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Help! My Child Has Autism. Why Does He or She Cry All the Time?

Toni helps autistic teens and adults reach their employment and relationship goals. She is the author of the book Autism Translated.

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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:

Step 1

Rule out any possible chronic (ongoing) medical condition such as:

  • Seizures,
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Headaches.
  • 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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

Improving communication may decrease crying and tantrums

Improving communication may decrease crying and tantrums

Step 4

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.

References

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



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Toni Boucher (author) on May 26, 2019:

Anna, My guess is she would miss you if she didn't get to see you (even if she can't tell you). She might have some anxiety about the change every month. Using a visual calendar to show when she will be at your house and when she goes back to the group home might help if that is the case and you don't already do that. Also there might be something at the house that is causing sensory overload- certain lights or colors or sounds. She may also really miss home! Or she may cry because she is hungry or any other one of her needs isn't currently being met and she is lacking the ability to tell you any other way.

Anna on May 26, 2019:

My adult daughter lives in a residential home and when she comes home once a month she often crays.

Would it be because she misses home?

Or because I will visit her at her home once a week?

Should I see her less often?

Thanks,

Anna

Toni Boucher (author) on February 25, 2019:

Theresa Stellato- you can reach me at toni at toniboucher.net if you want to chat about your group. Toni

Riham E on March 02, 2018:

Suren,

I have the exact same experience with my 8 year old son with ASD. His “crying phase “ comes every 3-4 weeks and lasts for about 5 days. Have you had any professional explanation since your post?

Tauni on November 19, 2017:

My 3 year old granddaughter was just diagnosed with ASD she cries over every little thing. At 3:30 am she will cry and not stop if she thinks she’s hungry and I say to wait until morning and won’t stop until I get up and give her something to eat. She cries if she has a little scratch and wants a bandaid and if it comes off she freaks out. It never ends. I don’t know what to do.

Amy from Darlington, England on July 23, 2017:

Your right. I have developed coping mechanisms over the years. They don't always work, but I can get by alright and live a fairly normal life.

I have also started to notice things with my 8 year old daughter that show her to be like me and her dad. She hates changes in routine espeially when its a quick detour on our way to where we told her we are going. (So we try not to tell her if we can get away with it but not knowing can cause just as much problem).

Ps sorry for late reply.

Alisa Johnson on April 26, 2017:

I have a son who is 18month and all he does is cry... He had every test done but no the autism... He always hiting and hit his head... I just don't know what to do

suren on September 10, 2016:

My 8year old autistic son cries every fort night for 1 week continuous. He's been doing this from April. He doesn't want to sleep. Loss of appetite. Doctors don't know the cause. Is there any body that ever experienced the same problem

Toni Boucher (author) on March 30, 2016:

brutishspoon- thanks for sharing your experience. What I have found is that most children get through these rough patches and develop coping mechanisms and ways to communicate as they get older.

Amy from Darlington, England on March 04, 2016:

This is so typically me. I would cry at the slightest thing as a child.

Toni Boucher (author) on August 08, 2015:

Fussiness and crying all the time can be a sign of ASD. It can also be a sign of another unrecognized illness or medical condition or a combination. I recommend ruling out any possible underlying medical conditions with a good pediatrician and making sure that your husband's grand-baby is meeting their developmental milestones on time. How old is your husband's grandchild?

sherry on August 07, 2015:

My husband grandbaby cry all the time could it have to due to aspeberger

Toni Boucher (author) on May 22, 2014:

I'm glad you found this useful and I hope it will help make things easier for you and your daughter. It can be very hard (for you and your daughter) to deal with constant crying. I wish you both he best!

matt on March 26, 2014:

I found this site when I tried to find out more aboit asd. It is useful coz I realised that my 15 yr old daughter is not the only one having this problem. It is quite tiring and embarrasing sometime. She just cry all the time. If not crying, she will jump around. I guess they just have lots of energy.

Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on September 16, 2013:

Good practical advice. Shared on Twitter and FB.

pat on September 16, 2013:

I'd like to say this was helpful. Though it does point out some probable causes, it does not address them all. My child is not crying from pain, but for the fact she is not able to do what she wants, when she wants.

She likes to go outside walking, and she'd like to do this ALL day long.

When it's time to go home, she is inconsolable, and will cry for hours on end, beating the doors, twisting the locked knobs, and screaming at the top of her lungs in the most excruciating pitch you've ever heard. It can drive you to madness.

No distraction will calm her. Eventually she does get hungry, and will calm down to eat, but this generally takes at minimum 2 or 3 hours.

Then it all begins again the next morning.

Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on June 28, 2013:

Very helpful.

Toni Boucher (author) on October 05, 2011:

Thank you!

shea duane from new jersey on October 03, 2011:

Great hub! good info!