How to deal with #Autism and violent behavior

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I’m frequently contacted by parents because they are overwhelmed, frustrated or just, Lost and Tired.  The problem is frequently related to violent behavior associated with their child diagnosed with #Autism or #Aspergers.

Let me be very,  very clear.  I’m by no means stating that all kids with #Autism or #Aspergers,  present with violent behaviors. 
However,  some kids do and when they do,  what are you supposed to do? How do you address this type of behavior? What happens when you are a victim of physical outbursts?  How are you supposed to respond when your child hits,  kicks, bites, pinches or simply calls you names?

This is a very serious topic and I’m asking that you all share your personal experience.  You never know when something that you have learned could help a fellow special needs parents,  desperately looking for help.

**Thanks for reading**

       -Lost and Tired

Please join our Autism Help Forum

Look for “Autism Help” app at the Google Play Store Registered & Protected

This was posted via WordPress for Android, courtesy of Samsung’s Galaxy S III. Please forgive any typos. I do know how to spell but auto-correct is working against me.

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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My experience as a father of a boy with autism:  all emotional outbursts had reasons, reasons I had trouble understanding (and still do), but reasons.  For us, communication was the key, but that is not an answer in and of itself.  Communication in our case meant that I had to understand why my son thought the way he did:  very literal, limited axioms or “rules” which he “obeyed” heavily or took very seriously, limited experience in general, limited ability to correctly guess why other people did things.  All that would occasionally form a “critical mass” that would lead to chaos in his head (extreme frustration and anguish because nothing made sense).  I learned to never, ever fall for NT traps, such as “it’s a tantrum” – “he just wants attention” – “he’s pushing limits to see what he can get” – in our case, wrong, wrong wrong.  Disaster would have resulted had I believed in those things.  Somehow I learned to think enough like him to reach him and then guide him out of his confusion – to gently nudge and coach him over many years – always indirectly – to see why things were happening.  What we do doesn’t make sense, I would explain (never lie to them), and of course this would make you upset – and then I would test him and try to get him to see why we break the rules – that reality is more complex than simple rules can handle – and so on.  I can’t possibly explain the complexity of what worked for us here, and it wouldn’t help anyone else, anyway – it was what my son needed.  Autism is a spectrum disorder, what your child needs will be different.  If, however, you can train yourself to never ever argue directly with them (especially on key or important matters to them) and to gently nudge them into understanding how other minds and systems work – and to somehow accept these as okay (even if they’re not logical) – it may work.  It did for us.  We NTs tend to say they, autistics, have no “theory of mind” – keep in  mind that the same applies to us:  we also have no “theory of mind” – we don’t know how they think, and until we do, we can’t help them.


@anon you make a really interesting point.  I agree and have said many times that you should never assume anything with autism.  In our case, with our oldest, he has darker mental health issues as well and so much of what we’ve seen over the years are tantrums.  
Tantrums have a purpose and it’s typically manipulation.  Meltdowns are simply emotional purging for any number of reasons.  
I really like what you had to say and I would love it if you would consider joining our My Autism Help forums.  We need all the Dads we can get.  🙂

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When I was diagnosed with asperger syndrome in 2007 I was having a real hard time dealing with meltdowns & depression but in the five years since I have learned better coping skills but still make mistakes from time to time….recently I had a falling out with friends over a mistake I made due in large part to my AS & now am finding myself in the midst of a serious depression again but at least it hasn't resulted in any violent/aggressive behavior & I hope that it doesn't come to that.


@MichaelZell thanks for sharing so honesty. You can count me among your friends. 🙂


Aggressive behavior, like self-injurious behavior or any other problem behavior, is likely to continue unless what has been reinforcing the behavior is discovered and an intervention is implemented that will help the person refrain from the acts of aggression and  get what he or she needs in a more appropriate way. Aggressive behavior can not only cause injury to others but can also cause the person engaging in it  to suffer arrest or  physical injury, and should be treated clinically. A behavior analyst experienced in working with such behaviors should be consulted, and a physician should thoroughly examine the person to determine if there are any biological conditions that may be contributing to the behavior. If it is necessary to restrain the person to protect him or her and/or others from injury, it should be done as gently as possible by people who have been trained to do so. (Parents and  other caregivers can receive such training.) I would avoid calling the police whenever possible–Few police officers are trained in working with persons with autism, and unfortunately many have aggressive counter-oppositional behaviors of their own. If  emergency assistance  is needed with restraining a person with autism, in my opinion fire rescue would almost alway be a better option than the police. Problem behaviors of people with autism should be approached  as symptoms emanating from a serious neurological/developmental disorder, not as crimes.   I emphasize that restraints should be used only as emergency, temporary measures to prevent physical injury, and that the focus should be on implementing an effective intervention designed by and administered  under the guidance of qualified professionals so that the aggressive behavior can be replaced as soon as possible with a safe, appropriate behavior. (I am painfully aware of the great financial burden obtaining  specialized professional help can place on parents and other caregivers. This is nothing less than shameful in an affluent, developed country such as the U..S.,  and the subject of an ongoing struggle to provide necessary services to persons on the autism spectrum.) 


