Violence, Autism and Bad Parenting

Children needing protection 'has tripled'

Image by publik16 via Flickr

Regardless of the reasons that lead up to it, I’ve never condoned my autistic son being violent. Whether the violence was due to fear, anxiety, anger or confusion, if he went to cause someone harm I would do everything in my power to stop him and let him know it was unacceptable. This seems obvious to me. It worked too, though it took a while. He went from a destructive, biting, hitting little boy, to the almost-always gentle child I have today. In fact, he is gentler than most children his age. But not all parents have the same attitude as I do, and my son has been at the receiving end of it, while the parents just stood there and watched.

One such incident happened at an autism play-group for preschoolers. One particularly violent child was an absolute bully. The parents just stood there and watched it, seeming to accept that it was part-and-parcel of the autism. I don’t like telling other people’s children off, particularly when the parent is right there, so I did nothing except try to keep my son out of his way. At one point the children went out to play, my son and this bully were in the sandpit. The bully threw sand at my boy’s face! Can you imagine how distressing that is – sand in the hair, mouth, nose, eyes even. I told him to stop it, but he persisted, even though his speech was remarkably good for an autistic child and he clearly understood what I was saying.

That was the first time that I thought some people might just be crap parents, and using the label of “autism” to not take responsibility for their children’s behaviour – an opinion I’ve heard many times over from other people both before and since then. But over time I’ve refined that view to this: It’s not that some parents are bad parents and simply use autism as an excuse when their child doesn’t actually have autism. Rather, from what I’ve seen, it’s simply that having an autistic child doesn’t automatically mean you are a misunderstood and good parent. To put it another way, a child can be a misbehaving terror with negligent or bad parents, and also happen to genuinely be autistic.

I had a similar thing happen today at the local playground. My son and I ran into another family there and we started chatting away, as you do. Then their three year-old boy started pushing my son, prodding him, hitting him. My son kept backing up and trying to protect himself, still the boy advanced. I watched the parents do nothing, even though they were right there watching their son attacking my own. I tried to intervene, I said to my son “tell him no, stop”, and my son mimicked me as instructed. Still the boy pushed, still the parents did nothing. I gently tried again to get the parents to tell their own son off “he doesn’t seem to want to leave my boy alone..”. To which the mother replied, “oh he’s just being territorial because he loves me and doesn’t want other boys around.” Still, no effort to tell off or stop the boy. So I said we had to leave and took my son off home. On the way home I told him he was good for telling the boy to stop, and that boy had been mean, and hitting was bad. At least my son understood this, despite all the language issues in his way. Their child had no such excuse.

There is no link between bad parenting and autism, nor between good parenting and autism. There are just good parents, and bad parents, and sometimes their children have autism.

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76 Responses to Violence, Autism and Bad Parenting

  1. I have to agree with you on this. my son is like a gentle giant.He was not always like this, but from the very beginning i made sure his actions will cause reactions. I never allowed anyone to use autism as an excuse or anything else. He learned he has boundaries what is right and what is wrong. He certainly behaves better than most of the kids at his age, and he was complemented by many for his behavior. Sadly he too is on the receiving end of the violence. I am having a hard time going to playgrounds where other autistic kids try to kick and hit and all the other stuff. I never leave his site, so he will not get injured.

  2. Jenny says:

    I have a hard time understanding how parents of any child can WATCH their child hurt someone else! My son varies between trying to hurt someone when he’s angry or dealing with it appropriately. Regardless, I would not let him bully someone else! I don’t understand.

    • I’ve thought about this, and I have a few theories, but no justifications (not surprisingly).

      For some people I assume they think if their child is the stronger one (the bully) they are less likely to end up being bullied. Or they have a “boys will be boys” sort of mentality whereby they think hitting another child is just part of what happens between children. There’s a line to be drawn between consentual rough-play, and actually hurting the other child without the other child wanting anything to do with the situation; perhaps they’re drawing the line in the wrong place, or aren’t aware that there is a line to be drawn. And then there’s just some bad parents who don’t much care as long as their own child is happy at the time, I guess :/

      When it comes to a child with special needs being a bully, I suppose some parents don’t intervene because they mistakenly think the condition includes a violent element that can’t be fixed (and shouldn’t be addressed..?). Or they don’t want to (or know how to) deal with the consequences of stopping their child’s violent behaviour (such as a meltdown).

  3. KDL says:

    My daughter was and still can be quite aggressive, when someone is pushing her buttons too hard or too long. It is part of her disorder, but not a part that we are willing to let lie. No one taught her to pull hair. She did it because it was a way to get a strong reaction from me (and then others). Through repeated, calm, consistent responses that made it clear this is not OK to do she has (mostly) stopped. I say mostly because if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that some of this stuff never goes completely away, it just fades. I’m never happy when it resurfaces, and of course I would never just stand there and let it happen, but it isn’t from lack of effort on my part when it does resurface. Perhaps the other parents have just given up?? Sad…

    • Thanks for your comment KDL – that’s why I was careful to say in the post that this was happening when the parents were right there, and choosing not to correct it. We can’t completely control our children – autism or no autism – we can just do our best to teach them, and make sure that when we are there seeing the behaviour that we send a consistent message about what’s acceptable.

      This aspect of the discussion reminds me of a therapist who told me to completely ignore violent behaviour because otherwise my attention to it would encourage my son to keep being violent. I tried her method for a while and saw no improvement, and then came the day that she told me to ignore it when it was putting his newborn brother in danger! I absolutely did not ignore it, and I got so angry at the therapist’s reaction to the situation that I demanded she leave my home! I should really do a post about that day, I wrote in my diary about it the day it happened so I should be able to get all the details for the post.

      • KDL says:

        yeah there’s a time for ignoring, but during an aggressive action is not that time. I think there’s a way to respond firmly and calmly that doesn’t satisfy that “I’m getting attention” need but also makes it clear that aggression is unacceptable. It’s a fine line, and one that my own temper doesn’t always find.

      • Billie says:

        This is what the therapists are telling me. May I ask how you handle the violent behavior?

