Help! My Child Has Autism. Why Does He or She Cry All the Time?
Children with Autism Often Cry Inconsolably
Parents of children with autism often say things like:
- "My child won't stop crying and I don't know how to help her."
- "My son was born crying and hasn't stopped since."
- "She cries even when I think she should be happy."
Four Steps to Help You Figure Out Why Your Child Is Crying
Determining the reason your child is upset can feel like an impossible task but there are a few steps that you can take to help your child and you feel better. Oftentimes, families and professionals alike overlook the following possible causes of ongoing crying. Keep in mind that your child may be fussy as a result of one or a combination of two or more of the following:
Rule out any possible chronic (ongoing) medical condition such as:
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- If your child does not have a history of being fussy but has suddenly become irritable or or goes through stages where they cry for long periods of time, check into the possibility of ear infections and toothaches as well.
It is important to find a specialist who has experience with autism to accurately diagnose a condition and address the unique needs of a child on the spectrum. There is some compelling research that shows drastic improvements in some children with autism who are successfully treated for GI problems. Seizures can cause physical discomfort but they can also disorient a child leaving them anxious and frustrated.
Determine if your child has a sensory integration disorder which is causing discomfort or pain.
When the body does not accurately interpret sight, smell, taste touch or a sense of balance, that person is said to have a sensory integration (SI) problem. This can lead to oversensitivity to pain and/or the inability to feel pain. Individuals on the spectrum who are able to talk about their experiences report that sensory problems can cause irritability. Seemingly harmless items and situations such as seams in socks or the sound of a yogurt lid may cause a strong reaction in a child with autism.
While there is a need for more research on the subject, many individuals with autism and their families also report that successful occupational therapy by a therapist trained in sensory integration can be very helpful to relieve discomfort which can lead to crying and irritability.
Find a local occupational therapist trained in sensory integration to perform an evaluation to determine if this could be your child's problem.
Address Your Child's Anxiety.
Children with autism have a tremendous amount of anxiety over things that would not upset a typical child to the same degree. For example, any change in routine (turning right after school to go to the bank instead of left to go home), meeting new people, going to new places, encountering new tastes or smells, even exposure to new toys may cause anxiety in your child. This anxiety can cause children with autism to cry.
It is important to note that severe forms of anxiety can mimic symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and therefore a child's anxiety may be overlooked. Adapting your child's environment, gradual exposure to things that cause anxiety, using visual supports and improving communication can all help decrease anxiety.
If you decide to explore the possibility of medication to treat symptoms of anxiety, it is important to find a psychiatrist or developmental pediatrician trained in autism. Children on the spectrum may need lower than average doses of medication and some medications prescribed to children with autism can actually increase anxiety levels.
Help your child improve their ability to communicate with you.
Imagine not being able to tell people what you need or how you feel? Imagine not understanding what the people around you are saying? All children with autism have some form of communication problem and this can lead to frustration, fear and ultimately fussy behavior. Qualified speech therapists can help determine the areas of communication that need improvement. Some children with autism also do very well with communication supports such as the Picture Exchange System (PECS), objects or other adaptive devices.
Horvath, K and Perman, J.A, "Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms" Current GastroenterologyReports 4.3 (2002) 251-258, print
Steingard, R, Zimnitzy, B et aI. "Sertraline Treatment of Transition-Associated Anxiety and Agitation in Children with Autistic Disorder" Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Spring 1997, 7(1): 9-15. doi:10.1089/cap.1997.7.9
Shane, Howard, "Using Visual Scene Displays to Improve Communication and
Communication Instruction in Persons With Autism Spectrum Disorders" Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication 15.1 (2006) 7-13, print