Why do autistic children scream?

This is an assumption that all autistic children scream. They don’t. Lower functioning children on the spectrum scream because they like the sound of their voices and aren’t using them to talk. Or they have a health problem that they can’t tell a parent or doctor about. Pain will make them scream too, and since their pain thresholds are already low, they scream when they even so much as feel a pin prickle.

Parents have to recognize what the different screams mean. Just as a scream of terror in a horror movie means one thing and a scream of surprised means something else in another, so the screams of autistic children who do scream have their own meanings. Watching for other non-verbal body cues help parents figure out why their child is screaming.

A particular form of autism spectrum disorder that only affects girls is called Cri Du Chat, which is French for “cry of the cat”. It’s an extremely rare disorder but has become part of the spectrum because it attacks infant girls at the age of twenty-four months, the same time that autism begins to transform children who have it. Their cries, or screams, sound very much like the piercing cry of a cat being tortured, and will continue it for hours. It’s very unnerving to hear and even more unnerving to be around the whole time it continues. Supposedly over time it decreases as the little girl grows and continues to regress in all of her abilities.

As for high functioning autistic children who scream, they do so because they want you to pay attention to them and they think that if you aren’t looking right at them and acknowledging them when they talk you are ignoring them. They do not like being ignored unless they want to be. This behavior is easily correctable, as high functioning autistic children can respond and learn from discipline just as well as the next child. They just need to be reminded to use their words, because they have them and they can use them.

The spectrum is wide, with many variations on it. Generalizations such as this one about all autistic children screaming is precisely what promotes the stereotype that is hurtful and not helpful. If a child screams, it is safe to always ask the parent why; they might tell you that their child is fine or that he/she has autism spectrum disorder and this is typical for just their child. That is the truth, too. No two autistic children are alike; one may scream and the other doesn’t. It’s just the mysteries of autism. There are many more behavioral problems in children with autism. Apply these powerful behavior management strategies to control an autistic kid.

31 thoughts on “Why do autistic children scream?”

  1. Hi I live next door to a kid who is on the autism spectrum and screams a fair amount. This article about screaming was very helpful. I don’t like to hear kids scream but this information helped me understand why it happens and what it might be.
    thank you
    sheila davis

    1. Thank you Sheila for liking our post. We appreciate your input. And we also commend you for having sympathy now towards autism. I know sometime it does get on our nerves but it’s well worth it. Cause these special angels does offer pure love. You just have to enter into their world. Thank you again. God Bless!

    2. My Daughter is fourteen and has started screaming. She is moderate on the scale. She also has ADHD and OCD. This article has helped and given me good insight. I believe my Daughter is attention seeking right now. I will ignore and reward her (good) behavior. Daily this disorder throws me. It is a life long process of learning. I have to always remember how hard this is on her. #livinginSydneyworld. Oh what a beautiful mind👪

  2. I also live next door to a family who have a son who screams, but it’s sometimes for a quarter of an hour. The first time I heard it (the first day I moved in) it was for such an extensive period of time that I assumed he had some kind of disorder. It’s a daily occurrence, at any time of day. I went over once because he sounded so distressed, I thought maybe someone was hurting him. The parents don’t speak much English, but he seems to be fine, not being abused. He rides his bike around the complex (he’s probably 4 or 5 years old). Perhaps it is autism, just not the way I’ve ever seen it. I wish there was some way to help him. It’s very disturbing.

  3. My brother joe would very often throw his screaming fits for hours at a time. I always felt like he was punishing us for whatever reason. He is a severe autistic and even today at age 46 he has no real communication skills, maybe that of a 3 year old child,he is also very destructive of himself and of property like smashing out windows. The only way he stopped the screaming was when his voice changed around age 13. He also wets and messes in his pants and often masturbates himself in public. It was always known that he has homosexual tendencies and has been caught at it a few times. He also has a tendency towards violence particularly to women.( he nearly killed our mother) He is at Whitten Center in Clinton, South Carolin a and gets very professional care and though they try their very best to train him it is mostly useless as he has changed very little since he was diagnosed at abouit age 3. My parents were duly warned about the RH Blood Factor by an excellent doctor from Union, S.C. named Dr. Fielder and also my mother’s advanced age (40 years). My father is a diagnosed schizophrenic who also has gay tendencies and is destructive and abusive and also would attack our mother in fits of uncontrolled rage. People should pay attention and not have children indiscriminately particularly when one or both parents have mental type issues.

