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How Can I Handle Autistic Violence?



I teach an autistic child with violent tendencies (he bites me and other children, and pinches everything. When restrained he reverse head butts the person trying to hold him. Can you suggest a strategy to help eliminate this behavior?


Aggression such as biting and pinching are quite problematic behaviors often seen among children with autism spectrum disorders.  Physical restraint is most often a counter-productive intervention, as children often become more aggressive and will eventually be too big and too strong to restrain.  Such interventions are not good long term solutions and should be avoided.

The first step to stopping aggressive behaviors is to investigate under what circumstances a child becomes aggressive.  Biting and pinching in classrooms are often related to the child's attempt to escape from academic or social demands.  Another common reason children are aggressive is that they have been denied access to something they really want to have. 

Once it is known why a child is biting or pinching or is otherwise aggressive, then it is important to never allow the child to have what he or she wants after they have been aggressive, whether that is to escape work or social demands, to get access to something they want, or to get teacher or another's attention.

It is best to develop ways to prevent aggressive behaviors, especially when the aggression is motivated by the child's wish to escape demands.  In a classroom, some ideas include decreasing the amount of time a child is expected to work, scheduling more-preferred activities to occur after less-preferred activities, modifying the difficulty of the work, and/or teaching more fundamental prerequisite skills.  It is also important to provide rewards for more appropriate behaviors that will obtain the same goal, such as asking for a break from work instead of pinching.

These behaviors can be very dangerous and limiting to the child's academic and social adjustment.  Any behavior plan needs to be highly individualized, carefully considered, closely monitored, and periodically modified by a specialist in behavior intervention.  Classroom teachers should explore consultation from behavior intervention specialists within the school and county special education systems.

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Response by:

Eric   Butter, PhD Eric Butter, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatricsl
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University