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ABA Therapy for Aggressive Behavior

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If your child has ever been called a “bad kid” or  “uncontrollable” due to their aggressive tendencies, there may be more to their behavior than meets the eye.

Aggression and impulsiveness, including hitting, scratching, biting, screaming, hair-pulling, and kicking others, are common symptoms in children with autism.

Without an accurate diagnosis of autism, many children are improperly labeled as “bad kids,” when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

A recent study revealed that 68% of children and teenagers with autism have been aggressive toward their caregivers. Conversely, 49% had shown aggression toward someone else. 

Apart from the threat of physical injury, a child with aggressive or impulsive behavior can cause enormous stress for the parents and burnout for teachers and care staff.  

Yet the stress and pain associated with autistic aggression doesn’t have to be the norm.

There is help: ABA therapy for aggressive behavior.

At Heartlinks, we have experienced BCBAs and team therapists needed for an ABA intervention. From conducting a proper evaluation to developing a customized ABA therapy plan, the aggressive behavior you see now can change.

Learn how Heartlinks can take a so-called “bad kid” or “uncontrollable child” to one described as “loving and kind.”

What are the Types of Autism Aggression?

Two siblings that are mad at each other

There are two types of aggression in autism, physical and vocal aggression. 

Vocal aggression is usually described as verbal statements directed toward another person. It can be in the form of name-calling or screaming.

Conversely, physical aggression includes hitting, biting, kicking, or throwing objects. This can be aimed at another person or an inanimate object.

Understanding the differences between the two forms of aggression is essential because it can help your team of therapists design the most suitable program for your child with autism.

What Causes Aggression in Children with Autism?

There are a plethora of reasons that a child with ASD might demonstrate aggressive behavior. Causes could include communication difficulties, cognitive delays, emotional regulation problems, or sensory processing challenges. 

Cognitive Delays

It might be difficult for your child with autism to regulate their emotions because they’re unable to understand their environment. This lack of understanding can lead to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and be communicated through aggression toward others.

Communication Difficulties

Children with autism may be unable to express their needs, desires, or preferences due to a lack of language or limited social skills. This can leave a child feeling frustrated and confused. One of the easiest ways to communicate with another person what they need is to become aggressive. 

Emotional Regulation Issues

Kids on the spectrum may have difficulty identifying their feelings, leading to difficulty controlling these emotions. If not understood by the child, a sudden burst of frustration might be expressed through hitting or biting, for example.

Sensory Processing Difficulties

A child with sensory processing difficulties cannot correctly interpret and respond to the environment around them. This leads to extreme reactions to sensory inputs such as loud noises, flashing lights, and different textures. Children with sensory processing difficulties express their overstimulation by becoming overly aggressive. 

Understanding Autism Aggression

The first step to treating autism aggression in a child is to understand the source or cause of the behavior. If you know what’s causing the aggression, you can help your child manage it.

Try keeping a diary for 1-2 weeks to record your observations around what triggers their behavior and how your child benefits from expressing it. Understanding the cause of your child’s behavior will help to manage it more effectively.

In ABA therapy, therapists often look at the function or root of the behavior.

There are four functions of behavior:

  1. Escape – The child is behaving a certain way to avoid performing a particular activity.
  2. Automatic Reinforcement – The aggressive behaviors help the child manage sensory input they find overwhelming or make them feel better. 
  3. Access – The child is behaving in a manner that will grant them access to a physical object or location (i.e., a toy, video game, or access to the outside).
  4. Attention – The child is exhibiting aggressive behavior to get the attention of someone else.

What is ABA Therapy for Aggressive Behavior?

ABA therapy for aggressive behavior is an evidence-based approach that has proven very effective in curbing these tendencies in autistic children.

Young girl having fun at ABA therapy

Through the guidance of a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst), organizations such as Heartlinks can evaluate your child’s aggressive behavior and develop a customized therapy plan. Using behavioral techniques such as positive reinforcement, redirection, or teaching appropriate forms of communication, the goal of ABA therapy is to ensure that your child has more effective ways to express themselves.

Other ABA therapy approaches include social skills training to target aggressive behavior in autism. It teaches children how to interact respectfully and appropriately with others. They learn through role-playing and modeling socially acceptable behavior, including managing stress, coping with uncomfortable situations, and expressing emotions.  

There will be some situations where medication is necessary to supplement ABA therapy. However, the first tool used in curbing this type of aggressive behavior is almost always Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. 

Managing Aggression in Your Child with Autism

Living with an autistic child that demonstrates aggressive behavior can be extremely frustrating, stressful, and sometimes dangerous. To help them and yourself manage aggression and impulse control, seek professional help. 

With several locations across the U.S., Heartlinks can help you learn how to handle aggressive behavior. 

Remember, this behavior is not unusual for a child with autism. We have the resources for them and for you to address the situation to ensure healthy behavior becomes the new normal.

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