Strategies for Managing Aggressive Behavior in Autistic Children

Strategies for Managing Aggressive Behavior in Autistic Children

aggressive child

The parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically face many challenges. Aggressive behavior is one of the most difficult ones to deal with.

If your autistic child regularly resorts to kicking, screaming, hitting, and other forms of aggression when they’re upset or angry, keep reading this article.

You will gain a better understanding of why this happens and get some effective strategies for dealing with aggressive behavior in autistic children.  

Why do autistic children behave aggressively?

Children with ASD can act in an aggressive and/or angry way for several reasons. Here are a few of the common ones:

  • They think about angering or upsetting situations. Autistic kids’ repetitive thinking habits may exacerbate this problem.
  • The boy or girl doesn’t understand what’s happening around them, such as when they play games with friends or participate in group activities.
  • The child struggles to effectively communicate what they want or need. This is even more troublesome when it leads them to bottle up anxiety or stress-causing thoughts.
  • They feel helpless.
  • When they have to multitask, which can be challenging for many autistic children.
  • A change in their routine. For example, your son or daughter might become aggressive when you start giving them a new breakfast cereal.
  • People’s behaviors can be direct (ignoring the child, for instance) or indirect (when someone in the room speaks in a high-pitched voice) causes of anger.
  • Underlying medical problems or a lack of sleep.

As a parent, there are multiple things that you could do to address these issues, including being sensitive about changing their routine and helping them with multitasking.

Others are out of your control. Among them are how people may indirectly irritate your autistic child.

Therefore, the first skill for you to master is to identify the signs that your child is getting upset and intervene to stop the aggressive behavior.

How can this aggressive behavior manifest?

The cycle of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns among children with ASD manifests itself in three stages.

1. The Rumbling Stage

Firstly, your autistic will act in a manner that indicates their discomfort. This behavior could be subtle or straightforward.

Here are a few signs that your child is going through the rumbling stage:

  • They bite their nails
  • Their muscles become tense
  • The kid stops engaging with people or withdraws
  • They may threaten others

The best way to deal with an autistic child’s aggressive behavior is to stop it in its tracks. Once you know how to identify the symptoms of the rumbling stage, you can address the problem before it gets worse.

2. The Rage Stage

In the second stage of the cycle, the kid gets emotional, explosive, and impulsive. The following actions are typical during the rage stage:

  • Biting
  • Destroying toys, furniture, and property
  • Hitting and kicking
  • Injuring oneself
  • Screaming
  • Withdrawing from social situations and/or activities

Later in this article, we will go over some of the most effective ways to deal with an autistic child’s behavior when they’re in the rumbling stage.

The most important thing, however, is that you should make sure that your son or daughter doesn’t act dangerously or seriously hurt themselves and/or those around them, up until they calm down.

3. The Recovery Stage

Lastly, a child with ASD enters the recovery stage once their rage and meltdown are over. This is how many autistic kids act in the recovery stage:

  • They only partially remember how they behaved in the rage stage.
  • Some kids may deny that they went through a meltdown.
  • The child gets into a sullen, depressed, and/or angry mood.
  • They withdraw from activities or social groups.
  • The boy or girl becomes very exhausted and goes to sleep.

As mentioned earlier, the best way to prevent this cycle from manifesting itself is to intervene before it begins. Creating an appropriate environment for your autistic son or daughter is an even better approach.

Understanding Aggressive Behavior in Autistic Children

You may want to take a step back and try to understand why your child is acting aggressively. Most of the time, aspects in their environment might be the root of the problem.

To clarify, here are some examples:

  • The TV or music in the classroom or house are too loud.
  • They are surrounded by bright lights.
  • The noise or light levels in their bedroom make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
  • The child needs help understanding how to play certain games with their friends or classmates.
  • The boy or girl doesn’t get a 5 or 10 minute warning before they have to switch activities, such as turning off the TV and going to the dining room for dinner.
  • They are showing symptoms of a potential underlying medical condition.

There are additional factors in the child’s environment that could lead them to act aggressively. You should try to identify these issues and, after that, find ways to address them.

Dealing with Aggressive Outbursts From Autistic Children

There are several proven techniques that you can rely on to handle your autistic son or daughter’s aggressive behavior, including the following strategies:

  • Antiseptic Bouncing: This entails having the child move to another room or area to allow them to calm down. You shouldn’t do so in a punishing manner. Instead, have the kid complete a quick assignment (for example, running to their bedroom and making sure that the window is closed) or ask them to grab you an item (such as your smartphone).
  • Home Base: A home base is a calm, comfortable, and quiet room or area in your home that your child can go to when they need to calm down. The home base should be used for things like preparing the day’s schedule or organizing the kid’s books and school paperwork. This makes it an effective place for your son or daughter to reestablish control over their emotions.
  • Proximity Control: With this technique, you, your spouse, or a teacher would stand or sit by your child when they start to show signs of the rumbling phase. This helps them calm down without having to stop the activity or task that they’re doing.
  • Support From Routine: A chart or visual with the boy or girl’s daily schedule creates predictability and security. For instance, when they go through the rumbling phase because they are unhappy with a task that they’re completing, the visual would remind them that they will switch to a new (sometimes more fun or preferable) activity in 10 minutes.

The best part about these techniques is that you, as a parent, can implement them at home.

Next, you want to focus on modifying your autistic child’s aggressive behavior and minimizing (if not eliminating) it in the future. This may require the assistance of a professional therapist.

How can you modify the aggressive behavior of autistic children?

The goal of modifying your son or daughter’s behavior is to enable them to independently manage and control their emotions. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is arguably the most efficient and popular approach.

A trained and certified therapist may implement the following ABA therapy techniques to modify your autistic child’s aggressive behavior:

Positive Reinforcement

A lot of ABA therapy methods revolve around the concept of positive reinforcement. 

In short, positive reinforcement entails rewarding your son or daughter when they act or behave in a desired way, such as communicating with their parents when they’re upset rather than getting angry and destroying furniture.

The following rewards can act as a positive reinforcement and give a kid with ASD the incentive to reach their behavioral goals:

  • Their favorite toys
  • A TV show that they like
  • Candy or chocolate
  • Verbal support and encouragement

Antecedent Based Intervention (ADI)

In ABA therapy, an antecedent (feeling thirsty, for instance) leads to behavior (drinking water) which, in turn, has a consequence (no longer feeling thirsty).

Children with ASD may deal with unexpected antecedents (loud music, to give an example) that can trigger certain behaviors (a meltdown) that have negative consequences.

The ADI approach modifies undesirable behaviors (which come with bad consequences) by creating a desirable environment for the autistic child and motivating them so that they avoid the distractions of a negative antecedent.

Pivotal Response Training (PRT)

With this method, the therapist would identify the kid’s pivotal behaviors. To clarify, a pivotal behavior is one that leads to other actions.

For example, let’s assume that your autistic son or daughter needs to learn how to ask questions when they don’t understand something (as an alternative to withdrawing from a social setting).

The therapist pretends that they’re your child’s friend by playing a video game by themselves. When your kid asks how the game is played, the therapist explains the rules and positively reinforces this behavior by handing them a console and initiating a two-player game.

In turn, your son or daughter will ask questions (the pivotal behavior) whenever they’re confused, such as while playing with their friends, during class, and at home.


This approach focuses on removing the desirable results of bad behaviors.

For instance, if you turn down the TV volume or give your child a toy whenever they cry, they will start crying every time they need something.

Extinction addresses this behavior by eliminating the desired outcome (the lower volume or toy) that’s associated with crying.

When you initially meet and sit down with your son or daughter’s ABA therapist, you should choose the methods that suit your kid’s needs.

This could be based on the reasons for their aggressive behavior, how they act during the rumbling and rage stages, and a thorough understanding of what triggers them.


A combination of ABA techniques and other approaches (like antiseptic bounding and home base) is the best way to handle your autistic child’s aggressive habits.

Having a therapist train you on how to apply parent-implemented interventions (PII) is even more effective.

Are there any tips for dealing with an aggressive autistic child that you think we missed? Please let us know below.

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