    • Vilma says:

      I think we all do the best we can. Some parents just barely cope with the day to day issues in life with an Autistic child. I think it is wrong for us to judge other parents especially with a child with Autism. We don’t know what they go through every day at home. Our Autistic children are all different and we are all doing the best we can. I don’t agree with letting any child hit another child but it’s not our job to judge other parents.

      • regina says:

        Thankyou!! I agree. I would never stand by and let my son hurt another though. I dont agree with that. Some children with autism are more severe than others.

      • SB_Australia says:

        I reserve the right to be as judgmental as I please when it is my child being tormented & harmed on a daily basis & the parents & school hide behind the Autism shield in order to avoid doing anything about the problem! I was flat out told by the school that their hands were tied because the parents of the monster were threatening to sue the school if their child was removed from class or the playground! So my child, the one being hurt, had to spend her lunch time sitting outside the principal’s office in order to remain safe because Mum & Dad had decided to play the “special” card & threaten legal action! Even this didn’t help as the monster found a way to harm her permanently. This kid is going to be in prison as an adult if nothing is done now…& I won’t be sad or surprised!

        It is completely unfair that the bad parents make a bad name for the good parents & these ones were NOT doing all they could or the best they could, they were using Austism as an excuse to do sweet bugger all!!!!!

    • Bob says:

      My grandson is 5 years old and frequently gets vilent when he wants to do something and we have to stop him for some reason – for example he might want to go down the street on his own but because of cars etc we have to stop him. When he refuses to stop from our verbal calls, we hae to physically stop him and he goes ballistic. Any suggestions – we have to lock doors and always watch him as he will wander off on his own. Very smart and independent.. A loving grandfather…

      • Bob, does your grandson have a therapist or specialist involved in his life, does he have a confirmed diagnosis of any sort? They would be the starting points, to identify what might be going on and how best to approach the issue. The issue may be dealt with differently if it is a “normal” kid acting out, versus a child with a cognitive or physical disability.

        • Bob says:

          He was diagnosed as high functioning at age 3+ and has been going to special shcools and in therapy since then. He is in need of behavior therapy and we have struggled to find this type of help. He is highly intelligent – probably at 3rd grade level at age 5 and does not want help doing anything. He also has no fear and sometimes we think he does not really feel pain the way we do unless he gets hurt bad – and then he reacts violently when we try to comfort him…

        • Judy Jordan says:

          A “social story” has helped me with students who have difficulty understanding situations. A social story is a booklet that you write about your situation: your grandson leaving the house alone. It usually contains photos of the child or hand drawn pictures to illustrate the text. The text could start off like this in your case: This is “Billy.” Billy wants to go outside. He likes to take walks. He likes to see dogs on his walks. There is danger on the street. Cars could hurt Billy if he got in the street. Billy goes to his grandpa and says he wants to go outside. Grandpa takes Billy outside. They see dogs. Billy does not get hurt because Grandpa is with him.” The story is read often to the child. I have seen the child with the most involved autism respond to this kind of social story.

  4. Tracey Hocking says:

    I read with interest all of these posts and at the best of times autism and behaviour links perplex me. My husband and I have spent 5 years implementing the 123 Magic program with our son to control his behaviour and to help him assimilate in situations where he has sensory overload.
    I have a meeting tomorrow with my son’s school over an incident where a child has pushed my son and he has retaliated by hitting him in the face. This incident is not the first one involving this child and my son. My son frequently comes home calling him “that boy” and that “that boy” tells me I am stupid and dumb. I am at a loss, my son is gentle and this ongoing teasing and rough handling is changing him into someone who comes home angry and cries the moment he hits familiar ground whether it be the front door of the house or the car. His anger is now being played out on his siblings. The calm household we once had has been sent into turmoil as my little boy tries to internalize what is happening to him at school. The boy he has hit is a constant behaviour concern for the school and I am so very eager to hear what the consequence for my child will be…. I don’t condone his violence and consequences will be enforced but there is a little part of me that hopes that this child will stop terrorising my son.

    • Tracey, my heart goes out to you, that sounds horrible. If they don’t provide you with sufficient reassurance that your son will no longer be in such a demoralising and violent situation, you might want to consider finding him a school where he will be better protected. I know that’s so much easier said than done, and how hard it is to make changes in our children’s lives when they live with autism. I know you’ll do the best for your son that you can. I’d be interested to hear how the school responds. All the best xxx

  5. My daughter has high functioning autism and I could not agree with you more! I have been called a bad parent because I can be very strict on her, but this is what works for us! My daughter used to have violent outbursts, spitting and kicking, yelling and screaming. She no longer spits (she blows raspberries at people instead but we are working on the now). It took us a long time to stop this but the no tollorance and teaching her that her actions will be punished is what has worked! I could never sit back and watch her hurt or spit at another child even when they laugh at her or bully her, she has been taught to move away. It breaks my heart to see that other parents will not do the same!

  6. Michelle says:

    I see where most of you say that you have taught your child to walk away, to no do this or not do that… my question is HOW? My son has a rare chromosomal abnormality – AND autism. I fought for over 7 years to get an autism diagnosis. (He is almost 15) I knew that he had it, but because of the other issues, the doctors treating him did not want to name it autism. He was never a violent or aggressive child – until puberty – and when it came, it came out of the blue like a freight train. Our insurance won’t pay for behavior therapy, we begged, we pleaded, we tried over and over, but to no avail. We have tried so many things. We have finally found out that dairy is the main culprit for his violent episodes and we have eliminated it and gluten from his diet. We have seen a huge reduction in his aggression which is wonderful. BUT, he lives in a world surrounded by dairy and gluten and occasionally a well meaning friend will offer a treat, a piece of candy, gum that contains one of these. BAM! 5-7 DAYS of aggression. I do not tolerate his violence, but, I will say, as long as he is not endangering anyone else – I do not try to step in and restrain him – touching him during these moments increases the rage 10fold – it is that fight or flight instinct or so I have been told. We do and will restrain him if he is being violent toward ANY living creature or another person’s belongings. If he breaks his own toys, then he has to live with the consequences of that. If he is sent home from school (like today) for a major violent episode, he is immediately restricted to his room. There is no computer, no tv, etc usually for the rest of the day. We try to treat each day as a new day with new beginnings and rarely carry over a punishment from one day to the next.

    I guess I just don’t know how to teach him NOT to act out violently when he is having a reaction to dairy – how do I teach him or help him learn self-control. The process with the dairy has been likened to the same chemical process that causes drug addicts to become enraged during a drug induced high. The proteins in the dairy literally act as a bad drug in his brain. He is always remorseful afterwards, but during those moments – his brain is telling him one thing even if his “heart” is saying another.

    I fear that what we are doing is inadequate. I am at a total loss on how to help him. He is always going to be at risk for getting unwanted dairy – his verbal skills are extremely limited and he does not understand to ask what is in something – nor is he likely to refuse a piece of chocolate if offered by someone that does not realize.

    • My heart goes out to you Michelle.

      For what it’s worth, we used a variety of methods to handle our son’s violence. We found sensory strategies to calm him down when he starts to lose it, and we figured out his trigger points (it sounds like you know your son’s primary trigger, which is a great start). Whenever he exhibited violence – regardless of the trigger – we acted in such a way as to consistently reinforce that the behaviour is unacceptable and would stop it by whatever means possible, how that is done has to vary with the child and the condition, but it’s often going to be some version of “time out” in as far as the child is removed from others and put in a place where they can’t caused harm or be harmed, until they’ve calmed down / until the trigger has gone.

      I want to be very clear that I think there is a difference between not caring about violent outbreaks, and caring but struggling to control them. You’re clearly in that second camp, and I would never judge you for it. Sometimes the violence can’t be contained and it remains a life-long battle, but it’s the parents who accept and excuse the violence without consequences that I am concerned about, you clearly care and do whatever you can to work it out. There is one glimmer of hope in your comment; that you haven’t yet tried behaviour therapy (unfortunately because your insurer won’t pay for it). If you can teach yourself and implement a behaviour therapy plan for your child, you might make some in-roads; I’m not as familiar with behaviour therapy for older children but maybe it would help, as you clearly hope it would?

      All I can do is wish you the best, and hope that anyone else who reads your comment and questions might have more advice or insights.

      Take care xxx

  7. PartlySunny says:

    Well said. I just found your blog. We have an 8-year-old son who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at 3. He’s since tested off the spectrum. We were very strict with him (among other things) and I think it made all the difference.

  8. sara says:

    i have this problem there there is a girl at my school and all the teachers and stuff say she is autistic, problem is i don’t believe. and she seems to have a problem with me she physically bullying me, and some of those times so bad i have been taken to hospital cause of it,
    i had this incident were she pined me against a wall and i hit my head, we went to the teachers, but nothing was done basically all they said was that sometimes with autism the can’t control there feelings and that even know it’s not an excuse for her to be violent she couldn’t help, once again i don’t by it she is a very smart girl, and every time she hurts someone all they do is send her home for the rest of the day, but then she comes back and does it all over again. i tried to tell them that maybe them just sending her home wasn’t helping and maybe if they treated her like everyone else, she might respond to it. but of course i don’t no if it would work, but they didn’t even consider it, and her mother blames everything on autism as well. i don’t know what there is to do, i can’t help but wonder if her mother changes her approach could it work ? i just want her to stop hurting people it’s not right….
    would a different approach to discipline help??

    • Sara,

      Whether this girl has autism or not is a diagnostic question; the fact that she is very smart has nothing to do with it either way: Some exceptionally intelligent people have autism, and some intellectually disabled people have autism.

      As for the bullying and violence, that is obviously unacceptable regardless of whether someone has autism or not. It sounds like the problem here is that the processes in place that are meant to protect you, are not working. Chances are that the sort of environment that doesn’t protect you from a bully (any bully) is the problem, not this single person in this single situation.

      As for her mother’s and the school’s approach, you’ll find it’s very hard from the outside to actually see what approach is being used. She might be undergoing behavioural therapy that isn’t working well, maybe they are in the process of trying different methods. Without hearing from the mother it’s impossible to know. If they’re not trying anything or have a completely complacent attitude, then yes that it a problem, but as a student there isn’t much you can do to change that. Your best option would be to explain the situation to your own parent and ask them to advocate for you; your parents are surely not happy about their child being bullied. The school might be more open with your parent in terms of explaining what methods are being used to alter the child’s behaviour.

      There is also the possibility that you are unknowingly setting off sensory issues with the child, that has lead to uncontrolled reactions (defensive mechanisms if you will). In which case someone needs to explain to you what is setting her off so you have the chance to avoid those upsetting behaviours. (I’m not saying this is what is happening, nor am I saying violence is ever acceptable, it’s just something that’s worth considering.)

      I hope the situation gets resolved soon.

      All the best.

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  10. MamaG says:

    I am very relieved to read this as our daughter was the victim of harassment and stalking by a 23 year old staff member of a travel agency while we were on a cruise. His father who coordinates the programs for the autistic travelers didn’t seem to care about the formal complaints, banging on our door after midnight, us finding him in our cabin, continued stalking to dinner and following her.
    Long and short if it is that he excused it based on austism and Disney Cruises won’t promise to change their policy of allowing adults into the teen area that are autistic. As a result my kids now don’t feel safe around autistic adults and probably older kids and I honestly don’t feel they are either. They can be pretty much harassed or assaulted and there’s nothing we can do.
    I can’t think of what to do except recommend we never be around anyone with this disorder which is so very sad to me. We feel pretty helpless.

    • I’m sorry you’ve been through that, but it’s no reason even in the slightest to think less of autistic people or to stay away from them. Autistic people are all individuals, some are very kind, or very shy, some are very polite, some are rude, some are the best people you’ll ever meet. Grouping them all together based on a bad experience at a place that clearly needs to refine its policies and practices, would be a very sad mistake to make. I hope you rethink that view. It’s a reason to avoid that place or other organisations that refuse to protect you or your family; not a reason to steer clear of autistic people.

  11. Becca says:

    My son is autistic and we ALWAYS intervene and send a message that violence is unacceptable.

    And yet, he still has a lot of anger and violent outbursts. We get looked at like we are bad parents all the time, even though we don’t allow this behavior EVER.

    I do like to think maybe there are some people out there who aren’t assuming I’m a bad parent just because nothing has worked YET for our son.

