Aspergers and HFA Children with Anger Problems

Many moms and dads recognize that their Aspergers or high functioning autistic (HFA) child has a problem with anger management. They feel their child needs to develop anger management skills, or needs to find some kind of anger management counseling that will help them get along better in life -- in school, at work, with a parent, with siblings, and others. In some cases, professionals may have diagnosed the Aspergers or HFA child with a “conduct disorder”, or “oppositional defiant disorder”.

Types of Anger—

The natural response to fear is to fight it or avoid it. When confronted with fear, animals and humans both go into “fight or flight”, “violence or silence”, or “gun or run”. They engage in the conflict, or they withdraw. Though many moms and dads may equate “child anger management” with the “fight-violence-gun,” uncontrollable rage, parents must also recognize that anger may be “turned inwards” in the “flight-silence-run” mode, which can often times be as dangerous, if not more so, than expressed anger.

Generally, anger falls into three main categories: 1) Fight, 2) Flight, or 3) Pretend to be “Flighting”, while finding indirect ways to Fight. Most children on the autism spectrum who have anger management problems will go to either extreme of fight or flight. They tend to become aggressive, mean, and hostile, or they withdraw into themselves and become extremely silent, silently stubborn, and depressed.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

“The Fighters”: Child Anger Turned to Aggression—

“The fighters” are pretty simple to recognize. They are aggressive. Many times, the characteristics of Aspergers and HFA children with anger management problems are included in the professional diagnosis for “Conduct Disorder” or an “Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)”. Some of the warning signs in the following list are taken from the criteria for professional diagnosis. Others are additional common signs of anger management problems for children that are “fighters”.
  • Destroys property
  • Difficulty accepting a “No” answer
  • Does not follow rules
  • Frequently vocalizes anger
  • Furious temper
  • Has left holes in walls and doors from violent outbursts
  • Initiates fights with others
  • Loud and yelling
  • Makes threats
  • Often demeans or swears directly to parent or others in authority positions
  • Often feels rules are “stupid”, or don’t apply
  • Openly and often defiant of requests
  • Physically cruel to animals
  • Physically cruel to people
  • Seems to have “emotional diarrhea”, and “lets it all out, all the time”
  • Seriously violates rules (at home, in school, or society in general)
  • Uncontrollable fits of rage (usually these “temper tantrums” are used as threats to get their way)

This list does not list every possible warning sign for the “fighters”. The child “Fighters” have anger management problems when the problems are creating an unsafe situation for themselves, for others, or for property around them. If animals and/or people are the focus of the anger and aggression, the problem is extremely critical to address. Aspergers and HFA teenagers who have abused animals or people as kids are at a higher risk of becoming a threat to society than those who have not. Where these warning signs seem to be a part of daily life, intervention is strongly suggested. Intervention can be through anger management counseling, an anger management program, or a program dedicated and experienced in working with special needs children with anger management problems.

“The Flighters”: Child Anger Turned to Passive Responses—

The “Flighters” can also be fairly simple to recognize. They are passive. They do not fight back when confronted. Many of their characteristics may coincide with the diagnosis of depression. Some of these warning signs are taken from the professional diagnosis for depression, and others are taken from learning, observations and experience.
  • Deals with difficult emotions by “cutting” the emotions off
  • Does not engage in much conversation
  • Extremely passive, to the point of getting “walked over” by others
  • Has difficulty expressing emotions
  • Holds anger in, then “blows up” suddenly and violently
  • May blame self unnecessarily
  • May have few friends
  • May punch holes in walls or kick doors, when “the last straw drops”
  • May be seen as a “loner”
  • May simply “go along” with whatever, even when it is a poor decision
  • Physical problems may include upset stomach, muscle aches, backaches, frequent headaches, or other physical symptoms from “holding it in”.
  • Seems “emotionally constipated”
  • Seems depressed
  • Seems to have very little emotion
  • Seems to hold anger in
  • Seems withdrawn
  • Tends to spend a lot of time alone
The “flighters” are in danger of destroying themselves emotionally from within. The “flighters” are like a balloon being constantly blown into, with no release valve. When they explode, their anger may be violent, and may lead to harming themselves, harming others, or destroying property. Internalized anger is potentially as destructive to a child as aggressive anger.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

“The Pretenders”: Child Anger Silently Planning Revenge—

Perhaps the most difficult to detect, the “Pretenders” follow an anger style that seems to be calm on the surface, but is raging, scheming, and planning underneath. They are passive-aggressive. These children do not directly confront the anger as a “Fighter” would do. They will be passive and appear to accept what is said, and then will disregard what is said to do their own thing. They are sneaky. Often, they may be unnoticed. While they are giving a person a hug, they are also stabbing them in the back (so to speak). They lack the courage to be direct, and perfect the skills to be deceitful. They know where the “back door” to revenge is, and will use it often.