Very well said David. Thank you for your well thought out comment 🙂


I have worked with people diagnosed on the autism spectrum in a variety of rolls, and the hardest thing that I have seen with the families is not taking the behaviors personally.    There have been those people who will only target certain people (like a sibling, parent, worker, etc.), but even in those instances I have noticed it falls into two categories; they do it because they know that person will tolerate the behavior or they know they feel safe raging out with or against that person. 
Aggression towards others should not be tolerated because we don't tolerate it from others without disabilities.  However, many people require some physical outlet because having any kind of emotional response usually triggers a physical reaction within us all. Take, for example, a tied basketball game with less than a minute left with rivals playing.  You may see someone flapping their hands, jumping up and down, clapping, yelling, etc. when excited or happy, or they will be booing, stomping, grimacing, etc. when upset or thinking something is unfair.    That's generally the level of emotional energy you may find with someone on the spectrum, and so they react as if the situation they are in is that eventful. 
My idea has always been to find an alternate physical activity that is acceptable to do, like shredding phone books or paper (to later be recycled), kneading dough (to make food or playdough), have a punching bag, go running, exercise, etc.  I worked with one guy who would crack his knuckles (hands and feet) as well as his back.  Then he would do cartwheels and handstands until he was no longer tense.  Once the physical need is done, then they need to talk about everything and discuss how to better handle their emotions in the future.


 @anansison These are some great ideas. I totally agree about accountability. You don't punish a blind man for not being able to see, however, you do punish that same person for stealing.  


I am very lucky that my son's violent rages are NEVER directed at people. On the other hand there are a multitude of holes in my walls, all items not bolted to a wall or floor can and probably will get damaged. I have put a few very cherished items in deep storage.Almost all his meltdowns recently are because his opinions, which he believes are facts, have been questioned.  He has a tell, like a poker player,  that he is getting angry, which he does not see and I use it as my "fair warning" that his geyser will blow in 10 to 30 seconds. I am only 5'3" and he is 6'4" so I pick my battles very carefully. Once he is enraged, I walk away, close a door and wait it out in a safe spot. After he has calmed down and some time has passed I talk to him and let him know what he has done and how it affects others. He has become adept at wall patching and understands that his entire paychecks (once he finds a job) will be handed over to me as restitution for a very long time. He does not show remorse often and blames it on others usually. We tried many positive reward systems when he was younger and once he earned the dangled carrot he backslid to square one. This method was used in his school and once when I asked him to clean his room, he responded with "what will I get". That ended the "point" system for  good.So at this point my son is aware that if I ever feel threatened by him in a rage I will call 911 and that he WILL be arrested. That sadly is where we are today. Fingers crossed that it has been about a month or so since last full rage.


 @PurpleLogicGlitch Sounds like we are in very much the same or at least similar boats.


A good psychiatrist. Some of the meds we have work wonders. So does sensory activity, a good strong foundation in communication, as well as understanding that discipline has to be different, and redirection/separation is often the most effective and humane ways to discipline a child with social/communication/cognitive delays.  


 @AnnMarieHakeHughes Well said. Great advice..


I am so fortunate that we do not have to deal with violent behavior often. What has worked best for our family is a check sheet with problematic behaviors listed on it. When any child in our family has an infraction a check goes to the appropriate category and .10 cents is taken from their weekly allowance. Even my then barely 4 yr old responded well to this. All I have to do is ask if he wants a check and the problem behavior stops most times. There is ALOT of arguing in my house because my aspie child just refuses to get along with her siblings and her siblings like to push her buttons for irritating them all of the time. It is a lovely vicious cycle. When she starts to spin out of control, it usually starts with her telling her sibs she is going to kill them, hurt them or that she hates them as she screams through gritted teeth, I remind her that her words are not acceptable and to back off. I also remind her sibling that they need to leave her alone. If she hits them then it is an automatic time out to her room until she calms down, there is no time limit but she has to ask to come out. I know if she's ready based on the way she asks. I often reach the end of my rope before the end of the day though so I yell alot to just leave each other alone. If the time out doesn't do the job or we are out in public that is when she gets the check and if the sibling eggs her on they get one too. It has been really tough with the school year starting because she does so well holding it all together all day that before we leave the school parking lot there is yelling, screaming, and tears. Her siblings are also jealous of the time I spend with her talking after they go to bed and they all want their turn which is frustrating her now as well. Sometimes there is not enough of me to go around and my husband is lost in all of the chaos. Sometimes I am grateful that he doesn't pitch in because it can often make things worse because he freaks out. Sometimes I just want to run away


