Autism and Violence Rhetoric: Explanation, Excuse, Justification?

To the multitude who have arrived at this post by searching for “autism and violence” in the wake of the mass shooting in the USA: Nothing in this post is relevant to those types of events. The sorts of people discussed in this post are the lower functioning autistic people who get frustrated from inability to communicate at all and who react suddenly and in an unplanned manner to painful sensory input. It is nothing to do with premeditated mass violence which couldn’t be conceived of – let alone carried out – by the people talked about in this post. The post of mine that you should be reading about autism and mass murder, is here:

It is not hard to understand why autism and violence often come hand-in-hand, most especially for those at the more severe end of the autism spectrum. But how the family, carers, and the public react to and make sense of the relationship between violence and autism, is often highly emotive and confused; at times causing further and avoidable upset in an already highly-charged situation.

Hands in a fist.

Image via Wikipedia

I want to begin my discussion with a brief introduction to some of the more obvious reasons for violence occurring quite often among autistic people; particularly the severely autistic and children. Violence is an understandable reaction to the frustration, confusion and anger that arises from difficulty in understanding others and making others understand you, as well as been a raw method of communication in itself in the face of a lack of other methods to make feelings and thoughts known. Violence is also a defensive reaction against excessive sensory input, particularly so when the result of the excessive input is akin to pain. Trying to discipline an autistic child to teach the inappropriateness of violence as a response in such situations, is also notoriously difficult, and can end up making things worse if not done well as it can lead to further anxieties and confusion.

I’ve written a previous post about the relationship (and non-relationship) between autism and bad parenting. I have also done a post generally about the issues surrounding discipline with our autistic children, so I won’t repeat those views here. I would recommend reading them though if you want further background on the views I share in this post. What I specifically want to address in this post is the rhetoric that jumps out when these stories about autism and violence hit the media, as they so often do. Often the story at issue is about the disruptive violent autistic child in a mainstream classroom, and who’s to blame and what’s happened because of it. There are also plenty of stories about (often adult) autistic children hurting their parents in ways that require police involvement; those stories rarely end well.

I’ve watched the discussions that follow these stories, and they seem to follow a pattern of sorts: A public outcry that autism is being used as an excuse for violence, when “really” it’s just bad parenting or bad personal decisions on behalf of the autistic person (this rhetoric often comes hand-in-hand with claims that autism isn’t a real condition, or that it is a real condition but that it is caused only by poor discipline etc).

The parent inevitably defends their child – on the same forums as the public or in the news article itself – but that defense by the parent can take various forms. It usually takes the form of what I will term “excuse.” By which I mean, that the autism excuses the violence in such a way that the child (or adult) is not to blame for the violence and therefore should not be punished for it; that the autism itself is the cause, and you can’t punish “autism”, so the correct response should be compassion and understanding.

An alternative rhetoric from parents, and one I’ve encountered many times from rather extremist carers of autistic children, is the notion that autism is not just an excuse for the violence, it is a justification for the violence. Let me explain that further because I think it is a vital point that is often confused together with “excuse” (discussed above) and “explanation” (which I will expand on soon).

The “justification” response is one that blames the person who has been hurt by the violence, usually attacking them for their ignorance. For example, that they have performed an action, used words, or exposed the autistic person to something that would be benign to the vast majority of the population, but which was excruciating or particularly upsetting to that specific autistic individual (and possibly to most autistic individuals). The upshot being that if the person who was hurt (the teacher, the carer, the parent, the police), had been more aware and made the effort to understand the autistic individual better, the violence would have never occurred. Whereby the victim of the violence, is relabeled as the perpetrator who got what they deserved; making the autistic person the true victim of the situation.

This reaction (quite understandably) leads to out-rage from the general public and at times incredulity on behalf of the person who suffered the violence. Thereby escalating the situation and negative attitudes – even fear – towards autistic people.

An alternative to the excuse or justification rhetoric, and in fact the basis of both before they become either excuse or justification, is “explanation.” This is the approach that says the violence is predictable or understandable in light of the autism, but stops short of making a claim about the moral blameworthiness of the autistic individual or the person who suffered the violence. It says: “autism, not bad parenting or ill-intent, has caused this violence to occur, and here is why…” Many times the “here is why” bit is left under-explained, which just feeds the public’s fear and confusion about autism.

