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

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Anger and Violence in Aspergers Children

Question

Is anger and violent behavior usually a part of the Aspergers condition? I'm currently waiting for an evaluation and diagnosis for my 5 yr old – Aspergers is suspected.

Answer

Kids (and adults) with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism are prone to frustration, anger – and sometimes violence. The rapidity and intensity of anger, often in response to a relatively trivial event, can be extreme. When feeling angry, the child with Aspergers does not appear to be able to pause and think of alternative strategies to resolve the situation. There is often an instantaneous physical response without careful thought. When the anger is intense, the youngster with Aspergers may be in a blind rage and unable to see the signals indicating that it would be appropriate to stop.

Kids with Aspergers have a great deal of difficulty with social relationships. They have trouble understanding the meaning of what others are saying and doing, and they typically struggle to take the other person's perspective. In addition, kids with Aspergers are typically dependent upon structure and routine because they have trouble making sense of the "gray areas" of any interaction. Thus, there is room for a great deal of confusion. Kids in a confused state can easily become frustrated, angry, and lash out.

For some kids with Aspergers, there appears to be a faulty emotion regulation or control mechanism for expressing anger. This means they are more likely to use aggression or violence as a way of dealing with their anger. For others, aggression may be a way of controlling their circumstances and experiences. For example, they may threaten to hurt their mother if she insists on their going to school; or they may use violence to make her buy something associated with their special interest. For others, aggression can be a way to make other people stop what they are doing – teasing or bullying – or a simply a way to make them go away. It is also possible that in some kids with Aspergers, the aggression is masking a mood disorder, such as clinical depression.

Treatment for kids with Aspergers often involves a reliance on structure, including schedules and routine. In addition, teachers might offer a "quiet" place in the room that an overwhelmed youngster can move to in order to calm themselves.

Aggressive behavior in the youngster with Aspergers occurs for a reason, just as it would with any other youngster. Inappropriate behavior, whether mild or severe, occurs in order to (a) avoid something, (b) get something, (c) because of pain, or (d) to fulfill a sensory need.

Parents need to determine the need that aggression fulfills. Teach them a replacement behavior (i.e., to communicate what they want or don't want). It may even involve using some of their obsessive or self-stimulating behaviors as a replacement. This is because it would be far less intrusive to others than aggressive behaviors, but still serve the same purpose. 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 youngster from whatever situation they are in at the time. Simply insisting that they stop the behavior and participate in whatever is occurring will not benefit the youngster or you, unless you remove them from the situation first.

Maintaining their routine will go a long way towards reducing the need for inappropriate or aggressive behavior in the first place.

Early diagnosis and intervention predicts more positive outcomes for kids with just about any diagnosis. And, in the case in which your youngster does not have a formal diagnosis, you will have learned a great deal about his or her unique cognitive and emotional profile, and you can rest easy, focusing on helping to grow his or her talents and capabilities.

My Aspergers Child: How to Prevent Anger and Violence in Aspergers Children


COMMENTS:

Anonymous said… Someone just brought this to my attention. It was the killing from a few weeks ago, in WY, where the kid used a bow and arrow. He too had aspergers. I don't believe that everyone with the disease if at risk of creating violence, but I could be wrong and maybe it has something to do with the way their body reacts to the meds they're on.

Anonymous said… This incident has upset me tremendously.  A year ago a school psychologist actually told me "kids like your son become the Columbine kids".  Now I worry so much that people will be afraid of my son after this.  He is only nine but has had violent outbursts of screaming and biting at home and school.  I still don't think he could do something like this.  He has a hard time fighting kids in his karate class.  I can't for the life of me figure out why that mother had guns in her house.  But clearly there was more wrong with that boy than just Aspergers. Thank you for your website and information.  It helps to know others understand.

Anonymous said…Thank you so much for this post! Helps me make sense of something so "senseless."

Anonymous said… My child is now 20 and has a degree of social anxiety and possible Aspergers.. He is in therapy being tested.. However he has never ever been abusive in any way or violent at all. He is very soft spoken and is very open & friendly with his immediate family & some friends that are in his 'social comfort zone'.. He may not be the' norm' however I know there are such varying degrees of this... It makes me afraid though in light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut that everyone will paint a picture of ever child with Aspergers as dangerous.. And I just don't believe that's the case.

Anonymous said… I'm not a health professional, but everyone is different and react to things differently. I've heard that Bill Gates has a touch of Aspergers, as do many other successful business people. That's what I've been told from a friend, who is a therapist for kids with downs and aspergers.

Anonymous said… Young people with Aspergers are quiet, gentle, sensitive, focussed on rules, facts etc. Give your child quiet activities to occupy him/her. Art, drawing, cutting, pasting..... Lego is a wonderful activity and my 12 year old will still head off to his lego box when stressed or anxious. Limit exposure to the news, which can be very violent, limit use of violent video games, music videos etc. These overstimulate any child really, but Aspergers children are highly intelligent and take in so much information.

Anonymous said… Thank you, Mark.  I've been worried about how the media would portray individuals who have Asperger's given the description of the suspected shooter.  Anything to minimize the stigma and misunderstanding is appreciated.

Anonymous said… My son in an aspie with ADHD/ODD. most of the time he is a sweet polite child, however, he is a light switch. He has difficulty making correct choices and sometimes the choice of threatening or hitting someone jumps I front of the correct choice of walking away or telling an adult or expressing he is upset. Aspergers itself isn't responsible for his behavior (which he does have a much better handle on, he has made dramatic improvements in the past year) but it is the other disorders that coincide with it. He has no filter even though he knows right from wrong. 

Anonymous said… My son's frustration results in hurting himself, not others. I am sure everyone is different as in the general population. Austim is a neuro developmental difference not a personality disorder. One can have Asperger's in conjunction with other disorders and the violence could be an attribute of the other disorder.

Anonymous said… my 12 year old son has never been violent or mean. He is more whiney than anything

Anonymous said… My 8yo has violent rages at home but behaves well at school.

Anonymous said… My son has aspergers and voilent behavior is part of it for him...but not for every child with it. He is on Abilify for a mood stabilizer It has made a world of a difference for him. He does still have outburts here and there, but NOTHING like before the Abilify.

Anonymous said… my 9 yr old has had rages at home,but is a perfect loveable angel anywhere else unless she has a meltdown. Those in public are few and far these days though. Rarely has her rage ever involved anyone other then herself (other then her little sister provoking her) and typically she will get so mad she just screams and cries.. a lot

Anonymous said… I have a 9 y.o. daughter with Asperger's and while she has angry outbursts from time to time, she does not usually resort to violence against another person - not since she was much younger and she did not know how to handle her feelings. I have taught her to take out her anger on a pillow, and to start counting backwards from 10 and practicing deep breathing whenever she begins to feel angry. These practices work great when they are allowed... but the key to their success are making the teachers aware of what helps and enforcing the child's need to be able to do these things. The times my child wound up having melt downs at school usually resulted from her being kept in a situation that was distressing her and she was not allowed to do what she needed to do to release the anger - usually whomever the anger was directed against was up in her personal space and simply would not leave her alone - teachers yelling, other students taunting, it happens whether you educate them or not. It is a battle you as the parent will have to wage constantly to make sure that the school follows the IEP. There are many different ways you can teach your child to cope with anger issues. Some Asperger's children are going to have more severe cases than others, of course, so it is really not accurate to say any one method works with all children with Asperger's. The sooner you have diagnosis and can get started with an OT the better off they will be. I really like the comment on the article from "catsarespies" (even though I love cats and know they aren't spies LOL) "surprisingly, when i sign up for kickboxing classes, i found i learned to control my rage attacks. by punching and kicking bags while building my anger, and stopping when the instructor told me to, i learned self control. i do believe i've got my rage under control now. part of the reason i got so mad was because i couldnt find words to say how i felt or why what the other person said or did was wrong. the others out talked me any time, easily. i cant always put an idea in words. knowing i'm right and the other person is wrong but doesnt realize it and the frustration of my inability to express it contributed to my anger, plus the feeling that i was trapped in an alien world with rules i couldnt understand caused me to feel anger often, especially in childhood, without knowing why. also, i'd want to the person to leave me alone and he/she wouldnt and i didnt know any strategy to make them stop."

Anonymous said… My 11 yr old has Aspergers, ADHD, odd, OCD, and anxiety and has severe rage fits. They have become less frequent as he got older, but he has got more defiant as he has gotten older. Every child is different!!

Anonymous said… My six year old, Julian has had rages at home and has been physically aggressive but does great at school. He has had meltdowns in public but all have decreased since he started taking vyvanse. We have him take a break when we see that he is getting frustrated, which leads to the aggression. This means reading, coloring or drawing, which helps him calm himself down.

Anonymous said… I think some kids on the spectrum can have anger/rage and display it in violent ways, but I see this as demonstrative of personality differences that we ALL have.

Anonymous said… ASD children can also learn coping skills (as we all have to) and what those are and how fast they learn them differs.

Anonymous said… My 9 yo son has had seasons of extreme anger and threats of violence. The thing that made the most difference was assuring him of our love no matter what, and us learning new skills to help him calm down. His social worker is like a magician!

Anonymous said… My 8 year old has violent outburst, punching kicking biting during meltdown, but my 7 year old just screams and yells and I have put some of this down to early stragies as we asked for help at 2 with my eldest son and bascially got told go away till he's 5. We had special ed at our kindy asses him at 4 and told us then what possibly could be going on and by this stage our youngest was starting to show the same signs, so intervention went in for both kids and my youngest is a lot easier to handel during rage. We have also found that he used rage at our last school as a coping skill, if life got tough hit someone and he was either put on the deck for the rest of lunch or sent home. He saw a punishment area at school as a safe place from bullies, but school didn't want to know.

Anonymous said… Wouldn't you get angry and violent if people kept misunderstanding you, not listening to you, throw too much information at you to process at one time and making you feel abnormal? I know I do when My kids don't listen to me, when I tell them to get dressed and instead they continue doing what they want to do, Or when I tell them please be quiet, mommy needs a time out, but instead they continue to come at me with questions, requests and even demands. My now 12 yo aspie used to have incredible violent anger episodes. It was after I tried to see the world from HIS perspective that things started to calm down. Those episodes are VERY few now. I think there is too much weight on making it the child's behavior the focus and not on the source of his behavior. Autic and Asperger children have a hard time communicating their feelings, let alone understanding feelings of others. They need OUR (the parents and his support network) help. WE need to step up and help THEM, not expect them to figure it out on their OWN, or because WE SAID SO. I am so angry with all the stuff that is coming out all over the media trying to over generalize the reason for something, when it is an individual challenge for each one of us with or without a disability or mental illness or disease. Let us all be responsible, not let others be responsible. BTW I am not diagnosed with ANYTHING. I am healthy, mentally and physically and spiritually. I work very hard to be that way, without someone else telling me what I need to do in order to be that way. It is WORK to be "NORMAL".

Anonymous said… Replies to this were helpful distraction techniques and trying to remain calm and being able to get out of the way of punches etc

Anonymous said… 1 thing to keep in mind and I know this with my son when he is in full rage, he hears nothing he see's nothing, he does not know what he is doing. He burst into tears the day following a huge rage when he saw the brusing to my finger, we thought he had broken it, he was so sorry for what he had done, but didn't remember hurting me. He is on an omega with evening primrose oil in it and we have found this has calmed him down a lot, we tried an omega on his own and it didn't have the same effect as the 1 with the EPO in it.

Anonymous said… A few weeks ago, my son Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan -- they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

Anonymous said… Violent outbursts are few and far between at home as we understand the triggers. At school he is becoming more violent (children seem to wind him up ie- shouting in his sensitive ears, not letting him play unless he brings in certain toys, embarrassing him when he chews on his sensory chew, lots of things really. The teacher believes a stern talking to is the way to go! Not working, so i have just bought teacher a book to educate him and my sons peers. Hopefully a bit more understanding will make my precious little boy have better school days.

Anonymous said… The media is saying there is “no connection” between high-functioning autism (aspergers) and violent crime. Bullshit! Open your eyes people. Of course, most of these children never get violent, and I’m not about to vilify these kids – but to say there is NO connection (if face of the recent incidents involving kids on the spectrum) is just plain stupid! I’m sure the truth will come to light soon ;)

Anonymous said… Mark, this is excellent.  You are amazing..I agree with every word.  I wish they would interview YOU on TV, because most of the so-called 'experts' are dancing around the mulberry bush being politically correct.  We need to hear the truth about this disorder!   Again, thank you..I will post this on my FB page and tell everybody I know to read your piece. God Bless You! 

Anonymous said… So my child tried to hit me tonight and I stopped him and sat him down and started showing him the news footage of this tragedy. We've had a good talk about all of this.

Anonymous said… WHY DON'T PEOPLE CHECK INTO HIM BEING INTO THE "GOTH" MOVEMENT ALONG WITH HIS MOTHER TAKING THEM TO THE SHOOTING RANGE, TEACHING THEM HOW TO SHOOT AND SHE, TOO, ENJOYED SHOOTING...IT HELPED HER TO FOCUS ON SHOOTING AND OFF HER PROBLEMS.


Anonymous said… I wonder how Adam Lanza was treated by his school system. Did it ignore his disability because it didn't want to spend money on him? I am raising my 9 year grandson. I have begged his school system to recognize his Asperger diagnosis as a disability. He threatens to kill classmates and teachers. His classmates are afraid of him and say he is mean. For 18 months I was told that he was "mild, mild, mild" and the child study committee ignored the warning signs. I was told that his grades were too good. That he didn't need help. Finally, after I became the bitch from hell and challenged them on their every decision, they have decided that his diagnosis is a disability. I anxiously await the next meeting to see what assistance they offer. I pray ever day for all the misunderstood children and their parents, who are trying to get them help.


