How to Handle Aggressiveness in Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum


My son will be 11 in September. There are so many issues, but the biggest concern now is the aggression associated with his meltdowns. The aggression is getting worse, both physical and verbal. He uses foul language, hits, kicks, spits and threatens to kill me. I am desperate for a solution of some kind. I don't know what I should do when these meltdowns occur. They start the minute I pick him up from school. He does not have this problem at school. Since school started back last week he has had a major meltdown every day. I know that school (he's at a new school this year) is a major stressor. He's completely uncooperative with homework and as I said above, the aggression associated w/ these tantrums is escalating. I am desperate for help.


Many High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) kids do not have the social skills or self-control to manage their behavior. These must be taught. When kids can’t find the words to deal with aggressive feelings or are not encouraged to express themselves, they become frustrated. At other times, kids cannot cope with growing levels of anger in themselves or in others. In both cases, kids need to learn acceptable ways to assert themselves and to learn coping skills.

For these young people to outgrow their aggressive ways, they need positive, consistent, nurturing discipline. They need to learn positive problem-solving techniques. Parents need to place kids in environments that offer a setting and support for learning positive social behavior rather than aggressive, hostile, antisocial acts.

Try some of these options:

1. Observe to get the facts. Keep a log to find the theme of what triggers the acts of aggression – then help the youngster steer clear of these activities.

2. Share your notes or journal with the teachers. Compare to see if similar behaviors are triggered at home and at school.

3. Take a look at the environment. Is some activity or room arrangement causing anxiety or frustration? Does the youngster feel crowded, or is he bored for too long? Does the youngster have enough personal space?

4. For school-age kids, write a plan of action for what the youngster will do when the negative behavior occurs.

5. Make a list of activities to do “instead” (play with Play-Doh, run around the house, vacuum, draw, take a bath, etc.). Use a picture graph if the youngster can’t read.

6. Recognize success. “Even though I could tell you were mad, that was a great way you controlled your anger!”

7. Teach the youngster deep breathing and visualization relaxation exercises.

8. During a calm time, talk with the youngster so he understands the consequences of actions. Bedtimes are often quiet times for talking.

9. Accept your youngster and understand his unique temperament. While his behavior will be challenging at times, remain patient and supportive.

10. Tell your youngster how you expect him to behave. You will need to keep telling the youngster. Be specific and positive. Rather than saying, “Don’t hit,” …say, “Hitting hurts. Please use your words.”

11. Be consistent so kids know what to expect.

12. Organize the home environment; set limits on what the youngster may use.

13. Limit access to aggressive toys (e.g., swords, guns).

14. Monitor television for aggressive shows.

15. Watch television with your youngster, and comment on the content.

16. Sing songs and tell stories about feelings and frustrations. Talk about what anger may feel like.

17. Allow some independence by providing a help-yourself shelf with blocks, art supplies, puzzles, or other things. Define where kids may use these materials. Provide enough materials so kids don’t have to wait to use them and become frustrated.

18. Allow transition time between activities; give a five-minute warning that the activity will change or it is “time to come in from play.”

19. Be a model for controlled behavior, and avoid angry outbursts and violence.

20. Monitor out-of-home activity. Know where they are and whom they are with.

21. Avoid extreme permissiveness, laxness, and tolerance OR too much structure and too many demands.

22. Figure out what the youngster needs—attention, security, control, or to feel valued. Try to fill the need so he won’t continue to act undesirably.

23. Use closeness for control. When you sense your youngster is about to lose control, quietly and gently move close. Often your calm presence is enough to settle your youngster.

24. Help kids talk to each other to solve problems. Ask open-ended questions to help them think about options to solve their own problems.

25. Give kids choices so they feel empowered. Offer two acceptable choices.

26. Redirect your youngster. If your youngster is pushing, hitting, or grabbing, move him in another direction and into another activity. Stay by his side until he is positively engaged.

27. If your youngster is misusing a toy or destroying it in an aggressive manner, remove it. Get out Play-Doh, arrange an interlude of water play, or direct your youngster to his sandbox. These tactile experiences often magically quiet aggression.

28. Remove your out-of-control youngster from the scene. Hold the youngster, go for a walk, or go to another room. Stay with him until all is calm.

29. Be your youngster’s control. If your youngster is hitting another, your words may not be enough to stop the aggression. You must move in and gently but firmly stop the behavior. You provide the control your youngster lacks. In time, your control transfers to your youngster. Say, “I’ll keep you from hitting your sister.”

30. Note improved behaviors: “I like the way you used words to solve that problem.”

31. Avoid difficult situations. If you know going to the park where there are lots of children sends your youngster into an aggressive tirade, avoid going. Find a less-stimulating setting where your child can achieve more social success.

32. Seek support yourself when you need a break.

33. Banish punching bags. If you have a youngster who is aggressive, realize that the effect of “hit the punching bag, not Jo,” has not proven effective for reducing aggressive attacks.

34. Prepare the youngster. Before your youngster meets new friends, tell him what behavior you expect. With young kids, remind them that people don’t like to be hit or pushed.

35. If all of your strategies have been used to no avail, seek counseling or assistance in developing a youngster/family plan to learn aggression management.



•    Anonymous said... I am going through the same my son is fourteen. X
•    Anonymous said... I find that all children are different, and with my son, teasing, mimicking or laughing would send him into a downright rage even worse than the initial one! We find that just gently diffusing it and saying "I'm sorry you are feeling that way", or "maybe you could just take a few quiet minutes to yourself to think of some better words to describe how you are feeling" works much better. It helps him boil down what he's thinking and realize that he hasn't affected me, just the results he was hoping for, and that he won't get what he needs/wants with violence and aggression. It doesn't always work the way I want, but it models good problem solving and the behavior that I want to see in him.
•    Anonymous said... I ignore the foul language and tell my 15 yr old daughter I've hard worse and talking like that is not going to get you what you want. Thank goodness she has not used the language outside of our home, that I know of. Same with the physical. I walk away and if need be I lock myself in my bathroom and take a breather myself. Know what you are going through and feel for you.
•    Anonymous said... I know you probably won't feel like it at the time but I've found that diffusing the situation with humour often works best for me. We usually end up laughing. I've also used to mimic his voice or action, not in a patronising way, more in a over acting dramatic way. Worth trying?
•    Anonymous said... I tell my son that I don't deserve to be treated/spoken to like that, or I tell him he's more intelligent than to do/say that, I find logic helps him to handle his anger at the moment, but he's having cbt so I'm sure that's helping him to recognise the triggers for himself x
•    Anonymous said... my son was put on Risperdon and it changed his whole personality. He used to be how you described and now it chills him out and he is such a happy, content and great part of our family. Last year he was nearly suspended from school and he used to throw things at home, kick things, hit his sister etc. He is on a mix of Risperidon, Fluoxitine and Concerta. We also were told to spend time together and rub his head, arms etc while reading stories or watching movies and to play classical music around the house. We have a totally different 10 year old.
•    Anonymous said... We had the same type of experiences, I found my son used words and actions to assert himself, he knew which words would get a reaction. He once told his teacher that he hoped her unborn child would die, he did this at age 13. He was feeling highy frustrated that she thought he was too dumb to learn. Today at age 20 he is a model citizen, holds 2 jobs, goes to a trade school and is a volunteer fireman...who knew? God gave us these children for a reason-because we are the only people who could/can raise them! Hang in there it will get better when he learns coping skills.

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