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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query anger and violence. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query anger and violence. Sort by date Show all posts

Anger and Violence in Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum


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


Kids (and adults) with ASD [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 ASD 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 on the spectrum may be in a blind rage and unable to see the signals indicating that it would be appropriate to stop.

Kids with ASD 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, children with ASD 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 the disorder, 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 ASD , the aggression is masking a mood disorder, such as clinical depression.

Treatment for these young people 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 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.



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… 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. 



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. 

Most recent comments:

•    Anonymous said… Anger and frustration will get worse if you try suppress the child, you need to ask for helpful strategies. It's a scary time for your child as well as you.
•    Anonymous said… In my humble opinion, I think that Anger and Violence should NOT be link more to people with Asperger Syndrome. My son is 15 years old with Asperger Syndrome. He is kind, patient and slow to anger, I always hear his laughter... Anger and Violence is subjective within individuals.. Neuro-typicals can be extreme too. I believe that love and patience can conquer all challenges. However, many people with social communication issues are always left alone, they have no friends and don't know how to make one. At many times, they are bullied and ostracised, or labelled as being weird. Human being are social creatures, hence, without the connection and communication to the community, hate and anger may brew into depression and violence. This theory applies to any other neuro-typicals too... Human nature and not Asperger nature.
•    Anonymous said… Oh thank you. I have lots of friends with kids who have autism and aspergerz and they all homeschool. Hey Brick and mortar schools didn't come around til the late 1800s before that everyone was home schooled. And they're are so many great and easy programs out there now and so many support groups. So home school is becoming the norm
•    Anonymous said… Taking the time to listen and not assume things and to let me finish til I'm done even I have to repeat myself and making sure people listened very carefully and didn't just nod. My MoM Gave Me Lots Of Love AND Was Very Patient With me. But my dad on the other hand didn't understand but they didn't know I had aspergers. It wasn't till 4yrs ago that when my son was diagnosed with aspergers that I was diagnosed with it. I think that preparation is a big help. Trying to prep them for a big change ahead of time if you can. Recognizing when something is about to trigger the sensory overload. Being a shield. When I would get into crowded areas I would hover my son and get him out of there as quickly as possible. I think it's easier to deal with these days then it used to be. Because so many people are aware of it. I wish the police officers knew back wasn't til 2012 that my son has a huge temper tantrum at the library that the librarian thought something was seriously wrong with my son and called the cops on me but when the cop showed up at my door he said to me... have you has your son checked for aspergers? I said what? He repeated again and I said I've never heard of it. He told me about some good physiologists around and then left. He had a son who had it. So it helps when people are aware of it. So I think raising awareness and more understanding of it helps. But like I said when I grew up I was bullied and no one got me except my mom. And now that I'm almost 40 ughhhh lol I've talked to a lot of people who knew me when I was young that know now I have it wish they knew back them. They say... well that explains a lot but honestly I don't think even if they knew would have helped because kids can be cruel and they problem would have called me a special kid. That's why I home school my son and try not to change his schedule to much..he's 15 so I can.leave him at home if I run errands and it works great for all of us but when he starts getting angry I tell him you don't want to do that Caleb you know how you feel so fully afterwards and I just remind him over and over again that he will regret it and he's slowly getting better he's still yelling but with less breaking stuff. But I have to prepare him when his time is up on the computer. OK Caleb you have 10 mons left. OK you have 5 mons left and so on. And lots of praying to God. That is the reason I've come along so far today is my mom just got down on her knees everyday and just prayed hard.
•    Anonymous said… Thank you so much for what you've shared! As the mother of a child w Autism (Asperger's), I am currently and unfortunately battling w the school system to help them understand my son. Your words were exactly what I needed this morning. Thank you and God bless you, your son, and family!
•    Anonymous said… That's a great perspective for an aspie mum to there something that would have made you feel more understood while you were younger? Im sure it wouldve been a big combination of things but was there one thing that would have really made a difference?
•    Anonymous said… This is the hardest and scariest thing for us to deal with at our house.
•    Anonymous said… This was our first clue that something was going on. The rage and aggression was SO bad. My son has anxiety, and now that he's medicated for it, we don't have these problems any more.
•    Anonymous said… Yes because we are frustrated and misunderstood and feel like we are in our own world and no one understands. I always had an angry and violent temper but I'm much better these days. I've grown and mature. It helps to have mom's who love you and Just keep trying
•    Anonymous said… Yes, they do it out of frustration and actually have no control over it at the time. It can happy over just being miss understood about some thing that has happen or could be there surrounds effecting them due to sensory overload. My son is 7 with Aspergers and yes it does happen. The outbursts can be reduced my sons have now dropped from like 15 a day to only a couple times a week. Knowledge, understanding and patients is the key and always remember there behaviour = communication smile emoticon there body's seem to have anxiety all the time and it never seems to do away so I worked out most things that make his anxiety levels so high and use coping tools to accommodate him and help him through it, sometimes he may need redirecting, sometimes he just needs a helping hand sometimes it's guidanceand for me to take the leed that's when his almost reached breaking/meltdown stage and I haven't picked up on it intime. There are many reasons why the anger I would try and work out what causing his anxiety levels to rise smile emoticon hope that helps xx

