Talk to Your Doctor
There are many ways to help autistic aggression, but the first and most important step of the process is often overlooked. Before trying anything else, talk with your doctor to see if there might be any underlying medical issues causing the behavior. For example, a child who has allergies may be bothered so badly by them that she constantly displays aggressive behavior. The same might be true of a child with epilepsy, who is really experiencing seizures and is merely reacting to them through this behavior.
Think about what might be motivating your child’s aggressive behavior. For example, if your child has sensory issues, it could be that she kicks or hits in order to receive sensory input, rather than out of true aggression. If this is the case, consider increasing the amount of sensory input that your child receives, by using deep pressure, high-impact games (e.g., pillow fights, play wrestling), and other sensory activities. If your child is frustrated by his inability to communicate, consider using an augmentative communication device to lower his frustration level and increase his ability to tell you what he wants.
You may find that you are unwillingly encouraging your child’s aggressive behavior by repeatedly giving in to her tantrums. If this is the case, you will need to make a firm decision to no longer do so. Instead, you should respond to your child’s aggression by first placing the child in a secure location and making sure that she cannot hurt herself or others. You should then withdraw your attention and any other positives (e.g., snacks, toys) until the tantrum is over. When the aggression finally subsides, you can then return to giving positive attention.
For cases in which the aggressive behavior occurs often, you may want to consider small prizes for each short span of time that no aggression occurs, if your child is able to cognitively understand the cause and effect of this method. For example, the child can receive two minutes of music time for every fifteen minutes that she shows no aggression.
Give Positive Attention
Although you should never give positive attention to aggressive behavior, often autistic kids may display this behavior in order to get attention - even negative attention - from you or from other people. To offset this, give as much positive attention as possible when the child is behaving well. This is an important way to help with autistic aggression, and it should be used together with the previous technique.
Therapy and Medication
When common sense doesn’t seem to be working, you can turn to a therapist to help your child successfully control her aggression. The therapist will likely use ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, in order to motivate your child to succeed. If you take this route, make sure to talk to your therapist about how to use these same techniques at home with your child, so that your child will be able to practice the skill of behaving appropriately in all situations.
You may also need to turn to medication to help your child control his aggressive tendencies, as well as other severe autism behaviors. Anti-psychotic or anti-depressive medications can sometimes be one of the necessary ways to help autistic aggression.
Autism-World.com. How to deal with rages of autistic children, retrieved at https://www.autism-world.com/index.php/2007/12/10/how-to-deal-with-rages-of-autistic-children/
McCoy, Krisha. Managing aggression in autistic children. EverydayHealth.com, retrieved at https://www.everydayhealth.com/autism/managing-aggression-in-kids.aspx
Autism Treatment Center of America, Q&A Session 9. Dealing with aggression and autism, retrieved at https://www.autismtreatmentcenter.org/contents/about_son-rise/qa_session9-dealing_with_aggression.php
Psychiatric Times (for registered users), available at https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/autism/content/article/10168/52276?pageNumber=4
Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Luigi Diamanti
This post is part of the series: Aggression and Autism
Is your autistic child aggressive? If so, this series contains articles that can help you understand what your child may be feeling and how to control these aggressive tendencies.