  4. My son is 15 and going through puberty. He’s autistic, plus has another 6 diagnoses. He’s non-verbal and screams a lot when angry, excited, tired… he tantrums like a 4 year old. It’s very difficult to deal with but I try my best. To make my life “easier” my neighbor has started calling the cops. This now excites my son even more, makes him angry when the cops won’t blast the sirens, and then I’m terrified he’ll go into a seizure because he gets to upset.
    Love thy neighbor, right?

    1. I would learn all the city, county, & state noise ordinances. Every single one, thoroughly. There are bound to be so many that almost everyone will violate them weekly. Then submit your own complaints. Why not, this is a dynamic they wanted so make sure they play by the rules too.

  5. I really do sympathise with parents who have to deal with an autistic child but very few of you seem to realise the impact it has on one being a neighbour to a child who has meltdowns regularly. I have not had a solid night sleep in 4 years (been in my current home for 9 years) since a family with an autistic boy moved in. I desperately just want to have a day or week where my home is the place where I can recharge after a hard days work without being subjected to noise levels which I find intolerable. These occur 7 days a week, 365 days a year and I have spoken to the parents who where totally offended and angry with me. They continually have marital arguments in front of both kids so if its not the boys screaming or having a meltdown its them. I own my property and with the current economy cannot even look at selling it as I would lose money on it. Is it really unfair of me to expect that I can come home at 17h00 and expect to have a peaceful and calm and noise free evening and especially weekend in my own home?

    1. At least you don’t have to be in direct contact with it, or have to be responsible for the kid, ……my son was recently diagnosed with autism, and he is non-verbal and a screamer, a crier …over anything and everything, even when he’s just playing he’ll yell cause he’s having fun its SOOO STRESSFUL!!! , my last neighbor was so tired of it, so she called CPS on us, and that made matters worse, now every little whimper he makes scares me, I think the cops are going to show up, we can’t even really correct him cause it makes him scream more, but we as devoted, loving, caring parents of these innocent children, stay strong by their sides, no matter how overwhelming and frustrating it can sometimes get, because that’s what good parents do. the point is you think you got it bad, and it’s so unfair…how do you think we feel, were there trying our best with what we got, which isn’t much when you can not control an autistic screaming child. its not your problem ignore it, if its that unbearable then move.

      1. Julia, your answer to Felicity is inappropriate. She is not being hurtful or unsympathetic but you are.

        She is not related to the screaming child. She has no obligation to that child. She is entitled to the quiet enjoyment of her home, however. You seem to think because life has dealt you a tough hand that everyone should share your misery.

        If you think hearing constant screaming of a child you love is difficult, imagine how difficult it is for someone who does not have that bond with your child.

        If this sounds tough, it’s no tougher than your position that other people should be deprived of sleep, calmness and suffer financial loss because you got a bad deal.

    2. Felicity, you have no idea the impact of dealing with a child who suddenly lets out this high pitched scream. Put yourself in their place. What do you suggest, is the answer to stopping this?? Can you imagine the stress the parents are under. I am a grandparent and I can tell you it not easy!

      1. Why is this Felicity’s problem to solve? It’s not her child. She has a right to come home to a quiet house – as she did for years before this family moved in.

        Their problems are not hers and asking for a good night’s sleep in one’s home is not unreasonable. Expecting that innocents must suffer is.

        1. She does not have a “right” to come home home to a quiet house. She lives in a community which includes all types of individuals, pets and their accompanying appropriate noises. (the sounds coming from the autistic child are unfortunate, but within the realm of appropriate and expected behavior of such child) If she expects total peace perhaps she should live in an adult community that doesn’t allow children or pets pets. She then will have a higher chance of living in the environment she desires. The “right” she has is to pursue this type of environment. I hope she thinks about it so she can be happier. However, if and when she moves I hope it isn’t to a condo in which she could be living above someone who loves music or underneath someone with hardwood floors! It’s hard to be the parent or the neighbor in such a situation. Has anyone asked what it must be like for the child? Compassion for all parties would go a long way in understanding. I know of one person with a similar complaint that used headphones or earplugs when they must have silence. Perhaps it provides some relief for the neighbor.

    3. Felicity, you are correct. Incessant screaming is unacceptable. Its never acceptable to make one’s problems other peoples problems. Unfortunately for some reason if an autistic person makes horrific sounds that are unlike any other sounds made in the neighborhood, all must suffer because as someone said here, the parent is suffering. I am not a believer in that tyoe of entitlement thinking. Yet what is being said here is that the autistic person or their family is not expected to have any respect for you or your family. It is bizarre, illogical and unfair. The screaming and we are not talking normal child sounds, is horrific, depressing and psychologically abusive to those around it. The parents are not using the right behaviour modification tools and or their kid is severe and needs to be placed where professionals know how to handle this.

