What Makes Autism Worse?

Parents and caregivers of individuals with autism often wonder what can make their loved one's symptoms worse. In this article, we will explore some of the factors that can exacerbate autism symptoms and offer some tips on how to manage them.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
December 1, 2023
Published On
December 1, 2023

Understanding Triggers for Worsening Autism

When it comes to autism, understanding the triggers that can worsen symptoms is crucial for providing appropriate support and care. Triggers are external factors that can lead to an increase in autistic behaviors or cause distress in individuals on the autism spectrum. By identifying and minimizing these triggers, it is possible to create a more supportive environment for individuals with autism.

The Impact of Triggers on Autism

Triggers can significantly impact individuals with autism, affecting their emotional well-being, behavior, and overall quality of life. When exposed to triggers, individuals on the autism spectrum may experience heightened anxiety, meltdowns, or increased sensory sensitivities. It is important to note that triggers can vary from person to person, as each individual with autism has unique needs and sensitivities.

Common Triggers for Worsening Autism

While triggers can be unique to each individual, there are some common triggers that are known to worsen symptoms in individuals with autism. These triggers can be categorized into different types, including sensory, environmental, social, and dietary triggers.

Trigger Type Examples
Sensory Triggers Sensory overload, hypersensitivity to certain sounds or textures
Environmental Triggers Changes in routine, exposure to loud noises or bright lights
Social Triggers Social anxiety, difficulty with social interactions or overstimulation
Dietary Triggers Food sensitivities, allergies, consumption of sugar or artificial ingredients

Understanding these common triggers is a crucial step in creating an environment that minimizes stress and supports individuals with autism. By recognizing and addressing these triggers, it is possible to create a more inclusive and comfortable space for individuals on the autism spectrum.

In the following sections, we will explore strategies and techniques for minimizing these triggers and providing support for individuals with autism. By implementing these strategies, parents and caregivers can help create a supportive environment that promotes the well-being and development of individuals on the autism spectrum.

It is important to note that while these strategies can be beneficial, seeking professional help and guidance is crucial for developing a comprehensive plan for managing triggers and supporting individuals with autism. Consulting with healthcare providers and working with therapists or specialists can provide valuable insights and personalized strategies.

Sensory Triggers

Individuals with autism may experience heightened sensitivity to sensory input, which can contribute to the worsening of their symptoms. Understanding and managing sensory triggers is an important aspect of supporting individuals with autism. In this section, we will explore two common sensory triggers: sensory overload and sensory hypersensitivity.

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload occurs when an individual is exposed to an overwhelming amount of sensory stimuli. This can include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. The brain of someone with autism may have difficulty processing and filtering sensory information, leading to an overload of sensations.

Sensory overload can manifest in various ways, such as increased agitation, irritability, anxiety, or withdrawal. It can be triggered by crowded or noisy environments, bright lights, strong smells, or certain textures.

To help minimize sensory overload, creating a sensory-friendly environment is essential. This involves reducing unnecessary stimuli, providing quiet spaces, and using calming techniques. Visual schedules and predictability can also help individuals with autism cope with sensory overload.

Sensory Hypersensitivity

Sensory hypersensitivity refers to an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Individuals with autism may have hypersensitive senses, making certain sounds, lights, or textures unbearable or painful. They may also have difficulty filtering out background noise or focusing on specific tasks due to their heightened sensory perception.

Sensory hypersensitivity can lead to increased stress, anxiety, or meltdowns. It is important to understand and identify specific triggers for each individual. By identifying and avoiding or minimizing exposure to these triggers, it is possible to reduce the impact of sensory hypersensitivity on individuals with autism.

Creating a sensory-friendly environment can significantly help individuals with sensory hypersensitivity. This includes using soft lighting, reducing background noise, using noise-canceling headphones, and providing comfortable clothing options. Visual schedules and social stories can also assist in preparing individuals for sensory experiences.

Understanding and addressing sensory triggers is crucial in supporting individuals with autism. By creating a supportive environment and implementing strategies to minimize sensory overload and hypersensitivity, it is possible to help individuals with autism navigate the world with greater ease and comfort.

Environmental Triggers

In addition to sensory and social triggers, environmental factors can also play a significant role in exacerbating symptoms and triggering challenging behaviors in individuals with autism. Understanding and managing these environmental triggers is essential for creating a supportive and comfortable environment. Two common environmental triggers for worsening autism include changes in routine and loud noises and bright lights.

Changes in Routine

Individuals with autism often thrive on predictability and routine. Sudden changes or disruptions in their daily routine can be distressing and overwhelming, leading to increased anxiety and difficulty coping with the change. It is important to establish and maintain a consistent routine to provide a sense of stability and reduce anxiety for individuals with autism.

When changes in routine are unavoidable, it can be helpful to prepare the individual in advance. Using visual schedules or social stories that outline the upcoming change and explain what to expect can help alleviate anxiety and facilitate a smoother transition. By gradually introducing and familiarizing the individual with the new routine, you can help minimize the impact of changes on their well-being.

