Heat Intolerance and Autism Spectrum Disorder

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Back during the cold, winter months, I talked about things parents can do when their child on the autism spectrum doesn't want to wear a coat. This might be caused to the body's inability to regulate temperature or a sensitivity issue. Some children with ASD also find the hot summer months intolerable.

The term heat intolerance is used to describe the "feeling of being overheated when the temperature around you rises." One of the signs of heat intolerance is excessive sweating, although it can also come with feelings of lethargy, headaches, dizziness and nausea.

Check for Underlying Medical Conditions

Children with autism frequently have sensory sensitivities and their difficulty with the warm temperatures might be part of those sensitivities. They might simply feel more comfortable when the temperature is "comfortable" - somewhere around 70 degrees and find they feel uncomfortable when the temperature dips below or soars above this level. There are, however, some medical conditions or drugs that can cause heat intolerance, including:

  • Anxiety

  • Menopause

  • Thyroid problems

  • Use of amphetamines and stimulant medications (such as those prescribed for ADHD)

  • Caffeine

If your child is sensitive to heat, talk with your doctor about whether a condition such as thyroid problems could be causing the problem. If your child takes medications for ADHD and heat intolerance is stopping him from participating in activities, talk to your doctor about trying a non-stimulant medication. Other medications might also cause heat intolerance. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if heat intolerance is a possible side effect of any medications your child is taking.

What You Can Do

It is important to know your child. Understand and accept their sensitivities as real. Don't push your child to spend hours outdoors in the heat if it is going to make them uncomfortable, cranky and possibly ill (headache, nausea). You might need to plan vacations or even day excursions according to your child's needs, for example, you might not want to plan your vacation for mid-July, usually the hottest time of the year, instead you might make plans for June, when the temperatures aren't usually as high.

Keep your house temperature constant, as much as possible. If you have central air-conditioning, try to set it at one temperature and leave it there, such as a constant 72 degrees. If you have room air conditioners, remind your child to keep it at a steady temperature. For houses without air conditioning, use window fans to help cool down the house.

Keep water mister spray bottles in each room. If your child is feeling overheated, misting his skin with water might help him cope better with the warmer temperatures.

Use a cooling vest when spending time outdoors. A cooling vest, often available in sporting or outdoor stores, helps the body regulate temperature and will keep you feeling cool without feeling wet or uncomfortable. Cooling vests, however, don't work well when the humidity level in the air is over 85 percent.

Find "heat friendly" exercises. You don't want your child sitting around all summer because it is too hot for any physical activity. Instead, look for heat friendly exercises, such as swimming. If your child does spend time outdoors or exercising, have him do it early in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in.

Stay hydrated. Being overheated can make you dehydrated. Be sure your child stays hydrated during the day, drinking plenty of water, especially before and after exercising or being outdoors. Frozen popsicles and icy drinks can be substituted but shouldn't be your child's sole water intake.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.