There are several theories on why some autistic children are aggressive. A recent study has found that some factors make no difference, they include: level of functioning, level of intelligence (as measured by IQ scores), the education level of the parents, gender, low income. Pretty much all the things that tend to be indicators in the general population are non-indicators for autistic children. The only thing they know for sure has something to do with it is repetitive behaviors, also called stimming.
I know this issue intimately because I have a son who is aggressive. He is the most affected of the three boys (meaning his autism is worse than that of his brothers). In general he is a happy, laid-back, loving kid. But when he gets overwhelmed he sometimes loses control. It's hard because he's only eight but he's tall and strong for his age, nearly as strong as his father who grew up tossing hay bales around like they were frisbees.
I have scars leftover from scratches and bites. I've been kicked and hit, and had things thrown at me. So has almost everyone in the family. He's been exceptionally gentle with his little sister and the dog. But even they get in the way sometimes.
Whenever our youngest son goes into a meltdown priority one is make sure his sister is out of the room, then see to the dog's safety. When possible we try to get him into a room that is set aside as a safe place for him. There's nothing in there that we can't replace if he breaks it, and nothing with which he can hurt himself. We never know for certain when he will lose control, but he always cries and apologizes when he comes back to himself. This is not something he wants.
We do know what sets him off but he is inconsistent about it. He doesn't understand why he can't go to his grandparents' house on a school day. Most days he is fine with being told no on that. Once in a while, the disappointment is too much to him.
Too much sensory stimulation can set him off as well. That is difficult because he actually seeks out the sensory input that many other children on the spectrum would avoid.
He does stim and hates having his stimming interrupted. One of his stims is throwing things into the air to watch them fall. I mentioned in a previous post that all the flour and starches are locked up. This is why. He loves watching powdery things fall on the floor, and on himself. Another is rewinding videos/DVDs. This one is pretty common among ASD children.
Our fears about our son and his behavior include the very real possibility that at some point in the future we will be unable to care for him. He needs almost constant supervision and has for some time. We are doing everything we can to try and prevent his having to go somewhere else (a treatment home or an institution, scary words for a parent). The thought of losing him makes me cry. I remember him as a sweet little baby. I know he doesn't want to be like this. And I know that if he had to go away he wouldn't understand. There isn't anyone here who wouldn't miss him every day, but we will do whatever is best for him, whatever will help him. There is hope that if it does happen it will be temporary.
Many parents face these same situations and fears every day. Not everyone has the wonderful support team that we have. All of the therapy team, doctors and school staff have been wonderful. We read stories about autistic children being abused at school and we thank God that our boys have never had that, that such amazing and caring people work with our sons.
One last word. This is the last day of Autism Awareness Month, so I ask you again to please be aware. If you see someone out in public with a child who is acting up, please stop before you think ill of the parents, or give them a dirty look, or worse yet say something unhelpful. That child may be autistic. That parent may be struggling not to burst into tears. It is a tough life and each of us with children on the spectrum have felt the condemnation of strangers when our children act unusually in public. We feel inadequate and sometimes even blame ourselves for things that are beyond our control. We are just like other parents. We could use a smile, or a kind word. Sometimes that will be what helps us get through the rest of the day.
Thank you for reading what was a difficult post for me to write.