Loud Noises and Bright Lights

Sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights is a common sensory challenge experienced by individuals with autism. These environmental stimuli can easily overwhelm their sensory system, leading to distress and meltdowns. It is important to create a sensory-friendly environment by minimizing exposure to loud noises and reducing the intensity of bright lights.

When possible, provide a quiet and calm space for individuals with autism to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. This can help them regulate their sensory input and regain a sense of calm. Using ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones can help reduce the impact of loud noises, while dimming lights or using soft, warm lighting can create a more comfortable visual environment.

By being mindful of these environmental triggers and implementing strategies to minimize their impact, you can help create a more supportive and accommodating environment for individuals with autism. Remember, every individual is unique, so it is essential to understand their specific sensitivities and preferences. Seeking guidance from healthcare providers or therapists experienced in working with individuals with autism can provide valuable insights and personalized strategies to address environmental triggers effectively.

Social Triggers

Social triggers can significantly impact individuals with autism, exacerbating their symptoms and challenges in social interactions. Understanding and addressing these triggers is essential for creating a supportive environment. Two common social triggers for individuals with autism are social anxiety and overstimulation and difficulty with social interactions.

Social Anxiety and Overstimulation

Social anxiety and overstimulation can be overwhelming for individuals with autism. Social situations that involve unfamiliar people, crowded spaces, or unpredictable interactions can trigger feelings of anxiety and distress. These experiences can lead to increased stress levels and worsen autism symptoms.

It's important to create an understanding and supportive environment for individuals with autism who experience social anxiety. Providing opportunities for socialization in controlled and structured settings can help alleviate anxiety. For example, participating in small group activities or engaging in social skills training programs can gradually expose individuals to social interactions and help build their confidence.

Difficulty with Social Interactions

Difficulty with social interactions is a core challenge for individuals with autism. They may have difficulties understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, or engaging in reciprocal conversations. These struggles can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, which can further exacerbate their autism symptoms.

To support individuals with autism in navigating social interactions, it is important to provide them with appropriate social skills training. This training can focus on teaching and reinforcing social cues, communication strategies, and problem-solving techniques. By equipping individuals with the necessary skills and tools, they can enhance their social interactions and minimize triggers that worsen their autism symptoms.

Understanding and addressing social triggers is crucial in helping individuals with autism thrive in social situations. By providing support, implementing appropriate interventions, and fostering a supportive environment, individuals with autism can have more positive social experiences and minimize the impact of these triggers on their well-being.

Dietary Triggers

When it comes to managing autism, understanding and addressing dietary triggers can be an important aspect. While the relationship between diet and autism is complex and varies from person to person, certain dietary factors have been reported to contribute to the worsening of autism symptoms. In this section, we will explore two common dietary triggers: food sensitivities and allergies and sugar and artificial ingredients.

Food Sensitivities and Allergies

Food sensitivities and allergies can have a significant impact on individuals with autism. Some individuals may be more susceptible to certain foods, which can lead to adverse reactions. These reactions may manifest as behavioral changes, gastrointestinal issues, or even exacerbation of autism symptoms.

Identifying food sensitivities and allergies can be challenging, as symptoms can vary widely and may not always be immediate. Keeping a food diary and noting any changes in behavior or physical symptoms after consuming certain foods can help identify potential triggers. Working closely with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian can also provide valuable guidance in determining if food sensitivities or allergies are contributing to the worsening of autism symptoms.

Sugar and Artificial Ingredients

The consumption of excessive sugar and artificial ingredients has long been a concern for overall health, and it may also impact individuals with autism. Some studies suggest that high sugar intake and the presence of certain artificial ingredients, such as food coloring and preservatives, could potentially worsen autism symptoms or contribute to behavioral difficulties.

Reducing the intake of processed foods and sugary snacks can be a valuable strategy for minimizing triggers in individuals with autism. Instead, focusing on a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can support overall health and potentially reduce the impact of dietary triggers.

While dietary changes can play a role in managing autism symptoms, it is important to note that not all individuals with autism will experience the same triggers or respond in the same way. It is recommended to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian who specializes in autism to develop an individualized plan that addresses specific dietary concerns.

Understanding and addressing dietary triggers is just one piece of the puzzle in managing autism. In the next section, we will explore strategies for minimizing triggers that go beyond diet, including creating sensory-friendly environments and seeking professional help.

Strategies for Minimizing Triggers

When it comes to minimizing triggers that can worsen symptoms of autism, implementing effective strategies can make a significant difference. By creating a supportive and understanding environment, individuals with autism can experience improved well-being and reduced negative impacts. Here are some strategies that can help minimize triggers for worsening autism:

Sensory-Friendly Environments

Creating sensory-friendly environments is crucial for individuals with autism, as sensory triggers can be overwhelming. A sensory-friendly environment involves reducing excessive stimuli and providing a calming atmosphere. This can be achieved by:

  • Dimming lights or using soft lighting to reduce harsh brightness.
  • Minimizing noise by using noise-cancelling headphones or providing quiet spaces.
  • Removing clutter and organizing the environment to reduce visual distractions.
  • Using soothing colors on walls and furniture to create a calming atmosphere.
  • Providing sensory tools and equipment, such as weighted blankets or fidget toys, to help regulate sensory input.

