Aggressive behaviors are one of the most common struggles parents of autistic children talk about and few receive viable methods to resolve. Read on for five strategies for dealing with autism aggression.
- 5 Strategies to deal with autism aggression
- Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Autism and Aggression
5 Strategies to deal with autism aggression
1. Assess the situation.
Autistic people are never aggressive for no reason. There is always a reason why an autistic child is being aggressive because all behavior is communication. Moreover, autistic people are not violent by default, nor are they more likely to be violent than their non-autistic peers.
Define their actions literally.
What does aggression mean? The dictionary definition is hostile attitudes or behaviors, but this is too vague. What is considered hostile to one person might not be hostile to another.
List out what they are literally doing, because “aggressive” doesn’t describe anything to anyone but you.
Don’t assume to know anything other than their literal actions right now.
Don’t assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling, or why they are behaving this way. Since behavior is communication, you need to instead figure out what they’re trying to communicate.
2. Give your autistic child some space.
Have you ever felt like a boss or coworker was standing too close to you, and it caused your patience to decrease? Autistic children are similar.
Lacking personal space feels like a lack of control and loss of autonomy. Not only can this lead to overwhelm, it’s fuel for meltdowns.
Both physical and mental space is important. For example, an autistic child may be triggered into a meltdown from a non-autistic parent asking questions. While a non-autistic child would be okay with these questions, the autistic child might find the prying questions overstimulating, annoying and irrelevant.
When I was younger, and even to this day, I will yell when my non-autistic family members ask me emotional questions I don’t care to answer — How’s work? Are you settling in okay? Why aren’t you talking? Are you tired? Did you just wake up? Do you love me?
Giving space helps keep everyone safe.
3. Look for patterns in the behavior.
Does your autistic child start yelling when the neighbor’s lawn mower turns on? Lawn mowers sound loud and threatening.
Do they start pulling electrical cords and calm down after they’re pulled? Electricity makes a sound, though not every frequency can be heard by everyone.
Not every pattern is going to be as easy to find, which is why you need to equip your autistic child with the tools they need to be able to communicate the patterns with you. Consider what has changed, like a laundry detergent, air freshener, air temperature, etc.
If you need to jot things down, do so in a notebook that can’t easily be found. Destroy the pages once you no longer need them so your child doesn’t find things you’ve written about them one day.
By finding what causes the behavior, you can start to resolve it.
4. Break the cycle.
Once you figure out what is causing the aggressive behavior, you can put an end to the cycle with a solution.
The sound of a lawn mower cannot easily be avoided, but noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds help drown out the noise. If your neighbor always mows around a certain time, you could also find an activity for your autistic child to do outside the home during that time.
Unplugging cables and cords when they’re not in use will save on electricity and remove that trigger. Noise-cancelling devices will also work to an extent if your autistic child can tolerate them.
If your child is easily triggered by having to answer a lot of questions, stick to two questions maximum or ask instead about their special interests.
Don’t force autistic children to get used to their triggers, because this will lead to autistic masking or regression and cause irreparable trauma.
5. Read, watch and listen to autistic people’s stories.
Autistic people are writing and sharing their stories all over social media. One of the best ways to learn how to understand, empathize and communicate with us is to actively hear our stories.
A lot of the stories shared are in relation to what non-autistic parents find to be problematic autistic behavior. Autistic children don’t have the proper vocabulary to always explain what or how they’re feeling. If they experience alexithymia, they might not even know.
You might be able to better explain what happens today tomorrow, as opposed to right now. Autistic people are similar. If you want to get better at identifying patterns to aggressive autistic behaviors, listen to autistic stories directly from autistic people.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Autism and Aggression
Here are answers to questions parents often ask about autism and violent or aggressive behaviors.