• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Interruptions Make Me Angry

I can completely understand why my 8-year-old gets so angry at his teacher when she interrupts what he is doing, and wants him to change gears.

He loves reading and is having difficulty changing activities in school. All he wants to do is read his book, and he actual refuses to stop in the middle of a chapter. He will tell her, “wait, I have to finish this chapter”, which gets her nuts.

When she insists on his stopping immediately, he gets angry, and sometimes will yell at her and slam his book down.

“I don’t understand, you tell me to read, but then you won’t let me finish!”

The next hour is a complete waste because he shuts down. He cannot calm his anger enough to hear anything that is said to him. The anger of being interrupted, of not being able to complete something he is intensely focusing on interferes with his ability to listen and accomplish other tasks.

The same thing happens to me. An interruption brings immediate feelings of anger, sometimes even rage. Its my first knee-jerk emotional reaction. I find it impossible to transition. When I am focused on writing and then get interrupted I am angry.  I cannot simply address the interruption and return to what I was doing.

The next few hours is a waste; I can’t concentrate or get back to the place I was at.  I suppose if you knew that would be the result of an interruption, interruptions would anger you too.

I’m noticing that I am now avoiding starting certain tasks because I am beginning to fear the interruptions that I know will occur. I’m fearing those angry feelings, and the frustration it will bring for hours afterwards. This is worrisome to me for two reasons.

First, I am fearing to begin projects, blog posts, chapters that need finishing etc. causing me to put them off, and then I am annoyed with myself because I have wasted time.  I could have spent that time accomplishing something but I never got started.

I am also worried that a similar phenomenon is going to happen to my little guy.  He is on a reading kick.  He loves to read. He has been getting so angry when he is unable to finish what he is reading that I worry he will do as I am and avoid starting.  Or, worse, that he will lose the love he has for reading, which is so important.  After all, if he can read well, and loves to read, then he can learn anything he wants to learn.

We have not yet found any strategies to combat these interruption issues. I would like to work in a quiet solitary place to avoid the possibility of interruptions altogether.  I would like my little man to be allowed to finish his chapters without interruptions, but acknowledge this is not always possible in a school/classroom setting.

Anyone else have similar issues?  What were your solutions? We will be working on coming up with different ideas to address this problem, but until then would love to hear your ideas and suggestions!



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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. Thanks for mentioning this! Finally someone who knows what its like. My job does this to me EVERY DAY…..REPEATEDLY!!! Let me explain. I work as a custodian for a senior living retirement home. I am forced to lug around this unreliable radio anywhere i go especially on the weekend (yes I work on weekends which is a load of bolgna but Whatever for now)

    Just today and yesterday proved to be one of the worst weekends ive had because everytime i was busy working on one thing My name was called on that darn radio literally every couple minutes to stop what im doing to jump to something that could wait! They arent important and its nothing pressing, nothing dangerous or hazardous thatll get our residents hurt or killed.

    Let me tell you the first time i get called im instantly frustrated and it takes every ounce of energy to remain calm enough to respond without sounding like im getting ready to pounce. If im working on something calling me for something literally 8 or more times within 30 minutes is guaranteed to piss me off. Just let me work!!

    I have a hard time switching gears and my boss knows this and knows how much better i do without that doggone piece of communication device stuck to my side. I think irrational sometimes and think my boss just likes me being angry because they are grumpy most of the time. Sorry just my ranting moment

  2. I love this post! I only recently learned that getting angry at interruptions was even a thing the other folks had to deal with, not just me– so reading this and seeing all the advice in the comments is really helpful.