Anonymous said… My son is like this, and we've been through hell. He can be sweet and polite, but on a daily basis he threatens to kill me. He's over 100 lbs now and almost my height. He has a specific connection with me vs anyone else in our household. If he is having a bad day he relys on my completely. He does a lot if rocking and spinning and repeating before the rage and then eventually goes into full on darkened eyes adrenaline fueled rage. He's punched me in the face, kicked me while pregnant, tried to kill himself by jumping off our balcony, jumping out of the car while I was driving, impaling me in the head with various things while I'm driving. He's peed on us, peed on himself. Thrown up on us, himself and his room. I could go on. At his best he is sweet and kind, at his worst I've woken up in the middle of the night to him standing over me with the look. Our knives are hidden, bedroom doors lock. I love him so much and it pulls on my heart strings to see him hurt. He is 9 yrs old, he's been like this since he was a toddler. He's diagnosed with Aspergers, before that we went through 4 other diagnoses. Aspergers has afforded is the healthcare coverage we need. I'm sorry if this doesn't describe your child, but it does mine. I just want a place free of judgement for how my son behaves. With behaviors like this, when I share with others I feel like I get ostracized. I get looks, judgement, people stop talking to us. I just want a place to go where people understand. The author who wrote this made me feel less alone in this battle. My husband and I are both active duty. We're a loving kind and compassionate family. Were not lazy inconsistent parents. We've raised our children in a structured traditional environment. My son has an ABA provider that works with him. We're doing EVERYTHING we are supposed to do. Again, Im sorry if this doesn't fit your child, and Im sorry if it may seem an insult to your child's character. This IS how my child is. This is our reality... hospitals, death threats. To me this wasn't an insult, it was the first time I've felt normal.


Anonymous said… My Aspie was suspended last week and now I don't even dare send him back to school. He has been "stereotyped" now, and I don't want to have the school overreacting.


Anonymous said… Our 21 year old son has taken a toll on the family, knife threats, erratic behavior, etc, all of which eventually landed us in psych emergency. How horrible to finally get there after a horrible episode only to be sent home with a prescription and recommendations. The psychiatrists apologized but that was all they could do. We were so close to calling the police, but thankfully avoided that route to date. I thank God every day for psychotropic medication! 


Anonymous said… I have a 13 year old aspie ,he does find it hard at school and cos stands out as vulnerable can be picked on,. He does hace friends, he does emotions and the same dry sense of humour as his elder brother (who is nt an aspie). He does get angry and frustrated and has,had meltdowns. He has does threaten me but I really don't think he means it,he vents out at me cos I'm his mum.he did hurt me the other week physically the other week and it took me by surprise,and has certainly reminded me how it can be.I am a bit wary now, he is extremely strong and nearly as big as me. I do think he could hurt me again,but he is not violent, it is his anger and frustration at himself at times. .eg,he,may lost his keys, or finding homework hard.going through puberty aswell,.we hav asked his doctor to refer us bk to the people that diagnosed him, for help and support for him and us as we approach the adolescent years. Aspergers syndrome is an individual condition..I doubt there's 2 aspies the same.


Anonymous said… Mark, it's not surprising that you took a lot of heat for this post, but please let that not deter you from espousing the truth.  Someone has to lead us out of ignorance and denial. You may well be the one! I'm doing all I can to support your position. 

Anonymous said… I would like to know if this ever gets better...we have been going through all of this for about 2 years now and I am scared about everything. I cry myself to sleep most of the night because I do not know how to fix the issues. Today was one of his worst issues and it was so bad that I am still up in the middle of the night trying to figure out why??? We do the medicine thing and it seems like every 3 to 6 months we are changing something. But during those few months it seems to look like everything is going to well and when we praise him it all goes to pot. He is a smart kid and everyone at his school knows that. We just recently got him under the special education but only for help on non-classroom functions. He is a A/B student that never brings home anything below an 88. Even this last six weeks he made and 85 in one class but missed over 20 days in the whole 6 weeks and still was able to bring home mostly all A's except 2 that were B's. He was tested on his IQ and scored over a 115. He is only 9 years old and in the 4th grade. During all the testing for the special education he scored for 5th and 6th grade levels. But we do not do anything about that because emotionally he could not handle the upper grade levels. Today he left school and will not talk to anyone about why he did that. He walked all the way home and the principle followed him here to make sure that nothing bad happened. Thankfully he live just around the corner from there. Then after school he had one of his worst episodes I have ever witnessed. It was so bad that the Sheriff Department had him hog tied in chains and handcuffs and the calming down took over 2 hours. It was bad. I just feel like a failure when it comes to him. Can anyone give me any ideas or suggestions on what I might be able to do for him. I just want him to be a sweet kid that he is when he is having a good day. Please help if anyones knows what might work with him. Thank you.

Anonymous said… My 10 year old son with Asperger's has a great sense of injustice and a need to get justice himself if he doesn't think adults have dealt with it in his mind appropriately and he harbors huge grudges as he has a fantastic long memory for remembering the smallest things some one has said or done to upset him. But ask him to remember his school reading diary and you have no hope lol 

Anonymous said… my 14 yr old seems to be this definition. Has over the top reactions to things that are not that big of a deal and holds on to anger/grudges for far longer than anyone I have ever known! Also his rigid thought process often makes him appear as the bully or classroom cop! UGH His perceived injustices often make it impossible for him to "let go" or walk away from a situation!

Anonymous said… My 7-year-old has a "swatting" problem. If the time comes to do something he doesn't want to do, he will start furiously waving his arms and smacking things (including other people). I consider myself pretty lucky though. I can usually get this to stop if I stand directly over him and very sternly, very slowly say "Don't Swat". His hearing is hypersensitive and if I raise my voice even a little he hates it. He'd rather just quit than listen to me.

