Autism and hitting: How to stop a child with autism from hitting
Sometimes being a parent to a child with autism is hard. Not being able to understand why they are upset or frustrating is heartbreaking when you just want to be able to help your child. Unfortunately sometimes being upset, frustrated or angry can lead to aggression and lashing out. It is not uncommon for an autistic child to hit their parents, siblings, teachers or anyone close to them.
In this blog, SpecialKidsCompany will look at autism and aggression, potential triggers and strategies for hitting behaviour.
Autism aggression triggers and strategies for hitting behaviour
There are lots of things than can trigger aggression in a child with autism. Finding the root cause of your child's aggression is important to enable you to find the right strategy to help them overcome it.
Trigger: Sensory Overload/Deficit and their environment
It is worthwhile exploring whether your child's behaviour changes depending on the environment that they are in. Do they behave differently at home or at school? This could be due to sensory issues.
Children with autism often have sensory differences, which can mean that they are either over-sensitive or under-sensitive with certain senses. This could be touch, taste, smell, noise, light sensitivity, temperature sensitivity or even colour sensitivity. Sensory issues can have a huge impact of an autistic child's life and how they feel and react.
Strategies to deal with aggressive behaviour caused by sensory issues
If you suspect that sensory issues are causing your child's behaviour here are some strategies that you can explore:
- Speak to an Occupational Therapist and/or Speech and Language Therapist who will be able to offer expert advice, tool kits and equipment that can help with sensory issues.
- Use ear defenders if you suspect that noise might be an issue for your child. They may be able to help them block the noise out.
- Create a quiet space so that your child has somewhere that they can go to self-regulate and calm down. Quiet spaces are particularly helpful if your child is feeling overwhelmed.
- Some parents find that music therapists are helpful in developing a child's sensory systems, particularly when it comes to auditory issues.
- Make appropriate changes to your child's environment. Check that the lighting isn't too bright, smells aren't too strong and that there isn't anything that can upset your child.
- Use distraction techniques that provide your child with stimulation and can divert their attention and help them to relax, such as jumping on a trampoline or listening to their favourite song.
Trigger: Changes to routine
Children with autism often dislike change and find comfort in the familiarity of structure and routine. If there has been any changes to your child's routine then this could affect their behaviour.
Strategies to deal with aggressive behaviour caused by changes in routine
- Make sure you are aware of the change. Perhaps something has changed at school like their classroom or a friend leaving.
- Explain the change to them in the simplest way possible.
- Use visual supports - ‘now and next’ boards and social stories are particularly helpful.
- If you have time, gradually introduce any changes in their routine. It might help to make the transition easier.
- Be patient and understanding - change can be distressing for a child with autism and cause anxiety. If you are upset or angry it will only lead to further upset.
- Keep something that they like and are familiar with in the mix - this could be including enjoyable activities or ensuring that they have their favourite toy with them for comfort.
Trigger: Communication problems
Lots of children with autism have a wide range of communication difficulties. For example, some are non-verbal, some speak very little and some find it hard to interact with other people.
It may be that your child is struggling to communicate and this is leading to them feeling frustrated resulting in hitting behaviour.
Strategies to deal with aggressive behaviour caused by communication problems
- Speak to a Speech and Language Therapist for advice on the best communication methods to support your child.
- Use a daily timetable
- Use a ‘now and next’ board
- Use social stories
- Sit with them and talk about their feelings and emotions
Trigger: Physical changes
If their bad behaviour is new and sudden then it may be due to physical changes your child is experiencing, for example puberty or even something as simple as toothache. If your child finds it difficult to communicate it might not be easy for you to know if a physical change is affecting them.
Strategy to deal with aggressive behaviour caused by physical changes
If you suspect that a physical change is affecting your child’s behaviour then it is important to speak to the GP or paediatrician so that they can be clinically examined.
Other strategies to consider
Keep calm and don’t overreact
It might be easier said than done, but try to stay calm and not overreact to your child’s behaviour. Reacting to aggression with aggressive behaviour is never the answer and will only make the situation worse.
Keep a diary of events and any patterns
If you are unsure why your child’s behaviour is bad keeping a diary might help you to establish what the trigger is. Ask others that look after your child such as their teacher to do the same.
Praise good behaviour and keep behaviour charts
Never underestimate the power of praising good behaviour. Praise is a great motivator for children of all ages and will help to reinforce when they are doing something positive. If your child understands consequences, then it's important to discuss the consequences of bad behaviour before they misbehave, for example they might have a toy confiscated for a certain period of time.
Sometimes a simple behaviour chart works wonders. At the end of each day or week you can give your child a sticker, tick or smiley face or reward them with something that motivates them - perhaps their favourite activity.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Finally, never be afraid to ask for help. Speak to your GP - there could be a medical reason for your child’s behaviour. You might also be referred to CAHMS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services) for advice and support.