    It’s kind of like saying that I’ve done everything to get my son to talk, and now he talks. But some parents of autistic kids do the same, and their kids don’t talk. I wouldn’t call them bad parents though, just ebcause their efforts didn’t pay off.

    I realize your post was citing parents who do nothing… but I just wanted to point out that even those who DO try don’t always reap the benefits. That’s true whether it’s potty training, sensory issues, self-harm, talking, or violence. A litt compassion would be nice. It’s hard enough as it is, without people assuming you’re a bad parent.

    That said, I’m glad things worked out for you in being able to teach your son to be gentle. I hope one day I’ll be able to say my efforts have paid off as well. We’re doing everything, to the point his therapists and doctors all say I could teach parenting courses because I’m “doing everything right”. We have NO tolerance for violence at all. Sucks that in some people’s eyes, I’m still a bad parent because my efforts haven’t paid off yet. And people want to ONLY say this about violence and autism. You’ll never see them say it about speech or learning or any other aspect of autism difficulties.

    My son’s violence, by the way, always stems from auditory sensitivity. He shuts down. As his therapist says, you could promise to take him to disney land and that wouldn’t calm him down (not that we would ever, ever, ever do that). It’s just that… in that moment, he’s not him, and there’s no getting through to him. But we STILL try. We STILL stop it. We STILL discipline those behaviors.

    Some may say I’m a bad mom because it doesn’t pay off yet. But you know what… maybe the parents who continue to struggle with this even though they are trying five times harder than the parents that got their kids to stop… maybe they AREN’T bad parents. Who knows.

    There’s people who are judgmental and there’s people who have compassion, and sometimes their kids have autism.

    • Becca, you were right when you noted that I wasn’t talking about the parents who try to stop, or refuse to accept, violence from their children. I was only referring to those who refuse to act on expressions of violence, or think autism is a reason to ignore or accept expressions of violence.

    • LCMT says:

      Becca – I enjoyed reading your post. The looks we get from other parents when we are working with our son who has aggressive tendencies makes me feel defeated and adds to our sadness. Autism and Oughtisms — I’m guessing your child is younger and hasn’t reached puberty yet and I hope that he never becomes aggressive. Your post started by making it sound like your parenting was why he isn’t aggressive now. That is what made me a little defensive since most parents with children with Autism do everything they can to improve their children’s behaviors sometimes with no improvement. They keep trying though…. every day.

  12. David V says:

    I found this blog after searching for “autism and violence” on Google. As I write this, my wife is going to school to pick up my son. Recently, he has been very violent, and we have been at a loss as to what to do. We’ve tried ignoring it, we’ve tried talking and coaching, we’ve tried 123 Magic, we’ve tried discipline and occasional spanking. None of it seems to do any good. It’s like he’s fearless. He wants something and he doesn’t care what the consequences are, and we fall into traps where one or the other of us inadvertantly escalates it and then it devolves into a huge power struggle. We can’t just send him to his room because he’ll destroy it. He’s already knocked out his bedroom window once. We’ve resorted to basket holds, and last time he kept trying to reach over his shoulders and punch me. He’s been suspended from school twice this year so far. I can’t fault the school….they’ve been absolutely fabulous. I think he’s picked up stuff from YouTube (which we banned from his computer some time ago) and from other kids at school, which is so hard to control. Anyway, I’ve always assumed that it was our fault that Eric had these behaviors, that we had done something dreadfully wrong in his parenting. Our daughter also has behavioral issues, and an inability to control herself once she’s upset, but she’s probably not autistic (if she is, it’s probably hyperlexia at the top end of the spectrum, which I had as a child) but she’s had my son as a role model. We NEVER ignore violence, by the way, we just feel helpless to improve the situation. My wife is terrified that he’s going to grow up and then end up in jail, where autistic adults fare very poorly in the justice system. We’re all very anxious and depressed and feel hopeless. We’ve had people tell us our son is a punishment for not being Christians. Both of us are on meds for chronic depression. My wife is a stay-at-home mom and she’s tired all the time, though she still hangs in there with him, doing activities with both of them. There are times when my son is great and loving, and his teachers all love him. But I’ve always believed it was a really bad sign when you’re on a first name basis with your son’s principal. 🙂 And to top it all off, every autism support group we’ve joined has been worse than being isolated because of the vicious politics involved in “what causes autism” and if we don’t beieve what they peddle…I’ve actually been verbally abused by parents when I didn’t vigorously support their pet theories. We feel utterly alone and at a total loss as to what to do sometimes. Sorry if this is TLDR.

    • Not at all, and I personally have been through a lot of what you’re talking about; from the intense violence, and the self-blame, to the frustration of dealing with the autism politics at supposedly helpful groups. I understand, and genuinely sympathise. You’re clearly a very caring father searching for answers and support.

      After reading your comment, and being reminded of the emotions and frustrations, I am very tempted to write a further blog post on this topic. I think there are a lot of complex issues involved, and the reactions of those who judge families under pressure makes it a loss worse, as your comment shows.

      In the meantime I think you might be interested in reading another post of mine that I immediately thought of when I read your comment: “Autism and Discipline.”

    • PartlySunny says:

      Hi David,

      I can empathize with so much of what you’re going through. I think “autisms and oughtisms” is a great site for you — she’s one of the most level-headed people I’ve come across. And if you want another friend, please feel free to come and look me up. Seriously, I’d be happy to talk to or email with you or your wife (I’m a SAHM, too).

    • Ashley G says:

      Well, you’re certainly not alone. I have an autistic/Aspie son, just turned 9. Most violent temper I’ve ever seen. We’ve already had three windows go. If he doesn’t get his way he threatens self harm, breaks stuff etc. He’s otherwise very high functioning.
      My experience with him leads me to suspect that 123 Magic is for NTs. I wouldn’t bother with an Aspie.

      We’ve tried three pysch’s but with little impact. Most of these interventions center around cognitive therapy – that is the child must recognise the onset of behaviour and act to change it before it gets bad. Two problems I see here are: the age of the child means that they have little ability to overcome a wildfire of emotion with rational thought (adults find it difficult enough) and two, there’s nothing in it for them. Anger gets them stuff – certainly attention if nothing else. Sometimes these kids (like any children) can be horribly manipulative.