Anonymous said… My Husband and I have all boys, five of them. Our 6 yr old was recently diagnosed by the school's testing with Asperger's. He's high functioning, makes eye contact, social to people - but inappropriate with social skills. He has melt downs, he toe walks, he hates to leave the house to go anywhere, he has food issues (taste, texture , temperature) clothing sensory issues, likes to be in soft clothing, he's stronger in math, behind in writing/reading, shuts down in school, will hide under a desk, run away into a hallway. It kills us he has no friends(other than his Brothers) and he's aware of that : it bothers him, his lack of social skills make it hard for him to keep a friend, he's made fun of at school, he eats lunch alone. We knew since he was about 2 1/2 there was something different about him (melt downs that were more than a typical temper tantrum, he seemed to look through you- not connect with what you say, even today I still see that look). With the school's findings , its a relief because now we have something to help him with, we can look for resources, read, learn how to make it better for him. My question is, what now ? What should we be doing ? I'm making an appointment with a psychologist so he can be evaluated and make sure we do indeed have the correct diagnosis, but from everything I've read, it seems to be spot on. However, our Pediatrician isn't convinced (which is why we are making the appt with the psychologist) In the meantime, what should we be doing ? What kind of sports do other people's children with Aspergers do ok with where they don't get frustrated or aren't' made fun of ? He wants to play baseball. Also, we make certain exceptions for him with family life- try to be even more patient with him, take the time to explain things, what we're doing that day- any changes in plans. His Brothers are understanding to be more patient with him but we also at the same time don't treat him so differently. When you learned your child's diagnosis, what did you tell them about it so they could understand what makes them a little different ? Any advice is appreciated, thank you.

Anonymous said… My son is 22 years old and I am still dealing with these issues 

Anonymous said… My son, is this way, as well. What is the best way to handle theses situations? He has said that he gets so frustrated, he can't control himself. He not so much hurts others, but throws shelves of books on the floor, he has spit on a teacher's chair....He feels his teacher expects him to be perfect, and he cannot get over it.

Anonymous said… Sounds exactly like my 15 year old son. He too holds grudges for extreme amounts of time basically forever. He also seems to have a strict self conduct code. Does anyone else's teen dislike other teens? My son goes as far to say he hates teens because of the way they behave he also often says he hates the fact that he's a teen himself.

Anonymous said… Thank God my aspie gets upset but let's go rather quickly. A blessing for all.

Anonymous said… That's the same as my 14yr old, his arguments always seem so logical, if I hesitate to come back with a counterpoint he knows I'm floundering to find a rebuke! SO frustrating!

Anonymous said… This describes my 10 year old daughter exactly. It starts quickly and stops just as quickly. She feels her aggression is justified.

Anonymous said… This describes my 8 year old perfectly. Glad to know I'm not the only one dealing with this. I get so frustrated trying to talk to him about it. He always is able to justify his behavior. I can't ever "out argue" him about it. He has a reason that seems logical to him for everything.

Anonymous said… This describes my son perfectly. It's helpful to read that others are experiencing the same.

Anonymous said… This sounds like my 14 your old. We have had to go to the extremes of me and my son moving out if the family home so everyone can be safe and happy.

Anonymous said… We are experiencing these issues with our 8 yr old boy with Aspergers. He gets so angry, so quickly over what to us seem small things. So what can we do to help them manage their explosive feelings? I'm not sure, other than some professional help perhaps with Psych. I know that a piece of rough Velcro can help him to calm down. He rubs it and this helps him concentrate on the sensory feeling.
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BEST COMMENT:


Anonymous said... Most research on the incidence of High-Functioning Autism in criminal settings has been published in the past 10 years and highlights provocative associations between the deficits in people with High-Functioning Autism and violence. Some recent studies have indicated the following:

• unique forensic profiles
• potentially increased violence and associated psychiatric comorbidity
• infrequent history of illicit drug use, but a greater history of violent behavior
• increased possible sexual offending
• higher prevalence of Aspergers in maximum security hospitals relative to prevalence in the general population

Even though a diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism is not sufficient to invoke mitigation, these findings support the need to understand the characteristics of people with this disorder that might contribute to law breaking and to use those characteristics to parse out legal and intervention-driven policy recommendations. 

Efforts to understand the link between High-Functioning Autism and violence have already manifested in the U.S. legal system. Since 2008, state legislative policies and judicial decisions have considered the presence of a High-Functioning Autism diagnosis as a factor in making guilt and competency determinations. 

In recent years, media attention to criminal behavior among people with High-Functioning Autism has raised public alarm over a possible link between such behavior and these diagnoses. Reports across the nation have raised speculation over the link between High-Functioning Autism and violence, often implying a causal connection between the population and violent behavior, despite a lack of persuasive empirical evidence to this effect. 

