Children on the Autism Spectrum and Behavioral Problems at School

"I have a 7 year old son who has yet to be diagnosed but, it is looking as if he has ASD [level 1]. He is having major behavioural problems at school which include hitting other children, staff etc. He is an only child and although there are some behaviour issues at home, the main problem is when he is in a group situation like school. Has anyone else had this experience and if so what did you do?"

First of all, you should have him tested by a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists (ask for a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation) to determine if he, in fact, has ASD (high-functioning autism).

There are all sorts of reasons why autistic kids misbehave in school. By the time an autistic student is reacting with violence, it's too late to institute a quick fix. Here are five ways to start dealing with problems or potential problems early, when there is still time to work with teachers and administrators to make school a tolerable place for your youngster.

1. Be realistic about your youngster's abilities—Pushing and motivating and holding high expectations can drive some kids to be all they can be, but it can drive others straight into anxiety and depression. Would you want to work at a job, day in and day out, where you always had to be at the top of your abilities, handling things you weren't quite on top of and hoping things turn out alright? Kids can't quit, and they have very little recourse in terms of demanding better working conditions, but they can find all sorts of ways to act out their anger and despair. 
Be honest and compassionate when considering what sort of classroom your youngster will learn best in and what sorts of supports he or she will require. Academics are important, and it's not wrong to make them your biggest concern, but emotional support and feelings of mastery are important, too.

2. Be respectful of authority yourself—We all know how important it is to fight for our kids and be strong, effective advocates. That struggle may lead us to conclude that some teachers and some administrators are not worthy of our respect, and their judgment is subject to doubt. But be very, very careful how you communicate that to your youngster. You may think the message you're giving is that grown-ups can be wrong, and you will always stick up for him, and she should value herself even when others criticize. 
The message your youngster receives, though, may be that it's okay to be disrespectful to teachers, the rules don't apply to her, and you will clean up every mess he makes. That's an attitude that's sure to cause major problems at school, and beyond -- if you teach a kid to question authority, sooner or later he's going to question yours.

3. Listen when your youngster talks—I suggest that kids don't answer the question "How was school?" because they know moms and dads only want to hear good news. Moms and dads should reconnect with what it really feels like to be in school -- the uncomfortable desks, the stuffy classrooms, the disengaged teachers, the work that is either too easy or too hard. Think about what it really feels like to be your youngster at school. Ask questions about feelings, and really listen to what he or she says. 
Don't be quick with a pep talk and a pat on the back. Having someone to listen, without judging, can help defuse some of the frustration that might later erupt in dangerous behavior. And if you listen closely, you may be able to figure out other ways to lessen your youngster's emotional burden.

4. Request an FBA—If the school is sending home complaints about your youngster's behavior -- and expecting you to do something about it -- put the ball back in their court by requesting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). This will force school personnel to really think about your youngster's behavior, not just react to it. 
An FBA examines what comes before bad behavior and what the consequences are for it; what possible function the behavior could serve for the youngster; and what sorts of things could be setting him or her off. If a youngster finds classwork too hard or a classroom too oppressive, for example, getting sent to the hallway or the principal or home could become a reward, not a punishment. 
Conducting an FBA and writing a behavior plan based on it is probably the best way to head off discipline problems. If teachers and administrators refuse to go along with it, you might need to do a little behavior analysis on them.

5. Volunteer at your youngster's school—Being a presence at your youngster's school -- whether you volunteer at the library or help in the lunchroom, serve as class parent or staff special events -- pays numerous dividends. It gets you known by the administration in a non-adversarial context. It lets your youngster know that school is important to you and a place you want to be. It gives you an opportunity to observe what goes on in that building, from the conduct of the students to the morale of the teachers. 
If you can't spare the time to volunteer during the school day, attend every Home and School Association meeting you can, and be sure to show up for Back to School nights and teacher conferences. When school personnel get to know you as an involved and interested parent, they're more likely to be your ally when problems come up.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD 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.

Click here to read the full article…


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 or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your 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...


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

Click here to read the full article…


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 ASD 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…


Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...


Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...
A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

Click here for the full article...


504 plan at school and lots lots lots of educating the staff and teachers how he functions.
Anonymous said...   Aggression can be a symptom of many things, so please don't hyperfocus on getting an AS diagnosis especially when the symptomology could point to another health condition altogether (ie. severe social anxiety disorder).
Anonymous said...   Extremely small amount of info. to be suggestive of asd. There would be many many other signs previous.
Anonymous said...   From what you have shared this doesn't sound like asd. What makes you believe it is?
Anonymous said...   I have learned that it is the fear and overwhelming sensation of being in a group that creates the outbursts. My son has a very supportive school and 2 years later is a happy amazing child. When he had outbursts instead of removing him from the class they removed everyone else so that he could feel safe while calming down. They went above and beyond to make him feel safe. I am forever grateful, because prior to this school he used to launch at teachers, spit run away etc. we had a few days at this school where he wasn't able to handle it and walked out. So talk to your school about some strategies, believe that it is from a place of fear and pain as sometimes too much noise is very painful for them. Best of luck xx
Anonymous said...   It is very possible they do. If communication is impaired they often times will act out. My son is very verbal but at the same time has trouble processing info to be able to express how he really feels and what's bothering him.
Anonymous said...   It sounds a lot like my son. High functioning autism and ADHD. my son would go into melt down at school from over stimulation. Even at 6 and 7 he knew he needed to leave the class to calm himself but teachers wouldn't let him. Then things would escalate.
Anonymous said...   My child was 7 when he was diagnosed with Aspergers. When he had meltdowns, he would hit. It sounds like when he's in this group, he's having social anxiety. My son also has a sensory disorder, which he could have?
Anonymous said...   My grandy is 8 yrs he wont go to school at all watch the english program on utube my violent child great advice on the 3 episodes
Anonymous said...  I'm going through the exact same thing. My son is 7 too. I have an appointment with an autism center and I just signed papers to have him psych tested at school. I bought him a weighted vest. It helps. He also has a dark space in his classroom to use if needed.
Anonymous said...  Speak to the school .im in the same position as you .waiting for a decision but my son is showing signs of aspergers .he doesnt like being in group settings .the school and SENCO.have put things in place for my son like if he finds things like the clasroom gets too crowded he can leave the classroom and he stays with a teacher at playtime /lunchtime .my sons school has been very helpful as they dont want my son to get upset or any child to be in danger .my advice is to ask for a meeting with the school and voice your concerns .you will find they will support you the best they can .good luck .i totally understand what you are going through x

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