Do Some Kids on the Autism Spectrum Have a Split Personality?

"Is it common for a child with an autism spectrum disorder to have a split personality (so to speak)? My daughter is a really good kid at school, but then a complete monster at home. Is this normal?"

The disorder is known to manifest itself differently with different children. Also, children on the autism spectrum may react differently to various situations depending on their individual personalities.

Your daughter may feel more comfortable with the familiar surroundings at home, and feel freer to act out more at home than in public, where she is surrounded by strangers and in a less familiar environment.

The stress of school may be relieved by a “meltdown” or other difficult behavior at home. This is a common occurrence. Quite a few kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's are saints at school, but they soak up the anguish and then squeeze it out on their family members when they get home.

HFA is treated in two ways, and both of them help manage the anxiety that accompanies this disorder. The first is cognitive psychology, and the second is prescription medication. The first thing you need to do in order to help your daughter is to find a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in ASDs. This specialist will be able to help you and your daughter discover the reasons behind her behavioral changes.

In addition, a specialist will help you do two things:
  1. Modify the situation or the environment in which your daughter lives in order to reduce difficult behavior.
  2. Create interventions for handling her anxiety.

Please don’t be intimidated. Changes don’t have to be complex or unmanageable. The changes you need to make might just involve changing lighting to a lower level, adjusting sound levels in your home, or creating a new schedule.

If initial interventions do not help, a psychiatrist can prescribe medications which will provide your daughter with the help she needs. It’s important to note that psychotropic (mood-altering) drugs like Zoloft or Prozac can help children, but they can also cause serious problems for children. If the psychiatrist prescribes medication, ask about dosage levels and, more importantly, side effects.

Just about all drugs have side effects, and it’s important for you to know about them so you know what to expect. You know your child better than anyone else; ask yourself if she can handle side effects like nausea, hypersensitivity, or prolonged sleepiness. These are all possible, depending on the medication prescribed.

More information about ASD children doing well at school - but poorly at home - can be found here: Behavior Problems At Home - But Not At School


Anonymous said...
My oldest son is like this. I say he assimulates (sp) at school then when he hits the door at home all bets are off and he's able to breathe. Which sadly for us means it's on and it's ugly somedays!

Anonymous said...
School is structured... maybe he can cut loose at home..

Anonymous said...
Maybe he is intimidated by bigger kids at school and he is reacting at home where everything is safe and friendly. Try and get to the bottom of his school troubles as a means to calm him down.

Anonymous said...
my daughter was like that, she had to be "normal" while at school which caused her to stress out & once she was home she was able to be herself & release the stress. In her words " Mommy, you love me no matter what even if I break something"

Anonymous said...
He's also probably over-stimulated and all the tension from being so good all day is really stressing him out so he's acting out in his safe place. My son was the same way, so we send him to school in the mornings and homeschool him in the afternoons to give him more down time. It's a good balance for us but doesn't work for everyone of course.

Anonymous said...
My son has always been this way. They work so hard to hold it all together at school by the time they get home in their 'safe haven' they melt down. I'd rather it be at home than at school or elsewhere though. However, it does wear you down after awhile. I dread 3:30pm in the afternoon on school days! Hang in there.

Anonymous said...
Im havin the same trouble as soon as he leaves school it starts but they wont diagones him cus he ok in school 4 2hrs even thow his behaviour so extreme at ome we got a surport worker health vistor social worker but im gettin no were

Anonymous said...
We have similar. Oldest has diagnosis already. Middle child we are almost certain is an aspie too. But school not interested as he is a high achiever so not having detramental effect on his school work. Has recent family suituation which ment change in routine he "kicked off " worse than the oldest. Going again to gp as want referal for him. Hope they listen this time.

Anonymous said...
Its drivin me mad my son is a very high achiever 4 a 3 year old so im not gettin much luck i havnt been to gp iv gone threw health visitor do u think i sud go to gp wud i get any further?

Anonymous said...
My son as passive aspergers he's really good in school when he gets home meltdown the problem when they r good at school aspergers never picked up by the teachers my sons wasn't it was a very good freind who noticed my sons traits

Anonymous said...
ask ur gp for a common assessment framework also a ref to camhs

Anonymous said...
have u read tony attwood aspergers my consultant told me to read it

Anonymous said...
i really feel 4 u. my son is now 8 but was only diagnosed a yr ago. took me yrs of fighting, lots of exclusions from school, evn on a half day programme. they blamed my parenting!! we had all the services wiv no help 2. he used 2 c an...See More

Anonymous said...
ask the school to ref ur son to autisum team they need to know how he is at home he may be passive like my son the school never picked it up now he's 11 he's showing all the signs the signs in adam can't mix has to have rotine noise has an imaginary freind