      But I do think showing that there’s something in it for him might be the most successful long term strategy for us. It means overlooking some bad behaviour, particularly in the heat of a melt down, and just protecting your other children (BTW harm to others can never be tolerated – remove the child concerned from the situation). Whenever our child shows an ability to talk calmly about issues even amid the violence, we tend to reward him, even if it seems like you’re letting him have his way. I still have issues with this, but the emotional wildfire really changes the rules to beyond normal.

      For example, today (like yesterday etc) he wouldn’t stop playing a computer game, after an hour of play and being warned many times we ended up wrestling it from him. Amid screaming and threats he did manage to speak to us, not very well, but he tried. We let him have more time. Eventually he was resigned to handing it over, not happy and lot of stomping and threatening ensued until he started playing (with limited success) with his long-suffering NT siblings. God I hate having to live like this. People with NT kids really can not understand the difficulties.

      This strategy is probably a minefield. It won’t work every or even many times, but the fundamental message is that he is becoming aware that he must try. These kids have passionate interests. Possibly the only emotion they have that is capable of competing with their anger. Use them as a tool to get big picture outcomes.

      In more heated situations distractions are invaluable, but I seldom remember to use them. Sadly my 7-year old daughter does and is far more astute at dealing with him than me. I have a great anecdote there if you’re interested.
      which I won’t post now but can send on if you’re interested.

    • Ruthie says:

      Dear David I felt your despair as my husband and I have been there also with our 19 year old daughter. We were recommended risperdal for her and it has helped. Talk with your DAN doctor as well has your pediatrician. Many blessings to all of us in our journey of autism.

  13. David V says:

    I appreciate your comments. 🙂 Even though we’re several thousand miles apart (I live in St. Louis, Missouri) it’s funny how close our life circumstances are.

  14. Maria says:

    I liked this article a lot. My kid is not autistic but when she hits I tell her to stop. And she knows. MY nephew in the other hand is autistic and when he hits the parents and grandparents don’t tell him anything and simply say that he’s “sick” referring to him having autistim. ANd we know that but we think that they have to tell him that is not right.

  15. Tel says:

    Its great to read all these comments. My 2 year old son got kicked in the face today by an over 5 year old girl with autisim. I asked her not to do that, then asked the mother to get her to say sorry to my 2 year old (I first asked the child who said, I told him to move). I feel that both children involved learn from this. The mother refused to have her daughter say sorry. At the time I was unaware that the child has autisim. I then explained how I felt about them both learning from this but the mother refused to listen and got very loud and angry very quickly and then informed me that her daughter has autisim. I understand what autisim is, however I felt that reguardless of any condition a child has, they have to have boundries and learn to say sorry, that can even take time for children without autisim. This encounter has quite upset me. I was so glad to read your comments as they reassured me that even though a child has autisim, I did nothing wrong in asking for her to say sorry. I feel the mother could of quietly explained this to me and informed me I may not get a result, however I would of been so grateful for her trying her best. Hats off to all you parents who deal with autisim everyday, parenting is hard enough.

    • Ashley G says:

      My child is mildly affected but I watch him like a hawk around other kids. I’m surprised you had to ask for an explanation. If your child has attacked another you should make them apologise, to the level that they are able, whatever that may be, even if they don’t understand the concept. This is as much for the other parent as the victim. There’s a difference between an autistic child and a rude parent. Of course, many autistic children have (undiagnosed) autistic parents, so there could’ve been two issues to deal with there…

      • Tel says:

        I couldn’t agree more, I could not understand how she was so unwilling to make her daughter say sorry. It is nice to know I am not alone on this. I felt so bad afterwards, until I reminded myself that it is not ok for anyone to hurt another person at all reguardless of any condition they may have (the views on this site also helped with this).

  16. Michelle says:

    Thankyou for this wonderful advice to others im currently teaching my 5 yr old thst hitting punching kicking biting ect is wrong he Autistic I have to be consistently on it as I have been ever since he was 2 reading yr post has shown me there is a light thankyou.

  17. naasha says:

    My son is 5 and has autisim, he hasn’t been diagnosed long so i have no idea how severe i would say it is mild. We do not have many problems at home nor any when we are out he is quite gentle but you can’t take your eye of him as you can’t predict the actions of others. We do have problems at school though, he gets obsessed with other children ,1 at a time and if anybody gets to close to this child he WILL attack them with all his might, the school are trying hard and make sure he doesnt get to see his child but his obsession just moves on to another child, takes tthem by supprise almost, today i found out he attacked 2 teachers, one of which was the head and i do not joke. I have not got a clue how to fix this as i am not there, he knows it is wrong but i am sure he is not linking any punishment i give at home to what happened at school. Anybody got any odeas?

  18. Jessielee says:

    My son is 16 and can be extremely violent. I will not allow him to hurt people or destroy property without consequences. He’s low functioning and non verbal, but I still expect him to take some responsibility for his rages, eg, you throw a chair, you pick it up and put it back, EVERY TIME, no matter how angry he is. I even make him participate in patching up the holes he punches in the walls. The school acts like his behavior is entirely my fault, but it’s part of his condition that must be managed. Violence is extremely common in young males, both on and off the spectrum. We’ve been on school holidays for two weeks and he’s trying really hard to control his hitting and throwing tendencies, but in doing so seems to have developed a compulsion to remove all his clothing during one of his “neurological storms “(as I put it, I think it’s a more dignified description than meltdown) and that’s just as unacceptable. Sigh. I’ll put my strategy hat on again, great article, thanks!

  19. Heather says:

    Hi everyone!! I need some help figuring out if I’m wrong in the way I think. My nephew is 7 and is a high functing autstic child. you would never know anything was wrong with him. I know he has issues that I don’t argue but he doesn’t listen, curses, hits everything, yells (all the time) and lies about everything. Always getting into trouble at schools (he’s been threw 3 already). I keep telling his mother (my sister) along with grandparents (my mom and dad) that it doesn’t have anything to do with him being autistic. He has no disapline at all. He nevers get into trouble for anything he does. My sister babies him all the time. I have had enough of this behavior and try to step in but they all gang up on me and tell me “he’s autistic”. My response to them is BULLSHIT he is bad a gets away with everything and that’s why he does it. I would to if I never got into trouble!! My 8yr old neice gets in trouble for everything she does (she not autistic) I feel so bad for her. This is so wrong to say but I can’t stand his ass. It makes me so mad what he gets away with. Please I’m hoping someone can help me have a little peace. If I’m wrong then I have no problem saying it, but I truly in my heart don’t think I am. Thanks!!

