“You might have heard that aggressive behavior can be a symptom of Autism, but the truth is that the educational method and approach used with your child, might have a lot more to do with your child’s tantrums and their intense behaviors than their Autism per se.
“Our children and adults on the Autism Spectrum might indeed experience sensory overload more regularly than a neuro-typical person. Sensory overload, in turn, can lead to more meltdowns and challenges, but this mostly occurs only after our children have attempted at doing what they naturally know to do to calm their central nervous system down. They were not able to do this, because they might have been interrupted or redirected. Self-regulation can happen throughout the day for our children when they can do their isms (stimming behavior).
“The so-called ‘aggressive’ behavior typically starts, when the caregivers, teachers, or therapists don’t recognize the signs of overstimulation and don’t respond to and respect our children’s cues, signs, and need for self-regulation; and try to stop or redirect them. Our children then go into survival mode, and they do what they need to do (even if it means hitting, biting, or shouting), to shut down the stimulus when they can no longer take it in anymore. Our children may not have gotten to this ‘extreme’ if they had been able to shut down the stimulus sooner and were able to self-regulate sooner.
“One very common phenomenon, we have observed in the past four decades of working with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, is that many individuals on the Autism Spectrum first start displaying so call ‘aggressive’ behavior, when they were enrolled in the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) type of therapy. In this particular type of therapy, our children were forced (verbally and physically) to do things they didn’t want to do when already experiencing sensory overload (they were in Red Lights). After having attempted at using gestures, cues, and/or verbal language to express that they were not able to follow the caregivers’ expectations, and that didn’t work, then these same children (who are now even more overstimulated) resort to more ‘extreme ways (tantrums, aggressive behavior) to get people to back off and give them space, so they can regulate themselves.
“This is a very vast topic and there is so much to be said about it… But for today, if you have a child who demonstrates any type of Intense Behavior or Tantrums, start by asking yourself these questions:
• What are my child’s signs of overstimulation that happen leading up to my child’s tantrums?
• How can I give my child more space and more chances to self-regulate throughout the day?
• Are the people in my child’s life (teachers, therapists, caregivers) against my child? For example, if my child is isming, or resisting doing an activity – do they acknowledge that my child needs a break, and they could back off from challenging them during these moments?
Written by Camila Titone, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher