HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Asperger’s Children: Fighting & Biting

"Any suggestions for my 4 year old high functioning Aspie that hits and bites his playmates when he’s mad?"

Unfortunately, many youngsters with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are often physically aggressive …they hit, bite and scratch others. These behaviors are fairly common and often appear by the youngster's first birthday. Moms and dads often struggle over how to manage their youngster's aggressive and/or destructive behavior.

While some biting can occur during normal development, persistent biting can be a sign that a youngster has emotional or behavioral problems. While many AS and HFA kids occasionally fight with or hit others, frequent and/or severe physical aggression may mean that a youngster is having serious emotional or behavioral problems that require professional evaluation and intervention. Persistent fighting or biting when a youngster is in daycare or preschool can be a serious problem. At this age, AS and HFA kids have much more contact with peers and are expected to be able to make friends and get along.

BITING—

Many AS and HFA kids start aggressive biting between one and three years of age. Biting can be a way for a youngster to test his power or to get attention. Some AS and HFA kids bite because they are unhappy, anxious or jealous. Sometimes biting may result from excessive or harsh discipline or exposure to physical violence. Moms and dads should remember that kids on the autism spectrum who are teething might also bite. Biting is the most common reason these young people get expelled from day care.

What to do:
  • Obviously, don’t bite a youngster to show how biting feels. This models aggressive behavior.
  • For a toddler (1-2 years), firmly hold the youngster, or put the youngster down.
  • For a young boy or girl (2-3 years) say, "Biting is not okay because it hurts people."
  • If biting persists, try a negative consequence (e.g., don’t hold or play with a youngster for five minutes after she bites).
  • Say "no" immediately in a calm but firm and disapproving tone.

If these techniques or interventions are not effective, moms and dads should talk to their family physician.

HITTING—

Toddlers and preschool age kids on the spectrum often fight over toys. Sometimes these kids are unintentionally rewarded for aggressive behavior. For instance, one boy may push another boy down and take away a toy. If the youngster cries and walks away, the aggressive youngster feels successful since he got the toy. It is important to identify whether this pattern is occurring in AS and HFA kids who are aggressive.

What to do:
  • Obviously, don’t hit a youngster if she is hitting others. This teaches her to use aggressive behavior.
  • If a youngster hits a playmate, immediately separate the kids. Then try to comfort and attend to the “victim.” This models empathy for the offender!
  • It’s better to intervene before a youngster starts hitting (e.g., intervene as soon as you see the youngster is very frustrated or getting upset).
  • Moms and dads should not ignore or down play fighting between siblings.
  • When young AS and HFA kids fight a lot, supervise them more closely.
  • For a toddler (1-2 years) say, "No hitting. Hitting hurts."
  • For a young boy or girl (2-3 years) say, "I know you are angry, but don't hit. Hitting hurts." This begins to teach empathy to your youngster.

When hitting or fighting is frequent, it may be a sign that a youngster has other problems (e.g., he may be sad or upset, have problems controlling anger, have witnessed violence or may have been the victim of abuse at day care, school, or home).

Research has shown that AS and HFA kids who are physically aggressive at a younger age are more likely to continue this behavior when they are older. Studies have also shown that young people who are repeatedly exposed to violence and aggression on TV, videos and movies act more aggressively. If your son or daughter has a persistent problem with fighting and biting or aggressive behavior, seek professional assistance from a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of behavior problems in AS and HFA kids.

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