Being able to explain why the autism has led to violence in that instance, fosters understanding, and potentially builds a path towards finding a way forward for that individual, and perhaps for all autistic people. For example, if sensory overload and lack of alternative means of communication are causing violence in a classroom, using autism as an excuse or justification for the violence does not fix the problem itself (and under more extreme uses of the excuse and justification rhetoric, can make things a lot worse for that individual and other autistic people). But explanation may suggest changing the classroom environment and new methods of communication ( PECS for example) as ways forward; acknowledging that violence is not acceptable, but that when we know why it occurs, we are better equipped to stop it reoccurring, or at the very least, better equipped to see it about to happen and take action to manage it before it gets out of hand.

Even though the excuse and justification approaches often come with words like “I don’t think violence is acceptable”, the rest of the message can make it look like the person doing the defending thinks violence is acceptable in those instances (rather than merely understandable). Clearly, this “violence is OK in these circumstances” line is going to occur more often in the justification rhetoric; in much the same way that we as a society say violence is unacceptable, but is OK in self-defence, when we talk about the legal justification of self-defence. In the same way, the autistic individual is the victim, not the true perpetrator, and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

It should be pretty obvious by now, that I do not put much stock in the “justification” rhetoric when it comes to autism and violence in these sorts of situations (which I’ll say more about soon). I think we must always be careful to look situation to situation when it comes to the question of excuse; sometimes autism really is the reason for the violence and sometimes individual choice and / or bad influences and bad parenting, will be the decisive factors. That is to say, sometimes autism really should be seen as a sort of excuse, and sometimes it really isn’t. Telling the difference won’t always be straightforward, but an attempt to identify when the difference occurs is absolutely vital to figuring out the best and correct response to the situation as it has already occurred, and to its potential to re-occur.

I want to briefly mention a particular instance of when I think we can legitimately use the “justification” rhetoric for autism; but it is rare and is not the sort of situation normally found in these situations when they go public or get bandied about in forums. The times that “justification” in regards to autism and violence makes sense, is going to be where someone who genuinely should have known better, did or said something that predictably upset or disturbed the autistic individual to the point of violence. For example, someone very familiar with the individual and with autism as a condition, doing something that wouldn’t upset joe-average, but is a known trigger or breaking-point for the autistic individual. These would be those instances of intentional cruelty or indifference, that mirror the sort of issues that lead us to say violence in self-defence (under otherwise normal situations) is also justifiable.

Again though, for even this approach to hold weight you’d have to take into account the exact situation and individual; if the autistic person is an adult and quite high-functioning (for lack of a better phrase) and didn’t lose control so much as got very annoyed or upset and lashed out, “justification” isn’t really the appropriate term. Anymore than a highly strung person being provoked by someone who knows just what to say to upset them, will justify a violent response. It would become a real question of self-control (did the autism over-rule any individual controlled choice to use violence, for stance).

(Those familiar with the law will see this part of my discussion coming close to questions of provocation and issues generally of mens rea; I am borrowing from the law to organise my thoughts, but I’m not trying to tie this discussion too tightly to how the law would view it, at least not without further consideration. This post is early thoughts, rather than refined and strongly developed ones.)

The point of this post was to attempt to label and discuss in an introductory sense, those different types of rhetorics when people generally talk about the relationship between autism and violence. Whether I have done an adequate job of that, I leave to you to let me know; I would be very interested to hear your own views.

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39 Responses to Autism and Violence Rhetoric: Explanation, Excuse, Justification?

  1. Good post. I guess because I have seen violence from someone with autism, that was in my opinion provoked by substandard care – my views are coloured. It guts me that some professionals do not have the skills, experience and resources to ‘know better’ when dealing with people with autism. On the other hand, I know that even with the best care – accidents happen and caregivers can be injured. When it’s your kid that’s responsible for the injuries, it feels terrible. I like your idea of looking for the ‘why’ in the situation rather than who’s to blame, because sometimes blaming really isn’t helpful.

