High Functioning Autism and Aggression

High Functioning Autism and Aggression

kid shooting water gun at friend

If your child has high-functioning autism you probably know they can sometimes be overly aggressive. 

In this article we will discuss why high-functioning autistic children are aggressive and give you some strategies to deal with this behavior. 

But first let’s get a better understanding of high-functioning autism.

What is high-functioning autism?

According to the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), high-functioning autism is the least severe form of ASD.

To illustrate, here are the three categories of the DSM-5 autism diagnosis criteria:

  • Level 1 (High-Functioning Autism): Autistic children with a level 1 diagnosis will run into obstacles that impact their social skills, communication capabilities, and behaviors. However, the right support systems and therapeutic treatments can minimize their effect on the autistic child’s life.
  • Level 2: Kids that have level 2 autism struggle more than their level 1 counterparts do. While therapy might address some of their problems, they still require assistance to function on a daily basis.
  • Level 3 (Low-Functioning Autism): A level 3 diagnosis entails severe ASD symptoms that diminish the child’s ability to socialize, communicate with others, stay organized, and cope with changes. A boy or girl with level 3 ASD needs extensive therapeutic programs.

Since level 1 autism sits on the most functional end of the spectrum, it might be easy to determine whether or not this diagnosis applies to your son or daughter.

What are some signs of high-functioning autism?

Due to the light and minimally-severe signs of high-functioning autism, you want to know how to immediately identify the symptoms and avoid mistaking them for typical children’s behaviors.

Here are some of the main signs and symptoms of high-functioning autism:

  • Your child overreacts to certain physical activities. For example, they may cry or have a meltdown after you give them a hug.
  • The kid has a hard time staying focused after a slight change in the room’s noise or light levels.
  • Your son or daughter engages in repetitive and obsessive behaviors when they watch TV or play with their toys, much more so than a neurotypical child would.
  • Although kids with level 1 ASD don’t struggle with communicating as much as their level 2 and level 3 counterparts do, they may still abnormally overuse formal words and avoid slang. This can come off as peculiar to their friends and classmates.
  • A boy or girl who gets very easily angered or overly reacts to any noise or language that’s directed towards them is displaying potential high-functioning autism symptoms.
  • The child pays no attention to their caregivers or therapists.

The list above includes the most common signs of level 1 ASD. There are other symptoms that you should keep an eye out for, as well, such as aggression.

Why is high-functioning autism associated with aggressive behavior?

Unfortunately, high-functioning autism and anger, aggressiveness, and irritation can sometimes go hand-in-hand. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, children with ASD tend to have repetitive thinking habits. When they think about situations that made them angry or upset on an ongoing basis, an autistic child can quickly get agitated.

Secondly, autistic kids resort to aggressive behavior, such as hitting, when they can’t properly express themselves.

Here are some other issues that can cause your autistic son or daughter to act in an aggressive or angry manner:

  • Children with high-functioning ASD may react to stress and anxiety with anger and rage. On occasions, this is due to underlying medical problems or a lack of sleep, but an autistic kid could also act this way when they bottle up any anxious or stressful thoughts.
  • Level 1 ASD might make it difficult for your son or daughter to multitask, which can turn into a source of aggression.
  • Similarly, changing the routine of a high-functioning autistic child (by giving them a new breakfast cereal, for instance) could lead to confusion. Subsequently, this will trigger aggressive behaviors.
  • Other people may cause your autistic child to become aggressive or angry whether directly (through ignoring your kid, as an example) or indirectly (by speaking in a high-pitched voice).
  • Whenever your son or daughter feels helpless, they will likely resort to aggression and irritation.

On the positive side of things, the minimal severity of the symptoms of level 1 ASD makes it possible for parents to address their kids’ aggressive behaviors at home and/or school.

Combating Aggressive Behaviors in Autistic Children

First of all, you want to learn how to identify the signs that your autistic son or daughter is about to go through an aggressive mental breakdown. Among them are the following:

  • They may start rocking and pacing or stand in a very still and tense way.
  • The child puts their hands on their ears.
  • They ask too many questions.
  • The kid threatens other household members or classmates.

Whenever your son or daughter engages in any of these behaviors, you should immediately intervene to prevent them from having a full-blown mental breakdown.

In fact, teaching your child how to identify these triggers and stop them from escalating is one of the best ways to combat aggressive behaviors.

Equally as important is understanding the root cause of the problem. For example, if certain sensory aspects or physical actions (such as bright lights or random hugs) distress your boy or girl, consider giving them a warning before turning on the lights or giving them a hug.

In the same vein, you want to keep other issues under control. For instance, make sure that your child is sleeping well at night. If you suspect that they have non-autistic psychological or mental conditions that are causing them to act aggressively, take your kid to a therapist for an official diagnosis.

How ABA Therapy Can Help High-Functioning Autistic Children with Aggression Issues

A certified applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist could play an important role in helping your high-functioning autistic son or daughter manage their anger and aggression.

ABA therapists may utilize one or more of the following methods when dealing with aggressive behavior:

  • Proactive Intervention: The ABA therapist creates a quiet and consistent environment that rewards your child when they effectively manage their emotions.
  • Alternative Behavior: An ABA practitioner would show your autistic kid how they can appropriately express themselves when they’re frustrated or angry.
  • Modeling Techniques: Your son or daughter will learn how to reign in their aggression through role playing and simulating the behavior of the therapist or a TV character.
  • Positive Reinforcement: As the name suggests, positive reinforcement revolves around rewarding your child when they behave in a desired manner.
  • Positive Feedback: Rather than punishing the kid for acting aggressively, the therapist would praise them when they control their anger, even if they do so in a subtle way and during a mental breakdown.
  • Neutral Redirection: The ABA practitioner focuses on teaching your son or daughter the socially-acceptable ways for handling stress or frustration. They also reward them when this is done correctly.

When these ABA therapy techniques are combined with the strategies that you, as a parent, can implement at home or school, your autistic child’s aggression troubles will be minimized.

As long as you can identify the relatively minor symptoms of high-functioning autism, many of these issues will become manageable and easy to handle.

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