By implementing these sensory-friendly strategies, individuals with autism can feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed in their surroundings.

Visual Schedules and Predictability

Establishing visual schedules and promoting predictability can greatly assist individuals with autism in managing their daily routines and reducing anxiety. Visual schedules use pictures or written words to outline tasks and activities, providing a clear and structured plan. This helps individuals with autism understand what to expect and enhances their sense of control.

Additionally, maintaining a predictable environment can also be beneficial. This involves keeping routines consistent and providing advance notice of any changes or transitions. Predictability helps individuals with autism feel secure and reduces the likelihood of unexpected triggers. Using visual schedules and promoting predictability can greatly enhance daily functioning and reduce anxiety for individuals with autism.

Social Skills Training

Social interactions can be challenging for individuals with autism, leading to social triggers that worsen their symptoms. Social skills training can help individuals with autism navigate social situations effectively. This type of training focuses on developing and enhancing social skills such as:

  • Recognizing and interpreting social cues like facial expressions and body language.
  • Initiating and maintaining conversations by using appropriate language and turn-taking.
  • Practicing social problem-solving and conflict resolution strategies.
  • Developing empathy and understanding others' perspectives.

Through social skills training, individuals with autism can gain confidence in social settings and reduce the stress associated with social interactions.

By implementing strategies such as creating sensory-friendly environments, using visual schedules and promoting predictability, and providing social skills training, parents and caregivers can support individuals with autism in minimizing triggers and improving their overall well-being. It is important to consult with healthcare providers and therapists who specialize in autism to tailor these strategies to the specific needs of individuals with autism.

Seeking Professional Help

When it comes to managing triggers and minimizing the worsening of autism symptoms, seeking professional help is an essential step. Healthcare providers, therapists, and specialists play a crucial role in providing guidance and support for individuals with autism and their families.

Consulting with a Healthcare Provider

Consulting with a healthcare provider, such as a pediatrician or a psychiatrist, is an important first step in understanding and managing triggers for worsening autism. These professionals have the expertise and knowledge to assess your child's individual needs and develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

During a consultation, healthcare providers may evaluate the specific triggers that worsen your child's symptoms, such as sensory sensitivities, environmental factors, or dietary issues. They may also explore any underlying medical conditions or co-occurring disorders that could be impacting your child's autism.

Based on this assessment, the healthcare provider can provide personalized recommendations and strategies to help minimize triggers and improve your child's overall well-being. They may suggest medication options, if appropriate, to address specific symptoms or refer you to other specialists for further evaluation.

Working with Therapists and Specialists

Therapists and specialists play a crucial role in supporting individuals with autism and their families. They provide targeted interventions and strategies to address specific challenges and minimize triggers that worsen autism symptoms.

One key therapy commonly used for individuals with autism is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA therapists work with individuals to develop skills, manage behaviors, and reduce triggers through structured interventions. These therapies can be tailored to address sensory, social, and communication challenges that may contribute to worsening symptoms.

Other specialists, such as occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists, can also provide valuable support. Occupational therapists can address sensory sensitivities and help individuals develop strategies to cope with sensory overload. Speech-language pathologists can assist with communication difficulties, social skills, and self-regulation.

By working closely with therapists and specialists, you can gain valuable insights into your child's unique needs and receive guidance on evidence-based interventions. They can provide you with strategies to create a sensory-friendly environment, establish visual schedules for predictability, and implement social skills training. These interventions can help your child navigate triggers more effectively and enhance their overall quality of life.

Remember, every individual with autism is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Collaborating with healthcare providers, therapists, and specialists will empower you with the knowledge and tools to develop a personalized approach that addresses your child's specific triggers and minimizes the worsening of autism symptoms.


Can medications exacerbate autism symptoms?

Certain medications can worsen autism symptoms, especially those that affect the central nervous system. Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD, for example, can increase hyperactivity and anxiety in some individuals with autism. It is important to discuss any medication changes with a healthcare professional.

Are there any alternative therapies that can help manage autism symptoms?

There are many alternative therapies available that claim to help manage autism symptoms, but their effectiveness is not well-established. Some examples include aromatherapy, music therapy, and acupuncture. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any alternative therapies.

Can stress exacerbate autism symptoms?

Yes, stress can exacerbate autism symptoms. Individuals with autism may have difficulty coping with stress and may experience increased anxiety or irritability as a result. It is important to create a calming environment and teach stress-management techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

Does exercise help manage autism symptoms?

Yes, exercise can be beneficial for managing autism symptoms. Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood in individuals with autism. It is important to choose activities that the individual enjoys and feels comfortable doing.

Can socialization worsen autism symptoms?

Socialization can be challenging for individuals with autism, but it is an important skill to develop. While social situations may cause anxiety or sensory overload initially, exposure over time can help desensitize the individual and improve social skills. It is important to provide support and guidance during social situations and recognize when the individual needs a break or quiet space.


Autism is a complex disorder that can be challenging for both the individual and their loved ones. While there is no cure for autism, there are many strategies that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. By understanding what can make autism symptoms worse and developing a plan to manage them, individuals with autism can thrive and lead fulfilling lives.