  2. Gutsy post. I think I am being unrealistic in thinking that I will never have to face this. Ben does have a hair-trigger temper, but he is also very shy and takes a lot. It’s a precarious balance.

    For him, I think, “You are responsible for your own behavior.” It seems like any less is to encourage criminality. Every prison is full of people with neurological impairments. So is every college and boardroom. Yet I know he’ll suffer for his in the big wide world.

    For almost a year, I worked at a boarding school for kids with moderate to severe autism and mental disabilities. While there is an innocence, there is also that hair trigger temper, to a major degree. Where is the dividing line? From what point do we decide that violence is forgivable? It seems the more severe the autism or intellectual disability, the greater the strength and ability to not only self harm, but harm others. Is there a point where “not guilty by reason of neurological illness” is apt? That, also, is an adaption of a legal term. And as you so interestingly implied, so is self-defense. ABA can be quite violent towards autistics,although it is done under controlled situations where the workers have been trained in safety. But workers can have hair trigger tempers, too. I don’t beleive it develops the soul or even begins to teach self-control except to avoid conflict. Can severely autistic kids be taught responsibility? I don’t know.

    Very thoughtful post.

    • As usual, such an interesting range of thoughts usethebrain.

      And yes, legal boundaries of fault in terms of “insanity” – or rather, at what stage is the person not meaningfully responsible for their actions and how does that impact on the appropriate response – are definitely part of the picture. I do find the law an interesting and useful way to approach the topic, I’d have to return to the topic after much further thought (and probably research) to do it real justice. In fact, the more general issue of the relevance of Aspergers in particular, but autism more generally, when it comes to criminal responsbility, is something I’d like to look at more (and beyond the question of violence).

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. blogginglily says:

    I really enjoyed the post. Something I’ve become concerned with recently is how society seems to generally deal with the results of “diagnosing” someone as something. This was clearest to me in a discussion of whether “wandering” should be an official diagnosis. I read a post that was against it. The author essentially felt that giving that diagnosis to someone would lead others to dismiss the wandering behavior as appropriate to the diagnosis without prompting them to look for any explanation. The example used was that if a nonverbal child living in an abusive household were given a wandering diagnosis, the authorities would continually return the child to the abusive setting again and again, because the child was known to wander. The diagnosis itself was dismissive of attempts to explain the “whys”.

    Returning to your topic, justifying violence (in the media, in court, etc) due to autism seems to parallel that thinking. If we explain away the violence as being ‘due to autism’, then we’re not getting to the root of the behavior. What’s the old saw, “behavior is communication”? What is the violence communicating? I think too many people stop at the diagnosis (in this case autism) and look no further for the cause.

  4. Whitney Dempsey says:

    My son has become extremely violent and he is only 4 y/o. He gets so overwhelmed he now hits his teachers, students, his grandparents and his aunt. He is in a special ed class with 13 children and 4 teachers. He attends speech, OT, PT and behavior. He is not medicated and
    I have been avoiding it but it has come to that. He has no specific triggers, life is a trigger. He started speaking 6 months ago (He will be 5 soon), but he is a flapping, spinning, tip-toeing Autistic. He covers his eyes and ears constantly. We have weighted blankets, weighted vests.. I do arts and crafts every night, we read everyday (He can READ, not 4 y/o read, but READ.). The waiting list to see a doctor for Autism is over a year, and the only one available to us is Vanderbilt. 😦 He is a genious but he has no idea how to access it except to beat the holy h*** out of whoever is closest to him.

    • Ashley says:

      If you are in Nashville, are you enrolled in RIP (Regional Intervention Program)? It is free, and it made our life with our severely ADD son SO much easier. They take children up to 6 years of age and no older b/c it’s an early intervention program. I’m in the Nashville area if you want to message me on Facebook and connect for further discussion. Mine is 15 now and things are sooooooo much better. So wild that your son starting speaking late but reading so early! Extreme talents/gifts, coupled with social immaturity and impulsivity. I can relate.

