Aspergers and Aggressive Behaviors

The 2 essential factors every parent needs to know to cope with aggressive and violent behavior in their Asperger’s child.

For many parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome; coping with violent and aggressive behaviour can be a very difficult challenge indeed. In this article I will outline the 2 essential factors that you need to know to cope with such behaviors.

Aggressive behavior in the child with Asperger’s Syndrome occurs for a reason, just as it would with any other child. No child ever really just “acts out” for no apparent reason whatsoever. The key is in the words “apparent reason” – there is ALWAYS a reason but the major challenge for the parent is often working out what that reason is.

Inappropriate behavior, whether mild or severe, generally occurs in order to:

1. Avoid something – for example a child may become aggressive and shout before getting the school bus; as they want to avoid going to school.

2. Get something – for example a child may lash out at another child because they want to get the toy that the other child is playing with.

3. Because of pain – for example a child may show a range of challenging behaviors to their parents because they feel in physical pain, such as having earache.

4. Fulfill a sensory need – for example a child may lash out or shout in the classroom if it is too noisy, too busy, too bright, too hot, or strong in a particular smell.

So the first step in reducing or eliminating this behavior is to determine the need that it fulfills by looking at the four categories above. The second step is to teach them a replacement behavior, which they can use to communicate what they want or don’t want. It may even involve using some of their obsessive or self-stimulating behaviors (like hand-flapping, rocking, pacing) as a replacement behaviour. This is because it would be far less intrusive to others than aggressive behaviors, but still serve the same purpose. It could also be about encouraging the child to express their feelings or negotiate verbally. For other children they may communicate through another method like emotion cards, drawing, using symbols or “talking” through a puppet. You know your child best so you need to determine this.

This process takes time and initially, depending on the behavior, you may not have time. If the behavior is severe, then you need to remove the child from whatever situation they are in at the time immediately. Simply insisting that they stop the behavior and participate in whatever is occurring will not benefit the child or you; unless you remove them from the situation first. Maintaining your child’s routine will go a long way towards reducing the need for inappropriate or aggressive behavior in the first place. Because for children with Asperger’s routine is a great source of stability and comfort for them.

So just to recap the 2 critical factors for coping with your child’s aggressive and violent behaviors are:

1. Identify the real cause of the behaviour from the 4 main categories above.

2. Teach the child to communicate the real cause of the behaviour to you in a less harmful manner.