Dysregulation and Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Dysregulation?

Dysregulation, commonly also referred to as emotional dysregulation, is the inability to control emotional responses or retain them within a typical range of emotional reactions. These emotions can range from frustration and irritability to anger and sadness.
Typically, we see emotional dysregulation in children. Examples of emotional dysregulation in children are: when a child has an emotional outburst, has difficulty waiting for a favourite activity, or takes a long time to calm etc. It can be resolved by implementing the right techniques and strategies but sometimes, emotional dysregulation can be carried into adulthood as well.

When emotional dysregulation continues into adulthood, it can result in problems such as difficulties in processing emotions, trouble focusing, and failure to maintain interpersonal relationships.

Did you know that an individual with autism spectrum disorder is most likely to struggle from emotional dysregulation?

Individuals on the spectrum may more often have a high sensitivity to emotional stimuli and cannot bring themselves to feel a normal range of emotions within a reasonable amount of time. At school this may look like a student demonstrating an emotional response to an event that happened much earlier in the day or week.

For an individual on the spectrum, emotional dysregulation can occur because of:

• A change in routine

• Difficulty processing emotions or expressing feelings

• Trouble understanding other people’s feelings

• Difficulties in social communication or interactions 

For an individual with ASD, dysregulation can cause a major imbalance in their emotions and can cause them extreme stress. Being unable to control one’s emotions can lead to irrational decisions in an already stressful situation, thus causing more damage than control.

It is important for individuals on the spectrum with emotional dysregulation to learn how to control their emotions to try and obtain a more positive outcome in a stressful situation.

How can an individual control emotional dysregulation?

• Teach labeling emotions and/or identifying situations that would elicit a specific emotion so students can predict when they begin to feel emotionally dysregulated.​

• Teach calming strategies to help students know what to do in times of anxiety and distress. 

• Teach coping strategies such as deep breathing, asking for a break and having a pleasant activity prepared for the break, etc. 

• Identify people in the environment students can approach to spend time with/ask for help when they start to feel dysregulated. 


To learn more about dysregulation in individuals with autism, explore our courses at Sonderly.