      1. All you people that are slandering autistic kids and their parents are damn right disgusting and obviously know nothing about it, your all so quick to judge what you don’t know and that’s because you are all ignorant to it and all you see is a screaming kid!! Your all pathetic !!!!!!!!!!!!
        All the parents out there who have autistic kids just ignore these sad people, your doing a great job looking after your kids and it does not matter what anybody thinks especially people who can only broadcast anothers family business on the internet.

    4. I know this is old, but I just came across it. I do sympathize with neighbors to autistic childern. I have an autistic child who can be very loud. We lived in a triplex before he was born and it took awhile for us to be able to move after his diagnosis. I get that people feel it’s not their problem and shouldn’t have to deal with it, but autism rates are very high and not everyone can afford to live somewhere without close neighbors. I think that more people need to push for adequate housing to be available to these families in order to help everyone enjoy home life.

    5. Wow! I’m sure they own their home too…. Maybe you should “walk a day in their shoes”. Maybe a move would be your best option. Thus disorder is hard on everyone. No one in my family invites us over. Only my Dad. The rest are to busy with normal children. I am blessed. God has let me see both sides. Two normal and one special needs children. You should offer your neighbor a break. Lend a hand. I’m sure they could use the help. I would advise reading all you can about the disorder. It will help. God bless and my prayers for all of you.

  6. Hello,
    My son is 3.3 yr old. He is among the late talkers. But these days I hv noticed, he screams a lot. He screams and if we dont pay attention he himself will come and say “no shouting”. His teacher is very upset as according to her he pushes other kids in class when he is excited. Is it something I worry about? Or its just a passing phase? I am so confused. He is not being diagnosed with any of such disorders. Is this some behaviour issues?

  7. My near 2 and a half year old screams and cries for no reason. He’ll throw his toys and then scream. We put him to bed, he’ll scream for an hour… he has not been diagnosed but he has many signs of autism. He’s very sociable though.

  8. My son now nearly 3 has autism he screeches out a high pitched ear piercing scream constantly, when hes happy, sad, eating, bathing, playing, going to bed even does it in his sleep its just nonstop. Luckily for me my neighbours are very understanding not like a few on here who are basically saying “herd us all up & remove us from suburbs” or lock our kids away in an institution, Shame on you!!!! one can only hope your grandkids/kids are born NORMAL as they will get no support from you.

    1. Sarah and Susan,

      I am struggling with coping with a screaming autistic child neighbor. They are so close to use that I feel like he is in the same room. I feel for the parents and their non-autistic daughter, but it is really taking a toll on me and my health. I bought my home a year ago and they recently moved into a rental home. I can’t “just sell” my home as people so simply suggest. The family has a tiny one bedroom apartment, without air conditioning so they leave their doors and windows open all hours of the day and night. This means that if he isn’t screaming outside (which he often is, and often unaccompanied) I still am forced to listen to it. I want to start a dialogue with them, but they speak limited English and I don’t know how they will react or retaliate it offended. I don’t believe they have the resources for adequate treatment, and the fact that they let him scream outside, and don’t close their windows tells me that they don’t realize the affect on their surrounding neighbors. Any advice on 1. How to start a dialogue with them (we’ve never met) 2. Coping with their and now my situation would be greatly appreciated.

      I know parents of these children struggle endlessly. But you can’t attack “us” the neighbors for these feelings. It’s really hard on us and we really feel like there is nothing we can do about it. I can’t get him therapy, shut their windows, etc. So rather than attack us and judge us, offer us help on how to approach them and help our neighbors, and learn how to cope.

      1. Amy,
        I do understand your situation very well. If possible, find out what language they speak. Write a simple Letter about the situation and then Go to Google translate and do the translation in whatever their language is. I am assuming that you are leaving in a hot climate area. So if you can afford, buy them a small 1 ton A.C which cost around $90 or so. And buy the best Noise-Canceling Headphones and listen to your favorite music once in a while to alter the situation. Also If you can find out if there is any special ed school or instituion available. I kindly request you if you can please help them. Having an autistic child can be very tough for parents. So please help them. That way your situaion will change too. This is my 2 cents.