    • Hi Heather.

      You need to be very cautious about how you discuss the matter with your sister and your parents, because there’s a good chance the only thing you’ll achieve is alienation for yourself and otherwise-avoidable stress all round.

      From the outside looking in (which you are, since you’re not a parent, therapist, teacher, dealing with the specific child on a daily basis), your best bet is to be supportive and ask questions rather than come across presumptuous and accusatory (which you risk, even if you don’t intend to be); you need to ask how they’re addressing the issues rather than telling them they’re not addressing them. Then offer suggestions or alternatives in a very open-minded manner. Show them that you’re taking an active interest, that you’ve been reading up on autism and show them literature from professionals to support your views – if you feel they are not listening to you maybe they’ll listen to someone else with professional authority. (Keep in mind that they no doubt have professionals already involved with their son’s care too, and those professionals will already be advising them in ways you might be completely unaware of.)

      Autism is a very complicated and individual condition, there may be very strong sensory issues setting off the child’s recations for instance, in which case it does no good to punish the child if they quite literally had no control over the stimulus and utterly lost control during thier reaction. Discipline is important of course, every child needs it, but it has to be carefully thought out and responsive to the child. You might find a post I’ve done on autism and discipline relevant and helpful, in terms of understanding these sorts of challenges:

      I want to end by saying it’s clear you care about the wellbeing of your family members and their future – I don’t doubt that – but it also sounds like you might need to take a bit of a step back and realise it’s not your child nor your responsibility. If you want to be heard and change things for the better, put yourself in a position of support for them, rather than in the position of someone they perhaps don’t want to listen to because of the negativity. I do wish you – and them – the best; it’s not an easy road.

  20. danniistokes says:

    HELP! we are in serious situation! i have previously read about all the great advice given on discipline. However, lately our 4 yr old has been seriously vilqlently attacking our eldest son who is 8 yrs old. up until this morning they have been sharing a room, for the past 3 weeks our autistic son has incerased his attacks on the elder child. happening more so when my partner and i are asleep. we spoke to the elder child who told us in detail what has been happening. he also stated that he is scared of our autistic child. today my partner changed rooms so that our 7 yr old daughter shared the room with the elder brother. ( we have a 3 bed house) as this morning he was sat on the elder childs face and he was struggling to breathe. I have contacted the cahms unit( behavioral team for learning disabilties) who tells us that there is a waiting list of a month.

    we darent leave our kids with family/ friends and as i work full time my partner is his carer. we have tried the strict appraoch and for him to have time out to which it happens. as of this week it was more of a daily occurance. my heart breaks for my elder son who has had to go through this and i feel sad for my autistic child.

    Please can anyone help! it is putting pressure on our relationship as i feel a failure.

    • First off, you are not a failure; you are trying everything you can think of and reaching out for help, that makes you a good parent doing their best.

      Secondly, you are at a point of crisis, do not accept a one month waiting list. Waiting lists can often be circumvented if a family is deemed to be in a situation of crisis, ring up someone in charge and plead your case. If that doesn’t work, get someone else in to plead it for you who knows the system well and can put pressure on (like a social worker or someone at an influential charity in the area). You can also talk to local charities for advice and help, again making it clear you are in crisis; that the safety of your kids is at issue. If your son has a lead professional involved in their case (such as a pediatrician), get in touch with them too, they need to know what’s going on and they might be able to “grease the wheels” to get you the help you need. It sounds like verbal advice will not suffice at this point, you need physical help and support by the sounds of it.

      Perhaps someone else who reads your comment can help further. I can only wish you and your children the best. Keep reaching out for help, I hope you find it soon.

      • Judy Jordan says:

        Are pediatricians referring parents to sources of help when a child is first diagnosed? I teach older children with severe autism and see families where the child dominates and intimidates his parents to the point that they have no control. The parents usually start to panic and want to do something about this when the child is about to graduate from school and they learn that daycares turn down young adults with abusive behaviors. These comments and blogs have confirmed my feelings that something can be done to help these families at an early age if they were to receive early intervention.

      • Judy, yes it is standard practice here (and surely everywhere else) to not simply diagnosie a child then send the family on their way with no further guidance or help! I believe such a practice would be considered deeply unprofessional. You must keep in mind of course that early intervention requires early diagnosis, which isn’t always achieved. Also, not all autistic children respond well to interventions, there are no guarantees with our kids. The important point is that parents try to help their children overcome these behaviours, and in my experience that is the norm.

  21. SB_Australia says:

    I’m not a parent of a child with special needs. I am a parent of a child that has been seriously & permanently injured by a child with special needs & how I wish that the parents of this particular child were more like you!

    Right from the start they have said that it wasn’t his fault because he has autism & my child (6 at the time) should have recognised this & just let him take her lunch without argument. Instead she told him not to touch her food & to leave her alone. As a result he punched her so hard in the eye that she has lost sight in that eye.

    He is still at the school. There were no consequences for him. My child will never see perfectly again & he is still a violent monster allowed to terrorise the entire school without fear of reprisal!

    His parents are lazy, self serving arseholes who think that because their child has a diagnosis of ASD this absolves them of any responsibility as far as actual parenting!

    I’m still very angry & I’m ashamed to admit that whenever I see this child at school I hiss at him & tell him that I hope someone hurts him the way he hurt my girl but somehow I feel justified wishing hateful shit on a child because no one cares about the pain & suffering of my child!

    • That’s horrendous, beyond words, and I completely understand your sense of utter injustice and ongoing distress.