  5. Fred SSimpson says:

    I am the stepfather of a 19 year old Autistic son that is very violent toward me. Our deal is if I say NO, NOT NOW, LATER, or ANYTHING that he doesn’t want to do, I am in for a tail kicking. This stuff has just been happening over the last year, I go to be nightly with blood and bruises all over my arms.
    My wife is our son’s biggest defender (to the point of making me thinking of just leaving) and her solutions are to just give him every thing he demands. What this ends up doing is rewarding him for his violent outburst toward me (very rarely aimed at her), so he just keeps doing it. I am at a loss on what I should or can do. My wife says that I am angry and this is causing the mess, I will say this…after getting my a>> kicked daily I AM ANGRY!!! Who wouldn’t be?

    WHAT DO I DO???

    • Fred, you need a third party specialist involved, to analyse your son’s chosen reactions (with autistic children it’s rarely just violence because they don’t get their way, it’s frequently tied into communication and sensory issues), and so there is someone else explaining to your wife the seriousness of the behaviour (and that her own responses to the behaviour are perhaps not for the best – for her son or for you). Hearing it from a professional might make her pay more attention. Perhaps a behavioural specialist of some sort, with expertise with autism of course. Does your son have specialists already involved in his day-to-day life, that you can contact to talk this through?

      It’s a horrible and frightful situation to be in, I hope you find a solution that keeps the family together, and stops the violence. All the best.

      • Fred says:

        Erik did have a specialist until he turned 18 and went on Medicaid. We were paying out of pocket for his doctors, but about 4 months ago Medicaid stopped paying for his meds, because the doctor were not Medicaid doctors. The only problem with this is we have called over 300 doctors on the Medicaid web site and NO ONE takes Medicaid. Well now we have to take him to the ER just to get meds, but no support on his problems.

        I talked to a doctor today that does research on Autism and she informed me Erik need to be on some drugs to control his testrone. She says that will calm him down. I can only hope!!

      • Yes, as they get older, if there are still anxiety and violence issues, there is the option of medication. My son is only 6, his doc is very anti medicating someone so young, which I fully understand. Back when he was 3 and 4, the violence and behaviours were so hard to deal with that my husband and I were desperate for medication to help him (and us) get through each day, he’s a lot better now (we never did get medication for him, he improved for a raft of reasons, foremost of which I’d say was improved communication skills). But we were discussing just yesterday that if he still had high anxiety as a teen and adult, that we’d definitely look into medication again.

        It sounds like you’re up against the wall with the doctor situation, I’m not familiar with Medicaid though so I don’t completely follow the issues (I get the gist of the problem though). Hopefully you find a way to get him the medication assistance he needs, and soon. It’s definitely something worth looking into anyway.

    • LUCY says:

      Wow, 19 years old huh. Well I am the stepmother of a 10 year old that his maternal mother did not want after he turn 7. And now I understand why, although I am not justifying her decision. I love my husband very much but I can not see myself going through what you have gone and are going through. And my husbands son autism is not that bad and he can be a very sweet kid. However he does have a temper, that at times makes me think he is bi-polar (like his mother is) so this makes it very hard for me to handle. I used to be able to connect with him, but this summer its been a rollercoaster that has worn me out and I am ready to quit. The child has always had a temper. His grandparents inform me how he would burst in violence when he didn’t get what he wanted or when he was been discipline. My husband is very lenient with him, soft spoken and prefers not to deal with his tantrums by allowing him to do what he wants instead. So, when I take care of him and don’t let him do what he wants he has a melt down. I don’t like it. I am firm with him but I also reward him. I try to balance both. Lately, I haven’t seem to have so much success and it has become very frustrated to the point that I want to quit. I have no faith in therapist, all they do is down talk to him like a baby instead of a 10 year old, and besides, therapist aren’t going to teach him how to wipe his butt or eat with a fork every day like I have. One hour sessions aren’t enough. I have mention this to my husband and he does not want me to quit, says he will help me out but frankly I think its going to be hard. Like you, I don’t know what to do. I know my husband will be lost with out me.