    I think I am permanently a night owl because I used staying up late as a kid to avoid interruptions. It worked, but now I’m dealing with the fallout of never having had a good schedule in my personal life…

  3. This is relatable to me on a few levels. I was having that problem just this morning and googled “aspires and interruptions” to see if anyone had this issue. And your post gave me insight into why I feel so stuck. I think part of my paralysis regarding projects is that I assume I’ll be interrupted and so then get angry and frustrated and quit. So why start? I’m a caregiver for my 88 year old mom, and it seems no matter how many times I ask for an hour alone or whatever, she forgets and walks into my room, or knocks on the door. Or my husband walks in saying he forgot something. It’s maddening, but I really don’t know how to address it. If I’m painting, I can’t continue. If I’m cartooning, forget it. Then I get angry at myself for not being able to shake it off. Thank you SO much for this post.

    • Yes, Allison! This is my exact issue, and then getting angry at myself. Unfortunately, even though I KNOW THIS, I still get angry at myself. I am glad that you mentioned anticipating the interruptions because I am having a terrible time trying to get ANYTHING done–creative project wise because I look at the clock and say, “WHY BOTHER?” I don’t have enough time before this will happen, or that, or someone will be home…etc. Additionally, it takes SOOOO long to get my head in the game of what I am doing that when I am finally there, and get interrupted it takes double that time to get back to it, and then TIMES UP. Either the day is over, the kids are home, or SOMETHING. It is so frustrating.

  4. My son is 6 years old and diagnosed with autism at 3 years. He has over the past few months started to get very angry with being interrupted. His definition of interrupted is any talking, any bangs or noises from the kitchen, basically any noise above that of a VERY GENTLE whisper is an interruption. Anyone out there able to give me some advice on how to help him??

    • Noise cancelling headphones, or ear plugs. I too, feel anger at those same perceived interruptions; especially when I have had a stressful day or am overloaded in any way.

      Much of that anger comes from the inability to transition from one activity to another…when I am “interrupted” it is very difficult for me to get my train of thought back. It takes a long time to get back in the swing of things, so that anger is born of frustration.

      I also get very jumpy when I hear all those noises–again especially when already stressed, tired, or overloaded.

  5. I used to have this problem as a kid. Once I threw a book at the wall because I was so ticked off, which got me in in-school suspension again (I spent more time there than in class), which was great as far as I was concerned because nobody told me to switch – I could work at my own pace and read until I was done. And the room was quiet. And lit by an incandescent bulb rather than fluorescent lights. And it was soundproof so there was no noise out in the hall. And etc. The supervisor of in-school suspension could never understand why I was always sent there because I was so good once I was there! Fancy that – get an environment that works, and suddenly the behavior problems disappear.

    As an adult, I still get the same reaction to interruptions, and I handle it by making sure I’m not interrupted and setting limits on my tasks. If I set myself “clean the lab” at work, either I’m going to get interrupted, or I’m going to snap out of it at 10PM having worked 5 extra hours, hungry and with a frantic partner at home. If I instead set myself “Clean the lab [b]counters[/b],” I spend two or three hours at it and go home on time. Setting time limits doesn’t work because I lose track of time very easily. Task limits are what’s important.

  6. I totally agree. If someone interrupts me while I am doing something that requires a lot of focus, I get pissed. Just like if I am talking and some adult starts talking over me. Or I sit there trying to talk, beginning the same sentence over and over again until the person talking over me shuts the f*ck up.

    • I had to giggle a little bit when I read this because it is so frustrating! I too, begin the same sentence over and over again trying to say something…and usually it doesn’t get anyone to shut up and let me talk. Then I just wind up loosing my thoughts altogether leaving me just plain old angry.

  7. Wow, your post is such an eye opener for me. I have such respect for parents of autistic children, and for people dealing with the issues themselves … but sadly my knowledge of what folks go through on a daily basis is lacking. Thanks for filling in one more piece of my education. Best wishes to you and your son.

