Is your autistic child always crying? Good news: It’s not for no reason. Read on to learn why.
Why your autistic child is always crying
First and foremost, language matters. If your autistic child is older and truly crying all the time, you need to get them screened for depression and work with an autism-friendly therapist. Not every therapist specializing in autism is going to be autism-friendly.
If your autistic child is between the ages of 2 and 9, then they are likely experiencing meltdowns. Autistic children cry more and excessively because the world is more stressful from a neurodivergent perspective.
I am aware of where my clothes meet my skin most of the time, from the smallest amount of movement. I hate pants because of the way it creases when I move, the aftertaste of ice cream, and the electric hum of appliances and chargers.
Every single day, your autistic child is experiencing life while aware of every sensory input, exploring the world through their lens whilst under the influence of the non-autistic lens. If they are in any kind of behavioral programs, they are having to mask their autism on top of everything else.
Needless to say, no wonder they are so overwhelmed!
During an autistic meltdown, your child feels the weight of the entire world crashing down on them. Meltdowns are not behavioral problems, but the consequence of overwhelm, stress and frustration.
The best thing you can do for your autistic child during a meltdown is to be present with them. Keep them safe. Your child doesn’t need you to fix things or play hero; they just need you to love and accept them even during the worst times of their lives.
Autism meltdowns do not end once your autistic child turns a certain age. Any autistic person of any age can experience meltdowns at any time.
Sensory overload occurs when stimuli – typically external – is too much to bear. Imagine your hand is over a flame. People who do not experience sensory overload can just remove their hands when it’s too hot. Those who experience sensory overload, even a little bit, often cannot.
Children and neurodivergent people are often not given complete autonomy. Neurotypical adults do have autonomy – they choose what they want to do with their bodies and when, no one gets upset and forces them to hug when they don’t want to, and they are capable of leaving situations that make them uncomfortable or grind their gears.
Neurotypical children and neurodivergent individuals frequently do not have this autonomy and are expected to endure stressful situations where they feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable.
Stress, anger and frustration
Stress happens when we feel like we are losing control or our sense of self. Autonomy is crucial to the well-being of autistic children, or else their quality of life will be severely less than that of their non-autistic peers.
Negative effects of long-term stress on the body include cardiovascular complications, poorer health, suicidal ideation, increased likelihood of adopting harmful coping mechanisms.
The non-autistic parent of a stressed child might only consider their autistic children’s signs of stress individually. Unfortunately, not all pediatricians are privy to just how much autistic people are affected on a whole body level by their conditions.
In autistic children, stress looks like:
- Allergic reactions that are more severe than usual
- Gastrointestinal distress, including constipation, diarrhea and gas
- Increased stimming and sensitivity to external stimuli, like clothes and food
- Keeps forgetting to eat, stay hydrated, use the bathroom when they need to go, etc. (increased interoception impairment)
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite or more selective (e.g. now a picky eater when they weren’t previously)
- Rash or hive caused by unknown reasons, or after crying (extreme emotional stress)
- Wetting the bed (no matter what age)
Please don’t feel like a failure for not realizing your child is stressed out. You’re not a failure for not being able to read your child’s mind. Instead, use children’s books about emotional regulation and feelings to increase your child’s vocabulary — these tools will help improve your communication with each other.
Natural emotional relief
Crying releases oxytocin and endorphins, which help us feel better and relieved. Sometimes, it happens because we’re surprised, happy or even overjoyed!
Telling someone to stop crying, or not allowing them to cry, regardless of age or reason, is a form of emotional abuse autistic children are commonly put through. It also will not stop meltdowns, but it will increase fear and encourage them to find harmful coping methods.
Prolonged episodes of crying could be signs of mental illness or greater health conditions that do not meet the eye. Children as young as three years of age can be diagnosed with depression, so schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician if they exhibit any of the following:
- Spending 2+ hours/day feeling sad or irritable
- Remains in a negative state most of the time
- Loss of pleasure engaging in activities they typically enjoy
- Excessive guilt
Signs of extreme stress and overwhelm in preteens and up include neurotypical warning signs, but may present itself in sensory-seeking behavior. Your autistic teen with “problematic behavior” might actually be struggling with stress and depression, but have no idea how to – or not feel safe enough to – articulate this to you.
High-masking autistic children, teens and adults might be accomplishing goals left and right, participating in multiple extracurricular activities, but failing at taking care of themselves. This kind of behavior in undiagnosed autistic teens and adults is what ultimately leads to a diagnosis – after a lot of emotional and relational damage has been done.
I hope this helps you empathize more with your autistic child and recognize when to get help. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.