They will give the appearance of a “Flighter”. The list of “flighter” characteristics also applies to them. Additional items to look for with “Pretenders” are on the following list.
  • Inconsistency between what is said and what is done
  • May be very good at blaming others
  • May not admit mistakes
  • Often gets caught in lies
  • Sneaky behaviors
  • Tends to avoid direct conflict, while creating problems in other areas
  • Tends to sabotage

These warning signs are a few to look for the “Pretenders”. Aspergers and HFA children who try to manage their anger through the “Pretender” style are as potentially dangerous to others and themselves as the other style. Moms and dads cannot underestimate the “Pretender” style because the danger does not seem to be that of the aggressive “Fighter”.

As has been shown, anger comes in three main styles -- Fighter, Flighter, and Pretender -- and each style has the potential to create big problems for the Aspergers or HFA child, families, and society in general. This post has offered specific warning signs that may indicate if a child on the spectrum has an anger management problem more significant than what is to normally be expected. When necessary, professional and competent intervention is recommended.

==> More parenting strategies for dealing with tantrums and anger control problems can be found here...

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.



Anonymous said...

    I have a question, is a child with asperger's able to kill an animal, such as a cat????
    he was asked if it bothered him and he laughed and said, it made it little sister cry. And would they do these things because of jealousy of the sibling?
    Thank you for your response.

Anonymous said...

    if this were my child I would bring him in to his psychologist. I don't think its typical for any child of any ability to be harming animals...without a proper evaluation there is no way anyone here can answer this question...we would all be speculating. Ask a professional.

Anonymous said...

    RUN to a professional, and if you don't think you found the right one for your child and family, keep looking. Abuse to animals is very serious, and often does not stop there. At this point, you might not know if your child did this out of frustration, anger, etc, or if he enjoys watching reactions (without any real malintent). Whatever the case, intervention is needed ASAP. If you are truly unsure he did it, you are at least acknowledging the possibility, so please don't get scared and back off. Even if he is not the culprit here, his reaction to the situation is not one you should be comfortable with. Blessings and good luck.

Anonymous said...

    I agree with the above comments. I have an Asperger's son who has plenty of anger/aggressiveness issues, but he is always kind and loving to animals. He also gets very irritated with his younger siblings but is never cruel (he might yell at them, etc. if they are "bugging" him). I can't imagine him purposely doing something to make someone cry (unintentionally maybe). I think your child might have something going on besides Asperger's. Early intervention can help--I'd get started quickly!

Anonymous said...

    I certainly wouldn't call this typical aspie behavior... I agree with Megan, RUN to a professional.

    Anonymous said...

    I found that although my daughter does not appear to connect with people emotionally, inherently she displays a lot of compassion for others. It might be an “Aspie like” trait to say something to a person unwittingly hurting the person’s feelings however I also found that strong emotional responses such as crying, laughing or yelling make an immediate impression on my daughter. If your son is displaying pleasure in seeing such a negative response that is something entirely different. Trait’s of Asperger’s is that the person does not identify with others feelings and/or does not know how to respond. Your son had a pleasurable response. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

    cruelty to animals is a MAJOR red flag, part of the homicidal triad. RUN to a psychologist!!!
Anonymous said...

    Did any of you even read the article that proceeds the comments? Hostility toward animals is a common problem with Aspie's, especially those who are "fighters". If you have an Aspie child, you should already be seeing a professional, so that's not the issue. The issue is understanding -- REALLY understanding -- the challenges your child is facing so that you can help him respond appropriately. To the OP: Whether your child killed the cat or not doesn't have to be determined. If he is a Pretender, he may pretend he did it even if he didn't. If he is a Fighter, maybe he did. Whatever. The point now is to give him every possible advantage by educating yourself and then teaching him HOW to better respond to his complex emotions. He doesn't feel or think the way you feel or think; don't expect him to. Ever. But DO expect him to LEARN appropriate, safe modes of expression. It takes time, patience, and persistence. In the meantime, don't add pets to your household. Your child needs CONSTANT supervision, and may always need it. My son turned 21 today, and I still spend 99% of my time "dealing" with the issues that result from being the parent of an Aspie. It's a commitment unlike anything you could ever even imagine, so buck up, educate yourself, and get down to the hard job of teaching this child what he needs to learn to survive in our cruel world. And DON'T rely on message boards as your source of information. Rely on the experts.

   Anonymous said...

    I actually am the one with AS and I was just looking at websites to better understand myself and my behaviors especially when I was little. I am a girl with AS who is now in her teenage years but when I was younger I was defiantly both a "fighter" and a " pretender". I still am in some ways but I have found that my temper is getting better as I am getting older.

    Anonymous said...

    I have a 15 year old with aspirers and lately he has been very fascinated with poronography. He ordered over $500 with of porno on his cell phone ( which has since been taken away) and ordered $600 of porno movies on my tv. Last night we got home and he had tries to rent another porno and he I told him no that is no acceptable and he hit me in the cheat very hard and left a bruise. I don't know what to do for him.

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