The authors of the earliest known review of the link between Aspergers and violence concluded that no such connection exists. In a more recent review, the determination was that the link is inconclusive and is supported by only 11 of 147 studies on Aspergers and violence when the strictest inclusion criteria are used. However, other work suggests that there may be unique features of Autism Spectrum Disorders that are important to consider when violence is committed by people with High-Functioning Autism. Several case studies of young people have indicated that certain traits among people with High-Functioning Autism (e.g., impaired social understanding, restricted empathy) may lead to violent behavior in specific provocative circumstances. 

A recent study indicated a reduced incidence of law breaking among people with High-Functioning Autism, but the same study also demonstrated an increased history of violent behavior in the same sample. So, while the overall rate of criminal behavior diminished, the violent behavior (and damage associated with this behavior) increased. This finding is consistent with that in a recent large-scale review suggesting increased prevalence of violent behavior among young people with High-Functioning Autism. 

Understanding the potential link between High-Functioning Autism and violence is necessary both descriptively and legally. Several case studies have examined these possible links through the lens of existing diagnostic criteria, particularly specialized interests, lack of social understanding, and deficient empathy.

1. Baron-Cohen and Kohn et al. presented individual case studies of violent law-breaking in people with High-Functioning Autism, and argued that the deficient social understanding was attributable to a deficient theory of mind (i.e., the ability to understand others' mental states). 
2. Barry-Walsh and Mullen presented several forensic cases of people with High-Functioning Autism that can be interpreted as repercussions of specialized interests or lack of social understanding. 
3. Murrie et al. noted several cases in which deficient empathy and social naïveté contributed substantially to law-breaking behavior (e.g., in one case, the individual believed he could attract sexual partners by engaging in public performance of bizarre sex acts with an inflatable doll).
4. Schwartz-Watts notes the importance of considering the person's stereotyped interests in several murder cases. 

The same observations are supported by a review of typical motives and triggers of violence in Aspergers:

• Violence (i.e., assaults, arson, homicides) was carried out in an emotionally detached manner. 
• More than half of the violent acts examined were motivated by “communicative and social misinterpretations of other persons' intentions” or sensory hypersensitivity.
• Approximately half of triggers of violence were accounted for by narrow interests in specialized visual appearances, “not getting the right response or being approached in a wrong manner by others,” or “ordinary, non-provocative physical nearness.”

While the above considerations help to understand that some people with High-Functioning Autism might commit acts of violence, they are less helpful for understanding why. A consideration of other common factors in High-Functioning Autism that may contribute to violence is important to describe, and it is necessary to understand the legal implications of such behavior in people with High-Functioning Autism. 

Newman and Ghaziuddin, authors of a report critiquing the link between Aspergers and violence, recently co-authored a review positing a link between some violent behavior and High-Functioning Autism in subsequent literature and suggesting psychiatric comorbidities as a possible factor leading to such a connection. They found that most of the literature on those with Aspergers who commit violent acts indicates that these people also have various co-occurring psychiatric problems (e.g., anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizoaffective disorder, depression, etc.). As the presence of these disorders alone does not confer substantial additional risk of violence, they concluded that the finding by no means proves a causal link, but nonetheless provides an area for further examination when evaluating people with Aspergers who have committed violence. 

“Theory of mind” deficits are implicated in violence among people with High-Functioning Autism. Theory of mind is the ability to understand and represent the mental states of others. The pattern of deficit appears unique among individuals with High-Functioning Autism. 

A second area of difficulty for people with High-Functioning Autism is emotion regulation (i.e., the ability to inhibit quickly and appropriately the expression of strong emotions). Behaviorally, deficits in emotion regulation manifest as problems with impulse control, aggression, and negative peer interactions. While emotion regulation is an executive function capacity that demonstrates considerable variation between typically developing people, it may be especially impaired in those with High-Functioning Autism. As emotion regulation difficulties in grown-ups can lead to violence, a deficiency in this ability among people with High-Functioning Autism may contribute to findings of a disproportionately increased history of violent behavior. This deficiency could also be seen to lead to more impulsive violence. 

In a study by Wahlund and Kristiansson, use of murder methods requiring less premeditation (i.e., not using guns or other weapons) was unique to incarcerated murderers with Autism Spectrum Disorders, compared with those with Antisocial Personality Disorder. The authors viewed this tendency as emerging from odd motives (e.g., the intense lifelong desire to stare at flickering flames in an arsonist with Aspergers).

It seems, then, that emotion regulation difficulties could increase violent behavior in people with High-Functioning Autism who also have substantial theory of mind impairment. For example, theory of mind difficulties may lead to social confusion, and this confusion can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness. Violent behavior may result from unregulated physiological arousal among people with High-Functioning Autism with poor emotion regulation ability. The combination of the two may pose a particular risk for confused, impulsive, and ultimately violent behavior for these individuals. In other words, an interaction between (a) impaired theory of mind and (b) emotion regulation difficulties may predict increased violent behavior in those with High-Functioning Autism. 

Clearly, there needs to be more cross-discipline attention in the academic, legislative, and judicial domains to understand the relationship between Autism Spectrum Disorders and acts of violence, as well as the possible features that may facilitate this relationship, effective interventions, and consistent legal consequences. 