 @JenniferWhynott My wife and I fight over who gets to run away and join the circus. 🙂
It's really interesting how different approaches work for different people. Thank you for sharing.. 🙂


My 9 year old has had serious rage/meltdown issues for years.  His attacks are usually geared towards me or his younger brother.  He hits, bites, kicks, pinches, & that's just the short list.   The meltdowns got so out of control that we were having 3 or 4 a day sometimes each lasting 45 minutes.  I was at my ropes end.  We started ABA 2x a week for 2 hours each time.  At first we did in office, but when it seemed to only work so far we decided to pay out of pocket and do a home program.  That was a huge changing point for us.  My son still had a ton of issues that we would have to work through, but after 3 months or so the aggression really died down.  There was never a matter of picking battles or letting something go with this therapist.  It was these are the rules (we used a token chart & 2 box system of things he could do or lose) we signed agreements and went forth.  He definitely got so much worse before he got better.  I guess that's normal & once we got through that burst of really bad behavior it started to get better.  We still dealt with a lot of yelling and stuff on his part, but it's simple, I'm the mom & I make the rules.  I don't yell, I don't argue.  The longer he runs his mouth, the longer he's in trouble.  He was doing really well for like 8 months, but then a few months ago he started to slip again and we started to see some pretty nasty meltdowns.  I'm at a point now where I am determined that I will give him the tools to get through this.  I never leave his side, I talk to him calmly.  Sometimes I just let him hurt me & I remind him that he is making a really bad choice that will have really bad consequences.  The less I fight back the faster he stops.  Then we hit the stubborn point, where it's all yelling & screaming & arguing  on his part.  I don't leave him, but I don't engage in his argument either.  In a calm voice I let him know that I love him, I show him how he's hurt me & make him acknowledge that he's hurt me.  I remind him that these are out of control emotions, he can either control them or they can control him.  I tell him his punishment (which yields more yelling) and I explain that he has to take control and show us that he is growing into a mature young man that can control himself.  I remind him that I believe in him and I know  he can do it.  I give him cues as to what the right choice would be vs. the bad choice.  I ask him to accept his punishment, ask forgiveness & give examples of how to better deal with his anger.  Until he can do those things his consequences can't begin.  Sometimes it's quick & sometimes we stand facing each other for 45 minutes.  It's never easy, but what's most important is that although I could make  him do these things, he chooses to do them on his own.  So while it's a pretty ugly battle, an extremely stressful battle, it's a well worth fought battle in my mind because I am standing by him, teaching him and he's learning something from all this craziness.  I expect that we will have some sort of meltdown/rage, I just expect the way he deals with to change as he grows.  It's not a style that is probably good for a lot of people, but if this is how it is now so that one day he can function better then I will go this route.  It works for us.  So far we are doing better & we haven't had a physical meltdown in over 2 weeks.  The last time he had a mini meltdown was 4 days ago, he looked at his brother and said " I swear stay away from my Legos or I'll punch you…stupid"  Not the greatest moment, but his 6 year old brother looked at him and said "Great job expressing your feelings"  Then he came to tell me what had happened.  Obviously my older child had some consequences, but you bet I told him great job too…because no one got hurt & he used his words.  Sorry this is so long 🙂


 @ciugola No apologies needed. That was very well said and I'm glad that you shared this with us all. All the best 🙂


I think that a lot of this is about picking your battles. 


this is a dual-edged sword. Ignore it, and he might endanger himself or others; take action, and this is exactly what he wants (get attention). The bottom line is: he wants you to know (s)he is frustrtated, and this is how (s)he shows it. The above is what I feel is happening! but I am clueless on what I can do to stop it…


 @rholzer That brings up a  really, really good point. What behaviors do you address by simply ignoring and what behaviors do you address with consequences or some sort?
If they are looking for attention, than the worst thing you can do is give it to them. Having said that, where do you draw the line and at what point do you intervene?