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Faced with a world in which they find it difficult to interact socially, communicate clearly and control their own behavior, children with autism sometimes respond with violent behavior. Aggression, both physical and verbal, is a common symptom of autism, and can be aimed at inanimate objects, caregivers and family members, other children or even toward the child himself. An observant caregiver can take practical steps to calm and direct an aggressive, autistic child.
Identify Triggers to Bad Behavior
- Sometimes violent outbursts are predictable. For example, does brushing the child’s teeth cause him to become angry? Maybe the bristles feel uncomfortable against his gums, or the smell of the toothpaste is offensive to him. The website Disabled World recommends examining every component of a situation that seems to trigger aggressive actions and making adjustments. In the tooth-brushing example, the parent could try using a softer toothbrush or changing toothpastes.
If the child becomes violent when he is unsure of expectations, it is possible that labels on everyday items in his environment could make him feel more secure. Putting words or pictures on cabinets, closets doors and bins that are part of the child’s routine may help him use those things for their intended purposes, according to Autism Society. Power struggles will be reduced when the child knows what is expected of him.
Sometimes stress over not being able to verbalize frustration causes aggressive behavior. If a child is angry that he can’t tie his shoes but is unable to describe how he feels about lacking that skill, he could act out inappropriately. Examining the root problem and addressing it may help to curb angry behavior. Calm and patient reactions on the part of the caregiver are key.
Simplify the Environment
- Arrange furniture in a sensible way for the child so that he can easily maneuver through rooms. If a child often tries to escape through a certain door, change the path of the room so that he is unlikely to go near that door. Keep surfaces clear, taking special care to place breakables and dangerous or messy items out of reach.
Organize and structure the child’s living space to minimize frustration. Again, labels can help the child understand where things belong and make him less likely to become overwhelmed or anxious.
Restrict access to items that tend to cause power struggles. For example, if bath time is stressful, keeping the bath toys away from the tub until bathing is completed will help him focus on getting clean before he plays.
Evaluate Outside Influences
- If aggressive behavior has developed suddenly or has gotten more severe, find out if the child has a food allergy. Other factors to consider are environmental conditions, change in medication or a change in the home or school setting. According to Disabled World, some drugs cause aggression. Seasonal or food allergies can cause discomfort that the child can’t describe, leading to extreme behavior.
Seek a Doctor’s Advice
- Medication may be needed, especially if the child’s behavior is hazardous to him or those around him. According to Disabled World, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved a medication especially for autism. But some drugs used to treat other conditions have been shown to be useful in treating children with autism. A health care professional can help you determine whether medication will be helpful for your child.