      • Maisie says:

        My experience was that when I got ‘strict’ with my son I got it back in spades. He has never realised what a parent-child relationship is supposed to be. Is that bad parenting? He has a learning disability as well as autism. It took me a while and a good therapist to work out that he was in fact mimicking my hostility when he was disobedient, so situations were spiralling out of control. Unhappy, angry mum – unhappier, angrier kid. It is a really hard trick to be firm with a smile on your face but it was one well worth learning. The upside to living with someone who can’t bear negativity is that you get to work at being happy and treating yourself better. Saving yourself from getting exhausted or frustrated because your son will react badly when that’s in your tone of voice. Tone of voice is really, really important. Giving yourselves a rest and a break and nice experiences together, being less critical, letting situations blow over before you explain calmly and clearly to him what the right way to handle his emotions is and what you expect next time. And then being patient, because he won’t get it right next time either, but some time, eventually. Always, always, looking for those explanations and sharing them with him in ways he can understand. Praising little steps in the right direction. Being confident that he will get it eventually, with good models to learn from. Looking for the positive in everything and relishing it. Your husband seems to have already worked this out. He sounds like a good man. I hope it works for you both.

    • Sheila says:

      We have the exact same problem with my autistic son of 18 yrs. He comes and goes between his father’s house and mine. When he is here with myself and my fiancee he tends to push buttons to see how far he can go. You can say his mindset is that of a five year old throwing a tantrum for not getting his way. The problem is he much bigger and stronger than a five year old. It is hard on me and everyone here in the house. He has tried exerting his violent behavior on my fiancee but for now they try to avoid each other. My son does and will exert physical and verbal abuse on me and it has come to the point that I have called 911 and had him taken to the ER which he was transferred to the psych ward in a children’s unit. I cannot give you advice although I can understand what you are going through. Your wife should not give in to his every whim and both of you need to exercise authority together as a team to make it work. The son should know that you are not going anywhere and yet while remaining firm you also love him. He may need meds or behavior modification to control his temper and outbursts. Perhaps the food he is eating might need to be explored as well. Important thing is to not give in to his tantrums and show that you Are the parent and you are controlled in doing so. Yes, he has sensory issues and communication is frustrating but his hormones are raging and he is claiming his autonomy while having the mindset of a five year old with a tantrum. No is NOT a word he wants to hear nor is patience a virtue he understands.

  6. Caitlin says:

    I suspect my bf has some kind of aspergers or autism. He was the one who originally had this theory, but has now gone into complete denial about the whole thing. His mother is even further in denial and just says “oh, that’s just the way he is – he’s always been like that”. To explain his, sometimes, bizarre behaviour. Other people make excuses for him as well – I don’t know, maybe they subconsciously sense that he’s got some kind of problem and needs people to make excuses for him.

    Because he’s not diagnosed or assessed, it makes it extremely difficult for me to know what I’m dealing with or how I should deal with it. Should I just assume that he’s on the autistic spectrum and deal with things from that point of view? I have to say, that I didn’t sign up for this, and I keep making the mistake of believing that I’m dealing with a normally functioning human.

    This all leads me to extreme frustration, especially when I don’t appear to be able to get through to him. Sometimes he just doesn’t seem to understand normal human emotions, and he says really bizarre things like “oh it doesn’t matter” – because “it” doesn’t matter to him, and yet I’ve just made it really clear that whatever “it” is, matters to me. Is that a typical feature of aspergers or autism?

    He was physically violent towards me once, but he was very drunk at the time, and has never drunk that much before or since, so I don’t feel in danger as such. However, he has threatened to punch me at least once, has lashed out at me in some kind of childish tantrum one time (that had nothing to do with me), and bashed my arms another time when I provoked him. Yesterday he lashed out at me, and he hadn’t been drinking. I suppose some people would say it was my fault for provoking him – even though he doesn’t have a diagnosis of aspergers or autism. However, these arguments tend to arise and escalate because we’re both provoking each other.

    Can anyone shed any light on this at all?

    • Caitlin, I have to say – autism or no autism – get out of any relationship where there is already evidence of tendency towards violence. It doesn’t matter what he has or doesn’t have, you should not put yourself in harm’s way. I’ve done some training in the area of violence towards women in relationshps, and chances are you are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Please seriously consider either getting out, or making sure your boyfriend seeks professional help to work on his anger and coping strategies as a condition of the relationship. Your safety and own mental well-being must come first for you.