Anonymous said...
they can't be bothered go to ur dr ask to be ref to aut consultant keep a diary over the next few months

Anonymous said...
Thank u so much 4 ur help im in a hole an cant seem to get out il get to gp monday thank u its so frustratin 4 me i need help

Anonymous said...
Iv kept a diary over 2 months they sent me on parentin courses which did not help at all they tell things to do wid him but makin is behaviour worse an he cant cope wid it bless

Anonymous said...
Thats exactly wot i had 2 do, i was fightin the system 4 4yrs, evn believd it was my 'parenting' at 1 point but my son is now in yr 3 at school n this has been his 1st full yr being full time in mainstream wivout a single exclusion!! its not jus about the diagnosis n puttin a label on your child but gettin them and u the help an support that u so need an deserve!! shudnt hav 2 b a fight :-( xx

Anonymous said...
No it sudnt b a fight im fed up of tryin to prove it as if i wantd this 4 my son i just want him to b happy an settled

Anonymous said...
Thats wot any good parent wants 4 their child n u wil get their in the end, i did and it was worth it. just dont giv in and keep going. if u need sum1 2 talk 2 then feel free 2 add me as a friend on fb, know how tough it is n 2 hav a friendly ear who knows wot u r goin thru makes al the diffrnce :-) xx

Anonymous said...
Maybe at school there's a routine, predictability & structure and maybe there's less of that at home? It was like that for us, but once we established routines for at home and stuck to them, he was better. Stay positive and good luck!

Anonymous said...
My son is 7, and for the whole of his short life I have had a huge gut feeling telling me my son is not like his siblings or other kids. I've known in my heart he has something different. He is great at school but look out at the end of the day, worst is if there was a issue. I'm now on the road to getting answers for him as he knows he is different too :-( it is hard work and I will keep fighting for him as I'm his voice. Just hard when he is not tricking all the boxes when he has assessments and is ok at school.

Anonymous said...
My grandson who is 9 is the opposite. He acts up at school and isn't to bad at home. Structure is the key, I have found. It's a never ending battle. Now that school is out, he is acting up at home again.

Anonymous said...
My son is 11 and i have only just found out that he has Aspergers, i have always known he was a bit different and have been struggling with his bad moods and difficultness at home. I also hate it how some family members think it is your parenting that causes it! It breaks my heart, as all you want is for them to be happy and settled. I am glad i found this site.

Anonymous said...
I think a lot of times our kids work so hard to hold it all together when they are out and about, and then let loose at home where they feel more safe. All the anxiety and frustration tends to get bottled up and then let out again at home.

Anonymous said...
yes. very normal. 

Most recent comments:

•    Anonymous said… article is good but this is not split personality which is a completely different diagnosis. this describes the results/effects of their situational environment
•    Anonymous said… Aspies can hold it together the whole day but then we're exhausted and need to let loose when we get home.
•    Anonymous said… Deal with this everyday , I truly think bc she tries to hold it together at school then when she comes home she relaxes in her comfort zone .
•    Anonymous said… Does anyone have a child like this who still get services in school? I really believe in OT break during the day would alleviate alot of the meltdowns we are having immediately after school and all night - but since she is doing well there they don't really want to do anything.
•    Anonymous said… Google Pathological Demand Avoidance.
•    Anonymous said… Hell ye i relate an i cant get a diagnosise cus of this so frustrating
•    Anonymous said… I am so glad I am not the only one with this problem. My son is the perfect angel at school apparently and he comes home and completely melts down over the smallest things. I too have a hard time getting his teacher to take me seriously when he acts so well behavior wise in school and academically he's ahead of his class. Only thing we get is a little bit of OT and even thats not much.
•    Anonymous said… I have the same issue with my daughter. It is not split personality. It is the fact that she comes home to decompress. She has to release the pent up frustrations of the day. We, her family, are the lucky ones that get to deal with her decompression. I am so glad that my friend Alex pointed this out to me. It made such huge sense when he did.
•    Anonymous said… I know my son does not have a split personality but this is exactly what we go through.
•    Anonymous said… I think most of us Aspie mothers go through the same thing
•    Anonymous said… I'm grateful to have her behave at school, actually. I've also tried to think of her after school meltdowns as a compliment that she's comfortable. Sounds crazy, but it's kept me from coming unhinged on several occasions. I also try to have some sort of snack or drink ready for when she gets in the car. We go home and decompress for a little while, may watch a few of HER shows. Seems to work MOST of the time.
•    Anonymous said… It's actually normal, my son has learnt that school is important and he puts so much energy and focus into school that as soon as he walks out of the classroom its on like donkey kong, I accept most of the behaviour and dont put too much pressure on him to behave at home after school he's exhausted, but I find he is better on weekends. He will eventually find a happy medium
•    Anonymous said… It's not a split personality. They just use up every speck of self-control, self-soothing, and focus at school so have none left once they get home. We dealt with this for 2 years when my aspie was in public school - since homeschooling it is no longer an issue.
•    Anonymous said… I've been dealing with the exact things Ginger and Amy described. It's hard to get services for a child who behaves well and doesn't have academic problems, even when it's obvious that her social skills make interacting with peers difficult. Just yesterday, we attended a meeting at which I was told her day services will probably be cut because she's not currently an academic or disapline problem, but oh, come back if things get worse. It's a catch-22 for parents b/c if the child does well in some areas, the problem areas won't be taken seriously!
•    Anonymous said… Keep in mind how hard it is for an Aspie to keep their behaviour "normal" in school. They are exhausted when they come home. My daughter has the same, and I always keep in mind how hard the poor thing is working on behaving like the others at school. Everyone has to be able to behave without filters or so much effort somewhere.
•    Anonymous said… Make the teachers aware that the anxiety spills over at home in the form of outbursts or meltdowns, chewing minty gum helps me daughter to keep it together at school. This is in her IEP ... Ask the doctor who diagnosed to write something to school about how your child is affected by her anxiety. Also try teaching deep breathing and when they get home just let them check out and decompress for an hour or two. They need and deserve this time to just do whatever they need to do in order to calm down... Read watch tv, play computer games, play with pets, maybe go outside and swing or spin. My daughter used to spin on swing while singing and sometimes yelling or shreiking. We all know water is often very calming for these kids, so maybe painting with watercolors or playing in the bath tub will help. And my daughter likes hugs so that pressure of a big hug can be calming as well. I know how you feel because my daughter used to come home everyday and just lose it. It's a long learning process. Stay strong. Special children are given to special parents.😇
•    Anonymous said… My now adult daughter, never formally diagnosed with Aspergers,  has all these –“split personality, fussy eater”. I was always facing the good student, and well-behaved child to my being the overbearing personality and neurotic mother diagnosis.
•    Anonymous said… My son behaves so well at school that the teachers and staff have a hard time understanding what we deal with at home. I'm glad he is well behaved at school, though. That does help... It's always comforting to hear that we are not alone
•    Anonymous said… No, its not a 'split personality.' It is merely a function of how hard she works at school, academically and socially, and has to 'release' in a safe place. She only has so much energy to deal...
•    Anonymous said… SO much so that the school thinks I'm NUTS for asking for an IEP!!!!
•    Anonymous said… This is exactly how my daughter is. Ugh... Sometimes I think the teachers at school think we are crazy!
•    Anonymous said… we experience this too and am grateful most of the time it's not the other way around
•    Anonymous said… We have sensory breaks in our Iep. But our schools just don't do them. The classroom can also do the sensory break. It's benefits everyone. I'm thinking of homeschooling. I'm tired of fighting for the simplest requests for my child. Makes me sad.

•    Anonymous said... I try to make sure my son has an hour to chill after school so that we can avoid meltdowns at home, seems to work for us! Good luck!!!!
•    Anonymous said... LOL. I have so been there!
•    Anonymous said... My daughter would be practically mute at school. She would be so stressed out but she never stepped out of line. By the time I saw her in the evenings, she didn't have much left. One little thing could be the catalyst for a major meltdown. I used to wonder why she saved it all for me then I realized that it was because she was in her safe place. Although we have become a lot better at navigating the mood swings, I definitely think that anti-anxiety meds will help her.
•    Anonymous said... Omg so normal! My son acted out at school because he knew they would baby him and had the teachers wrapped around his little finger. They didn't think he could do anything because of his autism. At home he talked more, did his chores, had no problem with changes and doing his homework. I found out when I would go to school and volunteer for parent of the day. I was shocked how he acted. I gave him the evil mom eye lol and he straightened up real fast and the teachers were shocked at what he could do and how he acted when I was around. If you can I suggest getting into the school from time to time and she how she reacts when she knows your around.
•    Anonymous said... That's a sign of an emotionally healthy child. She knows that you will love her no matter what, so you are her safe place to fall apart.
•    Anonymous said... Yep that's my ms10, mainstream schools don't get it even if they try, Aspies are individuals and Mob discipline and peer to peer communications are all fuzzed up, that's why my girl is 2 yrs behind and all the ADHD kids get the benefits.