  8. fromautismwithlove

    I so understand!
    I had to think about what helped us — the whole family really.
    First, his teacher needs to give him a  5-10 minute warning that reading time will be coming to an end AND not to start reading the next chapter. She can have him start a clean up or do stretching exercises. She could do this for the whole class – everyone needs a transition time.
    For you, what about breaking up the activity into the next 3 things that needs to be done. For example with blog post — #1 brainstorm or outline, #2 write introduction #3 write body of post ( and then #4 write closure and #5 add pictures). Break down the acivity to small chunks and in between check to see if anyone needs something.
    For both my daughter (Autism) and me (perfection) practice and breaking down into manageable steps has helped the most. We use a timer ( and at one point the Time Timer ) a lot around here.  We had to talk ourselves through stopping and then coming back to a project.
    I hope that helps! ~Jamie

    • Thanks so much Jamie, that did help. I give him the 10 more minutes, 5 more minutes count down on all activities at home, but they don’t really do that for him at school. But something you said, about telling him also NOT to start then next chapter is very important. That was something I hadn’t thought of.

      Sometimes at home if I give him 20 minutes he will finish watching a TV show that had 7 minutes to go, and then start another 30 minute show. When it is time to stop watching TV and do his homework or go to bed or whatever is it is he getting upset because now he is again in the middle of something–that second show he started to watch.

      I always ask him how much longer his show has and then tell him that is how much time he has left, and do not start another…I didn’t put that together with starting another chapter, but it is essentially the same. See, there is my autism kicking in…not using the general information (not starting new tv shows), and applying it to other or future situations (not starting new chapters).

      Thank you for pointing that out, I did pass that along to his teacher. Now, let’s see if she will give it a try.

  9. I am pissed off by this Livefyre login thing. It offered me various login-options, so I selected Open ID. It then forced me to sign up for a Livefyre account during the process anyway (after I accepted to give Livefyre access to my Open ID, and it did snatch my Avatar from there). Then I wanted to change my username to my usual pen name ‘Mados’, but although it says I can change my details in settings, it doesn’t register the change. It has also auto-opted me in for Livefyre news/updates and notifications. Then I got uneasy to let this app have access to my Open ID etc since it is apparently tricky, so I wanted to delete the account again – but there seems to be no ‘Delete my account’ option. WTF?? I don’t like this.

  10. Yes, I am having similar issues and no, I have no solutions. Apart from writing during the night or not at all (except for very brief stuff like comments). The former creates other problems – with people, the latter reduces quality of life quite a lot down to the point where I can’t really find myself in my life.
    The problem could probably be solved with money + time: that could give access to a solitaire yet comfortable place to work. But those two (money + time) are like opposite poles. I can actually work perfectly well at home and prefer to be here, but I’m being interrupted by all the things I ought to do. Particularly earn more money (which I would, if I knew how and could make it work). Seeing me deeply absorbed on my computer hour after hour (~ days, weeks… there is basically no limit) seems to provoke my husband because that is unpaid time not spent working for the family. So currently my life consists of interruptions and aborted projects and things I ought to do which I don’t know how to achieve.
    Ps. Your blog is suddenly drowning in ads, and the comment login looks different. Is this on WordPress? (wondering is my blog shows many ads too… WordPress ads aren’t visible to the logged-in author)

    • All the line breaks are being stripped out from the comments… That’s why the text looks so messy, sorry that’s not how I wrote it. And now: no more technical complaints from me!

      • Hey Mados, I recognized your avatar. I’m sorry you had technical difficulties. I am new to this commenting system, and since I don’t have to log in too comment have not run into issues. I was thinking of reverting back to the standard comment format, but haven’t figured it out just yet. Made a but if a mess when migrating from blogger to WordPress. I guess that answered the other question too, this is on WordPress and I don’t see ads at all on my end. Frustrating.

    • Time and money would definitely solve done of the problems! But you are correct usually if you have the money you don’t have the time to enjoy it because you are spending all your time making it. If you have plenty of time, you usually aren’t making enough money, it is a vicious cycle, and an unfair one at that!

      Unfortunately for me I have several articles, papers, reviewers, and two books to finish…which is getting ridiculously hard to accomplish with all the interruptions of regular life at home. Now I know why some writers run away to a cabin in the woods! Then again, the sounds of the crickets would bother me too!

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