      There is a special needs kid in my son’s class, who bullies him and the other kids in the class (they all have special needs, and not just autism). The bully kid isn’t autistic, but that’s by-the-by. My husband and I have met the bully’s parents on many ocassions, and they appear to be unconcerned about their son’s disturbing behaviors, even when they happen right in front of them. I wish there was a way to get this kid to stop harassing my son and the other kids in the class (the kid knows what he’s doing and knows it’s upsetting to them) but there’s only so much I and the teachers can do, at the end of the day it’s up to his parents to reinforce what is acceptable behaviour and punish the behaviour that isn’t acceptable, otherwise it’s unlikely to improve. I do think there are some parents who use a diagnosis as an excuse to not parent, thankfully the vast majority of us are not like that at all. I’m so sorry for what you and your child have been through.

      • SB_Australia says:

        I jut want to clarify that I wasn’t here just to complain & attack! The reason I was on the website was because my nephew has been diagnosed with Atypical Autism & I was looking for info just for my own educational purposes. I read this article because i thought it might give a little insight as he is very introverted & very much a loner so he has also been the target of bullies in his special needs preschool. I think the staff at the preschool might have a little more away with parents as this is a privately owned centre (although there is a lot of government funding involved) so if parents refuse to address issues they can be asked to find alternative arrangements for their child. I hate to think what will happen when my DN goes to “big school” & is in a unit with other kids who are bigger, stronger & far more assertive! Hopefully by then the strategies they are teaching him at preschool will have sunk in & he can assertively (not aggressively) defend his personal space!

        BTW, it was a good article, IMO, & it did go some way to help me realise that some kids are the way they are because of their diagnosis & Mum & Dad are doing everything they can to help them lead a normal life while other kids, regardless of their diagnosis are naughty little brats because Mum & Dad use the diagnosis as an excuse to not parent!!!!

      • I think it’s wonderful that you’re taking an active interest in your nephew’s diagnosis and future SB, I’m sure his parents will appreciate your interest and concern too 🙂

    • Sharon says:

      That is a horrendous story. I am terrribly sorry for the trauma your family must have endured. I find it incredibly difficult to understand how the school can allow the child to remain when he poses such a clear risk to others. That seems very odd to me. I would have thought the school would be suggesting a more intensive teaching environment for this child. I would think there’s a case to be made that the school failed in their duty of care to your child?

      • SB_Australia says:

        They allow it because Mum & Dad have threatened legal action on the basis of discrimination if their child is removed from the classroom, playground or school. Mum & Dad have money to pay for good legal counsel & the Dept of Education is shit scared that they will be portrayed as monsters in the media if they expel a special needs kid.

        I have approached the local paper but they have refused to run the story as they bully is a child & they don’t think it is proper to print the story, however, when I asked them if they would run a story about a special needs child being excluded from school due to ongoing violence issues they said that they would because it is a different set of circumstances! So I am basically left with no recourse.

        It would seem that my only option now is the one I am taking, which involves mixed martial arts classes for my daughter (which she is pretty good at for an able bodied person let alone a child with only one functioning eye) & instructions that if this kid tries to hurt her again she is to “defend herself by whatever means necessary”. I have informed the school & they have said that although they don’t approve of my methods there is nothing they can do about it but if she hurts him they will have to expel her…to which I replied “Here is MY solicitor’s card. My girl is is disabled now so let’s dance!” (I might get the last laugh after all!)

  22. D says:

    I agree with your point, it is important to teach your children right from wrong and try to correct their behaviour, and not to sit back and think that any intervention will not work so why bother – these things take time for your child to learn,and you need to find the intervention which works for your child – and finding the right one could take a while to discover .

    One thing I have to say though- I feel that calling any child a cretin is in bad taste..

    ” To put it another way, a child can be a misbehaving cretin with negligent or bad parents, and also happen to genuinely be autistic.”

    1a stupid person (used as a general term of abuse).
    2 Medicine, dated a person who is physically deformed and has learning difficulties because of congenital thyroid deficiency.

    • Thanks D, I can honestly say that I’d never looked up the word before and hadn’t realised its dictionary meaning, I was just using it in the way I’d heard it used throughout my life. I apologise for any offence, and will replace the word in my post soon with something less loaded and offensive.

      • D says:

        I am studying learning disability nursing and that is why I perhaps noticed it – I have in the past myself used words that I now know could cause offence to some.

        Great blog btw and as I wrote in my you make a very valid point in this post – sure I will be returning to read more!

      • Skye says:

        It’s like retard…we ALL know people who deserve the word but none of them have a disability…people like Snookie & Lindsay Lohan…not disabled but definitely retarded. On the other hand, I know loads of people with disabilities & not ones of them could be described as being retarded!

  23. Melissa says:

    Please could you advise me what to do. I’m at my wits end. My 3 year old son has not been diagnosed yet, but a number of parent’s who have children with autism recognise the signs in him. All I’ve been told is that he has autistic tendencies and global developmental delay, but they won’t diagnose him yet. He has about 4 words in his vocab, “mamma, dadda, peppa pig and babba” However, I’ve not heard him say them for a while. He loses a lot of the things he learns. At the moment he is pointing at everything, but that may be lost in time. My problem is that my son Aaron is hitting us, biting us, nipping us, pulling our hair and just trying to hurt us in anyway he can. He was trying to force my hand in his mouth before to bite it. He does this with his sister who is 7 too. He is not so bad at nursery, but the other week they said he was doing it to the others. We’ve tried to discipline him, but he just smiles because he knows he has done wrong. I hate hitting him, but sometimes it is the only way he knows he has done wrong. I don’t want to hit him, I really don’t because I love him and only want to be loving towards him. I’ve honestly tried everything and nothing seems to work. Time out doesn’t work. Taking toys away doesn’t work. I don’t want to be a bad parent and let him get away with it. Please could you give me some advise.

    • Melissa, you need specialists in your life to figure out the meaning of the behaviour and what will work to address it. For my son, violence was about lack of communication skills, anxiety, and sensory issues. It was not one issue, it was many, with multiple solutions. So I need to encourage you – whether there’s a confirmed diagnosis or not – to get some professional help in your son’s life now anyway, don’t wait. Please. Get a speech therapist at the very least, frustration and inability to tell you what is upsetting him will definitely be involved here, from what you’ve shared. I know this advice is somewhat generic – someone telling you to seek help won’t be new to you – but it’s the best I’ve got to offer. Get help, and get it now, for both your sakes.

      Wishing you all the best.

