“My Nephew is Very Wild” How to Handle Aggression of an Individual with Autism

I would like to focus first on Mz. J’s concern she is asking “why is my nephew very wild?” She was talking about her 22 year old nephew from Mindanao, Philippines.

Since I actively blogged and talk about my daughters’ condition, I’ve been receiving a lot of concerns about autism. I appreciate all the questions and I will try my best to answer them in here.

However, I would like to reiterate that I am not an expert on this matter and I only talk about it based on my personal experience, inquiries and research.

This is what is referred to as aggression, a behavior that is most likely to jeopardize the autistic person’s future for possible placement.

Aggression takes many form like hitting, kicking, punching, pinching, pulling hair, scratching, head banging, tearing of clothes and throwing objects. The range can vary from not aggressive to aggression on a daily or hourly basis.

It is often a result of the confused state the autistic person lives in, or his limited communication skills. When he is attempting to control situations and eliminate demands and intrusions he will sometimes react by hurting.

There are many possibilities why a person with autism reacts this way (aggression)

1) He is communicating his needs like hunger or thirst.

2) He is telling you that he is not feeling well (physiological factors) like:

a) illness
b) feeling hot
c) tiredness
d) over medication/ under medication/missed medication
e) change of weather

3) He is trying to avoid/escape a certain setting or activity you are placing him because of either;

a) over stimulation (too much activity that use most of his senses)
b) boredom
c) waiting (a child with autism has little patience and have issues on waiting or taking their turns)
d) noisy environment (there are times that they are sensitive to sound sometimes a normal pitch voice would sound like a bullet to them)
e) disliked or difficult activity
f) having demands made (they don’t like to be told what to do)

4) He is distress or angered because of changed of routine or missed routines. A delayed reaction to something you did that they disliked.

5) He is attention seeking.

6) He is immitating what he sees. They usually have good memory and more often than not the bad habits are the ones they usually imitate.

7) He lacks social approach skills/adaptation problem.

How to deal with aggression

The cause of aggression must be analyzed very well from the above causes that can also be grouped in four main categories:

a) Lack of communication skills
1) “I want” behavior
2) Avoidance behavior
b) Attention seeking behavior
c) Lack of social skills
d) Physiological factors.

Once you know the root of the behavior then you will know the different technique to cope with it.

You need to show to the child the necessary communication skills to replace the aggression. A child must never get what he wants (either a drink or just to get out of the situation) through aggression.

Make him aware of what he has done and if he has pinched you tell him to put his hands down “Hands down, (insert name of child).”

Patterning him or modelling to him the appropriate behavior. Practice proper behavior in public.

For example if you are going for a trip riding an airplane prepare with the child the whole scenario when inside an airplane so that he will get used to the situation and will not behave in an acceptable manner.

If he hurts another child or person give attention to the ones he hurt and not to him.

If you find out it’s an attempt to get your attention, ignore the aggressive child and move away from him if he attempts to intrude. After a set of time comforting the hurt child/person return to him and praise all non-violent intereation from the aggressive child. If it’s a waiting issue with the two children teach appropriate taking turns by saying who’s turn it is and then praise all appropriate behavior.

Give the child ample warning if his routine will be changed.

Be sensitive to the difficulties the child is experiencing and model appropriate language for him to use if in a situation, while providing constant reasurance.

Attempt to divert aggression away by providing another outlet for the aggressive behavior (soothing materials) like maybe a punching bag or mindless physical exercise like a stationary bike or swing. With a verbal child discuss what he thinks would be a good exercise.

Set up situations where you can practice with the child the communication skills he needs instead of being aggressive like if he resents the intrusion of another child and lashes out give him a time out.

When the tension/anger have been released using the techniques above discuss causes of the outburst with the child.


  1. great post with useful info 🙂

  2. @ MIsher that sounds good that’s what they call an isolation place here. Dedicate a place where he can “retreat” or leave him alone where he can’t get hurt to calm him down.

  3. hello, I currently took a position has a behavior intervention consultant. The current case i have is very aggressive and he plays it out physically. The tips you have posted are great but, at times hard to implement in a classroom setting. Maybe i can decorate a “calming place” for him in one of the corners of the classrooms. I can decorate with fish, birds and insects and he can retreat there when needed. How does that sound?

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