much it helps. Medications are controversial. They can make things worse sometimes. They can be abused. Educate yourself and use medicine with caution. Don’t just accept whatever the doctor throws at you.

CBD- Speaking of controversial, CBD has gained a lot of attention in the last few years. It is made from hemp and the stigma connected to marijuana cannot be denied. THC is the chemical that gets you high. CBD will not get someone high and contains only trace levels of THC if any at all. It has shown a lot of promise in treating many conditions. I think it is hard to deny that it at least has potential in treating certain conditions. Don’t just buy the first one you see. Do your research. There are tinctures, edibles, vapors, creams, and roll-ons. You may find positive results with one type but not the other. There are also different strengths. If you don’t feel a difference in your symptoms you may not be taking enough. CBD can be expensive so be aware of that.

Food- Cut out anything that you or your loved one is allergic to. Look for sneaky sources that might be listed under a different name. Gluten free and dairy free diets have helped many people and may be something to consider. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is another one that you can try. The right diet can help treat inflammation, also. Strict diets are hard to get started on but there are lots of resources now that can help. You can also find options in the store a lot easier than you could even five years ago.

People- Really evaluate the people that you have around you. How do you or your loved one feel after they leave? Are you/they relieved when that person leaves or do you feel better for having seen them? Be aware of feelings and reactions after someone leaves and limit your interactions with people who leave you with negative feelings.

Lights and screens- Fluorescent lights, computer screens, television screens, and cell phone screens can cause distress for some autistic people, especially if they also have epilepsy. All of these items can have flashing/strobing that may not be visible to the naked eye but are registered by the autistic brain. It can be very distressful and sometimes can cause seizures. Be aware of exposure to lights and screens outside the home. Stores have entire walls of tv’s. There are computer screens everywhere.

Items that may help- Weighted blankets, noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, soft items (soft isn’t for everybody), shiny items, sensory dough, compression clothes, seamless clothes, glitter bottles, chew toys, isolation, light covers, communication boards, talking devices, sensory swing, and sensory socks are just a few things that may help.

Be cautious about- ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), treatment facilities, and anything that claims to be “therapy”. Do your research before getting involved in anything like that.

This is just a general overview and there is much more to autism than what is in this blog. I don’t expect this to solve all autistic issues for ever and ever but hopefully it helps someone. Please feel free to send me suggestions for things that have helped you and I can put them in a later blog.

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