Please post your comments below...

15 comments:

Lenette said...

Hi all
My son just turned 17. He was diagnosed with Aspergers at the age of 12. He always had a quick temper and stubborness is his middle name. Not getting something his way or being told "no" or "stop what you're doing" triggers violent arguments. Lately he is getting more aggresive and it sometimes feel that he is deliberately starting a confrontation just to annoy his father and me and to start an argument. I am really beginning to fear my own child as he is now turning into a young adult and is very strong in his hands and arms - in the past months he has physically attacked me a few times during an argument. How do I handle these outburst and does his changing hormones have such a big influence?
Lenette

Anonymous said...

somebody who cyberbullied me claims he has asburgers,i dont know him and his profile is private so i cant tell.he says he doesent remember comenting me and he doesent know me when i haveproof he said what he said and showed it to him. is their a way to tell if he really has it.im so upset about the cyberbullying!

Anonymous said...

I am at the stage where I’m looking for more help and advice concerning my beautiful son. He is just turning 10 and was diagnosed with Aspergers at age 4. I have been a single parent for approx 5 years and this may be having an impact also on his behaviour as he has more ‘control’ of his actions at his fathers house than with me. I understand that I am his ‘safe person’ and he needs to release his anxiety/emotions.
The day finally came (and I knew it would one day) where he was physical in anger towards me. He was having ‘a moment’ and he grabbed me in a headlock in anger. I am fearful that it will get worse and he is a big boy and will be taller than me before he is 12.

I know he has anxiety during the week with school, is not doing well academically, has had some bullying last term, homework has always been a struggle and he is lacking in confidence and motivation. We have an appnt to see a paediatrician but that is a month away.

We have been working on a system of 'consequences’ good / bad, rewards for good and things taken away such as tv or planned activities for negative behaviour.
He says he doesn’t care if I take tv etc away.

We can have 6 months of calm in the house followed by a few months of rudeness, back chat, defiance and now physical anger.

I have just been onto your website and have printed some information concerning violence.

Concerned mum.

Anonymous said...

My son has aspergers...he is violent and tells me the many ways he would like to kill myself and my husband. His new medicine curbed this about %75 percent but it occasionally shows back up. It is scary and I am shocked that the just release a very disturbed person back into their home and if a spouse were saying these things there is no way they would be allowed back in the home.
The level of Help for such children is almost nill. Instead of psyciatric help...they want these type of children arrested and put in the populace of just plain criminal kids. This is wrong and for an asperger kid who is a mimic...it can be potentially ruinous to the child.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, please help us out with your advice if at all possible. Our son who has just turned 11 was put on Fluoxetine on the 15th of August having been diagnosed with Aspergers. His dose was 10mg/2.5ml per day. We were also advised to get him some CBT. His worst characteristic is his violence and this stems from his anxieties. After a few weeks the medication started to work and we felt as though we had struck gold as our son was now less anxious and the violence had completely gone. He started his new school and everything was going really well. However for the past 2 weeks we have noticed that his behaviour has been getting worse and we are now back to where we started. We have contacted the psychiatrist by email and we are awaiting a response. We don't have an appointment with him until the end of Oct.

Any advise would be very welcome.

Anonymous said...

My son is 5 years old, in kindergarten, and was diagnosed the end of
May. Here is the problem: He is very abusive, both physically and
mentally, to me. He says he hates me, says I'm mean, that he wishes
someone would kill me, that I would leave and live somewhere else, among
a list about a mile long. I also have scars where he has scratched and
bit me. He has also charged me like a bull, and buried his head in my
gut. The only form of punishment we can use is sending him to his room.
When he wont go to has room, by saying no or lying on the floor, I have
to physically drag him to his room. Then he flies into a rage and
attacks me. I can't win. I am tired of walking on eggshells around him
because my legs hurt. Does anyone have any ideas on how I can deal with
him besides ignoring him when he is being abusive. It tears my heart in
two every time he says he hates me or he wishes I was dead or gone.
Please help.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I'm a teacher and also think my son has Aspergers. He has never grown out of the 'terrible twos' and is now a teenager. He grows increasingly stronger. The best advice to manage negative behaviour is to always keep calm yourself. Don't shout. Request that an action is taken -giving plenty of warning and time. e.g. tell a child they will be leaving the park half an hour before they do. This is much better than deciding to just leave. Always give the child a choice in their action e.g. go to your room or sit there. Don't ever back your child into a corner by insisting on a specific action.It doesn't work and they will show their frustration in anger. Even for a car journey you can ask if they want to sit in the front or back, or distract them ( age dependent) by talking about something they are interested in as they get into the car. During a tantrum (if safe) leave them to it. Don't argue or demand anything at this point. Then request the action be taken again when they have calmed down. If you stay calm, they will. If you explain why, you always get a better reaction. We can't go **** today because...but we will go on... Always keep to your word! They will get frustrated and annoyed at anything that they see as injust. You have to be fair and see their point of view. After an outburst, discuss their behaviour and ways of dealing with it.
These are my own tried and tested methods with my child and quite a few others. I'm not an 'expert' but do have qualifications in special educational needs and psychology... hope this helps:-)

catsareaspies said...