  9. I have a 5 year old high functioning autistic stepdaughter, my two older girls also. My kids were dream children to raise so far. My stepdaughter is very slightly developmentally delayed. She screams less these days, thank God. It used to be frequent. With her, it’s hard to tell what behavior is bratty, or what is more autistic. This is a constant struggle for me. I have learned to push her through her fears, of the pool ladder, of the treehouse, etc. If you observed these moments, you would think I was pushing her too hard, she would cry, shake, drool, scream, repeat random words, like “groceries, groceries help help” I put her back up on the pool ladder 16 times, she was a mess. The next day she climbed right up and it became her favorite thing. Never did she fear it again. I have done this over anything I think she has irrational fear over. This works for my autistic child, maybe not yours, but don’t listen to anyone who says, “don’t change that behavior she is autistic”. My question is this, she is not allowed to scream, we tell her all the time to use her words instead when she is frustrated. I have been mirroring her screaming, but louder, and bigger, this seems not gentle, not appropriate, and counter to good parenting. It does get her attention, I try to roar, like a lion, I try to not be emotional about it, but sometimes I’m angry, the human child scream feels like a neurological trigger, like a baby’s crying, it elicits a primal response. It infuriates me and my kids at times. The response an autistic child gets for annoying behavior is real-world, it’s not always nice, but this is Earth, we are human-apes, and this is, sometimes unfortunately, where the screaming ends up. This is where I am, her and I play a lot, she knows now that I won’t let her get hurt facing her fears, but the scream mirroring is an experiment, as is most of the autism parenting.

  10. I have to comment, although I do not have an autistic child or am a neighbor to one.
    We have to look at basic human rights to our homes and peace of mind. I have taught autistic
    children and yes, they are charming and have a lovable side that is unique to them as they are
    usually guileless and so innocent and sweet. You don’t ordinarily find this in children who are
    very privileged, many of whom I teach. At least not as much. So I adore these kids. However, I
    have a right to peace and quiet in my home. My rights are no less than anyone else’s, even the
    family with a special needs child. I teach the autistic children in a regular middle school classroom
    with 39 other children. Sometimes it’s as many as 10 children with special needs in one room with
    30 other children. It’s called a co-taught class, and in CA this is reality. The Sped teacher is rarely
    there, as she has IEP meetings constantly. So it’s me, 30 regular students, 9 other students with
    special needs, and your autistic child. Imagine it. I try so hard to meet all of their needs, often
    falling short, but I love them and genuinely like them, so I am successful and popular with kids
    and parents. Do I complain? NO. This is my job. This is work. They are allowed the same rights as
    other kids, and too bad for me if I don’t like it. They only give me one class like this, and it’s not like
    I can’t do it. I can. If I do not like it I can choose another profession. Is it fair? It is as fair as life itself.
    Life is never really fair. If I don’t like huge classes, I can move to another state. My responsibility, my
    problem. This is work, where I already have signed up for a challenging career However, let’s talk
    about other kids. Imagine your own child getting bullied at school for being different. Kids call him
    names, push him, laugh at him. This is real. Can you demand the school stop it? How? Control 2400
    hormonal, want to fit in middle schoolers who do not have fully developed executive functioning?
    No. You really cannot. They will find a way to still make fun of him. Your kid is in a situation of “real
    life” where people will make fun of him. That is reality. You either deal with it or put him in a special
    school. The reason is, this is school. Free school. Life is not fair. Now, put him in a private school. Pay one thousand dollars a month for an alternative school that will meet your needs. Now, is bullying okay? HELL no! You are paying a ton of money to prevent this, and be honest: that is exactly what you will say to the principal. Now, move to your neighborhood. If it were free public housing, agreed. You get what
    you get. Bummer, but life isn’t fair. However, if you pay to live somewhere and it is expensive, and it takes a whole lot of effort and hard work to keep your home, it might be part of your serious needs to
    a calm night and peaceful rest. In that case, YES you can complain. Just like private school: I PAY for this, and I selected this, and the county has to make sure I receive my peace of mind. Remember, you know you will squawk if the private school interrupts your child’s peace of mind. IF however, the neighborhood already has the autistic screaming child, I need to be aware of this and do my homework before I move in. Talk to potential neighbors. Don’t be a dummy. Life isn’t fair, but that extends to those who expect something that they are not willing to extend to everyone. It is no different than a couple who screams at the top of their lungs every night fighting. Their fault? Not so much. Alcohol may play a part, and alcoholism is a disease, more damaging than autism. Denial is part of it. If they move in, yes, I will say hey, it’s been peaceful here. Either shut up or move out to where you won’t bother people. Um, common sense. I would move if I thought I was a major pain in the ass to my neighbors and could not help it. I know parents of autistic children are very protective because they do get stereotyped and people can be real jerks; however, don’t let it take away your consideration and personal responsibility. Don’t act on emotion. I am out of the circle so I can be more objective. We can control some things, but not others. If I want a lower crime rate and safer home, I move to a better neighborhood. More money, but we all know that. If a former criminal moves in next door and falls back into his old ways and begins
    to rob us…good-bye. Get out and find a new place to live.
    Okay, I said my piece. I know I would feel differently if I were a parent of an autistic child. I get that. But I am not, so I have a more balanced perspective.

