Autism is a disorder that affects the social and communication skills of the brain. Children that are diagnosed with autism have difficulty with social play and both verbal and nonverbal communication. According to Carl Sundberg from the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism, the incidence of aggression in children with autism is higher than their peers, primarily due to difficulties with communication. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reduce violent behaviors such as biting, hitting or scratching, states Mary Rosswurm, executive director of Little Star Center, there are a number of different methods you can try to reduce your child's aggressive behavior.
Since autistic children have difficulty communicating, they often resort to aggressive behaviors to get what they want. This is even more common with non-verbal children. The key is to teach your child an alternate method to express what he wants. Specify a word that simplifies what your child wants, or use a picture or symbol if he can't use words. Mary Roth, the lead ally with the Autism Society of Indiana's Indiana Allies program, recommends using alternative devices designed specifically for autistic children, such as the picture exchange communication system, which, according to the Pyramid Educational Consultants, "begins by teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a “communicative partner," who immediately honors the exchange as a request.
Autistic children typically have a reason for their aggression, whether they are trying to get your attention or telling you that they want something. Pay close attention to your child's behavior to determine what he is trying to communicate to you. Some children also use behaviors such as head banging for automatic reinforcement, which simply feels good to them. Other ways that autistic children get attention include pointing and signing.
Parents can benefit from learning behavioral techniques to reduce the incidence of aggression in their autistic child. This method, which is commonly referred to as applied behavioral analysis (ABA), can include multiple approaches to allow you to discover the one that works best for your child. Parents learn how to prevent and react to the aggression by using positive reinforcement for acceptable behaviors and reduce negative behaviors. This method of intervention focuses on redirecting the child away from negative behaviors, and it offers rewards and praise for completing tasks or doing what is asked.
If you have tried other methods and your child still has frequent episodes of aggression, it might be time to consider medication. Medication might not seem like the best option, but it can make a world of difference for some children with autism. According to the Mayo Clinic, medications cannot treat or cure autism, but they can help relieve some of the symptoms. Antidepressants can help with anxiety, while anti-psychotic medications such as risperidone can assist with severe behavioral problems. However, side effects such as weight gain, problems sleeping and drowsiness can occur, so it is necessary to weigh the benefits against the risks when administering medication, especially to children.
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