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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.

Helping Aspergers and HFA Children to Control Their Anger

"I'm in desperate need of some strategies to deal with my Aspergers (high-functioning) son's anger. When he starts to stew about something, it's not long before all hell breaks loose. Any suggestions?!"


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How can children on the autism spectrum cope with anger and depression?

"I have a 6 y.o. son (high functioning autism). When he gets upset, he throws his head back and hits his head on the floor or anything he is near. I am so worried about him. He also won't play with other children, he throws things at them's so hard! He is starting to have these fits at school as well. He also seems somewhat depressed a lot of the time. We didn't have these issues prior to elementary school. Any helpful advice would be greatly appreciated. I just want my happy child back."

Unfortunately, anger and depression are both issues more common in ASD or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) than in the general population. Part of the problem stems from a conflict between longings for social contact and an inability to be social in ways that attract friendships and relationships.

Even very young kids on the autism spectrum seem to know that they are not the same as other kids, and this gets emphasized in the social arena of the classroom. Many cases of depression, in fact, begin in elementary school (usually due to bullying and being an "outcast"). Anger, too, stems from feeling out of place and being angry at one’s circumstances in life.

Ideally, the focus should be on prevention and on helping HFA children develop communication skills, social skills, and develop a healthy self-esteem. These things can create the ability to develop relationships and friendships, lessening the chances of having issues with anger or depression.

Anger outbursts can also occur when rituals can’t get accomplished or when the child's need for order or symmetry can’t be met. Frustration over what doesn’t usually bother others can lead to anger and violence. This kind of anger is best handled through cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on maintaining control in spite of the frustration of not having one's needs met.

Communication and friendship skills can be taught to HFA children, teenagers, and even grown-ups. Mastering these skills can eliminate much of the social isolation these individuals feel. These skills can also avert - or reverse - depression and anger symptoms. (Click here for more information about helping with friendship skills.)

In worst case scenarios, some kids on the spectrum become so depressed that they may commit suicide (usually in adolescence). Others become angry enough that they get violent and hurt - or kill - others as a result. The challenge becomes recognizing these individuals (who are the exception by the way) before they do harm to self or others and getting them into therapy so that tragedy can be avoided.

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said...I'm so sorry. I wish there was a special place for our high functioning kiddos because they are more aware of the social stimulation and expectations around them. My son was forever changed by school expectations!! The anxiety and stimulation is just too much....look for options or try medication for anxiety. That is what helped my son. He started hiding in bushes and refusing to return to class in second grade. It is frustrating getting phone calls from school! I feel for you.
•    Anonymous said...Try to get an IEP for him at school ASAP. His stress and depression is likely due to a large amount of forced socialization that didn't occur before Kindergarten. Aspergers children cannot be forced into interaction, they will only melt down if you do. Have your school evaluate your son to see what options are available. If possible, ask his teacher to create a space for him in the classroom that he can retreat to if need be. This will greatly reduce his stress and any risk to other children. My son had similar problems when he started school last year. He had so many suspensions I lost count. He now has a class that he goes to once per week that teaches social skills, and he has improved so much! It is absolutely worth looking into. Contact the school guidance counselor. They will know the appropriate first step in your area.
•    Anonymous said...Well I would have his meds looked at. It gets harder to get them under control but really needed. Some schools aren't much help.

Please post your comment below...

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

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.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

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.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

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.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD 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 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."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

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.

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