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Autism: Sensory Overload and Fevers

Does having a fever help stop a full-blown meltdown or shutdown? Can it lesson or control sensory overload?

 adult autism meltdown shutdowns fevers and sensory overload

Mayday! Mayday! Meltdown Imminent!

I have been running an unexplained low-grade fever for the past few weeks. The only connection I am noticing is that they come on the heels of over stimulation, overload, and meltdown.
Last night, I was so close to classically holding my head and rocking in the corner that I had to retreat to my bedroom and quite literally lock everyone out. I am pretty sure at some point one of the boys walked in before I locked that door because I heard my self yell, “Intruder!” Then leapt for the door to get it shut again.  Mom was cruising down meltdown highway.
The kids had been loud and rowdy for over two hours, the TV was on with flashing cartoon characters bothering my eyes, the baby was screaming, and all the while hubby was snoring away on the sofa. How in the world he could sleep through the madness is beyond me.
My head was pounding, my eyes went fuzzy, and the room was beginning to spin. I felt out of control, and disoriented. When I my son tried to speak to me, I barked something that did not resemble actual words. My earplugs were failing to even filter out the sound of the crickets outside. Mom was about to lose it!
After about an hour locked away in my bedroom with earplugs in and my head underneath a stack of pillows, I felt the fever start. I can always feel when a fever is coming on.  It starts with a tingling in my back, which travels to my head and rest of my body.
Not long after it turned into a full-fledged fever my sensory overload began to lessen. Then I was able to remove the earplugs, come out of the room, and re-enter the land of the living.

Research Study about Fevers and Autism

After doing some research, I found a 2009 article citing a study, which implied the reason why some autistic children show marked improvement in their behavior while running a fever.
The correlation between my fevers and the lessening of my sensory overload is makes sense according to the logic behind this article, but I am beginning to wonder if my body is becoming so worked up from the overstimulation that it is actually causing the fevers, which then in turn calms down my senses.
Wouldn’t that be an odd way for our bodies to compensate for the overload? It figures being sick would make me feel better.
Of course my fevers could be completely unrelated and just happen to come on at the exact times of my overload. I’m inclined to think this is unlikely, since I am not a big believer in coincidences and this has been happening more frequently lately.
That said I will be making a doctor’s appointment first thing tomorrow morning for a check-up just in case there is another explanation for these interestingly timed fevers.
Am I the only one who has experienced fevers in the face of overload or meltdown? What do you all think? Fevers related to autism and meltdown, or a separate issue altogether?

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. Oh my god. Yes. I’m a 26 year old autistic adult and I experience this all the time. Hot face, disoriented and dissociated from the world around me, slurring speech and struggling to form sentences, tons of pressure in my head. It feels like heat exhaustion. I’d never heard of anyone else who experiences this and I’m glad I’m not alone.

  2. Clearly, the key to resolving ASD’s lies in investigating the fever effect.
    Here we are with the key to a cure at our feet – but it garners only vague interest.

    This is certainly due to our scant knowledge of the causes of ASD’s – and the consequent belief that the chances of finding a cure for it are remote … but they aren’t – they are right at our feet, which is why we should be pushing hard to fund research into the fever effect.

    The lack of research funding into ASD’s is also undoubtedly due to a lack of awareness of the fundamental sense in which it affects all human society – and the immensity of the personal, social and economic costs it exacts.

    • I do think this impact is something that needs some more study. Just this week my six-year-old has had the five days, and his symptomology his behaviors have been so much calmer while he sick even though he’s not feeling well. Is whining and stemming and melt down some much less when he has a fever there has to be something to this.

  3. In the days running up to a fever, I get tetchy, emotional and irritable – then the fever breaks and all heaven breaks loose.

    I become relaxed, agile-minded, humorous, eloquent and fun.
    Which lasts for the duration of the fever … but a week after the fever’s gone, I’m back to something altogether more primitive – the come-down of all come-downs – a major episode of grief for the sparkling me that came and went … and won’t return until the next fever.

  4. Yes their saying she may grow out of. With her fevers last three days and Neurology Doctor telling me to call them if she’s having headache with the fever more than three days, because they don’t want her taking too much Motrin and Tylenol. My baby is already non verbal she can’t identify things with words except “Momma I Tick” for sick. So I’m learning she can’t have more than a hour a day of therapy. She had hour and half long yesterday and another Over stimulation visual migraine has triggered. I wish there was more help and another. So I had them fix to not have more than a hour long session of therapy a day.

  5. My Daughter is going on 3 yrs old tomorrow. She was just diagnosed the day before yesterday Autism & GDD. Men were early working on road by her bedroom window. She woke up not feeling well. She went back to bed also till 3pm. Her fever got worst. Over stimulation always causes her bad headaches that come along with fevers. Usually next day goes away. The Motrin & Tylenol is what helps mild down her pain and fever for a few hours.

    • Thank you for your reply. I am glad to know that I am not the only one seeming to notice this odd symptom. Doctors will think you are nuts, but I swear its true. Overstimulation, and even things like backaches cause me to run low grade fevers.

  6. when i get sick i don’t notice i have a fever but it does help me abit but it also makes me more likely to have a meltdown and being in college doesn’t help I already had two meltdowns here one they called the cops on me after saying they would give me three warnings before actually calling them which they lied and the other was due to these high school kids that are part of the college they were talking randomly strumming on the guitar and drumming on the tables with pencils which drove me over the edge and then I got sick with something. But when I do get overloaded I tend to have a meltdown or just shutdown, my parents tell me I should I just take medication to stop this but that doesn’t help.

    • I’m sorry you are having a hard time. The overstimulation (especially noise level)often brings on meltdowns for me as well.

      I don’t believe, but I could be wrong, that I’ve heard of any medications that can help with meltdowns. Have you tried any? What kind? Did it help at all?

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  8. I end up getting fevers sometime after about a week of overloads. I get to the point that even a remotely spoken syllable can nearly send me over the edge. I would really like to know how guys can just sleep like that though… through the chaos and clammer.

    • I have no idea how they can sleep through it! I wake up because the damn crickets get too loud, or the neighbor’s A/C unit turns on! Drives me insane–quite literally sometimes.

      It is interesting that you mentioned you get fevers sometimes after about a week of overloads. I am finding they are happening very often these days, but I have been getting overload lately several times a day!

      And yes…sometimes one syllable or a sigh can send me over the edge when I get to that point. Lots of extra stress happening in life right about now and that too is definitely affecting how often I feel like a meltdown is imminent.

      • Just found this article, so strange!!! My daughter was diagnosed with ASD (extremely low functioning) at the age of 2 1/2. Since then, she has had random fevers, that only last a day. During that day she sleeps all day long. It doesn’t happen very often, but they come with headaches. Today, she is 5 1/2, and much more verbal, each time she has a fever her symptoms do change though. It’s scary not knowing what may cause them, I used to think it was triggered by food sitting in her stomach too long, since she does get constipated for days. Although, now since reading this article I do notice they come at the end of every week (school week overload?). Just hope it’s not something else much more dangerous, like a symptom of a silent seizure to come?

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