  11. P.S. Please don’t get into the whole public housing should be the same quality for everyone as private housing, because we all know it is not. It won’t be. Too many people abuse the system, and they will not be able to fix that. At school, we have a saying: Fix the things you can. Don’t harp about the things you can’t.
    When teachers complain about parents, I ask them if they think they can change the parenting dynamic by complaining. The answer is no. So spend your energy on what you can do. If you want huge changes, then volunteer your time and your money to help them concretely in a way that might make a real change. Don’t be idealistic when the clock is ticking. Focus on the child

  12. I think all of you who feel families with “screaming” autistic kids should move somewhere no one will be bothered are the lowest, most selfish people on the planet. Those suggesting the right treatments aren’t been given are ignorant or at least selfish. I have horrible noisy neighbours who aren’t autistic because they are alcoholics, yes I have done what I can with complaints to the right people though I can’t seriously say they should move or force them to. Families with a child with a disability are not at fault like other noisy people. They are truly is a terrible situation which has no easy answer. The parents have a right to peace and quiet as much as neighbours and they are denied, you think because you are not related that your rights are being violated though the parents just have to suffer because of the hand they were dealt. Sorry life’s not like that. Have a heart, what a sad bunch to want to sent autistic kids off to a farm where they can’t be heard. A lot of us would probably like it on a farm away from that kind of horrible community support though generally a lot of us aren’t that fortunate to have that option.

    I’ve moved plenty in my life and no matter where you go there are problems. To say autistic families should move is saying your rights are greater than theirs because you were more fortunate. Those dealt a poor hand need extra support not discrimination. It is a crime to discriminate on disability. That’s my opinion anyway.

  13. Why dont these parents get help for there child my wife is a one on one aid and has worked with many severe autistic child and tough them all how to communicate your child is acting out because you have not taking the time to teach them how to talk, so many parent just though there child in front of tv, being a parent like this take commitment 24 hour a day if ur not willing to this maybe give child up to someone who is….

  14. The bottom line… when the autistic kid is screaming non stop or late at night its time for the parent to shut there window if they can. If your apartment is 90 degrees and its basically dangerous to shut the window due to heat exhaustion.. i completely understand. My neighbor lady has an autistic boy who screams and she leaves her window open every time even if its 70 degrees and nice indoors. Just shut the window for an hour or two when your kid is screaming at 2 am that’s all we ask.

  15. Hi, I have a very low-functioning autistic adult brother who I grew up with. To be perfectly honest, I really don’t have any patience for him. It’s not because he’s completely non-verbal. It’s not because he’s not capable of being toilet trained, and wears diapers that I have had to change countless times. I really don’t mind the care factor at all. What I can’t stand is that he is the most hateful, angry person I have ever met. He does enraging things out of spite, though I don’t think he always understands the ramifications of the things he does, because he’s at about the mental level of a 2 year old. No matter how much you have to work to take care of him, he’s always creating more unecessary work. He slaps himself, sticks his fingers down his throat, bangs his head on the wall to the point of putting holes in it. And the screaming! It’s shrill, loud unnatural, and completely unlike any kind of noise a child might make. And he went through phases where it was constant, not even joking. The worst part is, there’s virtually nothing you can do about any of this, except maybe meds, if you can find any that work. It creates a very stressful, angry negative environment. It’s almost impossible to function in. So it’s not always that the parents won’t do anything, sometimes it’s that they can’t. No one should have to live in that kind of environment, but least of all people that aren’t used to it or closely related. It’s extremely unhealthy to be around that level of stress constantly. So I don’t really know what should be done, but there should definitely be understanding on both sides, and parents shouldn’t act like their neighbors are jerks if they don’t understand.

  16. As someone who on the autism spectrum I definitely feel bad for these non-verbal autistic individuals. In some ways, I can kind of relate to them even though I’m much higher functioning. However. parents of non-verbal/screaming autistic kids need to realize that the screaming can be upsetting and disturbing to other people. I was in a grocery store the other day and this low-functioning autistic girl was just shrieking her head off. It was like a horror movie scream. I have anxiety as well and hearing that made me feel like I was on the verge of a panic attack. If was living to live next door to a kid like that, I would honestly move. I’m not trying to be insensitive or ablelist but it is really upsetting for people who aren’t used to it to hear. Like I said before, I’m autistic myself so I can certainly sympathize. I just wanted to point out that it does disturb other people. Peace.

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