  7. Caitlin says:

    By the way, what is the stuff about “sensory” issues? When my bf arrived the other night he seemed to be in one of his “can’t cope with anything” states. He just seems to get completely overloaded – usually by stress at work. He doesn’t communicate this to me, so I’m not to know that he needs me to be calm and quiet.

    • Sensory issues are when sensory input (such as sounds, touch, sights) can overload an individual (or alternately, be actively sought because of under-stimulation in that individual). If your boyfriend is getting over-loaded, he must learn how to communicate that to you somehow, even if it is just to say “I’m overloaded right now.” You’ll get good at spotting the signs the more time you spend with him, and that’s great, but for his own well-being and your relationship, he needs to understand that he must find a more unambiguous way to convey this to you. In context of your statement above about violence, the overloading issue just makes me that much more concerned. It does sound like he needs help, at the very least to access and learn coping strategies.

      • Caitlin says:

        Thank you for your thoughts. Unfortunately, he won’t go for a diagnosis because he reckons there’d be no good to come of it, and then he’d be labelled in a way that would hamper his life.

      • You could try pointing out to him these arguments:

        He can get the diagnosis and not tell anyone, so it won’t hamper him in any ways he doesn’t want it to; the help he will get will possibly include financial supports; the diagnosis will enable him to better understand himself, and help those who love him to better understand him too; there is a strong and supportive community of people already diagnosed that he could then be part of; and lots of people have spoken very publicly about the power, knowledge and sense of belonging that comes with a confirmed diagnosis.

        That’s just a starters list of reasons he should look into getting a diagnosis. I’d add one more vital point: if he finds he doesn’t meet the diagnosis criteria, then no harm done either way. But if he finds he does meet the criteria, the fact that he has autism (if he has it) is a truth about him regardless, the only difference would be he then finally knew about it for sure.

        I hope that helps in some way.

  8. Mary Ryan says:

    A very insightful article. My son is a 9 year old autistic and whilst I even type this post I am being bombarded with abusive words from him. Today, I was waiting for a bus with him – I thought that this particular bus took us to a certain place. We got on the bus and the driver me that this bus did not take us to where we needed to be. By that stage, my son had walked on to the bus and taken his seat. I then said to my son – “we are on the wrong bus pet, we need to get off”. As we got off the bus some elderly ladies started to laugh – but in a friendly way. When we got off the bus my son punched me and stormed of and stood by the road crying. He said I had humiliated him and that everyone on the bus laughed at him. I tried to explain to him that they were not really laughing at him but that it was just the situation – but he would have none of it and punched me again. When we got home I was on the computer and he came up with a cup of water and poured it over my head and said “that was for humiliating him on the bus and you deserve it”.
    This is a typical day for me with my son.

    • That’s intense Mary.

      I’d be interested to know what you do when he treats you like that – both with the violence and the inappropriate way he’s talking to you. I’m sure you make it clear to him that it’s unacceptable behaviour towards anyone, but even more so towards you. I’d be interested to know how he responds to the discipline and whether you’re getting much head-way with reducing such behaviours. I think I’d be quite fearful and anxious if I lived with someone who treated and talked to me in that way, (in fact I did live with fear and very high anxiety when my autistic son as a 3 year old especially, was frequently violent and very controlling. Thankfully, with PECS and developing verbal communication, the violence reduced too since he was able to let us know why he was upset and we were able to work him through it.)

      I wish you the best, you clearly have your hands full.

  9. Mary Ryan says:

    Hello thank you very much to those people who have responded to my comments. Just to make it clear….. it is my son of 9 years of age that is doing this… not a partner. I don’t have a partner.I am really trying to follow this up with The Ryegate Centre in Sheffield who an a neurodisability Centre and also help with psychological issues with children as the grow older. Best wishes. Mary.

    • Mary, I read your comment, I know your son is 9 years old, I stand by what I say. No child should be hitting you and pouring water over your head for retribution or revenge. If the child understands enough to tell you he’s doing it for revenge, surely he understands words enough to be told the behaviour is unacceptable and to disciplined in some manner. Violence and revenge are clearly inappropriate responses to embarrassment. I’m pleased you’re seeking professional help. Best of luck.

