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Autism

How Can I Control My Child's Violent Behavior

03/18/2008

Question:

Sometimes, my autistic child gets  mad and becomes violent.  When he gets off the school bus, he wants to fight and runs into the middle of the street.  When I try to put him to bed or turn off the TV he attacks me and my daughter.  He is strong, he bites me, kicks me, bruises me, and yells at me.  He kicks doors and breaks them.  He talks to himself all night long.  I try being calm but nothing works.

I take him to a neurologist. We have tried several different medications. The school system refuses to help us.  I don`t know what to do. punishing him does not work. He is healthier than me and my own daughter.  I feel like there is nowhere to turn or go.  I get rejected everywhere I go. 

Answer:

The behaviors you describe do sound dangerous to both yourself and your son and daughter. The most important thing is to get some help from professionals that are in your area, so they can determine the best set of strategies for you and your son. These would be my suggestions to try to find that local help:

 

1) Talk with your neurologist regarding the medical interventions you are trying. If the medications you have tried are not effective, it may be possible to try others.

 

2) Ask your neurologist for a referral to a psychologist who specializes in autism and behavior problems.

 

3) See the website below for many other resources and supports available in Texas

 

http://www.texasautismadvocacy.org/

 

4) Speak to your school about strategies they have tried that may have helped the violent behaviors at school. Perhaps they can help you think of some strategies that would help you at home.

 

5) Look for books that help you understand violent upsets, such as:

Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns – Revised and Expanded Edition by Brenda Smith Myles & Jack Southwick, http://www.asperger.net/bookstore_9720.htm

 

Often your school may have books like this that you can check out or borrow.

 

6) If you are ever in serious danger, please go to a room where you are safe, close the door, and call 911 or a local mental health crisis center.

 

Violent behaviors, like the ones you describe, often seem like they come out of the blue, but if you look more closely they often do have patterns. Most often violent behaviors are a way to protest something the child does not like or want to do, and are often related to transitions from one activity to the next. Often when these behaviors get so extreme, it is hard to find things that help calm the child down.

What might work better is to try to help earlier in the tantrum – for example when he first starts to become upset, you may be able to redirect him to some other interest or activity. The other strategy is to figure out when the violence is most likely to occur, and to help him handle those situations better. For example, if it often happens when he is getting off the bus, perhaps it is because of the transition. Maybe the bus driver can warn him a few minutes before it is time to get off the bus. The same kind of warning might be useful before bedtime.

Also – if you can reward him for managing himself well in these situations, he can start to learn that he is able to control himself, and that you are proud of him when he does. Rewards can be simple things like earning time at a favorite activity, treats, money toward a favorite item to buy, etc.

 

To put it briefly:

 

Hopefully, you can find a local person to help you develop these ideas, try them out, and change them as needed. Managing behavior problems of children with autism, is, unfortunately, usually an on-going process.

 

I wish you luck and encourage you to write again if you have other questions.

For more information:

Go to the Autism health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Jacqueline Wynn, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Director, Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University