How to Modify Aggressive Behavior in Children with Autism

How to Modify Aggressive Behavior in Children with Autism

Bright Minds Institute

A frequent question from both parents and teachers is how do you discipline children that behave badly -- and by that I mean become physically aggressive or start having tantrums and throwing things around physically.

The first thing to remember is the fact that patients with Autism Syndromes have a brain disorder. This brain disorder is particularly manifested by abnormal neuropathology. These children have hyperfunctioning of local neural microcircuits in the brain which produce hyperreactivity and hyperplasticity.

If we were to stay with those two concepts, hyperreactivity meaning reacting more to any sensory stimulation, most children will hyperreact to auditory stimulation but it is also on occasions visual stimulation as well. Some of them will react to sensory stimulation such as touching or changes in temperature.

What this causes is an overabundance of stimuli in an individual who cannot quickly adapt and react appropriately.

The other piece of the puzzle that most people do not recognize is that all humans are genetically determined to have patterns of reactivity to very basic specific stimulus. We have a reactivity to situations that produce anger, fear, or threat as examples, and most of our instinctive reaction is to protect ourselves physically. Within those patterns of reaction, aggression is a frequent one.

These hyperfunctioning microcircuits in many of occasions become autonomous and “memory trapped” (similar to “muscle memory” through repetition) leading to hyperperception, hyperattention, and hyperemotionality. 

The basic pathological problems are in the neocortex (the new cortex in the brain) and the amygdala, which is an area of the brain that reacts to threat and anxiety.

As the children grow older, and they are driven by overtly strong reactions to experiences, the brain is driven by hyperpreferences, meaning overly selective states, which become more extreme with each new experience and may be particularly accelerated by emotionally charged experience and trauma.

The Autistic child becomes trapped in a limited but highly secure internal world favoring minimal extremes and surprises.

If we consider the above, the best potential treatment for this condition behaviorally, is allow the child to revert into that inner secure state since the aggression will be like a wave; it will come and it will go.

Reacting to this aggression with an opposing force may just cause the child to become worse each time that it appears. Children diagnosed with autism are also supernaturally strong in many instances which makes physically restraining the m an imposing task, if at times necessary as with any “normal” child.

Behavioral distracters can be used to calm down “aggressive” children with autism. Examples include external surroundings that are not stimulating and are inherently secure.

If any further questions are raised, feel free to contact us at any time. 

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Written by: Copyright Dr. Fernando Miranda, MD, FAAN and Bright Minds Institute See other articles by Copyright Dr. Fernando Miranda, MD, FAAN and Bright Minds Institute
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