i'll describe what a violent meltdown feels like. you see a red fog, your head feels hot, the person you're angry at seems like a soft object you'd like to smash, you feel yourself moving without having any control over your movements, you have to, you absolutely MUST hurt that other person otherwise you'll go crazy and you won't be able to stand it. afterward, you may not remember what you've done.
i have asperger syndrome, general anxiety, ocd that drives me crazy, hyperactivity and problem concentrating.
as a child, i'd get rage attacks. they were far in between. usually, i'd only scream and not be able to stop. i'd feel dizzy like i'm about to faint. i'd feel like i can't take it anymore and i'm about to go crazy.
if provoked, however, i did resort to violence, like that time when another girl in school taunted me and i saw a red fog. when i came out of it, i was told i pinched her and wouldnt let go.
as a grownup, i once walked down the street with a heavy suitcase, moving from one apartment to another. two drunks twice my size got out of the alley. one put his hands on me and rubbed them on my body. the other laughed. they both turned and walked away. i came after them, circled them, and went for the man's temple with the suitcase. he ducked. i would've killed him otherwise. i went for the other man, the one that laughed, and tried to slam the suitcase between his legs. he stepped back. i came back to my senses and let them walk away then.
i did what i did because i felt like i was going to explode if i dont wipe that damn smile off his face.
surprisingly, when i sign up for kickboxing classes, i found i learned to control my rage attacks. by punching and kicking bags while building my anger, and stopping when the instructor told me to, i learned self control. i do believe i've got my rage under control now.
part of the reason i got so mad was because i couldnt find words to say how i felt or why what the other person said or did was wrong. the others out talked me any time, easily. i cant always put an idea in words. knowing i'm right and the other person is wrong but doesnt realize it and the frustration of my inability to express it contributed to my anger, plus the feeling that i was trapped in an alien world with rules i couldnt understand caused me to feel anger often, especially in childhood, without knowing why. also, i'd want to the person to leave me alone and he/she wouldnt and i didnt know any strategy to make them stop.
so i went over in my head over strategies to free myself of bullies, like getting up and walking away, etc. i have an answer to many scenarios now. plus the right things to say in a given situation, which i've gone over in my head many times till i found the words.
i even wrote a story in my blog, living among aliens, based on my life experiences, that deals, among other things, with rage attacks, their causes and the person's copying techniques, along with other copying strategies for dealing with other aspects of asperger syndrome.

Rachel Shamariah said...

Wow my 5 year old is doing exactly the same hurtful things. When did your son's start? No diagnosis but no assessment either. Help.

Rachel Shamariah said...

Help. My son is five too. No diagnosis but no assessment either. What precipitated his outburst? Hurtful death talk. " ill just kill myself ", I hate you. Always after he does something he knows is a bad choice.

Anonymous said...

hey my twin son is 2 years old and as anger symptoms, i have spoke to a specialist who thinks it could be this, but cant diagnose un till at least 4 years old, as you parents are experienced with older children can anyone please tell me if your children started symptoms so young, hes been angry and violent since around 9 months.

Anonymous said...

I am a professional nanny who cares for a 3 year old boy who has high functioning autism. I have worked with this family for over 6 months and we have made some amazing progress, however my charge is really struggling with seperation anxiety when his mother leaves for work in a morning, if I arrive whilst he's still sleeping and I wake him I am greeted with happy smiles and even the occasional hug! However if he wakes before I arrive the moment I walk through the door all hell breaks loose, screaming, shouting, and the odd bout of violence kicking, slapping, hitting e.t.c the moment mummy leaves the house he is almost instantly fine. This can be incredibly disheartening and upsetting for all involved, he is aware if what he is doing is upsetting those around him and I do believe he thinks if he screams loud enough mummy will stay home as when she is home she will do anything to keep him calm and happy. He will also behave this way if mummy leaves him with his dad. Any advice on how to help the family with this would be much appreciated.

............... said...

I'm. Afraid my lil brother is going to kill my mother one day he has aspergers and she lets him get away with everything and buys hike everything it seems to me he. Will not make it as an adult

Jan Hall said...

The media experts who are saying aspergers isn't related to violence--what planet are they living on? Surely they cannot be living with someone with this problem.

Cerebral Fitness Inc said...

Some people with autism have very sensitive nervous systems. They are easily irritated, frustrated etc. They can get violent because they are having difficulty regulating their emotions and physiological responses under stress. If retreat is not possible the anger and attack can come out. These folks would do well with an Occupational Therapist to work on sensory modulation; some might use programs such as Zones of Regulation or How Does Your Engine Run as part of the treatment. The whole family can learn the program to support the kiddo.
Dr DeLaCroix, Cerebral Fitness Inc

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

Click here to read the full article…

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content