      • Mary Ryan says:

        Hello, gosh, no sorry I was not referring to your comments .. just had a few emails from other people who thought I was referring to my “partner” and not my son. Not your comments at all …your comments very helpful…thank you… gosh … it is a so difficult for us all and we all love our children or else we would not be on this site!. All the best. Mary.

      • My apologies Mary! Crossed wires of communication going on there; happens so easily with online communication.

  10. Chris says:

    I have a younger brother who will be 20 in march of 2013 . He is a very violent person who has this issue. He dangles things , jumps up and down knocking things over , he dry humps his bed , he makes this very loud annoying sound almost like a crying person in pain nonstop. My mom has made up her mind to get him some help through medication. He always has a mean look on his face all the time , and a dazed out of it look when he goes into one of his spells. She had known that he was suffering from this mental issue but I think she belived it would go away on its own. He has been in special needs care all his time while in school. I hope they find him help soon and with sucess. Its sad but I really dread being in the same room as him at times he gets on my nerves so badly. He even tried to attack me once I explained to my mom my reasons and that I wont be beaten up. She moving now to get him medicated.

  11. DB says:

    My wife and I attend a church congregation with a single lady who attends with her three special needs children. I believe all three children have varying degrees of autism. My wife was holding our two-month old when the lady was escorting her 18-year-old son out due to misbehavior. On his way out he lifted his knee and gave a karate kick to the side of my sleeping 2-month-old son’s head. My boy started wailing instantly. We don’t see any signs of concussion or anything, but it is still aggravating. We came to find out the same boy kicked a car seat with a baby in it on a previous occasion and the baby’s mom is wary around him now.

    I’d like to explain it away and say that the family has enough problems, but I also have a mind to call the police and make a report of assault on my baby boy. It seems likely to reoccur and it could always be a lot worse. What should I do?

    • Assault requires actual clear intent to harm: If the child was kicking while having a meltdown – and depending on his mental age and capacity – there’s not much point laying an assault charge since it would be highly unlikely to succeed (and the charge would be very likely to cause a large amount of otherwise-pointless harm in the mean time).

      If I was you I’d just steer clear of the family as much as possible, and maybe raise your concerns directly with the person in charge of the congregation so they know your family is feeling unsafe there. They might be able to have a quiet word with the mother about the fears, perhaps encouraging her to bring a support adult with her to future gatherings to help calm and control the outbursts. Or perhaps, if it’s an open-minded and caring congregation, someone could quickly volunteer to help out at any gatherings as soon as they see the situation arising (having spoken to the mother first to let her know they’re there to help).

      I’m sorry you’re in this situation, and I’m glad your son is OK. Make sure you get him checked out by a doctor if you have any concerns, as I’m sure you already know, but that’s all I can otherwise think to suggest.

      All the best.

  12. fulfilled316 says:

    How sad, the mom with three special needs kids should not be in church like that. I am speaking as a mom of a 17 yr old son with ASD who is non verbal/history of violence and has been asked not to come back to the children’s center at church. Her kids obviously need more help that the church can provide. That young man with ASD should not be in the community and in places where there are babies and anyone who could be harmed by not fault if his own until the custodial parent gets him the proper help he needs i.e. medication, behavioral intervention. When we as parents fail to protect our ASD kids by making sure they don’t hurt or harm anyone we all end up paying the price. People have a right to go to church, movies, whatever and not be exposed to our kids Autism. I am sharing this with all of the humility, empathy and respect I have. I have been there, I know what that mother is feeling, but this is not the way, she needs (must) get her kids help before something truly tragic happens and all ASD people are ostracized more that they already are. DB you should report the incident, that mom needs to protect your baby from her son’s Autism, she shouldn’t be bringing him to church, if he is not able to be there appropriately and safely. I’m so sorry that happened…someone needs to talk to the mom, because she is one incident away from having her children removed from her care. Its tough and heart breaking, but unfortunately VERY necessary.. I wish I could talk to her 😦

  13. Nina says:

    Hello, My intellectually disabled brother has been physically assaulted by another disabled person at a day base he goes to. I have been told that the woman who hurt him is autistic, and that she has a tendency to bully and assault other disabled clients. She has been spoken to by staff, but I know that my brother and other service users are frightened of her. I am going to meet with staff to discuss what’s happened, and would really appreciate some advice on what sorts of things to raise with them. I understand that the ‘culprit’ has the right to be at the same day base, but it sickens me that vulnerable people like my brother are simply expected to live in fear. Thanks.

