Tag Archives: Anger


Some on you may remember that as I’m editing my book for publication, parts of the material edited out is being posted here. This is from the first chapter, in a section on autistic experiences of emotion–an attempt to counter the “emotionless autistic” stereotype. So, here is “Anger . . .

What triggers your rage attacks?” someone asked on the Wrong Planet website.  The answers were many and varied.  “Severe bullying.” “When I felt powerless to control something.” “Cruelty.” “Feeling as if my integrity has been questioned.” “Being called ‘crazy’.” “People hurting my friends.” “When somebody tries to take my parking space” (This individual lives in New York City.) “Noise pollution.” “When people yell at me.” “Parents who abuse their children.” “Obnoxiously loud people. Obnoxiously arrogant people. Obnoxious people in general.” “Frustration from not being able to get a job.” “Lack of ability to communicate verbally.”[1]   

Their lives full of frustrations, disappointments, and infuriating experiences of cruelty and dismissal, people with autism are frequently angry.  And often this anger is very intense:

Emotions, we feel them more intensely than others and sometimes it’s too much handle. Especially emotions such as anger and frustration. In my case, I do have quite the temper, however, I JUST about manage to contain and internalise it. I fear the day I finally lose grasp and actually express anger.[2]

Young autistic children, in particular, have tremendous difficulty controlling their anger.  It tends to explode in the form of meltdowns.  The warning signs may be very subtle, hard for neurotypical adults to detect.  Then the meltdown appears to come out of nowhere, even when it has actually been building for some time.  Here an adult recalls her childhood emotions:

On the surface everything looked calm, right up to the point where the pressure became too much and I exploded with violent fury. I was never able to talk about it: the feelings were so intense that I couldn’t contain them and all I could vocalise were screams of anguished rage.  It was an anger born as much of frustration at my inability to identify and turn my emotions into words as it was of my distress and discomfort.[3]

Most children on the autism spectrum do gradually learn to contain their anger, in a process that may go unnoticed by neurotypical adults.  Here an eleven-year-old autistic student tries to control his meltdown after being severely bullied all day at school:

He stepped out [of the school] to see his papers being blown away, the girl who was being suspended for hitting him all day having apparently dumped out his things. And that’s when the meltdown occurred. He began picking up desks and throwing them. Keep in mind that he’s eleven. All of the desks and chairs ended up in a pile in the middle of the room. It was a slow-motion rage — oddly controlled, as he went out of his way to make sure he never threw a chair or desk in such a way that I would be hit by one.[4]

This angry child “went out of his way” to make sure that no one would be hurt by his actions.  Fortunately, the writer, an autistic teacher, noticed this.  A neurotypical teacher might have just focused on his throwing furniture and punished accordingly.

By the time autistic children grow into adults, they are usually able to avoid meltdowns and aggression, even when they are angry.  Of course, some adult autistics, just like some neurotypicals, never master this skill and continue to have short fuses and violent outbursts throughout their lives.  But the majority will at most allow themselves to yell at someone, or they will have a quiet “shutdown” (which usually involves seeking isolation and then sobbing).  

The real problem is that, even when they control their behavior, the anger does not go away.  Many autistics experience anger on a regular basis.  They lead very difficult and frustrating lives, and, though they may not act out aggressively, they are still prone to “angry rumination,” constantly dwelling on the things that have made them angry, going over and over events in their minds.  Autistics are prone to perseverating on particular thoughts anyway, and upsetting events can easily preoccupy them for long periods of time.  In the general population, such “angry rumination” is associated with a variety of negative psychological outcomes.  While little research has been done on the phenomenon in autistic adults, two studies have shown an association between their angry rumination and problems with anxiety and depression.[5]   More research on ways to block rumination in autistics and to lessen stress in autistic lives seems long overdue.

[1] “What Triggers Your Rage Attacks” on the Wrong Planet website, December, 2017:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=357406&start=0.

[2] DestinedToBeAPotato, in the “do you have trouble controlling ur anger?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, February 15, 2016:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=306240.

[3] Alexandra Forshaw, “The Arrogance of Sanity,” on her blog My Autistic Dance, October 28, 2018:  https://myautisticdance.blog/2018/10/28/the-arrogance-of-sanity/.

[4] Troy Camplin, “Autism in the Schools — A Personal Narrative,” on his An Intense World blog, November 21, 2017:  https://anintenseworld.com/2017/11/21/autism-in-the-schools-a-personal-narrative/.

[5] Lake-Hui Quek, et al., “Co-Occurring Anger in Young People With Asperger’s Syndrome,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 68:10 (October, 2012), 1142-48; Shivani Patel, “Association between anger rumination and autism symptom severity, depression symptoms, aggression, and general dysregulation in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder,” Autism 21:2 (February, 2017), 181-89.