Are autism and violence linked?

To most people dealing with a child with autism, the answer is no. Most challenges lie in helping the child cope with communication challenges and social integration.

But what happens as kids get older? Suddenly it seems, autism and violence do appear together more often. Is it a coincidence?

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Is it a reaction to unhelpful environments and unmet needs - the kind of reaction you would expect of anyone dealing with those problems? Or is the link between autism and violence more directly related?

Autism isn't of course unique in being associated with violent behavior. Kids and adults with a diagnosis of ADHD are often also diagnosed with "oppositional defiance disorder" and that in turn can be linked with violent behavior.

Nor is it clear that anyone with autism is necessarily more likely to be violent. But then again, the autism spectrum is so wide that it is hard to come up with many behaviors that are true across the board. I recently came across a story by Ann Bauer though, that has me thinking about the whole issue is a new light.

Bauer is the parent of a 21-year-old with autism, who herself has been on the receiving end of violent behavior.

Her story is more than compelling. If you are also the parent of a child with autism, it is the kind of story that can grip your heart and give it a wee shake.

After reading it, I started to think of all the little incidents from my 7 year old with Aspergers Syndrome, and wondered whether they are really little incidents, or precursors of worse to come.

autism and violence

I also thought of some of the comments made by other parents on this site and elsewhere. Kids that literally climb walls. The parent of a 12 year old child with autism that had to place him in a private boarding school, at great cost, in order to protect the safety of their other children. The fear and worry of what would happen when the child came home to visit for Christmas.

And also, in the background of it all, the anguish of a parent at their wits end. Or the uncomprehending fury and hurt from special ed assistants or teachers that are on the receiving end of sudden violent episodes. Can anyone be paid enough to put up with it?

The theme of sudden changes for the worse when the child hit puberty appears all too often. As does the behavior that goes over the edge when a wrong medication or dosage is used.

And then, an escalating negative response - drugs, restraints, locked rooms, court orders, financial ruin.

So far, it seems that each case of autism and violence is dealt with individually, without a specific link between the two. But is that accurate?

How many families are dealing with violence in their own homes? How many siblings and parents are afraid of their own children?

One of the things that stayed with me the most from Bauer's article though, is her comments on her own legacy...

"Mine, I decide, must be in part to break the silence about autism's darker side. We cannot solve this problem by hiding it, the way handicapped children themselves used to be tucked away in cellars. In order to help the young men who endure this rage, someone has to be willing to tell the truth."

I think that she has raised a worthy goal for all of us.

Update:

After the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut,

This issue has become more relevant than ever. I believe that it is critically important for families dealing with autism to speak up and speak their truths, so that as a society we can address these challenges.

Another key issue to address is the need to keep access to guns away from anyone who has shown violent tendencies.

Please add your thoughts below...


Have you experienced violence from someone with autism?

It's time to speak up about it.

Whether you're a parent or family member, caregiver, teacher or special ed assistant, you deserve to be heard.

It can't always be about what the child or person with autism is experiencing. Their behavior has a huge impact on others, and it's time to give voice to it.

Share your story here.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

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