  24. Brenda Bohn says:

    Hi Melissa,
    My son who is 14 right now had some of the same tendencies that yours seems to have. He also had a tendency to put my hand in his mouth as a soothing mechanism. At 3, my son was tried to communicate with me by pointing, grunting and occasionally saying one word. I could not always understand what he was trying to communicate so he would become very frustrated and tantrum, hit, bite, etc.
    I tried to punish the bad behaviors, but it didn’t work. Threats, time outs (done in a punitive way), getting angry, taking things away only seemed to escalate his behavior. Rather than ‘punish’ his behavior, I tried to communicate with him in any way I could. I reassured him that I loved him. The more understanding he felt from me, the more he calmed down. Once I realized the ‘why’ of his behavior, I could see how frustrating it must have been for him.
    I agree with ‘Autism and Oughtisms’, he really needs a speech therapist to help with his communication. An assessment with a speech therapist, therefore, is a very important step. The faster your child feels he can communicate with you, the faster those ‘bad’ behaviors should disappear. Of course, comprehensive testing is also important to rule out other reasons for his behavior.
    Just remember, it CAN get better. I wish the best for you and your son.

  25. cheryl says:

    I need to know if child with autism age about 6-8 should be left unsupervised. I had an incident with neighbors child that calls me curse words and the parent, mother (father not in child’s life) does nothing to stop or correct him. And with the other day took a football and threw at my car and then grabbed the car window and started beating it and pulling at it. I called the police (where the police have been called many time to the home of this child because he is so out of control) and the only thing happened was that I was told the child doesn’t realize what they do and just made him apologize. If the child doesn’t know what he is doing how can he apologize ? I am at my wits end please send some advise.

    • If you’re at your wits end, imagine how the parent is feeling! The best advice I have for you is to knock on her door, and say you want to help in whatever way you can. If the mother is by herself, she is probably overwhelmed and may be feeling very isolated and helpless. If you reach out to her, you may be able to help her and her child, and doing so is probably the most meaningful and realistic way in which you can help improve the situation for you too in relation to this child. I’d love to hear how you get on, all the best.

      • cheryl says:

        tried to talk to her and she would not come to the door her other child said to busy cooking dinner. The mother has 2 other children, grand mother and a brother to help and all I hear from across the street is them yelling at the child with autism. How can yelling help. So I would probably say if the parent or any other adult in the home doesn’t want to try to make it work then she must want and like how she is treating the child. Since he is so out of control the police are they 3-4 times a week. I tried so you can lead a horse to water but, you can’t make them drink –so they get no pity or sympathy from me. I guess my next step if anything should happen will be legal

  26. Precious says:

    I have a 4 yr old autistic boy. I’m a single mom. I first agree that parents of autistic children need to make sure that there child is not basically actting up. I feel they need discipline just Like the next child autistic or not. Since they’re may not aware of how there action effect others, there surroundings and the people around them. the parent need to be aware. Most people tell me ” let him run let him go” I know what he could do, so I’m usually holding his hand to make sure he stays close.

  27. Simone says:

    We live in the Netherlands and have a 15-year old autistic son who was very violent to us as parents, his brother and sister (kicked her so hard she was on crutches for 2 months), the house (breaking windows) and himself (cutting his arms and face). With therapy and medication (risperidon and ritalin) his violence is much reduced, but there remains one huge problem. He has a preoccupation or obsession with his 13-year old brother. He always wants to slap, push or touch him or challenge him with words, until he gets his younger brother angry or crying. When he is not with his younger brother, he talks constantly about missing his stupid head. When I force my youngest to talk about this at the therapist, he denies that there is a problem and says that his older brother cannot help it because he is autistic. Our oldest daughter usually hates her autistic brother, because he limits her freedom. She never cuts him any slack. She thinks we should discipline him harder, but that often escalates his violence. It is hard to discipline him, because he has so much self-hate and then starts cutting himself again. The youngest cuts him way too much slack, often giving him what he wants to avoid a fight. We usually separate the boys, but we feel that this is not a solution to the problem and it also means we can never have good family time together. How can we stop the negative obsession with his younger brother?

  28. kelly says:

    My son is 10 and i have been working with him and professionals since he was diagnosed at age three. In just over the last year his violence has escalated. I have tried everthing i know of, asked professionals for help, put myself through classes, worked with him. Most times he just won’t listen to me anymore, and has turned his violence towards me. I try everything i can possibly do to be a good parent, and by the end of the day am reduced to tears. i have called the crisis hotline and am told i am doing everything i can do. i’m sure when we are out people look at me as a bad parent. it’s to the point where i don’t think we can even leave the house anymore. i already do not allow him to go anywhere without adult supervision, he must earn priviledges, he recieves consequences for bad behavior…..and has for some time. i feel like i’m going out of my mind. it just breaks my heart. i love my child.

  29. KH says:

    I am scared to even say this but my neighbors have three autistic boys who are so violent and aggressive and when they broke my little boys toys and called them mother f***ers and said they wanted to kill them I called the Landlord who went and spoke with them. I have seen the dad abuse the boys choking them and hurting them and know I should call CPS I’m just so scared of them all and what they will do. They know I called the Landlord and confronted me and I said I just don’t think it’s ok for any kid to behave that way and she acted like I was being mean to her and her kids. I don’t know how to be sympathetic and yet protect my family. Adam Lanza was diagnosed with a form of autism and was very violent but they chalked it up to his disability and didn’t see his violent behavior as a danger to those around him. We can’t voice our fears of these children because people will think we are the monsters.

    • What you’re describing has nothing to do with autism – there is nothing inherent in autism that makes our kids violent, and when they are violent it requires consequnces and re-teaching just like with any other child. You are wrongly fearful of autism, and in the process of sharing these misinformed views are demonising a very large group of highly rule-oriented and gentle people – please try to understand something better before attacking it, your fear can be replaced with knowledge and you’d be better (and feel safer) for it. Never be afraid to speak out to protect your own family, but understand that the issue in what you’re describing is not simply “autism.” (You also need to know that Adam Lanza did not have autism – type in “Adam Lanza not autistic” in Google and you’ll find a lot of highly respected articles on this point.)

  30. Pingback: Violence, Autism and Bad Parenting | Autism & Oughtisms – autisticagainstantivaxxers

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