    • Nina, the fact the person doing the harm has autism, is ultimately irrelevant here: of course bullying and assault is unacceptable, regardless of who is doing it or even why (figuring out the “why” can be helpful to changing the behaviours, but your focus has to be on your own family member’s well-being, it is up to the centre to figure out and help fix the behaviour if the person doing it can’t for themselves). You don’t need to address the autism or the disability in the sort of situation you are describing, so don’t get hung up on that aspect. What you describe is an issue of safety and basic rights, if the centre doesn’t listen to or act on your concerns, you need to find a centre that does. I hope the situation gets resolved, and I’m sorry your family is having to deal with this.

      • Nina says:

        Thanks for your very helpful reply. I didn’t realise until now that it had come through, sorry. I was feeling pretty upset and frustrated when I wrote to you as it seemed that the person’s behaviour had been minimised by staff, and that they were expecting my brother and others to put up with it. The staff seem nice but it’s hard to know how experienced or competent they are. I work at the other end of town, but am now popping in whenever I can to say “hi” and to check out the vibe. The staff might feel a bit uncomfortable with me just turning up, but the people they care for obviously love having a visitor and showing me what they’re doing. Thanks again, for your understanding and advice.

        • Nina, I think the action you’ve taken is ideal; if he must remain where he is, then popping by unannounced is very much in his (and the other residents) best interests. Another set of eyes on their well-being and the situation, is a great idea. You’re clearly a dedicated and loving sister, he’s lucky to have someone like you passionately looking out for his best interests. All the best to both of you xxx

  14. First time on your site and I’ve enjoyed reading it! I have a 6′ tall 180 lb 29 year old who is autistic and has some verbal skills, but he struggles with dyspraxia, so he is hard to understand. He really loves people, loves family and has a wonderful heart. Very social! He was never aggressive towards people or things until his 20’s. He was recently diagnosed as also being Bi Polar. He had 3 manic episodes in 6 years, and all 3 lead to property destruction and physical violence (mostly me). His episodes are triggered by trauma. 4 years ago he was overstimulated and kicked a toddler as he was walking out of the bathroom (toddler didn’t live with him). He was kicked out of that care home and my sister has been his caregiver now for 4 years. He had a manic episode last summer and got so out of control destroying property he had to be sent to a facility to stabilize. Now he is on mood stablizers and antipsychotics. Over all he has been stable in the sense that he has not hit anyone in over a year, nor destroyed property until this weekend.. My sister had her daughter and 2 year old grandson come out to stay. She invited us and a few friends over for dinner. My son had a stressful week and we knew that he was a bit stressed from the rain (he hates the rain), but he was enjoying the evening, playing pool, the Wii game, patting his 2 year old cousin on the head, being social, then all of the sudden he came out of the kitchen and kicked the 2 year old. Thank God his aunt was on the floor playing with him. She saw it coming and took most of the impact! My heart is just sick! He could have killed him or severely hurt him. He calmly sat on the couch and finished his Wii game while the parametics came to check out his cousin. I took him home with me and talked to him about it. He feels remorseful about it and apologized by texting his mom and saying sorry on the phone, but I realize we can NEVER let our guard down, even if it has been 4 years! I’m seeking out what in the heck would cause him to be ok with doing that? I’ve read that folks with autism do not have “theory of mind” and therefore don’t connect with how another person feels. Would creating a social story for him help? I need him to realize he can be put away in an institution for the rest of his life, and help him realize the seriousness of harming another individual! We’ve had behavior plans created for him and follow it the best we can, but I sometimes feel that I can’t always be one step ahead of him! I’m missing something!

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