•    Mark Hutten said… Think of it as split "comfort levels" rather than "split personality" ...make sense?
•    Anonymous said… As a non neurotypical adult I have learned to function and work in a busy, people filled environment. I love my job but the mental energy it takes to understand people and their complexities leaves me at the end of the day absolutely shattered and tired. As an adult I have found ways to help cope with 'wearing a mask' all day, but empathise strongly with these children because their reaction is often a response to the amount of concentration and energy it takes to muster bewildering situations and interactions with other people.
•    Anonymous said… As so many have already said, YES! This is my child too! He's 18 now and still saves all of his worst behavior for home. If he's had a stressful day, look out!!
•    Anonymous said… At home, she can let out her stress that she is forced to contain at school. Home is also often less structured as an environment.
•    Anonymous said… I feel like my kid holds it in at school, and then let's it go when he gets home.
•    Anonymous said… I know this story so well.
•    Anonymous said… I was the same. I was always getting in trouble at school and I was always good at home. I have Autism.
•    Anonymous said… I would also add....it's a blessing and a curse. People are often shocked when they find out about home behavior and have trouble believing it's possible. I am thankful that he's able to manage himself in public though.
•    Anonymous said… It's called passing. Passing as "neurotypical." At least that's what I know it as.
•    Anonymous said… It's not a split personality. It's having to expend so much energy containing there little selves all day long so they don't get into trouble or get picked on for being different and then when they come home they know you'll love them no matter what so they get to unwind and blow off steam. There are techniques that we got from an OT that help get some of that steam out without bouncing off the walls or tearing up your house that are really helpful. You can also look up the wilbarger brushing technique, you have to do it consistently but it does work.
•    Anonymous said… Mine used to be like that. Then they told me it's because home is "the comfort zone" with less expectations than school. Needless to say it has turned around now and some days can be hard at home. Now they say it's because there's consistancy at home and school, and all he does is testing boundaries and looking for a reason to flip out because there's nothing to flip out about. My opinion, if he has a problem at school, something might be off. Either he's being bullied, or... there's not enough consistancy and they change a lot of things all the time, or he can't handle the pressure. You might want to take a Closer look. Those were the big problems my son had at school. Good luck xxx
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is the same. So much so.. that the school disagrees that she has aspergers x
•    Anonymous said… My kid is opposite....difficult and school and not as difficult at home.
•    Anonymous said… My son has Adhd and he is the same way.
•    Anonymous said… My son is completely like this. We're at the screening stage with CAMHS and as he's so different at school compared to home they're saying he can't have anything so can't refer him onto a paediatrician or psychologist. I'll not be letting it lie though!
•    Anonymous said… My son is the same... his teachers are flabbergasted to find out how hard things are at home.
•    Anonymous said… Poor kid is trying so hard to be "neurotypical" all day that a meltdown at home is the way they release everything they've been holding in. Sometimes immediately handing them a weighted blanket and other comfort objects the second they get home can help. Or, my son used to burn some of it off lifting weights so a physical activity might help.
•    Anonymous said… Psychologist told me he's putting on a front basically all day in school and is completely drained when he gets home so can act out or just cut himself off on his own for the evening, that's why school thinks there's nothing wrong he's gone under the radar for years because he dosent cause any trouble and his grades are OK
•    Anonymous said… Totally relate to this. Now, with a couple years of regular and ABA therapy it slowly can get better. Just today, my 13 year old apologized for screaming at me about cookies. After my initial shock, I thanked her for apologizing and told her I loved her and was proud of her for realizing and being brave enough to admit her mistake. It was a GIANT leap of progress for her. Hang in there ASD parents!
•    Anonymous said… Totally! My daughter's teacher says she can't see anything wrong with her, yet her play therapy worker at school can see her issues. X
•    Anonymous said… We had our son assessed a year ago by Cornwall ASDAT they said as he didn't tick all the 'criteria' he would receive no diagnosis. We have been struggling with at times severe behaviour for years. We waited 4 years for an assessment!!! Now have had to fight to get on Camhs list (over a year long). I am thinking of making a formal complaint. Someone told me to look into Pals... A liason service for the NHS.. Maybe of use to you?
•    Anonymous said… What others have said. Because they have used so much energy in trying to function in a school environment. When they get home, where they are comfortable, that release all that built up tension! My Mr 7, is extremely disregulated after school most days, it is exhausting!!!!!
•    Anonymous said… Yes my daughter has no problems at school but different child when she comes home
•    Anonymous said… Yes this is normal, we used to call it " Brace! Brace! Brace! For impact!" as the front door opened, he's 19 now he's not in school or employment but we are getting there. Good luck xx
•    Anonymous said… Yes! It's like Jeckle and Hyde! They fake it all day and when they get home they're in a safe place, so they explode as all the anxiety and sensory overload comes out.

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